1739
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Hymn to Science.

Gentleman's Magazine 9 (October 1739) 544.

Dr. Mark Akenside


Uncollected juvenilia by Mark Akenside; the Hymn, which is not signed, is dated "Newcastle upon Tyne, 1739." The "Hymn to Science" is an early example of the Miltonic odes that would be so important in Spenserian poetry in the 1740s — William Collins uses this measure several times in his Odes. Akenside follows, at a distance, the formula of Milton's companion poems, making the "hence" gesture in the second stanza, and the "live with thee" in his last. One notes the absence of the archaic diction that later become typical of the genre. The manner is Pope's, the sentiments Bacon's.

Samuel Egerton Brydges: "It is worth remarking how many first productions of persons of genius this Magazine has ushered into the world. In the same month [that Joseph Warton published an ode in the Gentleman's Magazine] appears Akenside's Hymn to Science, dated from Newcastle upon Tyne, 1739; in the next page appears a juvenile sonnet by Collins, signed Delicatulus; and in the next month, p. 599, is inserted Mrs. Carter's beautiful Ode to Melancholy" Censura Literaria 3 (1807) 186n.

Alexander Dyce: "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 [in Life, Writings, and Genius of Akenside (1832)] is probably the only reader whom it ever moved to rapturous admiration" Poetical Works (1835; 1866) iii-iv.

W. Davenport Adams: "Mark Akenside, poet (b. 1721, d. 1770), wrote the Pleasures of Imagination (1744), and some miscellaneous pieces. His complete works were published in 1772, and are included in the editions of the British Poets issued severally by Dr. Johnson, Bucke, and Dyce. See also the Biographia Britannica and the introduction to the Pleasures of Imagination by Aikin. 'Akenside,' said Dr. Johnson, 'was a superior poet both to Gray and Mason.' 'If,' wrote Lord Macaulay, 'he had left lyric composition to Gray and Collins, and had employed his powers in grave and elevated satire, he might have disputed the pre-eminence of Dryden'" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 11.

George Kitchin: "Akenside's Hymn, like so many of the odes round about the forties, was based on Milton's Il Penseroso" Survey of Burlesque and Parody in English (1931) 130.



Science! thou fair effusive ray
From the great source of mental Day,
Free, generous, and refin'd!
Descend with all thy treasures fraught,
Illumine each bewilder'd thought,
And bless my lab'ring mind.

But first with thy resistless light,
Disperse those phantoms from my sight,
Those mimic shades of thee;
The scholiast's learning, sophist's cant,
The visionary bigot's rant,
The monk's philosophy.

O! let thy powerful charms impart
The patient head, the candid heart,
Devoted to thy sway;
Which no weak passions e'er mislead,
Which still with dauntless steps proceed
Where Reason points the way.

Give me to learn each secret cause;
Let number's, figure's, motion's laws
Reveal'd before me stand;
These to great Nature's scenes apply,
And round the globe, and thro' the sky,
Disclose her working hand.

Next, to thy nobler search resign'd,
The busy, restless, human mind
Thro' ev'ry maze pursue;
Detect Perception where it lies,
Catch the ideas as they rise,
And all their changes view.

Say from what simple springs began
The vast, ambitious thoughts of man,
Which range beyond controul;
Which seek Eternity to trace,
Dive thro' th' infinity of space,
And strain to grasp THE WHOLE.

Her secret stores let Memory tell,
Bid Fancy quit her fairy cell,
In all her colours drest;
While prompt her sallies to controul,
Reason, the judge, recalls the soul
To Truth's severest test.

Then launch thro' Being's wide extent;
Let the fair scale, with just ascent,
And cautious steps, be trod;
And from the dead, corporeal mass,
Thro' each progressive order pass
To Instinct, Reason, GOD.

There, Science! veil thy daring eye;
Nor dive too deep, nor soar too high,
In that divine abyss;
To Faith content thy beams to lend,
Her hopes t' assure, her steps befriend,
And light her way to bliss.

Then downwards take thy flight agen,
Mix with the policies of men,
And social nature's ties:
The plan, the genius of each state,
Its interest and its pow'rs relate,
It fortunes and its rise.

Thro' private life pursue thy course,
Trace every action to its source,
And means and motives weigh:
Put tempers, passions in the scale,
Mark what degrees in each prevail,
And fix the doubtful sway.

That last, best effort of thy skill,
To form the life, and rule the will,
Propitious pow'r! impart:
Teach me to cool my passion's fires,
Make me the judge of my desires,
The master of my heart.

Raise me above the vulgar's breath,
Pursuit of fortune, fear of death,
And all in life that's mean.
Still true to reason be my plan,
Still let my action speak the man,
Thro' every various scene.

Hail! queen of manners, light of truth;
Hail! charm of age, and guide of youth;
Sweet refuge of distress:
In business, thou! exact, polite;
Thou giv'st Retirement its delight,
Prosperity its grace.

Of wealth, pow'r, freedom, thou! the cause;
Foundress of order, cities, laws,
Of arts inventress, thou!
Without thee what were human kind?
How vast their wants, their thoughts how blind!
Their joys how mean! how few!

Sun of the soul! thy beams unveil!
Let others spread the daring sail,
On Fortune's faithless sea;
While undeluded, happier I
From the vain tumult timely fly,
And sit in peace with Thee.

[p. 544]