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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

XI. Letter-Writers

§ 21. Jago

There is, indeed, in most of the members of this coterie, a pensive, even plaintive, tone. Jago found the country clergyman’s quiet melancholy natural to him, and, if Shenstone began by being sad as night only for wantonness, his retirement at the Leasowes, in spite of the interest of his wilderness, his waterfall and his urns, and the polite appreciation of his fashionable neighbours, soon tinged his sedentary and self-indulgent life with sorrow and regret as well as with dyspepsia and fretfulness. But he could write a cheerful letter and a bright and ingenious essay to the last. His friend Graves, to whom a large number of his letters were addressed, in the Recollections of some particulars of his life (1788), perhaps the most interesting of his works, gives him not undeserved credit for

  • such a justness of thought and expression, and such a knowledge of human nature as well as of books that, if we consider how little [he] had conversed with the great world, one would think he had almost an intuitive knowledge of the characters of men.
  • He had, indeed, all the acuteness of observation which belongs to the literary recluse, and he wrote with an entire absence of affectation and an easy grace which made his letters not unworthy to stand among the very best of those which the eighteenth century produced. Passages of pleasant fancy or humour, of description and of criticism, occur again and again in his correspondence, and, whatever may be said of his poetry, his prose style is eminently felicitous. Admirers of good writing have too long neglected him.