An assessment of Akenside's role as a precursor of romanticism : a study of the poetry of Mark Akenside (1721-1770)

King, Eldon Stanley (1981) An assessment of Akenside's role as a precursor of romanticism : a study of the poetry of Mark Akenside (1721-1770). Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

The traditional manner of assessing Akenside's role as a precursor of Romanticism has been to select certain isolated passages from The Pleasures of Imagination which may be seen to anticipate the work of the great Romantic poets, rather than to treat the poem as a unified argument. Owing to this kind of disregard for the unity of Akenside's poem, its full significance as an eighteenth-century exercise in poetics is often missed. Furthermore, Akenside's considerable contribution to the development of the English ode has been virtually neglected by the critics. A complete and accurate assessment of Akenside's place in the history of English literature can be made only by considering his lyric poetry in relation to the theory of aesthetics found in The Pleasures of Imagination. -- In his poem Akenside presents a theory which may be seen as an important apology for poetic fancy and enthusiasm. Applying his own deistic beliefs to Shaftesbury's theory that beauty, truth, and goodness are identical, Akenside claims that beauty in the physical realm is an outward expression of divine Beauty. He also asserts that imagination is mysteriously receptive of the divine semblance which exists in the natural world. Highly imaginative individuals are therefore justified in their enthusiasm for beauty, since whatever imagination perceives as beautiful will also be morally beneficial. In its justification of the poet's love of beauty and its complete faith in imagination's ability to detect truth on a symbolic level, the theory of aesthetics in The Pleasures of Imagination is Romantic in its outlook. -- Akenside's lyric poetry represents his attempt to write the kind of verse which is prescribed by his Pleasures of Imagination. Many of his odes may be seen to reflect Akenside's struggle to attain a truly lyrical poetic style. The inability to find renewed lyric inspiration is a theme which recurs often in Akenside's odes. Much of Akenside's lyric verse may be seen to reflect those concerns which affected him as a man, but more significantly it represents the dilemma which all lyrists experienced in an age unfavourable to lyric poetry. From this point of view, Akenside played a significant role in the development of the English ode. -- The great admiration which Wordsworth and Coleridge had for The Pleasures of Imagination is an indication of the innovative nature of the theory which the work embodies. Wordsworth may be seen to be indebted to Akenside for a great deal of the moral philosophy in The Excursion, as well as for much of his theory regarding the mystical significance of the natural sublime found in The Prelude. While the critics generally consider Akenside's influence on Coleridge's early poetry to be considerable, they have failed to see any significant connection between the earlier poet's speculation on imagination and fancy and Coleridge's celebrated theory. In The Pleasures of Imagination, however, it is possible to find many ideas which are central to Coleridge's mature theory of imagination and fancy. Akenside's discourse on the nature and function of imagination is undoubtedly a close forerunner of the Romantic concept of the imaginative faculty. -- Akenside's contribution to the development of the English Romantic movement is greater than the critics have traditionally acknowledged. While the sensual appeal of Akenside's poetry may leave much to be desired, his poetic doctrine was a significant early reaction against neo-Classical literary convention. The theory of aesthetics in The Pleasures of Imagination had special significance in an age when all kinds of "enthusiasm" were anathema. And Akenside's odes, taken in their proper context, may be seen to represent his dissatisfaction with the poetic creed of his age. The fundamental influence which Akenside had upon the theories and practice of Wordsworth and Coleridge attests to his importance as a precursor bf Romanticism.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/7741
Item ID: 7741
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 88-93.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1981
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Akenside, Mark, 1721-1770--Criticism and interpretation

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