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was admitted into the College of Phyficians; he wrote little poetry, but published, from time to time, medical effays and obfervations; he became Phyfician to St. Thomas's Hofpital; he read the Gulftonian Lectures in Anatomy; but began to give, for the Crounian Lecture, a hiftory of the revival of Learning, from which he foon defifted; and, in converfation, he very eagerly forced himself into notice by an ambitious oftentation of elegance and literature.
His Difcourfe on the Dyfentery (1764) was confidered as a very confpicuous fpecimen of Latinity, which entitled him to the fame height of place among the scholars as he poffeffed before among the wits; and he might perhaps have rifen to a greater elevation of character, but that his ftudies were ended with his life, by a putrid fever, June 23, 1770, in the forty-ninth year of his age.
AKENSIDE is to be confidered as a didactick and lyrick poet. His great work is the "Pleasures "of Imagination;" a performance which, published as it was, at the age of twenty-three, raifed expectations that were not very amply fatisfied. It has undoubtedly a juft claim to very particular notice, as an example of great felicity of genius, and uncommon amplitude of acquifitions, of a young mind ftored with images, and much exercifed in combining and comparing them.
With the philofophical or religious tenets of the author I have nothing to do; my bufinefs is with his poetry. The fubject is well-chofen, as it includes all images that can ftrike or pleafe, and thus comprifes every fpecies of poetical delight. The only difficulty is in the choice of examples and illuftrations; and it is not eafy in fuch exuberance of matter to find the middle point between penury and fatiety. The parts feem artificially difpofed, with fufficient coherence, fo as that they cannot change their places without injury to the general defign.
His images are difplayed with fuch luxuriance of expression, that they are hidden, like Butler's Moon, by a "Veil of Light;" they are forms fantaftically loft under fuperfluity of drefs. Pars minima eft ipfa puella fui. The words are multiplied till the fenfe is hardly perceived; attention deferts the mind, and fettles in the ear. The reader wanders through the gay diffufion, fometimes amazed, and fometimes 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 verfification juftice requires that praise fhould not be denied. In the general fabrication of his lines he is perhaps fuperior to any other writer of blank verfe; his flow is fmooth, and his paules are mufical; but the concatenation of his verfes is commonly too long continued, and the full clofe does not recur with fufficient frequency. The fenfe is carried on through a long intertexture of complicated claufes, and as nothing is diftinguished, nothing is remembered.
The exemption which blank verfe affords from the neceffity of clofing the fenfe with the couplet, betrays luxuriant and active minds into fuch felf-indulgence, that they pile image upon image, ornament upon ornament, and are not eafily perfuaded to clofe the fenfe at all. Blank verfe will therefore, I fear, be too often found in defcription exuberant, in argument loquacious, and in narration tiresome.
His diction is certainly poetical as it is not profaick, and elegant as it is not vulgar. He is to be commended as having fewer artifices of difguft than most of his brethren of the blank fong. He rarely either recalls old phrafes or twifts his metre into harsh inverfions. The fenfe however of his words is ftrained; when "he views the Ganges from Alpine "heights;" that is, from mountains like the Alps. And the pedant furely intrudes (but when was blank verfe without pedantry?), when he tells how "Pla"nets abjolve the ftated round of Time."
It is generally known to the readers of poetry that he intended to revife and augment this work, but died before he had completed his defign. The reformed work as he left it, and the additions which he had made, are very properly retained in the late collection. He feems to have fomewhat contracted his diffufion; but I know not whether he has gained in clofenefs what he has loft in fplendor. In the additional book, the "Tale of Solon" is too long.
One great defect of his poem is very properly cenfured by Mr. Walker, unless it may be faid 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 foul, which is the natural confequence of "the appetites and powers fhe is invested with, is "fcarcely once hinted throughout the poem. This
deficiency is amply fupplied by the mafterly pencil "of Dr. Young; who, like a good philofopher, has "invincibly proved the immortality of man, from "the grandeur of his conceptions, and the meannefs "and mifery of his ftate; for this reafon, a few "paffages are felected from the Night Thoughts,' which, with those from Akenfide, feem to form a "complete view of the powers, fituation, and end "of man." Exercises for Improvement in Elocution,' p. 66.
His other poems are now to be confidered; but a fhort confideration will difpatch them. It is not easy to guess why he addicted himself fo diligently to lyrick poetry, having neither the eafe and airiness of the lighter, nor the vehemence and elevation of the grander ode. When he lays his ill-fated hand upon his harp, his former powers feem to defert him; he has no longer his luxuriance of expreffion, nor variety of images. His thoughts are cold, and his words inelegant. Yet fuch was his love of lyricks, that, having written with great vigour and poignancy his" Epiftle to Curio," he transformed it afterwards into an ode difgraceful only to its author.
Of his odes nothing favourable can be faid; the fentiments commonly want force, nature, or novelty; the diction is fometimes harsh and uncouth, the ftanzas ill-conftructed and unpleafant, and the rhymes diffonant, or unfkilfully difpofed, too diftant from each other, or arranged with too little regard to eftablished ufe, and therefore perplexing to the ear,
which in a fhort compofition has not time to grow familiar with an innovation.
To examine fuch compofitions fingly, cannot be required; they have doubtless brighter and darker parts: but when they are once found to be generally dull, all further labour may be spared; for to what ufe can the work be criticifed that will not be read?