The Poetical Works of Mark Akenside

Produced by Jonathon Ingram, Robert Prince and the Online
Distribted Proofreading Team

THE

POETICAL WORKS
OF
MARK AKENSIDE.

REV. GEORGE GILFILLAN.

THE LIFE OF AKENSIDE.

Mark Akenside was born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the 9th of November
1721. His family were Presbyterian Dissenters, and on the 30th of
that month he was baptized in the meeting, then held in Hanover
Square, by a Mr. Benjamin Bennet. His father, Mark, was a butcher in
respectable circumstances—his mother’s name was Mary Lumsden. There
may seem something grotesque in finding the author of the “Pleasures
of Imagination” born in a place usually thought so anti-poetical as
a butcher’s shop. And yet similar anomalies abound in the histories
of men of genius. Henry Kirke White, too, was a butcher’s son, and
for some time carried his father’s basket. The late Thomas Atkinson,
a very clever littérateur of the West of Scotland, was also what
the Scotch call a “flesher’s” son. The case of Cardinal Wolsey is
well known. Indeed, we do not understand why any decent calling
should be inimical to the existence—however it may be to the
adequate development—of genius. That is a spark of supernal
inspiration, lighting where it pleases, often conforming, and always
striving to conform, circumstances to itself, and sometimes even
strengthened and purified by the contradictions it meets in life. Nay,
genius has sprung up in stranger quarters than in butcher’s shops or
tailor’s attics—it has lived and nourished in the dens of robbers,
and in the gross and fetid atmosphere of taverns. There was an
Allen-a-Dale in Robin Hood’s gang; it was in the Bell Inn, at
Gloucester, that George Whitefield, the most gifted of popular
orators, was reared; and Bunyan’s Muse found him at the
disrespectable trade of a tinker, and amidst the clatter of pots,
and pans, and vulgar curses, made her whisper audible in his ear,
“Come up hither to the Mount of Vision—to the summit of Mount Clear!”

It is said that Akenside was ashamed of his origin—and if so, he
deserved the perpetual recollection of it, produced by a life-long
lameness, originating in a cut from his father’s cleaver. It is
fitting that men, and especially great men, should suffer through
their smallnesses of character. The boy was first sent to the
Free School of Newcastle, and thence to a private academy kept by
Mr. Wilson, a Dissenting minister of the place. He began rather early
to display a taste for poetry and verse-writing; and, in April 1737,
we find in the Gentleman’s Magazine a set of stanzas, entitled,
“The Virtuoso, in imitation of Spenser’s style and stanza,” prefaced
by a letter signed Marcus, in which the author, while requesting the
insertion of his piece, pleads the apology of his extreme youth. One
may see something of the future political zeal of the man in the
boy’s selection of one of the names of Brutus. The Gentleman’s
Magazine
was then rising toward that character of a readable medley
and agreeable olla podrida, which it long bore, although its
principal contributor—Johnson—did not join its staff till the next
year. Its old numbers will even still repay perusal—at least we
seldom enjoyed a greater treat than when in our boyhood we lighted
on and read some twenty of its brown-hued, stout-backed,
strong-bound volumes, filled with the debates in the Senate of
Lilliput—with Johnson’s early Lives and Essays—with mediocre
poetry—interesting scraps of meteorological and scientific
information—ghost stories and fairy tales—alternating with timid
politics, and with sarcasms at the great, veiled under initials,
asterisks, and innuendoes; and even now many, we believe, feel it
quite a luxury to recur from the personalities and floridities of
modern periodicals to its quiet, cool, sober, and sensible pages. To
it Akenside contributed afterwards a fable, called “Ambition and
Content,” a “Hymn to Science,” and a few more poetical pieces
(written not, as commonly said, in Edinburgh, but in Newcastle, in
1739). It has been asserted that he composed his “Pleasures of
Imagination” while visiting some relations at Morpeth, when only
seventeen years of age; but although he himself assures us that he
spent many happy and inspired hours in that region,

                            ”Led

  In silence by some powerful hand unseen,”

there is no direct evidence that he then fixed his vague, tumultuous,
youthful impressions in verse. Indeed, the texture and style of the
“Pleasures” forbid the thought that it was a hasty improvisation.
When nearly eighteen years old, Akenside was sent to Edinburgh, to
commence his studies for the pulpit, and received some pecuniary
assistance from the Dissenters’ Society. One winter, however, served
to disgust him with the prospects of the profession—which he
resigned for the pursuit of medicine, repaying the contribution he
had received from the society. We know a similar case in the present
day of a well-known, able littérateur—once the editor of the
Westminster Review—who had been educated at the expense of the
Congregational body in Scotland, but who, after a change of
religious view and of profession, honourably refunded the whole sum.
What were the special reasons why Akenside turned aside from the
Church we are not informed. Perhaps he had fallen into youthful
indiscretions or early scepticism; or perhaps he felt that the
business of a Dissenting pastor was not then, any more than it is now,
a very lucrative one. Presbyterian Dissent at that time, besides,
did not stand very high in England. The leading Dissenting divines
were Independents—and the Presbyterian body was fast sinking into
Unitarian or Arian heresy. On the other hand, the Church of England
was in the last state of lukewarmness; the Church of Scotland was
groaning under the load of patronage; and the Secession body was
newly formed, and as yet insignificant. In such circumstances we
cannot wonder that an ardent, ambitious mind like that of Akenside
should revolt from divinity as a study, and the pulpit as a goal,
although some may think it strange how the pursuit of medicine
should commend itself instead to a genial and poetic mind. Yet let
us remember that some eminent poets have been students or practisers
of the art of medicine. Such—to name only a few—were Armstrong,
Smollett, Crabbe, Darwin, Delta, Keats, and the two Thomas Browns,
the Knight of the “Religio Medici,” and the Philosopher of the
“Lectures,” both genuine poets, although their best poetry is in
prose. There are, besides, connected with medicine, some departments
of thought and study peculiarly exciting to the imagination. Such is
anatomy, with its sad yet instructive revelations of the structure
of the human frame—so “fearfully and wonderfully made”—wielding in
its hand a scalpel which at first seems ruthless and disenchanting
as the scythe of death, but which afterwards becomes a key to unlock
some of the deepest mysteries, and leads us down whole galleries of
wonder. There is botany, culling from every nook and corner of the
earth weeds which are flowers, and flowers of all hues, and every
plant, from the “cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop which springs out of
the wall,” and finding a terrible and imaginative pleasure in
handling the fell family of poisons, and in deriving the means of
protracting life and healing sickness from the very blossoms of death.
And there is chemistry, most poetical save astronomy of all the
sciences, seeking to spiritualise the material—to hunt the atom to
the point where it trembles over the gulf of nonentity—to weigh
gases in scales, and the elements in a balance, and, in its more
transcendental and daring shape, trying to interchange one kind of
metal with another, and all kinds of forms with all, as in a
music-led and mystic dance. Hence we find that such men as Beddoes,
the author of the “Bride’s Tragedy,” have turned away from poetry to
physiology, and found in it a grander if also ghastlier stimulus to
their imaginative faculty. Hence Crabbe delighted to load himself
with grasses and duckweed, and Goëthe to fill his carriage with
every variety of plant and mountain flower. Hence Davy, and the late
lamented Samuel Brown, analysed, in the spirit of poets as well as
of philosophers, and gave to the crucible what it had long lost,
something of the air of a weird cauldron, bubbling over with magical
foam, and shining, not so much in the severe light of science as in
the

  ”Light that never was on sea or shore.

  The consecration and the poet’s dream.”

And hence, in the then state of Church matters, and of his own
effervescent soul, Akenside felt probably in medicine a deeper charm
than in theology, and imagined that it opened up a more congenial
field for his powers both of reason and of imagination.

In December 1740, Akenside was elected a member of the Edinburgh
Medical Society. This society held meetings for discussion, and
in them our poet set himself to shine as a speaker. His ambition,
it is said, at this time, was to be a member of Parliament; and
Dr. Robertson, then a student in the University, used to attend the
meetings of the society chiefly to hear the speeches of the young
and fiery Southron. Indeed, the rhetoric of the “Pleasures of
Imagination” is finer than its poetry; and none but an orator could
have painted Brutus rising “refulgent from the stroke” which slew
Caesar, when he

                  ”Call’d on Tully’s name,

  And bade the father of his country hail!”

Englishmen are naturally more eloquent than the Scotch; and once and
again has the Mark Akenside, the Joseph Gerald, or the George
Thompson overpowered and captivated even the sober and critical
children of the Modern Athens. While electrifying the Medical Society,
Akenside did not neglect, if he did not eminently excel in his
professional studies; and he continued to write sonorous verse, some
specimens of which, including an “Ode on the Winter Solstice,” and
“Love, an Elegy,” he is said to have printed for private distribution.

In Edinburgh he became acquainted with Jeremiah Dyson, a young
law-student of fortune, who was afterwards our poet’s principal
patron. He seems to have returned to Newcastle in 1741; and we find
him dating a letter to Dyson thence on the 18th of August 1742, and
directing his correspondent to address his reply to him as “Surgeon,
in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.” It is doubtful, however, if he had yet
begun to practise; and there is reason to believe that he was busily
occupied with his great poem. This he completed in the close of 1743.
He offered the manuscript to Dodsley for £150. The bookseller,
although a liberal and generous man, was disposed at first to
boggle a little at such a price for a didactic poem by an
unknown man. He carried the “Pleasures of Imagination” to Pope, who
glanced at it, saw its merit, and advised Dodsley not to make a
niggardly offer—for “this was no everyday writer.” It appeared in
January 1744, and, in spite of its faults, nay, perhaps, partly in
consequence of them, was received with loud applause; and the
author—only twenty-three years of age—”awoke one morning, and found
himself famous;” for although his name was not attached to the poem,
it soon transpired. One Rolt, an obscure scribbler, then in Ireland,
claimed the authorship, transcribed the poem with his own hand; nay,
according to Dr. Johnson, published an edition with his own name,
and was invited to the best tables as the ingenious Mr. Rolt. His
conversation did not indeed sparkle with poetic fire, nor was his
appearance that of a poet, but people remembered that both Dryden
and Addison were dull or silent in company till warmed with wine, and
that it was not uncommon for authors to have sold all their thoughts
to their booksellers. Akenside, hearing of this, was obliged to
vindicate his claims by printing the next edition with his name, and
then the bubble of the ingenious Mr. Rolt burst.

All fame, and especially all sudden fame, has its drawbacks. Gray
read the poem, and wrote of it to his friends, in a style thought at
the time depreciatory, although it comes pretty near the truth. He
says, “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. In short, its great fault
is, that it was published at least nine years too early.” Gray,
however, had not as yet himself emerged as a poet, and his word had
chiefly weight with his friends. Warburton was a more formidable
opponent. This divine acted then a good deal in the style of a
gigantic Church-bully, and seemed disposed to knock down all and
sundry who differed from him either on great or small theological
matters; and Humes, Churchills, Jortins, Middletons, Lowths,
Shaftesburys, Wesleys, Whitefields, and Akensides all felt the fury
of his onset, and the force of the “punishment” inflicted by his
strong fists. Akenside, in his poem, and in one of his notes, had
defended Shaftesbury’s ridiculous notion that ridicule is the test
of truth, and for this Warburton assailed him in the preface to
“Remarks in Answer to Dr. Middleton.” In this, while indirectly
disparaging the poem, he accuses the poet of infidelity, atheism,
and insulting the clergy. The preface appeared in March 1744, and in
the following May (Akenside being then in Holland) came forth a reply,
in “An Epistle to the Rev. Mr. Warburton, occasioned by his
Treatment of the Author of the Pleasures of Imagination,” which had
been concocted between Dyson and our poet. This pamphlet was written
with considerable spirit; and although it left the question where it
found it, it augured no little courage on the part of the young
physician and the young lawyer mating themselves against the matured
author of the “Divine Legation of Moses.” As to the question in
dispute, Johnson disposes of it satisfactorily in a single sentence.
“If ridicule be applied to any position as the test of truth, it
will then become a question whether such ridicule be just, and this
can only be decided by the application of truth as the test of
ridicule.” How easy to make any subject or any person ridiculous! To
hold that ridicule is paramount to the discovery or attestation of
truth, is to exalt the ape-element in man above the human and the
angelic principles, which also belong to his nature, and to enthrone
a Voltaire over a Newton or a Milton. Those who laugh proverbially
do not always win, nor do they always deserve to win. Do we think
less of “Paradise Lost,” and Shakspeare, because Cobbett has derided
both, or of the Old and New Testaments, because Paine has subjected
parts of them to his clumsy satire? When we find, indeed, a system
such as Jesuitism blasted by the ridicule of Pascal, we conclude
that it was not true,—but why? not merely because ridicule assailed
it, for ridicule has assailed ten thousand systems which never even
shook in the storm, but because, in the view of all candid and
liberal thinkers, the ridicule prevailed. Should it be said that
the question still recurs, How are we to be certain of the candour
and liberality of the men who think that Pascal’s satire damaged
Jesuitism? we simply say, that it is not ridicule, but some stricter
and more satisfactory method that can determine this inquiry. It
is remarkable that Akenside modified his statements on this subject
in his after revision of his poem.

In April 1744 we find our bard in Leyden, and Mr. Dyce has published
some interesting letters dated thence to Mr. Dyson. He does not seem
to have admired Holland much, whether in its scenery, manners, taste,
or genius. On the 16th of May, he took his degree of Doctor of
Physic at Leyden, the subject of his Dissertation (which, according
to the usual custom, he published) being the “Origin and Growth of
the Human Foetus,” in which he is reported to have opposed the views
then prevalent, and to have maintained the theory which is now
generally held. As soon as he received his diploma he returned to
England, signalising his departure by an “Ode to Holland,” as dull
as any ditch in that country itself. In June he settled as a
physician in Northampton, where the eminent Doddridge was at the
time labouring. With him he is said to have held a friendly contest
about the opinions of the old heathens in reference to a future state,
Akenside, in keeping with the whole tenor of his intellectual history,
supporting the side of the ancients. Indeed, he never appears to
have had much religion, except that of the Pagan philosophy, Plato
being his Paul, and Socrates his Christ; and most cordially would he
have joined in Thorwaldsen’s famous toast (announced at an evening
party in Rome, while the planet Jupiter was shining in great glory),
“Here’s in honour of the ancient gods.” In Northampton, partly owing
to the overbearing influence of Dr. Stonehouse, a long-established
practitioner, and partly to his violent political zeal, he did not
prosper. While residing there he produced his manly and spirited
“Epistle to Curio.” Curio was Pulteney, who had been a flaming
patriot, but who, like the majority of such characters, had, for the
sake of a title—the earldom of Bath—subsided into a courtier. Him
Akenside lashes with unsparing energy. He committed afterwards an
egregious blunder in reference to this production. He frittered it
down into a stupid ode. Indeed, he had always an injudicious
trick—whether springing from fastidiousness or undue ambition—of
tinkering and tampering with his very best poems.

In March 1745 he collected his odes into a quarto tract. It appeared
at a time when lyrical poetry was all but extinct. Dryden was gone;
Collins and Gray had not yet published their odes; and hence, and
partly too from the prestige of his former poem, Akenside’s odes,
poor as they now seem, met with considerable acceptance, although
they did not reach a new edition till 1760. In 1747 his friend Dyson,
having been elected clerk to the House of Commons, took Akenside with
him to his house at Northend, Hampstead. Here, however, he felt
himself out of place, and in fine, in 1748, he settled down in
Bloomsbury Square, London, where Dyson very generously allowed him
£300 a-year, which, being equal to the value of twice that sum now,
enabled him to keep a chariot, and live like a gentleman. During the
years 1746, 1747, 1748, he composed a number of pieces, both in
prose and verse—his “Hymn to the Naiads,” his “Ode to the Evening
Star,” and several essays in Dodsley’s Museum; such as these,
“On Correctness;” “The Table of Modern Fame, a Vision;” “Letter from
a Swiss Gentleman on English Liberty;” and “The Balance of Poets;”
besides an ode to Caleb Hardinge, M. D., and another to the Earl of
Huntingdon, which has been esteemed one of his best lyric poems. In
London he did not attain rapidly a good practice, nor was it ever
extensive. But for Mr. Dyson’s aid he might have written a chapter on
“Early Struggles,” nearly as rich and interesting as that famous one
in Warren’s “Diary of a late Physician.” Even his poetical name was
adverse to his prospects. His manners, too, were unconciliating and
haughty. At Tom’s Coffeehouse, in Devereux Court, night after night,
appeared the author of the “Pleasures of Imagination,” full of
knowledge, dogmatism, and a love of self-display; eager for talk,
fond of arguing—especially on politics and literature—and sometimes
narrowly escaping duels and other misadventures springing from his
hot and imperious temper. In sick chambers he was stiff, formal, and
reserved, carrying a frown about with him, which itself damped the
spirits and accelerated the pulse of his patients. It was only among
intimate friends that he descended to familiarity, and even then it
was with

“Compulsion and laborious flight.”

One of these intimates for a while was Charles Townshend, a man
whose name now lives chiefly in the glowing encomium of Burke, a
part of which we may quote:—”Before this splendid orb (Lord Chatham)
was entirely set, and while the western horizon was in a blaze with
his descending glory, on the opposite quarter of the heavens arose
another luminary, and for his hour became lord of the ascendant.
Townshend was the delight and ornament of this House, and the charm
of every private society which he honoured with his presence.
Perhaps there never arose in this country, nor in any country, a man
of more pointed and finished wit, and of a more refined, exquisite,
and penetrating judgment. He stated his matter skilfully and
powerfully. He particularly excelled in a most luminous explanation
and display of the subject. His style of argument was neither trite
and vulgar, nor subtle and abstruse. He hit the House between wind
and water. He had no failings which were not owing to a noble cause,
to an ardent, generous, perhaps an immoderate passion for fame; a
passion which is the instinct of all great souls. He worshipped that
goddess wheresoever she appeared: but he paid his particular
devotions to her in her favourite habitation, in her chosen temple,
the House of Commons.” With this distinguished man Akenside was for
some time on friendly terms, but for causes not well known, their
friendship came to an abrupt termination; it might have been owing
to Townshend’s rapid rise, or to Akenside’s presumptuous and
overbearing disposition. Two odes, addressed by the latter to the
former, immortalise this incomplete and abortive amity.

The years 1750 and 1751 were only signalised in Akenside’s history
by one or two dull odes from his pen. But if not witty at that time
himself, he gave occasion to wit in others. Smollett, provoked, it
is said, by some aspersions Akenside had in conversation cast on
Scotland, and at all times prone to bitter and sarcastic views of
men and manners, fell foul of him in “Peregrine Pickle.” If our
readers care for wading through that filthy novel—the most
disagreeable, although not the dullest of Smollett’s fictions—they
will find a caricature of our poet in the character of the “Doctor,”
who talks nonsense about liberty, quotes and praises his own poetry,
and invites his friends to an entertainment in the manner of the
ancients—a feast hideously accurate in its imitation of antique
cookery, and forming, if not an “entertainment” to the guests, a very
rich one to the readers of the tale. How Akenside bore this we are
not particularly informed. Probably he writhed in secret, but was
too proud to acknowledge his feelings. In 1753 he was consoled by
receiving a doctor’s degree from Cambridge, and by being elected
Fellow of the Royal Society. The next year he became Fellow of the
College of Physicians.

In June 1755 he read the Galstonian lectures in anatomy before the
College of Physicians, and in the next year the Croonian lectures
before the same institution. The subject of the latter course was
the “History of the Revival of Letters,” which some of the learned
Thebans thought not germane to the matter; and, consequently, after
he had delivered three lectures, he desisted in disgust. This fact
seems somewhat to contradict Dr. Johnson’s assertion, that “Akenside
appears not to have been wanting to his own success, and placed
himself in view by all the common methods.” Had he been a thoroughly
self-seeking man, he never would have committed the blunder of
choosing literature as a subject of predilection to men who were
probably most of them materialists, or at least destitute of
literary taste. The Doctor says also, “He very eagerly forced
himself into notice, by an ambitious ostentation of elegance and
literature.” But surely the author of such a popular poem as the
“Pleasures of Imagination” had no need to claim notice by an
ostentatious display of his parts, and had too much good sense to
imagine that such a vain display would conciliate any acute and
sensible person. Johnson, in fact, throughout his cursory and
careless “Life of Akenside,” is manifestly labouring under deep
prejudice against the poet—prejudice founded chiefly on Akenside’s
political sentiments.

In 1759 our poet was appointed physician to St. Thomas’s Hospital,
and afterwards to Christ’s Hospital. Here he ruled the patients and
the under officials with a rod of iron. Dr. Lettsom became a
surgeon’s dresser in St. Thomas’s Hospital. He was an admirer of
poetry, especially of the “Pleasures of Imagination,” and
anticipated much delight from intercourse with the author. He was
disappointed first of all with his personal appearance. He found him
a stiff-limbed, starched personage, with a lame foot, a pale
strumous face, a long sword, and a large white wig. Worse than this,
he was cruel, almost barbarous, to the patients, particularly to
females. Owing to an early love-disappointment, he had contracted a
disgust and aversion to the sex, and chose to express it in a
callous and cowardly harshness to those under his charge. It is
possible, however, that Lettsom might be influenced by some private
pique. Nothing is more common than for the hero-worshipper,
disenchanted of his early idolatry, to rush to the opposite extreme,
and to become the hero-hater; and the fault is as frequently
his own as that of his idol. And it must be granted that an
hospital—especially of that age—was no congenial atmosphere for a
poet so Platonic and ideal as Akenside.

In October 1759 he delivered the Harveian oration before the College
of Physicians, and by their order it was published the next year. In
1761 Mr. T. Hollis presented him with a bed which had once belonged
to Milton, on the condition that he would write an ode to the memory
of that great poet. Akenside joyfully accepted the bed, had it set
up in his house, and, we suppose, slept in it; but the muse forgot
to visit his “slumbers nightly,” and no ode was ever produced.
We think that Akenside had sympathy enough with Milton’s politics and
poetry to have written a fine blank-verse tribute to his memory,
resembling that of Thomson to Sir Isaac Newton; but odes of much
merit he could not produce, and yet at odes he was always sweltering

“With labour dire and weary woe.”

In 1760, George the Third mounted the throne, and the author of the
“Epistle to Curio” began to follow the precise path of Pulteney. In
this he was preceded by Dyson, who became suddenly a supporter of
Lord Bute, and drew his friend in his train. By Dyson’s influence
Akenside was appointed, in 1761, physician to the Queen. His
secession from the Whig ranks cost him a great deal of obloquy.
Dr. Hardinge had told the two turncoats long before “that, like a
couple of idiots, they did not leave themselves a loophole—they
could not sidle away into the opposite creed.” He never, however,
became a violent Tory partisan. It is singular how Johnson, with all
his aversion to Akenside, has no allusion to his apostasy, in which
we might have à priori expected him to glory, as a proof of the
poet’s inconsistency, if not corruption.

In one point Akenside differed from the majority of his tuneful
brethren, before, then, or since. He was a warm and wide-hearted
commender of the works of other poets. Most of our sweet singers
rather resemble birds of prey than nightingales or doves, and are at
least as strong in their talons as they are musical in their tongues.
And hence the groves of Parnassus have in all ages rung with the
screams of wrath and contest, frightfully mingling with the melodies
of song. Akenside, by a felicitous conjunction of elements, which
you could not have expected from other parts of his character, was
entirely exempted from this defect, and not only warmly admired Pope,
Young, Thomson, and Dyer, whose “Fleece” he corrected, but had kind
words to spare for even such “small deer” as Welsted and Fenton.

In 1763, he read a paper before the Royal Society, on the “Effects
of a Blow on the Heart,” which was published in the Philosophical
Transactions
of the year. And, in 1764 he established his character
as a medical writer by an elegant and elaborate treatise on
“The Dysentery,” still, we believe, consulted for its information,
and studied for the purity and precision of its Latin style. About
this time, too, he commenced a recasting of his “Pleasures of
Imagination,” which he did not live to finish; and in which, on the
whole, there is more of laborious alteration than of felicitous
improvement. In 1766, Warburton, his old foe, who had now been made a
bishop, reprinted, in a new edition of his “Divine Legation of Moses,”
his attack on Akenside’s notions about ridicule, without deigning to
take any notice of the explanations he had given in his reply. This
renewal of hostilities, coming, especially as it did, from the
vantage ground of the Episcopal bench, enraged our poet, and, by way
of rejoinder, he issued a lyrical satire which he had had lying past
him in pickle for fifteen years, and which nothing but a fresh
provocation would have induced him to publish. It was entitled
“An Ode to the late Thomas Edwards, Esq.” Edwards had opposed
Warburton ably in a book entitled “Canons of Criticism,” and was
himself a poet. The real sting of this attack lay in Akenside’s
production of a letter from Warburton to Concanen, dated 2d January
1726, which had fallen accidentally into the hands of our poet; and
in which Warburton had accused Addison of plagiarism, and said that
when “Pope borrows it is from want of genius.” Concanen was one of
the “Dunces,” and it was, of course, Akenside’s purpose to shew
Warburton’s inconsistency in the different opinions he had expressed
at different times of them and of their great adversary. We know not
if the sturdy bishop took any notice of this ode. Even his Briarean
arms were sometimes too full of the controversial work which his
overbearing temper and fierce passions were constantly giving him.

In 1766, Akenside received the thanks of the College of Physicians
for an edition of Harvey’s works, which he prepared for the press,
and to which he had prefixed a preface. In June 1767 he read before
the College two papers, one on “Cancers and Asthmas,” and the other
on “White Swelling of the Joints,” both of which were published the
next year in the first volume of the Medical Transactions. In the
same year, one Archibald Campbell, a Scotchman, a purser in the navy,
and called, from his ungainly countenance, “horrible Campbell,”
produced a small jeu d’esprit, entitled “Lexiphanes, imitated from
Lucian, and suited to the present times,” in which he tries to
ridicule Johnson’s prose and Akenside’s poetry. His object was
probably to attract their notice, but both passed over this grin of
the “Grim Feature” in silent contempt. Akenside was still busy with
the revisal of his poem, had finished two books, “made considerable
progress with the third, and written a fragment of the fourth;” but
death stepped in and blighted his prospects, both as a physician,
with increasing practice and reputation, and as a poet, whose
favourite work was approaching what he deemed perfection. He was
seized with putrid fever; and, after a short illness, died on the 23
d June 1770 at an age when many men are in their very prime, both of
body and mind—that of 49. He died in his house in Burlington Street,
and was buried on the 28th in St. James’s Church.

Akenside had been, notwithstanding his many acquaintances and friends,
on the whole, a lonely man; without domestic connexions, and having,
so far as we are informed, either no surviving relations or no
intercourse with those who might be still alive. He was not
especially loved in society; he wanted humour and good-humour both,
and had little of that frank cordiality which, according to Sidney
Smith, “warms and cheers more than meat or wine.” He had far less
geniality than genius. Yet, in certain select circles, his mind,
which was richly stored with all knowledge, opened delightfully, and
men felt that he was the author of his splendid poem. One of his
biographers gives him the palm for learning, next to Ben Jonson,
Milton, and Gray (he might perhaps have also excepted Landor and
Coleridge), over all our English poets.

In 1772, Mr. Dyson published an edition of his friend’s poems,

Pages: First | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | ... | Next → | Last | Single Page