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AKEN SID E.
TARK 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 different purpose, he justly thought it difhonourable to
Whether, when he refolved not to be a diffenting minifter, he ceafed 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 greatnefs; and of which the immediate tendency is innovation and anarchy, an impetuous eagernels to fubvert and confound, with very little care what shall be eftablished.
Akenfide was one of those poets who have felt very early the motions of genius, and one of those students 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 Pleafures 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, advifed him not to make a niggardly offer; for "this was no every"day writer."
In 1741 he went to Leyden, in purfuit of medical knowledge; and three years afterwards (May 16, 1744) became doctor of physick, having, according to the cuftom 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 eftablished. 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 queftion, may eafily be collected. If ridicule be applied to any pofition as the test of truth, it will then become a question 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 exposed to the inevitable confequences of cowardice, contemptuous cenfure, and ludicrous representation; and the true ftate of both cases 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 acriA a 3
monious epiftle to Pulteney, whom he ftigmatizes, under the name of Curio, as the betrayer of his
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 ftranger was not likely to gain ground upon him. Akenfide tried the conteft a while; and having deafened the place with clamours for liberty, removed to Hampstead, where he refided more than two years, and then fixed himself in London, the proper place for a man of accomplishments
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
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 Holpital; 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, publifhed 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.
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