1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Mark Akenside

Samuel Jackson Pratt, in Cabinet of Poetry (1808) 4:335-36.



MARK AKENSIDE, whom the ancients would have celebrated as a legitimate son of Apollo, as he was distinguished both for his talents in poetry and medicine, was born of humble parentage, and first saw the light, at Newcastle on Tyne, in 1721. His family were dissenters; and giving early proofs of talents and application, he was sent to the University of Edinburgh, with a view of qualifying him for the ministry. He however, soon quitted the study of divinity for medicine; and after some time spent at Edinburgh, he proceeded to Leyden in pursuit of medical knowledge, where he graduated in 1744. About this time, his immortal work, The Pleasures of Imagination, was published; which being seen in manuscript by Pope, received no mean commendation from that illustrious poet.

Soon after Akenside returned from Leyden, he produced his first collection of odes, in one of which he stigmatizes Pulteny as the betrayer of his country. In fact, Akenside was a warm patriot, and what he felt, he expressed, regardless of rank or place.

Having attempted in vain to establish himself in professional practice at Northampton, and afterwards at Hampstead, he finally settled in London; and had the good fortune to attract the regard of Jeremiah Dyson, who with singular generosity, settled an annuity on him of 300 a year, to enable him to elbow his way with more effect. In due time, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society, obtained a degree at Cambridge, was elected a Fellow of the College of Physicians, and one of the physicians of St. Thomas's Hospital. And with establishment of the Queen's Household, he had the honour of being appointed Physician to her Majesty. Fortune and fame were rapidly pouring their gifts upon him, and he was likely to have risen to the same rank among physicians, as he had some time held among poets, when a putrid fever carried him off, in 1770, in the forty-ninth year of his age. His remains were interred in the parish church of St. James's, Westminster.

Akenside was a man of religion, strict virtue, a philosopher, a scholar, and a poet. His conversation was of the most delightful kind, replete with knowledge, and enlivened by anecdote. As a didactic and lyric poet, he claims distinguished commendation. Some of his odes, indeed, are harsh; but his Pleasures of Imagination excite the enthusiasm they express, in every mind of taste and susceptibility. If some of his periods are too long involved, it arose more from the ardour of inspiration than the want of skill. His genius hurried him on, and he carries his reader with him by a fascination that mocks the frigid rules of criticism.

Lloyd concludes his Ode to Genius with the following apostrophe to Akenside:

And thou, blest bard! around whose sacred brow
Great Pindar's delegated wreath is hung;
Arise and snatch the majesty of song
From Dulness' servile tribe, and Art's unhallow'd throng.