Edward Young (1683-1765) was an English poet and dramatist. The son of a clergyman, he was born at Upham. He was educated at Winchester College and Oxford University and graduated Bachelor of Common Law in 1714, and D.CL. in 1719. His early literary contacts included Joseph Addison, Thomas Tickell, Aaron Hill, Jonathan Swift, and Alexander Pope. He was the Royal Chaplain and then Rector of Welwyn of Hertfordshire.
Young’s first publication was an Epistle to … Lord Lansdoune (1713). This was followed by a Poem on the Last Day (1713), dedicated to Queen Anne. His three dramas, all tragedies, were all acted in Drury Lane quite successfully. He wrote a number of satires in verse, which were didactic in overtones:
1. The Force of Religion: or Vanquished Love (1714), a poem on the execution of Lady Jane Grey and her husband, dedicated to the Countess of Salisbury; (1714), written in couplets.
2. The Love of Fame, the Universal Passion(1725/28) in Miltonic blank-verse. It is a series of seven satires.
3. The Vindication of Providence (1728) in Miltonic blank-verse.
4. Resignation (1762); it is also the blank-verse of Milton.
His most significant work, a contemplative poem with elegiac overtones The Complaint or Night Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality was published (1742-45) at the death of his wife Lady Elizabeth Lee, daughter of Earl of Lichfield. It consists of 10,000 lines in blank-verse. Dr. Johnson extolled it for its magnificence of thought and diversity. Johnson cited Young extensively in Johnson’s Dictionary and added commentary on the poems to the biography of Young by Sir Herbert Croft (1751-1816) included in Lives of the English Poets. It became very popular in his own country and abroad. To a modern reader, the poem seems turgid and stodgy for its dogmatism and rhetorics. William Blake illustrated the Night Thoughts in the late 1790s.
His tragedy The Brothers (written in 1728) was performed in 1753. Young’s prose satire The Centaur Not Fabulous appeared in 1755. He wrote a germinal prose-essay-Conjectures on Original Composition (1759). It deals with the nature of artistic genius and exerted great influence on the pre-romantic literary theory.
Young died at his rectory at Welwyn in 1765 and was buried in the parish church.
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