Edward Young Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Although Edward Young is known primarily for his poetry, he was also a successful playwright, theologian, and literary theorist. In 1719, Young’s first play, Busiris, King of Egypt (pr., pb. 1719) had a successful run at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. His second play, The Revenge (pr., pb. 1721) was less successful in its initial production but more enduring. Declared by the great actor David Garrick to be “the best modern play,” The Revenge was frequently revived throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1753, Garrick produced Young’s final tragedy, The Brothers (pr., pb. 1753).

In several prose works, Young addressed the religious controversies of his age. Anticipating the themes of his later poetry, A Vindication of Providence: Or, A True Estimate of Human Life (1728) examines the effect of passion on human happiness. The Centaur Not Fabulous: In Six Letters to a Friend on the Life in Vogue (1755) uses satire to defend Christianity from the assaults of deism and licentiousness.

In 1728, Young completed his first work of literary theory, “A Discourse on Ode,” which was published with Ocean. In 1759, at the age of seventy-six, Young published Conjectures on Original Composition in a Letter to the Author of Sir Charles Grandison (1759; better known as Conjectures on Original Composition), a work that anticipates many ideas associated with Romanticism.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

During his lifetime, Edward Young established connections with some of the leading authors of his time, including Joseph Addison, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Joseph Warton, and Samuel Richardson. Because of his achievements both as a member of the clergy and as a poet, Young was well respected by his contemporaries, and his poems were successful.

Unlike other poets of his age, Young rejected many of the principles of neoclassicism. Whereas poets like Pope sought to imitate classical authors and replicate the order they found in nature, Young believed poetry should explore the experiences of the individual, especially those experiences that remain inexplicably mysterious. As he wrote in Night-Thoughts, “Nothing can satisfy, but what confounds;/ Nothing, but what astonishes, is true.” Recognizing the unique quality of his work, Warton described Young as a “sublime and original genius.” Samuel Johnson remained more guarded, concluding, “with all his defects, he was a man of genius and a poet.”

Young’s work had considerable influence on later poets, especially those associated with British Romanticism (notably William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge) and with the Storm and Stress movement in Germany (Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning. “Edward Young, William J. Cory, Virgil, and Callimachus.” Notes and Queries 55, no. 4 (December, 2008): 408-410. Takes a phrase on the passage of time that Young, Cory, Vergil, and Callimachus used, with the more modern poets borrowing from Callimachus.

_______. “Some Youngian Echoes in Wordsworth.” Notes and Queries 56, no. 3 (September, 2009): 364. Argues that influences from the poetry of Young can be found in the work of William Wordsworth.

Forester, Harold. Edward Young: The Poet of “The Night Thoughts,” 1683-1765. New York: Erskin, 1986. Containing a wealth of information, this biography provides a thorough investigation of Young’s career and his position within eighteenth century British culture.

Irlam, Shaun. Elations: The Poetics of Enthusiasm in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999. Takes the concept of enthusiasm and examines the aesthetic theory and poetry of Young and James Thomson.

Morris, David B. The Religious Sublime: Christian Poetry and Critical Tradition in Eighteenth Century England. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1972. Morris’s study provides a particularly useful reading of Night-Thoughts and positions Young’s work within the context of eighteenth century religious controversies.

Nussbaum, Felicity. The Brink of All We Hate: English Satires on Women, 1660-1750. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984. Nussbaum provides a cogent discussion of Young’s frequently overlooked satire, Love of Fame, the Universal Passion.

Patey, Douglas Lane. “Art and Integrity: Concepts of Self in Alexander Pope and Edward Young.” Modern Philology 83, no. 4 (1986): 364-378. Patey’s essay examines the relationship between Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man and Young’s Night-Thoughts.

St. John Bliss, Isabel. Edward Young. New York: Twayne, 1969. This older study still provides an excellent starting point for readers of Young’s poetry.

Wanko, Cheryl L. “The Making of a Minor Poet: Edward Young and Literary Taxonomy.” English Studies 72, no. 4 (1991): 355-367. Wanko argues convincingly that Young’s reputation suffered throughout the twentieth century because of “our system of literary taxonomy.” She demonstrates how eighteenth and nineteenth century appraisals of Young’s work made him appear to be a literary anomaly.