Edward Young (1681-1765) was an English poet, best remembered for Night Thoughts. Young is said to have been a brilliant talker. Although Night Thoughts is long and disconnected, it abounds in brilliant isolated passages. Its success was enormous. It was translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish and Magyar. In France it became a classic of the romantic school. Questions as to the "sincerity" of the poet did arise in the 100 years after his death. The publication of fawning letters from Young seeking preferment led many readers to question the poet's sincerity. In a famous essay, Worldliness and Other-Worldliness, George Eliot discussed his "radical insincerity as a poetic artist." If Young did not invent "melancholy and moonlight" in literature, he did much to spread the fashionable taste for them. Madame Klopstock thought the king ought to make him Archbishop of Canterbury, and some German critics preferred him to John Milton. Young's essay, Conjectures on Original Composition, was popular and influential on the continent, especially among Germans, as a testament advocating originality over neoclassical imitation. Young wrote good blank verse, and Samuel Johnson pronounced Night Thoughts to be one of "the few poems" in which blank verse could not be changed for rhyme but with disadvantage. The poem was a poetic treatment of sublimity and had a profound influence on the young Edmund Burke, whose philosophic investigations and writings on the Sublime and the Beautiful were a pivotal turn in 18th-century aesthetic theory.
Young's Night Thoughtsby Edward Young
Between the period of George Herbert, and that of Edward Young, some singular changes had taken place in British poetry as well as in British manners, politics, and religion. There had passed over the land the thunderstorm of the Puritanic Revolt, which had first clouded and then cleared, for a season, the intellectual and moral horizon. The effect of this on poetry… See more details below
Between the period of George Herbert, and that of Edward Young, some singular changes had taken place in British poetry as well as in British manners, politics, and religion. There had passed over the land the thunderstorm of the Puritanic Revolt, which had first clouded and then cleared, for a season, the intellectual and moral horizon. The effect of this on poetry was, for such fugitive though felicitous hymns as those of Herbert, to substitute the epic unities and grand choral harmonies of Milton. Then came the Restoration-the Apotheosis of falsehood; including in that term false principles, false politics, and false taste. Britain became the degraded slave of France, at once in laws and in literature. Dryden, indeed, maintained, in some measure, the character and the taste of his nation, but he stood almost alone. To him succeeded Addison and Pope, both gifted but both timid men, whose genius, great as it was, never, or rarely, ventured on original and daring flights, and who seemed always to be haunted by the fear of French criticism. Pope, especially, lent all his influence to confirm and seal the power of a foreign code of literary laws; and so general and so deep was the submission, that it is to us one of the strongest proofs of Edward Young's genius, that he ventured, in that polished but powerless era, to uplift a native voice of song, and not to uplift it in vain; for, if he did not absolutely make a revolution, or found a school, he yet established himself, and left his poetry as a glorious precedent to all who should afterwards be so hardy as to "go and do likewise."
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