The poetical works: of Mark Akenside. In two volumes. With the life of the author. ... [pt.1]
Akenside, Mark, 1721-1770.
Page  [unnumbered]

THE LIFE OF MARK AKENSIDE.

MARK AKENSIDE, an eminent poet and physician, was born at Newcastle upon Tyne the 9th Nov. 1721. He was second son of Mark Akenside, a substantial butcher of that town: his mother's name was Mary Lumsden. At the freeschool of Newcastle young Akenside received the first part of his education; he was next committed to the care of Mr. Wilson, a dis|senting clergyman who kept a private academy at Newcastle.

About the eighteenth year of his age our Author was sent to the university of Edinburgh, in the view of qualifying himself for the duties of a Presbyterian pastor, his parents and relations in general being of the Presbyterian sect. Mr. Akenside received some assistance from the funds which the English Dissenters employ in educating young men of no opulent for|tunes; but his views as to the ministry altering, he bent his studies towards physick, and honestly repaid to his benefactors the money they had advanced for him, which being contributed for a different purpose than promoting the study of physick he thought it disho|nourable to retain. Whether in relinquishing his de|sign of being a Dissenting clergyman he also ceased to be a Dissenter is not certainly known.

Page  vi Akenside's genius and taste for poetry displayed themselves early when at Newcastle school, and du|ring his continuance at Mr. Wilson's academy. His Pleasures of Imagination, with several other poems, 〈◊〉 said, were first written by him at Morpeth while upon a visit to his relations, and before he went to the university of Edinburgh, where he also distinguished himself by his poetical compositions. His Ode on the Winter Solstice, which is dated 1740, was certainly composed at that place.

After three years study at Edinburgh Mr. Aken|side went (1741) to Leyden, where on 16th May 1744 he took his degree of Doctor in Physick. Same year appeared his Pleasures of Imagination, a poem which procured him some emolument and much re|putation. This poem was followed by An Epistle to Curio, an acrimonious attack on the political con|duct of William Pulteney Earl of Bath, whom he stigmatizes under the name of Curio as the betrayer of his country, also published in the 1744. Akenside dissatisfied with this performance altered it exceed|ingly: he converted the Epistle into an Ode, and re|duced it to less than half the number of lines of which it originally consisted. In the 1745 he published his first Collection of Odes, ten in number. In 1748 came out his Ode to the Earl of Huntingdon; and in 1758 he attempted to rouse the national spirit by An Ode to the Country Gentlemen of England. Few of his re|maining Page  vii poems were published separately, excepting the Ode to Thomas Edwards, Esq. which though written in 1751 was not printed till the year 1766. The rest of Dr. Akenside's poems which appeared in his lifetime were given, at least for the most part, in the sixth volume of Dodsley's Collection.

Soon after his return from Leyden he commenced physician at Northampton, where Dr. Stonehouse then practised with reputation and success. Whilst here he carried on an amicable debate with Dr. Dod|dridge concerning the opinions of the ancient philo|sophers with regard to a future state of rewards and punishments, in which Dr. Akenside supported the firm belief of Cicero in particular in this great article of natural religion. Not meeting with sufficient en|couragement at Northampton, or being ambitious of a larger field in which to display his talents, he re|moved to Hampstead, where he resided upwards of two years, and then finally fixed himself in London.

At London he was well known as a poet, but had still to force his way as a physician. At first he had but little practice, and would probably have been reduced to difficulties had not Mr. Dyson, his intimate friend, generously allowed him 300l. a year, which enabled him to make a proper appearance in the world. In time the Doctor acquired considerable reputation and practice, and arrived at most of the honours incident to his profession: he became a Fellow of the Royal Page  viii Society, a Physician to St. Thomas's Hospital, was ad|mitted by mandamus to the degree of Doctor in Phy|sick in the university of Cambridge, and elected a Fel|low of the Royal College of Physicians in London, and upon the settlement of the Queen's household was appointed one of the Physicians to her Majesty. He perhaps might have still rose to a greater eleva|tion of character had not his studies ended with his life by a putrid fever 23d June 1770, in the 49th year of his age. He was buried in the parish of St. James's Westminster.

Dr. Akenside was much devoted to the study of ancient literature, and was a great admirer of Plato, Cicero, and the best philosophers of antiquity. His knowledge and taste in this respect are conspicuous in his poems, and in the Notes and Illustrations which he hath annexed to them. That he had a sincere re|verence for the great and fundamental principles of religion is apparent from numberless passages in his writings. His high veneration for the Supreme Being, his noble sentiments of the wisdom and benevolence of the Divine Providence, and his zeal for the cause of virtue, are conspicuous in all his poems. His re|gard to the Christian revelation, and his solicitude to have it preserved in its native purity, are displayed in the Ode to the Bishop of Winchester, His attachment to the cause of civil and religious liberty is a distin|guished feature in the character of his poetical writ|ings: Page  ix he embraces every occasion of displaying his ardour concerning this subject; and two of his Odes, those to the Earl of Huntingdon and the Bishop of Winchester, are directly consecrated to it.

Dr. Akenside is to be considered as a didactick and lyrick poet. His chief work, The Pleasures of Ima|gination, was received with great applause, and raised the Author's reputation high in the poetical world. Pope, on looking into the manuscript before publica|tion, is reported to have said

"That the Author was no every-day writer."
Mr. Cooper, in his Letters concerning Taste, speaks of Akenside in the follow|ing strain of commendation:
"For my part I am of opinion that there is now living a poet of as genu|ine a genius as this kingdom ever produced, Shake|speare alone excepted. By poetical genius I do not mean the mere talent of making verses, but that glorious enthusiasm of soul, that fine phrensy, in which the poet's eye rowling glances from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven, as Shakespeare feelingly describes it. This alone is poetry; aught else is a mechanical art of putting syllables harmonicusly to|gether. The gentleman I mean is Dr. Akenside, the worthy Author of The Pleasures of Imagination, the most beautiful didactick poem that ever adorned the English language."
On the other hand the late Mr. Gray, in a letter to Mr. Wharton of Old Park near Durham, dated Peterhouse 26th April 1744, Page  x (Mason's 4to edit. of Gray, p. 178.) says,
"You de|sire to know, it seems, what character the poem of your young friend (Dr. Akenside) bears here. I wonder that you ask the opinion of a nation where those who pretend to judge do not judge at all, and the rest (the wiser part) wait to catch the judg|ment of the world immediately above them, that is, Dick's and the Rainbow coffeehouses. Your readier way would be to ask the ladies who keep the bars in those two theatres of criticism. However, to shew you that I am a judge as well as my countrymen, I will tell you, though I have rather turned it over than read it, (Pleasures of Imagination) but no mat|ter, no more have they, that it seems to me above the middling, and now and then, for a little while, rises even to the best, particularly in description. It is often obscure, and even unintelligible, and too much infected with the Hutchinson jargon. In short, its great fault is that it was published at least nine years too early. And so methinks, in a few words, a la mode du Temple. I have very prettily dis|patched what perhaps may for several years have employed a very ingenious man worth fifty of my|self."

"As these observations were hastily delivered in a private letter, before the poem had been maturely examined, we may be allowed (say the writers of The Biographia to think them too severe, and to Page  xi steer a middle course between Mr. Gray and Mr. Cooper. The obscurity of The Pleasures of Imagi|nation, when read with attention, will chiefly be found in the allegory of the second book, which we freely confess we could never understand. It might likewise have been better if the peculiar language of Hutchinson, or rather of Shaftesbury, had some|times been omitted. Nevertheless we cannot but regard it as a noble and beautiful poem, exhibiting many bright displays of genius and fancy, and hold|ing out sublime views of Nature, Providence, and morality. We concur with Mr. Gray in thinking it was published too early: the Author himself be|came afterwards of the same sentiment; he was con|vinced that the poem was defective in some re|spects, and redundant in others."
"That it want|ed revision and correction,"
says Mr. Dyson, his editor,
"he was sufficiently sensible; but so quick was the demand for several successive republications, that in any of the intervals to have completed the whole of his corrections was utterly impossible; and yet to have gone on from time to time in making farther improvements in every new edition would, he thought, have had the appearance at least of abu|sing the favour of the publick: he chose therefore to continue for some time reprinting it without al|teration, and to forbear publishing any corrections or improvements until he should be able at once to Page  xii give them to the publick complete: and with this view he went on for several years to review and correct his poem at leisure, till at length he found the task grow so much upon his hands, that despair|ing of ever being able to execute if sufficiently to his own satisfction he abandoned the purpose of cor|recting, and resolved to write the poem over anew, upon a somewhat different and an enlarged plan."

Dr. Akenside did not live to finish the whole of his plan: that part of it which is carried into execution occurs next in this edition, and the reader may judge of the Doctor's intentions by having recourse to the Ge|neral Argument prefixed to the poem. He designed at first to compromise the whole of his subject, accord|ing to a new plan, in four books; but he afterwards changed his purpose, and determined to distribute The Pleasures of Imagination into a greater number of books. How far his scheme would have carried him, if he had lived to complete it, is uncertain, for at his death he had only finished the first and second books, a considerable part of the third, and the introduction to the fourth. The first book of the improved work bears a nearer resemblance to the first book of the former editions than any of the rest do to each other: there are nevertheless in this book a great number of correc|tions and alterations, and several considerable additi|ons. Dr Akenside has introduced a tribute of respect and affection to his friend Mr. Dyson; he has referred Page  xiii The Pleasures of Imagination to two sources only, Greatness and Beauty, and not to three, as he had heretofore done: his delineation of beautiful objects is much enlarged; and, upon the whole, the first book seems to have received no small degree of improve|ment. The second book is very different from the se|cond book of the preceeding editions: the difference indeed is so great that they cannot be compared toge|ther. The Author enters into a display of Truth and its three classes, matter of Fact, experimental or scien|tifical Truth, and universal Truth. He treats likewise of Virtue, as existing in the Divine Mind, of human virtue, of Vice and its origin, of Ridicule, and of the Passions. What he hath said upon the subject of ridi|cule is greatly and advantageously reduced from what it was in the former copies. The enumeration of the different sources of ridicule is left out, and consequently somelines which had given offence to Dr. Warburton. The allegorical Vision which heretofore constituted a principal part of the second book is likewise omitted. The poetical character of the second book, as it now stands, is, that it is correct, moral, and noble. The third book is an episode, in which Solon the Athenian lawgiver is the chief character; and the design of it seems to be, to shew the great influence of poetry in enforcing the cause of Liberty. This part is entirely new, and if it had been finished would have proved a beautiful addition to the poem. It is greatly to be re|gretted Page  xiv that Dr. Akenside did not live to complete his design; nevertheless we should have been sorry to have had the original poem entirely superseded. What|ever may be its faults there is in it a certain brightness and brilliancy of imagination, and a certain degree of enthusiasm, which the Doctor did not seem to have possessed in equal vigour in the latter part of his life. Years, and an application to scientifick studies, appear in some measure to have turned his mind from sound to things, from fancy to the understanding.

Dr. Johnson, in his life of Akenside, says of this poem,

"It has undoubtedly a just claim to very par|ticular notice, as an example of great felicity of ge|nius, and uncommon amplitude of acquisitions, of a young mind stored with images, and much exer|cised in combining and comparing them."
Of the altered work he adds,
"He seems to have somewhat contracted his diffusion; but I know not whether he has gained in closeness what he has lost in splen|dour."

"To The Pleasures of Imagination,"
continue the authors of The Biographia,
"succeed two books of Odes, the first containing eighteen, the second fif|teen odes. It was Dr. Akenside's intention, if he had lived, to have made each book consist of twenty odes. Those which had been formerly published are greatly altered and improved. The Doctor's odes are not equal to the beautiful productions of Page  xv Mr Gray, nor perhaps to those of one or two living writers; but still there is in them a noble vein of poetry, united with manly sense, and applied to ex|cellent purposes. This encomium cannot be extend|ed to the whole of the odes without exception: Dr. Akenside does not always preserve the dignity of the lyrick Muse: he is defective in the pathetick even upon a subject which peculiarly required it, and where it might have been most expected, the death of his mistress, we mean his Ode to the Even|ing Star. However, his Hymn to Cheerfulness, and his Odes on leaving Holland, on Lyrick Poetry, to the Earl of Huntingdon, and on Recovering from a sit of Sickness, justly entitle him to a place among the principal Lyrick writers of this country."

"Of his Odes,"
says Dr. Johnson,
"nothing fa|vourable can be said.—To examine such composi|tions singly cannot be required; they have doubt|less brighter and darker parts; but when they are once found to be generally dull all further labour may be spared: for to what use can the work be criticised that will not be read?"
In this diversity of opinions the reader will determine for himself.

Dr. Akenside's principal medical performance was, 1. His Dissertatio de Dysenteria, published in 1764, which has been commended as an elegant specimen of Latinity: it was twice translated into English. He also wrote, 2. Observations on the Origin and Use of Page  xvi the Lymphatick Vessels in Animals. 3. An Account of a Blow on the Heart, and its Effects. 4. Oratio Anniversaria, ex Instituto Harveii, in Theatro Col|legii Regalis Modicorum Londinensis habita, Anno 1759. 5. Observations on Cancers. 6. Of the Use of Ipecacuanha in Asthmas. 7. A Method of treating White Swellings of the Joints. Besides these he read at the College some Practical Observations made at St. Thomas's Hospital on the putrid Erysipelas, which he intended forthe second volume of The Medical Trans|actions. This paper he carried home with a design to correct it, but it was not returned at the time of his death. Being appointed Cronian Lecturer he chose for his subject

"The History of the Revival of Learn|ing,"
and read three lectures on it before the College, but from which he soon desisted, it was supposed in disgust, some one of the College having objected that he had chosen a subject foreign to the institution. Most of the above pieces were published in The Phi|losophical and Medical Transactions.