The School-mistress

In Imitation of Spenser

Original Text: 
William Shenstone, Works in verse and prose (London: R. and J. Dodsley, 1764). D-10 3016 Fisher Rare Book Library
Auditæ voces, vagitus et ingens,
Infantunque animæ flentes in limine primo. Virg.
What particulars in Spenser were imagined most proper for the author's imitation on this occasion, are his language, his simplicity, his manner of description, and a peculiar tenderness of sentiment remarkable throughout his works.
2    To think how modest worth neglected lies;
3    While partial fame doth with her blasts adorn
4    Such deeds alone, as pride and pomp disguise;
5    Deeds of ill sort, and mischievous emprize!
6    Lend me thy clarion, goddess! let me try
7    To sound the praise of merit, ere it dies;
8    Such as I oft have chaunced to espy,
9Lost in the dreary shades of dull obscurity.
10    In ev'ry village mark'd with little spire,
11    Embow'r'd in trees, and hardly known to fame,
12    There dwells, in lowly shed, and mean attire,
13    A matron old, whom we school-mistress name;
14    Who boasts unruly brats with birch to tame;
15    They grieven sore, in piteous durance pent,
16    Aw'd by the pow'r of this relentless dame;
17    And oft-times, on vagaries idly bent,
19    And all in sight doth rise a birchen tree,
20    Which learning near her little dome did stowe;
21    Whilom a twig of small regard to see,
22    Tho' now so wide its waving branches flow;
23    And work the simple vassals mickle woe;
24    For not a wind might curl the leaves that blew,
25    But their limbs shudder'd, and their pulse beat low;
26    And, as they look'd, they found their horror grew,
27And shap'd it into rods, and tingled at the view.
28    So have I seen (who has not, may conceive,)
29    A lifeless phantom near a garden plac'd;
30    So doth it wanton birds of peace bereave,
31    Of sport, of song, of pleasure, of repast;
32    They start, they stare, they wheel, they look aghast:
33    Sad servitude! such comfortless annoy
34    May no bold Briton's riper age e'er taste!
35    Ne superstition clog his dance of joy,
36Ne vision empty, vain, his native bliss destroy.
37    Near to this dome is found a patch so green,
38    On which the tribe their gambols do display;
39    And at the door impris'ning board is seen,
40    Lest weakly wights of smaller size should stray;
42    The noises intermix'd, which thence resound,
43    Do learning's little tenement betray:
44    Where sits the dame, disguis'd in look profound,
45And eyes her fairy throng, and turns her wheel around.
46    Her cap, far whiter than the driven snow,
47    Emblem right meet of decency does yield:
48    Her apron dy'd in grain, as blue, I trowe,
49    As is the hare-bell that adorns the field:
50    And in her hand, for scepter, she does wield
51    Tway birchen sprays; with anxious fear entwin'd,
52    With dark distrust, and sad repentance fill'd;
53    And stedfast hate, and sharp affliction join'd,
54And fury uncontroul'd, and chastisement unkind.
55    Few but have kenn'd, in semblance meet pourtray'd,
57    Libs, Notus, Auster: these in frowns array'd,
58    How then would fare or earth, or sky, or main,
59    Were the stern god to give his slaves the rein?
60    And were not she rebellious breasts to quell,
61    And were not she her statutes to maintain,
62    The cott no more, I ween, were deem'd the cell,
63Where comely peace of mind, and decent order dwell.
64    A russet stole was o'er her shoulders thrown;
65    A russet kirtle fenc'd the nipping air;
66    'Twas simple russet, but it was her own;
67    'Twas her own country bred the flock so fair;
68    'Twas her own labour did the fleece prepare;
69    And, sooth to say, her pupils, rang'd around,
70    Thro' pious awe, did term it passing rare;
71    For they in gaping wonderment abound,
72And think, no doubt, she been the greatest wight on ground
74    Ne pompous title did debauch her ear;
75    Goody, good-woman, gossip, n'aunt, forsooth,
76    Or dame, the sole additions she did hear;
77    Yet these she challeng'd, these she held right dear:
78    Ne would esteem him act as mought behove,
79    Who should not honour'd eld with these revere:
80    For never title yet so mean could prove,
81But there was eke a mind which did that title love.
82    One ancient hen she took delight to feed,
83    The plodding pattern of the busy dame;
84    Which, ever and anon, impell'd by need,
85    Into her school, begirt with chickens, came;
86    Such favour did her past deportment claim:
87    And, if neglect had lavish'd on the ground
88    Fragment of bread, she would collect the same;
90What sin it were to waste the smallest crumb she found.


1] Dryden translates the quotation from Virgil as follows:
Before the gates, the cries of babes new born
Whom fate had from their tender mothers torn
Assault his ears.
Back to Line
18] shent: blamed. Back to Line
41] perdie: an interjection derived from the French par dieu. Back to Line
56] Aeolus is the god of the winds; Libs is the south-west wind, and Notus and Auster are the Greek and Latin names for the south wind. Back to Line
73] ne: no. Back to Line
89] quaintly: wisely. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Poems upon Various Occasions (1737); revised edn (1764).
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.675; RPO 1996-2000.