Slike strani

eminent. His Dramas had their day, a fhort day, and are forgotten: his blank verse seems to my ear the echo of Thomfon. His "Life of Bacon" is known as it is appended to Bacon's volumes, but is no longer mentioned. His works are fuch as a writer, bustling in the world, fhewing himself in publick, and emerging occafionally from time to time into notice, might keep alive by his perfonal influence; but which, conveying little information, and giving no great pleasure, muft foon give way, as the fucceffion of things produces new topicks of converfation and other modes of amufement.



ARK AKENSIDE was born on the ninth


of November, 1721, at Newcastle upon Tyne. His father Mark was a butcher, of the Prefbyterian fect; his mother's name was Mary Lumfden. He received the first part of his education at the grammar-school of Newcastle; and was afterwards inftructed by Mr. Wilfon, who kept a private academy.

At the age of eighteen he was fent to Edinburgh, that he might qualify himself for the office of a diffenting minifter, and received fome affiftance from the fund which the Diffenters employ in educating young men of fcanty fortune. But a wider view of the world opened other fcenes, and prompted other hopes: he determined to ftudy phyfick, and repaid that contribution, which, being received for a dif ferent purpose, he justly thought it dishonourable to


Whether, when he refolved not to be a diffenting minifter, he ceased to be a Diffenter, I know not. A a 2


He certainly retained an unneceffary and outrageous zeal for what he called and thought liberty; a zeal which fometimes difguifes from the world, and not rarely from the mind which it poffeffes, an envious defire of plundering wealth or degrading greatness; and of which the immediate tendency is innovation and anarchy, an impetuous eagernels to fubvert and confound, with very little care what fhall be established.

Akenfide was one of thofe poets who have felt very early the motions of genius, and one of thofe ftudents who have very early ftored their memories with fentiments 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 Dodfley, 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 fuch 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 Univerfities, published a thefis or differtation. The fubject which he chose was "The Original and Growth of the Human "Foetus;" in which he is faid to have departed, with great judgement, from the opinion then eftablifhed, and to have delivered that which has been fince confirmed and received.


Akenfide was a young man, warm with every notion that by nature or accident had been connected with the found of liberty, and by an eccentricity which fuch difpofitions do not eafily avoid, a lover of contradiction, and no friend to any thing established. He adopted Shaftesbury's foolish affertion of the efficacy of ridicule for the discovery of truth. For this he was attacked by Warburton, and defended by Dyfon: Warburton afterwards reprinted his remarks at the end of his dedication to the Freethinkers.

The refult of all the arguments which have been produced in a long and eager difcuffion of this idle question, may eafily be collected. If ridicule be applied to any pofition as the teft of truth, it will then become a queftion whether fuch ridicule be just; and this can only be decided by the application of truth, as the teft of ridicule. Two men, fearing, one a real and the other a fancied danger, will be for a while equally expofed to the inevitable confequences of cowardice, contemptuous cenfure, and ludicrous representation; and the true ftate of both cafes must be known, before it can be decided whose terror is rational, and whofe is ridiculous; who is to be pitied, and who to be despised. Both are for a while equally expofed to laughter, but both are not therefore equally contemptible.

In the revifal of his poem, though he died before he had finished it, he omitted the lines which had given occafion to Warburton's objections.

He published foon after his return from Leyden (1745), his first collection of odes; and was impelled by his rage of patriotifm to write a very acri

[blocks in formation]

monious epiftle to Pulteney, whom he ftigmatizes, under the name of Curio, as the betrayer of his country.

Being now to live by his profeffion, he first commenced phyfician at Northampton, where Dr. Stonehouse then practifed, with fuch reputation and fuccefs, that a firanger was not likely to gain ground upon him. Akenfide tried the conteft a while; and having deafened the place with clamours for li berty, removed to Hampstead, where he refided 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 fill to make his way as a phyfician; 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 fupported, he advanced gradually in medical reputation, but never attained any great extent of practice, or eminence of popularity. A phyfician in a great city feems to be the mere play-thing of Fortune; his degree of reputation is, for the most part, totally cafual: they that employ him, know not his excellence; they that reject him know not his deficience. By any acute obferver who

had looked on the tranfactions of the medical world for half a century, a very curious book might be written on the "Fortune of Physicians."

Akenfide appears not to have been wanting to his own fuccefs: 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


« PrejšnjaNaprej »