Akenside was educated at the University of Edinburgh with the view of becoming a dissenting minister, but afterwards exchanged the study of theology for that of medicine. At the age of twenty-three he published the Pleasures of the Imagination, which conferred upon him at once a high reputation as a poet. In 1748 he established himself at London as a physician, and was assisted during the early and difficult part of his career with unexampled generosity by his friend Mr. Dyson, with an allowance of three hundred pounds a year. His reputation and practice continued to increase till his death, which took place in the 49th year of his age.
Akenside's poem is apparently the production of a mind well stored with philosophy and imagery collected from books, but possessing little acuteness, pathos, or originality of thought and not accustomed to the observation of nature. Hence it is artificial and declamatory in its character. It has very little depth or tenderness of feeling, and its poetry rarely takes hold on the heart.
Both the thoughts and style are stately and imposing, but the former are too apt to degenerate into bombast, and the latter becomes superfluous in its pomp of expression.
His versification is regular and harmonious, his morality dignified, though rather cold, and his descriptions of the operations of genius, and of the intellectual abstract qualities, are beautiful.
"The sweetness which we miss in Akenside is that which should arise from the direct representations of life and its warm realities and affections. We seem to piss in his poem through a gallery of pictured abstractions rather than of pictured things. He reminds us of odours which we enjoy artificially extracted from the flower, instead of inhaling them from its natural blossom.
"In treating of novelty he is rather more descriptive; we have the youth breaking from domestic endearments in quest of knowledge, the sage over his midnight lamp, the virgin at her romance, and the village matron relating her stories of witchcraft. Short and compressed as these sketches are, they are still beautiful glimpses of reality, and it is expressly from observing the relief which they afford to his didactic and declamatory passages, that we are led to wish that he had appealed more frequently to examples from nature."