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MARK AKENSIDE' was born on the ninth of
November, 1721, at Newcastle upon Tyne. His father, Mark, was a butcher of the Presbyterian sect; his mother's name was Mary Lumsden. He received the first part of his education at the grammar-school of Newcastle ; and was afterwards instructed by Mr. Wilson, who kept a private academy.
At the age of eighteen he was sent to Edinburgh, that he might qualify himself for the office of a dissenting minister, and received some assistance from the fund which the Dissenters employ in educating young men of scanty fortune. But a wider view of the world opened other scenes, and prompted other hopes : he determined to study physic,' and repaid that contribution, which, being received for a different purpose, he justly thought it dishonourable to retain.
Whether, when he resolved not to be a dissenting minister, he ceased to be a Dissenter, I know not. He certainly retained an unnecessary and outrageous zeal for what he called and thought liberty; a zeal which sometimes disguises from the world, and not rarely from the mind which it possesses, an envious desire of plundering wealth or degrading greatness; and of which the immediate
See various readings in this Life.-Boswell's Johnson, vol. iv. p. 19. ? He was elected a member of the Medical Society of Edinburgh Dec. 30, 1740, and is said to have practised for two years in Newcastle as a surgeon.
tendency is innovation and anarchy, an impetuous eagerness to subvert and confound, with very little care what shall be established.
Akenside was one of those poets who have felt very early the motions of genius,' and one of those students who have very early stored their memories with sentiments and images. Many of his performances were produced in his youth ; and his greatest work, “ The Pleasures of Imagination,” appeared in 1744. I have heard Dodsley, by whom it was published, relate, that when the copy was offered him, the price demanded for it, which was an 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 every-day writer.
In 1741' he went to Leyden, in pursuit of medical knowledge; and three years afterwards (May 16, 1744) became doctor of physick, having, according to the custom of the Dutch Universities, published a thesis, or dissertation The subject which he chose was “the Original and Growth of the Human Fotus; " in which he is said to have departed, with great judgement, from the opinion then established, and to have delivered that which has been since confirmed and received.
Akenside was a young man, warm with every notion that
In his sixteenth year (1737) he sent to the Gentleman's Magazine a poem in imitation of Spenser, The Virtuoso, and continued to be a frequent contributor to that journal. He began to write The Pleasures of Imagination in 1738, and concluded it in 1743.—Ald. Akenside, p. 1.
2 On the story that this poem was first published in Ireland, see Boswell's Johnson, vol. i. p. 284.
3 Akenside left England, for the first and only time, early in April, 1744, took his degree of Doctor of Physic at Leyden in May of the same year, and in June returned to England to take a physician's practice at Northampton.
by nature or accident had been connected with the sound of liberty, and by an excentricity which such dispositions do not easily avoid, a lover of contradiction, and no friend to any thing established. He adopted Shaftesbury's foolish assertion of the efficacy of ridicule for the discovery of truth. For this he was attacked by Warburton, and defended by Dyson: Warburton afterwards reprinted his remarks at the end of his dedication to the Freethinkers.
The result of all the arguments which have been produced in a long and eager discussion of this idle question, may easily be collected. If ridicule be applied to any position as the test of truth, it will then become a question whether such ridicule be just; and this can only be decided by the application of truth, as the test of ridicule. Two men, fearing, one a real and the other a fancied danger, will be for a while equally exposed to the inevitable consequences of cowardice, contemptuous censure, and ludicrous representation; and the true state of both cases must be known, before it can be decided whose terror is rational, and whose is ridiculous; who is to be pitied, and who to be despised. Both are for a while equally ex. posed to laughter, but both are not therefore equally contemptible.
In the revival of his poem, which he died before he had finished, he omitted the lines which had given occasion to Warburton's objections.
He published, soon after his return from Leyden (1745), his first collection of odes; and was impelled by his rage of patriotism to write a very acrimonious epistle to Pul. teney, whom he stigmatizes, under the name of Curio, as the betrayer of his country.
Being now to live by his profession, he first commenced physician at Northampton, where Dr. Stonhouse then
1 In June, 1744.
practised, with such reputation and success, that a stranger was not likely to gain ground upon him. Akenside tried the contest a while; and, having deafened the place with clamours for liberty, removed' to Hampstead, where he resided more than two years, and then fixed himself in London,' the proper place for a man of accomplishments like his.
At London he was known as a poet, but was still to make his way as a physician; and would perhaps have been reduced to great exigences, but that Mr. Dyson,' with an ardour of friendship that has not many examples, allowed him three hundred pounds a year. Thus supported, he advanced gradually in medical reputation, but never attained any great extent of practice, or eminence of popularity. A physician in a great city seems to be the mere play-thing of Fortune; his degree of reputation is, for the most part, totally casual: they that employ him, know not his excellence; they that reject him, know not his defi. cience. By an acute observer, who had looked on the transactions of the medical world for half a century, a very curious book might be written on the Fortune of Physicians.
Akenside appears not to have been wanting to his own success : he placed himself in view by all the common methods; he become a Fellow of the Royal Society;" he obtained a degree at Cambridge, and was admitted into the College of Physicians; he wrote little poetry, but
1 In 1747.
In Bloomsbury Square. * Jeremiah Dyson, Esq., of Stoke, near Guildford, Surrey, many years Secretary to the Treasury, died 1776. Akenside in his will left his “ whole estate and effects of whatever kind” to his friend Mr. Dyson.
4 In 1753.
5 He was admitted by mandamus to a doctor's degree at Cambridge, in January, 1753.
6 In April, 1754.
published, from time to time, medical essays and observations; he became physician to St. Thomas's Hospital;' he read the Gulstonian Lectures in Anatomy;' but began to give, for the Crounian Lecture,' a history of the revival of Learning, from which he soon desisted ; and, in conversation, he very eagerly forced himself into notice by an ambitious ostentation of elegance and literature.
His “Discourse on the Dysentery" (1764) was considered as a very conspicuous specimen of Latinity, which entitled him to the same height of place among the scholars as he possessed before among the wits; and he might perhaps have risen to a greater elevation of character, but that his studies were ended with his life, by a putrid fever, June 23, 1770, in the forty-ninth year of his age.
Akenside is to be considered as a didactick and lyrick poet. His great work is the “ Pleasures of Imagination;" 5 a performance which, published, as it was, at the age of twenty-three, raised expectations that were not afterwards very amply satisfied. It has undoubtedly a just claim to very particular notice, as an example of great felicity of genius, and uncommon amplitude of acquisitions, of a young mind stored with images, and much exercised in combining and comparing them.
With the philosophical or religious tenets of the author I have nothing to do; my business is with his poetry. The
1 In 1759. Akenside was in the same year appointed principal physician to Christ's Hospital.-E. W. Gosse, Dict. Nat. Biog. 2 In 1755.
3 In 1756. 4 That “ Akenside when he walked in the streets looked for all the world like one of his own Alexandrines set upright,” was a saying of Henderson the actor.—DYCE, n. 2, p. lxxvi., Ald. ed., his Life of Akenside. The only portrait of Akenside is a characteristic profile by Arthur Pond, drawn 1754, engraved by E. Fisher, 1772. — CUNNINGHAM.
5 Ald. Akenside, pp. 1, 87.