1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Mark Akenside

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 186.



The author of Pleasures of Imagination (1721-1770) was the son of a butcher at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. An accident in his early years — the fall of one of his father's cleavers on his foot — rendered him lame for life. His parents were Dissenters, and Mark was sent to the University of Edinburgh to be educated for the Presbyterian ministry. He entered, however, the ranks of medicine, and received in 1744 the degree of M.D. from the University of Leyden. As a boy of sixteen, he had contributed pieces of some merit to the Gentleman's Magazine. His Pleasures of Imagination, published when he was twenty-three years old, placed him in the list of conspicuous poets. Instead of pressing forward to better things, he passed several years in altering and remodelling his first successful poem; but he gained nothing in reputation by the attempt, and died before it was completed. His Hymns and Odes are deservedly forgotten.

Removing to London, Akenside took a house in Bloomsbury Square, where he resided till his death. As a physician, he never rose to eminence. His manner in a sick-room was depressing and unsympathetic. His chief means of support were derived from the liberality of his friend Jeremiah Dyson, a man of fortune, who secured to him an income of 300 a year. As a poet, Akenside may not have reached the highest mark; but his Pleasures of the Imagination will always be regarded as a remarkable production for a youth of twenty-three. In our extracts we have preferred the original text. Few of the author's subsequent alterations are improvements. Gray censures the tone of false philosophy which he found in the work.