YOUNG, EDWARD (1683–1765), English poet, author of Night Thoughts, son of Edward Young, afterwards dean of Salisbury, was born at his father's rectory at Upham, near Winchester, and was baptized on the 3rd of July 1683. He was educated on the foundation at Winchester College, and matriculated in 1702 at New College, Oxford. He soon removed to Corpus Christi, and in 1708 was nominated by Archbishop Tenison to a law fellowship at All Souls’, for the sake of Dean Young, who died in 1705. He took his degree of D.C.L. in 1719. His first publication was an Epistle to . . . . Lord Lansdoune (1713). It was followed by a Poem on the Last Day (1713), dedicated to Queen Anne; The Force of Religion, or Vanquish’d Love (1714), a poem on the execution of Lady Jane Grey and her husband, dedicated to the countess of Sahsbury; and an epistle to Addison, On the late Queen’s Death and His Majesty’s Accession to the Throne (1714), in which he made indecent haste to praise the new king. The fulsome style of these dedications ill accords with the pious tone of the poems, and they are omitted in the edition of his works drawn up by himself. About this time began his connexion with Philip, duke of Wharton, whom he accompanied to Dublin in 1717. In 1719 his play of Busiris was produced at Drury Lane, and in 1721 his Revenge. The latter play was dedicated to Wharton, to whom it owed, said Young, its “most beautiful incident.” Wharton promised him two annuities of £100 each and a sum of £600 in consideration of his expenses as a candidate for parliamentary election at Cirencester. In view of these promises Young said that he had refused two livings in the gift of All Souls’ College, Oxford, and had also sacrificed a life annuity offered by the marquess of Exeter if he would act as tutor to his son. Wharton failed to discharge his obligations, and Young, who pleaded his case before Lord Chancellor Hardwicke in 1740, gained the annuity but not the £600. Between 1725 and 1728 Young published a series of seven satires on The Universal Passion. They were dedicated to the duke of Dorset, Bubb Dodington (afterwards Lord Melcombe), Sir Spencer Compton, Lady Ehzabeth Germain and Sir Robert Walpole, and were collected in 1728 as Love of Fame, the Universal Passion. This is qualified by Samuel Johnson as a “very great performance,” and abounds in striking and pithy couplets. Herbert Croft asserted that Young made £3000 by his satires, which compensated losses he had suffered in the South Sea Bubble. In 1726 he received, through Walpole, a pension of £200 a year. To the end of his life he continued to urge on the government his claims to preferment, but the king and his advisers persisted in regarding this sum as an adequate settlement.
Young was nearly fifty when he decided to take holy orders. It was reported that the author of Night Thoughts was not, in his earlier days, “the ornament to religion and morality which he afterwards became,” and his intimacy with the duke of Wharton and with Lord Melcombe did not improve his reputation. A statement attributed to Pope probably gives the correct view. “He had much of a sublime genius, though without common sense; so that his genius, having no guide, was perpetually liable to degenerate into bombast. This made him pass a foolish youth, the sport of peers and poets; but his having a very good heart enabled him to support the clerical character when he assumed it, first with decency and afterwards with honour” (O. Ruffhead, Life of A. Pope, p. 291). In 1728 he was made one of the royal chaplains, and in 1730 was presented to the college living of Welwyn, Hertfordshire. He married in 1731 Lady Elizabeth Lee, daughter of the 1st earl of Lichfield. Her daughter, by a former marriage with her cousin Francis Lee, married Henry Temple, son of the 1st viscount Palmerston. Mrs Temple died at Lyons in 1736 on her way to Nice. Her husband and Lady Elizabeth Young died in 1740. These successive deaths are supposed to be the events referred to in the Night Thoughts as taking place “ere thrice yon moon had filled her horn” (Night i.). In the preface to the poem Young states that the occasion of the poem was real, and Philander and Narcissa have been rather rashly identified with Mr and Mrs Temple. M. Thomas suggests that Philander represents Thomas Tickell, who was an old friend of Young’s, and died three months after Lady Elizabeth Young. It was further supposed that the infidel Lorenzo was a sketch of Young’s own son, a statement disproved by the fact that he was a child of eight years old at the time of publication. The Complaint, or Night Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality, was published in 1742, and was followed by other “Nights,” the eighth and ninth appearing in 1745. In 1753 his tragedy of The Brothers, written many years before, but suppressed because he was about to enter the Church, was produced at Drury Lane. Night Thoughts had made him famous, but he lived in almost uninterrupted retirement, although he continued vainly to solicit preferment. He was, however, made clerk of the closet to the princess dowager in 1761. He was never cheerful, it was said, after his wife's death. He disagreed with his son, who had remonstrated, apparently, on the excessive influence exerted by his housekeeper Miss (known as Mrs) Hallows. The old man refused to see his son before he died, but is said to have forgiven him, and left him his money. A description of him is to be found in the letters of his curate, John Jones, to Dr Samuel Birch. He died at Welwyn on the 5th of April 1765.
Young is said to have been a brilliant talker. He had an extraordinary knack of epigram, and though the 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 one of the classics of the romantic school. The suspicion of insincerity that damped the enthusiasm of English readers acquainted with the facts of his career did not exist for French readers. If he 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 Milton. 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.
Other works by Young are: The Instalment (to Sir R. Walpole, 1726); Cynthia (1727); A Vindication of Providence . . . (1728), a sermon; An Apology for Punch (1729), a sermon; Imperium Pelagi, a Naval Lyrick . . . (1730); Two Epistles to Mr Pope concerning the Authors of the Age (1730); A Sea-Piece . . . (1733); The Foreign Address, or The Best Argument for Peace (1734); The Centaur not Fabulous; in Five Letters to a Friend (1755): An Argument . . . for the Truth of His [Christ’s] Religion (1758), a sermon preached before the king; Conjectures on Original Composition . . . (1759), addressed to Samuel Richardson; and Resignation . . . (1762), a poem.
Night Thoughts was illustrated by William Blake in 1797, and by Thomas Stothard in 1799. The Poetical Works of the Rev. Edward Young . . . were revised by himself (or publication, and a completed edition appeared in 1778. The Complete Works, Poetry and Prose, of the Rev. Edward Young . . ., with a life by John Doran, appeared in 1854. His Poetical Works are included in the Aldine Edition of the British Poets, with a life by J. Mitford (1830–1836, 1857 and 1866). Sir Herbert Croft wrote the life included in Johnson's Lives of the Poets, but the critical remarks are by Johnson. For Young's influence on foreign literature see Joseph Texte, Jean Jacques Rousseau, A Study of the Literary Relations between France and England during the Eighteenth Century (Eng. trans., 1889), pp. 304–14; and J. Barnstoff, Young’s Nachtgedanken und ihr Einfluss auf die deutsche Litteratur (1895). See also W. Thomas, Le Poète Edward Young (Paris, 1901), who gives an exhaustive study of Young’s life and work.