The Pleasures of Imagination (Akenside, 1744)/Book 1


The subject propos'd; verse 1, to 30. Difficulty of treating it poetically; v. 45. The ideas of the divine mind, the origin of every quality pleasing to the imagination; v. 56, to 78. The natural variety of constitution in the minds of men; with its final cause; to v. 96. The idea of a fine imagination, and the state of the mind in the enjoyment of those pleasures which it affords; v. 100, to 132. All the primary pleasures of the imagination result from the perception of greatness, or wonderfulness, or beauty in objects; v. 145. The pleasure from greatness, with its final cause; v. 151, to 221. Pleasure from novelty or wonderfulness, with its final cause; v. 222, to 270. Pleasure from beauty, with its final cause; v. 275, to 372. The connection of beauty with truth and good, applied to the conduct of life; v. 384. Invitation to the study of moral philosophy; to v. 428. The different degrees of beauty in different species of objects; v. 448. Colour; shape; natural concretes; vegetables; animals; the mind; v. 445. The sublime, the fair, the wonderful of the mind; v. 497, to 526. The connection of the imagination and the moral faculty; v. 557. Conclusion.


The Pleasures of Imagination - Akenside (1744) headpiece 1.jpg





Book the First.

With what attractive charms this goodly frame
Of nature touches the consenting hearts
Of mortal men; and what the pleasing stores
Which beauteous imitation thence derives
To deck the poet's, or the painter's toil;5
My verse unfolds. Attend, ye gentle Pow'rs
Of musical[O 1] Delight! and while I sing
Your gifts, your honours, dance around my strain.
Thou, smiling queen of every tuneful breast,

Indulgent Fancy! from the fruitful Banks10
Of Avon, whence thy rosy fingers cull
Fresh flow'rs and dews to sprinkle on the turf
Where Shakespeare lies, be present: and with thee
Let Fiction come, upon her vagrant wings
Wafting ten thousand colours thro' the air,15
And, by the glances of her magic eye,
Combining each in endless, fairy forms,
Her wild creation. Goddess of the lyre
Which rules the Accents of the moving sphere,
Wilt thou, eternal Harmony! descend,20
And join this festive train? for with thee comes
The guide, the guardian of their lovely sports,
Majestic Truth; and where TRUTH deigns to come,
Her sister Liberty will not be far.
Be present all ye Genii who conduct25
The wand'ring footsteps of the youthful bard,
New to your springs and shades: who touch his ear
With finer sounds: who heighten to his eye
The bloom of nature, and before him turn
The gayest, happiest attitude of things.30

Oft have the laws of each poetic strain
The critic-verse imploy'd; yet still unsung
Lay this prime subject, tho' importing most
A poet's name: for fruitless is th' attempt,
By dull obedience and the curb of rules,35

For creeping toil to climb the hard ascent
Of high Parnassus. Nature's kindling breath
Must fire the chosen genius; nature's hand
Must string his nerves, and imp his eagle-wings
Exulting o'er the painful steep to soar40
High as the summit; there to breathe at large
Æthereal air; with bards and sages old,
Immortal sons of praise. These flatt'ring scenes
To this neglected labour court my song;
Yet not unconscious[O 2] what a doubtful task45
To paint the finest features of the mind,
And to most subtile and mysterious things
Give colour, strength, and motion. But the love
Of nature and the muses bids explore,
Thro' secret paths erewhile untrod by man,50
The fair poetic region, to detect
Untasted springs, to drink inspiring draughts;
And shade my temples with unfading flow'rs
Cull'd from the laureate vale's profound recess,
Where never poet gain'd a wreath before.55

From heav'n my strains begin; from heaven descends
The flame of genius to the human breast,
And love and beauty, and poetic joy
And inspiration. Ere the radiant sun
Sprung from the east, or 'mid the vault of night60
The moon suspended her serener lamp;
Ere mountains, woods, or streams adorn'd the globe;
Or wisdom taught the sons of men her lore;
Then liv'd th' almighty One: then, deep-retir'd
In his unfathom'd essence, view'd at large65
The uncreated images things;
The radiant sun, the moon's nocturnal lamp,
The mountains, woods and streams, the rolling globe,
And wisdom's form cœlestial. From the first
Of days, on them his love divine he fix'd,70
His admiration: till in time compleat,
What he admir'd and lov'd, his vital smile
Unfolded into being. Hence the breath
Of life informing each organic frame,
Hence the green earth, and wild resounding waves;75
Hence light and shade alternate; warmth and cold;
And clear autumnal skies and vernal show'rs,
And all the fair variety of things.

But not alike to every mortal eye
Is this great scene unveil'd. For since the claims80
Of social life, to different labours urge
The active pow'rs of man; with wise intent
The hand of nature on peculiar minds
Imprints a diff'rent byass, and to each
Decrees its province in the common toil.85
To some she taught the fabric of the sphere,
The changeful moon, the circuit of the starrs,
The golden zones of heav'n: to some she gave
To weigh the moment of eternal things,
Of time, and space, and fate's unbroken chain,90
And will's quick impulse: others by the hand
She led o'er vales and mountains, to explore
What healing virtue swells the tender veins
Of herbs and flow'rs; or what the beams of morn
Draw forth, distilling from the clifted rind95
In balmy tears. But some, to higher hopes
Were destin'd; some within a finer mould
She wrought, and temper'd with a purer flame.
To these the sire omnipotent unfolds
The world's harmonious volume, there to read100
The transcript of himself. On every part
They trace the bright impressions of his hand:
In earth or air, the meadow's purple stores,
The moon's mild radiance, or the virgin's form
Blooming with rosy smiles, they see portray'd105

That uncreated beauty, which delights
The mind supreme. They also feel her charms;
Enamour'd, they partake th' eternal joy.

As Memnon's marble harp[O 3], long renown'd of old
By fabling Nilus, to the quivering touch110
Of Titan's ray, with each repulsive string
Consenting, sounded thro' the warbling air
Unbidden strains; ev'n so did nature's hand
To certain species of external things,
Attune the finer organs of the mind:115
So the glad impulse of congenial pow'rs,
Or of sweet sound, or fair proportion'd form,
The grace of motion, or the bloom of light,
Thrills thro' imagination's tender frame,
From nerve to nerve: all naked and alive120
They catch the spreading rays: till now the soul
At length discloses every tuneful spring,
To that harmonious movement from without
Responsive. Then the inexpressive strain

Diffuses its inchantment: fancy dreams125
Of sacred fountains and Elysian groves,
And vales of bliss: the intellectual pow'r
Bends from his awful throne a wondering ear,
And smiles: the passions, gently sooth'd away,
Sink to divine repose, and love and joy130
Alone are waking; love and joy, serene
As airs that fan the summer. O! attend,
Whoe'er thou art, whom these delights can touch,
Whose candid bosom the refining love
Of nature warms, O! listen to my song;135
And I will guide thee to her fav'rite walks,
And teach thy solitude her voice to hear,
And point her loveliest features to thy view.

Know then, whate'er of nature's pregnant stores,
Whate'er of mimic art's reflected forms140
With love and admiration thus inflame
The pow'rs of fancy, her delighted sons
To three illustrious orders have referr'd;
Three sister-graces, whom the painter's hand,
The poet's tongue confesses; the sublime,145
The wonderful, the fair. I see them dawn!
I see the radiant visions, where they rise,
More lovely than when Lucifer displays
His beaming forehead thro' the gates of morn,
To lead the train of Phœbus and the spring.150

Say, why was man[O 4] so eminently rais'd
Amid the vast creation; why ordain'd
Thro' life and death to dart his piercing eye,
With thoughts beyond the limit of his frame;
But that th' Omnipotent might send him forth155
In sight of mortal and immortal pow'rs,
As on a boundless theatre, to run
The great career of justice; to exalt
His gen'rous aim to all diviner deeds;
To chase each partial purpose from his breast;160
And thro' the mists of passion and of sense,

And thro' the tossing tide of chance and pain
To hold his course unfalt'ring, while the voice
Of truth and virtue, up the steep ascent
Of nature, calls him to his high reward,165
The applauding smile of heav'n? Else wherefore burns,
In mortal bosoms, this unquenched hope
That breathes from day to day sublimer things,
And mocks possession? wherefore darts the mind,
With such resistless ardour to embrace170
Majestic forms? Impatient to be free,
Spurning the gross controul of wilful might;
Proud of the strong contention of her toils;
Proud to be daring? Who but rather turns
To heav'n's broad fire his unconstrained view,175
Than to the glimmering of a waxen flame?
Who that, from Alpine heights, his lab'ring eye
Shoots round the wide horizon to survey
The Nile or Ganges rowl his wasteful tide
Thro' mountains, plains, thro' empires black with Shade180
And continents of sand; will turn his gaze
To mark the windings of a scanty rill
That murmurs at his feet? The high-born soul
Disdains to rest her heav'n-aspiring wing
Beneath its native quarry. Tir'd of earth185
And this diurnal Scene, she springs aloft
Thro' fields of air; pursues the flying storm;

Rides on the volly'd lightning thro' the heav'ns;
Or yok'd with whirlwinds and the northern blast,
Sweeps the long tract of day. Then high she soars190
The blue profound, and hovering o'er the sun,
Beholds him pouring the redundant stream
Of light; beholds his unrelenting sway
Bend the reluctant Planets to absolve
The fated rounds of time. Thence far effus'd195
She darts her swiftness up the long career
Of devious comets; thro' its burning signs
Exulting measures the perennial wheel
Of nature, and looks back on all the stars,
Whose blended light, as with a milky zone,200
Invests the orient. Now amaz'd she views
Th' empyreal waste[O 5], where happy spirits hold,
Beyond this concave heav'n, their calm abode;
And fields of radiance, whose unfading light[O 6]
Has travell'd the profound six thousand years,205

Nor yet arrives in sight of mortal things.
Ev'n on the barriers of the world untir'd
She meditates th' eternal depth below;
Till, half recoiling, down the headlong steep
She plunges; soon o'erwhelm'd and swallow'd up210
In that immense of being. There her hopes
Rest at the fated goal. For from the birth
Of mortal man, the sov'reign Maker said,
That not in humble nor in brief delight,
Not in the fading echoes of renown,215
Pow'rs purple robes, nor pleasure's flow'ry lap,
The Soul should find enjoyment: but from these
Turning disdainful to an equal good,
Thro' all th' ascent of things inlarge her view,
Till every bound at length should disappear,220
And infinite perfection close the scene.

Call now to mind what high, capacious pow'rs
Lie folded up in man; how far beyond
The praise of mortals, may th' eternal growth
Of nature to perfection half divine,225
Expand the blooming soul? What pity then
Should sloth's unkindly fogs depress to earth
Her tender blossom; choak the streams of life,
And blast her spring! Far otherwise design'd
Almighty wisdom; nature's happy cares230
Th' obedient heart far otherwise incline.
Witness the sprightly joy when aught unknown

Strikes the quick sense, and wakes each active pow'r
To brisker measures: witness the neglect
Of all familiar prospects,[O 7] tho' beheld235
With transport once; the fond attentive gaze
Of young astonishment; the sober zeal

Of age, commenting on prodigious things.
For such the bounteous providence of heav'n,
In every breast implanting this desire240
Of objects new and strange,[O 8] to urge us on
With unremitted labour to pursue
Those sacred stores that wait the ripening soul,
In truth's exhaustless bosom. What need words
To paint its pow'r? For this, the daring youth245
Breaks from his weeping mother's anxious arms,
In foreign climes to rove: the pensive sage,
Heedless of sleep or midnight's harmful damp,

Hangs o'er the sickly taper; and untir'd
The virgin follows, with inchanted step,250
The mazes of some wild and wondrous tale,
From morn to eve; unmindful of her form,
Unmindful of the happy dress that stole
The wishes of the youth, when every maid
With envy pin'd. Hence, finally, by night255
The village-matron, round the blazing hearth,
Suspends the infant-audience with her tales,
Breathing astonishment! of witching rhymes,
And evil spirits; of the death-bed call
To him who robb'd the widow, and devour'd260
The orphan's portion; of unquiet souls
Ris'n from the grave to ease the heavy guilt
Of deeds in life conceal'd; of shapes that walk
At dead of night, and clank their chains, and wave
The torch of hell around the murd'rer's bed.265
At every solemn pause the croud recoil
Gazing each other speechless, and congeal'd
With shivering sighs: till eager for th' event,
Around the beldame all arrect they hang,
Each trembling heart with grateful terrors quell'd.270

But lo! disclos'd in all her smiling pomp,
Where Beauty onward moving claims the verse
Her charms inspire: the freely-flowing verse
In thy immortal praise, O form divine,

Smooths her mellifluent stream. Thee, Beauty, thee275
The regal dome, and thy enlivening ray
The mossy roofs adore: thou, better sun!
For ever beamest on th' inchanted heart
Love, and harmonious wonder, and delight Poetic.
Brightest progeny of heav'n!280
How shall I trace thy features? where select
The roseate hues to emulate thy bloom?
Haste then, my song, thro' nature's wide expanse,
Haste then, and gather all her comeliest wealth,
Whate'er bright spoils the florid earth contains,285
Whate'er the waters, or the liquid air,
To deck thy lovely labour. Wilt thou fly
With laughing Autumn to th' Atlantic isles[O 9],
And range with him th' Hesperian field, and see,
Where'er his fingers touch the fruitful grove,290
The branches shoot with gold; where'er his step
Marks the glad soil, the tender clusters glow
With purple ripeness, and invest each hill
As with the blushes of an evening sky.
Or wilt thou rather stoop thy vagrant plume,295

Where, gliding thro' his daughter's honour'd shades[O 10],
The smooth Penéus from his glassy flood
Reflects purpureal Tempe's pleasant scene?
Fair Tempe! haunt belov'd of sylvan pow'rs,
Of nymphs and fawns; where in the golden age300
They play'd in secret on the shady brink
With ancient Pan: while round their choral steps
Young hours and genial gales with constant hand
Show'r'd blossoms, odours, show'r'd ambrosial dews,
And spring's Elysian bloom. Her flow'ry store305
To thee nor Tempe shall refuse; nor watch
Of winged Hydra guard Hesperian fruits
From thy free spoil. O bear then, unreprov'd,
Thy smiling treasures to the green recess
Where young Dione stays. With sweetest airs310
Intice her forth to lend her angel-form
For beauty's honour'd image. Hither turn
Thy graceful footsteps; hither, gentle maid,
Incline thy polish'd forehead: let thy eyes
Effuse the mildness of their azure dawn;315
And may the fanning breezes waft aside
Thy radiant locks, dissolving as it bends
With airy softness from the marble neck
The cheek fair-blooming, and the rosy lip

Where winning smiles and pleasures sweet as love,320
With sanctity and wisdom, temp'ring blend
Their soft allurement. Then the pleasing force
Of nature, and her kind parental care
Worthier I'd sing: then all th' enamour'd youth,
With each admiring virgin, to my lyre325
Should throng attentive, while I point on high
Where beauty's living image, like the morn
That wakes in Zephyr's arms the blushing May,
Moves onward; or as Venus, when she stood
Effulgent on the pearly car, and smil'd,330
Fresh from the deep, and conscious of her form,
To see the Tritons tune their vocal shells,
And each cœrulean sister of the flood
With fond acclaim attend her o'er the waves,
To seek th' Idalian bow'r. Ye smiling band335
Of youths and virgins, who thro' all the maze
Of young desire with rival-steps pursue
This charm of beauty; if the pleasing toil
Can yield a moment's respite, hither turn
Your favourable ear, and trust my words.340
I do not mean to wake the gloomy form
Of Superstition drest in wisdom's garb,
To damp your tender hopes; I do not mean
To bid the jealous thund'rer fire the heav'ns,
Or shapes infernal rend the groaning earth345
To fright you from your joys: my chearful song
With better omens calls you to the field,

Pleas'd with your generous ardour in the chace,
And warm as you. Then tell me, for you know,
Does beauty ever deign to dwell where health350
And active use are strangers? Is her charm
Confess'd in aught, whose most peculiar ends
Are lame and fruitless? Or did nature mean
This awful stamp the herald of a lye;
To hide the shame of discord and disease,355
And catch with fair hypocrisy the heart
Of idle faith? O no! with better cares,
Th' indulgent mother, conscious how infirm
Her offspring tread the paths of good and ill,
By this illustrious image, in each kind360
Still most illustrious where the object holds
Its native pow'rs most perfect, she by this
Illumes the headstrong impulse of desire,
And sanctifies his choice. The generous glebe
Whose bosom smiles with verdure, the clear tract365
Of streams delicious to the thirsty soul,
The bloom of nectar'd fruitage ripe to sense,
And every charm of animated things,
Are only pledges of a state sincere,
Th' integrity and order of their frame,370
When all is well within, and every end
Accomplish'd. Thus was beauty sent from heav'n,
The lovely ministress of truth and good

In this dark world: for truth and good are one,
And beauty dwells in them[O 11], and they in her,375

With like participation. Wherefore then,
O sons of earth! would you dissolve the tye?
O wherefore, with a rash, imperfect aim,
Seek you those flow'ry joys with which the hand
Of lavish fancy paints each flatt'ring scene380
Where beauty seems to dwell, nor once inquire
Where is the sanction of eternal truth,
Or where the seal of undeceitful good,
To save your search from folly? Wanting these,
Lo! beauty withers in your void embrace,385
And with the glitt'ring of an idiot's toy

Did fancy mock your vows. Nor let the gleam
Of youthful hope that shines upon your Hearts,
Be chill'd or clouded at this awful task
To learn the lore of undeceitful good,390
And truth eternal. Tho' the pois'nous charms
Of baleful superstition, guide the feet
Of servile numbers, thro' a dreary way
To their abode, thro' desarts, thorns and mire;
And leave the wretched pilgrim all forlorn395
To muse, at last, amid the ghostly gloom
Of graves, and hoary vaults, and cloister'd cells;
To walk with spectres thro' the midnight shade,
And to the screaming owl's accursed song
Attune the dreadful workings of his heart;400
Yet be not you dismay'd. A gentler star
Your lovely search illumines. From the grove
Where wisdom talk'd with her Athenian sons,
Could my ambitious hand intwine a wreath
Of Plato's olive with the Mantuan bay,405
Then should my pow'rful verse at once dispel
Those monkish horrors: then in light divine
Disclose th' Elysian prospect, where the steps
Of those whom nature charms, thro' blooming walks,
Thro' fragrant mountains and poetic streams,410
Amid the train of sages, heroes, bards,
Led by their winged Genius and the choir
Of laurell'd science and harmonious art,

Proceed exulting to th' eternal shrine,
Where truth inthron'd with her cœlestial twins,415
The undivided partners of her sway,
With good and beauty reigns. O let not us,
Lull'd by luxurious pleasure's languid strain,
Or crouching to the frowns of bigot-rage,
O let us not a moment pause to join420
That god-like band. And if the gracious pow'r
That first awaken'd my untutor'd song,
Will to my invocation breathe anew
The tuneful spirit; then thro' all our paths,
Ne'er shall the sound of this devoted lyre425
Be wanting; whether on the rosy mead,
When summer smiles, to warn the melting heart
Of luxury's allurement; whether firm
Against the torrent and the stubborn hill
To urge bold virtue's unremitted nerve,430
And wake the strong divinity of soul
That conquers chance and fate; or whether struck
For sounds of triumph, to proclaim her toils
Upon the lofty summit, round her brow
To twine the wreathe of incorruptive praise;435
To trace her hallow'd light thro' future worlds,
And bless heav'n's image in the heart of man.

Thus with a faithful aim have we presum'd,
Advent'rous, to delineate nature's form;
Whether in vast, majestic pomp array'd,440

Or drest for pleasing wonder, or serene
In beauty's rosy smile. It now remains,
Thro' various being's fair-proportion'd scale
To trace the rising lustre of her charms,
From their first twilight, shining forth at length445
To full meridian splendour. Of degree
The least and lowliest, in th' effusive warmth
Of colours mingling with a random blaze,
Doth beauty dwell. Then higher in the line
And variation of determin'd shape,450
Where truth's eternal measures mark the bound
Of circle, cube, or sphere. The third ascent
Unites this varied symmetry of parts
With colour's bland allurement; as the pearl
Shines in the concave of its azure bed,455
And painted shells indent their speckled wreath,
Then more attractive rise the blooming forms
Thro' which the breath of nature has infus'd
Her genial pow'r to draw with pregnant veins
Nutritious moisture from the bounteous earth,460
In fruit and seed prolific: thus the flow'rs
Their purple honours with the spring resume;
And such the stately tree which autumn bends
With blushing treasures. But more lovely still
Is nature's charm, where to the full consent465
Of complicated members, to the bloom
Of colour, and the vital change of growth,
Life's holy flame and piercing sense are giv'n,

And active motion speaks the temper'd soul:
So moves the bird of Juno; so the steed470
With rival ardour beats the dusty plain,
And faithful dogs with eager airs of joy
Salute their fellows. Thus doth beauty dwell
There most conspicuous, ev'n in outward shape,
Where dawns the high expression of a mind:475
By steps conducting our inraptur'd search
To that eternal origin, whose pow'r,
Thro' all th' unbounded symmetry of things,
Like rays effulging from the parent sun,
This endless mixture of her charms diffus'd.480
Mind, Mind alone, bear witness, earth and heav'n!
The living fountain in itself contains
Of beauteous and sublime: here, hand in hand,
Sit paramount the Graces; here inthron'd,
Cœlestial Venus, with divinest airs,485
Invites the soul to never-fading joy.
Look then abroad thro' nature, to the range
Of planets, suns, and adamantine spheres
Wheeling unshaken thro' the void immense;
And speak, O man! does this capacious scene 490
With half that kindling majesty dilate
Thy strong conception, as when Brutus rose[O 12]

Refulgent from the stroke of Cæsar's fate,
Amid the croud of patriots; and his arm
Aloft extending, like eternal Jove495
When guilt brings down the thunder, call'd aloud
On Tully's name, and shook his crimson steel,
And bade the father of his country, hail!
For lo! the tyrant prostrate on the dust,
And Rome again is free? — Is aught so fair500
In all the dewy landscapes of the spring,
In the bright eye of Hesper or the morn,
In nature's fairest forms, is aught so fair
As virtuous friendship? as the candid blush
Of him who strives with fortune to be just?505
The graceful tear that streams for others woes?
Or the mild majesty of private life,
Where peace with ever-blooming olive crowns
The gate; where honour's liberal hands effuse
Unenvied treasures, and the snowy wings510
Of innocence and love protect the scene?
Once more search, undismay'd, the dark profound
Where nature works in secret; view the beds
Of min'ral treasure, and th' eternal vault
That bounds the hoary ocean; trace the forms515
Of atoms moving with incessant change
Their elemental round; behold the seeds
Of being, and the energy of life
Kindling the mass with ever-active flame:
Then to the secrets of the working mind520

Attentive turn, from dim oblivion call
Her fleet, ideal band; and bid them, go!
Break thro' time's barrier, and o'ertake the hour
That saw the heav'ns created: then declare
If aught were found in those external scenes525
To move thy wonder now. For what are all
The forms which brute, unconscious matter wears,
Greatness of bulk, or symmetry of parts?
Not reaching to the heart, soon feeble grows
The superficial impulse; dull their charms,530
And satiate soon, and pall the languid eye.
Not so the moral species, nor the pow'rs
Of genius and design; th' ambitious mind
There sees herself: by these congenial forms
Touch'd and awaken'd, with intenser act535
She bends each nerve, and meditates well-pleas'd
Her features in the mirror. For of all
The inhabitants of earth, to man alone
Creative wisdom gave to lift his eye
To truth's eternal measures; thence to frame540
The sacred laws of action and of will,
Discerning justice from unequal deeds,
And temperance from folly. But beyond
This energy of truth, whose dictates bind
Assenting reason, the benignant sire,545
To deck the honour'd paths of just and good,
Has added bright imagination's rays:

Where virtue, rising from the awful depth
Of truth's mysterious bosom[O 13], doth forsake
The unadorn'd condition of her birth;550
And dress'd by fancy in ten thousand hues,
Assumes a various feature, to attract,
With charms responsive to each gazer's eye,
The hearts of men. Amid his rural walk,
Th' ingenuous youth whom solitude inspires555
With purest wishes from the pensive shade
Beholds her moving, like a virgin-muse
That wakes her lyre to some indulgent theme
Of harmony and wonder: while among
The herd of servile minds, her strenuous form560
Indignant flashes on the patriot's eye,
And thro' the rolls of memory appeals
To ancient honour; or in act serene,
Yet watchful, raises the majestic sword
Of public pow'r, from dark ambition's reach565
To guard the sacred volume of the laws.

Genius of ancient Greece! whose faithful steps
Well-pleas'd I follow thro' the sacred paths

Of nature and of science; nurse divine
Of all heroic deeds and fair desires!570
O! let the breath of thy extended praise
Inspire my kindling bosom to the height
Of this untempted theme. Nor be my thoughts
Presumptuous counted, if, amid the calm
That sooths this vernal evening into smiles,575
I steal impatient from the sordid haunts
Of strife and low ambition, to attend
Thy sacred presence in the sylvan shade,
By their malignant footsteps ne'er profan'd.
Descend, propitious! to my favour'd eye;580
Such in thy mien, thy warm, exalted air,
As when the Persian tyrant, foil'd and stung
With shame and desperation, gnash'd his teeth
To see thee rend the pageants of his throne;
And at the lightning of thy lifted spear585
Crouch'd like a slave. Bring all thy martial spoils,
Thy palms, thy laurels, thy triumphal songs,
Thy smiling band of arts, thy godlike sires
Of civil wisdom, thy heroic youth
Warm from the schools of glory. Guide my way590
Thro' fair Lycéum's[O 14] walk, the green retreats
Of Academus[O 15], and the thymy vale,
Where oft inchanted with Socratic sounds,

Ilissus[O 16] pure devolv'd his tuneful stream
In gentler murmurs. From the blooming store595
Of these auspicious fields, may I unblam'd
Transplant some living blossoms to adorn
My native clime: while far above the flight
Of fancy's plume aspiring, I unlock.
The springs of ancient wisdom; while I join600
Thy name, thrice honour'd! with th' immortal praise
Of nature; while to my compatriot youth
I point the high example of thy sons,
And tune to Attic themes the British lyre.


End of the FIRST BOOK.

The Pleasures of Imagination - Akenside (1744) endpiece 2.jpg

  1. Lin. 7.] The word Musical is here taken in its original and most extensive import; comprehending as well the pleasures we receive from the beauty or magnificence of natural objects, as those which arise from poetry, painting, music, or any other of the elegant and imaginative arts. In which sense it has been already used in our language by writers of unquestionable authority.
  2. Yet not unconscious.] Lucret. l. 2 v. 921.
    Nec me animi fallit quam sint obscura, sed acri
    percussit thyrso laudis spes magna meum cor,
    Et simul incussit suavem mi in pectus amorem
    Musarum; quo nunc instinctus mente vigenti
    Avia Picridum peragro loca, nullius ante
    Trita solo: juvat integros accedere fonteis,
    Atque baurire: juvatque novos discerpere flores;
    Insignem meo capiti petere inde coronam,
    Unde prius nulli velarint tempora Musæ
  3. As Memnon's marble harp.] The statue of Memnon, so famous in antiquity, stood in the temple of Serapis at Thebes, one of the great cities of old Egypt. It was of a very hard, iron-like stone, and, according to Juvenal, held in its hand a lyre, which being touch'd by the sun-beams, emitted a distinct and agreeable sound. Tacitus mentions it as one of the principal curiosities which Germanicus took notice of in his journey through Egypt; and Strabo affirms that he, with many others, heard it.
  4. Say, why was man, &c.] In apologizing for the frequent negligence of the sublimest authors of Greece, Those god-like geniuses, says Longinus, were well-assured that nature had not intended man for a low-spirited or ignoble being: but bringing us into life and the midst of this wide universe, as before a multitude assembled at some heroic solemnity that we might be spectators of all her magnificence, and candidates high in emulation for the prize of glory; she has therefore implanted in our souls an inextinguishable love of everything great and exalted, of every thing which appears divine beyond our comprehension. If hence it comes to pass, that even the whole world is not an object sufficient for the depth and rapidity of human imagination, which often sallies forth beyond the limits of all that surrounds us. Let any man cast his eye through the whole circle of our existence, and consider how especially it abounds in excellent and grand objects, he will soon acknowledge for what injoyments and pursuits we were destined. Thus by the very propensity of nature we are led to admire, not little springs or shallow rivulets, however clear and delicious, but the Nile, the Rhine, the Danube, and much more than all, the ocean, &c. Dionys. Longin, de Sublim. sect. xxxiv.
  5. Th' empyreal waste.] Ne se put-il point qu'l y a un grand espace audelà de la region des etoiles? Que ce foit le ciel empyreé, ou non, toûjours, cet espace immense qui environne toute cette regione, pourra étre rempli de bonheur & de gloire. Il pourra étre conçu comme l'ocean, où se rendent les fleuves de toutes les creatures bienheureuses, quand elles seront venues à leur perfection dans le systéme des etoiles. Leibnitz dans la Theodiceé, part. i. Sect. 19.
  6. Whose unfading light, &c.] It was a notion of the great M. Huygens, that there may be fixed stars at such a distance from our solar system, as that their light shall not have had time to reach us, even from the creation of the world to this day.
  7. ————————the neglect
    of all familiar prospects, &c
    .] It is here said, that in consequence of the love of novelty, objects which at first were highly delightful to the mind, lose that effect by repeated attention to them. But the instance of habit is oppos'd to this observation; for there, objects at first distasteful are in time render'd intirely agreeable by repeated attention.
    The difficulty in this case will be remov'd, if we consider, that when objects at first agreeable, lose that influence by frequently recurring, the mind is wholly passive and the perception involuntary; but habit, on the other hand, generally supposes choice and activity accompanying it: so that the pleasure arises here not from the object, but from the mind's conscious determination of its own activity; and consequently increases in proportion to the frequency of that determination.
    It will still be urged perhaps, that a familiarity with disagreeable objects renders them at length acceptable, even when there is no room for the mind to resolve or act at all. In this case, the appearance must be accounted for, one of these ways.
    The pleasure from habit may be meerly negative. The object at first gave uneasiness: this uneasiness gradually wears off as the object grows familiar; and the mind finding it at last intirely remov'd, reckons its situation really pleasurable, compared with what it had experienced before.
    The dislike conceiv'd of the object at first, might be owing to prejudice or want of attention. Consequently the mind being necessitated to review it often, may at length perceive its own mistake, and be reconcil'd to what it had look'd on with aversion. In which case, a sort of instinctive justice naturally leads it to make amends for the injury, by running towards the other extreme of fondness and attachment.
    Or lastly, tho' the object itself should always continue disagreeable, yet circumstances of pleasure or good fortune may occur along with it. Thus an association may a rise in the mind, and the object never be remember'd without those pleasing circumstances attending it; by which means the disagreeable impression it at first occasion'd will in time be quite obliterated.
  8. ——————this desire
    Of objects
    new and strange————] These two ideas are oft confounded; tho' it is evident the meer novelty of an object makes it agreeable, even where the mind is not affected with the least degree of wonder: whereas wonder indeed always implies novelty, being never excited by common or well-known appearances. But the pleasure in both cases is explicable from the same final cause, the acquisition of knowledge and inlargement of our views of nature: and on this account it is natural to treat of them together.
  9. Atlantic isles.] By these islands, which were also called the Fortunate, the ancients are now generally supposed to have meant the Canaries. They were celebrated by the poets for the mildness and fertility of the climate; for the gardens of the daughters of Hesperus, the brother of Atlas; and the dragon which constantly watched their golden fruit, till it was slain by the Tyrian Hercules.
  10. Where gliding thro' his daughter's honour'd shades.] Daphne, the daughter of Penéus, transformed into a laurel.
  11. ————Truth and good are one,
    And beauty dwells in them
    , &c.] Do you imagine, says Socrates to his libertine disciple that what is good is not also beautiful? have you not observ'd that these appearances always co-incide? Virtue, for instance, in the same respect as to which we call it good, is ever acknowledg'd to be beautiful also. In the characters of men we always[I 1] join the two denominations together. The beauty of human bodies corresponds, in like manner, with that oeconomy of parts which constitutes them good; and is, all the circumstances which occur in life, the same object is constantly accounted both beautiful and good, inasmuch as it answers the purposes for which it was design'd. Xenophont. memorab. Socrat. 1. 3. c. 8.
    This excellent observation has been illustrated and extended by the noble restorer of ancient philosophy; see the Characteristicks, vol. 2. p. 399. & 422. & vol. 3. p. 181. And his most ingenious disciple has particularly shewn, that it holds in the general laws of nature, in the works of art, and the conduct of the sciences. Inquiry into the original of our ideas of beauty and virtue; Treat. I. Sect. 8. As to the connection between beauty and truth, there are two opinions concerning it. Some philosophers assert an independent and invariable law in nature, in consequence of which all rational beings must alike perceive beauty in some certain proportions, and deformity in the contrary. And this necessity being supposed the same with that which commands the assent or dissent of the understanding, it follows of course that beauty is founded on the universal and unchangeable law of truth.
    But others there are who believe beauty to be merely a relative and arbitrary thing; that indeed it was a benevolent design in nature to annex so delightful a sensation to those objects which are best and most perfect in themselves, that so we might be ingaged to the choice of them at once, and without staying to infer their usefulness from their structure and effects; but that it is not impossible, in a physical sense, that two beings of equal capacities for truth, should perceive, one of them beauty, and the other deformity, in the same relations. And upon this supossition, by that truth which is always connected with beauty, nothing more can be meant than the conformity of any object to those proportions upon which, after careful examination, the beauty of that species is found to depend. Polycletus for instance, the famous sculptor of Sicyon, from an accurate mensuration of the several parts of the most perfect human bodies, deduced a canon or system of proportions, which was the rule of all succeeding artists. Suppose a statue modell'd according to this canon. A man of meer natural taste, upon looking at it, without entring into its proportions, confesses and admires its beauty; whereas a professor of the art applies his measures to the head, the neck, or the hand, and, without attending to its beauty, pronounces the workmanship to be just and true.
  12. As when Brutus rose, &c.] Cicero himself describes this fact——Cæsare interfecto————statim cruentum altè extollens M. Brutus pugionem, Ciceronem nominatim exclamavit, atque ei recuperatam libertatem est gratulatus. Cic. Philipp. 2. 12.
  13. Where virtue rising from the awful depth
    of truth's mysterious bosom
    , &c.] according to the opinion of those who assert moral obligation to be founded on an immutable and universal law, and that pathetic feeling which is usually call'd the moral sense, to be determin'd by the peculiar temper of the imagination and the earliest associations of ideas.
  14. Lycéum.] The school of Aristotle.
  15. Academus.] The school of Plato.
  16. Ilissus.] One of the rivers on which Athens was situated. Plato, in some of his finest dialogues, lays the scene of the conversation with Socrates on its banks.
  1. This the Athenians did in a peculiar manner by the words καλοικαγαθοὶ & καλοκαγαθία.