The Literary Career of Mark Akenside: Including an Edition of His Non-Medical Prose
Robin Dix

About the Author :
Robin C. Dix studies at New College, Oxford, where he received his BA and his D.Phil. After holding the Robert Browning Research Studentship at Pembroke College, Oxford, the Caroline Spurgeon Research Studentship at Bedford College, London, and a post at Royal Holloway College, London, he worked outside the academic world for four years before moving to Durham University, where he has been a Lecturer in English since 1991. His publications include an edition of the poetical works on Mark Akenside (FDUP, 1996), a facsimile of the collection of Akenside manuscripts at Amherst College, and numerous articles on eighteenth-century poetry, aesthetics, and bibliographical theory. He also edited Mark Akenside: A Reassessment, a collection of essays by various scholar. (FDUP, 2000).

Mark Akenside (1720-1770) has in recent years increasingly come to be recognized as one of the most important and original poets writing in the decades after the death of Pope. The growing appreciation of his achievement was accelerated by the 1996 publication of Robin Dix’s edition of his poetical works, and by a volume of critical essays by various authors, Mark Akenside: A Reassessment, in 2000. Now, in the first book-length study devoted exclusively to his writing since C.T. Houpt’s 1944 critical biography, Robin Dix examines the full range of Akenside’s literary achievements. The rich intellectual and poetic background to his work that this detailed treatment reveals, permits important new insights into the nature of his originality, and of originality in general. Dix’s critical analysis is supplemented by the first full edition of Akenside’s non-medical prose.

Akenside rose to fame in 1744 with the publication of his Pleasures of Imagination, and a chapter is devoted to the discussion of this crucially important œuvre. Sections devoted to such topics as philosophy, science, theology, and politics advance our understanding of Akenside’s ideas, but equally important, when taken together, they enable the complex, overarching unity of the poem to emerge in high relief for the first time, demonstrating its poetic, as well as its intellectual, riches.

The increased critical attention devoted to Akenside recently has been focused on The Pleasures of Imagination, but one of the main contentions of Dix’s book is that this poem, important though it is, is by no means Akenside’s only major work. A subsequent chapter deals with the poetry of the later 1740s, and argues that in the later satire and of lyric, Akenside’s work is successfully and influentially innovative. His Epistle to Curio is shown to be not merely a successful – a stinging – satire in its own right, but a thoughtful response to how the satiric tradition might develop after the death of Pope. Its key innovation consists in the fact that it is underpinned by Akenside’s theory of ridicule, as expounded in book 3 of The Pleasures of Imagination. Similarly, Akenside’s 1745 volume of poetry, Odes on Several Subjects, influences future developments in the ode tradition by placing as great an emphasis on the arrangement of the material within the volume, as on the individual odes.

These central chapters are flanked by an opening one, examining Akenside’s apprentice work, and by a final one tracing his poetic activity in the later years of his life. Even in this final stage, when his time was devoted mainly to his medical career and the revision of his earlier writings, he is shown to have been capable of important and original poetic work, such as his blank-verse inscriptions.

Supplemented by appendices in which Akenside’s essays and letters are collected for the first time, together with a list of the books he reviewed for Dodsley’s periodical, The Museum, this book provides the first full consideration of Akenside’s literary work for many years, suggest reasons for the considerable influence he exerted on his contemporaries and on the Romantics, and offers future researchers a firm foundation on which to base their continuing exploration of this important literary figure.

ISBN 0-8386-4097-4

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