Edward Young (June 1681 – 5 April 1765) was an English poet, best remembered for Night Thoughts. He was the son of Edward Young, later Dean of Salisbury, and was born at his father's rectory at Upham, near Winchester, where he was baptized on 3 July 1683. He was educated at Winchester College, and matriculated in 1702 at New College, Oxford.
"Tired Nature's sweet restorer, balmy Sleep!
He, like the world, his ready visit pays
Where Fortune smiles; the wretched he forsakes;
Swift on his downy pinion flies from woe,
And lights on lids unsullied with a tear."
"Young regards Pope's <i>Essay on Man</i> as a misleading argument, based one reason alone, that mans' complaints about his condition in this world not only question God's providence but reveal as pride and vanity the belief that God created all things for man."
"In what purports to be a definitive life of the poet Young, H.C. Shelley remarks that the question of the identity of Philander, Lucia, and Narcissa, raised by the peculiar chronology of their deaths, as recorded in the <i>Night Thoughts</i>, forms 'the most puzzling problem of Young's biography.'"
The graveyard school consisted largely of imitations of Robert Blair’s popular long poem of morbid appeal, <i>The Grave</i> (1743), and of Edward Young’s celebrated blank-verse dramatic rhapsody <i>Night Thoughts</i> (1742–45). These poems express the sorrow and pain of bereavement, evoke the horror of death’s physical manifestations, and suggest the transitory nature of human life.
A man of high ambition and many interests outside literature and law, Young was plagued by career disappointments throughout his life. He failed in his bid for a seat in Parliament and was similarly frustrated in the clerical career he embarked upon after taking Holy Orders in 1728; although he was soon appointed a royal chaplain, he never felt that the recognition he achieved equaled his true merits.Young's ambition was particularly evident in his literary career and most of his early poems are dedicated to people of wealth and influence.
Young's own religious motivations, merging with his personal record of grief and deeply subjective melancholy, gave the poem an air of originality and poignant individuality, which critics have often seen as anticipating Romanticism. Another important contribution towards the formation of a new aesthetics is <i>Conjectures of Original Composition</i> (1759), a treatise in which Young refused the authority of rules in poetry and stressed the superiority of originality over imitation. By using a series of vegetal and organic metaphors to symbolize the original and individual genius and by advocating a closer relationship to nature for poets, Young anticipated the language and the themes of the Romantics and in particular the priority of spontaneity and feeling in poetry emphasized by Wordsworth in his "Preface" to the <i>Lyrical Ballads</i>.
Besides writing a series of satires, <i>The Universal Passion</i> (1725–28), he was the author of three bombastic tragedies, <i>Busiris</i> (1719), <i>The Revenge</i> (1721), and <i>The Brothers</i> (1753). His last important work was his prose <i>Conjectures on Original Composition</i> (1759).
Author of <i>The Complaint: or, Night Thoughts</i> (1742–45), a long, didactic poem on death. The poem was inspired by the successive deaths of his stepdaughter, in 1736; her husband, in 1740; and Young’s wife, in 1741. The poem is a blank-verse dramatic monologue of nearly 10,000 lines, divided into nine parts, or “Nights.” It was enormously popular.
In 1731 Young married Lady Elizabeth Lee, the widowed daughter of the Earl of Lichfield, and they had one son. But Young suffered losses in his personal life as well: within a five-year span in the 1740s, his wife, his step-daughter, and her husband all died. This succession of deaths was one of the motivating factors that prompted him to write <i>Night Thoughts</i>. Critics have disagreed about the extent to which the gloomy and depressed persona of <i>Night Thoughts</i> represents Young himself.
After studying at Winchester and Oxford, Young struggled for most of his early life to pursue a career in the Church of England, while he tried his pen at many genres with limited success. His early poetry was mainly eulogistic and occasional, written often with the purpose of finding a patron. His three dramas hardly rose above the mundane level of contemporary heroic tragedy, but <i>The Revenge</i> (1721) became a standard work in the repertoire of London companies.