« EelmineJätka »
tion was exasperated by ill success, he was employed to turn the public vengeance upon Byng, and wrote a letter of accusation under the character of a "Plain Man." The paper was with great industry circulated and dispersed; and he, for his seasonable intervention, had a considerable pension bestowed upon him, which he retained to his death.
larly formed; his appearance, till he grew corpulent, was agreeable, and he suffered it to want no recommendation that dress could give it. His conversation was elegant and easy. The rest of his character may, without injury to his memory, sink into silence.
As a writer, he cannot be placed in any high class. There is no species of composition in which he was eminent. His dramas had their day, a short day, and are forgotten; his blank verse seems to my ear the echo of Thomson. His "Life of Bacon" is known as it is appended to Bacon's volumes, but is no longer mentioned His works are such as a writer, bustling in the world, showing himself in public, and emerging occasionally, from time to time, into notice, might keep alive by his personal influence; but which, conveying little information, and giving no great pleasure, must soon give way, as the succession of things produces new topics of con
His stature was diminutive, but he was regu-versation, and other modes of amusement.
Towards the end of his life he went with his wife to France; but after a while, finding his health declining, he returned alone to England, and died in April, 1765.
He was twice married, and by his first wife had several children. One daughter, who married an Italian of rank, named Cilesia, wrote a tragedy called "Almida," which was acted at Drury-lane. His second wife was the daughter of a nobleman's steward, who had a considerable fortune, which she took care to retain in her own hands.
into it, advised him not to make a niggardly of fer; for "this was no every-day writer."
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.
In 1741 he went to Leyden, in pursuit of me dical knowledge; and three years afterwards (May 16, 1744) became doctor of physic, having, according to the custom of the Dutch Universities, published a thesis or dissertation. The subject which he chose was "The Original and At the age of eighteen he was sent to Edin- Growth of the Human Foetus;" in which he is burgh, that he might qualify himself for the of- said to have departed, with great judgment, from fice of a dissenting minister, and received some the opinion then established, and to have deliverassistance from the fund which the dissenters em-ed that which has been since confirmed and reploy 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 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 a hundred and twenty pounds, being such as he was not inclined to give precipitately, he carried the work to Pope, who, having looked
Akenside was a young man, warm with every notion that by nature 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 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 exposed to laughter, but both are not therefore equally contemptible. In the revisal of his poem, though he died
before he had finished it, 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 Pulteney, 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. Stonehouse then 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 plaything 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 deficience. By any 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."
The exemption which blank verse affords from the necessity of closing the sense with the couplet betrays luxuriant and active minds into such self-indulgence, that they pile image upon image, ornament upon ornament, and are not easily persuaded to close the sense at all.
Akenside appears not to have been wanting to his own success: he placed himself in view by all the common methods; he became 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 pub-Blank verse will, therefore, I fear, be too often lished from time to time, medical essays and ob- found in description exuberant, in argument loservations: he became physician to St. Tho- quacious, and in narration tiresome. mas'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 diction is certainly poetical as it is not prosaic, and elegant as it is not vulgar. He is to be commended as having fewer artifices of disgust than most of his brethren of the blank song. He rarely either recalls old phrases, or twists his metre into harsh inversions. The sense, however, of his words is strained, when "he views the Ganges from Alpine heights;" that is, from mountains like the Alps. And the pedant surely intrudes (but when was blank verse without pedantry?) when he tells how "Planets absolve the stated round of Time."
It is generally known to the readers of poetry that he intended to revise and augment this work, but died before he had completed his design. The reformed work as he left it, and the additions which he had made, are very properly retained in the late collection. He seems to have somewhat contracted his diffusion; but I know not whether he has gained in closeness what he has lost in splendour. In the additional book, "The Tale of Solon" is too long.
One great defect of his poem is very properly censured by Mr. Walker, unless it may be said, in his defence, that what he has omitted was not properly in his plan. His "picture of man is grand and beautiful, but unfinished. The immortality of the soul, which is the natural con
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.
With the philosophical or religious tenets of the author I have nothing to do; my business is with his poetry. The subject is well chosen, as it includes all images that can strike or please, and thus comprises every species of poetical delight. The only difficulty is in the choice of examples and illustrations; and it is not easy, in such exuberance of matter, to find the middle point between penury and satiety. The parts seem artificially disposed, with sufficient coherence, so as that they cannot change their places without injury to the general design.
His images are displayed with such luxuriance of expression, that they are hidden like Butler's moon, by a "veil of light;" they are forms fantastically lost under superfluity of dress. Pars minima est ipsa puella sui. The words are multiplied till the sense is hardly perceived; attention descrts the mind, and settles in the ear. The reader wanders through the gay diffusion, sometimes amazed, and sometimes delighted, but, after many turnings in the flowery labyrinth, comes out as he went in. He remarked little, and laid hold on nothing.
To his versification justice requires that praise should not be denied. In the general fabrication of his lines he is, perhaps, superior to any other writer of blank verse; his flow is smooth, and his pauses are musical; but the concatenation of his verses is commonly too long continued, and the full close does no trecur with sufficient frequency. The sense is carried on through a long intertexture of complicated clauses, and, as nothing is distinguished, nothing is remembered.
AKENSIDE is to be considered as a didactic and lyric poet. His great work is "The Pleasures of Imagination;" a performance which, published as it was, at the age of twenty-three, raised expectations that were not 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 exercise in combining and comparing them.
sequence of the appetites and powers she is of images. His thoughts are cold, and his words invested with, is scarcely once hinted through- inelegant. Yet such was his love of lyrics, that, out the poem. This deficiency is amply sup- having written with great vigour and poignancy plied by the masterly pencil of Dr. Young; his "Epistle to Curio," he transformed it afterwho, like a good philosopher, has invincibly wards into an ode disgraceful only to its author. proved the immortality of man, both from the grandeur of his conceptions, and the meanness and misery of his state: for this reason, a few passages are selected from the 'Night Thoughts,' which, with those of Akenside, seem to form a complete view of the powers, situation, and end of man."-Exercises for Improvement in Elocution,' p. 66.
Of his odes nothing favourable can be said: the sentiments commonly want force, nature, or novelty; the diction is sometimes harsh and uncouth, the stanzas ill-constructed and unplea sant, and the rhymes dissonant, or unskilfully disposed; too distant from each other, or arranged with too little regard to established use, and therefore perplexing to the ear, which in a short composition has not time to grow familiar with an innovation.
To examine such compositions singly cannot be required; they have doubtless brighter and
His other poems are now to be considered; but a short consideration will despatch them. It is not easy to guess why he addicted himself so diligently to lyric poetry, having neither the ease and airiness of the lighter, nor the vehe-darker parts; but when they are once found to mence and elevation of the grander ode. When be generally dull, all further labour may be he lays his ill-fated hand upon his harp, his spared; for to what use can the work be critiformer powers seem to desert him; he has no cised that will not be read? longer his luxuriance of expression, nor variety
THOMAS GRAY, tne son of Mr. Philip Gray, a scrivener of London, was born in Cornhill, November 26th, 1716. His grammatical education he received at Eton under the care of Mr. Antrobus, his mother's brother, then assistant to Dr. George; and when he left school, in 1734, entered a pensioner at Peterhouse in Cambridge. The transition from the school to the college is, to most young scholars, the time from which they date their years of manhood, liberty, and happiness; but Gray seems to have been very little delighted with academical qualifications; he liked at Cambridge neither the mode of life nor the fashion of study, and lived sullenly on to the time when his attendance on lectures was no longer required. As he intended to profess the common law, he took no degree.
When he had been at Cambridge about five years, Mr. Horace Walpole, whose friendship he had gained at Eton, invited him to travel with him as his companion. They wandered through France into Italy; and Gray's "Letters" contain a very pleasing account of many parts of their journey. But unequal friendships are easily dissolved: at Florence they quarrelled, and parted; and Mr. Walpole is now content to have it told that it was by his fault. If we look, however, without prejudice on the world, we shall find that men, whose consciousness of their own merit sets them above the compliances of servility, are apt enough in their It may be collected from the narrative of Mr. association with superiors to watch their own Mason, that his first ambition was to have exdignity with troublesome and punctilious jea-celled in Latin poetry: perhaps it were reasonlousy, and in the fervour of independence to exact able to wish that he had prosecuted his design; that attention which they refuse to pay. Part for, though there is at present some embarrassthey did, whatever was the quarrel; and the rest ment in his phrase, and some harshness in his of their travels was doubtless more unpleasant lyric numbers, his copiousness of language is to them both. Gray continued his journey in a such as very few possess; and his lines, even manner suitable to his own little fortune, with when imperfect, discover a writer whom praconly an occasional servant. tice would have made skilful.
He returned to England in September, 1741, and in about two months afterwards buried his father, who had, by an injudicious waste of money upon a new house, so much lessened his fortune, that Gray thought himself too poor to study the law. He therefore retired to Cambridge, where he soon after became bachelor of civil law, and where, without liking the place or its inhabitants, or professing to like them, he passed, except a short residence at London, the rest of his life.
About this time he was deprived of Mr. West, the son of a chancellor of Ireland, a friend on whom he appears to have set a high value, and who deserved his esteem by the powers which he shows in his letters, and in the "Ode to May," which Mr. Mason has preserved, as well as by the sincerity with which, when Gray sent him part of "Agrippina," a tragedy that he had just begun, he gave an opinion which probably intercepted the progress of the work, and which the judgment of every reader will confirm. It was certainly no loss to the English stage that "Agrippina" was never finished.
In this year (1742) Gray seems to have applied himself seriously to poetry; for in this year were produced the "Ode to Spring," his "Prospect of Eton," and his "Ode to Adversity." He began likewise a Latin poem, "De Principiis Cogitandi."
He now lived on at Peterhouse, very little His constitution was weak, and, believing that solicitous what others did or thought, and culti-his health was promoted by exercise and change vated his mind and enlarged his views without of place, he undertook (1765) a journey into any other purpose than of improving and amus- Scotland, of which his account, so far as it exing himself; when Mr. Mason, being elected tends, is very curious and elegant: for, as his fellow of Pembroke Hall, brought him a com- comprehension was ample, his curiosity extendpanion who was afterwards to be his editor, and ed to all the works of art, all the appearances of whose fondness and fidelity has kindled in him a nature, and all the monuments of past events. zeal of admiration which cannot be reasonably He naturally contracted a friendship with Dr. expected from the neutrality of a stranger, and Beattie, whom he found a poet, a philosopher, the coldness of a critic. and a good man. The Mareschal College at Aberdeen offered him the degree of doctor of laws, which, having omitted to take it at Cambridge, he thought it decent to refuse.
What he had formerly solicited in vain was at last given him without solicitation. The professorship of history became again vacant, and he received (1768) an offer of it from the Duke of Grafton. He accepted and retained it to his death; always designing lectures, but never appearing reading them; uneasy at his neglect of duty, and appeasing his uneasiness with designs of reformation, and with a resolution which he believed himself to have made of resigning the office, if he found himself unable to discharge it.
Ill health made another journey necessary, and he visited (1769) Westmoreland and Cumberland. He that reads his epistolary narration wishes, that to travel, and to tell his travels, had been more of his employment; but it is by study
at home that we must obtain the ability of travelling with intelligence and improvement.
His travels and his studies were now near their end. The gout, of which he had sustained many weak attacks, fell upon his stomach, and, yielding to no medicines, produced strong convulsions, which (July 30, 1771) terminated in death.
His character I am willing to adopt, as Mr. Mason has done, from a letter written to my friend, Mr. Boswell, by the Rev. Mr. Temple, rector of St. Gluvias in Cornwall; and am as willing as his warmest well-wisher to believe it true.
In his retirement he wrote (1747) an ode on the "Death of Mr. Walpole's Cat;" and the year afterwards attempted a poem, of more importance, on "Government and Education," of which the fragments which remain have many
His next production (1750) was his far-famed "Elegy in the Churchyard," which, finding its way into a magazine, first, I believe, made him known to the public.
An invitation from Lady Cobham about this time gave occasion to an odd composition called "A Long Story," which adds little to Gray's character.
Several of his pieces were published (1753) with designs by Mr. Bentley: and that they might in some form or other make a book, only one side of each leaf was printed. I believe the poems and the plates recommended each other so well, that the whole impression was soon bought. This year he lost his mother.
Some time afterwards (1756) some young men of the college, whose chambers were near his, diverted themselves with disturbing him by frequent and troublesome noises, and as is said, by pranks yet more offensive and contemptuous. This insolence, having endured it a while, he represented to the governors of the society, among whom perhaps he had no friends; and, finding his complaint little regarded, removed himself to Pembroke Hall.
In 1757 he published "The Progress of Poetry," ," and "The Bard," two compositions at which the readers of poetry were at first content to gaze in mute amazement. Some that tried them confessed their inability to understand them, though Warburton said that they were understood as well as the works of Milton and Shakspeare, which it is the fashion to admire. Garrick wrote a few lines in their praise. Some hardy champions undertook to rescue them from neglect; and in a short time many were content to be shown beauties which they could not see. Gray's reputation was now so high, that, after the death of Cibber, he had the honour of refusing the laurel, which was then bestowed on Mr. Whitehead.
"Perhaps he was the most learned man in Europe. He was equally acquainted with the elegant and profound parts of science, and that not superficially, but thoroughly. He knew every branch of history, both natural and civil; had read all the original historians of England, France, and Italy; and was a great antiquarian. Criticism, metaphysics, morals, politics, made a principal part of his study; voyages and travels of all sorts were his favourite amusements; and he had a fine taste in painting, prints, architec ture, and gardening. With such a fund of knowledge, his conversation must have been equally instructing and entertaining: but he was also a good man, a man of virtue and humanity. There is no character without some speck, some imperfection; and I think the greatest defect in his, was an affectation in delicacy, or rather effeminacy, and a visible fastidiousness, or contempt and disdain of his inferiors in science. He also had, in some degree, that weakness which disgusted Voltaire so much in Mr. Congreve: though he seemed to value others chiefly according to the progress that they had made in knowledge, yet he could not bear to be considered merely as a man of letters; and, though without birth, or fortune, or station, his desire was to be looked upon as a private independent
gentleman, who read for his amusement. Per-nothing new. There has of late arisen a prac haps it may be said, What signifies so much tice of giving to adjectives derived from substan knowledge, when it produced so little? Is it tives the termination of participles; such as the worth taking so much pains to leave no memo- cultured plain, the daisied bank; but I was sorry rials but a few poems? But let it be considered to see, in the lines of a scholar like Gray, the that Mr. Gray was to others at least innocently honied Spring. The morality is natural, but too employed; to himself certainly beneficially. His stale; the conclusion is pretty. time passed agreeably: he was every day making some new acquisition in science; his mind was enlarged, his heart softened, his virtue strengthened; the world and mankind were shown to him without a mask; and he was taught to consider every thing as trifling, and unworthy of the attention of a wise man, except the pursuit of knowledge and practice of virtue, in that state wherein God hath placed us."
its Author considered as a trifle; but it is not a The poem "On the Cat" was doubtless by happy trifle. In the first stanza, "the azure flowers that blow" show resolutely a rhyme is sometimes made when it cannot easily be found. Selima, the Cat, is called a nymph, with some violence both to language and sense; but there is no good use made of it when it is done; for of the two lines,
To this character Mr. Mason has added a more particular account of Gray's skill in zoology. He has remarked that Gray's effeminacy was affected most "before those whom he did not wish to please;" and that he is unjustly charged with making knowledge his sole reason of preference, as he paid his esteem to none whom he did not likewise believe to be good.
What has occurred to me from the slight inspection of his Letters in which my undertaking has engaged me is, that his mind had a large grasp; that his curiosity was unlimited, and his judgment cultivated; that he was a man likely to love much where he loved at all; but that he was fastidious and hard to please. His contempt, however, is often employed where I hope it will be approved, upon skepticism and infidelity. His short account of Shaftesbury I will insert.
Gray's poetry is now to be considered; and I hope not to be looked on as an enemy to his name, if I confess that I contemplate it with less pleasure than his life.
His ode "On Spring" has something poetical, both in the language and the thought; but the language is too luxuriant, and the thoughts have
nothing to Gray which every beholder does not The "Prospect of Eton College" suggests equally think and feel. His supplication to father Thames, to tell him who drives the hoop or tosses the ball, is useless and puerile. Father Thames has no better means of knowing than himself. His epithet "buxom health" is not elegant; he his language more poetical as it was more remote seems not to understand the word. Gray thought from common use; finding in Dryden "honey redolent of Spring," an expression that reaches the utmost limits of our language, Gray drove it a little more beyond common apprehension, by making "gales" to be "redolent of joy and youth."
first taken from "O Diva, gratum quæ regis AnOf the "Ode on Adversity" the hint was at tium;" but Gray has excelled his original by the variety of his sentiments, and by their moral application. Of this piece, at once poetical and rational, I will not, by slight objections, violate the dignity.
As a writer he had this peculiarity, that he did not write his pieces first rudely, and then correct them, but laboured every line as it arose in the train of composition; and he had a no-images of "spreading sound and running wation not very peculiar, that he could not write ter." A "stream of music" may be allowed; but at certain times, or at happy moments; a but where does "music," however "smooth and fantastic foppery, to which my kindness for a strong," after having visited the "verdant vales, man of learning and virtue wishes him to have roll down the steep amain," so as that "rocks been superior. this be said of music, it is nonsense; if it be said and nodding groves rebellow to the roar?" If of water, it is nothing to the purpose.
The second stanza, exhibiting Mars' car and Criticism disdains to chase a schoolboy to his Jove's eagle, is unworthy of further notice. common-places.
To the third it may likewise be objected, that