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Poetical Works of Akenside   By: (1721-1770)

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Mark Akenside was born at Newcastle upon Tyne on the 9th of November 1721. His family were Presbyterian Dissenters, and on the 30th of that month he was baptized in the meeting, then held in Hanover Square, by a Mr. Benjamin Bennet. His father, Mark, was a butcher in respectable circumstances his mother's name was Mary Lumsden. There may seem something grotesque in finding the author of the "Pleasures of Imagination" born in a place usually thought so anti poetical as a butcher's shop. And yet similar anomalies abound in the histories of men of genius. Henry Kirke White, too, was a butcher's son, and for some time carried his father's basket. The late Thomas Atkinson, a very clever littérateur of the West of Scotland, was also what the Scotch call a "flesher's" son. The case of Cardinal Wolsey is well known. Indeed, we do not understand why any decent calling should be inimical to the existence however it may be to the adequate development of genius. That is a spark of supernal inspiration, lighting where it pleases, often conforming, and always striving to conform, circumstances to itself, and sometimes even strengthened and purified by the contradictions it meets in life. Nay, genius has sprung up in stranger quarters than in butcher's shops or tailor's attics it has lived and nourished in the dens of robbers, and in the gross and fetid atmosphere of taverns. There was an Allen a Dale in Robin Hood's gang; it was in the Bell Inn, at Gloucester, that George Whitefield, the most gifted of popular orators, was reared; and Bunyan's Muse found him at the disrespectable trade of a tinker, and amidst the clatter of pots, and pans, and vulgar curses, made her whisper audible in his ear, "Come up hither to the Mount of Vision to the summit of Mount Clear!"

It is said that Akenside was ashamed of his origin and if so, he deserved the perpetual recollection of it, produced by a life long lameness, originating in a cut from his father's cleaver. It is fitting that men, and especially great men, should suffer through their smallnesses of character. The boy was first sent to the Free School of Newcastle, and thence to a private academy kept by Mr. Wilson, a Dissenting minister of the place. He began rather early to display a taste for poetry and verse writing; and, in April 1737, we find in the Gentleman's Magazine a set of stanzas, entitled, "The Virtuoso, in imitation of Spenser's style and stanza," prefaced by a letter signed Marcus, in which the author, while requesting the insertion of his piece, pleads the apology of his extreme youth. One may see something of the future political zeal of the man in the boy's selection of one of the names of Brutus. The Gentleman's Magazine was then rising toward that character of a readable medley and agreeable olla podrida , which it long bore, although its principal contributor Johnson did not join its staff till the next year. Its old numbers will even still repay perusal at least we seldom enjoyed a greater treat than when in our boyhood we lighted on and read some twenty of its brown hued, stout backed, strong bound volumes, filled with the debates in the Senate of Lilliput with Johnson's early Lives and Essays with mediocre poetry interesting scraps of meteorological and scientific information ghost stories and fairy tales alternating with timid politics, and with sarcasms at the great, veiled under initials, asterisks, and innuendoes; and even now many, we believe, feel it quite a luxury to recur from the personalities and floridities of modern periodicals to its quiet, cool, sober, and sensible pages. To it Akenside contributed afterwards a fable, called "Ambition and Content," a "Hymn to Science," and a few more poetical pieces (written not, as commonly said, in Edinburgh, but in Newcastle, in 1739). It has been asserted that he composed his "Pleasures of Imagination" while visiting some relations at Morpeth, when only seventeen years of age; but although he himself assures us that he spent many happy and inspired hours in that region,

"Led In silence by some powerful hand unseen,"

there is no direct evidence that he then fixed his vague, tumultuous, youthful impressions in verse... Continue reading book >>

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