Akenside, Mark

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Akenside, Mark (1721-70). English Poet.

Mark Akenside, poet and physician, was the son of a butcher at Newcastle on Tyne and studied medicine at the Universities of Edinburgh and Leiden, later receiving a doctorate from Cambridge (1753). A fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal College of Physicians, he became Harleian Orator at the Royal College of Physicians in 1759, principal physician at St. Thomas’s Hospital in 1760, and one of the Queen’s physicians in 1761.

His chief poetic work, The Pleasures of Imagination (1744), is a philosophical blank-verse discourse in three books on what would later come to be called “aesthetics.” In this poem, a substantial reworking of which remained unfinished at his death, Akenside combined an earnest classicism with celebration of the imagination – the power of discerning resemblances between present objects of perception and remembered ideas. Akenside closely associates beauty, truth, and goodness and in an exploration of the problem of evil, describes ridicule as a test of truth. Akenside also wrote a variety of metrically diverse lyric poems, including Odes on Several Subjects (1745, rev. 1760), as well as political and satiric poems. His friend and patron, Jeremiah Dyson, published a posthumous collection of Akenside’s poetry, including fragments of the revision of The Pleasures of Imagination in 1772.


Further reading: Robin Dix, ed., The Poetical Works of Mark Akenside, 1996.

Treadwell Ruml

California State University

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