Mark Akenside The Pleasures Of Imagination Analysis Essay
The manner of Mark Akenside's didactic poem is Miltonic rather than Spenserian, though its neoplatonic imagery, if not derived from Spenser, influenced later Spenserian poets, beginning with Collins's Ode on the Poetical Character (1746). Thomas Warton's The Pleasures of Melancholy (1747) was the first in a long series of descriptive-didactic poems making use of the title of Akenside's long-popular poetic essay.
The then-unknown Mark Akenside demanded and received from Robert Dodsley (on the recommendation of Pope) the large sum of 120 pounds for his manuscript. It began a relationship profitable to both parties: Akenside's poem did much to popularize the taste for the mid-century poets published by Dodsley, while the publisher later employed the poet as an essayist and editor. The original publication was anonymous.
Thomas Gray to Thomas Wharton: "I will tell you, I have rather turned it over than read it (but no matter; no more have they), it seems to me above the middling; and now and then, for a little while, rises even to the best, particularly in description. It is often obscure, and even unintelligible, and too much infected with the Hutchinson jargon. In short, its great fault is, that it was published at least nine years too early" 26 April 1744; Poems of Mr. Gray, ed. Mason (1775) 178-79.
William Shenstone to Richard Jago: "There is a poem of this season, called, The Pleasures of Imagination, worth your reading; but it is an expensive quarto; if it comes out in a less size, I will bring it with me" 30 May (?) 1744; in Letters, ed. Mallam (1939) 71.
Horace Walpole: "Dr. Akenside, by some thought a poet, was of the same principles with, and an intimate friend of, Dyson, who obtained h is being named Physician to the Queen. To that mistress and to that friend he made a sacrifice of the word 'Liberty,' in the last edition of his poem on the Pleasures of the Imagination. It was uncourtly, a personification to be invoked by one who felt the pulse of royalty" 1764; Memoirs of George III, ed. G. F. Russell Barker (1894) 1:317n.
Rasonensis: "Among the various and almost innumerable poems, which have adorned our language, and done honour to the genius of our nation during the present century, none are superior, few are equal, to Dr. Akenside's Pleasures of the Imagination. This poem every where abounds with each of the sources of the true sublime, which, according to Longinus, are, grandeur and sublimity of conception; enthusiastical pathos; elegant formation and order of figure; splendid diction; and, which includes them all in one, weight and dignity of composition. These strike us like lightning. They rouse admiration beyond its existential limits; it becomes wonder and astonishment. When these are united in a poem strictly philosophical, on a subject of no less importance than an investigation into the phenomena of the human mind, it not only charms and delights, but also in a very high degree improves the reader. This seems to be the peculiar excellence of he work before us. It is the only one of the large catalogue of philosophical poems which have come within my notice, that unites these qualities" London Chronicle (23 July 1778) 76.
Samuel Johnson: "Akenside was one of those poets who have felt very early the motions of genius, and one of those students who have very early stored their memories with sentiments 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 Dodsley, 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 such 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'" "Life of Akenside" in Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 3:412.
Anna Laetitia Barbauld: "The ground-work of The Pleasures of Imagination is to be found in Addison's Essays on the same subject, published in the Spectator. Except in the book which treats on Ridicule, and even of that the hint is there given, our author follows nearly the same track; and he is indebted to them not only for the leading thoughts and grand division of his subject, but for much of the colouring also: for the papers of Addison are wrought up with so much elegance of language, and adorned with so many beautiful illustrations, that they are equal to the most finished Poem. Perhaps the obligations of the Poet to the Essay-writer are not sufficiently adverted to, the latter being only slightly mentioned in the preface to the Poem. It is not meant however to insinuate that Akenside had not various other sources of his ideas" Pleasures of Imagination, ed. Barbauld (1794) 7-8.
Joseph Warton: "Enough has been said of Milton's selling his Paradise Lost for ten pounds. Tonson gave Dryden only two hundred and fifty guineas for ten thousand verses to make up the volume of his Fables. It may be of use to inform young adventurers, that Thomson sold his Winter to Millan for only three guineas. He gained but little more for his Summer. The year after, when he rose in reputation, 1728, Andrew Millar give him fifty guineas for his Summer. This was his first connection with Thomson, whom he ever afterwards honoured and assisted if called upon. Dr. Young received of Dodsley two hundred guineas for the three first Night Thoughts. Dr. Akenside one hundred and twenty guineas for his Pleasures of Imagination; and Mallet the same sum for his Amyntor and Theodora. Some modern Booksellers behave to authors with much liberality and generosity" in Works of Alexander Pope, ed. Warton (1797) 8:133-34n.
Anna Seward to Thomas Park: "The only instance I know, where a fine poetic writer has injured in attempting to improve his composition, is Akenside. I have the first edition of his Pleasures of Imagination, written between his twentieth and thirtieth year, bound up with his last altered edition, published in middle life. The poem, in its altered state, has indeed lost an immense portion 'of its race in flavour' [Johnson, speaking of Thomson's revisions to The Seasons]. It seems, that the cold precision of mathematical studies, had not only dampt the fires of its author's fancy, but had rendered his judgment obtuse" 21 December 1797; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 5:30.
Henry John Todd quotes Anna Seward's objection to the excision of a passage imitated from Spenser [FQ 5.3.19: "As when two sunnes appeare in th' azure skye"; Akenside: "As when a cloud | Of gathering rain, with limpid crust of hail"] from the revised version: "It is curious that Akenside should have excluded so lovely an imitation from the last edition of his great work. If it was not pride, revolting from a conscious debt to Spenser, it would be difficult to account for this as for many other instances, in which the matured poet has thrown away the gems of his youthful fancy" Works of Spenser (1805) 1:clxvin.
George Gregory: "Dr. Akenside, in his Poem on the Pleasures of the Imagination, has attempted to blend philosophy with criticism. It is taken, as you have probably observed, from Mr. Addison's papers in the Spectator on the same subject. It is however but little read at present, and the reason is, that is possesses more the language than the spirit of poetry" Letters on Literature, Taste, and Composition (1808) 2:157.
Harvard Lyceum: "The grand and preeminent object of this work was to open a new species of criticism; a species, which by chance had escaped the penetrating researches of all former criticks, but which could claim the superiority to almost every other, from its intimate connexion with the nature and constitution of man. Preceding writers had indeed laid down rules for the constitution and form of a poem; they had shewn where the more solid materials of an edifice of that kind were to be obtained; they had given direction for the arrangement of the parts; and had even descended so far as to offer their instructions respecting the proper disposition of ornaments. But farther than this external, mechanical structure, they scarcely extended their investigations. It was reserved for Akenside first to point out the sources of that inexpressible charm, which those poetick structures had possessed. It was for him to trace their pleasing influence to actual principles, implanted by nature in the human mind. Aristotle, the father of criticism, Horace, Boileau, Addison, Pope, and many other masters of the excellent art, had given to it indeed a 'form and pressure;' they had wrought it to a high degree of perfection, but in a great measure, it was like mechanical perfection; — it was for Akenside at length, to breathe into it the breath of life" "Essay on Akenside's Pleasures of Imagination" 1 (23 February 1811) 394.
Thomas Campbell: "The sweetness which we miss in Akenside is that which should arise from the direct representations of life, and its warm realities and affections. We seem to pass in his poem through a gallery of pictured abstractions rather than of pictured things" Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1855) 532.
Henry Neele: "Akenside's Pleasures of Imagination is a very brilliant and pleasing production. Every page shows the refined taste and cultivated mind of the author. That it can strictly be called a work of genius, I am not prepared to admit. The ideas are not generally new; and I am afraid that they are often even commonplace. They are clothed, however, in elegant versification; they are illustrated with much variety, and ingenuity; and they invariably tend to the advancement of good taste, and good feeling" Russell Institution Lectures on English Poetry, 1827; in Remains (1829) 120.
Robert Southey: "Our language contains few poems so attractive to young and generous minds of the higher class, as the Pleasures of Imagination, for its rich but not redundant diction, for its full and sonorous versification, always sweet and sustained, but never cloying, and for its general elevation of manner, thought, and sentiment. Something may be learnt from his after-version of the same poem, by comparing the sobriety and chastened manner of mature years with the luxuriance of his youthful style. The poet may also learn from it a more important lesson — never to employ his best years in remodelling a work of his youth" "Hayley's Memoirs" Quarterly Review 31 (1824-25) 268.
Preface to Poems on the Pleasures: "The Pleasures of the Imagination is, beyond doubt, the most uniformly exalted in its topics and allusions, it takes the widest range in the management of its subject, and is the most avowedly philosophical work of the series. It is, at the same time, the most difficult to comprehend, being in many passages disagreeably obscure. Its composition probably required a greater exertion of reflective talent than any of the others. It abounds in profound analyses and deductions, which could not have been effected without great powers of ratiocination. There is in it, besides, sufficient indication of a fervid fancy and an inventive imagination, to mark the author a true poet. But whether these high attributes will, in the opinion of the majority of readers, atone for the absence of simplicity, ease, and perspicuity, and of every thing resembling those delightful homefelt passages to be found in each of the other poems, may be doubted. It may, however, be safely asserted that a respectable minority at least, will be disposed to regret the almost entire absence of the latter qualities, and to think that an additional sprinkling of them, would have been a desirable substitute for much of the magnificent philosophy and elevated imaginings which now characterize the poem" (1841) 11-12.
Edmund Gosse: "The first edition of the Pleasures of Imagination was anonymous, and in three books of cold and stately blank verse. In the prose 'design,' Akenside mentioned Addison, from whom he had borrowed much, but not Shaftesbury, to whom he owed his entire philosophical groundwork. Akenside thought that 'the separation of the works of imagination from philosophy' was a very undesirable thing, and he determined to unite the theories of the Characteristics with his own strenuous verse; Akenside afterwards re-wrote his poem, without improving it. His odes are icy-cold, and full of elegance rather than beauty; his Hymn to the Naiads is usually held, and with good cause, to be his best poem, the most graceful, the most sculpturesque specimen of his blank verse" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature (1889) 311.
W. J. Courthope: "The structure of the poem was somewhat piecemeal, as might be expected from the author's youth; the theory with the Deistical speculations of Addison in his essays on the imagination being joined with the deistical speculations of Shaftesbury's Characteristics and Hutcheson's Enquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue. Though, in its first form, there was a marked absence of those episodes and digressions, artfully inserted, which give the charm of variety to The Seasons, the poem had then an impulse, an ardour of personal enthusiasm, and a decorative fancy, which revealed the inspiration of genius. In later years, as his powers of thought matured, Akenside became dissatisfied with his work, and he recast it entirely, making the theory more regular, and removing what was fanciful and ornamental. Johnson says of the reformed poem: 'He seems somewhat to have contracted his diffusion, but I know not whether he has gained in closeness what he has lost in splendour'; and this sentence is just, for though the general system is made more coherent, it is not more interesting, and the preserved passages of the early version have lost in the revised context much of their youthful life and heat. Whoever desires to make the acquaintance of this poet should study The Pleasures of Imagination as it first appeared" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 5:317-18.
Akenside's poem became a model for later descriptive verse, notably Thomas Warton's Pleasures of Melancholy (1747), Samuel Rogers's Pleasures of Memory (1792) and Thomas Campbell's Pleasures of Hope (1799). In Spenserian stanzas there was Peter L. Courtier's Pleasures of Solitude (1800), David Carey's Pleasures of Nature (1803), and Daniel Huntington's Poem, on the Pleasures and Advantages of True Religion (1819).
Argument of the First Book: "The subject propos'd; verse 1, to 30. Difficulty of treating it poetically; v. 45. The ideas of the divine mind, the origin of every quality pleasing to the imagination; v. 56, to 78. The natural variety of constitution in the minds of men; with its final cause; to v. 96. The idea of a fine imagination, and the state of the mind in the enjoyment of those pleasures which it affords; v. 100, to 132. All the primary pleasures of the imagination result from the perception of greatness, or wonderfulness, or beauty in objects; v. 145. The pleasure from greatness, with its final cause; v. 151, to 221. Pleasure from novelty or wonderfulness, with its final cause; v. 222, to 270. Pleasure from beauty, with its final cause; v. 275, to 372. The connection of beauty with truth and good, applied to the conduct of life; v. 384. Invitation to the study of moral philosophy; to v. 428. The different degrees of beauty in different species of objects; v. 448. Colour; shape; natural concretes; vegetables; animals; the mind; v. 445. The sublime, the fair, the wonderful of the mind; v. 497, to 526. The connection of the imagination and the moral faculty; 557. Conclusion" p. 8.
With what attractive charms this goodly frame
Of nature touches the consenting hearts
Of mortal men; and what the pleasing stores
Which beauteous imitation thence derives
To deck the poet's, or the painter's toil;
My verse unfolds. Attend, ye gentle POW'RS
Of MUSICAL DELIGHT! and while I sing
Your gifts, your honours, dance around my strain.
Thou, smiling queen of every tuneful breast,
Indulgent FANCY! from the fruitful banks
Of Avon, whence thy rosy fingers cull
Fresh flow'rs and dews to sprinkle on the turf
Where Shakespeare lies, be present: and with thee
Let FICTION come, upon her vagrant wings
Wafting ten thousand colours thro' the air,
And, by the glances of her magic eye,
Combining each in endless, fairy forms,
Her wild creation. Goddess of the lyre
Which rules the accents of the moving sphere,
Wilt thou, eternal HARMONY! descend,
And join this festive train? for with thee comes
The guide, the guardian of their lovely sports,
Majestic TRUTH; and where TRUTH deigns to come,
Her sister LIBERTY will not be far.
Be present all ye GENII who conduct
The wand'ring footsteps of the youthful bard,
New to your springs and shades: who touch his ear
With finer sounds: who heighten to his eye
The bloom of nature, and before him turn
The gayest, happiest attitude of things.
Oft have the laws of each poetic strain
The critic-verse imploy'd; yet still unsung
Lay this prime subject, tho' importing most
A poet's name: for fruitless is th' attempt,
By dull obedience and the curb of rules,
For creeping toil to climb the hard ascent
Of high Parnassus. Nature's kindling breath
Must fire the chosen genius; nature's hand
Must string his nerves, and imp his eagle-wings
Exulting o'er the painful steep to soar
High as the summit; there to breathe at large
Aethereal air; with bards and sages old,
Immortal sons of praise. These flatt'ring scenes
To this neglected labour court my song;
Yet not unconscious what a doubtful task
To paint the finest features of the mind,
And to most subtile and mysterious things
Give colour, strength, and motion. But the love
Of nature and the muses bids explore,
Thro' secret paths erewhile untrod by man,
The fair poetic region, to detect
Untasted springs, to drink inspiring draughts;
And shade my temples with unfading flow'rs
Cull'd from the laureate vale's profound recess,
Where never poet gain'd a wreath before.
From heav'n my strains begin; from heaven descends
The flame of genius to the human breast,
And love and beauty, and poetic joy
And inspiration. Ere the radiant sun
Sprung from the east, or 'mid the vault of night
The moon suspended her serener lamp;
Ere mountains, woods, or streams adorn'd the globe;
Or wisdom taught the sons of men her lore;
Then liv'd th' almighty ONE: then, deep-retir'd
In his unfathom'd essence, view'd at large
The uncreated images things;
The radiant sun, the moon's nocturnal lamp,
The mountains, woods and streams, the rolling globe,
And wisdom's form coelestial. From the first
Of days, on them his love divine he fix'd,
His admiration: till in time compleat,
What he admir'd and lov'd, his vital smile
Unfolded into being. Hence the breath
Of life informing each organic frame,
Hence the green earth, and wild resounding waves;
Hence light and shade alternate; warmth and cold;
And clear autumnal skies and vernal show'rs,
And all the fair variety of things.
But not alike to every mortal eye
Is this great scene unveil'd. For since the claims
Of social life, to different labours urge
The active pow'rs of man; with wise intent
The hand of nature on peculiar minds
Imprints a diff'rent byass, and to each
Decrees its province in the common toil.
To some she taught the fabric of the sphere,
The changeful moon, the circuit of the starrs,
The golden zones of heav'n: to some she gave
To weigh the moment of eternal things,
Of time, and space, and fate's unbroken chain,
And will's quick impulse: others by the hand
She led o'er vales and mountains, to explore
What healing virtue swells the tender veins
Of herbs and flow'rs; or what the beams of morn
Draw forth, distilling from the clifted rind
In balmy tears. But some, to higher hopes
Were destin'd; some within a finer mould
She wrought, and temper'd with a purer flame.
To these the sire omnipotent unfolds
The world's harmonious volume, there to read
The transcript of himself. On every part
They trace the bright impressions of his hand:
In earth or air, the meadow's purple stores,
The moon's mild radiance, or the virgin's form
Blooming with rosy smiles, they see portray'd
That uncreated beauty, which delights
The mind supreme. They also feel her charms,
Enamour'd; they partake th' eternal joy.
As Memnon's marble harp, long renown'd of old
By fabling Nilus, to the quivering touch
Of Titan's ray, with each repulsive string
Consenting, sounded thro' the warbling air
Unbidden strains; ev'n so did nature's hand
To certain species of external things,
Attune the finer organs of the mind:
So the glad impulse of congenial pow'rs,
Or of sweet sound, or fair proportion'd form,
The grace of motion, or the bloom of light,
Thrills thro' imagination's tender frame,
From nerve to nerve: all naked and alive
They catch the spreading rays: till now the soul
At length discloses every tuneful spring,
To that harmonious movement from without
Responsive. Then the inexpressive strain
Diffuses its inchantment: fancy dreams
Of sacred fountains and Elysian groves,
And vales of bliss: the intellectual pow'r
Bends from his awful throne a wondering ear,
And smiles: the passions, gently sooth'd away,
Sink to divine repose, and love and joy
Alone are waking; love and joy, serene
As airs that fan the summer. O! attend,
Whoe'er thou art, whom these delights can touch,
Whose candid bosom the refining love
Of nature warms, O! listen to my song;
And I will guide thee to her fav'rite walks,
And teach thy solitude her voice to hear,
And point her loveliest features to thy view.
Know then, whate'er of nature's pregnant stores,
Whate'er of mimic art's reflected forms
With love and admiration thus inflame
The pow'rs of fancy, her delighted sons
To three illustrious orders have referr'd;
Three sister-graces, whom the painter's hand,
The poet's tongue confesses; the sublime,
The wonderful, the fair. I see them dawn!
I see the radiant visions, where they rise,
More lovely than when Lucifer displays
His beaming forehead thro' the gates of morn,
To lead the train of Phoebus and the spring.
Say, why was man so eminently rais'd
Amid the vast creation; why ordain'd
Thro' life and death to dart his piercing eye,
With thoughts beyond the limit of his frame;
But that th' Omnipotent might send him forth
In sight of mortal and immortal pow'rs,
As on a boundless theatre, to run
The great career of justice; to exalt
His gen'rous aim to all diviner deeds;
To chase each partial purpose from his breast;
And thro' the mists of passion and of sense,
And thro' the tossing tide of chance and pain,
To hold his course unfalt'ring, while the voice
Of truth and virtue, up the steep ascent
Of nature, calls him to his high reward,
The applauding smile of heav'n? Else wherefore burns
In mortal bosoms this unquenched hope
That breathes from day to day sublimer things,
And mocks possession? wherefore darts the mind,
With such resistless ardour to embrace
Majestic forms? impatient to be free,
Spurning the gross controul of wilful might;
Proud of the strong contention of her toils;
Proud to be daring? Who but rather turns
To heav'n's broad fire his unconstrained view,
Than to the glimmering of a waxen flame?
Who that, from Alpine heights, his lab'ring eye
Shoots round the wide horizon to survey
Nilus or Ganges rowl his wasteful tide
Thro' mountains, plains, thro' empires black with shade
And continents of sand; will turn his gaze
To mark the windings of a scanty rill
That murmurs at his feet? The high-born soul
Disdains to rest her heav'n-aspiring wing
Beneath its native quarry. Tir'd of earth
And this diurnal scene, she springs aloft
Thro' fields of air; pursues the flying storm;
Rides on the volly'd lightning thro' the heav'ns;
Or yok'd with whirlwinds and the northern blast,
Sweeps the long tract of day. Then high she soars
The blue profound, and hovering o'er the sun
Beholds him pouring the redundant stream
Of light; beholds his unrelenting sway
Bend the reluctant planets to absolve
The fated rounds of time. Thence far effus'd
She darts her swiftness up the long career
Of devious comets; thro' its burning signs
Exulting measures the perennial wheel
Of nature, and looks back on all the stars,
Whose blended light, as with a milky zone,
Invests the orient. Now amaz'd she views
Th' empyreal waste, where happy spirits hold,
Beyond this concave heaven, their calm abode;
And fields of radiance, whose unfading light
Has travell'd the profound six thousand years,
Nor yet arrives in sight of mortal things.
Ev'n on the barriers of the world untir'd
She meditates th' eternal depth below;
Till, half recoiling, down the headlong steep
She plunges; soon o'erwhelm'd and swallow'd up
In that immense of being. There her hopes
Rest at the fated goal. For from the birth
Of mortal man, the sov'reign Maker said,
That not in humble nor in brief delight,
Not in the fading echoes of renown,
Pow'rs purple robes, nor pleasure's flow'ry lap,
The soul should find enjoyment: but from these
Turning disdainful to an equal good,
Thro' all the ascent of things inlarge her view,
Till every bound at length should disappear,
And infinite perfection close the scene.
Call now to mind what high capacious pow'rs
Lie folded up in man; how far beyond
The praise of mortals, may th' eternal growth
Of nature to perfection half divine,
Expand the blooming soul? What pity then
Should sloth's unkindly fogs depress to earth
Her tender blossom; choak the streams of life,
And blast her spring! Far otherwise design'd
Almighty wisdom; nature's happy cares
Th' obedient heart far otherwise incline.
Witness the sprightly joy when aught unknown
Strikes the quick sense, and wakes each active pow'r
To brisker measures: witness the neglect
Of all familiar prospects, tho' beheld
With transport once; the fond attentive gaze
Of young astonishment; the sober zeal
Of age, commenting on prodigious things.
For such the bounteous providence of heav'n,
In every breast implanting this desire
Of objects new and strange, to urge us on
With unremitted labour to pursue
Those sacred stores that wait the ripening soul,
In truth's exhaustless bosom. What need words
To paint its pow'r? For this, the daring youth
Breaks from his weeping mother's anxious arms,
In foreign climes to rove: the pensive sage,
Heedless of sleep, or midnight's harmful damp,
Hangs o'er the sickly taper; and untir'd
The virgin follows, with inchanted step,
The mazes of some wild and wondrous tale,
From morn to eve; unmindful of her form,
Unmindful of the happy dress that stole
The wishes of the youth, when every maid
With envy pin'd. Hence, finally, by night
The village-matron, round the blazing hearth,
Suspends the infant-audience with her tales,
Breathing astonishment! of witching rhymes,
And evil spirits; of the death-bed call
Of him who robb'd the widow, and devour'd
The orphan's portion; of unquiet souls
Ris'n from the grave to ease the heavy guilt
Of deeds in life conceal'd; of shapes that walk
At dead of night, and clank their chains, and wave
The torch of hell around the murd'rer's bed.
At every solemn pause the croud recoil
Gazing each other speechless, and congeal'd
With shivering sighs: till eager for th' event,
Around the beldame all arrect they hang,
Each trembling heart with grateful terrors quell'd.
But lo! disclos'd in all her smiling pomp,
Where BEAUTY onward moving claims the verse
Her charms inspire: the freely-flowing verse
In thy immortal praise, O form divine,
Smooths her mellifluent stream. Thee, BEAUTY, thee
The regal dome, and thy enlivening ray
The mossy roofs adore: thou, better sun!
For ever beamest on th' inchanted heart
Love, and harmonious wonder, and delight
Poetic. Brightest progeny of heav'n!
How shall I trace thy features? where select
The roseate hues to emulate thy bloom?
Haste then, my song, thro' nature's wide expanse,
Haste then, and gather all her comeliest wealth,
Whate'er bright spoils the florid earth contains,
Whate'er the waters, or the liquid air,
To deck thy lovely labour. Wilt thou fly
With laughing Autumn to th' Atlantic isles,
And range with him th' Hesperian field, and see
Where'er his fingers touch the fruitful grove,
The branches shoot with gold; where'er his step
Marks the glad soil, the tender clusters grow
With purple ripeness, and invest each hill
As with the blushes of an evening sky?
Or wilt thou rather stoop thy vagrant plume,
Where gliding thro' his daughter's honour'd shades,
The smooth Peneus from his glassy flood
Reflects purpureal Tempe's pleasant scene?
Fair Tempe! haunt belov'd of sylvan pow'rs,
Of nymphs and fauns; where in the golden age
They play'd in secret on the shady brink
With ancient Pan: while round their choral steps
Young hours and genial gales with constant hand
Show'r'd blossoms, odours, show'r'd ambrosial dews,
And spring's Elysian bloom. Her flowery store
To thee nor Tempe shall refuse; nor watch
Of winged Hydra guard Hesperian fruits
From thy free spoil. O bear then, unreprov'd,
Thy smiling treasures to the green recess
Where young Dione stays. With sweetest airs
Intice her forth to lend her angel-form
For beauty's honour'd image. Hither turn
Thy graceful footsteps; hither, gentle maid,
Incline thy polish'd forehead: let thy eyes
Effuse the mildness of their azure dawn;
And may the fanning breezes waft aside
Thy radiant locks, disclosing, as it bends
With airy softness from the marble neck,
The cheek fair-blooming, and the rosy lip,
Where winning smiles and pleasures sweet as love,
With sanctity and wisdom, temp'ring blend
Their soft allurement. Then the pleasing force
Of nature, and her kind parental care
Worthier I'd sing: then all th' enamour'd youth,
With each admiring virgin, to my lyre
Should throng attentive, while I point on high
Where beauty's living image, like the morn
That wakes in Zephyr's arms the blushing May,
Moves onward; or as Venus, when she stood
Effulgent on the pearly car, and smil'd,
Fresh from the deep, and conscious of her form,
To see the Tritons tune their vocal shells,
And each coerulean sister of the flood
With fond acclaim attend her o'er the waves,
To seek th' Idalian bower. Ye smiling band
Of youths and virgins, who thro' all the maze
Of young desire with rival-steps pursue
This charm of beauty; if the pleasing toil
Can yield a moment's respite, hither turn
Your favourable ear, and trust my words.
I do not mean to wake the gloomy form
Of Superstition dress'd in wisdom's garb,
To damp your tender hopes; I do not mean
To bid the jealous thund'rer fire the heav'ns,
Or shapes infernal rend the groaning earth
To fright you from your joys: my chearful song
With better omens calls you to the field,
Pleas'd with your generous ardour in the chace,
And warm as you. Then tell me, for you know,
Does beauty ever deign to dwell where health
And active use are strangers? Is her charm
Confess'd in aught, whose most peculiar ends
Are lame and fruitless? Or did nature mean
This pleasing call the herald of a lye;
To hide the shame of discord and disease,
And catch with fair hypocrisy the heart
Of idle faith? O no! with better cares,
Th' indulgent mother, conscious how infirm
Her offspring tread the paths of good and ill,
By this illustrious image, in each kind
Still most illustrious where the object holds
Its native pow'rs most perfect, she by this
Illumes the headstrong impulse of desire,
And sanctifies his choice. The generous glebe
Whose bosom smiles with verdure, the clear tract
Of streams delicious to the thirsty soul,
The bloom of nectar'd fruitage ripe to sense,
And every charm of animated things,
Are only pledges of a state sincere,
Th' integrity and order of their frame,
When all is well within, and every end
Accomplish'd. Thus was beauty sent from heav'n,
The lovely ministress of truth and good
In this dark world: for truth and good are one,
And beauty dwells in them, and they in her,
With like participation. Wherefore then,
O sons of earth! would you dissolve the tye?
O wherefore, with a rash, imperfect aim,
Seek you those flow'ry joys with which the hand
Of lavish fancy paints each flatt'ring scene
Where beauty seems to dwell, nor once inquire
Where is the sanction of eternal truth,
Or where the seal of undeceitful good,
To save your search from folly? Wanting these,
Lo! beauty withers in your void embrace,
And with the glittering of an idiot's toy
Did fancy mock your vows. Nor let the gleam
Of youthful hope that shines upon your hearts,
Be chill'd or clouded at this awful task,
To learn the lore of undeceitful good,
And truth eternal. Tho' the poisonous charms
Of baleful superstition, guide the feet
Of servile numbers, thro' a dreary way
To their abode, thro' desarts, thorns and mire;
And leave the wretched pilgrim all forlorn
To muse at last, amid the ghostly gloom
Of graves, and hoary vaults, and cloister'd cells;
To walk with spectres thro' the midnight shade,
And to the screaming owl's accursed song
Attune the dreadful workings of his heart;
Yet be not you dismay'd. A gentler star
Your lovely search illumines. From the grove
Where wisdom talk'd with her Athenian sons,
Could my ambitious hand intwine a wreath
Of PLATO'S olive with the Mantuan bay,
Then should my pow'rful verse at once dispel
Those monkish horrors: then in light divine
Disclose th' Elysian prospect, where the steps
Of those whom nature charms, thro' blooming walks,
Thro' fragrant mountains and poetic streams,
Amid the train of sages, heroes, bards,
Led by their winged Genius and the choir
Of laurell'd science and harmonious art,
Proceed exulting to the eternal shrine,
Where truth inthron'd with her coelestial twins,
The undivided partners of her sway,
With good and beauty reigns. O let not us,
Lull'd by luxurious pleasure's languid strain,
Or crouching to the frowns of bigot-rage,
O let us not a moment pause to join
That god-like band. And if the gracious pow'r
Who first awaken'd my untutor'd song,
Will to my invocation breathe anew
The tuneful spirit; then thro' all our paths,
Ne'er shall the sound of this devoted lyre
Be wanting; whether on the rosy mead,
When summer smiles, to warn the melting heart
Of luxury's allurement; whether firm
Against the torrent and the stubborn hill
To urge bold virtue's unremitted nerve,
And wake the strong divinity of soul
That conquers chance and fate; or whether struck
For sounds of triumph, to proclaim her toils
Upon the lofty summit, round her brow
To twine the wreathe of incorruptive praise;
To trace her hallow'd light thro' future worlds,
And bless heav'n's image in the heart of man.
Thus with a faithful aim have we presum'd,
Advent'rous, to delineate nature's form;
Whether in vast, majestic pomp array'd,
Or drest for pleasing wonder, or serene
In beauty's rosy smile. It now remains,
Thro' various being's fair-proportion'd scale,
To trace the rising lustre of her charms,
From their first twilight, shining forth at length
To full meridian splendour. Of degree
The least and lowliest, in th' effusive warmth
Of colours mingling with a random blaze,
Doth beauty dwell. Then higher in the line
And variation of determin'd shape,
Where truth's eternal measures mark the bound
Of circle, cube, or sphere. The third ascent
Unites this varied symmetry of parts
With colour's bland allurement; as the pearl
Shines in the concave of its azure bed,
And painted shells indent their speckled wreathe.
Then more attractive rise the blooming forms
Thro' which the breath of nature has infus'd
Her genial power to draw with pregnant veins
Nutritious moisture from the bounteous earth,
In fruit and seed prolific: thus the flow'rs
Their purple honours with the spring resume;
And such the stately tree which autumn bends
With blushing treasures. But more lovely still
Is nature's charm, where to the full consent
Of complicated members, to the bloom
Of colour, and the vital change of growth,
Life's holy flame and piercing sense are giv'n,
And active motion speaks the temper'd soul:
So moves the bird of Juno; so the steed
With rival ardour beats the dusty plain,
And faithful dogs with eager airs of joy
Salute their fellows. Thus doth beauty dwell
There most conspicuous, even in outward shape,
Where dawns the high expression of a mind:
By steps conducting our inraptur'd search
To that eternal origin, whose pow'r,
Thro' all th' unbounded symmetry of things,
Like rays effulging from the parent sun,
This endless mixture of her charms diffus'd.
MIND, MIND alone, bear witness, earth and heav'n!
The living fountains in itself contains
Of beauteous and sublime: here hand in hand,
Sit paramount the Graces; here inthron'd,
Coelestial Venus, with divinest airs,
Invites the soul to never-fading joy.
Look then abroad thro' nature, to the range
Of planets, suns, and adamantine spheres
Wheeling unshaken thro' the void immense;
And speak, O man! does this capacious scene
With half that kindling majesty dilate
Thy strong conception, as when Brutus rose
Refulgent from the stroke of Caesar's fate,
Amid the croud of patriots; and his arm
Aloft extending, like eternal Jove
When guilt brings down the thunder, call'd aloud
On Tully's name, and shook his crimson steel,
And bade the father of his country, hail!
For lo! the tyrant prostrate on the dust,
And Rome again is free! — Is aught so fair
In all the dewy landscapes of the spring,
In the bright eye of Hesper or the morn,
In nature's fairest forms, is aught so fair
As virtuous friendship? as the candid blush
Of him who strives with fortune to be just?
The graceful tear that streams for others woes?
Or the mild majesty of private life,
Where peace with ever-blooming olive crowns
The gate; where honour's liberal hands effuse
Unenvied treasures, and the snowy wings
Of innocence and love protect the scene?
Once more search, undismay'd, the dark profound
Where nature works in secret; view the beds
Of min'ral treasure, and the eternal vault
That bounds the hoary ocean; trace the forms
Of atoms moving with incessant change
Their elemental round; behold the seeds
Of being, and the energy of life
Kindling the mass with ever-active flame:
Then to the secrets of the working mind
Attentive turn; from dim oblivion call
Her fleet, ideal band; and bid them, go!
Break thro' time's barrier, and o'ertake the hour
That saw the heavens created: then declare
If aught were found in those external scenes
To move thy wonder now. For what are all
The forms which brute, unconscious matter wears,
Greatness of bulk, or symmetry of parts?
Not reaching to the heart, soon feeble grows
The superficial impulse; dull their charms,
And satiate soon, and pall the languid eye.
Not so the moral species, nor the pow'rs
Of genius and design; th' ambitious mind
There sees herself: by these congenial forms
Touch'd and awaken'd, with intenser act
She bends each nerve, and meditates well-pleas'd
Her features in the mirror. For of all
The inhabitants of earth, to man alone
Creative wisdom gave to lift his eye
To truth's eternal measures; thence to frame
The sacred laws of action and of will,
Discerning justice from unequal deeds,
And temperance from folly. But beyond
This energy of truth, whose dictates bind
Assenting reason, the benignant sire,
To deck the honour'd paths of just and good,
Has added bright imagination's rays:
Where virtue, rising from the awful depth
Of truth's mysterious bosom, doth forsake
The unadorn'd condition of her birth;
And dress'd by fancy in ten thousand hues,
Assumes a various feature, to attract,
With charms responsive to each gazer's eye,
The hearts of men. Amid his rural walk,
Th' ingenuous youth, whom solitude inspires
With purest wishes, from the pensive shade
Beholds her moving, like a virgin-muse
That wakes her lyre to some indulgent theme
Of harmony and wonder: while among
The herd of servile minds, her strenuous form
Indignant flashes on the patriot's eye,
And thro' the rolls of memory appeals
To ancient honour; or in act serene,
Yet watchful, raises the majestic sword
Of public pow'r, from dark ambition's reach
To guard the sacred volume of the laws.
Genius of ancient Greece! whose faithful steps
Well-pleas'd I follow thro' the sacred paths
Of nature and of science; nurse divine
Of all heroic deeds and fair desires!
O! let the breath of thy extended praise
Inspire my kindling bosom to the height
Of this untemper'd theme. Nor be my thoughts
Presumptuous counted, if amid the calm
That sooths this vernal evening into smiles,
I steal impatient from the sordid haunts
Of strife and low ambition, to attend
Thy sacred presence in the sylvan shade,
By their malignant footsteps ne'er profan'd.
Descend, propitious! to my favour'd eye;
Such in thy mien, thy warm, exalted air,
As when the Persian tyrant, foil'd and stung
With shame and desperation, gnash'd his teeth
To see thee rend the pageants of his throne;
And at the lightning of thy lifted spear
Crouch'd like a slave. Bring all thy martial spoils,
Thy palms, thy laurels, thy triumphal songs,
Thy smiling band of arts, thy godlike sires
Of civil wisdom, thy heroic youth
Warm from the schools of glory. Guide my way
Thro' fair Lyceum's walk, the green retreats
Of Academus, and the thymy vale,
Where oft inchanted with Socratic sounds,
Ilissus pure devolv'd his tuneful stream
In gentler murmurs. From the blooming store
Of these auspicious fields, may I unblam'd
Transplant some living blossoms to adorn
My native clime: while far above the flight
Of fancy's plume aspiring, I unlock
The springs of ancient wisdom; while I join
Thy name, thrice honour'd! with th' immortal praise
Of nature, while to my compatriot youth
I point the high example of thy sons,
And tune to Attic themes the British lyre.
London: R. Dodsley, 1744.
125,  pp.; 4to.
Reprinted 1748 (6), 1754 (2), 1763, 1765, 1767, 1768, 1769 (2), 1771, 1775, 1777, 1780, 1786, 1794 (3), 1795 (2) 1796.
Excerpts in Ipswich Journal (28 January 1744); Gentleman's Magazine 14 (April 1744) 219; London Magazine 14 (August 1745) 406; American Magazine [Boston] 2 (November 1745) 507; Poetical Miscellany; consisting of Select Pieces (1762, 1774, 1778, 1789); Enfield, The Speaker (1774; 1792); Poetical Preceptor (1780); Knox, Elegant Extracts: Poetry (1789, 1790, 1791, 1796, 1801, 1805, 1809, 1816, 1824); Pratt, Cabinet of Poetry (1808); Campbell, Specimens (1819); Aikin, Select Works of the British Poets (1820); Croly, Beauties of the British Poets (1828); George B. Cheever, Studies in Poetry ... Elegant Extracts (1830); Halleck, Selections from the British Poets (1840); Chambers's Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844, 1857-60, 1876, 1892); The English Poets, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (1880).
Reprinted in Bell, Poets of Great Britain (1776-82); Works of the English Poets (1779-81); Anderson, British Poets (1795); Poems of Established Reputation (1802, 1803); Chalmers, English Poets (1810); The Pleasures of Hope, Imagination, and Memory (1814); The Book of Pleasures (1836, 1839, 1843, 1849, 1851); Poems of the Pleasures (1841, 1850).
In Poetical Works, ed. Robin Dix (1996).
Microforms: The Eighteenth Century; Reel 894, No. 9.
Phelps, Romantic Movement (1893) 39; Beers, Romanticism in the 18th Century (1899) 139-40; Bohme, Spenser's literarisches Nachleben (1911) 182; Havens, Influence of Milton (1922) 471; Aldrich, "Beattie's Minstrel" (1927) 172-73; Fairchild, Religious Trends in English Poetry (1942) 2:328-34.
Dr. Mark Akenside
TEXT RECORDS FOR DR. MARK AKENSIDE:
1737: The Poet; a Rhapsody.
1737: The Virtuoso; in imitation of Spencer's Style and Stanza.
1739: Hymn to Science.
1744 The Pleasures of Imagination. A Poem.
1744: The Pleasures of Imagination. Book II.
1744: The Pleasures of Imagination. Book III.
1745: Ode I. Allusion to Horace.
1745: Ode II. On the Winter-Solstice, M.D.CC.XL.
1745: Ode III. Against Suspicion.
1745: Ode IV. To a Gentleman whose Mistress had married an Old Man.
1745: Ode IX. To Sleep.
1745: Ode V. Hymn to Chearfulness. The Author Sick.
1745: Ode VI. On the Absence of the Poetic Inclination.
1745: Ode VII. To a Friend, on the Hazard of falling in Love.
1745: Ode VIII. On Leaving Holland.
1745: Ode X. On Lyric Poetry.
1746: On Correctness.
1746: The Balance of Poets.
1750: Book II, Ode IV. To the honourable Charles Townsend, in the Country. 1750.
1751: Book II, Ode XIII. To the Author of the Memoirs of the House of Brandenburgh. 1751.
1751: Ode to Thomas Edwards, Esq; on the late Edition of Mr. Pope's Works.
1758: An Ode to the Country Gentlemen of England.
IMITATIONS OF AKENSIDE'S PLEASURES OF IMAGINATION:
1743: Janus, The Pleasures of Reflection.
1747: Rev. Thomas Warton, The Pleasures of Melancholy. A Poem.
1747: Anonymous, The Pleasures of the Night.
1758: Anonymous, The Pleasures of the Mind.
1759: Irus, The Pleasures of Poverty.
1764: Mary Darwall, The Pleasures of Contemplation.
1774: M. M., Mirth, a Poem in answer to Warton's Pleasures of Melancholy.
1792: Samuel Rogers, The Pleasures of Memory, a Poem.
1794: Robert Southey, The Retrospect.
1795: Thomas Dermody, The Retrospect: a Poem.
1796: Peter L. Courtier, The Pleasures of Solitude.
1796: Rev. Richard Polwhele, The Influence of Local Attachment with respect to Home.
1796: Robert Merry, The Pains of Memory. A Poem.
1797: James Montgomery, The Pleasures of Imprisonment: an Epistle to a Friend.
1799: Thomas Campbell, The Pleasures of Hope.
1800: Peter L. Courtier, Pleasures of Solitude.
1800: John Jefferys, The Pleasures of Retirement.
1802: Thomas Dermody, The Pleasures of Poetry. In Spenser's Stanza.
1802: Rev. John Bidlake, Youth, a Poem.
1803: Evander, The Pains of Imagination.
1803: David Carey, The Pleasures of Nature; or the Charms of Rural Life. Part I.
1804: Anonymous, The Pleasures of Composition; a Poem.
1804: Susan Linn De Witt, The Pleasures of Religion: a Poem.
1804: David Carey, The Reign of Fancy. Canto I.
1805: A., [The Pains of Memory.]
1806: Dr. John Stewart, The Pleasures of Love. A Poem.
1806: John Boyd Greenshields, Home. A Poem.
1809: Rev. Thomas Beck, The Pleasures of Forgetfulness.
1809: Robert Franklin, The Native Village, or the Pleasures of Childhood.
1810: Clio, The Pleasures of Solitude. — A Poem.
1810: Frances Arabella Rowden, The Pleasures of Friendship.
1810: Charles Verral, The Pleasures of Possession; or, the Enjoyment of the Present Moment.
1811: Rev. Peregrine Bingham, The Pains of Memory, a Poem.
1812: Bernard Barton, Pains of Memory. A Fragment.
1812: Anonymous, The Pleasures of Variety, a Poetical Essay.
1812: Anna Jane Vardill, The Pleasures of Human Life, a Poem.
1818: Anonymous, The Pleasures of Home. A Poem.
1819: Rev. Daniel Huntington, A Poem, on the Pleasures and Advantages of True Religion.
1819: Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen, Aspley Wood.
1819: Eyre Evans Crowe, The Pleasures of Melancholy.
1821: R. Porter, The Pleasures of Home.
1822: Anonymous, The Pleasures of Fancy. A Poem.
1822: Anonymous, The Pleasures of Sympathy.
1822: William Cook, The Pleasures of Conversation, a Poem.
1822: Dr. James McHenry, The Pleasures of Friendship: a Poem.
1823: Solomon Southwick, The Pleasures of Poverty.
1824: Bp. Matthew Henry Thornhill Luscombe, The Pleasures of Society: A Poem.
1824: Joseph Bounden, The Deserted City.
1824: Eleanor Dickinson, The Pleasures of Piety.
1824: Nathaniel Hazeltine Carter, Pains of the Imagination; a Poem.
1824: Philip Dixon Hardy, The Pleasures of Piety.
1828: James Jennings, The Pleasures of Ornithology. A Poem.
1829: Charles Sprague, Curiosity: a Poem.
1829: John Holland, The Pleasures of Sight. A Poem.
1830: Charles Doyne Sillery, Eldred of Erin. A Poem.
1830: Lewis Evans, The Pleasures of Benevolence.
The Pleasures of the Imagination is a long didactic poem by Mark Akenside, first published in 1744.
The first book defines the powers of imagination and discusses the various kinds of pleasure to be derived from the perception of beauty; the second distinguishes works of imagination from philosophy; the third describes the pleasure to be found in the study of man, the sources of ridicule, the operations of the mind, in producing works of imagination, and the influence of imagination on morals. The ideas were largely borrowed from Joseph Addison's essays on the imagination in the Spectator and from Lord Shaftesbury. Edward Dowden complains that "his tone is too high-pitched; his ideas are too much in the air; they do not nourish themselves in the common heart, the common life of man." Samuel Johnson praised the blank verse of the poems, but found fault with the long and complicated periods.
Akenside got the idea for the poem during a visit to Morpeth in 1738.
The Pleasures of the Imagination may also refer to The Spectator papers numbered 411 through 418. These specific papers differed from the rest in that they were non-narrative and philosophical, and contained less obvious social commentary.