Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Young, Edward

YOUNG, Edward (1681-1765), author of Night Thoughts, was born at Upham, near Winchester, in 1681. The minute facts of his life are to be found in the biography contributed to Johnson's Lives of the Poets by Herbert Croft. The son of the dean of Sarum, educated at Winchester and Oxford (New College and Corpus), Young obtained a law fellowship at All Souls in 1708, and proceeded to use it as a base of operations for gratifying his "ruling passion," the love of fame. There was at the time an open career for young men of talent who showed ability to recommend the policy and the persons of states men in their struggle for power, and Young, full of unbounded energy and eloquence, exuberant to eccentricity, joined in the race with a vigour that soon raised him to distinction. He seems to have been for a time in the family of the earl of Exeter as tutor; but the notorious marquis of Wharton (see Wharton) took a fancy to him, bribed him away from this post with liberal promises of maintenance and patronage, settled two annuities on him, and tried to get him into Parliament. Meantime Young began to publish and to dedicate, the poems and the dedications taken together (The Last Day, 1713, and The Force of Religion, 1714) showing the simple mixture of piety and worldliness that is one of the notes of his character. He essayed tragedy, writing at mid-day with closed shutters, by the light of a candle fixed in a human skull. Busiris was performed at Drury Lane in 1719, The Revenge in 1721. Far from gloomy in the company of Wharton and his friends, he had a decided bent for gloomy themes when alone, and a most copious and lofty often extravagantly lofty eloquence in the treatment of them; a paraphrase of the book of Job was one of his productions about this time. But he showed equal facility in dashing and effective satire: his first great literary success was made with the series of satires published between 1725 and 1728, and collected in the latter year under the title Love of Fame, the Universal Passion. These satires do not bear comparison with Pope's, to which they pointed the way, but they have a charm of exuberant vitality and power, an irregular abundance of wit and bold imagery, a frequent felicity of diction, that entitle them to Johnson's praise "a very great performance" and enable us to understand the impression produced by Young in conversation. One of the features in Young's character that disarms resentment of his fulsome adulation, and other extravagances and eccentricities, is his humorous Falstaffian consciousness of his own faults. "Who can write the true absurd like me?" he cries in one of his satires. He abundantly proved this in Ocean: an Ode, with which he hailed the accession of George II. Soon after, when nearly fifty, he took orders, was appointed a royal chaplain, and presented by his college to the rectory of Welwyn. He was disappointed in his desire of further promotion in the church; he had succeeded some time before in extracting a pension of £200 from Walpole, and this favour was cynically treated as a satisfaction in full of his claims on the Government. The Night Thoughts were published in separate "Nights" between 1742 and 1744. In the preface Young said that "the occasion of this poem was real, not fictitious, and that the facts mentioned did naturally force these moral reflexions on the mind of the writer." Croft has shown that this statement, though justifiable in the main, has to be taken with some qualifications, and that a common belief that Lorenzo was meant for the author's own son was undoubtedly a mistake. Still, it is true that Young's wife, her daughter, and her daughter's husband died in rapid succession, and the poem a great work in spite of all its inequalities was, like In Memoriam, the expression of a real sorrow and search for consolation. Young continued to write occasionally even after he had passed his eightieth year. His death took place on 12th April 1765.

Besides Croft's Life, there are interesting references to Young in Boswell's Johnson (see Birkbeck's ed., iv. 119, v. 270).