Shaw, Steering

, the historian of Staffordshire, was son of the rev. Stebbing Shaw, rector of Hartshorn, on the borders of Derbyshire, near Ashby de la Zouch. He was born in 1762, at or near Stone, in Staffordshire; in the neighbourhood of which town, his mother inherited a small landed estate, which descended to this her only child. He was educated at the school of Repton, near Harishorn, first under the rev. Dr. Prior, and afterwards under his successor, the rev. William Bagshaw Stevens, an ingenious poet and scholar, who died in 1800. From this accomplished man, for whom he retained an unabated friendship till death, he early imbibed a warm love of literature. At the close of the month of October, 1780, he became a resident member of Qu.en’s-college, in Cambridge. At this period, his first literary predilections were fixed on English poetry, of which he had caught an enthu iastic fondness from his last master. But even this partiality yielded to his propensity for music; in which his performance on the violin occupied a large portion of his time, and he had already attained considerable excellence. In due time he took his degree of B. A. was elected to a | fellowship, and went into orders. Not long afterwards, the intimacy which, for almost half a century, had subsisted between his father and his neighhour, sir Robert Burdett, of Foremark, in which hospitable mansion the son had passed many of his early days, induced him to undertake the superintending care of the present sir Francis, then lately released from Westminster school, at his father’s villa at Ealing. With this pupil, he made a tour to the Highlands of Scotland in the autumn of 1787, of which he kept a diary. This diary, originally composed merely for private amusement, he afterwards inconsiderately published; and thus, it must be confessed, made his first appearance as an author with some disadvantage; luckily, however, the publication was anonymous. In the following year, he made a tour to the West of England, of which he published a more laboured account, with his name. The book was well received; and, though the style is not simple and easy (an attainment which indeed the author never reached), yet it discovered a dawning attention to the history of families and property, to which his industrious researches were afterwards directed with considerable success. In 1789, about the time of the publication of his tour, he obtained admission to the reading-room of the British Museum. His account of the vast stores of topographical and genealogical materials deposited there, fired the imagination of one of his learned friends, who resided in London, and with whom he passed much of his time. To this connection may be ascribed the origin of a periodical publication, entitled “The Topographer,” which commenced in the spring of 1789, and was carried on for more than two years, during which many useful materials towards the Topographical History of the Kingdom were communicated. Amongst other researches, Mr. Shaw spent part of the summer of 1790 in Sussex, and visited very many parishes, and collected a large store of church notes, of which only a small number was exhausted when the work closed. In these perambulations, his own faithful and constantly exercised pencil, enabled him to be doubly useful.

In the Summer of 1791, Mr. Shaw retired to his father’s house at Hartshorn. Here still amusing himself with topographical researches, he soon afterwards, during his fre-r quent visits into Staffordshire, conceived the idea of undertaking the history of that county. The scheme at first | appeared bold even to the partiality of his friends; but he persevered, and his mild and inoffensive manners procured attention to the assistance he asked; his acquaintance every day enlarged, and his materials accumulated. Instead of confining himself merely to the dry investigations of antiquarian lore, he conciliated by an attention awake to every thing which the title of his work could comprehend. Natural history, agriculture, scenery, manufactories, and arts, all excited his curiosity, and flattered the various turns of those by whom the acquisition of his materials was facilitated.

At length, by his assiduous inquiries, he discovered and obtained the vast treasure of Mss. written and collected by Dr. Wilkes for a similar undertaking; which had long been supposed to be lost, and of which some malicious attempts were made, by the assertion of wilful falsehoods, to stifle his pursuit. From the moment of this acquisition, his success became certain the expectation of the county rapidly increased and he received countenance and assistance from every quarter. He had already made a great variety of drawings of mansions, churches, monuments, and antiquities; and many of these were now engraved at the expence of the owners, some of which have since enriched the part already published; and a large proportion still remain with his unpublished materials. He now employed four years in augmenting and digesting his collections; and about 1796 began to print the first volume, which was laid before the public in August 1798, and answered and exceeded the expectations it had raised. It is in truth a rich and splendid volume in many respects. The typography, the number and variety of engravings, the luminous and well-laboured genealogical tables, the inexhaustible notices of the past drawn from the buried treasures of time, intermixed with modern facts and descriptions of more general attraction, render the work highly valuable, and will secure the reputation of the compiler.

In 1801 he published the first part of his second volume, which was in all respects equal to the former. He had now succeeded his father, who died at the close of 1799, in the living of Hartshorn, a village rendered remarkable as the birth-place of the celebrated dean Stanhope, whose father enjoyed this preferment. Here he spent the summer, and found some relaxation from his severe studies, in | improving his house and garden. But his enjoyments were not uninterrupted. A bilious habit rendered him perpetually subject to slow fevers. The fatigue of exercise in a burning sun now brought on a more fierce attack. He recovered, however, and returned to London in the winter of 1801, and went on with his work. But it was soon perceived that his constitution had received an alarming shock. Early in the spring he found himself unfit for his usual occupations. A new attack of a dreadful and lamentable fever ensued but from this too he was at length restored. All application to books was now prohibited and in June or July it was deemed advisable for him to pay a visit to the Kentish coast, attended by his only relation, an affectionate half-sister, the daughter of his father by a second wife. They went first to Ramsgate, and thence removed to the more quiet seclusion of Sandgate, near Hythe. Here he passed the autumn, and was so well that he joined some friends in a few days expedition to the opposite coast, and visited Boulogne. Towards the end of October 1802 his disorder suddenly returned with more violence than before. After a struggle of ten days, it was deemed right to remove him to London for better advice, where he died on the 28th, aged forty-one, deeply lamented by all vvho knew him, and leaving a chasm in the department of literature which he had embraced, not easy to be supplied 1


Gent. Mag. vol. Lxxui; by a Baronet well known in the learned world, and who is alluded to in the narrative.