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First Impressions of England and its People
Chapter IX


Detour. — The Leasowes deteriorated wherever the Poet had built, and improved wherever he had planted. — View from the Hanging Wood. — Stratagem of the Island Screen. — Virgil’s Grave. — Mound of the Hales Owen and Birmingham Canal; its sad Interference with Shenstone’s Poetic Description of the Infancy of the Stour. — Vanished Cascade and Root-house. — Somerville’s Urn. — “To all Friends round the Wrekin.”— River Scenery of the Leasowes; their great Variety. — Peculiar Arts of the Poet; his Vistas, when seen from the wrong end, Realizations of Hogarth’s Caricature. — Shenstone the greatest of Landscape Gardeners. — Estimate of Johnson. — Goldsmith’s History of the Leasowes ; their after History.

The water creeps downwards from where it leaps from the rock, to form a chain of artificial lakes, with which the bottom of the dell is occupied, and which are threaded by the watercourse, like a necklace of birds’ eggs strung upon a cord. Ere I struck down on the upper lake, however, I had to make a detour of a few hundred yards to the right, to see what Dodsley describes as one of the finest scenes furnished by the Leasowes, — a steep terrace, commanding a noble prospect, — a hanging wood, — an undulating pathway over uneven ground, that rises and falls like a snake in motion, — a monumental tablet, — three rustic seats, — and a temple dedicated to Pan. The happy corner which the poet had thus stuck over with so much bravery is naturally a very pretty one. The hill-side, so gentle in most of its slopes, descends for about eighty feet, — nearly at right angles with the forked valley, and nearly parallel to the great valley in front, — as if it were a giant wave on the eve of breaking; and it is on this steep rampart-like declivity, — this giant wave, — that the hanging wood was planted, the undulating path formed, and the seats and temple erected. But all save the wood has either wholly vanished, or left behind but the faintest traces, — traces so faint that, save for the plan of the grounds appended to the second edition of Dodsley’s description, they would have told me no distinct story.

Ere descending the rampart-like acclivity, but just as the ground begins gradually to rise, and when I should be passing, according to Dodsley, through the “Lover’s Walk,” a sequestered arboraceous lane, saddened by the urn of “poor Miss Dolman,” — “by the side of which” there had flowed “ a small bubbling rill, forming little peninsulas, rolling over pebbles, or falling down small cascades, all under cover, and taught to murmur very agreeably,” — 1 found myself in a wild tangled jungle, with no path under foot, with the “bubbling rill” converted into a black, lazy swamp, with thickets of bramble all around, through which I had to press my way, as I best could, breast-high, — “poor Miss Dolman’s” urn as fairly departed and invisible as “poor Miss Dolman;” in short, everything that had been done undone, and all in readiness for some second Shenstone to begin de novo. As the way steepened, and the rank aquatic vegetation of the swamp, once a runnel, gave place to plants that affect a drier habitat, I could detect in the hollow of the hill some traces of the old path; but the place forms a receptacle into which the gusty winter winds sweep the shorn leafage of the hanging wood above, and so I had to stalk along the once trimly-kept walk, through a stratum of decayed leaves, half-leg deep. In the middle of the hanging wood I found what had been once the temple of Pan. There is a levelled space on the declivity, about half the size of an ordinary sitting parlor: the winds had swept it bare; and there, distinctly visible on three sides of the area, are the foundations of a thin brick wall, that, where least broken, rises some six or eight inches above the level. A little further on, where the wood opens on one of the loveliest prospects I ever beheld, I found a decayed oak-post remaining, to indicate the locale of a seat that had once eulogized the landscape which it fronted in a classic Latin inscription. But both seat and inscription are gone. And yet, maugre this desolation, not in the days of Shenstone did the Leasowes look so nobly from this elevation as they did this day. I was forcibly reminded of one of the poet’s own remarks, and the completeness of its realization: “The works of a person that builds,” he says, “ begin immediately to decay; while those of him who plants begin directly to improve. In this, planting promises a more lasting pleasure than building.” The trees of the Leasowes, when the Leasowes formed the home and furnished the employment of the poet, seem to have been mere saplings. We find him thus writing to a friend in the summer of 1743: — “A malignant caterpillar has demolished the beauty of all our large oaks. Mine are secured by their littleness. But I guess Hagley Park suffers, — a large wood near me being a winter-piece for nakedness.” More than a hundred years have since elapsed, and the saplings of a century ago have expanded into the dignity of full-grown treehood. The hanging wood, composed chiefly of very noble beeches, with a sprinkling of graceful birches on its nether skirt, raises its crest so high as fully to double the height of the eminence which it crowns ; while the oaks on the finely varied ground below, of imposing size, and exhibiting in their grouping the hand of the master, compose such a scene as the finest of the landscapes designed by Martin in illustration of Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” The day was warm, calm, cloudless; the lights and shadows lay clear and transparent on lake and stream, dell and dingle, green swelling lawn and tall forest tree; and the hanging wood, and the mossy escarpment over which it hangs, were as musical in the bright sunshine, with the murmur of bees, as when, exactly a hundred and two years before, Shenstone was penning his pastoral ballad.

Quitting the hanging wood, I struck athwart the declivity, direct on the uppermost lake in the chain which I have described as lying, like a string of birds’ eggs, along the bottom of the valley. I found it of small extent, — a pond or lochan, rather than a lake, — darkly colored, — its still, black surface partially embroidered by floats of aquatic plants, among which I could detect the broad leaves of the water-lily, though the flowers were gone, — and overhung on all sides by careless groups of trees, that here and there dip their branches in the water. In one striking feature of the place we may still detect the skill of the artist. There is a little island in the upper part of the lake, by much too small and too near the shore to have any particular interest as such; or, indeed, viewed from below, to seem an island at all. It is covered by a thick clump of alders of low growth, just tall enough and thick enough to conceal, screen-like, the steep bank of the lake behind. The top of the bank is occupied by several lofty oaks ; and as the screen of alders hides the elevation on which they stand, they seem to rise direct from the level of the water to the giant stature of a hundred feet. The giants of the theatre are made by setting one man on the shoulders of another, and then throwing over both a large cloak; — the giant trees here are made by setting them upon the shoulders of a hill, and making the thick island-screen serve the purpose of the concealing mantle.

The second lake in the chain—a gloomier and smaller piece of water than the first, and much hidden in wood — has in its present state no beauty to recommend it: it is just such an inky pool, with rotten snags projecting from its sluggish surface, as a murderer would select for concealing the body of his victim. A forlorn brick ruin, overflooded by the neighboring streamlet, and capped with sickly ivy, stands at the upper end; at the lower, the waters escape by a noisy cascade into a secluded swampy hollow, overshadowed by stately oaks and ashes, much intermixed by trees of a lower growth, — yew, holly, and hazel, — and much festooned with ivy. We find traces of an untrodden pathway on both sides the stream, with the remains of a small, mouldering, one-arched bridge, now never crossed over, and divested of both its parapets; and in the centre of a circular area, surrounded by trees of loftiest stature, we may see about twice as many bricks as an Irish laborer would trundle in a wheel-barrow, arranged in the form of a small square. This swampy hollow is the “Virgil’s Grove,” so elaborately described by Dodsley, and which so often in the last age employed the pencil and the burin ; and the two barrowfuls of brick are all that remain of the obelisk of Virgil. I had run not a few narrow chances of the kind before; but I now fairly sunk half to the knees in the miry bottom, and then pressing onwards, as I best could,

“Quenched in a boggy Syrtis, neither sea
Nor good dry land, nigh foundered, on I fared,
Treading the crude consistence half on foot,
Half flying,”

till I reached a drier soil beside yet another lake in the chain, scarce less gloomy, and even more sequestered, than the last. There stick out along its edges a few blackened stumps, on which several bushy clusters of fern have taken root, and which, overshadowed by the pendent fronds, seem so many small tree-ferns. I marked here, for the first time, the glance of scales and the splash of fins in the water; but they belonged not to the “ fishes of gold” sung by the poet, but to some half-dozen pike that I suppose have long since dealt by the fishes of gold as the bulkier contemporaries of the famous Jack the Giant Killer used to deal by their guests. A further walk of a few hundred yards through the wooded hollow brought me to the angle where the forks of the dell unite and form one valley. A considerable piece of water — by much the largest on the grounds — occupies the bottom of the broad hollow which they form by their union,—the squat stem, to use a former illustration, of the letter Y; and a long narrow bay runs from the main body of the lake up each of the two forks, losing itself equally in both, as it contracts and narrows, amid the overarching trees.

There is a harmony of form as certainly as of sound, — a music to the eye in the one, as surely as to the ear in the other. I had hitherto witnessed much dilapidation and decay, but it was dilapidation and decay on a small scale ; I had seen merely the wrecks of a few artificial toys, scattered amid the sublime of nature ; and there were no sensible jarrings in the silent concert of the graceful and the lovely, which the entire scene served to compose. Here, however, all of a sudden, I was struck by a harsh discord. Where the valley should have opened its noble gateway into the champaign, — a gateway placed half-way between the extended magnificence of the expanse below, and the more closely concentrated beauties of the twin dells above, — there stretches, from bank to bank, a stiff, lumpish, rectilinear mound, some seventy or eighty feet in height, by some two or three hundred yards in length, that bars out the landscape, — deals, in short, by the wanderer along the lake or through the lower reaches of the dell, as some refractory land-steward deals by some hapless railway surveyor, when, squatting down full before him, he spreads out a broad extent of coat-tail, and eclipses the distant sight. Poor Shenstone! — it would have broken his heart. That unsightly mound conveys along its flat, level line, straight as that of a ruler, the Birmingham and Hales Owen Canal. Poor Shenstone once more! With the peculiar art in which he excelled 'all men, he had so laid out his lakes, that the last in the series seemed to piece on to the great twenty-acre lake dug by the monks, and so to lose itself in the general landscape. And in one of his letters we find him poetical on the course of the vagrant streams, — those of his own grounds, — that feed it. “Their first appearance,” he says, “well resembles the playfulness of infancy; they skip from side to side with a thousand antic motions, that answer no other purpose than the mere amusement of the proprietor. They proceed for a few hundred yards, and then their severer labors begin, resembling the graver toils of manhood. They set mills in motion, turn wheels, and ply hammers for manufactures of all kinds; and in this manner roll on under the name of the Stour, supplying works for casting, forging, and shaping iron for every civil and military purpose. Perhaps you may not know that my rills are the principal sources of this river; or that it furnishes the propelling power to more iron-works than almost any other single river in the kingdom.” The dull mound now cuts off the sportive infancy of the Stour from its sorely-tasked term of useful riverhood. There is so cruel a barrier raised between the two stages, that we fail to identify the hard-working stream below with the playful little runnels above. The water comes bounding all obscurely out of the nether side of the mound, just as it begins its life of toil, — a poor thing without a pedigree, like some hapless child of quality stolen by the gypsies, and sold to hard labor.

Passing upwards along the opposite branch of the valley, I found a succession of the same sort of minute desolations as I had met in the branch already explored. Shenstone’s finest cascades lay in this direction ; and very fine, judging from the description of Dodsley, they must have been. “The eye is here presented,” says the poetic bibliopole, “with a fairy vision, consisting of an irregular and romantic fall of water, one hundred and fifty yards in continuity; and a very striking and unusual scene it affords. Other cascades may have the advantage of a greater descent and a larger stream," but a more wild and romantic appearance of water, and at the same time strictly natural, is difficult to be met with anywhere. The scene, though small, is yet aggrandized with so much art, that we forget the quantity of water which flows through this close and overshadowed valley, and are so much pleased with the intricacy of the scene, and the concealed height from whence it flows, that we, without reflection, add the idea of magnificence to that of beauty. In short, it is only upon reflection that we find the stream is not a Niagara, but rather a waterfall in miniature ; and that by the same artifice upon a larger scale, were there large trees in place of small ones, and a river instead of a rill, a scene so formed would exceed the utmost of our ideas.” Alas for the beautiful cascade! Here still was the bosky valley, dark and solitary, with its long withdrawing bay from the lake speckled by the broad leaves of the water-lily ; old gnarled stems of ivy wind, snake-like, round the same massy trunks along which they had been taught to climb in the days of the poet; but for the waterfall, the main feature of the scene, I saw only a long dark trench,—much crusted by mosses and liverworts, and much overhung by wood, — that furrows the side of the hill; and for the tasteful root-house, erected to catch all the beauties of the place, I found only a few scattered masses of brick, bound fast together by the integrity of the cementing lime, and half-buried in a brown stratum of decayed leaves. A little further on, there lay across the runnel a huge monumental urn of red sandstone, with the base elevated and the neck depressed. It dammed up enough of the little stream to form a reservoir at which an animal might drink, and the clayey soil around it was dibbled thick at the time by the tiny hoofs of sheep. The fallen urn had been inscribed to the memory of Somerville the poet.

This southern fork of the valley is considerably shorter than the northern one ; and soon rising on the hill-side, I reached a circular clump of firs, from which the eye takes in the larger part of the grounds at a glance, with much of the surrounding country. We may see the Wrekin full in front, at the distance of about thirty miles; and here, in the centre of the circular clump, there stood, says Dodsley, an octagonal seat, with a pedestal-like elevation in the middle, that served for a back, and on the top of which there was fixed a great punch-bowl, bearing as its appropriate inscription the old country toast, “To all friends round the Wrekin.” Seat and bowl have long since vanished, and we see but the circular clump. At the foot of the hill there is a beautiful piece of water, narrow and long, and skirted by willows, with both its ends so hidden in wood, and made to wind so naturally, that instead of seeming what it is, — merely a small pond, — it seems one of the reaches of a fine river. We detect, too, the skill of the poet in the appearance presented from this point by the chain of lakes in the opposite fork of the valley. As seen through the carefully disposed trees, they are no longer detached pieces of water, but the reaches of a great stream, — a sweeping inflection, we may suppose, of the same placid river that we see winding through the willows, immediately at the hill-foot. The Leasowes, whose collected waters would scarce turn a mill, exhibit, from this circular clump, their fine river scenery. The background beyond rises into a magnificent pyramid of foliage, the apex of which is formed by the tall hanging wood on the steep acclivity, and which sweeps downwards on each side in graceful undulations, now rising, now falling, according to the various heights of the trees or the inequalities of the ground. The angular space between the two forks of the valley occupies the foreground. It sinks in its descent towards the apex, — for the pyramid is of course an inverted one, — from a scene of swelling acclivities, fringed with a winding belt of squat, broad-stemmed beeches, into a soft sloping lawn, in the centre of which, deeply embosomed in wood, rise the white walls of the mansion-house. And such, as they at present exist, are the Leasowes, — the singularly ingenious composition inscribed on an English hill-side, which employed for twenty long years the taste and genius of Shenstone. An eye accustomed to contemplate nature merely in the gross, and impressed but by vast magnitudes or by great multiplicity, might not find much to admire in at least .the more secluded scenes,—in landscapes a furlong or two in extent, and composed of merely a few trees, a few slopes, and a pond, or in gloomy little hollows, with interlacing branches high over head, and mossy runnels below. But to one not less accustomed to study the forms than to feel the magnitudes, — who can see spirit and genius in even a vignette, beauty in the grouping of a clump, in the sweep of a knoll, in the convexity of a mossy bank, in the glitter of a half-hidden stream, or the blue gleam of a solitary lochan, — one who can appreciate all in nature that the true landscape-painter admires and develops, — will still find much to engage him amid the mingled woods and waters, sloping acclivities, and hollow valleys, of the Leasowes. I have not yet seen a piece of ground of equal extent that exhibits a tithe of its variety, or in which a few steps so completely alters a scene. In a walk of half a mile one might fill a whole portfolio with sketches, all fine and all various.

It was chiefly in the minuter landscapes of the place that I missed the perished erections of the poet. The want of some central point on which the attention might first concentrate, and then, as it were, let itself gradually out on the surrounding objects, served frequently to remind me of one of the poet’s own remarks. “A rural scene to me is never perfect,” he says, “without the addition of some kind of building. I have, however, known a scar of rock in great measure supplying the deficiency.” Has the reader observed how unwittingly Bewick seems to have stumbled on this canon, and how very frequently the scar of rock—somewhat a piece of mannerism, to be sure, but always fine, and always picturesquely overhung with foliage — is introduced as the great central object into his vignettes? In nature’s, too, the effect, when chance embodied in some recluse scene, must have been often remarked. I have seen a huge rock-like boulder, roughened by lichens, giving animation and cheerfulness to the wild solitude of a deep forest-clearing; and a gray undressed obelisk, reared many centuries ago over the savage dead, imparting picturesqueness and interest to a brown sterile moor.

With the poet’s erections, every trace of his lesser ingenuities has disappeared from the landscape, — his peculiar art, for instance, of distancing an object to aggrandize his space, or in contriving that the visiter should catch a picturesque glimpse of it just at the point where it looked best; and that then, losing sight of it, he should draw near by some hidden path, over which the eye had not previously travelled. The artist, with his many-hued pigments at command, makes one object seem near and another distant, by giving to the one a 16* deeper and to the other a fainter tinge of color. Shenstone, with a palette much less liberally furnished, was skilful enough to produce similar effects with his variously-tinted shrubs and trees. He made the central object in his vista some temple or root-house, of a faint retiring color; planted around it trees of a diminutive size and a “blanched fady hue,” such as the “almond willow” and “silver osier;” then, after a blank space, he planted another group of a deeper tinge, — trees of the average hue of the forest, such as the ash and the elm; and then, last of all, in the foreground, after another blank sjfece, he laid down trees of deep-tinted foliage, such as the dark glossy holly, and the still darker yew. To the aerial, too, he added the linear perspective. He broadened his avenues in the foreground, and narrowed them as they receded; and the deception produced he describes — and we may well credit him, for he was not one of the easily satisfied — as very remarkable. The distance seemed greatly to increase, and the grounds to broaden and extend. We may judge, from the nature of the device, of the good reason he had to be mortally wroth with members of the Lyttelton family, when, as Johnson tells us, they used to make a diversion in favor of Hagley, somewhat in danger of being eclipsed at the time, by bringing their visiters to look up his vistas from the wrong end. The picture must have been set in a wofully false light, and turned head-downwards to boot, when the distant willows waved in the foreground beside the dimly-tinted obelisk or portico, and the nearer yews and hollies rose stiff, dark, and diminutive, in an avenue that broadened as it receded, a half-dozen bowshots behind them. Hogarth’s famous caricature on the false perspective of his contemporary brethren of the easel would in such a case be no caricature at all, but a truthful representation of oue of Shenstone’s vistas viewed from the wrong end.

Some of the other arts of the poet, are, however, as I have already had occasion to remark, still very obvious. It was one of his canons, that when “an object had been once viewed from its proper point, the foot should never travel to it by the same path which the eye had travelled over before.” The visiter suddenly lost it, and then drew near obliquely. We can still see that all his pathways, in order to accommodate themselves to this canon, were covered ways, which winded through thickets and hollows. Ever and anon, whenever there was aught of interest to be seen, they emerged into the open day, like moles rising for a moment to the light, and then straightway again buried themselves from view. It was another of his canons, that “the eye should always look down upon water.” “Customary nature,” he remarks, “made the thing a necessary requisite.” “Nothing,” it is added, “could be more sensibly displeasing than the breadth of flat ground,” which an acquaintance, engaged, like the poet, though less successfully, in making a picture-gallery of his property, had placed “between his terrace and his lake.” Now, in the Leasowes, wherever water is made to enter into the composition of the landscape, the eye looks down upon it from a commanding elevation, — the visiter never feels, as he contemplates it, that he is in danger of being carried away by a flood, should an embankment give way. It was yet further one of Shenstone’s canons, that “no mere slope from the one side to the other can be agreeable ground: the eye requires a balance,” not, however, of the kind satirized by Pope, in which “Each alley has its brother, And half the platform just reflects the other but the kind of balance which the higher order of landscape-painters rarely fail to introduce into their works. “ A building, for instance, on one side may be made to contrast with a group of trees, a large oak, or a rising hill, on the other.” And in meet illustration of this principle, we find that all the scenes of the Leasowes are at least well balanced, though most of their central points are unluckily away: the eye never slides off the landscape, but cushions itself upon it with a sense of security and repose; and the feeling, even when one fails to trace it to its origin, is agreeable. “Whence,” says the poet, u does this taste proceed, but from the love we bear to regularity in perfection? But, after all, in regard to gardens, the shape of the ground, the disposition of the trees, and the figure of the water, must be sacred to nature, and no forms must be allowed that make a discovery of art.”

England has produced many greater poets than Shenstone, but she never produced a greater landscape-gardener. In at least this department he stands at the head of his class, unapproachable and apart, whether pitted against the men of his own generation, or those of the three succeeding ones. And in any province in which mind must be exerted, it is at least something to be first. The estimate of Johnson cannot fail to be familiar to almost every one. It is, however, so true in itself, and so exquisitely characteristic of stately old Samuel, that I must indulge in the quotation. “ Now was excited his [Shenstone’s] delight in rural pleasures, and his ambition of rural elegance. He began to point his prospects, to diversify his surface, to entangle his walks, and to wind his waters; which he did with such judgment and such fancy as made his little domain the envy of the great and the admiration of the skilful, — a place to be visited by travellers and copied by designers. Whether to plant a walk in undulating curves, and to place a bench at every turn where there is an object to catch the view, — to make water run where it will be heard, and to stagnate where it will be seen, — to leave intervals where the eye will be pleased, and to thicken the plantation where there is something to be hidden, — demand any great powers of mind, I will not inquire: perhaps a surly and sullen spectator may think such performances rather the sport than the business of human reason. But it must be at least confessed, that to embellish the form of Nature is an innocent amusement; and some praise must be allowed, by the most supercilious observer, to him who does best what such multitudes are contending to do well.”

But though England had no such landscape-gardener as Shenstone, it possessed denizens not a few who thought more highly of their own taste than of his; and so the history of the Leasowes, for the ten years that immediately succeeded his death, is a history of laborious attempts to improve what he had rendered perfect. This history we find recorded by Goldsmith in one of his less known essays. Considerable allowance must be made for the peculiar humor of the writer, and its exaggerative tendency; for no story, real or imaginary, ever lost in the hands of Goldsmith; but there is at least an air of truth about its general details. “The garden,” he says, “was completely grown and finished: the marks of every art were covered up by the luxuriance of nature, — the winding walks were grown dark, — the brooks assumed a natural selvage, — and the rocks were covered with moss. Nothing now remained but to enjoy the beauties of the place, when the poor poet died, and his garden was obliged to be sold for the benefit of those who had contributed to its embellishment.

“The beauties of the place had now for some time been celebrated as well in prose as in verse; and all men of taste wished for so envied a spot, where every turn was marked with the poet’s pencil, and every walk awakened genius and meditation. The first purchaser was one Mr. Truepenny, a button-maker, who was possessed of three thousand pounds, and was willing also to be possessed of taste and genius.

“As the poet’s ideas were for the natural wildness of the landscape, the button-maker’s were for the more regular productions of art. He conceived, perhaps, that as it is a beauty in a button to be of a regular pattern, so the same regularity ought to obtain in a landscape. Be that as it will, he employed the shears to some purpose; he clipped up the hedges, cut down the gloomy walks, made vistas on the stables and hog-sties, and showed his friends that a man of true taste should always be doing.

“The next candidate for taste and genius was a captain of a ship, who bought the garden because the former possessor could find nothing more to mend; but unfortunately he had taste too. His great passion lay in building, — in making Chinese temples and cage-work summer-houses. As the place before had the appearance of retirement, and inspired meditation, he gave it a more peopled air; every turning presented a cottage or icehouse, or a temple; the garden was converted into a little city, and it only wanted inhabitants to give it the air of a village in the East Indies.

“In this manner, in less than ten years the improvement has gone through the hands of as many proprietors, who were all willing to have taste, and to show their taste too. As the place had received its best finishing from the hands of the first possessor, so every innovator only lent a hand to do mischief. Those parts which were obscure have been enlightened; those walks which led naturally have been twisted into serpentine windings. The color of the flowers of the field is not more various than the variety of tastes that have been employed here, and all in direct contradiction to the original aim of its first improver. Could the original possessor but revive, with what a sorrowful heart would he look upon his favorite spot again! He would scarcely recollect a dryad or a wood nymph of his former acquaintance; and might perhaps find himself as much a stranger in his own plantation as in the deserts of Siberia.”

The after history of the Leasowes is more simple. Time, as certainly as taste, though much less offensively, had been busy with seat and temple, obelisk and root-house; and it was soon found that, though the poet had planted, he had not built, for posterity. The ingenious antiquary of Wheatfield discovered in the parsonage-house garden of his village, some time about the middle of the last century, a temple of lath and plaster, which had been erected, he held, by the old Romans, and dedicated to Glaudius Caesar; but the lath and plaster of these degenerate days do not last quite so long. The progress of dilapidation was further accelerated by the active habits of occasional visiters. Young men tried their strength by setting their shoulders to the obelisks; and old women demonstrated their wisdom by carrying home pieces of the seats to their fires: a robust young fellow sent poor Mr. Somerville’s urn a spinning down the hill; a vigorous iconoclast beheaded the piping fawn at a blow. There were at first large additions made to the inscriptions, of a kind which Shenstone could scarce have anticipated; but anon inscriptions and additions too began to disappear; the tablet in the dingle suddenly failed to compliment Mr. Spence; and Virgil’s Grove no longer exhibited the name of Virgil. “The ruinated Priory wall” became too thoroughly a ruin; the punch-bowl was shivered on its stand; the iron ladle wrenched from beside the ferruginous spring; in short, much about the time when young Walter Scott was gloating over Dodsley, and wishing he, too, had a property of which to make a plaything, what Shenstone had built and inscribed on the Leasowes could be known but from Dodsley alone. His artificialities had perished, like the artificialities of another kind of the poets his contemporaries; and nothing survived in his more material works, as in their writings, save those delightful portions in which he had but given body and expression to the harmonies of nature.


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