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Born at Newcastle-on-Tyne-Educated at Edinburgh and Leyden-Determines to study Physio
-Publishes · The Pleasures of Imagination '-His Quarrel with Warburton-Writes & Poem against Pulteney-Publishes a volume of Odes—Mr. Dyson's friendship for him-His small practice as a Physician-Death, and Burial in St. James's Church, Piccadilly, London,
MARK ARENSIDE was born on the 9th 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 porpose, 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 tendency is innovation and anarchy, an impetuous eagerness to subvert and confound, with very little care what shall be established.'
1 "1710, August 10.-Mark Akenside and Mary Lumsden. Mar."-Register of St. Nicholas, Newcastle. (Biographical Notice of Akenside,' by Robert White, p. 1.) His father wrote his Dame Akinside, and so did his son till he became distinguished. * Akeaside, when a student at Edinburgh, was a member of the Medical Society, then
Akenside was one of those poets who have felt very early the motions of genias, 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 ereryday writer.
In 1741 he went to Leyden in pursuit of medical knowledge, and three years afterwards (May 16, 1744) became doctor of physic,
recently formed, and was eminently distinguished by the eloquence which he displayed to the course of the debates. Dr. Robertson (who was at that time a student of divinity in the same university) told me that he was frequently led to attend their meetings chiefly to hear the speeches of Akedside, the great object of whose ambition then was a seat in Parliament; . situation which he was sanguine enough to flatter himself he had some prospect of obtaining, and for which he conceived his talents to be much better adapted thap for the profession he had chosen. In this opinion he was probably in the right, as he was generally considered by his fellow-students as far inferior in medical science to several of his companions.-DCGALD STEWART: Elem, of the Phil. of the Iluman Mint, iii. 501.
8 He was very young when he became a poet in print, many of his boyish verses appearing in the pages of The Gentleman's Magazine. One of his first attempts is in the number of that periodical for April, 1787, and is called 'The Virtuoso, in imitation of Spenser's Style and Stanza.' The letter with which it was sent, sigued “ Marcus," pleads excuse for its defects, as " the performance of one in his sixteenth year." This is not a common poem; but it is very unlike the style, though written in the stanza, of Spenser.
Akenside's next communication was in the August of 1738 ; 'A British Philippic, occasioned by the Insults of the Spaniards, and the present Preparations for War.' This noble-spirited poem, as it is called by Sylvanus Urban, is too pear an echo of the Britannia 'of Thomson ; but it is no everyday cento; and so it was thought by Cave, who printed it at the same time in a sixpenny folio. " If the ingenious author," says Cave, “will inform us how we may direct a packet to his hands, we will send him our acknowledgments for so great a favour with a parcel of the folio edition.”
The poem appeared anonymously ; and a scribbler of the name of Rolt went over to Dub. lin, published an edition of it as his own work, and lived for some months at the best tables on the fame which it brought him. (See Boswell by Croker, p. 121.) Akenside vindicated his right by publishing an edition with his name.
6 What was thought of the new poet and his poem by some men of genius of the time is painful to tell. Three have left their opinions in writing. Gray thought it above mediocrity, now and then rising to the best, particularly in description; that it was often obscure, and at times unintelligible." I have read • The Pleasures of Imagination,'” writes Ambrose Philips; “there are in it frequent obscurities and it glares too much " “There is a poem of this season," writes Shenstone," "called 'The Pleasures of Imagination,' worth your reading, but is is an expensive quarto : If it comes out in a less size, I will bring it home with me."
baving, according to the custom of the Dutch Universities, published a thesis or dissertation. The subject wbich he chose was The Original and Growth of the Human Fætus ;' in which he is said to have departed, with great judgment, 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 by Datore or accident had been connected with the sound of liberty,' and by an eccentricity which such dispositions do not easily avoid, a lover of contradiction, and no friend to anything 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 ridiculouswho is to be pitied, and who to be despised. Both are for a while equally exposed to laughter, but both are not therefore equally contemptible.
In the revisal 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 bis return from Leyden (1745), his first collection of odes; and was impelled by his rage of patriotism to
• Smollett ridiculed him (1751) in 'Peregrine Pickle,' as the republican doctor; the purveyor of the inimitable dinner in the manner of the ancients. To complete the likeness, he has made him quote bimself. (Compare Per. Pickle,' li. 248, ed. 1731, and Akenside's note on his Ode to the Earl of Huntingdon.')
* Dyson's defence was an anonymous ' Epistle ;' in which I think with Mr. Dyce, that there is more of Akenside than Dyson.