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William Shenstone papers

Call Number: OSB MSS 63

Scope and Contents

The William Shenstone Papers consist of correspondence, legal and financial documents, and printed material related to the poet William Shenstone and his estate, The Leasowes. The papers span the dates 1726-1979, but the bulk of the material dates from the 1750s and 1760s. The papers are housed in one box and have been organized into four series.

Series I, Correspondence , is arranged in two subseries. The first, William Shenstone Correspondence, contains letters by and to Shenstone, arranged alphabetically by correspondent. Folders 5-10 hold Shenstone's letters to his estate manager and attorney Thomas Milward, most concerning the lands inherited by Shenstone from his guardian Thomas Dolman but contested by Dolman's other heirs. The second subseries, Thomas Milward (Estate) Correspondence, contains third-party letters to Milward on various business matters, chronologically arranged.

Series II, Financial Papers , consists of miscellaneous bills and receipts pertaining to Shenstone and is housed in folders 18-22.

Series III, Legal Papers , is arranged in two subseries. Dolman v. Shenstone, found in folders 23-33, contains the progress of the writs pertaining to the dispute over the Halesowen inheritance, from the original deed signed by William Penn of Harborough Hall (grandfather of both parties), through the final agreement to partition the estate. Other Legal (Estate) Papers are located in folders 34-43 and include farm mortgages, indentures, and the complete text of a Chancery Brief filed against Shenstone's heirs by his former housekeeper Mary Cutler, alleging nonpayment of wages, interest and 500 pounds to "settle her in the world without going into any other or new service in case of his Death as he had very frequently said it was his intention and design she never should."

Series IV, Other Papers , is housed in folders 44-58. The first subseries, William Shenstone, contains mostly printed material, including engraved portraits of Shenstone and pages from a printing of "The Schoolmistress." The Leasowes includes 18th century engravings of views of the gardens, mounted newspaper clippings concerning the estate, a portion of a poem, "The Leasowes," a map and description from an 1865 freehold auction announcement, and a copy of a 1979 article by John Riely on the development of the gardens.


  • 1726-1979, 1751-1770
  • Majority of material found within 1751 - 1770


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The William Shenstone Papers is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Bequest of James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.


0.4 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers concern the Leasowes estate, including correspondence with Shenstone's attorney Thomas Milward and others about his legal and financial difficulties; mortgages and indentures on the property; documents concerning the case of Dolman vs. Shenstone and the settlement of his estate after his death; and surveys, descriptions and engravings of the Leasowes.
The collection also contains engraved portraits of Shenstone; verses addressed to him by friends, including Robert Dodsley and Lady Luxborough; and an autograph copy of his "The Snuff-box."


William Shenstone was born in Halesowen, Worcestershire on November 13, 1714. He was educated first in a dame school run by Sarah Lloyd, whom he celebrated in his poem "The Schoolmistress," then at the Halesowen grammar school. In 1732 he matriculated at Pembroke College, Oxford, where his friends included the writers Richard Jago and Richard Graves.

A small volume of his poetry was privately printed at Oxford in 1737, and "The Judgement of Hercules" and "The Schoolmistress" appeared anonymously in 1741 and 1742. Shenstone was enrolled at Oxford until 1742, but took no degree.

After the death of his guardian Thomas Dolman in 1745, Shenstone moved onto the Leasowes estate and devoted his life and more than his income to improving the grounds and gardens. The ferme ornée style of ornamented landscaping at The Leasowes was an important influence on later English landscape gardening (a term Shenstone may have originated), and the grounds became "a place to be visited by travellers, and copied by designers," as Johnson noted.

Shenstone's occasional poetry continued to appear in Robert Dodsley's Collection of Poems (1748, 1755, 1758), and his friends and correspondents included several literary figures, among them William Somerville, Joseph Spence, Joseph Grainger, Thomas Percy, and the actor Thomas Hull, as well as Lady Luxborough.

In early 1763, Shenstone hoped to be granted a pension by Lord Bute, and visited Lord Stamford in pursuit of it. Unfortunately, during his return home he developed a chill and a "putrid fever," and died on February 11, 1763. The unmarried Shenstone had no direct heirs, and left his financially embarrassed estate to his cousin, John Hodgetts. Dodsley published his three-volume Works, which included Shenstone's essay "Unconnected Thoughts on Gardening," in 1764-69.
Guide to the William Shenstone Papers
Under Revision
by Diane J. Ducharme
January 2000
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.