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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Edward Young (1681–1765)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE AUTHOR of the ‘Night Thoughts’ had a vogue in his day that is not easy to understand for one who now reads his sententious verse. But fashion changes in words and in literature, and the poetry of one century may become the commonplace of the next. Such a well-known line as
  “Procrastination is the thief of time,”
makes one smile: it is hopelessly hackneyed. Yet it may very well have struck the eighteenth-century reader as a thought admirably expressed. Again, Young’s worst and best are far apart. He lacked self-criticism, and more often than not is incredibly bald and dull. But his thought has strength; and there are passages in his verse which are undeniably fine, and have entered into familiar quotation. Then, too, in the handling of that difficult form, blank verse (in which the ‘Night Thoughts’ is written), Young shows himself an artist, especially notable in a day when blank verse was in comparative disrepute, and the trail of the heroic couplet still over English poetry.
  1
  Young’s quiet life had few salient features for the chronicler. He was born at Upham, Hampshire, England; was educated at Winchester School and at Oxford, winning a fellowship in law at All Souls’ College in that university. His doctor-of-law degree was taken in 1719, and he took orders as a Church of England clergyman in 1727. Preferment came to him soon; for the next year he was appointed a royal chaplain, and in 1730 became rector of Welwyn in Hertfordshire, remaining in that living the rest of his life. In 1731 he married the Earl of Lichfield’s daughter. His only other appointment, thirty years later, was that of clerk of the closet to the Princess Dowager of Wales. His death occurred at his rectory, April 12th, 1765. It will be seen by this digest of biographical facts that Young was a personage of some importance by position and connection,—which may account in part for the contemporaneous acceptance of his literary work. He began by publishing ‘The Last Day,’ in 1813, followed by ‘The Force of Religion,’—the former poem, though unattractive as a whole, containing some of his most characteristic work. Next came the formal and dreary tragedies, ‘Busiris’ (1719), and ‘The Revenge’ (1721). In ‘The Universal Passion’ were collected his satires, in which the influence of Pope is to be seen: the theme and manner are more sprightly than is true of the writer’s most typical work.  2
  Much minor poetry,—including a paraphrase of the Book of Job,—various laudatory epistles to people of rank, and another play, came from his pen, which was easy-flowing. The first ‘Night Thought’ appeared in 1742, the last in 1744. This series, upon which Young’s fame rests securely, is didactic and solemn in tone, and may be characterized broadly as religious verse; the full title, ‘Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality,’ indicates the subject-matter. Young was led to make verse on these lofty themes by the deaths of those dear to him: he turns to religion for consolation in his grief, and finds it. As has been implied, his poetry is only to be read now with any pleasure in judicious selections. Those that follow are examples of the poet at his most eloquent: that on ‘Procrastination’ and that on ‘Tired Nature’s Sweet Restorer’ are the most famous that can be found in the entire body of his works. A collected edition of Young’s writings in four volumes was published in 1762.  3
 
 
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