Welcome to The British Literary Ballads Archive, a site dedicated to a unique genre of literary imitations of traditional ballads. The site contains a growing archive of over 700 poems, as well as short biographical sketches of the poets who wrote them.

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William Shenstone (1714-63)



English poet and essayist, born at Halesowen in the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley, in the West Midlands, England. While still at Oxford, Shenstone published Poems upon Various Occasions (1737). He greatly contributed to the history of the ballad by his encouragement of the publication of Thomas Percy's Reliques. He wrote to Richard Graves on 1 March 1761:

You have perhaps heard me speak of Mr. Percy — he was in treaty with Mr. James Dodsley, for the publication of our best old ballads in three volumes. — He has a large folio MS. of ballads, which he shewed me, and which, with his own natural and acquired talents, will qualify him for the purpose as well as any man in England. I proposed the scheme for him myself, wishing to see an elegant edition and good collection of this kind. — I was also to have assisted him in selecting and rejecting; and in fixing upon the best readings: but my illness broke off our correspondence, the beginning of winter; and I know not what he has done since. [Letter 249 of Letters of William Shenstone, ed. Duncan Mallam (Minneapolis, 1939) 407]

The printing of the Reliques was begun in the spring of 1762 and Shenstone died of putrid fever in 1763 before the first volume, which was to be published as the third volume, could be printed in its entirety. Shenstone wrote to Percy on 1 October 1760:

I believe I shall never make any objection to such Improvements as you bestow upon them; unless you were plainly to contradict Antiquity, which I am pretty sure will never be the Case.
As to alterations of a word or two, I do not esteem it a point of Conscience to particularize them on this occasion. Perhaps, where a whole Line or More is alter'd, it may be proper enough to give some Intimation of it. The Italick type may answer this purpose, if you do not employ it on other occasions. It will have ye appearance of a modern Toe or Finger, which is allowably added to the best old Statues: And I think I should always let the Publick imagine, that these were owing to Gaps, rather yn to faulty Passages. (Letter 245 of Letters of Shenstone 399-400)

It should also be remembered that Shenstone thus encouraged Percy to modernize his materials, leading to a great amount of editorial intrusion and to later deviation in the literary ballad imitations. (M. Y.)

1.Jemmy Dawson: A Ballad
2.The Rape of the Trap