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THE

POETICAL WORKS

OF

WILLIAM COLLINS.

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The Life of William Collins.

WILLIAM COLLINS was born at Chichester on scarcely think exhaustible, and which he did not the twenty-fifth day of December, about 1720. live to exhaust. The guineas were then repaid His father was a hatter of good reputation. He and the translation neglected. was in 1733, as Dr. Wharton has kindly inform

But man is not born for happiness. Collins,

ed me, admitted a scholar of Winchester College, who, while he studied to live, felt no evil but powhere he was educated by Dr. Burton. His Eng-verty, no sooner lived to study than his life was lish exercises were better than his Latin. assailed by more dreadful calamities, disease and insanity.

He first courted the notice of the public by some verses to a "Lady Weeping," published in "The Gentleman's Magazine."

In 1740, he stood first in the list of the scholars to be received in succession at New College, but unhappily there was no vacancy. He became a Commoner of Queen's College, probably with a scanty maintenance; but was, in about half a year, elected a Demy of Magdalen College, where he continued till he had taken a bachelor's degree, and then suddenly left the University; for what reason I know not that he told.

Mr. Collins was a man of extensive literature, and of vigorous faculties. He was acquainted not only with the learned tongues, but with the Italian, French, and Spanish languages. He had employed his mind chiefly upon works of fiction, and subjects of fancy; and, by indulging some peculiar habits of thought, was eminently delighted with those flights of imagination which pass the bounds of nature, and to which the mind is reconciled only by a passive acquiescence in popular traditions. He loved fairies, genii, giants, and monsters; he delighted to rove through the meanders of enchantment, to gaze on the magnificence of golden palaces, to repose by the water-falls of Elysian gardens.

He now (about 1744) came to London a literary adventurer, with many projects in his head, and very little money in his pocket. He designed many works; but his great fault was irresolution, or the frequent calls of immediate necessity broke This was, however, the character rather of his his schemes, and suffered him to pursue no settled inclination than his genius; the grandeur of wildpurpose. A man doubtful of his dinner, or trem-ness, and the novelty of extravagance, was always bling at a creditor, is not much disposed to ab- desired by him, but were not always attained, stracted meditation, or remote inquiries. He pub- Yet, as diligence is never wholly lost, if his efforts lished proposals for a History of the Revival of sometimes caused harshness and obscurity, they Learning; and I have heard him speak with great likewise produced, in happier moments, sublimity kindness of Leo the Tenth, and with keen re- and splendour. This idea which he had formed sentment of his tasteless successor. But probably of excellence, led him to oriental fictions and allenot a page of his history was ever written. He gorical imagery; and perhaps, while he was intent planned several tragedies, but he only planned upon description, he did not sufficiently cultivate them. He wrote now and then odes and other sentiment. His poems are the productions of a poems, and did something, however little. mind not deficient in fire, nor unfurnished with About this time I fell into his company. His knowledge either of books or life, but somewhat appearance was decent and manly; his knowledge obstructed in its progress by deviation in quest of considerable, his views extensive, his conversation mistaken beauties. elegant, and his disposition cheerful. By degrees Upon the whole, Collins, by his taste and atI gained his confidence; and one day was admit- tainments, appears to have been peculiarly adaptted to him when he was immured by a bailiff, ed for the higher walks of poetry. His odes, from that was prowling in the street. On this occasion which he derives his chief poetical fame, notwithrecourse was had to the booksellers, who, on the standing the disparaging remarks of Dr. Johnson, credit of a translation of Aristotle's Poetics, which are now almost universally regarded as the first he engaged to write with a large commentary, ad- productions of the kind in the English language vanced as much money as enabled him to escape for vigour of conception, boldness and variety of into the country. He showed me the guineas personification, and genuine warmth of feeling. safe in his hand. Soon afterwards his uncle, Mr. The originality of Collins consists, not in his senMartin, a lieutenant-colonel, left him about two timent, but in the highly figurative garb in which thousand pounds; a sum which Collins could he clothes abstract ideas, in the felicity of his ex

pressions, and in his skill in embodying ideal cre- no other book than an English Testament, such ations. His chief defect is an occasional mysti- as children carry to school: when his friend took cism. His temperament was, in the strictest it into his hand, out of curiosity to see what commeaning of the word, poetical; and had he exist- panion a man of letters had chosen, "I have but ed under happier circumstances, and enjoyed the one book," said Collins, "but that is the best." undisturbed exercise of his faculties, he would probably have surpassed most, if not all, of his contemporaries, during the very prosaic period which immediately followed the death of Pope.

Such was the fate of Collins, with whom I once delighted to converse, and whom I yet remember with tenderness.

He was visited at Chichester in his last illness, His morals were pure, and his opinions pious: by his learned friends Dr. Warton and his brother; in a long continuance of poverty, and long habits to whom he spoke with disapprobation of his of dissipation, it can not be expected that any cha- Oriental Eclogues, as not sufficiently expressive racter should be exactly uniform. There is a of Asiatic manners, and called them his Irish degree of want by which the freedom of agency is Eclogues. He showed them, at the same time, an almost destroyed; and long association with for- ode inscribed to Mr. John Home, on the supertuitous companions will at last relax the strictness stitions of the Highlands; which they thought of truth, and abate the fervour of sincerity. That superior to his other works. this man, wise and virtuous as he was, passed al- His disorder was not alienation of mind, but ways unentangled through the snares of life, it general laxity and feebleness, a deficiency rather would be prejudice and temerity to affirm; but it of his vital than intellectual powers. What he may be said that at least he preserved the source spoke wanted neither judgment nor spirit; but a of action unpolluted, that his principles were few minutes exhausted him, so that he was forced never shaken, that his distinctions of right and to rest upon the couch, till a short cessation rewrong were never confounded, and that his faults stored his powers, and he was again able to talk had nothing of malignity or design, but proceeded with his former vigour. from some unexpected pressure or casual témptation.

Mr. Collins's first production is added here from

The approaches of this dreadful malady he began to feel soon after his uncle's death; and with the The latter part of his life can not be remembered usual weakness of men so diseased, eagerly but with pity and sadness. He languished some snatched that temporary relief with which the years under that depression of mind which en- table and the bottle flatter and seduce. But his chains the faculties without destroying them, and health continually declined, and he grew more leaves reason the knowledge of right without the and more burthensome to himself. power of pursuing it. These clouds, which he perceived gathering on his intellects, he endea- the "Poetical Calendar." voured to disperse by travel, and passed into France: but found himself constrained to yield to his malady, and returned. He was for some time confined in a house of lunatics, and afterwards retired to the care of his sister in Chichester, where death, in 1756, came to his relief.

After his return from France, the writer of this character paid him a visit at Islington, where he was waiting for his sister, whom he had directed to meet him: there was then nothing of disorder discernible in his mind by any but himself: but he had withdrawn from study, and travelled with

TO MISS AURELIA C-R,
On her Weeping at her Sister's Wedding.
CEASE, fair Aurelia! cease to mourn;
Lament not Hannah's happy state:
You may be happy in your turn,

And seize the treasure you regret.

With Love united Hymen stands,

And softly whispers to your charms,
"Meet but your lover in my bands,
"You'll find your sister in his arms.'

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