HotFreeBooks.com
The Poetical Works of William Collins - With a Memoir
by William Collins
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

THE POETICAL WORKS OF WILLIAM COLLINS.

WITH A MEMOIR.





BOSTON: LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY. 1865.



CONTENTS.

Page Memoir by Sir Harris Nicolas v An Essay on the Genius and Poems of Collins, by Sir Egerton Brydges, Bart. xliii

ORIENTAL ECLOGUES. Selim; or, The Shepherd's Moral 3 Hassan; or, The Camel Driver 7 Abra; Or, The Georgian Sultana 11 Agib And Secander; or, The Fugitives 15

ODES. To Pity 21 To Fear 24 To Simplicity 28 On the Poetical Character 31 Written in the Beginning of the Year 1746 34 To Mercy 35 To Liberty 37 To a Lady, On the Death of Colonel Ross, written in May, 1745 44 To Evening 48 To Peace 52 The Manners 54 The Passions 58 On the Death of Thomson 63 On the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland; considered as the Subject of Poetry; inscribed to Mr. John Home 66 An Epistle, addressed to Sir Thomas Hanmer, on his Edition of Shakespeare's Works 78 Dirge in Cymbeline, sung by Guiderus and Arviragus over Fidele, supposed to be dead 87 Verses written on a Paper which contained a Piece of Bride-cake, given to the Author by a Lady 89 To Miss Aurelia C——R, on her Weeping at her Sister's Wedding 91 Sonnet 91 Song. The Sentiments borrowed from Shakespeare 92 On our late Taste in Music 94

Observations on the Oriental Eclogues, by Dr. Langhorne 101 Observations on the Odes, by the same 118



MEMOIR OF COLLINS.

"A Bard, Who touched the tenderest notes of Pity's lyre." HAYLEY.

No one can have reflected on the history of genius without being impressed with a melancholy feeling at the obscurity in which the lives of the poets of our country are, with few exceptions, involved. That they lived, and wrote, and died, comprises nearly all that is known of many, and, of others, the few facts which are preserved are often records of privations, or sufferings, or errors. The cause of the lamentable deficiency of materials for literary biography may, without difficulty, be explained. The lives of authors are seldom marked by events of an unusual character; and they rarely leave behind them the most interesting work a writer could compose, and which would embrace nearly all the important facts in his career, a "History of his Books," containing the motives which produced them, the various incidents respecting their progress, and a faithful account of the bitter disappointment, whether the object was fame or profit, or both, which, in most instances, is the result of his labours. Various motives deter men from writing such a volume; for, though quacks and charlatans readily become auto-biographers, and fill their prefaces with their personal concerns, real merit shrinks from such disgusting egotism, and, flying to the opposite extreme, leaves no authentic notice of their struggles, its hopes, or its disappointments. Nor is the history of writers to be expected from their contemporaries; because few will venture to anticipate the judgment of posterity, and mankind are usually so isolated in self, and so jealous of others, that neither time nor inclination admits of their becoming the Boswells of all those whose productions excite admiration.

If these remarks be true, surprise cannot be felt, though there is abundance of cause for regret, that little is known of a poet whose merits were not appreciated until after his decease: whose powers were destroyed by a distressing malady at a period of life when literary exertions begin to be rewarded and stimulated by popular applause.

For the facts contained in the following Memoir of Collins, the author is indebted to the researches of others, as his own, which were very extensive, were rewarded by trifling discoveries. Dr. Johnson's Life is well known; but the praise of collecting every particular which industry and zeal could glean belongs to the Rev. Alexander Dyce, the result of whose inquiries may be found in his notes to Johnson's Memoir, prefixed to an edition of Collins's works which he lately edited. Those notices are now, for the first time, wove into a Memoir of Collins; and in leaving it to another to erect a fabric out of the materials which he has collected instead of being himself the architect, Mr. Dyce has evinced a degree of modesty which those who know him must greatly lament.

* * * * *

WILLIAM COLLINS was born at Chichester, on the 25th of December, 1721, and was baptized in the parish church of St. Peter the Great, alias Subdeanery in that city, on the first of the following January. He was the son of William Collins, who was then the Mayor of Chichester, where he exercised the trade of a hatter, and lived in a respectable manner. His mother was Elizabeth, the sister of a Colonel Martyn, to whose bounty the poet was deeply indebted.

Being destined for the church, young Collins was admitted a scholar of Winchester College on the 19th of January, 1733, where he was educated by Dr. Burton; and in 1740 he stood first on the list of scholars who were to be received at New College. No vacancy, however, occurred, and the circumstance is said by Johnson to have been the original misfortune of his life. He became a commoner of Queen's,[1] whence, on the 29th of July, 1741, he was elected a demy of Magdalen College. During his stay at Queen's he was distinguished for genius and indolence, and the few exercises which he could be induced to write bear evident marks of both qualities. He continued at Oxford until he took his bachelor's degree, and then suddenly left the University, his motive, as he alleged, being that he missed a fellowship, for which he offered himself; but it has been assigned to his disgust at the dulness of a college life, and to his being involved in debt.

On arriving in London, which was either in 1743 or 1744, he became, says Johnson, "a literary adventurer, with many projects in his head and very little money in his pocket." Collins was not without some reputation as an author when he proposed to adopt the most uncertain and deplorable of all professions, that of literature, for a subsistence. Whilst at Winchester school he wrote his Eclogues, and had appeared before the public in some verses addressed to a lady weeping at her sister's marriage, which were printed in the Gentleman's Magazine, Oct. 1739, when Collins was in his eighteenth year. In January, 1742, he published his Eclogues, under the title of "Persian Eclogues;"[2] and, in December, 1743, his "Verses to Sir Thomas Hanmer on his Edition of Shakespeare," appeared. To neither did he affix his name, but the latter was said to be by "a Gentleman of Oxford."

From the time he settled in London, his mind was more occupied with literary projects than with steady application; nor had poesy, for which Nature peculiarly designed him, sufficient attractions to chain his wavering disposition. It is not certain whether his irresolution arose from the annoyance of importunate debtors, or from an original infirmity of mind, or from these causes united. A popular writer[3] has defended Collins from the charge of irresolution, on the ground that it was but "the vacillations of a mind broken and confounded;" and he urges, that "he had exercised too constantly the highest faculties of fiction, and precipitated himself into the dreariness of real life." But this explanation does not account for the want of steadiness which prevented Collins from accomplishing the objects he meditated. His mind was neither "broken nor confounded," nor had he experienced the bitter pangs of neglect, when with the buoyancy of hope, and a full confidence in his extraordinary powers, he threw himself on the town, at the age of twenty-three, intending to live by the exercise of his talents; but his indecision was then as apparent as at any subsequent period, so that, in truth, the effect preceded the cause to which it has been assigned.

Mankind are becoming too much accustomed to witness splendid talents and great firmness of mind united in the same person to partake the mistaken sympathy which so many writers evince for the follies or vices of genius; nor will it much longer tolerate the opinion, that the possession of the finest imagination, or the highest poetic capacity, must necessarily be accompanied by eccentricity. It may, indeed, be difficult to convert a poetical temperament into a merchant, or to make the man who is destined to delight or astonish mankind by his conceptions, sit quietly over a ledger; but the transition from poetry to the composition of such works as Collins planned is by no means unnatural, and the abandonment of his views respecting them must, in justice to his memory, be attributed to a different cause.

The most probable reason is, that these works were mere speculations to raise money, and that the idea was not encouraged by the booksellers; but if, as Johnson, who knew Collins well, asserts, his character wanted decision and perseverance, these defects may have been constitutional, and were, perhaps, the germs of the disease which too soon ripened into the most frightful of human calamities. Endued with a morbid sensibility, which was as ill calculated to court popularity as to bear neglect; and wanting that stoical indifference to the opinions of the many, which ought to render those who are conscious of the value of their productions satisfied with the approbation of the few; Collins was too impatient of applause, and too anxious to attain perfection, to be a voluminous writer. To plan much rather than to execute any thing; to commence to-day an ode, to-morrow a tragedy, and to turn on the following morning to a different subject, was the chief occupation of his life for several years, during which time he destroyed the principal part of the little that he wrote. To a man nearly pennyless, such a life must be attended by privations and danger; and he was in the hands of bailiffs, possibly not for the first time, very shortly before he became independent by the death of his maternal uncle, Colonel Martyn. The result proved that his want of firmness and perseverance was natural, and did not arise from the uncertainty or narrowness of his fortune; for being rescued from imprisonment, on the credit of a translation of Aristotle's Poetics, which he engaged to furnish a publisher, a work, it may be presumed, peculiarly suited to his genius, he no sooner found himself in the possession of money by the death of his relative, than he repaid the bookseller, and abandoned the translation for ever.

From the commencement of his career, Collins was, however, an object for sympathy instead of censure; and though few refuse their compassion to the confirmed lunatic, it is rare that the dreadful state of irresolution and misery, which sometimes exist for years before the fatal catastrophe, receives either pity or indulgence.

In 1747, Collins published his Odes, to the unrivaled splendour of a few of which he is alone indebted for his fame; but neither fame nor profit was the immediate result; and the author of the Ode on the Passions had little reason to expect, from its reception by the public, that it was destined to live as long as the passions themselves animate or distract the world.

It is uncertain at what time he undertook to publish a volume of Odes in conjunction with Joseph Warton, but the intention is placed beyond dispute by the following letter from Warton to his brother. It is without a date, but it must have been written before the publication of Collins's Odes in 1747, and before the appearance of Dodsley's Museum,[4] as it is evident the Ode to a Lady on the Death of Colonel Ross, which was inserted in that work, was not then in print.

"DEAR TOM,

"You will wonder to see my name in an advertisement next week, so I thought I would apprise you of it. The case was this. Collins met me in Surrey, at Guildford races, when I wrote out for him my odes, and he likewise communicated some of his to me; and being both in very high spirits, we took courage, resolved to join our forces, and to publish them immediately. I flatter myself that I shall lose no honor by this publication, because I believe these odes, as they now stand, are infinitely the best things I ever wrote. You will see a very pretty one of Collins's, on the Death of Colonel Ross before Tournay. It is addressed to a lady who was Ross's intimate acquaintance, and who, by the way, is Miss Bett Goddard. Collins is not to publish the odes unless he gets ten guineas for them. I returned from Milford last night, where I left Collins with my mother and sister, and he sets out to-day for London. I must now tell you, that I have sent him your imitation of Horace's Blandusian Fountain, to be printed amongst ours, and which you shall own or not, as you think proper. I would not have done this without your consent, but because I think it very poetically and correctly done, and will get you honour. You will let me know what the Oxford critics say. Adieu, dear Tom,

"I am your most affectionate brother, "J. WARTON."

Like so many of Collins's projects this was not executed; but the reason of its failure is unknown.

On the death of Thomson, in August, 1748, Collins wrote an ode to his memory, which is no less remarkable for its beauty as a composition, than for its pathetic tenderness as a memorial of a friend.

The Poet's pecuniary difficulties were removed in 1749, by the death of his maternal uncle, Lieutenant-Colonel Edmund Martyn, who, after bequeathing legacies to some other relations, ordered the residue of his real and personal estate to be divided between his nephew William Collins, and his nieces Elizabeth and Anne Collins, and appointed the said Elizabeth his executrix, who proved her uncle's will on the 30th of May, 1749. Collins's share was, it is said, about two thousand pounds; and, as has been already observed, the money came most opportunely: a greater calamity even than poverty, however, shortly afterwards counterbalanced his good fortune; but the assertion of the writer in the Gentleman's Magazine, that his mental aberration arose from his having squandered this legacy, appears to be unfounded.

One, and but one, letter of Collins's has ever been printed; nor has a careful inquiry after others been successful. It is of peculiar interest, as it proves that he wrote an Ode on the Music of the Grecian Theatre, but which is unfortunately lost. The honour to which he alludes was the setting his Ode on the Passions to music.

"TO DR. WILLIAM HAYES, PROFESSOR OF MUSIC, OXFORD.

"SIR,

"MR. BLACKSTONE of Winchester some time since informed me of the honour you had done me at Oxford last summer; for which I return you my sincere thanks. I have another more perfect copy of the ode; which, had I known your obliging design, I would have communicated to you. Inform me by a line, if you should think one of my better judgment acceptable. In such case I could send you one written on a nobler subject; and which, though I have been persuaded to bring it forth in London, I think more calculated for an audience in the university. The subject is the Music of the Grecian Theatre; in which I have, I hope naturally, introduced the various characters with which the chorus was concerned, as OEdipus, Medea, Electra, Orestes, etc. etc. The composition too is probably more correct, as I have chosen the ancient tragedies for my models, and only copied the most affecting passages in them.

"In the mean time, you would greatly oblige me by sending the score of the last. If you can get it written, I will readily answer the expense. If you send it with a copy or two of the ode (as printed at Oxford) to Mr. Clarke, at Winchester, he will forward it to me here. I am, Sir,

"With great respect, "Your obliged humble servant, "WILLIAM COLLINS.

"Chichester, Sussex, November 8, 1750."

"P. S. Mr. Clarke past some days here while Mr. Worgan was with me; from whose friendship, I hope, he will receive some advantage."

Soon after this period, the disease which had long threatened to destroy Collins's intellects assumed a more decided character; but for some time the unhappy poet was the only person who was sensible of the approaching calamity. A visit to France was tried in vain; and when Johnson called upon him, on his return, an incident occurred which proves that Collins wisely sought for consolation against the coming wreck of his faculties, from a higher and more certain source than mere human aid. Johnson says, "he paid him a visit at Islington, where he was then 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 no other book than an English Testament, such as children carry to the school: when his friend took it into his hand, out of curiosity to see what companion a man of letters had chosen, 'I have but one book,' said Collins, 'but that is the best.'"

To this circumstance Hayley beautifully alludes in his epitaph on him:

He, "in reviving reason's lucid hours, Sought on one book his troubled mind to rest, And rightly deem'd the Book of God the best."

A journey to Bath proved as useless as the one to France; and in 1754, he went to Oxford for change of air and amusement, where he stayed a month. It was on this occasion that a friend, whose account of him will be given at length, saw him in a distressing state of restraint under the walls of Merton College. From the paucity of information respecting Collins, the following letters are extremely valuable; and though the statements are those of his friends, they may be received without suspicion of partiality, because they are free from the high colouring by which friendship sometimes perverts truth.

The first of the letters in question was printed in the Gentleman's Magazine:

"Jan. 20, 1781.

"MR. URBAN,

"WILLIAM COLLINS, the poet, I was intimately acquainted with, from the time that he came to reside at Oxford. He was the son of a tradesman in the city of Chichester, I think a hatter; and being sent very young to Winchester school, was soon distinguished for his early proficiency, and his turn for elegant composition. About the year 1740, he came off from that seminary first upon roll,[5] and was entered a commoner of Queen's college. There, no vacancy offering for New College, he remained a year or two, and then was chosen demy of Magdalen college; where, I think, he took a degree. As he brought with him, for so the whole turn of his conversation discovered, too high an opinion of his school acquisitions, and a sovereign contempt for all academic studies and discipline, he never looked with any complacency on his situation in the university, but was always complaining of the dulness of a college life. In short, he threw up his demyship, and, going to London, commenced a man of the town, spending his time in all the dissipation of Ranelagh, Vauxhall, and the playhouses; and was romantic enough to suppose that his superior abilities would draw the attention of the great world, by means of whom he was to make his fortune.

"In this pleasurable way of life he soon wasted his little property, and a considerable legacy left him by a maternal uncle, a colonel in the army, to whom the nephew made a visit in Flanders during the war. While on his tour he wrote several entertaining letters to his Oxford friends, some of which I saw. In London I met him often, and remember he lodged in a little house with a Miss Bundy, at the corner of King's-square-court, Soho, now a warehouse, for a long time together. When poverty overtook him, poor man, he had too much sensibility of temper to bear with misfortunes, and so fell into a most deplorable state of mind. How he got down to Oxford, I do not know; but I myself saw him under Merton wall, in a very affecting situation, struggling, and conveyed by force, in the arms of two or three men, towards the parish of St. Clement, in which was a house that took in such unhappy objects: and I always understood, that not long after he died in confinement; but when, or where, or where he was buried, I never knew.

"Thus was lost to the world this unfortunate person, in the prime of life, without availing himself of fine abilities, which, properly improved, must have raised him to the top of any profession, and have rendered him a blessing to his friends, and an ornament to his country.

"Without books, or steadiness and resolution to consult them if he had been possessed of any, he was always planning schemes for elaborate publications, which were carried no further than the drawing up proposals for subscriptions, some of which were published; and in particular, as far as I remember, one for 'a History of the Darker Ages.'

"He was passionately fond of music; good-natured and affable; warm in his friendships, and visionary in his pursuits; and, as long as I knew him, very temperate in his eating and drinking. He was of moderate stature, of a light and clear complexion, with gray eyes, so very weak at times as hardly to bear a candle in the room; and often raising within him apprehensions of blindness.

"With an anecdote respecting him, while he was at Magdalen College, I shall close my letter. It happened one afternoon, at a tea visit, that several intelligent friends were assembled at his rooms to enjoy each other's conversation, when in comes a member of a certain college,[6] as remarkable at that time for his brutal disposition as for his good scholarship; who, though he met with a circle of the most peaceable people in the world, was determined to quarrel; and, though no man said a word, lifted up his foot and kicked the tea-table, and all its contents, to the other side of the room. Our poet, though of a warm temper, was so confounded at the unexpected downfall, and so astonished at the unmerited insult, that he took no notice of the aggressor, but getting up from his chair calmly, he began picking up the slices of bread and butter, and the fragments of his china, repeating very mildly,

Invenias etiam disjecti membra poetae.

"I am your very humble servant, "V."

The next letter was found among the papers of Mr. William Hymers, of Queen's College, Oxford, who was preparing a new edition of the works of the poet for publication, when death prevented the completion of his design.

"Hill Street, Richmond in Surrey, July, 1783.

"SIR,

"Your favour of the 30th June I did not receive till yesterday. The person who has the care of my house in Bond Street, expecting me there every day, did not send it to Richmond, or I would have answered sooner. As you express a wish to know every particular, however trifling, relating to Mr. William Collins, I will endeavour, so far as can be done by a letter, to satisfy you. There are many little anecdotes, which tell well enough in conversation, but would be tiresome for you to read, or me to write, so shall pass them over. I had formerly several scraps of his poetry, which were suddenly written on particular occasions. These I lent among our acquaintance, who were never civil enough to return them; and being then engaged in extensive business, I forgot to ask for them, and they are lost: all I have remaining of his are about twenty lines, which would require a little history to be understood, being written on trifling subjects. I have a few of his letters, the subjects of which are chiefly on business, but I think there are in them some flights, which strongly mark his character; for which reason I preserved them. There are so few of his intimates now living, that I believe I am the only one who can give a true account of his family and connexions. The principal part of what I write is from my own knowledge, or what I have heard from his nearest relations.

"His father was not the manufacturer of hats, but the vender. He lived in a genteel style at Chichester; and, I think, filled the office of mayor more than once; he was pompous in his manner; but, at his death, he left his affairs rather embarrassed. Colonel Martyn, his wife's brother, greatly assisted his family, and supported Mr. William Collins at the university, where he stood for a fellowship, which, to his great mortification, he lost, and which was his reason for quitting that place, at least that was his pretext. But he had other reasons: he was in arrears to his bookseller, his tailor, and other tradesmen. But, I believe, a desire to partake of the dissipation and gaiety of London was his principal motive. Colonel Martyn was at this time with his regiment; and Mr. Payne, a near relation, who had the management of the colonel's affairs, had likewise a commission to supply the Collinses with small sums of money. The colonel was the more sparing in this order, having suffered considerably by Alderman Collins, who had formerly been his agent, and, forgetting that his wife's brother's cash was not his own, had applied it to his own use. When Mr. William Collins came from the university, he called on his cousin Payne, gaily dressed, and with a feather in his hat; at which his relation expressed surprise, and told him his appearance was by no means that of a young man who had not a single guinea he could call his own. This gave him great offence; but remembering his sole dependence for subsistence was in the power of Mr. Payne, he concealed his resentment; yet could not refrain from speaking freely behind his back, and saying 'he thought him a d——d dull fellow;' though, indeed, this was an epithet he was pleased to bestow on every one who did not think as he would have them. His frequent demands for a supply obliged Mr. Payne to tell him he must pursue some other line of life, for he was sure Colonel Martyn would be displeased with him for having done so much. This resource being stopped, forced him to set about some work, of which his 'History of the Revival of Learning' was the first; and for which he printed proposals (one of which I have), and took the first subscription money from many of his particular friends: the work was begun, but soon stood still. Both Dr. Johnson and Mr. Langhorne are mistaken when they say, the 'Translation of Aristotle' was never begun: I know the contrary, for some progress was made in both, but most in the latter. From the freedom subsisting between us, we took the liberty of saying any thing to each other. I one day reproached him with idleness; when, to convince me my censure was unjust, he showed me many sheets of his 'Translation of Aristotle,' which he said he had so fully employed himself about, as to prevent him calling on many of his friends so frequently as he used to do. Soon after this he engaged with Mr. Manby, a bookseller on Ludgate Hill, to furnish him with some Lives for the Biographia Britannica, which Manby was then publishing. He showed me some of the lives in embryo; but I do not recollect that any of them came to perfection. To raise a present subsistence he set about writing his odes; and, having a general invitation to my house, he frequently passed whole days there, which he employed in writing them, and as frequently burning what he had written, after reading them to me: many of them, which pleased me, I struggled to preserve, but without effect; for, pretending he would alter them, he got them from me, and thrust them into the fire. He was an acceptable companion every where; and, among the gentlemen who loved him for a genius, I may reckon the Doctors Armstrong, Barrowby, and Hill, Messrs. Quin, Garrick, and Foote, who frequently took his opinion on their pieces before they were seen by the public. He was particularly noticed by the geniuses who frequented the Bedford and Slaughter's Coffee Houses. From his knowledge of Garrick he had the liberty of the scenes and green-room, where he made diverting observations on the vanity and false consequence of that class of people; and his manner of relating them to his particular friends was extremely entertaining. In this manner he lived, with and upon his friends, until the death of Colonel Martyn, who left what fortune he died possessed of unto him and his two sisters. I fear I cannot be certain as to dates, but believe he left the university in the year 43. Some circumstances I recollect, make me almost certain he was in London that year; but I will not be so certain of the time he died, which I did not hear of till long after it happened. When his health and faculties began to decline, he went to France, and after to Bath, in hope his health might be restored, but without success. I never saw him after his sister removed him from M'Donald's madhouse at Chelsea to Chichester, where he soon sunk into a deplorable state of idiotism, which, when I was told, shocked me exceedingly; and, even now, the remembrance of a man for whom I had a particular friendship, and in whose company I have passed so many pleasant happy hours, gives me a severe shock. Since it is in consequence of your own request, Sir, that I write this long farrago, I expect you will overlook all inaccuracies. I am, Sir,

"Your very humble servant, "JOHN RAGSDALE.

"Mr. William Hymers, Queen's College, Oxford."

The following communication, by Thomas Warton, was also found among the papers of Mr. Hymers. A few passages, concerning various readings, are omitted.

"I often saw Collins in London in 1750. This was before his illness. He then told me of his intended History of the Revival of Learning, and proposed a scheme of a review, to be called the Clarendon Review, and to be printed at the university press, under the conduct and authority of the university. About Easter, the next year, I was in London; when, being given over, and supposed to be dying, he desired to see me, that he might take his last leave of me; but he grew better; and in the summer he sent me a letter on some private business, which I have now by me, dated Chichester, June 9, 1751, written in a fine hand, and without the least symptom of a disordered or debilitated understanding. In 1754, he came to Oxford for change of air and amusement, where he stayed a month; I saw him frequently, but he was so weak and low, that he could not bear conversation. Once he walked from his lodgings, opposite Christ Church, to Trinity College, but supported by his servant. The same year, in September, I and my brother visited him at Chichester, where he lived, in the cathedral cloisters, with his sister. The first day he was in high spirits at intervals, but exerted himself so much that he could not see us the second. Here he showed us an Ode to Mr. John Home, on his leaving England for Scotland, in the octave stanza, very long, and beginning,

Home, thou return'st from Thames.

I remember there was a beautiful description of the spectre of a man drowned in the night, or, in the language of the old Scotch superstitions, seized by the angry spirit of the waters, appearing to his wife with pale blue cheek, &c. Mr. Home has no copy of it. He also showed us another ode, of two or three four-lined stanzas, called the Bell of Arragon; on a tradition that, anciently, just before the king of Spain died, the great bell of the cathedral of Sarragossa, in Arragon, tolled spontaneously. It began thus:

The bell of Arragon, they say, Spontaneous speaks the fatal day.

Soon afterwards were these lines:

Whatever dark aerial power, Commission'd, haunts the gloomy tower.

The last stanza consisted of a moral transition to his own death and knell, which he called 'some simpler bell.' I have seen all his odes already published in his own handwriting; they had the marks of repeated correction: he was perpetually changing his epithets. Dr. Warton, my brother, has a few fragments of some other odes, but too loose and imperfect for publication, yet containing traces of high imagery.

"In illustration of what Dr. Johnson has related, that during his last malady he was a great reader of the Bible, I am favoured with the following anecdote from the Reverend Mr. Shenton, Vicar of St. Andrews, at Chichester, by whom Collins was buried: 'Walking in my vicaral garden one Sunday evening, during Collins's last illness, I heard a female (the servant, I suppose) reading the Bible in his chamber. Mr. Collins had been accustomed to rave much, and make great moanings; but while she was reading, or rather attempting to read, he was not only silent but attentive likewise, correcting her mistakes, which indeed were very frequent, through the whole of the twenty-seventh chapter of Genesis.' I have just been informed, from undoubted authority, that Collins had finished a Preliminary Dissertation to be prefixed to his History of the Restoration of Learning, and that it was written with great judgment, precision, and knowledge of the subject.

"T. W."

The overthrow of Collins's mind was too complete for it to be restored by variety of scene or the attentions of friendship. Thomas Warton describes him as being in a weak and low condition, and unable to bear conversation, when he saw him at Oxford. He was afterwards confined in a house for the insane at Chelsea; but before September, 1754, he was removed to Chichester, under the care of his sister, where he was visited by the two Wartons. At this time his spirits temporarily rallied; and he adverted with delight to literature, showing his guest the Ode to Mr. Home on his leaving England for Scotland. During Collins's illness Johnson was a frequent inquirer after his health, and those inquiries were made with a degree of feeling which, as he himself hints, may have partly arisen from the dread he entertained lest he might be the victim of a similar calamity. The following extracts are from letters addressed to Joseph Warton:

"March 8, 1754.

"But how little can we venture to exult in any intellectual powers or literary attainments, when we consider the condition of poor Collins. I knew him a few years ago, full of hopes and full of projects, versed in many languages, high in fancy, and strong in retention. This busy and forcible mind is now under the government of those who lately would not have been able to comprehend the least and most narrow of its designs. What do you hear of him? are there hopes of his recovery? or is he to pass the remainder of his life in misery and degradation? perhaps with complete consciousness of his calamity."

"December 24, 1754.

"Poor dear Collins! Let me know whether you think it would give him pleasure if I should write to him. I have often been near his state, and therefore have it in great commiseration."

"April 15, 1756.

"What becomes of poor dear Collins? I wrote him a letter which he never answered. I suppose writing is very troublesome to him. That man is no common loss. The moralists all talk of the uncertainty of fortune, and the transitoriness of beauty; but it is yet more dreadful to consider that the powers of the mind are equally liable to change, that understanding may make its appearance and depart, that it may blaze and expire."

In this state of mental darkness did Collins pass the last six or seven years of his existence, in the house now occupied by Mr. Mason, a bookseller in Chichester. His malady is described by Johnson as being, not so much an alienation of mind as a general laxity and feebleness of his vital, rather than his intellectual, powers; but his disorder seems, from other authorities, to have been of a more violent nature. As he was never married, he was indebted for protection and kindness to his youngest sister; and death, the only hope of the afflicted, came to his relief on the 12th of June, 1759, in the thirty-ninth year of his age, a period of life when the fervour of imagination is generally chastened without being subdued, and when all the mental powers are in their fullest vigour. He was buried in the church of St. Andrew, at Chichester, on the 15th of June; and the admiration of the public for his genius has been manifested by the erection of a monument by Flaxman, to his memory, in the Cathedral, which is thus described by Mr. Dallaway, the historian of Sussex:

"Collins is represented as sitting in a reclining posture, during a lucid interval of the afflicting malady to which he was subject, with a calm and benign aspect, as if seeking refuge from his misfortunes in the consolations of the gospel, which appears open on a table before him, whilst his lyre and one of his best compositions lie neglected on the ground. Upon the pediment of the table are placed two female ideal figures in relief, representing love and pity, entwined each in the arms of the other; the proper emblems of the genius of his poetry." It bears the following epitaph from the pen of Hayley:

"Ye who the merits of the dead revere, Who hold misfortune's sacred genius dear, Regard this tomb, where Collins, hapless name, Solicits kindness with a double claim. Though nature gave him, and though science taught The fire of fancy, and the reach of thought, Severely doom'd to penury's extreme, He pass'd in maddening pain life's feverish dream, While rays of genius only served to show The thickening horror, and exalt his woe. Ye walls that echo'd to his frantic moan, Guard the due records of this grateful stone; Strangers to him, enamour'd of his lays, This fond memorial to his talents raise. For this the ashes of a bard require, Who touch'd the tenderest notes of pity's lyre; Who join'd pure faith to strong poetic powers; Who, in reviving reason's lucid hours, Sought on one book his troubled mind to rest, And rightly deem'd the book of God the best."

Collins's character has been portrayed by all his biographers in very agreeable colours. He was amiable and virtuous, and was as much courted for his popular manners as for the charms of his conversation. The associate of Johnson, Armstrong, Hill, Garrick, Quin, Foote, the two Wartons, and Thomson, and the friend of several of these eminent men, he must have possessed many of the qualities by which they were distinguished; for though an adviser may be chosen from a very different class of persons, genius will only herd with genius. Johnson has honoured him by saying, that "his morals were pure and his opinions pious;" and though he hints that his habits were sometimes at variance with these characteristics, he assigns the aberration to the temptations of want, and the society into which poverty sometimes drives the best disposed persons, adding, that he "preserved the sources of action unpolluted, that his principles were never shaken, that his distinctions of right and wrong were never confounded, and that his faults had nothing of malignity or design, but proceeded from some unexpected pressure or casual temptation." A higher eulogium, from so rigid a moralist, could not be pronounced on a man whose life was, for many years, unsettled and perplexed; and those only who have experienced the pressure of pecuniary necessities can be aware of the difficulty of resisting meanness, or avoiding vice, if not in the sense in which these terms are usually understood, at least in a sense to which they may as properly be applied—that of refusing to prostitute talents to purposes foreign to the conviction and taste of their possessor.

On this mainly depend the annoyances and dangers of him who seeks a subsistence from his pen. The opinions which he may be desirous to express, or the subject he may be capable of illustrating, may not be popular, and the more important or learned they be, the more likely is such to be the case. Of course his labours would be rejected by publishers, who cannot buy what will not sell; hence no alternative remains but for him to manufacture marketable commodities; and when the popular taste of the present, as well as of former times, is remembered, the degradation to which a man of high intellect must often submit, when he neglects that for which nature and study peculiarly qualified him, for what is in general demand, may be easily conceived. It is not requisite to advert to the taste of the age in which we live, farther than to allude to the class of works which issues from the bazaars of fashionable publishers, and to ask, when such are alone in request, what would have been the fate, had they lived in our own times, of Johnson, Pope, Dryden, Addison, and the other ornaments of the golden age of literature? But if even in that age the Odes of Collins were too abstracted from mundane feelings, too rich in imagery, and too strongly marked by the fervour of inspiration to be generally appreciated, his chance of being so, by the public generally, is at this moment less; and the only hope of his obtaining that popularity to which he is unquestionably entitled, is by placing his works within the reach of all, and, more especially, by acquainting the multitude with the opinion entertained of him, by those whose judgments they have the sense to venerate, since they are sometimes willing to receive, on the credit of another, that which they have not themselves the discrimination or feeling to perceive.

An anecdote is related of Collins which, if true, proves that he felt the neglect with which his Odes were treated with the indignation natural to an enthusiastic temper. Having purchased the unsold copies of the first edition from the booksellers, he set fire to them with his own hand, as if to revenge himself on the apathy and ignorance of the public.

It is unnecessary to append to the Memoir of Collins many observations on the character of his poetry, because its peculiar beauties, and the qualities by which it is distinguished, are described with considerable force and eloquence by Sir Egerton Brydges, in the Essay prefixed to this edition. Campbell's remarks on the same subject cannot be forgotten; and other critics of the highest reputation have concurred in ascribing to Collins a conception and genius scarcely exceeded by any English poet. To say that Sir Egerton Brydges's Essay exaggerates the merit of some of his productions may produce the retort which has been made to Johnson's criticism, that he was too deficient in feeling to be capable of appreciating the excellence of the pieces which he censures. It is not, however, inconsistent with a high respect for Collins, to ascribe every possible praise to that unrivaled production, the Ode to the Passions, to feel deeply the beauty, the pathos, and the sublime conceptions of the Odes to Evening, to Pity, to Simplicity, and a few others, and yet to be sensible of the occasional obscurity and imperfections of his imagery in other pieces, to find it difficult to discover the meaning of some passages, to think the opening of four of his odes which commence with the common-place invocation of "O thou," and the alliteration by which so many lines are disfigured, blemishes too serious to be forgotten, unless the judgment be drowned in the full tide of generous and enthusiastic admiration of the great and extraordinary beauties by which these faults are more than redeemed.

That these defects are to be ascribed to haste it would be uncandid to deny; but haste is no apology for such faults in productions which scarcely fill a hundred pages, and which their author had ample opportunities to remove.

It may also be thought heterodoxy by the band, which, if small in numbers, is distinguished by taste, feeling, and genius, to concur in Collins's opinion, when he expressed himself dissatisfied with his Eclogues; for, though they are not without merit, it is very doubtful if they would have lived, even till this time, but for the Odes with which they are published, notwithstanding the zeal of Dr. Langhorne, who is in raptures over passages the excellence of which is not very conspicuous. To give a preference to the Verses to Sir Thomas Hanmer, of which all that Langhorne could find to say is, "that the versification is easy and genteel, and the allusions always poetical," and especially to the Ode addressed to Mr. Home, on the superstition of the Highlands, over the Eclogues, may possibly be deemed to betray a corrupt taste, since it is an admission which is, it is believed, made for the first time. In that Ode, among a hundred other beautiful verses, the following address to Tasso has seldom been surpassed:

"Prevailing Poet! whose undoubting mind Believed the magic wonders which he sung! Hence, at each sound, imagination glows! Hence, at each picture, vivid life starts here! Hence, his warm lay with softest sweetness flows! Melting it flows, pure, murmuring, strong, and clear, And fills the impassion'd heart, and wins the harmonious ear!"

The picture of the swain drowned in a fen, and the grief of his widow, possessing every charm which simplicity and tenderness can bestow, and give to that Ode claims to admiration which, if admitted, have been hitherto conceded in silence.

From the coincidence between Collins's love of, and addresses to, Music, his residence at Oxford, and from internal evidence, Some Verses on Our Late Taste in Music, which appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1740, and there said to be "by a Gentleman of Oxford," are printed in this edition of Collins's works, not, however, as positively his, but as being so likely to be written by him, as to justify their being brought to the notice of his readers.

A poet, and not to have felt the tender passion, would be a creature which the world has never yet seen. It is said that Collins was extremely fond of a young lady who was born the day before him, and who did not return his affection; and that, punning upon his misfortune, he observed, "he came into the world a day after the fair." The lady is supposed to have been Miss Elizabeth Goddard, the intended bride of Colonel Ross, to whom he addressed his beautiful Ode on the death of that Officer at the battle of Fontenoy, at which time she was on a visit to the family of the Earl of Tankerville, who then resided at Up-Park, near Chichester, a place that overlooks the little village of Harting, mentioned in the Ode.

Collins's person was of the middle size and well formed; of a light complexion, with gray, weak eyes. His mind was deeply imbued with classical literature, and he understood the Italian, French, and Spanish languages. He was well read, and was particularly conversant with early English writers, and to an ardent love of literature he united, as is manifest from many of his pieces, a passionate devotion to Music, that

"——Sphere-descended maid, Friend of Pleasure, Wisdom's aid."

His family, which were very respectable, were established at Chichester in the sixteenth century as tradesmen of the higher order, and his immediate ancestor was mayor of that city in 1619:[7] his mother's relations appear to have been of a superior condition in life.[8] Collins lost his father in 1734, and on the 5th of July, 1744, his mother died. He was an only son: of his two sisters, Elizabeth, the eldest, died unmarried, and Anne, the youngest, who took care of him when he was bereft of reason, married first Mr. Hugh Sempill, who died in 1762, and secondly the Rev. Dr. Thomas Durnford, and died at Chichester in November, 1789. Her character is thus described on the authority of Mr. Park: "The Reverend Mr. Durnford, who resided at Chichester, and was the son of Dr. Durnford, informed me, in August, 1795, that the sister of Collins loved money to excess, and evinced so outrageous an aversion to her brother, because he squandered or gave away to the boys in the cloisters whatever money he had, that she destroyed, in a paroxysm of resentment, all his papers, and whatever remained of his enthusiasm for poetry, as far as she could. Mr. Hayley told me, when I visited him at Eartham, that he had obtained from her a small drawing by Collins, but it possessed no other value than as a memorial that the bard had attempted to handle the pencil as well as the pen."[9] That Mrs. Durnford was indifferent to her brother's fame, is stated by others, and Sir Egerton Brydges, in his Essay, has made some just observations on the circumstance.

This Memoir must not be closed without an expression of acknowledgment to the Bishop of Hereford, to the President of Magdalen College, to H. Gabell, Esq., and to I. Sanden, Esq., of Chichester, for the desire which they were so good as to manifest that this account of Collins might be more satisfactory than it is; and if his admirers consider that his present biographer has not done sufficient justice to his memory, an antidote to the injury will be found in the fervent and unqualified admiration which Sir Egerton Brydges has evinced for his genius.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] 21st March, 1740.

[2] Afterwards republished with the title of "Oriental Eclogues."

[3] D'Israeli, in his "Calamities of Authors," vol. ii. p. 201.

[4] June 7th, 1746.

[5] Mr. Joseph Warton, now Dr. Warton, head master of Winton school, was at the same time second upon roll; and Mr. Mulso, now [1781] prebendary of the church of Winton, third upon roll.

[6] Hampton, the translator of Polybius.

[7] Dallaway's Sussex, vol. i. p. 185—The arms of the family of Collins are there said to have been, "Azure a griffin segreant or;" but in Sir William Burrell's MS. Collections for a History of Sussex, in the British Museum, the field is described as being vert. From those manuscripts which are marked "Additional MSS." Nos. 5697 to 5699, the following notices of the Poet's family have been extracted.

REGISTER OF ST. ANDREW'S, CHICHESTER.

BAPTISM.

Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. George Collins, 8th October, 1763.

BURIALS.

Mrs. Elizabeth Collins [the poet's mother], 6th July, 1744. William Collins, Gent. [the Poet], 15th June, 1759.

REGISTER OF ST. PETER THE GREAT, CHICHESTER.

BAPTISMS.

Charles, son of Roger Collins, 8th February, 1645. George, son of Mr. George Collins, 28th December, 1647. Humphrey, son of Mr. Richard Collins, 20th Dec. 1648. George, son of Mr. George Collins, 7th September, 1651. Christian, daughter of Mr. Richard Collins, 1st Sept. 1652. John, son of Mr. Richard Collins, senior, 13th Dec. 1652. Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. Richard Collins, sen. 16th May, 1656. Joan, daughter of Mr. Richard Collins, jun. 12th Dec. 1656. Judith, daughter of Mr. Collins, Vicar Choral, 17th April, 1667. Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. William Collins, 6th March, 1704.

MARRIAGES.

Mr. Charles Collins and Mrs. Elizabeth Cardiff, 14th April, 1696.

BURIALS.

—— wife of Mr. William Collins, 10th December, 1650. Susan, wife of Mr. Richard Collins, 3rd December, 1657. Mr. George Collins, 10th January, 1669. Mrs. Collins of St. Olave's Parish, 19th July, 1696.

There are monumental inscriptions in St. Andrew's Church, Chichester, to the Poet's father, mother, maternal uncle, Colonel Martyn, and sister, Mrs. Durnford.

[8] So much of the will of Colonel Edmund Martyn as relates to the Poet and his sister has been already cited, but the testator's situation in life and the respectability of his family are best shown by other parts of that document. He describes himself as a lieutenant-colonel in his Majesty's service, lying sick in the city of Chichester. To his niece Elizabeth, the wife of Thomas Napper, of Itchenor in Sussex, he bequeathed 100l. His copyhold estates of the manors of Selsey, and Somerly, in that county, to his nephew, Abraham Martyn, the youngest son of his late only brother, Henry Martyn, and to his servant, John Hipp, he gave his wearing apparel and ten pounds.

[9] Dyce's edition of Collins, 1827, p. 39.



AN ESSAY ON THE GENIUS AND POEMS OF COLLINS.

BY SIR EGERTON BRYDGES, BART.

Collins is the founder of a new school of poetry, of a high class. It is true that, unless Buckhurst and Spenser had gone before him, he could not have written as he has done; yet he is an inventor very distinct from both. He calls his odes descriptive and allegorical; and this characterises them truly, but too generally. The personification of abstract qualities had never been so happily executed before; the pure spirituality of the conception, the elegance and force of the language, the harmony and variety of the numbers, were all executed with a felicity which none before or since have reached. That these poems did not at once captivate the public attention cannot be accounted for by any cause hitherto assigned. We may not wonder that the multitude did not at once perceive their full beauties; but that, among readers of taste and learning, there should not have been found a sufficient number to set the example of admiration, is very extraordinary. In addition to all their other high merits, the mere novelty of thought and manner were sufficient to excite immediate notice. Nor was there any thing in Collins's station or character to create prejudices against the probability that beautiful effusions of genius might be struck out by his hand. His education at the college of Winchester, his fame at Oxford, his associates in London, all were fair preludes to the production of beautiful poetry. Indeed, he had already produced beautiful poetry in his Oriental Eclogues, four years before his Odes appeared. These were, it is admitted, of a different cast from his Odes, and of a gentleness and chastity of thought and diction, which he himself was conscious, some years afterwards, did not very well represent the gorgeousness of eastern composition.

It was a crisis when there was a fair opening for new candidates for the laurel. The uniformity of Pope's style began already to pall upon the public ear. Thomson was indolent, and Young eccentric; Gray had not yet appeared on the stage; and Akenside's metaphysical subject and diffuse style were not calculated to engross the general taste. Johnson had taken possession of the field of satire, but there are too many readers of enthusiastic mind to be satisfied with satire. The pedantry and uncouthness of Walter Harte had precluded him from ever being a favourite with the public; Shenstone had not yet risen into fame; and Lyttelton was engrossed by politics. When, therefore, Collins's Odes appeared, all speculation would have anticipated that they must have been successful. But we must recollect that they did not excite the admiration of Johnson; and that Gray did not read them with that unqualified approval which his native taste would have inspired. This singularity must be accounted for by other causes than their want of merit.

The disappointment of Collins was so keen and deep, that he not only burned the unsold copies with his own hand, but soon fell into a melancholy which ended in insanity. Many persons have affected to comment on this result with an unfeeling ignorance of human nature, and, more especially, of fervid genius. It is, undoubtedly, highly dangerous to give the entire reins to imagination; the discipline of a constant exercise of reason is not only salutary, but necessary. But one can easily conceive how the indulgence of that state of mind which produced Collins's Odes could end in an entire overthrow of the intellect, when embittered by a defect of the principal objects of his worldly ambition. He is said to have been puffed up by a vanity which prompted him to expect that all eyes would be upon him, and all voices lifted in his praise. Such was the conception of a vulgar observer of the human character. Why should it have been vanity that prompted this hope? It was a consciousness of merit, of those brilliant powers which produced the Ode to the Passions! was ever a voice content which sung to those who would not hear, which was condemned

"To waste its sweetness on the desert air?"

Spenser's power of personification is copious beyond example; but it is seldom sufficiently select; rich as it is in imagination, it too commonly wants taste and delicacy; it has the fault of coarseness, which Burke's images in prose two centuries afterwards, sometimes fell into. But Collins's images are as pure, and of as exquisite delicacy, as they are spiritual. They are not human beings invested with some of the attributes of angels, but the whole figure is purely angelic, and of a higher order of creation; in this they are distinct even from the admirable personifications of Gray, because they are less earthly. The Ode to the Passions is, by universal consent, the noblest of Collins's productions, because it exhibits a much more extended invention, not of one passion only, but of all the passions combined, acting, according to the powers of each, to one end. The execution, also, is the happiest, each particular passion is drawn with inimitable force and compression. Let us take only FEAR and DESPAIR, each dashed out in four lines, of which every word is like inspiration. Beautiful as Spenser is, and sometimes sublime, yet he redoubles his touches too much, and often introduces some coarse feature or expression, which destroys the spell. Spenser, indeed, has other merits of splendid and inexhaustible invention, which render it impossible to put Collins on a par with him: but we must not estimate merit by mere quantity: if a poet produces but one short piece, which is perfect, he must be placed according to its quality. And surely there is not a single figure in Collins's Ode to the Passions which is not perfect, both in conception and language. He has had many imitators, but no one has ever approached him in his own department.

The Ode to Evening is, perhaps, the next in point of merit. It is quite of a different cast; it is descriptive of natural scenery; and such a scene of enchanting repose was never exhibited by Claude, or any other among the happiest of painters. Though a mere verbal description can never rival a fine picture in a mere address to the material part of our nature, yet it far eclipses it with those who have the endowment of a brilliant fancy, because it gratifies their taste, selection, and sentiment. Delightful, therefore, as it is to look upon a Claude, it is more delightful to look upon this description. It is vain to attempt to analyse the charm of this Ode; it is so subtle, that it escapes analysis. Its harmony is so perfect, that it requires no rhyme: the objects are so happily chosen, and the simple epithets convey ideas and feelings so congenial to each other, as to throw the reader into the very mood over which the personified being so beautifully designed presides. No other poem on the same subject has the same magic. It assuredly suggested some images and a tone of expression to Gray in his Elegy.

The Ode on the Poetical Character is here and there a little involved and obscure; but its general conception is magnificent, and beaming that spirit of inventive enthusiasm, which alone can cherish the poet's powers, and bring forth the due fruits. Collins never touched the lyre but he was borne away by the inspiration under which he laboured. The Dirge in Cymbeline, the lines on Thomson, and the Ode on Colonel Ross breathe such a beautiful simplicity of pathos, and yet are so highly poetical and graceful in every thought and tone, that, exquisitely polished as they are, and without one superfluous or one prosaic word, they never once betray the artifices of composition. The extreme transparency of the words and thoughts would induce a vulgar reader to consider them trite, while they are the expression of a genius so refined as to be all essence of spirit. In Gray, excellent as he is, we continually encounter the marks of labour and effort, and occasional crudeness, which shows that effort had not always succeeded, such as "iron hand and torturing hour;" but nothing of this kind occurs in the principal poems of Collins. There is a fire of mind which supersedes labour, and produces what labour cannot. It has been said that Collins is neither sublime nor pathetic; but only ingenious and fanciful. The truth is, that he was cast in the very mould of sublimity and pathos. He lived in an atmosphere above the earth, and breathed only in a visionary world. He was conversant with nothing else, and this must have been the secret by which he produced compositions so entirely spiritual. He who has daily intercourse with the world, and feels the vulgar human passions, cannot be in a humour to write poems which do not partake of earthly coarseness.

It may be asked, cui bono? what is the moral use of such poems as these? Whatever refines the intellect improves the heart; whatever augments and fortifies the spiritual part of our nature raises us in the rank of created beings. And what poems are more calculated to refine our intellect, and increase our spirituality, than the poems of Collins? To embody, in a brilliant manner, the most beautiful abstractions, to put them into action, and to add to them splendour, harmony, strength, and purity of language, is to complete a task as admirable for its use and its delight, as it is difficult to be executed. No one can receive the intellectual gratification which such works are capable of producing without being the better for it. The understanding was never yet roused to the conception of such pure and abstract thinking without an elevation of the whole nature of the being so roused. The expression of subtle and evanescent ideas, carried to its perfection, is among the very noblest and most exalted studies with which the human mind can be conversant.

It has been the fashion of our own age to beat out works into twentyfold and fiftyfold the size of those of Collins. I do not quarrel with that fashion; each fashion has its use: and my own taste induces me to perceive the value and many attractions of long narrative poems, full of human passions and practical wisdom. The matter is more desirable than the workmanship; and much of occasional carelessness in the language may be forgiven, for fertility of natural and just thought and interest of story. But this in no degree diminishes the value of those gems, which, though of the smallest size, comprehend perfections of every kind. It is easier to work upon a large field than a small one,—one where is

"Ample room and verge enough The characters of hell to trace."

But these diffuse productions are not calculated to give the same sort of pleasure as the gems. How difficult was the path chosen by Collins is sufficiently proved by the want of success of all who have entered the same walk: Gray's was not the same, as I shall endeavour presently to show. In the miscellany of Dodsley and other collectors will be found numerous attempts at Allegorical Odes: they are almost all nauseous failures—without originality or distinctness of conception; bald in their language, lame in their numbers, and repulsive from their insipidity of ideas.

Gray's personifications can scarcely be called allegorical, they have so much of humanity about them. He dealt in all the noble and melancholy feelings of the human heart: he never for one moment forgot to be a moralist: he was constantly under the influence of powerful sympathy for the miseries of man's life; and wrote from the overflow of his bosom rather than of his imagination. It is true that his imagination presented the pictures to him; but it was his heart which impelled him to speak. Take the Ode on the Prospect of Eton College; there is not one word which did not break from the bottom of his heart. The multitude cannot enter into the visionary world of Collins: all who have a spark of virtuous human feelings can sympathize with Gray. It is impossible to deny that of these two beautiful poets Gray is the most instructive as a moralist; but Gray is not so original as Collins, not so inventive, not so perfect in his language, and has not so much the fire and flow of inspiration.

When Collins is spoken of as one of the minor poets, it is a sad misapplication of the term. Unless he be minor because the number and size of his poems is small, no one is less a minor poet. In him every word is poetry, and poetry either sublime or pathetic. He does not rise to the sublimity of Milton or Dante, or reach the graceful tenderness of Petrarch; but he has a visionary invention of his own, to which there is no rival. As long as the language lasts, every richly gifted and richly cultivated mind will read him with intense and wondering rapture; and will not cease to entertain the conviction, from his example, if from no other, that true poetry of the higher orders is real inspiration.

It will occur to many readers, on perusing these passages of exalted praise, that Johnson has spoken of Collins in a very different manner. Almost fifty years have elapsed since Johnson's final criticism on him appeared in his Lives of the Poets. It disgusted me so much at the time, and the disgust continued so violent, that for a long period it blinded me to all his stupendous merits, because it evinced not only bad taste but unamiable feelings. I cannot yet either justify it, or account for it. He speaks of Collins having sought for splendour without attaining it—of clogging his lines with consonants, and of mistaking inversion of language for poetry. Not one of these faults belongs to Collins. In almost all his poems the words follow their natural order, and are mellifluous beyond those of almost any other verse writer. If the Passions are not described with splendour, there is no such thing as splendour. If the beauties which he sought and attained are unnatural and extravagant, then the tests of correctness and good taste which have been hitherto set up must be abandoned.

This severe criticism is the more extraordinary because Johnson professed a warm personal friendship for Collins; he professes admiration of his talents, learning, and taste, as well as of his disposition and heart, and speaks of his afflicting ill health with a passionate tenderness which has seldom been equalled in beauty, pathos, and force of language. That he could love him personally with such fondness, but be blind to his splendid and unrivaled genius, is utterly beyond my power to account for. Who can say that Johnson wanted taste when we read his sublime and acute criticisms on Milton, Dryden, and Pope? Was it that he roused all the faculties of his judgment when he spoke of these great men of past times; yet, that when he descended to his contemporaries, he indulged his feelings rather than his intellect, and suffered himself to be overcome by the evil passions of envy and contempt? His natural taste was, probably, not the best; when his criticisms were perfect he had tasked his intellect rather than his feelings. He was a man of general wisdom and undoubted genius, but not a very nice scholar, and he prided himself upon his every-day sense, his practical knowledge, rather than those visionary musings which he thought a dangerous indulgence of imagination. He could not put the compositions of Collins among the mere curiosities of literature, but he permitted himself to depreciate habits of mental excursion which he had not himself cultivated.

It was not till more than twenty years after Collins's death that his Ode on the Superstitions of the Highlands was recovered. The two Wartons had seen it, and spoke highly of it to Johnson and others. About 1781, or 1782, a copy was found among the papers of Dr. Carlysle, with a chasm of two or three stanzas. The public deemed it equal to the expectations which had been raised of it; for my part I will confess that I was always deeply disappointed at it. There are in it occasional traces of Collins's genius and several good lines—but none grand—none of that felicitous flow and inspired vigour which mark the Ode to the Passions and other of his lyrics—none of that happy personification of abstract conceptions which is the characteristic of his genius. The majority of the lines lag and move heavily, and do not seem to me to rise much above mediocrity in the expression. The subject was attractive, and might have afforded space for the wild excursions of Collins's creative powers. As to the edition of Bell, in which it is pretended that the lost stanzas have been recovered, I have no more doubt that they are spurious than that I did not write them myself: I will not dwell upon this subject, but only mention that it is quite impossible Collins could write "Fate gave the fatal blow," and "bowing to Freedom's yoke;" and such a line as

"In the first year of the first George's reign," &c.

There is not one line among these interpolated stanzas which it is possible that Collins could have written.

Mr. Ragdale relates that Collins was in the habit of writing numerous fragments, and then throwing them into the flames. Jackson, of Exeter, says the same of John Bampfylde. A sensitive mind is scarce ever satisfied with the reception it meets, when, in first heat of composition, it hopes to delight some listener, to which it first communicates its new effusions. It almost always considers itself to be "damn'd by faint praise." I have known fervid authors who, if they read or communicated a piece before it was finished, never went on with it. They thought it became blown upon, and turned from it with coldness, disgust, and despair. Yet the hearer is commonly not in fault: who can satisfy the warm hopes of aspiring and restless genius?

The Wartons have expressed themselves with praise and affection of Collins, but not, I think, with the entire admiration which was due to him. Joseph Warton was a good-natured and generous-minded man, but something of rivalry lurked in his bosom; and the fraternal partiality of Thomas Warton had the same effect. The younger brother seems to have thought that Joseph's genius was equal to that of Collins. Gray had the critical acumen to discern the difference; but still he in no degree does justice to Collins. He accuses him of want of taste and selection, which is a surprising charge; and the more so, because Gray did not disdain to borrow from him. Gray's fault was an affected fastidiousness, as appears by the slighting manner in which he speaks of Thomson's Castle of Indolence on its first appearance, as well as of Akenside's Pleasures of Imagination, and Shenstone's Elegies. That Gray had exquisite taste, and was a perfect scholar, no one can doubt.

Collins lived thirteen years after the publication of his Odes. It does not appear that he produced any thing after this publication. How soon his grand mental malady extinguished his literary powers, I do not exactly know, nor is it recorded, whether any part of it arose from bodily disorders. Medical men have never agreed regarding this most deplorable of human afflictions. In Collins's case it probably arose from the mind. On such an intellectual temperament the extinction of the visions which Hope had painted to him seems to have been sufficient to produce that derangement, which first enfeebled, and then perverted and annihilated his faculties. The account given by Johnson is different from that supplied by Mr. Ragdale and another anonymous communication.

He had, perhaps, lucid intervals in which he discovered nothing but weakness and exhaustion. But he appears to have sometimes had fits of violence and despair. It seems that he was an enthusiastic admirer of Shakespeare, and a great reader of black letter books. It may be inferred that his studies were not entirely given up during his malady; but it is a subject of great wonder and regret that the Wartons, the intimate friends both of his better and darker days, have left no particular memorials of him. He had a sister, lately, if not still, living, from whom, though of a very uncongenial nature, something might surely have been gathered. But there is a familiarity which, by destroying admiration, destroys the perception of what will interest others. There are few of our poets of rare genius, of whose private life and character much is known. Little is known of Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton: not much even of Thomson. More is known of Gray by the medium of his beautiful letters; but when Southey, Wordsworth, and Scott are gone, posterity will know every particular of them; and, even now, know much which fills them with delight and admiration. But let us know something in good time, also of the new candidates for poetical fame!

If the life of a poet is not in accordance with his song, it may be suspected that the song itself is not genuine. Who can be a poet, and yet be a worldling in his passions and habits? An artificial poet is a disgusting dealer in trifles: nothing but the predominance of strong and unstimulated feeling will give that inspiration without which it is worse than an empty sound. When the passion is factitious, the excitement has always an immoral tendency; but the delineation of real and amiable sentiments calls up a sympathy in other bosoms which thus confirms and fixes them where they would otherwise die away. The memory may preserve what is artificial, but, when it becomes stale, it turns to offensiveness, and thus breeds an alienation from literature itself.

That Collins has continued to increase in fame as years have passed away, is the most decisive of all proofs that his poems have the pure and sterling merit which began to be ascribed to them soon after his death. M. Bonstetten tells me that Gray died without a suspicion of the high rank he was thereafter to hold in the annals of British genius? What did poor Collins think when he submitted his sublime odes to the flames? He must have had fits of confidence, even then, in himself; but intermixed with gloom and despair, and curses of the wretched doom of his birth! Is it sufficient that a man should wrap himself up in himself, and be content if the poetry creates itself and expires in his own heart? We strike the lyre to excite sympathy, and, if no one will hear, will any one not feel that he strikes in vain; and that the talent given us is useless, and even painful? But who can be assured that he has the talent if no one acknowledges it? To have it, and not to be assured that we have it, is a restless fire that burns to consume us.

Let no one envy the endowments, if he looks at the fate, of poets. Let him contemplate Spenser, Denham, Rochester, Otway, Collins, Chatterton, Burns, Kirke White, Bloomfield, Shelley, Keats, and Byron, besides those of foreign countries! Perhaps Collins was the most unhappy of all; as he was assuredly one of the most inspired and most amiable.

"In woful measures wan Despair— Low sullen sounds his grief beguiled, A solemn, strange, and mingled air; 'Twas sad by fits, by starts 'twas wild."

Langhorne's edition of Collins first appeared in 1765, accompanied by observations which have been generally appended to subsequent editions. These observations have commonly borne the character of feebleness and affectation; they have a sort of pedantic prettiness, which is somewhat repulsive, but they do not want ingenuity, or justness of criticism. Part of them, at least, had previously appeared in the Monthly Review, probably written by Langhorne. Langhorne was not deficient himself in poetical genius, but is principally remembered by a single beautiful stanza, "Cold on Canadian hills," &c. From the time of Langhorne's first edition, Collins became a popular poet; a miniature edition appeared soon after that of Langhorne; and as long as I can remember books, which goes back at least to the year 1770, Collins's poems were almost universally on the lips of readers of English poetry. That Cowper, in 1784, should speak of him as "a poet of no great fame," proves nothing, since Cowper's long seclusion from the world had made him utterly ignorant of contemporary literature. The negative inference, from the omission of Beattie, is not of much weight. I cannot recollect the date of the article in the Monthly Review; but, as it appears that Collins survived till 1759, I suspect it was before Collins's death. It was in September, 1754, that the Wartons visited him at Chichester: in that year he paid a visit to Oxford, when it appears that he was suffering under exhausture, not alienation, of mind.

The critics, and, among the rest, Mrs. Barbauld and Campbell, have ascribed to him "frequent obscurity;" this is unjust,—his general characteristic is lucidness and transparency: he is never obscure, unless in the Ode to Liberty, and, perhaps, in a few passages of the Ode on the Manners. Campbell's criticism is, otherwise, worthy of this beautiful poet, whom he praises with congenial spirit. When Hazlitt speaks of the "tinsel and splendid patchwork" of Collins, "mixed with the solid, sterling ore of his genius," he speaks of a base material not to be found there. In Collins there is no tinsel or patchwork, one of his excellencies is, that the whole of every piece is of one web; there are no joinings or meaner threads. There is no height to which Collins might not have risen, had he lived long, had his mind continued sound, and had he persevered in exercising his genius. Campbell remarks that, at the same age, Milton had written nothing which could eclipse his productions.

Of the two communications regarding Collins, to which I have already alluded, one anonymous, the other by a Mr. John Ragsdale, I must say something more. The first, signed V., appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine, with the date of the 20th Jan. 1781. I well remember its publication, and with what eagerness I read it. I suspect it was at the very crisis of the appearance of the last portion of Johnson's Lives, but possibly a year earlier. I perused it with a mixture of delight, melancholy, and disgust; the first passage which struck me was this: "As he brought with him [to Oxford], for so the whole tone of his conversation discovered, too high an opinion of his school acquisitions and a sovereign contempt for all academic studies and discipline, he never looked with any complacency on his situation in the University, but was always complaining of the dulness of a college life. In short, he threw up his demyship, and going to London, commenced a man of the town, spending his time in all the dissipation of Ranelagh, Vauxhall, and the playhouses; and was romantic enough to suppose that his superior abilities would draw the attention of the great world, by means of whom he was to make his fortune," &c., &c.—"Thus was lost to the world this unfortunate person, in the prime of life, without availing himself of fine abilities, which, if properly improved, must have raised him to the top of any profession, and have rendered him a blessing to his friends, and an ornament to his country."

The vulgarity and narrow-mindedness of this last paragraph filled me with indignation and contempt. In a selfish point of view Collins might, unquestionably, have done better by binding himself to the trammels of a profession; but would he have been more an honor to his friends and an ornament to his country? Are the fruits of genius he has left behind no ornament or use to his country? Professional men, for the most part, live for themselves, and not for the world. Who now remembers Lord Camden, Lord Thurlow, Lord Rosslyn, Lord Kenyon, Lord Ellenborough, or a hundred episcopal or medical characters, all rich and famous in their day?

The character of his person and habits we read with deep interest. "He was passionately fond of music, good-natured, and affable, warm in his friendships, and visionary in his pursuits; and, as long as I knew him, very temperate in his eating and drinking. He was of a moderate stature, of a light and clear complexion, with gray eyes, so very weak at times as hardly to bear a candle in the room, and often raising within him apprehensions of blindness."

The letter from Mr. John Ragsdale is addressed to Mr. William Hymers, Queen's College, Oxford, dated "Hill Street, Richmond, in Surrey, July, 1783." He appears to have been a tradesman in Bond Street; and he surveyed the character of Collins (with whom he was familiar) with a tradesman's eye. He reproached the poet with idleness, not because he was lingering and losing his time on the road to fame, but because he omitted to get money by his pen. "To raise a present subsistence," says Ragsdale, "he set about writing his Odes; and having a general invitation to my house, he frequently passed whole days there, which he employed in writing them, and as frequently burning what he had written after he had read them to me: many of them, which pleased me, I struggled to preserve, but without effect; for, pretending he would alter them, he got them from me, and thrust them into the fire." That he wrote the Odes to gain a present subsistence is but the tradesman's mistaken comment.

Gray was about four years older than Collins, and he survived him twelve years; he appears to have spent these years in gloominess and spleen; but we know not what intense pleasures he received from his solitary studies, from the improvement of his mind, from that exquisite taste and increasing erudition of which every day added to the stores. The enthusiasm of Collins was more active and adventurous, and his erudition probably more acute. Timidity and fastidiousness were great defects in Gray; they kept down his invention, and made him resort to the wealth of others, when he could better have relied upon himself. But as to borrowing expressions and simple materials, no genius ever did otherwise; it is the new and happy combination in which lies the invention. It may be doubted which are now most popular, the Odes of Collins or of Gray. On the one hand, what is most abstract is least calculated for the general reader; on the other hand, the variety of learned allusions in Gray renders the style and thoughts of his most celebrated Odes less simple, less direct, and less easily comprehended at once; but then his deep morality, the touching strokes which go immediately to the heart, his sensibility to the common sorrows of human life, his powerful reflection of the sentiments which "come home to every one's business and bosom," form an attraction which perhaps turns the scale in his favour. Of both these sublime poets the correctness of composition renders the writings a national good.

The French Revolution, which affected and partly reversed the minds of all Europe, produced a new era in our literature. There was good as well as evil in the new force thus infused into the human intellect. Our poetry had generally become tame and trite; a sort of languid mechanism had brought it into contempt; it was very little read, and still less esteemed. This might be not merely the effect, but also the cause of a deficiency of striking genius in the candidates for the laurel. Collins and Gray were dead; Mason had hung up the lyre; and Thomas Warton was then thought too laboured and quaint; Hayley had succeeded beyond expectation by a return to moral and didactic poetry at a moment when the public was satiated by vile imitations of lyrical and descriptive composition; but Cowper gave a new impulse to the curiosity of poetical readers, by a natural train of thought and the unlaboured effusions of genuine feeling. There is no doubt that a fearful regard to models stifles all force and preeminent merit. The burst of the French Revolution set the faculties of all young persons free. It was dangerous to secondary talents, and only led them into extravagances and absurdities. To Wordsworth, Southey, Scott, it was the removal of a weight, which would have hid the fire of their genius. But the exuberance of their inexhaustible minds in no degree lessens the value of the more reserved models of excellence of a tamer age. The contrast of their varied attractions supplies the reader with opposite kinds of merit, which delight and improve the more by this very opposition.

Authors seldom estimate each other rightly in their lifetimes. The race of poets, of whom the last died with the century, had little friendship, or even acquaintance among themselves; or rather, they broke into little sets of two and three, which narrowed their opinions and their hearts; Gray and Mason, Johnson and the two Wartons, Cowper and Hayley, Darwin and Miss Seward; but Shenstone, Beattie, Akenside, Burns, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Smith, &c. stood alone. This is not desirable. Innumerable advantages spring from frank and generous communication. Collins and Gray had not the most remote personal knowledge of each other. Gray never mentions Dr. Sneyd Davies, a poet and an Etonian, nearly contemporary; nor Nicholas Hardinge, a scholar and a poet also. Mundy, the author of Needwood Forest, passed a long life in the country, totally removed from poets and literati, except the small coterie of Miss Seward, at Litchfield. The lives of poets would be the most amusing of all biography, if the materials were less scanty: it is strange that so few of them have left any ample records of themselves; of many not even a letter or fragment of memorials is preserved. None of Cowley's letters, a mode of composition in which he is said to have eminently excelled, have come down to us. Of Prior, Tickell, Thomson, Young, Dyer, Akenside, the Wartons, there are few of any importance known to be in existence. Those of Hayley, which Dr. J. Johnson has brought forward, are not of the interest which might have been expected. Mrs. Carter's are excellent, and many of Beattie's amusing and amiable: it had been well for Miss Seward if most of hers had been consigned to the flames. Those of Charlotte Smith it has not been thought prudent to give to the public. The greater part of those of Lord Byron, which Moore has hitherto put forth, had better have been spared: they are written in false taste, and are under a factitious character: in general, the prose style of poets is admirable;—it was not Lord Byron's excellence. We have no specimens of the prose of Collins: it is grievous that he did not execute his project of The History of the Revival of Literature, or of the Lives for the Biographia Britannica, which he undertook. Poets of research are, of all authors, best qualified to write biography with sagacity and eloquence; they see into the human heart, and detect its most secret movements; and if there be a class of literature more amusing and more instructive than another, it is well written biography.

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse