1910 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Mark Akenside

Ralph Straus, in Robert Dodsley, Poet, Publisher, and Playwright (1910) 81-84.



Shortly before Mr. Pope's death, Dodsley had sought his advice upon a long poem recently submitted to him for publication. Its obscure author, however, had demanded so large a sum for the copyright, that Dodsley, although he recognized its many merits, was fearful of the great expense to which he would be put. This was in the summer of 1743, and the manuscript was The Pleasures of Imagination by Mark Akenside, a Newcastle doctor who had as yet only published short pieces in the Gentleman's Magazine. Dr Johnson records Pope's advice on this occasion. "I have heard Dodsley relate," he writes, "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 everyday writer.'" The poem was ultimately published anonymously on Jan. 16th, 1744, and was reissued in octavo four months later. It had so large a sale that an obscure scribbler by name Rolt is supposed to have gone over to Ireland and published there an edition under his own name "upon the fame of which he lived for several months, being entertained at the best tables as the ingenious Mr Rolt."

Gray, the poet, upon reading it, wished that the author had held it back for nine years, but his criticism that it was "middling" was not shared by the general public, and from that time Akenside's position was assured. He speedily became friends with his publisher, who in the same year put forth his Epistle to Curio — written to Pulteney on his acceptance of a peerage — which was followed some months later by his Odes on Several Subjects. The latter led Horace Walpole to speak of him somewhat contemptuously as "another of these tame geniuses," but the Odes sold well, and were reissued in a few months. Dodsley, indeed, seems to have thought so highly of his abilities that he asked him to become editor of a new periodical. The time, he found, had at last come when the failure of the Publick Register should be wiped out. As a publisher of poetry and belles lettres he was now without a rival, and he seized the opportunity to project The Museum, or Literary and Historical Register, a fortnightly journal which ultimately ran for thirtynine numbers. Akenside accepted his offer, and accordingly the following agreement was signed:

"Jan. 20, 1745-6.

Dr. Akinside ingages to Mr Dodsley for six months, commencing the 25th of March next, — To prepare and have ready for the press, once a fortnight, one Essay, whenever necessary, for carrying on a work to be called The Museum. And also, — To prepare and have ready for the press, once a fortnight, an account of the most considerable books in English, Latin, French or Italian, which have been lately published, and which Mr. Dodsley shall furnish: and the said Account of Books shall be so much in quantity as, along with the Essay above mentioned, may fill a sheet and a half of small pica, whenever so much is necessary for carrying on the said design. Dr. Akinside also ingages to supervise the whole, and to correct the press of his own part. On condition — That Mr. Dodsley shall pay to Dr. Akinside fifty pounds on or before the 27th. of September next — 'Tis also agreed that so long as Mr. Dodsley thinks proper to continue the Paper, and so long as Dr. Akinside consents to manage it, the terms above mentioned shall remain in force, and not less than an hundred pounds per annum be offered by Mr. Dodsley, nor more insisted on by Dr. Akinside, as witness our hands.

MARK AKINSIDE.

ROB. DODSLEY."

The Museum contained no "news," but maintained a good literary standard, and Akenside and Dodsley found many willing contributors. The two Wartons — the learned brothers, as Johnson called them, and both shortly to become intimate with Dodsley — the unfortunate William Collins, Soame Jenyns, Merrick, William Whitehead, Stephen Duck, Christopher Pitt, Garrick, Lord Hervey, Isaac Hawkins Browne and many others gave their assistance. Shenstone sent his friend Jago's essay on Electricity an "exquisite piece of humour" as he thought it, and apparently never printed, but was too late, as Dodsley had already sent the last number to press. "When I receiv'd your agreeable piece of Ridicule," he writes to the Leasowes on this occasion — and the letter is of interest as being the earliest preserved of the many that Dodsley sent to his friend — "I was sick in bed, or you would have heard from me sooner. I suppose you know by this time that ye Museum is dropt, but I think your Essay is too good to be lost, if therefore you have no objection I will endeavour to get it inserted in some other of ye Public Papers."