Edward Young

Edward Young (1683-1765), from Night Thoughts, 1802. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Edward Young (baptized 3 July 1683 - 5 April 1765) was an English poet, best remembered for Night Thoughts.



Young was the son of the rector of Upham, Hampshire, where he was born. After being at Winchester School and Oxford he accompanied the Duke of Wharton to Ireland. Yong, who had always a keen eye towards preferment, and the cultivatin of those who had the dispensing of it, began his poetical career in 1713 with An Epistle to Lord Lansdowne Equally characteristic was the publication in the same year of 2poems. The Last Dayand The Force of Religion. The following year he produced an elegy On the Death of Queen Anne, which brought him into notice. Turning next to the drama he produced Busiris in 1719, and The Revenge in 1721. His next work was a collection of 7 satires, The Love of Fame: The universal passion. In 1727 he entered the Church, and was appointed a Royal Chaplain, and rector of Welwyn, Herts, in 1730.[1]

Night Thoughts The story of Edward Young

Night Thoughts The story of Edward Young

In 1731 he married Lady Elizabeth Lee, the widowed daughter of the Earl of Lichfield, to whom, as well as to her daughter by her former marriage, he was warmly attached. Both died, and sad and lonely the poet began his masterpiece, The Complaint; or, Night thoughts (1742-44), which had immediate and great popularity, and which still maintains its place as a classic. In 1753 he brought out his last drama, The Brothers, and in 1761 he received his last piece of preferment, that of Clerk to the Closet to the Princess Dowager of Wales. 4 years later, in 1765, he died. The poems of Young, though in style artificial and sometimes forced, abound in passages of passion and power which sometimes reach the sublime. But the feelings and sentiments which he expresses with so much force as a poet form an unpleasantly harsh contrast with the worldliness and tuft-hunting of his life.[1]


Young was the son of Edward Young, rector of Upham (near Winchester) and fellow of Winchester. The elder Young was afterwards made dean of Salisbury and chaplain to William and Mary, perhaps through the interest of Francis Newport, earl of Bradford, to whom he dedicated 2 volumes of sermons. It is asserted in Jacob's ‘Poetical Register’ (1720) that he was the "clerk of the closet" to Princess (afterwards Queen) Anne, and that she was godmother to his son. He died in 1705 in his 63rd year.[2]


Edward Young the poet was born at Upham, near Winchester; the parish register shows that he was baptized on 3 July 1683, and the later date agrees with the statements of his age on entering school and college.[2]

The son's name is on the election roll for Winchester in August 1694 (when his age is stated as 10 years), and he was admitted a scholar in 1695. He rose very slowly in the school, and, though in 1702 he was on the election roll for New College, he was superannuated before a vacancy occurred.[2]

On 3 October 1702 he matriculated as a commoner at New College, Oxford (his age is then said to be 19), where he lived in the lodge of the warden, a friend of his father. The warden dying in the same year, he entered Corpus Christi College as a gentleman commoner, the expenses being, it is said, less there than at any other college. In 1708 Archbishop Tenison, upon whom the right of appointment had devolved, nominated him to a law fellowship at All Souls' College out of respect for his father.[2]

The facts seem to imply that Young so far owed more to his father's merits than to any of his own. Pope afterwards told Warburton that Young had more genius than common sense, and had consequently passed "a foolish youth, the sport of peers and poets" (Ruffhead, Pope, 290 n.) "There are who relate," says Croft, "that Young at this time" was not the ornament to "religion and morality which he afterwards became." At Oxford he argued with the deist Tindal. Young graduated earning a B.C.L. on 23 April 1714, and a D.C.L. on 10 June 1719.[2]


Young was meanwhile trying to push his way in London. One of his closest friends was Thomas Tickell, who in 1710 became a fellow of Queen's College, Oxford, and was soon afterwards one of Addison's "little senate." Young was admitted to the same literary circles.[2]

His 1st publication was an Epistle to George Granville, lord Lansdowne, recently raised to the peerage as one of the famous 12 supporters of the peace. Young praises Lansdowne as a 2nd Shakespeare, and more plausibly as a colleague of Bolingbroke. He bewails in the same poem Swift's client, William Harrison (1685–1713), the "partner of his soul." Harrison was also a Winchester and New College man; and Young travelled, probably from Oxford, to see him on his death-bed (14 February 1712-13).[2]

Though Young was courting tories, he was on friendly terms with the whigs. He wrote a poem prefixed to Addison's Cato, and in the Guardian (9 May 1713) Steele quoted some lines from his Last Day as a manuscript poem about to appear. It was published (license dated 19 May 1714) at Oxford, with a dedication to the queen.[2]

In 1714 Young also published the Force of Religion, a poem (upon the execution of Lady Jane Grey and her husband), with a dedication to the Countess of Salisbury; and an epistle to Addison upon the death of the queen, with an ardent welcome to her successor. Young suppressed this epistle and various dedications in his own edition of his poems; and we may hope that he was a little ashamed of having bestowed his incense so freely.[2]

Meanwhile he had formed connections, the history of which is only to be conjectured from some proceedings before Lord-chancellor Hardwicke in 1740 (J.T. Atkyns, Reports, 1794, ii. 152, case 135). The question then arose whether certain bonds of Philip Wharton, duke of Wharton, held by Young, had been given for legal considerations. An annuity of £100 had been granted by Wharton to Young on 24 March 1719, on the ground that in Wharton's opinion the public good was advanced by "the encouragement of learning and the polite arts." This, however, had not been paid, and, by way of discharging the debt, Wharton granted another annuity of £100 on 10 July 1722.[2]

Young swore that, upon Wharton's promises of preferment, he had refused an offer of a life annuity of £100 offered by Lord Exeter on condition of his continuing to be tutor to Lord Burghley. There was also a bond for £600 from Wharton, dated 12 March 1721, in consideration of Young's expenses in standing for the House of Commons (at Cirencester), and refusing to take 2 livings worth £200. and £400. a year in the gift of All Souls' College. Nothing more is known of the Exeter tutorship. The chancellor decided in favor of Young's claim for the annuities, and against the claim for £600.[3]

The connection with Wharton must have begun about 1715. It was through Young's influence that Wharton gave a subscription of over £1,000 to the new buildings at All Souls'. Young in 1716 pronounced a Latin oration upon the laying of the 1st stone of the library. Young also accompanied Wharton to Dublin in the beginning of 1717, and there saw something of Swift.[3]

On 7 March 1718-19 Young's play of Busiris was produced at Drury Lane. It had a run of 9 nights, and was ridiculed by Fielding, among other tragedies of the time, in Tom Thumb. On 18 April 1721 the Revenge, which ran for only 6 nights, was acted at the same theater.[3]

Busiris, a variation upon the theme of Othello, afterwards had a long popularity on the stage. The character of Zanga, Young's Iago, gave opportunity for effective rant; although Young's mixture of bombast and epigrammatic antithesis is apt to strike the modern reader as it struck Fielding.[3]

It was dedicated to Wharton, with a statement that Wharton suggested the "most beautiful incident," whatever that may be, in the play.[3]

Wharton's departure from England at the end of 1725 put an end to any hopes of advantage from this questionable patronage. Another gift, however, is mentioned. In 1725 Young began the publication of a series of satires called The Universal Passion, finally collected in 1728. According to Spence, Wharton made him a present of £2,000 for the poem, and defended himself to friends by saying that it was worth £4,000. Croft takes this as an adaptation of the saying attributed to Lord Burghley when remonstrating with Queen Elizabeth about Spenser's pension — ‘All this for a song!’ Croft himself asserts, what seems to be improbable, that Young made £3,000 by his satires, which compensated him for a "considerable sum" previously "swallowed up in the South Sea." Young's son told Johnson that the money lost was that made by the satires, which inverts the dates.[3]

The satires, though very inferior to Pope's, showed Young to be Pope's nearest rival, and were often compared favorably with the work of the greater writer. They imply that Young had hopes in a fresh quarter. The third (1725) is dedicated to Bubb Dodington, with whom Young was close, and who was about this time coming into office, to be a rare instance, as Young hopes, of "real worth" gaining its price. Dodington, born in 1691, cannot have been, as Doran says, a "fellow student" at Oxford, if indeed he was at Oxford at all. In any case he was a promising Mæcenas, and was for many years intimate with Young. Christopher Pitt in an Epistle of Dr. Young (1722), and Thomson in his Autumn, both speak of Young's visits to Dodington at Eastbury. It was at Dodington's house at Eastbury that Young met Voltaire, and made the often-quoted epigram:

Thou art so witty, profligate, and thin,
At once we think thee Milton, Death, and Sin.[3]

The last satire of the Universal Passion is dedicated to Sir Robert Walpole, to whom he had already addressed a poem called The Instalment (i.e. in the order of the Garter, 1726). Walpole is there complimented on having turned the royal bounty towards Young. Young received (25 June 1726; see the grant published by Doran, p. xxxvii) a pension of £200. a year. It does not appear whether this was a reward for any particular services, though it is suggested that he may have been a writer for the government. Swift in the ‘Rhapsody on Poetry’ (1753) says that Young

Must torture his invention
To flatter knaves or lose his pension.

Swift had previously ridiculed Young's flattery of Walpole and Sir Spencer Compton in "Verses written upon reading the 'Universal Passion'," though in his letters he occasionally mentions Young respectfully.[3]

Young was prompted by the 1st parliamentary speech of George II (27 January 1727-1728) to produce an ode called Ocean, to which was prefixed an "Essay upon Lyric Poetry." The essay is commonplace and the ode delightfully absurd. He afterwards sinned once or twice in the same way.[3]

About this time Young apparently decided that his most promising career would be in the line of ecclesiastical preferment. He took orders at an uncertain date, and in April 1728 was appointed chaplain to the king. Ruffhead declares that upon his ordination he "asked Pope to direct him in his theological studies." Pope recommended Aquinas. Young retired to study his author "at an obscure place in the suburbs."[3] Pope sought him out 6 months later, and was just in time to prevent an irretrievable ‘derangement.’[4]

The story, said to be told by Pope to Warburton, is probably some joke converted into a statement of fact. Young was already known to Pope in the time of his quarrel with Tickell and Addison (1715). "Tragic Young" is mentioned by Gay as one of the friends who welcome Pope's "return from Troy." He often refers to Pope with great respect, and in 1730 addressed him in 2 epistles "upon the authors of the age" (that is, Pope's antagonists in the war roused by the Dunciad).[4]

An undated letter from Young to Mrs. Howard (soon afterwards Lady Suffolk), first published in the Suffolk Letters (i. 284–7), was probably written in 1730. An incidental reference to Townshend as still in office shows that it cannot have been later. Young, however, says that he is "turned of fifty," that he has been 7 years in his majesty's service, and that he is still without preferment. He says that he has in some way given up £300 a year in consequence of his expectations of royal favor.[4]

Letters in the Newcastle Papers, now in the British Museum, show that he was still complaining bitterly to the Duke of Newcastle in 1746 and as late as 1758. He says that he is the only person who, having been in the king's service before his accession to the throne, had yet received nothing. It does not appear what his special services had been, though in 1746 he says that they began 24 years previously, and evidently considers that they deserved at least a deanery.[4]

In July 1730 he was presented by All Souls' to the rectory of Welwyn in Hertfordshire, worth £300 a year. On 27 May 1731 he married Lady Elizabeth, younger daughter of Edward Henry Lee, 1st earl of Lichfield, and widow of Colonel Lee. Young, according to Croft, was known to this lady through her relationship to Anne Wharton, 1st wife of the elder Wharton, who had been a friend of his father, the dean. To the same friendship is ascribed, but on vague conjecture, Young's connection with the Duke of Wharton.[4]

For some years Young published nothing except another absurd ode in 1734, called The Foreign Address, and written "in the character of a sailor." He had a child by his wife, called Frederick after his godfather, the Prince of Wales. Lady Elizabeth had a daughter by her former husband, married to Henry Temple, son of Henry Temple (?1673-1757), first viscount Palmerston.

Mrs. Temple died of consumption at Lyons in October 1736 on her way to Nice; Young had accompanied her, and passed the winter at Nice. Temple died on 18 August 1740, and Lady Elizabeth in January 1741. Reference in the Night Thoughts to 3 deaths happening "ere thrice yon moon had filled her horn" is apparently a poetical allusion to these misfortunes.[4]

The Complaint; or, Night thoughts on life, death, and immortality, appeared in June 1742, and was followed by the later "Nights." The Night Thoughts achieved immediate popularity, and Young was now regarded as an ornament to religion and literature. He never obtained, however, the preferment to which he thought himself entitled. Apparently his hopes, like those of his friend Dodington, depended mainly upon the Prince of Wales, who was never able to reward his adherents. As Young said characteristically in the "Fourth Night:"

My very master knows me not;
I've been so long remembered, I'm forgot.[4]

He had, however, become rich and led a dignified life of retirement at Welwyn. He was a friend of the Duke of Portland, and occasionally visited Tunbridge Wells and Bath. Mrs. (Elizabeth) Montagu describes him at Tunbridge Wells in 1745, where he received her homage affably and made little excursions with her. She was surprised to find that his chief intimate was Colley Cibber.[4] A common friend of Young and Cibber was Samuel Richardson, who corresponded with him from 1744 to 1759.[5]

A "Caroline" mentioned in these letters was apparently the daughter of Daniel Hallows, rector of All Hallows, Hertfordshire. Her father died in 1741, when Young wrote an epitaph placed in the chancel of the church (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ix. 501). The daughter became Young's housekeeper, and, as his friends thought, came to have too great power in the family. Young and his housekeeper were caricatured in a rubbishy novel called The Card by John Kidgell.[5]

In 1753 Young brought out the tragedy of The Brothers, written many years before, and suppressed when he took orders and thought that play-writing was not consistent with his new profession. He now proposed to give the profits to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. It was played at Drury Lane on 3 March 1753, and ran 8 nights, but produced only £400. Young, who had anticipated £1,000, liberally paid the full sum to the society (Richardson, Correspondence, vi. 246).[5]

He afterwards wrote The Centaur not Fabulous (1754), a kind of Night Thought in prose; and a letter (to Richardson) upon "Original Composition" (1759) which shows remarkable vivacity for a man of nearly 80. This book was much admired by Klopstock and his friends, who were beginning to aim at originality (see Gervinus, Geschichte der deutschen Dichtung, 1853, iv. 332).[5]

Archbishop Secker, in a letter of July 1758 (printed by Croft), wonders that Young had received no preferment; but points out to him that his fortune and reputation put him above the need of it, and judiciously infers that he is too wise to feel concern for such things.[5]

In 1761 he was appointed "clerk of the closet" to the princess dowager in succession to Stephen Hale. In October 1761 his old friend Dodington (Lord Melcombe), who also had at last got his reward by a peerage, sent him an ode full of most edifying sentiments.[5]

In 1762 Mrs. Boscawen, who had found consolation for the loss of her husband, Admiral Edward Boscawen (1711–1761), in her perusal of ‘Night Thoughts,’ was introduced by Mrs. Montagu to the author. He administered further consolation in person and by his last publication, a poem called Resignation. It shows the decay of his power.[5]

Last yearsEdit

Young's last years were melancholy. He was never cheerful, as his son told Johnson, after the death of his wife. Details of his growing infirmity are given in the correspondence with Birch of his last curate, John Jones (1700–1770). Jones was persuaded to stay on with him, though complaining a good deal of the old man's irritability and the influence of Mrs. Hallows.[5]

Young's only son had been educated at Winchester, and was afterwards at Balliol, where he seems to have got into trouble (Biogr. Brit.). Young had refused to see him for many years. In Young's last illness, however, Mrs. Hallows properly sent for the son. The father was then too ill to see him, but sent a message of forgiveness, and left to him the bulk of his property.[5]

Young died on 5 April 1765. He left a legacy of 1,000l. to Mrs. Hallows, 1 to "his friend Henry Stevens, a hatter at the Temple Gate," and a third to Jones, who was an executor. He also left directions, which were apparently not executed, that all his papers should be destroyed.[5]

Young had built a steeple to his church (Richardson, Corresp. ii. 19), and had founded a charity school in the parish. The life in the Biographia Britannica asserts that proper respect was not paid at his funeral by the parishioners, who were not sufficiently appreciative of their rector's merits. Jones, however (Lit. Anecd. i. 634), says that he was ‘decently buried’ under the communion table near his wife, with a proper attendance of the clergy.[5]

Few anecdotes are told of Young's personal habits. A story told by Pope (Works, x. 261) is supposed to apply to him, and to illustrate the absence of mind for which he was famous. He is said in the Biographia to have spent many hours a day "among the tombs," which is perhaps an inference from his poetry; and he put up an alcove in his garden, where a bench was painted so as to produce an illusion of reality. Under it was inscribed Invisibilia non decipiunt.[5]

He did better by planting a fine avenue of lime trees in the rectory garden, which still thrives. On 30 September 1781 it formed a "handsome Gothic arch," much admired by Johnson and Boswell. The house in which he lived (not the rectory) remains, and his writing-desk is shown there. The house was in 1781 occupied by Young's son, to whom Johnson said, "I had the honour to know that great man your father." Johnson, however, seems only to have met him at Richardson's house to discuss the letter upon "Original Composition." Owing to Young's retirement in later years he had passed out of the personal knowledge of most literary contemporaries.[5]

His poetry had become very popular, and he is mentioned with reverence by literary ladies such as Mrs. Montagu and Mrs. Delany.[5]


Night ThoughtsEdit

Main article: Night Thoughts (poem)
William Blake, painter and poet (page 25 facing)

Page of Night Thoughts illustrated by William Blake. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Night Thoughts obtained a right to a place in all the libraries of the religious public, and has scarcely yet lost it. Such an achievement shows real power which the literary critic is apt to overlook.[6]

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.[7]

His mixture of bombast and platitude is of course indefensible, and it is easy to question the sincerity of a man who courted Wharton, the most reckless spendthrift, and Dodington, the most profligate politician, of his age. George Eliot thought it worthwhile to expose Young's feelings as man and author in an essay on "Worldliness and Otherworldliness" (reprinted in her Essays from the Westminster Review of 1857). Young's gloom was no doubt partly that of a disappointed preferment-hunter, but probably was genuine enough in its way, and as sincere as that of most writers who bring their churchyard contemplations to market.[6]

His labored and sententious style made a singular success when employed in the service of religious sentimentalism. Young claimed to add the orthodox element which was wanting in Pope's rationalistic Essay on Man, and his religious gloom was in edifying contrast to Pope's doctrine that whatever is is right. He was an early representative of the sentimentalism which was combined with a higher genius in his friend Richardson. The strain was taken up with almost equal popularity in James Hervey's Meditations among the Tombs (1745-6).[6]

In the preface to Night Thoughs Young states that the occasion of the poem was real.[7] Mrs. Temple is supposed to be Narcissa, while Philander in the same poem represents Temple. A story afterwards became current that "Narcissa" had died at Montpellier, where her grave was pointed out in a garden. Young in the "Third Night" describes a surreptitious burial made necessary by the superstitious refusal of a grave to a heretic. Mrs. Temple is proved by records to have been regularly buried in the protestant ground at Lyons. It has therefore been argued that Young may have had a daughter, who may have died at Montpellier in 1741, and may have been buried in the manner described. It is easier to suppose that he was taking a poetic license (see Notes and Queries, 1st series vols. iii. iv. and v.; in 4th series viii. 484–5 is a reference to various pamphlets on the subject. The documents in regard to Mrs. Temple's death and her epitaph are given in Breghot du Lut's Nouveaux Mélanges, &c., 1829–31, pp. 362-368). Judicious critics have also pointed out that the infidel Lorenzo in the same poem could not be meant for the poet's own son, inasmuch as the son was only 8 years old at the time of publication.[4]

The poem was translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, and Magyar.[8] Whatever its intrinsic merits, it had very remarkable influence both in France and Germany. Klopstock wrote a poem upon his death, and he was considered by other German writers to be superior to Milton.[6] The young Goethe told his sister in 1766 that he was learning English from Young and Milton, and in his autobiography he confessed that Young's influence had created the atmosphere in which there was such a universal response to his seminal work The Sorrows of Young Werther. Young's name soon became a battle-cry for the young men of the Sturm und Drang movement.[7]

In France the Night Thoughts divided enthusiasm with Clarissa Harlowe and Ossian. A loose translation by Letourneur (1769), with a preliminary dissertation, made a great sensation and went through several editions. The poem was admired by Diderot, Robespierre (who "kept it under his pillow" during the Revolution), and by Madame de Stael. Young was sharply criticised by Chateaubriand, but was still read by Lamartine and the French "romantics." An interesting account of Young's popularity in France is given in M. Texte's Rousseau and the Cosmopolitan Spirit in Literature (English translation, 1899, 304-314. See also Diderot, Œuvres (1877), xx. 13; Chateaubriand, Mélanges Littéraires, vi. 374; Madame de Stael, Œuvres (1830), iv. 212, 219; Grimm, Correspondance (1831), viii. 30, 31, 47, 310).[6]

Conjectures on Original CompositionEdit

Young himself reinforced his reputation as a pioneer of romanticism by precept as well as by example; in 1759, at the age of 76, he published a piece of critical prose under the title of Conjectures on Original Composition which put forward the vital doctrine of the superiority of “genius”, of innate originality being more valuable than classic indoctrination or imitation, and suggested that modern writers might dare to rival or even surpass the “ancients” of Greece and Rome. The Conjectures was a declaration of independence against the tyranny of classicism and was at once acclaimed as such becoming a milestone in the history of English, and European, literary criticism. It was immediately translated into German at Leipzig and at Hamburg, and was widely and favorably reviewed. The cult of genius exactly suited the ideas of the Sturm und Drang movement and gave a new impetus to the cult of Young’ (Harold Forster, Some uncollected authors XLV: "Edward Young in translation I").[7]


Young's works are: 1. ‘Epistle to … Lord Lansdowne,’ 1713, fol. 2. ‘The Last Day,’ 1714, 8vo. 3. ‘The Force of Religion, or Vanquished Love: a poem in two books,’ 1714, fol. 4. ‘On the late Queen's Death and his Majesty's Accession,’ 1714, fol. 5. ‘Oratio … cum jacta sunt Bibliothecæ Fundamenta’ (with English dedication to ladies of the Codrington family, second of ‘Orationes duæ’ (the first by D. Cotes), 1716, 8vo. 6. ‘Paraphrase on part of the Book of Job,’ 1719, 4to. 7. ‘Busiris, King of Egypt: a Tragedy,’ 1719, 12mo. 8. ‘A Letter to Mr. Tickell, occasioned by the Death of … J. Addison,’ 1719, fol. 9. ‘The Revenge: a Tragedy,’ 1721, 8vo; French translation in 1787; edited by J. R. Kemble in 1814. 10. ‘The Universal Passion:’ ‘first satire,’ 1725, fol., ‘second,’ ‘third,’ and ‘fourth,’ also in 1725, ‘last’ in 1726, ‘fifth’ in 1727, and ‘sixth’ in 1728. Collected under Young's name in 1728 as ‘The Love of Fame, in seven characteristic satires,’ when the ‘last’ becomes the ‘seventh satire.’ 11. ‘The Instalment’ (i.e. of Sir R. Walpole as knight of the Garter), 1726, fol. 12. ‘Cynthio’ (poem on death of the Marquis of Carmarthen), 1727, fol. 13. ‘Ocean: an Ode, to which is prefixed an Ode to the King and a Discourse on Ode,’ 1728, 8vo. 14. ‘A Vindication of Providence; or a true Estimate of Human Life,’ 1728, 4to. 15. ‘An Apology for Princes …’ (sermon before the House of Commons on 30 Jan. 1729), 8vo. 16. ‘Imperium Pelagi: a naval lyric written in imitation of Pindar's spirit, occasioned by his Majesty's return in September 1729,’ 1730, 8vo (the ‘lyric’ is headed ‘The Merchant’). 17. ‘Two Epistles to Mr. Pope concerning the Authors of the Age,’ 1730, fol. 18. ‘The Sea-piece,’ 1730 (two odes, with dedication to Voltaire). 19. ‘The Foreign Address … in the Character of a Sailor,’ 1734, 8vo. 20. ‘The Complaint, or Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality’ (anonymous). First four ‘Nights’ in 1742, 4to; fifth, 1743; sixth and seventh, 1744; eighth and ninth, 1745. The folio edition, with designs by Blake, appeared in 1797, and one with designs by Stothard in 1799. Besides the general title,[6] the 2nd ‘Night’ was entitled ‘On Time, Death, and Friendship,’ the 3rd ‘Narcissa,’ the 4th ‘The Christian Triumph,’ the 5th ‘The Relapse,’ the 6th and 7th ‘The Infidel Reclaimed,’ the 8th ‘Virtue,’ ‘Apology,’ and the 9th ‘The Consolation.’ 21. ‘Reflections on the Public Situation of the Kingdom,’ 1745 (a poem added to ‘Night Thoughts’). 22. ‘The Brothers: a Tragedy,’ 1753, reissued 1778 (German translation in 1764). 23. ‘The Centaur not Fabulous’ (‘in six letters to a friend on the life in vogue’), 1754, 8vo; 4th edit. 1786. 24. ‘Conjectures on Original Composition’ (a letter to the author of ‘Sir Charles Grandison’), 1759, 8vo. 25. ‘Resignation,’ in two parts, and a ‘postscript to Mrs. Boscawen,’ 1762, 4to, Philadelphia, 1791. Curll published an edition of Young's ‘Works’ in 1741 in 2 vols. 8vo, with a letter from the author wishing success to the undertaking, but declining to revise it himself. The works revised by the author were published in 1757 in 4 vols. 12mo, to which a fifth was added in 1767, and a seventh (edited by Isaac Reed) in 1778. Two two-volume editions of Young's works appeared in 1854, one edited by Nichols with Doran's life, and the other with Mitford's life at Boston, U.S.A. The ‘Beauties of Young,’ ed. A. Howard, appeared in 1834.

Critical introductionEdit

by George Saintsbury

Except for Wordsworth, Young is probably the most unequal of English poets. The difference between his best work and his worst is so great as to be almost unintelligible, and it is fair to him to say that he seems to have been aware of this. When his collected poems were reprinted, a large number were by his express direction left out. Publication however constitutes, as it has been well observed, in one sense an unpardonable sin; and in estimating Young it is necessary to take the Odes and the Imperium Pelagi into consideration as well as the Night Thoughts and the Last Day.

Of the class represented by the former-named works it may be said that hardly any worse poetry has ever been written. There is scarcely a stanza of the so-called Odes which does not read like an admirable and intentional burlesque. The author seems by his rhymes to have had no ear at all, and his gross and fulsome flattery is unspeakably nauseous. Of this latter peculiarity indeed even his best work contains but too many instances. The fine passage, soon to be quoted, from the Last Day is disfigured by the insertion in the midst of it of a clumsy and foolish panegyric on Queen Anne, which anyone but an 18th-century divine would have felt to be not only intrinsically in bad taste, but hopelessly inappropriate to the case.

The depths to which Young sinks at his worst are however compensated by the heights at which at his best he arrives. If poetry and poets could be judged by single lines, there are few save the highest who could safely challenge comparison with Young. He had an astonishing fertility of thought of a certain kind, and a corresponding richness of expression. Nor were his powers confined, as it has been asserted, to the production of ‘gloomy epigram.’ He stands pre-eminent among artists of blank verse, and a critic might well have asked him, as Jeffrey asked Macaulay, where he got his style from.

The earlier 18th century is indeed remarkable for its mold of blank verse. Considering that, although Young was a much older man than Thomson, he did not produce his great work until many years after the appearance of Winter, it may be that The Seasons exercised some influence over him; but the influence was scarcely that of imitation. The different uses to which the 2 instruments were put may perhaps in some measure account for the difference of their sound. Both have in common the tendency to florid language and to antithesis which the Popian couplet had made popular, both use and indeed abuse the effect of strongly contrasted lights and shades. But Young, probably owing to his dramatic studies, is much more rhetorical than Thomson.

Not a few passages in the Night Thoughts, especially that remarkable one in the Third Night about dying friends, where the confusion of metaphors does not obscure the grandeur of the verse, are of the finest tragic mould. It was inevitable that in the hands of a man of such uncritical taste as Young this tragic quality should often degenerate into mere declamation. The inequality indeed which is so characteristic of him exists even in detached passages of very small extent, so that it is difficult if not impossible to select any in which the taste shall not be offended. The Night Thoughts has accordingly long ceased to be the popular book it once was.

As a poet of moral ideas however Young will always deserve attention, independently of the excellence of his versification. The famous passage on Procrastination, which, hackneyed as it is, is so decidedly his masterpiece, that it cannot be left out in any selection from his works, is in its way not to be surpassed, and its excellence fully accounts for the popularity of Young in a century such as the 18th, which, whatever its practice might be, was, in theory, nothing if not moralist. This popularity, as is pretty generally known, spread to France, where Young long had many fervent admirers, though he is probably to a great extent chargeable with the bad repute of England for spleen. Blake’s remarkable illustrations also add considerable interest of the accidental kind to the book.

Those of the minor poems which deserve notice at all are not dissimilar in characteristics to the Night Thoughts. The satires have almost as great, though scarcely so original a merit as these latter, and both in the Last Day and the Job fine and striking passages abound.[9]


Young shared the talent of Pope for coining proverbial sentences. They include such copybook phrases as "Procrastination is the thief of time" ("First Night," i. 393), and a version of the familiar epigram in "men talk only to conceal the mind" (Satire ii. 289).[6]


William Hutchinson included a gloss on Night Thoughts in his series of lectures The Spirit of Masonry (1775), underlining the masonic symbolism of the text.

Young's masterpiece Night Thoughts emerged from obscurity by being mentioned in Edmund Blunden's World War One memoir, Undertones of War (1928), as a source of comfort during time in the trenches. This latter work emerged from the darkness of the more recent past thanks to its mention and discussion in Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory (1975), which discussed Blunden's reliance on Night Thoughts. Blunden's mention of Young's poem reintroduced an interesting, sometimes bombastic precursor to the early Romantics to students of English literature.

Young gave a portrait of himself, painted by Joseph Highmore in 1754, to Richardson, by whose widow it was left to All Souls' (see Gentleman's Magazine 1817 ii. 210, 392). It is said to be the only portrait, but an engraving from another by Louis Peter Boitard is prefixed to the Aldine edition by Mitford.[6]


Edward Young Night-Thoughts 1743 (1)


  • Poem on the Last Day. 2nd edition, Oxford, UK: Printed at The Theatre for Edward Whistler, 1713
    • also publiehed as The Last Day: A poem in three books. Glasgow: Robert Urie, 1755; Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, 1786.
  • The Universal Passion. London: 1725
    • revised & expanded as, *Love of Fame, the Universal Passion: In seven characteristical satires. London: R. Whitworth, [1728?]; 2nd edition, Dublin: S. Powell, for George Ewing, 1728.
  • The Instalment: To the right honourable Sir R. Walpole. London: J. Walthoe, 1726.
  • Cynthio. London: J. Roberts, 1727.
  • Ocean: An ode: Occasioned by His Majesty's late royal encouragement of the sea-service; to which is prefix'd: An ode to the King; and A discourse on ode. London: 1728; Dublin: S. Powell for George Risk, George Ewing, and William Smith, 1730.
  • Imperium Pelagi: A naval lyrick .... London: L. Gilliver, 1730.
  • Two Epistles to Mr Pope: Concerning the authors of the age. Dublin: S. Powell for George Risk, George Ewing, and William Smith, 1730.
  • The Complaint; or, Night Thoughts on life, death and inmortality (1742-1745)
    • Night the First. London: R. Dodsley, 1742
    • Night the Second. London: R. Dodsley & M. Cooper, 1743
    • Night the Third: Narcissa. London: R. Dodsley & M. Cooper, 1743
    • Night the Fifth. London: R. Dodsley, 1743
    • Night the Sixth: The infidel reclaim'd, in 2 parts; part the first. London: R. Dodsley, 1744.
    • Night the Seventh: The infidel reclaim'd, part the second. London: G. Hawkins, 1744.
    • Night the Eighth: Virtue's apology. London: G. Hawkins, 1745.
    • Night the Ninth: The consolation. London: G. Hawkins, 1745.
  • Resignation. London: William Owen, 1762.
  • The Poetical Works. London: Bell & Daldy, 1858. Volume I, Volume II


  • Busiris, King of Egypt: A tragedy. London: Jacob Tonson, 1719.
  • The Revenge: A tragedy. London: W. Chetwood & S. Chatman, 1721.
  • The Brothers: A tragedy. London [172-?]; Dublin: G. & A. Ewing, 1753.


  • A Vindication of Providence; or, A true estimate of human life: In which the passions are consider'd in a new light: A sermon. Dublin: S. Powell, 1728.
  • An Apology for Princes; or, The reverence due to government: A sermon. London: T. Worrall, 1729.
  • The Centaur Not Fabulous: In five letters to a friend; on the life in vogue. London: A. Millar, & R. & J. Dodsley, 1755;
    • revised & expanded as, *The Centaur Not Fabulous: In six letters to a friend; on the life in vogue. London: A. Millar, & R. & J. Dodsley, 1755.
  • An Argument Drawn from the Circumstances of Christ's Death: For the truth of His religion: A sermon. London: R. & J. Dodsley, 1758.
  • Conjectures on Original Compositions. London: A. Millar, & R. & J. Dodsley, 1759.

Collected editionsEdit

  • The Works of the Author of the 'Night Thoughts'. (4 volumes), London: D. Browne, C. Hitch & L. Hawes, A. Millar, J. & R. Tonson, J. Rivington et al, 1762.
  • The Complete Works: Poetry and prose of Edward Young (edited by Dr. Doran). London: William Tegg, 1853.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[10]

See also Edit


  • PD-icon.svg Stephen, Leslie (1900) "Young, Edward" in Lee, Sidney Dictionary of National Biography 63 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 368-373 . Wikisource, Web, Mar. 21, 2018.


  1. 1.0 1.1 John William Cousin, "Young, Edward," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 419. Project Gutenberg, Web, Mar. 20, 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Stephen, 368.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Stephen, 369.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Stephen, 370.
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 Stephen, 371.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 Stephen, 372.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Edward Young, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons. Web, July 17, 2011.
  8. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named dnb63373
  9. from George Saintsbury, "Critical Introduction: Edward Young (1681–1765)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Feb. 22, 2016.
  10. Search results = au:Edward Young, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Feb. 22, 2016.

External linksEdit

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