"The Pleasures of Imagination," a production that would do honour to the poetical genius of any age or nation, was published in 1744, when Akenside was in his twenty-third year. The poem was received with great applause, and advanced its author to poetical fame. It is said, that when it was shewn to Pope in manuscript, by Dodsley, to whom it had been offered for a greater sum than he was inclined to give, he advised the bookseller not to make a niggardly offer, for the author of it was no every-day writer.
It also has been surmised, that this poem, and some others, were written prior to his going to Edinburgh in 1739, in his eighteenth year. Mr. (afterwards Bishop) Warburton severely attacked this poem, not on account of its poetry, but for some remarks which the author had introduced on the nature and objects of ridicule; and it was vindicated by an anonymous friend, since known to be Mr. Jeremiah Dyson.
On his return from Leyden, (where he studied physic, and had obtained the degree of Doctor in that faculty, in 1744,) Akenside settled as physician at Northampton.; thence he removed to Hampstead, where he continued about two years and a half; and finally settled in London, where his friend, Mr. Dyson, allowed the Poet £300 per annum, to maintain his rank as a physician. His medical reputation and practice gradually increased; he was chosen Fellow of the Royal Society, appointed Physician to St. Thomas's Hospital, admitted, by mandamus, to the degree of Doctor in Physic in the University of Cambridge, elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in London; and, upon the establishment of the Queen's Household, he was advanced to the rank of one of her Majesty's Physicians.
Notwithstanding the acknowledged abilities of Akenside, and the singular patronage by which he was distinguished, he never arrived at any very considerable popularity in his profession. It has been said, that he had a kind of haughtiness or ostentation in his manners, little calculated to ingratiate him with his brethren of the faculty, or to render him generally acceptable.
In Dr. Akenside's poems, and in the notes annexed thereto, we may discover his extensive acquaintance with ancient literature, and his attachment to the cause of civil and religious liberty. His politics were thought to incline to Republicanism, but no evidence to this effect is to be deduced from his poems; and his theology has been stated to have verged towards Deism: and yet, in his Ode to Hoadly, Bishop of Bangor, and to the Author of the "Memoirs of the House of Brandenburgh," he has testified his regard for pure Christianity, and his dislike to the attempts of freeing men from the salutary restraints of religion.
The following extract from the first of these Odes, may gratify the reader.
To Him, the Teacher bless'd,
Who sent religion from the palmy field
By Jordan, like the morn to cheer — the west,
And lifted up the veil which heav'n from earth conceal'd,
To Hoadly, thus his mandate he address'd:
Go, then, and rescue my dishonour'd law
From hands rapacious and from tongues impure:
Let not my peaceful name he made a lure,
Fell Persecution's mortal snares to aid:
Let not my words he impious chains, to draw
The free-born soul, in more than brutal awe,
To faith without assent, allegiance unrepaid.