Page images

with an ardour of friendship that has not many exam. ples, allowed him three hundred pounds a year. Thus supported he advanced gradually in medical reputation, but never attained any great extent of practice, or eminence of popularity. A physician in a great city seems to be the mere play-thing of fortune; his degree of reputation is, for the most part, totally casual : they that employ him know not his excellence; they that reject him know not his deficience. By any acute observer, who had looked on the transactions of the medical world for half a century, a very curious book might be written on the “ fortune of physicians."

Akcnside appears not to have been wanting to his own success : he placed himself in view by all the com. mon methods; he became a Fellow of the Royal So. ciety; he obtained a degree at Cambridge ; and was admitted into the college of physicians ; he wrote little poetry, but published from time to time, medical essays and observations; he became physician to St. Thomas's Hospital; he read the Gulstonian Lectures in Anatomy; but began to give, for the Crounian Lecture, a history of the revival of learning, from which he soon desisted ; and, in conversation, he very eagerly forced himself into notice by an ambitious ostentation of elegance and literature.

His discourse on the dysentery (1764) was considered as a very conspicuous specimen of Latinity, which entitled him to the same height of place among the scholars as he possessed before among the wits; and he might perhaps have risen to a greater elevation of char. acter, but that his studies were ended with his life, by a putrid fever, June 23, 1770, in the forty-ninth year of

his age.

AKENSIDE is to be considered as a didactic and lyric poet. His great work is The pleasure of imagi

nation ; a performance which published as it was, at the age of twenty-three, raised expectations that were not very amply satisfied. It has undoubtly a just claim to very particular notice, as an example of great felicity of genius, and uncommon amplitude of acquisi. tions, of a young mind stored with images, and much exercised in combining and comparing them.

With the philosophical or religious tenets of the author I have nothing to do ; my business is with his poetry. The subject is well chosen, as it includes all images that can strike or please, and thus comprises every species of poetical delight. The only difficulty is in the choice of examples and illustrations; and it is not easy in such exuberance of matter to find the middle point between penury and satiety. The parts seem artificially disposed, with sufficient coherence, so as that they cannot change their places without injury to the general design.

His images are displayed with such luxuriance of expression, that they are hidden, like Butler's moon, by a « Veil of light ;" they are forms fantastically lost under superfluity of dress. Para minima est ipsa pun ella sui. The words are multiplied till the sense is hardly perceived ; attention deserts the mind, and settles in the ear. The reader wanders through the gay diffusion, sometimes amazed, and sometimes 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 versification justice requires that praise should not be denied. In the general fabrication of his lines he is perhaps superior to any other writer of blank verse ; his, flow is sinooth, and his pauses are musical; but the concatenation of his verses is commonly too long continued, and the full close does not recur VOL. III.


with sufficient frequency.

The sense is carried on through a long intertexture of complicated clauses, and, as nothing is distinguished, nothing is remembered.

The exemption which blank verse affords from the ne, cessity of closing the sense with the couplet betrays lux. uriant and active minds into such self-indulgence, that they pile image upon image, ornament upon ornament, and are not easily persuaded to close the sense at all. Blank verse will therefore, I fear, be too often found in description exurberant, in argument loquacious, and in narration tiresome.

His diction is certainly poetical as it is not prosaic, and elegant as it is not vulgar. He is to be commended as having fewer artifices of disgust than most of his brethren of the blank song. He rarely either recalls old phrases, or twists his metre into harsh inversions. The sense however of his words is strained ; when “ he views the Ganges from Alpine heights;" that is, from mountains like the Alps. And the pedant surely intrudes (but when was blank verse without pedantry ?) when he tells how « Planets absolve the stated round of time.” It is generally known to the readers of poetry that he intended to revise and augment his work, but died before he completed his design. The reformed work as he left it, and the additions which he had made, are very properly retained in the late collection. He seems to have somewhat contracted his diffusion; but I know not whether he has gained in closeness what he has lost in splendour. In the additional book, The tale of Solon is too long.

One great defect of his poem is very properly censured by Mr. Walker, unless it may be said 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 soul which is the natural consequence of the appetites and powers she is invested with, is scarcely once hinted throughout the poem.

This deficiency is amply supplied by the masterly pencil of Dr. Young; who, like a good philosopher, has invincibly proved the immortality of man, from the grandeur of his conceptions, and the meanncss and misery of his state: for this reason a few passages are selected from the Night Thoughts,' which with those from Akenside, seem to form a complete view of the powers, situation, and end of man."

• Exercises for improvement in elocution,

p. 66.

His other poems are now to be considered ; but a short consideration will despatch them. It is not easy to guess why he addicted himself so diligently to lyric poetry, having neither the ease 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 seem to desert him ; he has no longer his luxuriance of expression, nor variety of images. His thoughts are cold and his words inelegant, Yet such was his love of lyrics, that having written with great vigour and poignancy his cpistle to Curio, he transformed it afterwards into an ode disgraceful only to its author.

Of his odes nothing favourable can be said ; the sentiments commonly want force, nature, or novelty ; the diction is sometimes harsh and uncouth, the stanzas illconstructed and unpleasant, and the rhymes dissonant, or unskillfully disposed, too distant from each other, or arranged with too little regard to established use, and therefore perplexing to the ear, which in a short composition has not time to grow familiar with an inovation,

To examine such compositions singly cannot be re. quired ; 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 use can the work be criticised that will not be read ?

« PreviousContinue »