1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Mark Akenside

John Aikin, in Select Works of the British Poets (1820) 630.



MARK AKENSIDE was born in 1721, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where his father was a substantial butcher. After receiving an education, first at a grammar-school, and then at a private academy at his native place, he was sent to the university of Edinburgh, for the purpose of being fitted for a Dissenting minister. He soon, however, exchanged his studies for those of medicine; and, after continuing three years at Edinburgh, he removed to Leyden, where he took the degree of M.D. in 1744. In the same year his poem On the Pleasures of the Imagination made its appearance, which was received with great applause, and raised the author at once into poetical fame. It was soon followed by a warm invective against the celebrated Pulteney, Earl of Bath, in an Epistle to Curio. In 1745 he published ten Odes on different subjects, and in various styles and manners. All these works characterized him as a zealous votary of Grecian philosophy and classical literature, and an ardent lover of liberty. He continued, from time to time, to publish his poetical effusions, most of which first appeared in Dodsley's collection. Of these, the most considerable is, a Hymn to the Naiads.

His professional career affords few incidents worth recording. He settled for a short time at Northampton; then removed to Hampstead; and finally fixed himself in London. While his practice was small, he was generously assisted by his friend, Mr. Jeremiah Dyson, who made him an allowance of 300 per annum. He pursued the regular course to advancement, becoming Fellow of the Royal Society, Physician to St. Thomas's Hospital, Doctor of Physic by mandamus at Cambridge, and Fellow of the London College of Physicians. He also published several occasional pieces on medical subjects, among which was a Treatise on the Epidemic Dysentery of 1764, written in elegant Latin. By these efforts his practice and reputation increased; so that, on the settlement of the Queen's household, he was appointed one of her Majesty's physicians — an honour for which he is supposed to have been indebted to Mr. Dyson. It is affirmed that Dr. Akenside assumed haughtiness and ostentation of manner which was not calculated to ingratiate him with his brethren of the faculty, or to render him generally acceptable. He died of a putrid fever, in June, 1770, in the forty-ninth year of his age.

Respecting his poem On the Pleasures of the Imagination, of which Addison's papers in the Spectator are the ground-work, it would be an injury to deny him the claims of an original writer, which he merited by the expansion of the plan of this prose original, and by enriching its illustrations from the stores of philosophy and poetry. No poem of so elevated and abstracted a kind was ever so popular. It went through several editions soon after its appearance, and is still read with enthusiasm by those who have acquired a relish for the conceptions of pure poetry, and the strains of numerous blank verse. The author was known to have been employed many years in correcting, or rather new-modelling, this work; but the unfinished draught of this design seems to have rendered it probable that the piece would have lost as much in poetry as it would have gained in philosophy.

Of his other poems, the Hymn to the Naiads is the longest and best. With the purest spirit of classical literature, it contains much mythological ingenuity, and many poetical ideas, beautifully expressed. In his lyric productions, the copiousness and elevation of thought does not compensate for the total want of grace, ease, and appropriate harmony. The only sparks of animation which they exhibit occur when they touch on political topics; and it is in these instances alone we have ventured to select them.