Charles Bucke.

On the life, writings, and genius of Akenside; with some account of his friends online

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John D Short













spacious west,

And all the teeming regions of the south,
Hold not a quarry to the curious flight
Of knowledge, half so tempting and so fair
As Man to Man."

Pleasures of Imagination.




FjWvv L*&


PR 33/3




To whom can I dedicate these pages with
so much propriety, as to One, whose sur-
gical skill preserved the life of a son ; and
to whose never-sleeping kindness and con-
sideration I have been indebted, on a thou-
sand different occasions?

" No years can wash these grateful thoughts away!"

I would have sought leave to signify my
respect ; but I would not be denied. Accept,
then, this memorial as it is meant; and be-
lieve me to be,

Your very faithful

and affectionate friend,





Having always esteemed the Pleasures
of Imagination the finest didactic Poem in
our language, it was with no small pleasure,
that I accidentally discovered, some time
since, a few MS, notes of Akenside at the
British Museum.

These notes are not very important ; but
they led me to regret, as, indeed, I had
often done before, that all the accounts, we
have, of this great poet, should be so meagre
and deficient : and having formerly known
two gentlemen, who had been intimately ac-
quainted with him, I combined what I had
heard them say of him with what was already
known ; and taking his works for a general
guide (and few speak more in their works
than Akenside does) I have, I hope, been
enabled to give a correct and, perhaps, not
altogether an uninteresting outline of a
virtuous and high-minded man, gifted with
very considerable poetical powers.

The Reader will not expect me to give
more than it was possible to obtain. I hope,
he will rather thank me for what little I have
been able to collect of this eminent person ;
though I cannot but feel, that he must greatly
regret, that the subject did not fall into abler

January 3 1832.


i'age 180, G lines from bottom, dele Bowles.

11)2, 4 lines from bottom, for Edward, read Edmund.





Mark Akenside * was born at Newcastle-upon-
Tyne, in the county of Northumberland, on the
9th of November, 1721. His father was a respect-
able butcher. His mother's name was Mary Lums-
den. They were both exceedingly strict in their
religious observances; and being in the habit of
attending a meeting-house, which had been then
recently erected in Hanover-square, their son was

* In all the editions of this poet, since the sixth published
by Dodsley, 1763, the name has been invariably spelt Aken-
side ; but in the first edition of the Ode to the Earl of Hunt-
ingdon, the orthography is Akinside, and the poet himself,
in his MS. dedication to Mr. Dyson (now first published)
subscribes his name in the same manner.


baptized by the minister, (the Rev. Benjamin Ben-
net,) about three weeks afterwards.

Akenside is said to have been, in after life, very
much ashamed of the comparative lowness of his
birth ; and it is, also, reported, that he could never
regard a lameness, which impeded his walking with
facility, otherwise than as an unpleasant memento
of a cut on the foot, which he received from the
fall of one of his father's cleavers, when about seven
years of age.

Be this as it may, it is very certain that he had
a strong regard for the place of his birth ; and
even so late as the year in which he died, (1770)
he wrote some beautiful lines, commemorative of
the pleasure, he was accustomed to receive, in early
life, from wandering among the scenes of his native

<( O ye dales

Of Tyne, and ye, most ancient woodlands ! where
Oft, as the giant flood obliquely strides,
And his banks open, and his lawns extend,
Stops short the pleased traveller to view,
Presiding o'er the scene, some rustic tow'r,
Founded by Norman or by Saxon hands."

No accounts have reached us, as to the number
of brothers and sisters he had : we only know,


from Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquities,
that he knew one of Akenside's sisters, whose
name was Addison, then living in Newcastle ; and
that she possessed several drawings, her brother had
sketched at a very early period of life.

His parents having separated from the church,
Akenside, after some preparatory instruction at the
free-school of Newcastle, was placed under the care
of a dissenting minister, Mr. Wilson, who kept
a private academy in the same town ; by whom his
mind was early awakened to those impressions,
which seldom fail

" To render Nature pleasing to the eye,
And music to the ear*; "

And that he was as feelingly alive to that most de-
lightful of all suffrages, the applause of the wise
and good, is evident from his Ode on the Love of
Praise ; than which Horace himself has scarcely one
more beautiful.

' Of all the springs within the mind,

Which prompt her steps in Fortune's maze,

From none more pleasing aid we find,
Than from the genuine love of praise.

Pleasures of Imagination, b. iii. 492.




Nor any partial private end

Such reverence to the public bears,
Nor any passion, Virtue's friend,

So like to Virtue's self appears.


For who in glory can delight,

Without delight in virtuous deeds ?

What man a charming voice can slight,
Who courts the echo that succeeds ?


But not the echo or the voice

More, than on virtue, praise depends ;
To which, of course, its real price

The judgment of the praiser tends.


If praise, then, with religious awe
From the sole perfect Judge be sought,

A nobler aim, a purer law,

Nor priest, nor bard, nor sage hath taught;


With which in character the same,
Though in an humbler sphere it lies,

I count that soul of human fame
The suffrage of the good and wise."


Thus, too, in his Ode on hearing a sermon preached
against Glory :

" If to spurn at noble praise

Be the passport to thy heaven,

Follow thou those gloomy ways ;

No such law to me was givem

Nor, I trust, shall I deplore me,
Faring like my friends before me,
Nor a holier place desire,
Than Timoleon's arms acquire,
And Tully's curule chair, and Milton's golden lyre."

Akenside indulged his natural taste for poetry
very early ; and, at the age of sixteen, sent to the
editor of the Gentleman's Magazine a poem, written
after the manner of Spenser, entitled the Virtuoso;
the idea of which seems to have been taken from
the subjoined passage of Shaftesbury's Charac-
teristics *.

* " Hitherto there can lie no ridicule, nor the least scope
for satiric wit or raillery. But when we push this virtuoso
character a little further, and lead our polished gentleman
into more nice researches ; when from the view of mankind
and their affairs, our speculative genius, and minute examiner
of nature's works, proceeds with equal or perhaps superior
zeal, in the contemplation of the insect life, the conveniences,
habitations, and economy of a race of sliell-Jish; when he
has erected a cabinet in due form, and made it the real pat-
tern of his mind, replete with the same trash and trumpery


This poem is not only curious, as a juvenile pro-
duction, but as it serves to show how early the mind
of Akenside was impregnated with the sentiments
of that once celebrated writer.

Akenside did not think proper to republish this
poem in the collection of his works ; and yet, there
is not one stanza, of which he needed to have been,
in the slightest degree, ashamed. Indeed, it is a very
remarkable poem for so young a person. I shall
quote the first and last stanzas, with its motto from
Persius :


Nugari solitos.

" Whilom by silver Thames' gentle stream,

In London town there dwelt a subtile wight ;
A wight of mickle wealth, and mickle fame,

Book'-learn'd and quaint ; a Virtuoso hight.
Uncommon things and rare were his delight;

From musings deep his brain ne'er gotten ease ;
Nor ceasen he from study day or night ;
Until (advancing onwards by degrees)
He knew whatever breeds on earth, on air, or seas."

of correspondent empty notions and chimerical conceits ; he
then, indeed, becomes the subject of sufficient raillery, and
is made the jest of common conversations." Characteristics,
vol. iii. p. 156. Ed. 1737.


" The wight, whose brain this phantom's * power doth fill,

On whom she doth, with constant care, attend,
Will for a dreadful giant take a mill t,

Or a grand palace in a hogstye find ;
(From her dire influence me may Heavn defend! )

All things with vitiated sight he spies ;
Neglects his family, forgets his friend ;

Seeks painted trifles and fantastic toys ;
And eagerly pursues imaginary joys."

Akenside seems to have entertained a particular
contempt for virtuosos; for he again makes that
order of character a subject for ridicule in the third
book of his principal poem.

" Behold yon mystic form,

Bedeck'd with feathers, insects, weeds, and shells !
Not with in tenser view, the Samian sage
Bent his fixt eye on heaven's intenser fires,
When first the order of that radiant scene
Swell'd his exulting thought, than this surveys
A muckworm's entrails, or a spider's fang."

In the same year (viz. 1737) Akenside published,
in the same miscellany, a Rhapsody on the miseries
of a Poet, born to a low estate. This poem, as a
whole, is scarcely worthy of preservation ; but as

* Phantasy's.

t Alluding to a passage in Don Quixote ; about this time
translated into English.

t From a line in Machiavelli's Asino.


there are some passages, indicative of future excel-
lence, I shall quote them.

" Of all the various lots around the ball,
Which Fate to man distributes, absolute,
Avert, ye Gods ! that of the Muses' son,
Cursed with dire poverty. Poor, hungry wretch !
What shall he do for life ? He cannot work
With manual labour. Shall those sacred hands,
That brought the counsels of the Gods to light,
Shall that inspired tongue, which every muse
Has touched divine, to charm the sons of men,
These hallow'd orgies these ! be prostitute
To the vile service of some fool in power,
All his behests submissive to perform,
Howe'er to him ungrateful 1 Oh ! he scorns
Th' ignoble thought !"

The following passage, no doubt, alludes to an
order of persons, with whom the poet was, at this
time, compelled occasionally to associate.

" But 'tis in vain to rave at destiny.
Here he must rest ; and brook the best he can ;
To live remote from grandeur, learning, wit,
Immured among th' ignoble, vulgar herd
Of lowest intellect ; whose stupid souls
But half inform their bodies "

The succeeding lines allude to the various de-
scriptions of poetry, in a manner very appropriate
and concise.


" Upon his brow
Perplex'd anxiety, and struggling thought,
Painful as female throes ! whether the bard
Display the deeds of heroes ; or the fall
Of vice in lay dramatic; or expand
The lyric wing; or in elegiac strains
Lament the fair ; or lash the stubborn age
With laughing satire."

After depicting the miseries of the poet, left
only to his own mental energies to sustain the loss
of friends, the want of a Halifax, of a Somers, or
of a Dorset, and the miseries of indigence, he closes
the theme with a striking admonition to himself.

u I hear my better angel cry, e Retreat!

Rash youth, in time retreat ! Let those poor bards,
Who slighted all, all ! for the flattering Muse,
Yet cursed with piercing want, as land-marks stand.
To warn thee from the service oftK ingrate*.'"

The next poem, he sent to the Gentleman's Maga-
zine was a fable, illustrative of Context and Am-
bition ; and it is really not too much to say of it,
that it is almost worthy of being associated with
some of the translations which, a few years previous,
had been rendered from Ovid's Metamorphoses.

* I found this passage inscribed in pencil on the wall of
an inn at Cassel, in the department of the North, a few
months ago. It was, no doubt, written by some unfortunate
English votary of the Muses, then on his, perhaps, compelled


He fables, that, in times

" While yet the world was young, and men were few,
Nor lurking fraud, nor tyrant rapine knew ;"

Content was the only acknowledged sovereign of

" Joy of all hearts, delight of every eye,

Nor grief, nor pain, appear'd, when she was by;
Her presence from the wretched banish'd care,
Dispersed the swelling sigh, and stopt the falling tear."

At length, Ambition

hellish fiend ! arose

To plague the world, and banish man's repose."

This fiend, determining on the dethronement of
Content, all the vain, and lovers of novelty, flocked
to his standard : Content was, in consequence,
dethroned, and compelled to wander about the
world in search of a home.

One day, forsaken by every one, and destitute of
all things, she came to a cottage, roofed with turf.

" Fast by a gloomy, venerable wood
Of shady pines, and ancient oaks, it stood."

In this retired cottage, bending beneath a weight
of years, a cheerful couple

" had pass'd their life.

The husband Industry was call'd Frugality the wife."


This pair bad many sons, whose occupation con-
sisted in cultivating the earth. They had also one
daughter, whose name was Plenty.

In former years, Content had occasionally
visited this cottage ; and being now stripped of her
dominions, she determined on seeking in it a refuge
from her misfortunes.

" Arrived, she makes her changed condition known;
Tells how the rebels drove her from the throne ;"

and implores shelter from the tyrant. The aged
pair listened in sympathy to her misfortunes, invited
her into their cottage, and entreated her to take up
her abode in the bosom of their family.

In the meantime, Ambition having attained the
summit of his wishes,

" Polluted every stream with human gore,
And scatter'd plagues and death from shore to shore."

Offended at the evils thus entailed upon mankind,
Jupiter looked down with indignation and pity.
He desires Venus to dispatch her son, Cupid, to
repair to the palace of Ambition, and to strike him
with an ardent love for his former rival, Content.
Then he commanded Mercury to descend to the
regions of Pluto,

" To rouse Oblivion from her sable cave ;"


and enjoins her to draw around the abode of Con-
tent, a darkness equal to the

u t deepest gloom of night,

To screen the Virgin from the Tyrant's sight;
That the vain purpose of his life may try,
Still to explore, what still eludes his eye*
He spake: Loud praises shake the bright abode,
And all applaud the justice of the god."

This poem, and several others, Akenside did not
feel ambitious of acknowledging ; and they are in-
troduced here, not with an intention of advancing
his reputation, but as specimens of the poetical
power, he possessed, at an early period of life.

But though Akenside did not choose to associate
them with the fruit of his maturer years, he occa-
sionally alludes, and always with satisfaction, to the
time in which they were written. Thus in his
ode to his Muse, written many years after :

u And now again my bosom burns ;
The Muse, the Muse herself, returns !
Such on the banks of Tyne, confest,
I hail'd the fair immortal guest,
When first she seal'd me for her own,
Made all her blissful treasures known,
And bade me swear to follow her alone."


Some of his productions, however, at this period,
seem to have touched on subjects, which he did
not, afterwards, approve ; at least, so we may con-
jecture from a passage in his second poem on the
Pleasures of Imagination.

What though first

In years unseason'd, haply ere the sports

Of childhood yet were o'er, th' adventurous lay,

With many splendid prospects, many charms,

Allured my heart ; not conscious whence they sprung,

Nor heedful of their end ? yet serious truth

Her empire o'er the calm sequester'd theme

Asserted soon ; while falsehood's evil brood,

Vile and deceitful pleasure, she at once

Excluded : and my fancy's careless toil

Drew to the better cause."

While still a boy, he often, as we have before
observed, amused his leisure from the duties of
education, by wandering on the banks of the Tyne,
where he hailed the morning and evening sun with
all the enthusiasm of youth, and felt the impress
of poetical inspiration. He frequently alludes to
these moments of delight.

" Pierian maids !

Hear me propitious. In the morn of life,

When Hope shone bright, and all the prospect smiled,


To your sequester'd mansion, oft my steps
Were turn'd, O Muses ! and within your gate
My offerings paid."

P. I. Second Poem, ill. 345.

Again, in his hymn to the Naiads :

" The Muses (sacred by their gifts divine),
In early days did to my wondering sense
Their secrets oft reveal: oft my raised ear
In slumber felt their music ; oft at noon,
Or hour of sunset, by some lonely stream,
In field or shady grove, they taught me words
Of power from death and envy to preserve
The good man's name."

About the age of seventeen he was frequently at
the house of a relative, at Morpeth ; and to the
enjoyments he there experienced, in studying the
works of Nature, he alludes in lines, perhaps, from
their associations, the most beautiful to himself, in
all his poems.

" O ye Northumbrian shades ! which overlook
The rocky pavement and the mossy falls
Of solitary Wensbeck's limpid stream,
How gladly I recall your well-known seats,
Beloved of old ; and that delightful time,
When all alone, for many a summer's day,
I wander'd through your calm recesses, led
In silence, by some powerful hand unseen."

P. I. Second Poem, iv. 1. 38.


Many poets have recorded the beauties of their
native stream ; and Armstrong, in a poem published
in the same year with that of Akenside, followed
the example.

" Such the stream,

On whose Arcadian banks, I first drew air,
Liddal; till now in Doric lays
Tuned to her murmurs by her love-sick swains,
Unknown in song: though not a purer stream
Through meads more flow'ry, more romantic groves,
Rolls towards the western main."

While at Morpeth, Akenside is supposed by
some to have written his Pleasures of Imagination.
But this is scarcely to be credited; though it is
not improbable, that many passages may have been
written there. His portrait of Dione, for instance.

o bear, then, unreproved,

Thy smiling treasures to the green recess,
Where young Dione strays; with sweetest airs
Entice her forth, to lend her angel form
For beauty's honor'd image."

At the age of eighteen Akenside was sent to
Edinburgh, with a view of taking orders as a dis-
senting minister. In this resolution he remained
one year; when he altered his intention in respect


to the choice of a profession, and entered himself as
a student in medicine. The money, therefore, he
had received from the Dissenters' Society, and which
it was customary for them to appropriate to the
education of young men of scanty fortune, designed
for their ministry, he afterwards returned.

He remained at Edinburgh as a medical student
two years, during which period he seems to have
made great progress. He was elected a member of
the Medical Society, was greatly respected for his
attainments, and became acquainted with several
young men, who afterwards distinguished themselves
in a very eminent manner ; amongst whom we may
particularly mention Dr. John Gregory and Dr.
Robertson. And here we may with advantage in-
troduce a curious anecdote, related by Dr. Stewart,
in his Elements of the Principles of the Human
Mind *. " There are various passages in Akenside's
works," says he, " which will be read with addi-
tional pleasure, when it is known, that they were
not entirely suggested by fancy. I allude to those
passages where he betrays a secret consciousness of
powers, adapted to a higher station of life than fell
to his lot. /Akenside, when a medical student at

* Vol. iii. p. 501. 4 to.


Edinburgh, was a member of the Medical Society,
then recently formed, and was eminently distin-
guished by the eloquence which he displayed in the
course of the debates. Dr. Robertson (who was at
that time a student of divinity in the same uni-
versity) told me, that he was frequently led to
attend their meetings, chiefly to hear the speeches
of Akenside; the great object of whose ambition
then was a seat in Parliament ; a 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 than for the
profession he had chosen."

What the circumstances were, which could justify
the ambition of Akenside, it is now too late to in-
quire. Perhaps it was merely a sally, arising out
of a consciousness of oratorical power, and which
power he possessed to the last year of his life; but
to this hope Dr. Stewart supposes he alludes in one
of the stanzas in his Ode to Sleep.

" Nor yet those awful forms present
For chiefs and heroes only meant.
The figured brass, the choral song,
The rescued people's glad applause,
The listening senate, and the laws
Fix'd by the counsels of Timoleok's tongue.


Are scenes too grand for Fortune's private ways :
And though they shine in youth's ingenuous view,
The sober, gainful arts of modern days
To such romantic thoughts have bad a long adieu."

Stanza 4.

The scene had altered ; experience had stept in ;
the world had taught him a lesson ; and the more
sober ambition had visited his imagination of de-
siring such dreams, as those, which animated the
eyelids of Mead and Milton.

" But Morpheus ! on thy balmy wing
Such honourable visions bring,
As soothed great Milton's injured age;
When in prophetic dreams he saw
The race, unborn, with pious awe
Imbibe each virtue from his heavenly page ;
Or such as Mead's benignant fancy knows,
When health's deep treasures, by his art explored,
Have saved the infant from an orphan's woes,
Or to his trembling sire his age's hope restored."

In the yeai, previous to his journey to Edin-
burgh, Ak en side wrote a poem, entitled a British
Philippick; a satire, occasioned by the preparations
for the war, which were then making, in conse-
quence of the insults, the country had received from
Spain. This poem is remarkable for little, if we


except the spirit of patriotism in which it was

During his residence at Edinburgh, he is, also,
supposed to have written his Hymn to Science, and
an Ode on the Winter Solstice. The Hymn to
Science was not inserted in any collection of his
poems till 1793. The cause of this omission I have
not been able to discover. The hymn itself is so
far from being unworthy the genius of its author,
that it is not a praise too unmeasured to assert,
that it is even worthy the lyre of Collins. The
12th and 18th stanzas are particularly beautiful.

" 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 actions speak the man,

Through every various scene."

Has Horace or Gray any thing superior to
this ?

The Ode on the Winter Solstice he soon after
improved into another ode ; both of which are ge-



nerally printed in succession. There are fine pas-
sages in both ; but the second is, I think, far su-
perior to the first. The late Miss Seward of Lich-
field says, in one of her letters, that she regularly
read it every winter.

Some have supposed this ode to have been written
in Holland ; but the following stanza seems to
justify those, who believe it to have been written in

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Online LibraryCharles BuckeOn the life, writings, and genius of Akenside; with some account of his friends → online text (page 1 of 17)