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In 1740, he produced, as has been already mentioned, “ The Masque of Alfred,” in conjunction with Thomson.
For some time afterwards he lay at rest. After a long interval, his next work was “ Amyntor and Theodora” (1747), a long story in blank verse ; in which it cannot be denied that there is copiousness and elegance of language, vigour of sentiment, and imagery well adapted to take possession of the fancy. But it is blank verse. This he sold to Vaillant for one hundred and twenty pounds. The first sale was not great, and it is now lost in forgetfulness.
Mallet, by address or accident, perhaps by his dependance on the prince, found his way to Bolingbroke: a man whose pride and petulance made his kindness difficult to gain, or keer, and whom Mallet was content to court by an act, which, I hope, was unwillingly performed. When it was found that Pope had clandestinely printed an unauthorised number of the pamphlet called “ The Patriot King,” Bolingbroke, in a fit of useless fury, resolved to blast his memory, and employed Mallet (1749) as the executioner of his vengeance. Mallet had not virtue, or had not spirit, to refuse the office; and was rewarded, not long after, with the legacy of Lord Bolingbroke's works.
Many of the political pieces had been written during the opposition to Walpole, and given to Franklin, as he supposed, in perpetuity. These among the rest, were claimed by the will. The question was referred to arbitrators; but when they decided against Mallet, he refused to yield to the
award; and by the help of Millar the Bookseller, published all that he could find, but with success very much below his expectation.
In 1755, his masque of “ Britannia," was acted at Drury Lane; and his tragedy of “ Elvira" in 1763; in which year he was appointed keeper of the Book of Entries for ships in the port of London. ·
In the beginning of the last war, when the nation was exasperated by ill success, he was employed to turn the publick vengeance upon Byng, and wrote a letter of accusation under the character of a “ Plain Man." The paper was with great industry circulated and dispersed ; and he, for his seasonable intervention, had a considerable pension bestowed upon him, which he retained to his death.
Towards the end of his life he went with his wife to France; but after a while, finding his health declining, he returned alone to England, and died in April, 1765.
He was twice married, and by his first wife had several children. One daughter, who married an Italian of rank named Cilesia, wrote a tragedy called “ Almida," which was acted at Drury Lane. His second wife was the daughter of a nobleman's steward, who had a considerable fortune, which she took care to retain in her own hands.
His stature was diminutive, but he was regularly formed; his appearance, till he grew corpulent, was agreeable, and he suffered it to want no recommendation that dress could give it. His conversation was elegant and easy. The rest of his character may, without injury to his memory, sink into silence.
· As a writer he cannot be placed in any high class. There is no species of composition in which he was eminent. His Dramas had their day, a short day, and are forgotten : his blank verse seems to my ear the echo of Thomson. His “Life of Bacon" is known as it is appended to Bacon's volumes, but is no longer mentioned. His works are such as a writer, bustling in the world, shewing himself in publick, and emerging occasionally from time to time into notice, might keep alive by his personal influence; but which, conveying little information, and giving no great pleasure, must soon give way, as the succession of things produces new topicks of conversation and other modes of amusement.
A KENSI DE.
MARK AKENSIDE was born on the 9th of November, 1721, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. His father Mark was a butcher, of the Presbyterian sect; his mother's name was Mary Lumsden. He received the first part of his education at the grammar-school of Newcastle ; and was afterwards instructed by Mr. Wilson, who kept a private academy.
At the age of eighteen he was sent to Edinburgh, that he might qualify himself for the office of a dissenting minister, and received some assistance from the fund which the dissenters employ in educating young men of scanty fortune. But a wider view of the world opened other scenes, and prompted other hopes : he determined to study physick, and repaid that contribution, which, being received for a different purpose, he justly thought it dishonourable to retain.
Whether, when he resolved not to be a dissenting minister, he ceased to be a Dissenter, I know not.
He certainly retained an unnecessary and outrageous zeal for what he called and thought liberty; a zeal which sometimes disguises from the world, and not rarely from the mind which it possesses, an envious desire of plundering wealth or degrading greatness ; and of which the immediate tendency is innovation and anarchy, an impetuous eagerness to subvert and confound, with very little care what shall be established.
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."
In 1741 he went to Leyden, in pursuit of medical knowledge; and three years afterwards (May 16, 1744) became doctor of physick, having, according to the custom of the Dutch Universities, published a thesis or dissertation. The subject which he chose was “ The Original and Growth of the Human Foetus;" in which he is said to have departed, with great judgment, from the opinion then established, and to have delivered that which has been since confirmed and received.