MARK AKENSIDE was born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, November 9th, 1721, and was baptized on the 30th of the same month by the minister of a meeting-house, which his parents used to frequent. His father, Mark, was a respectable butcher. His mother's maiden name was Mary Lumsden. He was their second son. It is said that in after life he was ashamed of the lowness of his birth, which was constantly brought to his recollection by a lameness, originating in a cut on his foot from the fall of his father's cleaver, when he was about seven years old.
After receiving some instruction at the free-school of Newcastle, he was sent to a private academy in the same town, kept by a Mr. Wilson, a dissenting minister.
His genius, and his love of poetry, were manifested, while he was yet a school-boy. The Gentleman's Magazine for April, 1737, contains one of his earliest attempts at versification, entitled The Virtuoso, in imitation of Spenser's style and stanza: it is far superior to the singsong inanities, which in these days generally adorned the pages of that miscellany, and is prefaced thus by a letter to the editor:
"Newcastle upon Tyne, April, 23.
I hope, Sir, you'll excuse the following Poem, (being the Performance of one in his sixteenth year), and insert it in your next Magazine, which will oblige. Yours &c. MARCUS."
To the same popular work he contributed, in the next month, an ingenious fable called Ambition and Content; and, in July following, The Poet, a Rhapsody.
When about the age of seventeen, Akenside used to visit some relations at Morpeth, where it has been rather hastily supposed that he wrote his Pleasures of Imagination. Passages of it were, probably, composed there: at various times and places, during several years before its publication, that great work had, no doubt, occupied his mind. In a fragment of the fourth book of the remodelled copy, he pleasingly describes his early sensibility to the beauties of nature, and his lonely wanderings in the vicinity both of Newcastle and of Morpeth.
To the Gentleman's Magazine for August, 1738, he communicated A British Philippic, occasioned by the insults of the Spaniards, and the present preparations for war. That its flaming patriotism was quite to the taste of Mr. Urban, appears from the following advertisement: "N.B. It often turning to our Inconvenience to sell a greater Number of one Magazine than of another, and believing the above noble-spirited Poem will be acceptable to many, not our constant Readers, we have printed it in Folio, Price Six Pence, together with the Motto at large, for which, receiving the Manuscript late, we could not make room. And if the ingenious Author will inform us how we may direct a Packet to his Hands, we will send him our Acknowledgments for so great a Favour with a Parcel of the Folio Edition."
His Hymn to Science was printed in the Gentleman's Magazine for October, 1739. It is doubtless a production of considerable merit; but Mr. Bucke is probably the only reader whom it ever moved to rapturous admiration.
Our poet was about eighteen years of age when he was sent to Edinburgh, with some pecuniary assistance from the Dissenters' Society, that he might qualify himself for the office of one of their ministers; but, after pursuing the requisite studies for one winter, he changed his mind with respect to a profession, entered himself a medical student, and repaid the contribution which he had received from the Dissenters. "Whether," says Johnson, "when he resolved not to be a dissenting minister, he ceased to be a dissenter, I know not. He certainly retained an unnecessary and outrageous zeal for what he called and thought liberty; a zeal which sometimes disguises from the world, and not rarely from the mind which it possesses, an envious desire of plundering wealth or degrading greatness; and of which the immediate tendency is innovation and anarchy, an impetuous eagerness to subvert and confound, with very little care what shall be established."
At Edinburgh he was elected a member of the Medical Society, December 30th, 1740, and became acquainted with several persons of his own age, who afterwards rose to eminence; but though, during his residence there, he prosecuted the study of medicine, we learn from the following authentic statement that he was by no means satisfied with his new profession, and thirsted for a celebrity very different from that which its most successful practice could confer. "Akenside," says the late Dugald Stewart, "when a student at Edinburgh, was a member of the Medical Society, then recently formed, and was eminently distinguished by the eloquence which he displayed in the course of the debates. Dr. Robertson (who was at that time a student of divinity in the same university) told me that he was frequently led to attend their meetings, chiefly to hear the speeches of Akenside; the great object of whose ambition then was a seat in Parliament; a situation which, he was sanguine enough to flatter himself, he had some prospect of obtaining; and for which he conceived his talents to be much better adapted than for the profession he had chosen. In this opinion he was probably in the right, as he was generally considered by his fellow-students as far inferior in medical science to several of his companions." To the ardour of youth, and the consciousness of high endowments, we ought probably to attribute such ambitious dreams; and we may suppose, that as judgment ripened with maturer years, they faded gradually away.
At Edinburgh he composed his ode On the Winter Solstice, dated 1740, which he soon after rewrote and amplified. He is said to have originally printed it with another juvenile production, Love, an Elegy, for distribution among his friends. His lines To Cordelia bear the same date.
We are told by Akenside's biographers, that after staying three years at Edinburgh, he removed to Leyden for the advancement of his medical studies: — that he remained there two (according to others, three) years, till he had taken his degree of Doctor of Physic, in 1744: — that he there formed an intimacy with his future patron, Mr. Jeremiah Dyson, then a student of law at the same university, and returned with him to England — (they "embarked," according to Mr. Bucke's particular account, "in the same vessel at Rotterdam, and arrived safely in London, after an agreeable but protracted voyage!"): — and that the Pleasures of Imagination was published soon after the poet's arrival in England. I shall presently show that Akenside's first and only visit to Leyden was in 1744, and subsequent to the appearance of his great work; and that he and Mr. Dyson were never in Holland at the same time.
Having completed his studies in the Scottish capital, Akenside appears to have returned to his native town in 1741. Next year, he addressed the following remarkable letters to Mr. Dyson, a young gentleman of fortune, with whom, perhaps, he had become acquainted during his residence in Edinburgh:
"Newcastle upon Tyne, the 18th of August, 1742.
I have been long expecting to hear from you since I had the pleasure of seeing you on the road: but your letter has either miscarry'd or has been prevented perhaps by some unexpected affairs ingaging you after your arrival at London longer than you suppos'd. Upon either of these cases I should not have delay'd to begin a correspondence sooner, but that I knew not how to direct for you. Our acquaintance, Mr. Anderson, has just now inform'd me; and I take the opportunity of his journey to London to send you this. For where there is a real esteem and affection, it is certainly extremely absurd to act according to those precisenesses of form and punctuality, which in some matters may prevent inconvenience, but can never regulate the mind, and have no connection with the free inclinations of one who would be a friend. The very opportunity of knowing a person of a desirable character, is the means of no slight enjoyment; but the prospect of contracting a friendship in such a case brings the pleasure much nearer home, and promises a kind of property in those things which all men look upon with honour and good wishes. If you will excuse me for being thus selfish, I sincerely and heartily offer you my friendship; and tho' in such a compact, where there are no articles of obligation, nothing stipulated, nothing imposed, it be not very becoming to promise too much, yet I think one may venture to ingage for himself, that he is capable of being a friend: for tho' in our voluntary affairs this be indeed the main article, yet it luckily happens that this pretension, like all those that regard the heart and will, is neither difficult to be made good, nor liable to the censure of vanity: quite differently from all pretensions to what is valuable in the understanding, or in any other respect of nature or fortune.
Mr. Anderson says he was told you had been somewhat indispos'd since you got home; I hope you are by this time perfectly strong and healthy, so as to continue without fear in your resolution of spending next winter at Leyden. I heartily wish I could spend it with you, but am as yet undetermin'd. Mr. Archer, besides next winter at Edinburgh, intends, I hear, to pass another with Mr. Hucheson; in my opinion he putts off his settling in business too late, if he spend as many years as he talks of in an academical way. It was always my desire to be fixed in life, as they say, as soon as I could, consistently with the attainments necessary to what I should profess.
A letter from you, whenever you are at leisure, will be extremely welcome: you will direct it to be left at Mr. Akinside's, Surgeon, in Newcastle upon Tyne.
I desire you to excuse this blotted scrawl it is past midnight, and Mr. Anderson goes away early to-morrow. I am, Sir, with the greatest esteem and sincerity, your very affectionate and obedient servant,
This letter was the prelude to a friendship memorable for the fervour and the constancy with which it was maintained on both sides, as well as for its beneficial results to the poet. At the time it was written, I apprehend that Akenside was busily occupied in the composition of the great didactic poem, over which his genius seems to have brooded even from his boyish days; and that, though he styles himself "Surgeon," he had not commenced any regular practice in that capacity.
Mr. Dyson's "resolution of spending next winter at Leyden," in order to prosecute the study of civil law, was carried into effect. On his return to England, in 1743, he entered himself at one of the Inns of Court (I believe, Lincoln's Inn), and, in due time, was called to the bar.
The Pleasures of Imagination being now ready for the press, we may suppose that Akenside brought the precious manuscript to London, about the middle, or towards the close, of 1743. "I have heard," says Johnson, "Dodsley relate, that when the copy was offered him, the price demanded for it, which was a hundred and twenty pounds, being such as he was not inclined to give precipitately, he carried the work to Pope, who, having looked into it, advised him not to make a niggardly offer; for 'this was no every-day writer,'" In consequence of this imprimatur from Twickenham, the work was published by Dodsley in January, 1744. Notwithstanding its metaphysical subject, so little adapted to the taste of common readers, this splendid production was received with an applause which at once raised the author, who had only completed his twenty-third year, to a distinguished station among the poets of the day. When it first appeared, Pope was sinking under the malady which, a few months after, removed him from the poetic throne; Swift was still alive, but in the stupor of idiotcy; Thomson had won by The Seasons an unfading laurel, to which he was destined to add another wreath by The Castle of Indolence; Young was in the fulness of fame, though the four concluding portions of the Night Thoughts were yet unpublished; Glover enjoyed a very high reputation from Leonidas; Johnson was known only as the author of an admired satire, London; Dyer had put forth Gronger Hill, and The Ruins of Rome, with little success, — his Fleece was yet to come; Collins had vainly endeavoured to attract notice by his Eclogues and Epistle to Hanmer, — his Odes being of a later date; Shenstone had produced little, but among that little was The School-mistress; Blair had published The Grave; and Armstrong, who had only a disgraceful notoriety from a licentious poem, was soon to rival Akenside as a didactic writer.
The applause which hailed the first appearance of The Pleasures of Imagination had scarcely subsided, when Akenside found that he had roused an adversary of formidable powers. Having adopted the opinion of Lord Shaftesbury, that ridicule is the test of truth, he had annexed to a passage in the third book of his poem a long note on the subject, in which Warburton chose to discover an offensive allusion to himself. When, therefore, that mighty dogmatist, about two months after, put forth his Remarks on Several Occasional Reflections, in answer to Dr. Middleton, &c. he devoted to Akenside the whole of a sneering and caustic Preface, which opens thus in the Prefatory Discourse to the first volume of theD.[ivine] L.[egation] "I spoke pretty largely of the Use of Ridicule in religious subjects; as the Abuse of it is amongst the fashionable arts of Free-thinking: for which I have been just now call'd to account, without any ceremony, by the nameless author of a poem entitled The Pleasures of Imagination. For 'tis my fortune to be still concern'd with those who either do go masked, or those who should. I am a plain man, and on my first appearance in this way, I told my name and who I belonged to. After this, if men will rudely come upon me in disguise, they can have no reason to complain, that (in my ignorance of their characters) I treat them all alike upon the same free footing they have put themselves. This gentleman, a follower of Ld. S.[haftesbury], and, as it should seem, one of those to whom that Preface was addressed; certainly, one of those to whom I applied the words of Tully, 'non decet, non datum est;' who affect wit and raillery on subjects not meet, and with talents unequal; this gentleman, I say, in the 105th and 106th pages of his Poem, animadverts upon me in the following manner: Since (says he) it is beyond all contradiction evident that we have a natural sense or feeling of the ridiculous, and since so good a reason may be assigned to justify the supreme Being for bestowing it; one cannot without astonishment reflect on the conduct of those men who imagine it for the service of true religion to vilify and blacken it without distinction, and endeavour to persuade us that it is never applied but in a bad cause." Warburton then proceeds to a very minute examination of the obnoxious note; he insinuates that Akenside is a deist, even a favourer of atheism; and, though he attacks his philosophy, and not his poetry, he repeatedly terms him "our poet," in a manner truly provoking. In conclusion, he asserts that a passage in the third book of the poem is an insult to the whole body of the clergy.
An Epistle to the Rev. Mr. Warburton, occasioned by his treatment of the author of the Pleasures of Imagination, appeared about six weeks after the publication which had called it forth. Though this angry letter, which displays considerable ingenuity of argument without much grace of style, is generally attributed to the friendly pen of Mr. Dyson, I am inclined to believe that the greater part of it was composed by Akenside. The following quotation forms its commencement:
Notwithstanding the pains you have taken to discourage all men from entering into any controversy with you; and notwithstanding the severe example you have just been making of one, who, as you fancied, had presumed to call you to account: you must still be content to be accountable for your writings, and must once more bear the mortification of being actually called to account for them.
'Tis the preface to your late Remarks that you are now called upon to justify: in which you have thought fit to treat upon a mighty free footing (as you style it, but in the apprehension of most people, upon a very injurious one), the ingenious and worthy author of the poem entitled, The Pleasures of Imagination. The favourable reception and, applause that performance has met with, render it unnecessary, and indeed impertinent, for me to enlarge in its praise, especially as you, Sir, have not condescended to enter into a particular censure of the poem; however, by some general hints scatter'd up and down, as well as by the affectation of perpetually styling the author our poet, you may have let us see how you stand affected towards it. Whether it be indeed that dull, trivial, useless thing you seem to represent it, I shall not dispute with you; but am content to leave, as to this point, Mr. W.'s judgment staked against the general reputation of the poem. The point I am immediately concern'd with is, your unbecoming treatment of the author, which, as it is so interwoven thro' the whole course of your preface, as to be sufficiently evident, without the allegation of particular passages; so we shall find there are not wanting repeated instances of direct and notorious ill usage; such usage, as tho' the provocation had been ever so just, and the imagined attack upon you ever so real, would yet have been unwarrantable, and which, therefore, can't admit of the least shadow of an excuse, when it shall appear that you had really no provocation at all. For the very fact with which you set out, and which is the foundation, I suppose, of all your indignation, is an entire mistake. You tell us, you have been just now called to account, &c. This, I say, is an absolute mistake. And, as for my own part, I never suspected that the note you refer to had anything personal in it, so I am authorized to affirm, that it was not at all intended personally."
To this Letter Warburton returned no answer. In the remodelled copy of his poem, Akenside reduced into a comparatively short passage the lines which treat of Ridicule, and which were certainly the least pleasing portion of the work. He, doubtless, writhed under Warburton's vigorous attack, for which, as will be shown in the course of this memoir, he, long after, made a sort of requital.
Though the Epistle to Warburton appears not to have been published, it was certainly printed, before Akenside went to Leyden for the purpose of obtaining the degree of Doctor of Physic. This is proved by an allusion to it in the first of the following very interesting letters to his beloved friend, Mr. Dyson. The erroneous statement of his biographers, that he visited Holland at an earlier period than 1744, has been already noticed.
"Leyden, April 7th, N.S. 1744.
At last I am in a condition to recollect myself sufficiently to write to you. Ever since I left you, I have been from hour to hour ingag'd by a succession of most trivial circumstances, and yet importunate enough to force my attention from those objects, to which it most naturally and habitually inclines. I now begin to respire, and can fancy myself at Lincoln's Inn, meeting you after a very tedious absence of eight days: and telling the little occurrences I have met with; a story in other respects too inconsiderable to be repeated; but which, in repeating it to my friend, acquires an importance superior to the annals of a king's posterity.
I went on board from Harwich on Thursday morning, and got ashore at Helveotsluys just about the same time on Saturday. I was not in the least sick. I am now settled in Roebuck's chamber, the same house with Mr. Drew and Brocklesby. This last was the only one of my acquaintance I found here, and I dare say if you were now to return to Leyden, you would think the acquaintance of those who have come hither since you went away, very, very far from compensating the loss of those whose conversation you had the happiness to injoy. There are not above ten or twelve English, Scotch, and Irish now at Leyden.
As I was in the street yesterday, Mr. Schwartz, who had been told by somebody or other that I was a friend of Mr. Dyson's, came up to me and inquir'd very affectionately after you. I am just come from sitting the afternoon with him; he could, hardly talk of anything but you; yet complains that you neglect to write to him. He is uncertain whether he shall be in London this summer or not; but says he is very well acquainted with all the streets there, he has so carefully studied them in the map. I love the good nature and simplicity of his manners, and love his company more than any body's in Leyden, for I see that whenever we are together we shall fall a talking about you immediately.
I have been with Mr. Gronovius, and the Doctor, who make an excellent contrast, both as to their manners and studies; about the latter of these they are constantly rallying and joking on each other. Mr. Gronovius shew'd me his Nicander, about which he has taken vast pains. He has above six hundred emendations of the text, and scholia, but wants an unpublish'd paraphrase of the author, which, it seems, is in a library at Vienna. Its talks of making this little book as large as his last Aelain. I wish you could get the Pindar, which I hear is probably by this time finish'd at Glasgow, in one volume, the same size and type with the Theophrastus. Mr. Brocklesby tells me of an edition of Shaftesbury in the press at Dublin, with new copperplate,: to which a fourth volume will be added, consisting of the two epistolary pamphlets and unpublish'd letters of Ld. Molesworth to my master.
I will not spend time in giving you my sentiments of Holland or Leyden, they are so intirely the same with what you express'd to me. One thing struck me very strongly, the absurd inconsistence between their ceremonious foppishness (miscalled politeness) and their gross insensibility to the true decorum in numberless instances, especially among the women. Such is their architecture, their painting, their music; such their dress, the furniture of their houses, the air of their chariots, and the countenance of their polity, that when I think of England, — I cannot now help paying it the same veneration and applause which at London I thought due only to Athens, to Corinth, or to Syracuse. You, who know Holland, will excuse me for talking in this way, after so short a view of it as I have had; because you know how obvious these appearances are, and how great an uniformity runs through the whole constitution of the country, natural and moral.
Mr. Ready is well, and sends his service; as do all your other acquaintances. You will soon see Mr. Drew, for he is a printing his Thesis, and takes London in his way home.
Be so good as to present my compliments to Mrs. Dyson, Miss Dyson, and all the rest of your friends and mine. You will know whom I mean without a list of them; only, lest you should not think on them, allow me to mention Mr. Ward and Mr. Ramsay. And pray forget not to make my apology to Mr. Picketing, for I utterly forgot to call upon him at my leaving London, which has since vex'd me not a little.
Be sure you write to me immediately. Let me know how you manage about the Basilica, and what information Mr. Ramsay has given you. If you call at Dodsley's, he wall give you a copy of that answer to Warburton; I should be glad if you could send it inclos'd in your first letter, and if you could give me your opinion about Dr. Armstrong's poem. Write me a very long letter, and direct it to Mc-Carthy's. I think I am rather freer than I should have been if boarding: tho', heaven knows, my pleasure at noon is meerly in dining, properly so call'd. Farewell, my friend, my good genius, and above all things, believe me for ever most affectionately, most intirely, only yours, M. Akinside."
"Leyden, April 17th, N.S. 1744.
Dear Mr. Dyson,
I had not been above four days at Leyden before two of my Edinburgh acquaintances, Mr. Austin and Mr. Hume, came hither from their winter quarters at Ghent, to make the tour of Holland. I was glad of he opportunity to go along with them, as I had no prospect of any company so desirable. At my return, I found your letter, by which I see we had been writing to each other precisely at the same time. I always was afraid you would be uneasy in waiting so long for a letter: and indeed I should have wrote directly from Helvoetsluys, but for a mistaken supposition that the post went from Leyden on Saturday night, and that consequently I should save no time by writing before I got to my journey's end. Would to God this may find you perfectly recover'd and in free spirits; I dare not, I cannot suffer my imagination to conceive otherwise. The whole day after we parted, I was dreading the consequence of your being abroad in so dump a morning, and lodging in that vile inn, at a time when your health was far from being confirm'd. In every other circumstance, I need not tell you what happiness your letter gave me. Believe me, my dear, my honour'd friend, I look upon my connection with you as the most fortunate circumstance of my life. I never think of it without being happier and better for the reflection. I injoy, by means of it, a more animated, a more perfect relish of every social, of every natural pleasure. My own character, by means of it, is become an object of veneration and applause to myself. My sense of the perfection and goodness of the Supreme Being is nobler and more affecting. It is that good, that beauty with which my mind is fill'd, and which serves as a sacred antidote against the influence of that moral evil which is in the world, when it would perplex and distress me. It has the force of an additional conscience, of a new principle of religion: nor do I remember one instance of moral good or evil offer'd to my choice of late, in which the idea of your mind and manners did not come in along with the essential beauty of virtue and the sanction of the divine laws to guide and determine me. It has inlarg'd my knowledge of human nature, and ascertain'd my ideas of the oeconomy of the universe. In whatever light I consider, with whatever principle or sensation I compare it, it still continues to receive strength from the best and highest, and in return confirm and inlarge them,
like the sweet south,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Giving and stealing odours.
I have sometimes, when in a cold or more sceptical turn of thought than is natural to my temper, hesitated whether this affection might not and did not too much engross my mind. But in a moment I saw, and you, my friend, know and feel with what satisfaction not to be described, that it was impossible to indulge it too much, in any other sense than as it is possible to carry too far our regard for the Supreme Being; that is, to lose sight of its natural tendency and run counter to the very spirit with which it was instituted: in other words, while we continue to cultivate our friendship, intire and extensive as its foundations now are, it cannot ingress our minds too much, or exert too general an influence on our conduct.
Perhaps you expect some account of my travels. Indeed I cannot say more than that they confirm'd all my former ideas of the Dutch genius and taste. Minute and careful in execution, but flat and inelegant and narrow in design. Their buildings, their gardens, their civil forms, every thing, give the same information. At Amsterdam I saw a Dutch tragedy, which, tho' intended to be really distressful, was yet farcical beyond anything in Aristophanes, or the Rehearsal. And these farcical parts were the only things that mov'd the audience in the very least degree. And in the middle of the distress, in those boxes where people of the best figure use to sit, the glass and brandy bottle was going about among both men and women.
As for my acquaintance here, it lies chiefly, almost wholly, among the gentlemen that lodge with Mr. Vanderlas: the others, at the ordinary, have given me no reason to alter the account you had in my last. Mr. Ready, as far as I am able to judge, is a very amiable man, and much a gentleman; and young Mr. Canowan, I hope, will turn out very well in the world, especially as I see he is much less attach'd to the bigotry and narrow spirit of the Roman Catholic religion. Mr. Schwartz spent this afternoon with me, and all salute you. I need not desire you to express for me the warmest sentiments of friendship and respect to Mrs. Dyson and Miss Dysons, nor to remember me to all our other friends. I am within five minutes of the post, and very sorry to part so soon. Farewell, my dearest Dyson.
To Mr. Dyson, at Series Coffee-house,
Lincoln's Inn, London."
"Leyden, April 21st, N.S. 1744.
My Dearest Dyson,
I have just received and read your letter, by which I find we have been a second time imploy'd in writing to each other at the same instant: from what sympathetic influence of our minds one upon the other, or what invisible agency of superior genii favourable to friendship, I cannot tell. But that your writing was a sort of present and immediate security for your being tolerably well, I should have been much alarm'd at the account you give of the return of your disorder. But now I hope 'tis fairly over, and that you have laid in a stock of health and good spirits for a very long time. For my own part, since I left you, I have indeed been well, in the vulgar sense of the phrase, that is to say, my appetite, my sleeps, my pulse, and the rest of that kind have been regular and sound: but the other more desirable sort of good health, that which consists in the perfect, the harmonious possession of one's own mind, in the exercise of its best facultys upon those objects which are most adapted to it by nature end habit, and, above all things, in that conscious, that inexplicable feeling that we are happy; this kind of health, I confess, I have not injoy'd so intire for these three weeks nor do I expect to injoy it, till I return to that situation which taught use first to conceive it. The more I see of Holland (and I imagine the case would be the same were I to travel thro' the world), the more I love and honour my native country. The manners of the people, the political forms, the genius of the constitution, the temper of the laws, the accidental objects of dress and behaviour one meets with in the streets, the very two of their buildings, and outward appearance of the country in general, only serve to put me in mind of England, with a greater desire of returning. In the same manner as all that variety of mix'd company I have pass'd thro' this last year or two, only gave me a stronger sense of my happiness when I get home to you.
I am [at] present buried among medical books; collecting facts, and comparing opinions among the dullest of mortal men, and that, too, in their dullest capacity, that of authors. However, I hope this necessary task will grow more agreeable, when I shall be at leisure to attend to the justness of argument and the decency of expression. As I spend no time so agreeably as in reading your letters, or (next to that) in conversing with you even after this imperfect manner, I could not forbear sitting down immediately to write, especially as I was so much straitened for time last post. I am very glad that people shew so much unanimity about the war against France; and, for my own part, I have not the least doubt of the superiority of our national spirit, and consequently of our success in general; only I am afraid that we shall want generals, and that the war will be too much carried on, on our part, by land. I can't say I was much pleased with the declaration of war (I mean the formula, not the thing), the style seem'd to me rather that of a private man clearing himself from some unbecoming imputations, than that of the chief magistrate of a mighty and free people proclaiming war against the most formidable people in the world, in defence of justice, and drawn to it by the disinterested succour of an oppress'd and insulted ally. The speech to the parliament I could not indeed but approve: there was an expression either in it, or in the declaration against France, quite equal to the occasion; 'I appeal to the whole world for the equity and rectitude of my conduct.' It is certainly very great, and has but one impropriety (indeed, a very essential one), that the honour due to the people of Britain for the generosity and fearless love of justice they have, under such vast pressures, manifested upon this occasion, is, by this way of speaking, unavoidable in our government, attributed to one man, who has no other merit in the affair, than meerly in not imbezzling the vast sums which have been advanc'd in support of the common cause.
You would see by my last that I cannot finish my affairs here so soon as you suppos'd. But what time I lost in the beginning by going to Amsterdam, &c., I shall gain towards the end of my stay here; so that I hope to be in London, at least in England, within a month at latest. I have long indulged myself in an agreeable prospect of settling at S., chiefly because of my opportunity of seeing you frequently, and next to that (if indeed it he not a consideration more important), in making such acquaintances during the summer season,, as might put it sooner in my power to spend the remainder of my life without interruption beside you. But since the expectation was ill founded, we must make ourselves easy, and look out in Northampton, or any other place tolerably near home. For of this one thing I am certain: never to be far from you. I would have you write as soon as you can, if it be but to tell me how long your journey to Shropshire will take you; because, if you determine to go thither, I shall take shipping from Rotterdam to Newcastle, as you will probably be gone before I can reach London even by the pacquet. At this moment, while I write this, I feel something of the pain of a second parting.
As the auctions were almost intirely over before I got hither, I have not bought many books, nor expect to buy many. I have, however, got a few classics, and such medical books as are most useful at present. Those that are rather for curiosity and medical erudition, I shall leave commissions for with some acquaintance or other. I find what you told me to be very true, that the old and best editions of the Greek authors are dearer here then in London. Mr. Gronovius tells me, what perhaps you do net know, that Mr. Freeman is to return to Leyden; by which I judge he has intirely dedicated himself to Greek (properly so called) and to editorial criticism (excuse the phrase). I think Gronovius one of the strangest men I ever met with.
Farewell, my dear friend. I know you oft think of me, and need not be told how oft and how affectionately I remember you.
Ever and intirely yours,
P.S. I wish you would leave off writing upon gilt paper, unless you can get sheets of it as large as this. I forgot to tell you, that Wetstein at Amsterdam shew'd me the unfinish'd Diodorus Siculus; it is printed exactly like the last Thucydides, but how accurately I cannot tell. Forget not my compliments at Charter-house Square, nor to Mr. Harrison, Mr. Dyson, and the rest of our friends. Mr. Gronovius, Mr. Schwartz, Mr. Ready, and all yours here salute you.
I have just been at Langeratu's to inquire about the Basilica, but not finding him, must refer it to another opportunity."
On the 16th May, 1744, Akenside took his degree of Doctor of Physic, at Leyden, the subject of his Disseratio Medica Inauguralis being De ortu et incremento foetus humani; and, doubtless, as soon as he had obtained his diploma, he hastened back to England. In the collection of Odes, which he published in the following year, is an Ode On leaving Holland.
He was now desirous to commence the practice of his profession; and having heard that he had a prospect of succeeding at Northampton, and having made some necessary enquiries on the spot, in June, 1744, he soon after fixed himself there as a physician. It was not long, however, before he found that the chief medical business of the place was in the hands of Dr. Stonehouse, from whom it was not to be wrested by a stranger; and having maintained a fruitless contest with that gentleman and perhaps disliking Northampton on account of its distance from the capital, he quitted it, after a stay of about eighteen months, and removed to Hampstead. "The writer of this article," says Kippis, in a note on our author's Life, "who then resided at Northampton for education, well remembers that Dr. Doddridge and Dr. Akenside carried on an amicable debate concerning the opinions of the ancient philosophers 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." According to Johnson, who heartily disliked his political creed, and never loses an opportunity of stigmatising it, Akenside "deafened the place with clamours for liberty."
During his stay at Northampton (in 1744), he produced his very powerful satire, An Epistle to Curio, — i.e. to the Right Hon. William Pulteney, who, having been long the strenuous supporter of the people's cause, in opposition to the measures of government, had suddenly deserted his party, and become an object of popular execration, for the sake of an empty title, the Earldom of Bath. This justly-admired piece he afterwards injudiciously altered into an ode.
The following letter, undoubtedly genuine, and never before printed in England, is given from a facsimile of the original in a American edition of our author's works:
"Northampton, May 21st, 1745.
When I look on the date of your letter, I am very glad that I have any excuse, however disagreeable, for not answering it long ere this. About a month ago, when I was thinking every post to write to you, I was thrown from my horse with a very great hazard of my life, and confined a good while afterwards from either writing or reading. But, thank heaven, for these ten days I have been perfectly well. You are very good-natured about the verses. If they gave you any pleasure, I shall conclude my principal end in publishing them to he fairly answer'd. And that you lock upon your reading them in manuscript, and this way of seeing them in print, as an instance of real friendship, gives me great satisfaction. As for public influence, if they have any, I hope it will be a good one. But my expectations of that kind are not near so sanguine as they once were. Indeed human nature in its genuine habit and constitution is adapted to very powerful impressions from this sort of entertainment: but in the present state of manners and opinions, it is almost solely on the retir'd and studious of nature, that this street can be looked for; for hardly any besides these have been able to preserve the genuine habit of the mind in any tolerable degree. I am, dear Sir, your most obedient and most humble servant.
To M. Wilkes, Jun.
St. John's-street, London."
Here probably he alludes to his Odes on Several Subjects, which had been published more than two months before the date of this letter, and which require particular notice, though they have not obtained the slightest mention from Mr. Bucke. They are prefaced by an Advertisement worthy of preservation: — "The following odes were written at very distant intervals, and with a view to very different manners of expression and versification. The author pretends chiefly to the merit of endeavouring to be correct, and of carefully attending to the best models. From what the ancients have left of this kind, perhaps the Ode maybe allowed the most amiable species of poetry; but certainly there is none which in modern languages has been generally attempted with so little success. For the perfection of lyric poetry depends, beyond that of any other, on the beauty of words and the gracefulness of numbers; in both which respects the ancients had infinite advantages above us. A consideration which will alleviate the author's disappointment, if he too should be found to have miscarried." The contents of this tract are: — Allusion to Horace [now entitled Preface to Odes, Book I.] On the Winter-solstice. Against Suspicion. To a Gentleman, whose Mistress had Married an Old Man [now entitled To a Friend Unsuccessful in Love]. Hymn to Cheerfulness. On the Absence of the Poetic Inclination [now entitled To the Muse]. To a Friend on the Hazard of Falling in Love [now entitled On Love, to a Friend]. On Leaving Holland. To Sleep. On Lyric Poetry. A new edition of these Odes, materially altered and improved, was published in 1760; and after the author's death, they were again reprinted with still farther alterations, in that collection of his various Odes which he had left behind him for the press. How the text, as finally arranged, differs from that of the first edition, the following quotations will evince. A celebrated stanza in the Ode On the Winter-solstice is now read thus;
Hence the loud city's busy throngs
Urge the warm bowl and splendid fire;
Harmonious dances, festive songs,
Against the spiteful heaven conspire.
Meantime, perhaps with tender fears,
Some village dame the curfew hears,
While round the hearth her children play:
At morn their father went abroad;
The moon is sunk, and deep the road;
She sighs, and wonders at his stay.
It stood in the edition of 1745;
Now through the town promiscuous throngs
Urge the warm bowl and ruddy fire;
Harmonious dances, festive songs
To charm the midnight hours conspire.
While mute and shrinking with her fears,
Each blast the cottage matron hears,
As o'er the hearth she sits alone:
At morn her bride-groom went abroad,
The night is dark and deep the road;
She sighs, and wishes him at home.
Time Ode To a Friend Unsuccessful in Love now ends thus:
Oh! just escaped the faithless main,
Though driven unwilling on the land;
To guide your favoured steps again,
Behold your better Genius stand:
Where Truth revolves her page divine,
Where Virtue leads to Honour's shrine,
Behold, he lifts his awful hand.
Fix but on these your ruling aim,
And Time, time sire of manly care,
Will Fancy's dazzling colours tame;
A soberer dress will beauty wear:
Then shall esteem, by knowledge led,
Enthrone within your heart and head
Some happier love, some truer fair.
It formerly concluded:
Oh, just escaped the faithless main,
Though driven unwilling on the land,
To guide your favoured steps again,
Behold your better Genius stand
Where Plato's olive courts your eye,
Where Hampden's laurel blooms on high,
He lifts his heaven-directed hand.
When these are blended on your brow,
The willow will be named no more;
Or if that love-deserted bough
The pitying, laughing girls deplore,
Yet still shall I most freely swear
Your dress has much a better air
Than all that ever bride-groom wore.
In the Ode On Lyric Poetry we now find:
Yet then did Pleasure's lawless throng,
Oft rushing forth in loose attire,
Thy virgin dance, thy graceful song
Pollute with impious revels dire.
O fair, O chaste, thy echoing shade
May no foul discord here invade;
Nor let thy strings one accent move,
Except what earth's untroubled ear
'Mid all her social tribes may hear,
And heaven's unerring throne approve.
The lines were originally:
But oft amid the Grecian throng
The loose-robed forms of wild
Desire With lawless notes intoned thy song,
To shameful steps dissolved thy quire.
O fair, O chaste, he still with me
From such profaner discord free:
While I frequent thy tuneful shade,
No frantic shouts of Thracian dames,
No Satyrs fierce with savage flames
Thy pleasing accents shall invade.
When this collection first appeared, the Odes of Collins and Gray had not been published; and it therefore formed (with all its imperfections) the most valuable accession which the lyric poetry of England had received since Dryden's time, if we except the single Ode of Pope.
Concerning the Ode Against Suspicion, we are told by Mr. Bucke that it was addressed to a self-tormenting friend who had been seized with groundless jealousy, because his wife used to indulge in certain "innocent freedoms" with her male acquaintances, and who, in his distress, had applied to Akenside for advice.
That our author, after quitting Northampton, proceeded to try his fortune as a physician at Hampstead, has been already noticed. In February, 1747, Mr. Hardinge resigned his office of Clerk to the House of Commons in favour of Mr. Dyson, for six thousand pounds; and the latter, bidding adieu to the bar, purchased a villa at North End, Hampstead, for the purpose of introducing Akenside to the chief persons in the neighbourhood. "There," says Sir John Hawkins, "they dwelt together during the slimmer season, frequenting the long room, and all clubs, and assemblies of the inhabitants." But, if we may believe the statements of this writer, who knew him well, Akenside, by a want of "discretion," frustrated the kind endeavours of Mr. Dyson to forward his views. At the meetings just mentioned, which were attended by wealthy persons of ordinary endowments, who could only talk of the occurrences of the day, he made an ostentatious display of that talent for conversation which had distinguished him in more enlightened society, — became involved in disputes that betrayed him into a contempt of those who differed from his opinions, — was tauntingly reminded of his low birth and dependence on Mr. Dyson, — and was reduced to the necessity of asserting in plain terms that he was a gentleman. By a residence of about two years and a half at Hampstead, he gained nothing but the conviction that he had chosen a situation which did not suit him. Mr. Dyson therefore parted with his villa at North End, settled his friend in a small but handsome house in Bloomsbury Square, London, and, with a generosity almost unexampled, allowed him annually such a sum of money (stated to have been three hundred pounds), as enabled him to keep a chariot, and to command the comforts and elegancies of life.
Mr. Bucke has suppressed the observations of Hawkins on Akenside's want of success at Hampstead; and attributes it entirely to the insolence of the purse-proud inhabitants, whom the high-minded poet would not stoop to court. They were, perhaps, not a little supercilious and overbearing; but the tone assumed by Mr. Bucke in treating the subject, could only he warranted by his having resided among them at the period in question, and having frequently witnessed their behaviour towards Akenside.
To return to the notice of his works. In 1746 he wrote his truly classical Hymn to the Nainds, and (according to Mr. Bucke) his Ode To the Evening Star: he also contributed to Dodsley's excellent periodical publication, The Museum, or Literary and Historical Register, several prose papers, which deserve to be reprinted, and from which I regret that the necessary shortness of this Memoir will not allow me to offer some extracts; viz. On Correctness, The Table of Modern Fame, a vision, Letter from a Swiss Gentleman on English Liberty, and The Balance of Poets. In 1747 he composed a couple of stanzas On a Sermon against Glory, and an Ode to the Earl of Huntingdon, which was published in the following year, and is, perhaps, the most perfect of his efforts in lyric poetry. About the same time he composed his Ode to Caleb Hardinge, M.D., a talented and eccentric character, of whom, in connection with our poet, some anecdotes will be afterwards related. Mr. Dyson, we have already seen, had succeeded this gentleman's brother, Mr. Hardinge, as Clerk to the House of Commons; and Akenside had consequently become acquainted with various members of the Hardinge family. The Ode To Sir Francis Henry Drake was produced, I apprehend, at nearly the same period. In 1749 he wrote The Remonstrance of Shakespeare, supposed to hare been spoken at the Theatre Royal, while the French Comedians were acting by subscription; a piece only remarkable for its illiberality.
Akenside was about the age of twenty-seven, when, rendered easy in his circumstances by the annual gratuity of Mr. Dyson, he finally took up his abode in the metropolis. Thenceforth his exertions to advance himself in his profession appear to have been unremitting. Though he occasionally amused his leisure by composing poetry, he gave little of it to the press; and published from time to time various medical essays. His reputation and practice continued to increase till his death; but it is certain that he never attained the highest rank in his profession, and that his services were never in much request. "A physician in a great city," observes Johnson, "seems to be the mere plaything of fortune; his degree of reputation is, for the most part, totally casual: they that employ him know not his excellence; they that reject him know not his deficience. By any acute observer, who had looked on the transactions of the medical world for half a century, a very curious book might be written on the 'Fortune of Physicians." According to Sir John Hawkins, Akenside's endeavours to become popular were defeated by the high opinion which he everywhere manifested of himself, his want of condescension to those of inferior talents, and his love of political controversy. At Tom's Coffeehouse in Devereux Court, which he frequented in the winter evenings, and which was then the resort of various eminent men, he would engage in disputes, chiefly on literature and politics, that fixed on his character the stamp of haughtiness and self-conceit.
Among the company who used to assemble there, was a little, deformed personage, named Ballow; a lawyer without practice, holding a place in the exchequer; vulgar and ill-tempered, but of deep and extensive learning. He envied the eloquence which Akenside displayed in conversation, hated what he thought his republican principles, and affected to treat him as a pretender to literature. A violent dispute having arisen between them, Akenside, in consequence of some expressions uttered by Billow, demanded an apology; which not being able to obtain, he sent his adversary a written challenge. Though Ballow wore a sword of remarkable length, he had no inclination to use it: he declined an answer; and, in spite of Akenside's repeated attempts to see him, kept close in his lodgings, till the interposition of friends had adjusted their difference. Akenside, however, gained little reputation for courage by this affair: it was settled not by the concessions of his adversary, but by their mutual obstinacy, — the one refusing to fight in the morning, the other in the afternoon. "Yet," adds Sir John Hawkins, who writes with no unfriendly feeling towards our poet, "where there was no competition for applause or literary reputation, he was an easy companion, and would bear with such rudeness as would have angered almost any one. Saxby, of the Custom-house, who was every evening at Tom's and, by the bluntness of his behaviour and the many shrewd sayings he was used to utter, had acquired the privilege of Thersites, of saying whatever he would, was once in my hearing inveighing against the profession of physic, which Akenside took upon him to defend. This railer, after labouring to prove that it was all imposture, concluded his discourse with this sentiment: 'Doctor,' said he, 'after all you have said, my opinion of the profession of physic is this, the ancients endeavoured to make it a science and failed, and the moderns to make it a trade and have succeeded.' Akenside took his sarcasm in good part, and joined in the laugh which it occasioned.... Akenside was a man of religion and strict virtue, a philosopher, a scholar, and a fine poet. His conversation was of the most delightful kind, learned, instructive, and, without any affectation of wit, cheerful and entertaining. One of the pleasantest days of my life I passed with him, Mr. Dyson, and another friend, at Putney bowling-green house, where a neat and elegant dinner, the enlivening sunshine of a summer's day, and the view of an unclouded sky, were the least of our gratifications. In perfect good-humour with himself and all around him, he seemed to feel a joy that he lived, and poured out his gratulations to the great Dispenser of all felicity in expressions that Plato himself might have uttered on such an occasion. In conversations with select friends, and those whose course of study had been nearly the same with his own, it was an usual thing with him, in libations to the memory of eminent men among the ancients, to bring their characters into view, and thereby give occasion to expatiate on those particulars of their lives that had rendered them famous: his method was to arrange them into three classes, philosophers, poets, and legislators.
"That a character thus formed should fail of recommending itself to general esteem, and of procuring to the possessor of it those benefits which it is in the power of mankind to bestow, may seem a wonder, but it is often seen that negative qualities are more conducive to this end than positive; and that, with no higher a character than is attainable by any one who with a studious taciturnity will keep his opinions to himself, conform to the practice of others, and entertain neither friendship for nor enmity against any one, a competitor for the good opinion of the world, nay for emoluments and even dignities, stands a better chance of success than one of the most established reputation for learning and ingenuity. The truth of this observation Akenside himself lived to experience, who, in a competition for the place of physician to the Charter-house, was unable to prevail against an obscure man, devoid of every quality that might serve to recommend him, and whose sole merit was that of being distantly related to the late Lord Holland."
Akenside's practice, Mr. Bucke informs us, was obstructed by his dislike of being all things to all men, and in a still greater degree, by his fame as a poet. I believe that it was greatly impeded by his forbidding manners to strangers: he was excessively stiff and formal; and if any one ventured to smile in the apartments of the sick, he checked them with a frown. Some anecdotes, which charge him with cruelty to hospital-patients, will be afterwards cited. That he was a scientific and acute physician is testified by his works, which I have heard more than one member of the profession mention in terms of praise.
Among his friends, and, it should seem, his patients, he now included the Honourable Charles Townshend, who, for his parliamentary eloquence, has been termed by Burke "a prodigy," and who, at a later period, became Chancellor of the Exchequer. To this distinguished statesman Akenside addressed two Odes, the longer of which is dated 1750 but, from some unknown cause, their friendship subsequently ceased. "Sir," said Johnson to Boswell, a man is very apt to complain of the ingratitude of those who have risen far above him. A man when he gets into a higher sphere, into other habits of life, cannot keep up all his former connections. Then, sir, those who knew him formerly upon a level with themselves may think that they ought still to be treated as on a level, which cannot be; and an acquaintance in a former situation may bring out things which it would be very disagreeable to have mentioned before higher company, though, perhaps, everybody knows of them." Boswell presently adds: "Dr. Johnson's remark as to the jealousy entertained of our friends who rise far above us is certainly very just. By this was withered the early friendship between Charles Townshend and Akenside." The recent editor of Boswell's work justly observes that "this is no appropriate instance. Charles Townshend, — the nephew of the prime minister, — the son of a peer, who was secretary of state, and leader of the House of Lords, was as much above Akenside in their earliest days as at any subsequent period nor was Akenside in rank inferior to Dr. Brocklesby, with whom Charles Townshend continued in intimate friendship to the end of his life."
In 1750 (according to Mr. Bucke) he also addressed an Ode To William Hall, Esq., with the Works of Chaulieu. Mr. Hall belonged to the Middle Temple, and moved in the best society; composed verses of considerable elegance, and was the intimate friend of Markland; but in licentiousness of life he seems to have exceeded the French Abbe whose poems were presented to him.
In 1751, on the appearance of a work from the pen of Frederic, King of Prussia, entitled Memoires pour servir a l'Histoire de la Maison de Brandenbourg, Akenside wrote a short Ode To the Author, &c., exposing the dangerous tendency of certain passages; also, an Ode to Thomas Edwards, on Warburton's edition of Pope's Works, which will be more particularly mentioned when we arrive at the period of its publication.
During the same year, he was held up to ridicule in the Peregrine Pickle of Smollett, who, though his propensity to personal satire scarcely needed such incitement, is said to have been piqued at some reflections which the poet had cast on Scotland, soon after his return from Edinburgh. That the ode-writing "Doctor," who raves about liberty, and treats his friends to an entertainment in the manner of the ancients, was intended for a caricature of Akenside would have been evident enough, even if the pedant had not been made to quote, as his own composition, two lines from the Ode to the Earl of Huntingdon.
In 1753, Akenside was admitted by mandamus to a Doctor's Degree at Cambridge, and elected Fellow of the Royal Society: in 1754 he became Fellow of the College of Physicians.
That he was unwilling to cross the paths of his old antagonist, appears from the following note to Dr. Birch:
I Return you thanks for the pleasure which I have had in reading these two books.
I see this instant, in the Public Advertiser, that Dr. Warburton is made King's Chaplain, and enters into wasting immediately. Can you tell me whether this be true? If there be any hazard of finding him at Kensington, I shall not chuse to go thither to-day. I am your affectionate humble servant.
Saturday Morn." [Sept. 28, 1754.]
His encomiastic Ode to the Bishop of Winchester bears date the same year. This prelate was the celebrated controversialist, Dr. Hoadley, whose political opinions accorded with the poet's.
In June, 1755, Akenside read the Gulstonian Lectures before the College of Physicians; a portion of which, on the origin and use of the lymphatic vessels in animals, was again read at a meeting of the Royal Society, and printed in the Philosophical Transactions for 1757. Next year he published a short pamphlet, in reply to certain animadversions on this essay by Dr. Alexander Monro of Edinburgh, among which was all insinuation that Akenside's theory was derived from his treatise De Glandulis Lymphaticis.
Here may be introduced another short note to Dr. Birch:—
Have you got the letters concerning Hume's History? I grudge to buy them. If you have them, and can spare them so long, I should be much oblig'd if you would let me have them a few hours. I am a sort of invalid, just enough to confine me. Your affectionate humble servant,
Wednesday Morn." [March 3d, 1756]
On the 7th, 8th, and 9th of September, 1756, he read the Croonian Lectures before the College of Physicians. According to Kippis, their subject was the History of the Revival of Learning, to which some of the members objected as "foreign to the institution," and Akenside, after three lectures, gave up the task in disgust.
The first book of his re-modelled Pleasures of Imagination is dated 1757. The poem, says Mr. Dyson, appeared originally "at a very early part of the author's life: that it wanted revision and correction 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 abusing the favour of the public he chose, therefore, to continue for some time reprinting it without alteration, and to forbear publishing any corrections or improvements until be should be able at once to give them to the public complete: and with this view he went on for several years to review and correct the poem at his leisure, till at length he found the task grow so much upon his hands, that, despairing of ever being able to execute it sufficiently to his own satisfaction, he abandoned the purpose of correcting, and resolved to write the poem over anew, upon a somewhat different and an enlarged plan." In 1758 he endeavoured to excite the martial spirit of the nation by an Ode to the Country Gentlemen of England. "Mr. Elliott, father of Lord Minto," says the late Mr. Justice Hardinge, "made an admirable speech in support of the Scotch Militia, which I had the good fortune to hear when I was a boy and it was reported, that, when commended as he was on every side for that performance, 'If I was above myself,' he answered, 'I can account for it; for I had been animated by the sublime Ode of Dr. Akenside.'"
He, soon after, suffered a severe attack of sickness; on the abatement of which he removed, for change of air, to Goulder's Hill, the seat of Mr. Dyson; and during a short stay under that friendly roof, he composed his Ode on Recovering, &c., which contains an elegant allusion to the recent marriage of his patron.
Few miscellanies had been so favourably received by the public as Dodsley's Collection of Poems; and in consequence of its undiminished popularity, it was enlarged by two additional volumes in 1758. To the sixth volume Akenside contributed a Hymn to the Naiads; Ode to the Earl of Huntingdon; Ode to the Bishop of Winchester; Inscription for a Grotto; For a statue of Chaucer at Woodstock; one beginning "Whoe'er thou art," &c.; For a statue of Shakespeare; On William the Third; For a column at Runnymede; and an Ode, "If rightly tuneful bards decide," &c. None of these pieces, except the second in the list, had previously appeared.
A publication of this year (1758), addressed to our author, must not pass unnoticed. It is The Call of Aristippus, an Epistle in rhyme, by the ingenious John Gilbert Cooper, who, designating Akenside as the "Twofold Disciple of Apollo," assures him that in Elysium Plato and Virgil shall weave him a never-fading crown, while Lucretius, Pindar, and Horace shall willingly yield him precedence. The panegyric is rendered worthless by its extravagance.
In January, 1759, Akenside was appointed assistant Physician to St. Thomas's Hospital, and two months after, principal Physician. In the same year he became assistant Physician to Christ's Hospital. Of his behaviour, in his official capacity, at the former institution, the following anecdotes are preserved. As they must tend to lower him in the estimation of the reader, I transcribe them with a feeling of reluctance; but I should not have thought myself justified in suppressing them, as Mr. Bucke has done, even if they had been derived from a less respectable source than the Memoirs of Dr. Lettsom. I am willing, however, to believe that practice at an hospital may frequently present occurrences to disturb the temper of the mildest physician.
"Lettsom, when a young man," says Mr. Pettigrew, "entered, at St. Thomas's hospital, as a surgeon's dresser, under Benjamin Cowell, Esq. The other Surgeons were Mr. Baker and Mr. Smith, men of no great eminence. The Physicians were Akenside, Russell, and Grieve. Lettsom was early fond of poetry, and had read the Pleasures of Imagination with admiration. He anticipated great pleasure in coming under the author's notice; for, by a small premium, a Surgeon's pupil is admitted to the practice of the Physicians of the Hospital. Great, however, was his disappointment in finding Dr. Akenside the most supercilious and unfeeling physician that he had hitherto known. If the poor affrighted patients did not return a direct answer to his queries, he would often instantly discharge them from the Hospital. He evinced a particular disgust to females, and generally treated them with harshness. It was stated that this moroseness was occasioned by disappointment in love; but hapless must have been that female who should have been placed under his tyranny. Lettsom was inexpressibly shocked at an instance of Akenside's inhumanity, exercised towards a patient in Abraham's Ward, to whom he had ordered bark in boluses; who, in consequence of not being able to swallow them, so irritated Akenside, as to order the sister of the Ward to discharge him from the hospital adding, 'he shall not die under my care.' As the sister was removing him, in obedience to the Doctor, the patient expired. One leg of Dr. Akenside was considerably shorter than the other, which was in some measure remedied by the aid of a false heel. He had a pale strumous countenance, but was always very neat and elegant in his dress. He wore a large white wig, and carried a long sword. Lettsom never knew him to spit, nor would he suffer any pupil to spit in his presence. One of them once accidentally did so, yet standing at some distance behind him. The Doctor instantly spun round on his artificial heel, and hastily demanded who was the person that spit in his face? Sometimes he would order some of the patients, on his visiting days, to precede him with brooms to clear the way, and prevent the patients from too nearly approaching him. On one of these occasions, Richard Chester, one of the Governors, upbraided him for his cruel behaviour: 'Know,' said he, 'thou art a servant of this Charity.' On one occasion his anger was excited to a very high pitch by the answer which Mr. Baker, the Surgeon, gave to a question the Doctor put to him, respecting one of his sons, who was subject to epilepsy, which had somewhat impaired his understanding. — 'To what study do you purpose to place him?' said Akenside to Baker. 'I find,' replied Baker, 'he is not capable of making a Surgeon, so I have sent hint to Edinburgh to make a Physician of him.' Akenside turned round from Baker with impetuosity, and would not speak to him for a considerable time afterwards. Dr. Russell was as condescending as Akenside was petulant. Akenside, however, would sometimes condescend to explain a case of disease to the pupils, which always appeared sagacious; and, notwithstanding his irritable temper, he was more followed than Russell by the Pupils."
In October, 1759, Akenside delivered the Harveian Oration before the College of Physicians, by whose order it was next year given to the press.
In June, 1761, Mr. Thomas Hollis (as his biographer informs us) "bought a bed which once belonged to John Milton, and on which he died. This bed he sent as a present to Dr. Akenside, with the following card: 'An English gentleman is desirous of having the honour to present a bed which once belonged to John Milton, and on which he died, to Dr. Akenside; and if the Doctor's genius, believing himself obliged, and having slept in that bed, should prompt him to write an ode to the memory of John Milton, and the assertors of British liberty, that gentleman would think himself abundantly recompensed.' The Doctor seemed wonderfully delighted with this bed, and had it put up in his house. But more we do not know of the delight the Doctor took in his present; nor the least memorandum of an acknowledgment to Mr. Hollis, through Mr. Payne or otherwise, for it appearing. And as to the ode, the Doctor might learn from his friend Dyson, that an encomium of Milton, as an assertor of British liberty, at that time of the day, was not the thing." The sneering allusion in the latter part of this passage will be explained by the circumstances which I have now to relate, and which, perhaps, made the democrat Hollis think Akenside no longer fit to occupy the bed of Milton.
Hitherto both Mr. Dyson and our poet had espoused the cause of liberty with such an ardour as to induce suspicions, certainly unjust, that they were the advocates of republicanism. On the accession, however, of George the Third, the former suddenly became a Tory, and the supporter of Lord Bute; and though the general excellence of his character forbids us to believe for one moment that his conversion was purchased, it would be difficult to clear him from the charge of inconsistency. By Mr. Dyson's influence, Akenside was appointed one of the Physicians to the Queen, on the settlement of her Majesty's household in 1761; and, from that period, his Whig acquaintances, in whose eyes the acceptance of such a situation was a dereliction of principle, regarded his political apostacy as not less flagrant than that of his patron. The subject now in question being several times alluded to in the following curious anecdotes, I have reserved them for this part of the Memoir. They are from the pen of Mr. Justice Hardinge, whose father Mr. Dyson succeeded as Clerk to the House of Commons, and to whose uncle, the physician, our poet has addressed an Ode.
"Dr. Akenside was known to my father, as being Mr. Dyson's friend, long before he was known to me. As to Mr. Dyson's knowledge of Mr. Hardinge, it originated in their contract for the succession of Mr. Dyson to the post of Chief Clerk in the House of Commons, when Mr. Hardinge was preparing to resign it; and the intercourse, ripening into mutual esteem, produced a cordial friendship, which lasted as long as Mr. Hardinge lived.
"The first I can recollect of my own personal acquaintance with Dr. Akenside's name and Muse, was my father's recital to me, when I was a boy at Eton School, of the invocation to ancient Greece, in that celebrated Poem which has been so depreciated by Dr. Johnson, that I fear no error of judgment and of taste, manifest in that criticism, can redeem the censure from heavier imputations. This inspired passage, as I think it still, was recommended additionally to me by the charm of recitation, in which not even Garrick himself could be superior to Mr. Nicholas Hardinge; though he wanted either nerves or power to make a figure in time House of Commons, and though he had no musical ear. But his reading and repeating ear, if I may use that phrase, was exquisite; and his accent, prompted by his judgment, uniformly just. It is very singular, but it is true, that Akenside was not a good reader of his own verse.
"My father admired him, as a gifted poet, as a man of genius, of learning, and of taste. They were upon friendly terms. I have heard Akenside represent my father as a man of admirable taste and judgment, of perfect honour, and of the kindest affections that ever breathed in a human breast. As I grew up into man, Akenside honoured me with a most affectionate regard; which I forfeited, as you will have occasion to see, a little before his death, to my infinite regret; but, I am sorry to add, with no remorse; for I was more 'sinn'd against than sinning.'
"When I was at College, he sent me a letter of advice and of directions for the course of my academical studies, which in style and conception was the most ingenious and masterly work that ever that arduous topic has produced. In general, to do him justice, he wrote English prose with purity, with ease, and with spirit; in verse, he was occasionally a little quaint, laboured, and inflated; but I never discerned any such vice in his prose.
"When I came from College to the Inns of Court, besides the opportunity of seeing him often at Mr. Dyson's house, and with my uncle, Dr. Hardinge, I was often his dinner-guest, and generally with him alone. In addition to all his powers, arising from his genius and his eloquence, I had the enjoyment of his portfolio, enriched by capital prints from the most eminent painters of Italy and Holland, which he illustrated with admirable taste.
"He had in general society a pomp and stiffness of manner, not of expression, in which last he was no less chaste than flowing and correct. But the misfortune of this manner was in some degree connected with his figure and appearance. He looked its if he never could be undressed and the hitch in his gait, whatever gave rise to it (a subject of obloquy too despicable to be answered, and which I am sorry to see that you have transcribed), compared with a solemn cast in his features, was, at the best, of a kind that was not companionable, and rather kept strangers at a distance from him. Though his features were good, manly, and expressive, a pale complexion of rather a sickly hue, and the laboured primness of a powdered wig in stiff curl, made his appearance altogether unpromising, if not grotesque. But, where he was intimate, was admired, and was pleased with his party, he conversed most eloquently and gracefully. He had the misfortune, however, to have little or no taste for humour; and he took a jest very ill. Except in his political morality, which I could not admire, Dr. Akenside was a man of perfect honour, friendly, and liberal. His religious opinions were, I believe, a little whimsical and peculiar but in general he kept them very much to himself. He and Mr. Dyson had both originally been Dissenters. He was irritable had little restraint upon his temper among strangers, and was either peevish or too oracular and sententious. He wanted gaiety of heart in society, and had no wit in his Muse, or in his eloquence. I don't believe be had leach depth of medical science, or much acuteness of medical sagacity; he certainly had no business or fame in that line. His great powers, besides the talent of poetry, were those of eloquent reasoning, historical knowledge, and philosophical taste, enlivened by the happiest and most brilliant allusions. He had an astonishing memory, and a most luminous application of it. I recollect that he read gratis all the modern books of any character, and that he had the right conferred upon him of opening the leaves. His comments were cherished; and if the book struck him with a powerful impression, I believe it was generally given to him by the bookseller.
"He lived incomparably well; and as I knew of no other source to his income but his constant friend Mr. Dyson's munificence to him, I rejoiced in it, for the honour of them both. I never saw anything like their friendship and their union of sentiments; yet nothing was more dissimilar than were the two men. Mr. Dyson was quite a man of business, of order, and figures — of parliamentary forms — and of political argument. His character (bating an amiable partiality in the Eulogist) is well drawn by Mr. Hatsell. He had neither fancy nor eloquence; and though he had strong prejudices, he veiled them in obliging manners.
"The misfortune of their politics (and I was the victim of it in some degree) was, that, upon the accession of this reign, they entirely and radically changed them; for they became bigoted adherents to Lord Bute and the Tories, having at every earlier period been, as it were, the High Priests of the opposite creed. Mr. Dyson was preferred, and was ultimately pensioned. His friend, whom he always bore in mind, was made Physician to the Queen — 'Ex illo fluere' — from that period both of them were converts, and zealots, of course, for the New Religion. My uncle, Dr. Hardinge, whose wit and penetrating judgment had no delicacy in their blow, often told them both when they were young men (and with an oath which I must not repeat) 'that, like a couple of idiots, they did not leave themselves a loop-hole — they could not sidle away into the opposite creed.'
"As my opinions were naturally upon the same line of politics which Lord Camden uniformly adopted and pursued, I offended my admired friend the Poet by too open a disclosure of my political faith, insignificant, qualified, and perfectly unassuming as it was. It made a coolness between us — but I believe that his original friendship to me was never essentially impaired.
"My uncle, Dr. Hardinge, was a comic tyrant over all his friends. I shall never be able to forget an evening of Civil War, and another of Peace, between those two Physicians. Dr. Akenside was the guest; and at supper, by a whimsical accident, they fell into a dispute upon the subject of a bilious colic. They were both of them absurdly eager. Dr. Hardinge had a contempt for every physician but himself; and he held the Poet very cheap in that line. He laughed at him, and said the rudest things to him. The other, who never took a jest in good part, flamed into invective; and Mrs. Hardinge, as clever in a different way as either of them, could with difficulty keep the peace between them. Dr. Akenside ordered his chariot, and swore that he would never come into the house again. The other, who was the kindest-hearted of men, feeling that he had goaded his friend, called upon him the next morning, and, in a manner quite his own, made a perfect reconcilement, which terminated in a pacific supper the following night, when, by a powerful stroke of humour, the Host convulsed the sides of his Guest with laughter, and they were in delightful unison together the whole evening. 'Do you kn-kn-know, Doctor,' said he (for he stammered), 'that I b-bought a curious pamphlet this m-morning upon a st-stall, and I'll give you the t-title of it; An Acc-count of a curious dispute between D-Dr. Y. and D-Dr. Z. concerning a b-b-bilious c-colic, which terminated in a d-duel between the two Ph-Physicians, which t-terminated in the d-death of both.'...
"As far as I can recollect, his friends, besides Mr. Dyson, were chiefly Dr. Heberden, Dr. Hardinge, Mr. Cracherode, Mr. Thomas Townshend, the first Lord Sydney's father, Mr. Tyrwhitt, the Archbishop of York, and Mr. Wray. He was a most unprejudiced and candid estimator of contemporary poets, for which I admired him the more on account of its amiable singularity.
"But I must not forget here to mention perhaps the most curious feature of his life. It is in the partial but very awkward change which his new Politics at Court made in those of the Poet. You will find a memorable proof to this point. In the first edition of the work these lines appear:
Wilt thou, eternal Harmony! descend
And join the festive train? for with the come
The guide, the guardian of their lovely sports,
Majestic TRUTH and where TRUTH deigns to come,
Her Sister, LIBERTY, will not be far.
PIeasures of Imagination, of Bk. iv. 20.
And in the enlarged edition:
for with thee comes
The guide, the guardian of their mystic rites,
Wise ORDER; and where ORDER deigns to come,
Her Sister, LIBERTY, will not be far.
Pleasures of Imagination, Bk. iv. 38."
After all, neither in the alterations just pointed out, nor in others made by the author in his Odes, is there anything indicative of violent Tory zeal; and it should be remembered that Mr. Hardinge, who asserts in the above anecdotes that Akenside became as bigoted a partisan of the Tories as he lead been of the Whigs, has elsewhere declared that "his politics were illegible."
We have been told in the preceding page that Akenside "was a most unprejudiced and candid estimator of contemporary poets;" and the remark will be illustrated by the scattered notices which I shall now throw together.
In the course of a conversation on Pope's Essay on Man, he assented to the opinion of Joseph Warton, that "the fourth Epistle on Happiness is adscititious, and out of its proper place, and ought to have made part of the second Epistle, where Man is considered with respect to himself."
He was a great admirer of Gothic architecture, and would frequently sit, by moonlight, on the benches in St. James's Park, to gaze on Westminster Abbey; "and I remember," adds Mr. Meyrick, "he once told me that he seldom thought of the passage in his own poem, 'The radiant sun, the moon's nocturnal lamp,' &c. but he thought of a still finer one in Pope's Homer: 'As when the moon, refulgent lamp of night.'" &c.
It has been rashly supposed that in the following passage of The Pleasures of Imagination he alludes to Pope:
Thee, too, facetious Momion, wandering here,
Thee, dreaded censor! oft gave I beheld
Bewildered unawares, &c. &c. Bk. iii. 179.
But there is every reason to believe that Akenside never saw Pope, who died a few months after the appearance of the poem, for which he had advised Dodsley to make a handsome offer.
With Thomson's Castle of Indolence he was enraptured: among many stanzas, to which, in his own copy, he had put an emphatic mark of approbation, was that beginning, "I care not fortune, what you me deny," &c.
He repeatedly mentioned Fenton's Ode to Lord Gower as "the best in our language, next to Alexander's Feast;" and, at his desire, Welsted's Ode, The Genius; written in 1717, on occasion of the Duke of Marlborough's Apoplexy, was inserted in the fourth volume of Dodsley's Collection of Poems.
That he was on terms of intimacy with the author of The Fleece, and lent him some assistance in the composition of that poem, appears from a letter of Dyer to Duncombe, November 24th, 1736: — "Your humble servant is become a deaf, and dull, and languid creature; who, however, in his poor change of constitution, being a little recompensed with the critic's phlegm, has made shift, by runny blottings and corrections, and some helps from his kind friend, Dr. Akenside, to give a sort of finishing to the Fleece, which is just sent up to Mr. Dodsley." Johnson informs us that Akenside declared "he would regulate his opinion of the reigning taste by the rule of Dyer's Fleece; for if that were ill-received, he should not think it any longer reasonable to expect fame from excellence." The works of Dyer, though neglected by the multitude, will be always esteemed by the reader of taste and feeling for the true poetic fancy and the love of natural objects which they everywhere display.
A passage in The Pleasures of Imagination,
To muse at last amid the ghastly gloom
Of graves, and hoary vaults, &c. B. i. 396, lst edit.
and a stanza in the Preface to the Odes, "Nor where the boding raven chaunts," &c. are said to have been aimed at Young, though I cannot perceive in them such a "palpable stroke" as Mrs. Barbauld has discovered. It has not, however, been noticed that in the first edition of the Hymn to Cheerfulness Akenside mentions the author of the Night Thoughts by name:
Let Melancholy's plaintive tongue
Instruct the nightly strains of Young:
a couplet which he afterwards altered thus:
Let Melancholy's plaintive tongue
Repeat what later bards hove sung.
The Ode On Lyric Poetry closes with a stanza remarkable for its allusion to an epic poem which the author meditated, as well as to a celebrated work of the same kind by a contemporary writer:
But when from envy and from death to claim
A hero bleeding for his native land;
When to throw incense on the vestal flame
Of Liberty, may genius gives command,
Nor Theban voice, nor Lesbian lyre
From thee, O Muse, do I require;
While my presaging mind,
Conscious of powers she never knew,
Astonished, grasps at things beyond her view,
Nor by another's fate submits to be confined.
Akenside had selected Timoleon for the hero of his poem, in which, it appears, he had even made some progress. The last line of the stanza (as he told Warton) is pointed at the Leonidas of Glover.
From this digression I return to the regular annals of the poet's life. Among Birch's MSS. is the following note, which shows that he accompanied the deputation, sent by the University of Cambridge to congratulate the King and Queen on their nuptials:
"Dr. Akenside presents his compliments to Dr. Birch, and begs the favour that he would lend him a band, in order that he may attend the Cambridge address tomorrow.
Sept. 13." [1761.]
About two years before this date, Akenside had quitted his house in Bloomsbury Square for one in Craven Street and after having stayed in the latter about twelve months, he removed to Burlington Street, where he continued to reside till his decease.
The MSS. of Birch furnish one more note from our author's pen:
"Dr. Akenside presents his compliments to Dr. Birch, and returns many thanks for his kind present. Its has left an unpublish'd letter of Lord Bacon, which he thinks a valuable one, and which he had leave from Mr. Tyrwhitt to communicate to Dr. Birch and desires that when he has done with it, he would be so good as to send it to Burlington Street.
Nov. 29, 1762."
To the very learned Tyrwhitt (who has been previously mentioned among the friends of Akenside) Mr. Dyson resigned, during this year, the clerkship of the House of Commons.
In December, 1763, Akenside read before the Royal Society, a paper, which was afterwards published in the Philosophical Transactions for the same year, — An Account of a Blow upon the Heart, and of its effects.
His De Dysenteria Commentarius appeared in 1764; a production still esteemed by the medical student for the valuable information it imparts, and admired by the scholar for its choice and elegant Latinity.
When Warburton, now dignified with the mitre, put forth a new edition of the first and second volumes of the Divine Legation of Moses, in 1766, he reprinted, as a Postscript to the Dedication to the Free-thinkers, his severe strictures on our poet's theory concerning Ridicule, &c., without condescending to notice the arguments which had been adduced in its defence. Irritated by what he regarded as a renewal of hostilities, Akenside displayed less magnanimity than might have been expected in such an admirer of the ancient sages, and had recourse to an ingenious method of mortifying his antagonist. He published a lyrical satire, which he had composed long before this period, on the appearance of the Bishop's edition of Pope's Works, and which probably but for this fresh provocation, would have never seen the light, — An Ode to the late Thomas Edwards, Esq., written in the year 1751; and a note on the fifth stanza surprised the reader by the following piece of information: "During Mr. Pope's war with Theobald, Coachmen, and the rest of their tribe, Mr. Warburton, the present Lord Bishop of Gloucester, did with great zeal cultivate their friendship; having been introduced, forsooth, at the meetings of that respectable confederacy a favour which be afterwards spoke of in very high terms of complacency and thankfulness. At the same time, in his intercourse with them he treated Mr. Pope in a most contemptuous manner, and as a writer without genius. Of the truth of these assertions his Lordship can have no doubt, if he recollects his own correspondence with Concanen; a part of which is still in being, and will probably be remembered as long as any of this prelate's writings." A letter from Warburton to Concanen, dated January 2d, 1726, had fallen into the hands of Akenside, who knew that in announcing the existence of such a document he should cause no slight vexation to his adversary. Though never published by our poet, it has been printed in a note on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, from a copy which he communicated to George Steevens, and which was thus endorsed: "The foregoing Letter was found about the year 1750 by Dr. Gawin Knight, first librarian to the British Museum, in fitting up a house which he had taken in Crane Court, Fleet Street. The house had, for a long time before, been let in lodging, and in all probability Concanen had lodged there. The original letter has been many years in my possession, and is here most exactly copied, with its several little peculiarities in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. April 30th, l766, M. A." In this curious Epistle (too long for insertion here) the object of Warburton is to point out passages from various writers which Addison had imitated in his Cato; and having occasion to quote some lines from Julius Caesar, he illustrates them by an absurd comment, which he afterwards introduced, with little variation, into his edition of Shakespeare. It decidedly proves his intimacy with Theobald and Concanen; but contains no mention of Pope, except an observation that he "borrows for want of genius."
The Ode in question was with propriety addressed to Thomas Edwards, whose well-known Canons of Criticism had destroyed the reputation of Warburton in one department of literature. This amiable and accomplished man, who died in 1757, had long been intimately acquainted with Akenside, and was, I believe, the "Phaedria," who had called forth our author's Odes, — To a friend unsuccessful love, and Affected Indifference. Nor should it be forgotten that by his Sonnets, — some of them possessing no ordinary beauty, — Edwards revived among his countrymen a taste for that species of composition which had been neglected since the days of Milton.
In 1765, Akenside had finished the second book of the re-modelled Pleasures of Imagination; and in September of the following year, Mr. Daniel Wray writes thus to one of his correspondents: — "I was at Mount Ararat sooner than usual, to attend Lord and Lady Divers, accompanied by Akenside, who passed the evening there, and communicated the second and part of a third book in his great work. In the former, and in the same philosophical way, he is eloquent on the topics of truth and virtue, vice, and the passions. In the latter Solon is introduced giving a fable, on the Origin of Evil. It is introduced by an episode from Herodotus, of Argarista's marriage, the daughter of Clisthenes, which is delightfully poetical." Mr. Wray, — a friend both of Akenside and Edwards, — was a contributor to the well-known work, The Athenian Letters. He was Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries; deputy Teller of the Exchequer; and one of the Trustees of the British Museum, on its first establishment.
From the annals of the College of Physicians we learn that, in 1766, "Dr. Akenside was thanked by the college for his trouble in preparing Harvey's Works for the press, and for prefixing a Preface, which was printed with them, together with the Life of Harvey, by Dr. Lawrence."
On the 6th of June, 1767, he read before the college two papers, — Observations on Cancers, and Of the Use of Ipecacoanha in Asthmas; and on the Gill of July a third, — A Method of treating White Swellings of the Joints. These essays were published, next year, in the first volume of the Medical Transactions.
In 1767 appeared a small volume, entitled Lexiphanes, a Dialogue, Imitated from Lucian, and suited to the present times, — a piece of ill-natured drollery, which, though levelled chiefly at the prose of Johnson, contains also an attack on the poetry of Akenside. It was written by all obscure Scotchman, Archibald Campbell , who hoped that its publication would involve him in a controversy with "the two Lexiphaneses," from which be would acquire at least notoriety; but he was disappointed; for neither Johnson nor Akenside deigned to reply.
The following jeu d'esprit is from the pen of Mr. Daniel Wray, whose intimacy with Akenside has just been noticed:
"The Arbitrator was out of town, when the applications from Ld. Dacre. and Dr. Akenside were left at his house; and, when he found them, he was fully employed in dispatching some business, in order to return to Richmond. Ld. Dacre asked for the Decision only at the leisure of the Court: and it has been thought proper and decorous to take some time for judgment.
"Ld. P. has offered no arguments, nor even stated the point in dispute. Dr. A, has fairly stated it to be whether Buchanan praised Q. Mary as a woman of virtue.
"In the second passage of the Pompae, virtus has nothing that confines it to moral virtue, but it may include it: and there occurs a line in the Epithalamium, 'Et genus et virtus et forma,' where that idea may also be included in 'virtus.' This verse is not indeed in Ld. D's plea, and so perhaps not strictly admissible.
"Upon the whole, the classical 'virtus' is not generally 'virtue' in English: but Buchanan, however classical he was, might be willing to leave his idea in these compliments, dim and confused; or perhaps might put these brave words together without much consideration or precision, not expecting they would be so nicely canvassed two centurys after.
"From such imperfect documents, therefore, the court will not determine so important a cause, so warmly agitated and of such expectation. But hereby declares the wager to be drawn; each party to sit down with the trouble they have had in debating and searching for materials and precedents; and that the respective characters of the Queen and the writer remain in 'statu quo,' unaffected by any arguments drawn from these verses; being matters of another jurisdiction.
D. W. Arbitrator.
26 May, 1770.
Dr. A. will transmit the above sentence to Ld. P.
To Dr. Akenside,
In Burlington Street, London."
The unfinished third book of the re-modelled Pleasure, of Imagination, and the fragment of the fourth book, bear the date of this year; and Akenside was looking forward to the period when the Publication of the work was to increase his already established fame as a poet. His practice as a physician was now considerable, and promised to be more extensive. But a putrid fever, with which he was suddenly seized, put an end to his existence, after a short illness, on the 23d June, 1770, in the forty-ninth year of his age. He died at his residence in Burlington Street, and was buried on the 28th of June, in St. James's Church.
Some Observations on the putrid erysipelas, made at St. Thomas's Hospital, which he had read before the College of Physicians, and intended for the second volume of the Medical Transactions, were among his papers at the time of his decease, but were never printed.
Mr. Dyson, who had become possessor of the books, prints, MSS., and other effects of Akenside, gave to the world an edition of his Poems, both in 4to. and 8vo. in 1772. The contents of this elegant volume are, — 1. The Pleasures of Imagination, as originally published. 2. As much of that Poem, on an enlarged plan, as the author had prepored. for the press. "What reason there may be," says the Advertisement, "to regret that be did not live to execute the whole of it, will best appear from the perusal of the plan itself, as stated in the general argument, and of the parts which he had executed, and which ore here published. For the person to whom he entrusted the disposal of his papers would have thought himself wanting, as well to the service of the public as to the fame of his friend, if he had not produced as much of the work as appeared to have been prepared for publication. In this light he considered the intire first and second books, of which a few copies had been printed for the use only of the author and certain friends: also a very considerable part of the third book, which had been transcribed in order to its being printed in the same manner: and to these is added the Introduction to a subsequent book, which in the manuscript is called the fourth, and which appears to have been composed at the time when the author intended to comprize the whole in Four Books but which, as he had afterwards determined to distribute the poem into more books, might perhaps more properly be called the last book." 3. Odes: — of which nineteen are for the first time printed the rest (most of them now greatly altered) had been previously published. 4. The Hymn to the Naiads, corrected, with the addition of some notes. 5. Inscriptions; of which the three last had not before appeared. The Epistle to Curio, in its original state, and several smaller pieces, which the author had produced during his early years, are not reprinted in the volume just described. The only biographical notice of Akenside which accompanies it is comprised in a paragraph of the Advertisement: "The frigidity of this account," observed time Monthly Reviewer, must be disgustful to every reader, who is endued with the least portion of sensibility," a censure which has been frequently repeated. But there can be no doubt that modesty alone prevented Mr. Dyson from undertaking the office of Akenside's biographer; for how could he have discharged it faithfully without being, in some degree, the herald of his own munificence? He was exemplary in all the relations of private life; he rose to considerable political eminence; and, as the friend and patron of the poet, he has left a name which can never cease to be remembered with respect.
Akenside had a pale and rather sickly complexion, but manly and expressive features. The formality of his deportment, the precise elegance of his dress, his ample wig in stiff curl, his long sword, his hobbling gait, and his artificial heel, rendered his appearance far from prepossessing, and somewhat akin to the ludicrous.
His irritability of temper at times betrayed him into conduct from which a very unfavourable and unjust idea of his character was conceived by strangers. An early disappointment in love is said to have occasioned this infirmity. In a passage of The Pleasures of Imagination, where he touches on the fate of Parthenia, he has been supposed to allude to a young lady, who died when about to become his wife; and ill several Odes he mentions, as the object of his passion, Olympia, whom, it appeals, he also lost by death. "But he celebrates other ladies, and speaks of them even with affection; Amoret and Melissa:" such is the remark of Mr. Bucke, who might have added the names of Eudora, Dione, and Cordelia, and so made up a list of mistresses only exceeded by The Chronicle of Cowley! Though we cannot read in Akenside's poetry the true history of his loves, we learn from it that there were moments when he felt the dreary solitude of celibacy, and sighed for domestic comforts:
Though the day have smoothly gone,
Or to lettered leisure known,
Or in social duty spent;
Yet at eve my lonely breast
Seeks in vain for perfect rest:
Languishes for true content.
In general society his manners were not agreeable he seemed to want gaiety of heart; and was apt to be dictatorial in conversation. But when surrounded only by his intimate friends, he would instruct and delight them by the eloquence of his reasoning, the felicity of his allusions, and the variety of his knowledge. He had no wit himself, and took ill the jests of others. He was gifted with a memory of extraordinary power, and perfect readiness in the application of its stores. With the exception of Ben Jonson, Milton, and Gray, it would be difficult to name an English poet whose scholarship was of a higher order than Akenside's.
In his life-long friendship with Mr. Dyson the warmth and constancy of his affections are strikingly displayed. He had a noble independence of spirit; and, notwithstanding his alleged political inconsistency, it should seem that the love of liberty, for which he was distinguished during the earlier part of his career, was but little impaired by the atmosphere of a court. His respect for Christianity he has testified more than once but his religious creed, as indicated in his poetry, appears to have been nearly that "of his Master," Shaftesbury, — pure theism. '"People would assert,' he was accustomed to say, 'that I imitated Newton, or I should never allude to the Deity, or hear him alluded to by others, but I should make an inclination of my body.' And one day, being in company with Mr. Meyrick's father at a coffee-house in the neighbourhood of Charing-cross, having listened for some time with impatience to the oratory of a Mr. Warnefield, who was making some severe remarks, not only on Warburton's Divine Legation of Moses, but on the Bible itself, he at length interrupted him. 'I tell you what, sir,' said he; 'Warburton is no friend of mine; — but I detest hearing a man of learning abused. As to the Bible — believe or not, just as you please; but let it contain as many absurdities, untruths, and unsound doctrines, as you say it does, there is one passage, at least, that I am sure, you, with all your ingenuity, and with all the eloquence you possess, have not the power to surpass. It is where the prophet says, — 'The children of men are much wiser than the children of light.'" A hasty assertion of Walker, that "the immortality of the soul is scarcely once hinted at throughout The Pleasures of Imagination," is cited by Johnson, who yet allows, as an excuse for this "great defect," that Akenside "has omitted what was not properly in his plan." But if either of them had carefully perused the work, could they have overlooked, among other passages of similar tendency, the following lines?
Led by that hope sublime, whose cloudless eye,
Through the fair toils and ornaments of earth,
Discerns the nobler life reserved for heaven, &c.
Bk. i. 489 (enlarged edition).
On a series of papers by Addison, in The Spectator, Akenside founded his great didactic poem. To Shaftesbury and Hutcheson also he is considerably indebted; and from the writers of Greece and Rome he has derived a few of his ideas, and perhaps a portion of his inspiration, — for never had the genius and wisdom of antiquity a more ardent admirer or a more unwearied student. In this celebrated work, if little invention is exhibited, the taste and skill with which the author has selected and combined his materials are everywhere conspicuous; if the thoughts are not always stamped with originality, they have a general loftiness and an occasional sublimity; if some passages are not lighted up with poetic fire, they glow with rhetorical beauty; while ingenious illustration and brilliant imagery enliven and adorn the whole. Akenside has chosen no unimportant theme, and he treats it with all earnestness and all enthusiasm which at once command attention. He pours forth a moral and philosophic strain, which elevates the mind; but he dwells so little on actual existencies and on human interests, that it rarely moves the heart. His diction is rich and curious; sometimes, however, so redundant, as slightly to obscure the meaning, and sometimes so remote from common phraseology as to impart all air of stiffness and turgidity to the lines. His versification is sweet and flowing; and, perhaps, those only who are familiar with the cadences of Milton will complain of its monotony.
To The Pleasures of Imagination, as published in 1744, the preceding observations are intended to apply. The second Poem, which in the estimation of some critics is an improvement on the first, appears to me comparatively flat and prosaic, notwithstanding its superior correctness. Had Akenside devoted the leisure of his later years to an entirely new work, it would have formed a more acceptable bequest to posterity than the remoulded production of his youth.
That he possessed powers for the graver kind of satire is evinced by his Epistle to Curio, — a composition remarkable for keen but not coarse invective, for dignity of reproof and intensity of scorn.
Throughout the range of English literature there is nothing more deeply imbued with the spirit of the ancient world than our author's Hymn to the Naiads. In its solemnity, its pomp of expression, and its mythologic lore, he has shewn himself a most successful imitator of Callimachus; yet is it far from being the mere echo of a Grecian hymn. Nor are his terse and energetic Inscriptions less worthy of praise.
In some of Akenside's Odes — especially those On the Winter-solstice and On Lyric Poetry — there are stanzas of pleasing picturesqueness; but in the greater number he appeals chiefly to the understanding of the reader, and is not solicitous to heighten the effect of the sentiments by wreathing them with the flowers of fancy. In those To the Earl of Huntingdon and To the Country Gentlemen of England he rises to a gnomic grandeur, which has seldom been surpassed. His Odes, on the whole, are deficient in impetuousness, warmth of colouring, tenderness, and melody.