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ILLIAM COLLINS was born at Chichester on the twenty-fifth of December, about 17202. His father was a hatter of good reputation3. He was in 1733, as Dr. Warton has kindly informed me, admitted scholar of Winchester College, where he was educated by Dr. Burton 5. His English exercises were better than his Latin.
2 He first courted the notice of the publick by some verses To a Lady weeping, published in The Gentleman's Magazine. 3 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'. This was the original misfortune of his life. 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 9.
In The Poetical Calendar, xii. 107, there is a brief memoir of Collins, reprinted in Gent. Mag. 1764, p. 23, which Johnson perhaps used.
1721. Collins's Poems, ed. Moy Thomas, Preface, p. 9.
3 He was thrice Mayor. Ib.
4 Johnson, in his Dictionary, does not give scholar in the sense he uses it here-one who had his education and maintenance free. He gives scholarship.
5 Warton and Collins were schoolfellows. Warton succeeded Burton as head master.
Oct. 1739, p. 545, under the title of Sonnet. It is not included in Eng. Poets. It is given in Thomas's Collins, p. 100, and in John. Letters, ii. 131 n. See post, COLLINS, 18.
'Winchester College and New College, Oxford, formed two parts of one great foundation. The seventy Fellows and Scholars of New College are elected from the College of Win
chester, where an election is held annually to supply the vacancies which may happen in the course of the ensuing year!' Oxford Univ. Cal. 1833, p. 207. No one could be examined after his nineteenth birthday. See ante, BROOME, I; SOMERVILE, 2; post, YOUNG, 5.
He matriculated at Queen's on March 22, 1739-40, aged 18. 'Remaining still at Winchester he was elected in the summer of 1740, and placed first upon the Roll for New College, but no vacancy occurring during the year he became superannuated. On July 29. 1741, he was admitted a Demy of Magdalen. In 1743 he took his B.A. degree, and in 1744 he resigned his Demyship.' Bloxam's Reg. of Mag. Coll. vi. 254. For Demy see ante. ADDISON, 8.
According to Gilbert White, who had known him at Oxford, 'he had a sovereign contempt for all academic studies and discipline, and was always
He now (about 1744) came to London a literary adventurer, 4 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 his schemes, and suffered him to pursue no settled purpose 2. A man, doubtful of his dinner, or trembling at a creditor, is not much disposed to abstracted meditation or remote enquiries 3. He published proposals for a History of the Revival of Learning, and I have heard him speak with great kindness of Leo the Tenth, and with keen resentment of his tasteless successor 5. But probably not a page of the History was ever written. He planned several tragedies, but he only planned them. He wrote now and then odes and other poems, and did something, however little.
complaining of the dulness of a college life. Going to London, he commenced a man of the town. He soon wasted his little property.' Thomas's Collins, Preface, p. 31.
Eight years after Collins left Magdalen Gibbon entered, and took note of the Fellows, with 'their dull and deep potations,' and the Demies, those 'poor scholars, whose ambition aspired to the peaceful honour of a Fellowship.' Memoirs, p. 58.
Johnson describes himself as he had come to London seven years earlier. Boswell's Johnson, i. 101. Collins had inherited a small property which he sold. Thomas's Collins, Preface, pp. 16, 18.
Mulso wrote to White on Sept. 7, 1745:- Collins has been some time returned from Flanders in order to put on the gown as I hear, and get a chaplaincy in a regiment. Don't laugh. . . . This will be the second acquaintance of mine who becomes the thing he most derides.' R. HoltWhite's Life of Gilbert White, i. 41.
3 For Johnson impransus see Boswell's Johnson, i. 137.
His History was to include the pontificates of Julius II and Leo X. Poet. Cal. xii. 109. According to T. Warton he finished the Preliminary Dissertation. Thomas's Collins, Preface, p. 43. J. Warton refers to this book in his Essay on Pope, i. 186.
J. Mulso wrote to Gilbert White on
July 18, 1744:-'I saw Collins in town; he is entirely an author, and hardly speaks out of rule. I hope his subscriptions go on well in Oxford.' Life of White, i. 38. His subscriptions did not answer his expectations.' Gent. Mag. 1764, p. 23.
Johnson projected a work under the same title. Boswell's Johnson, iv. 382.
5 Adrian VI, preceptor of Charles V. 'He was indeed no inconsiderable proficient in those frivolous sciences which during several centuries assumed the name of philosophy.... But he was without any tincture of taste or elegance.' ROBERTSON, Hist. of Charles V, 1802, ii. 27. 'A sa mort on écrivit sur la porte de son médecin :-Au libérateur de la patrie.' VOLTAIRE, Euvres, xxii. 16.
Of Leo's predecessor, Julius II, and of his great-grandfather, Cosmo de Medici, Collins wrote:'As Arts expired, resistless dulness rose;
About this time I fell into his company. His appearance was decent' and manly; his knowledge considerable, his views extensive, his conversation elegant, and his disposition chearful. By degrees I gained his confidence; and one day was admitted to him when he was immured by a bailiff that was prowling in the street. On this occasion recourse was had to the booksellers, who, on the credit of a translation of Aristotle's Poeticks, which he engaged to write with a large commentary, advanced as much money as enabled him to escape into the country. He shewed me the guineas safe in his hand. Soon afterwards his uncle, Mr. Martin, a lieutenant-colonel 3, left him about two thousand
on several subjects. By Jos. Warton, B.A., price 1s. 6d. Of the Persian Eclogues the British Museum has no copy. [They were republished in 1757 as Oriental Eclogues. Thomas's Collins, Pref. pp. 15, 46; post, COLLINS, 14.] Warton wrote:- Collins is not to publish the Odes unless he gets ten guineas for them.' Wooll's Warton, p. 15.
Gray wrote in Dec. 1746:-'Have you seen the works of two young authors, a Mr. Warton and a Mr. Collins, both writers of Odes? It is odd enough, but each is the half of a considerable man, and one the counterpart of the other. The first has but little invention, very poetical choice of expression, and a good ear; the second a fine fancy modelled upon the antique, a bad ear, great variety of words, and images with no choice at all. They both deserve to last some years, but will not.' Letters, i. 153.
Of Collins's Eclogues 500 copies were printed, and of his Odes 1,000. Thomas's Collins, Preface, pp. 16, 22.
In what sense does Johnson use decent? He defines it as 'becoming; fit; suitable.' Mr. Thomas thinks that here it means 'graceful.' Collins's Poems, Preface, p. 49. That is more than Johnson meant. In The Deserted Village, 1. 12,
'The decent church that topp'd the neighbouring hill'
was not likely to have been graceful.
When Pope said 'Secker is decent' (Epil. Sat. ii. 71) he meant that his conduct is not unbecoming a bishop. So Collins's appearance was 'becom
ing'-according to the modern phrase 'that of a gentleman '—the reverse of the appearance of Johnson and of many of his brother authors.
Johnson probably was the gobetween, as he was when he sold The Vicar of Wakefield for Goldsmith when arrested for debt. Boswell's Johnson, i. 416.
3 Edmund Martin, Esq., Lieut.Col. of the King's Reg. of Foot' died on April 18, 1749. Gent. Mag. 1749, p. 188. [He had been wounded in the action of the Val in Flanders in 1747 when in command of Wolfe's Regiment of Foot, i.e. the 8th Regt., sometimes called the King's Own. Soon after he returned to England, where he died at Chichester in the house of Collins's sisters. Collins's Poems, ed. Moy Thomas, Preface, PP. 15, 24.]
Dr. Warton in a note on The Dunciad, iv. 560
'Wash Bladen white, and expiate Hays's stain,'
says: Colonel Martin Bladen was uncle to my dear friend Mr. Collins the Poet, to whom he left an estate, which he did not get possession of till his faculties were deranged. remember Collins told me that Bladen had given to Voltaire all that account of Camoens inserted in his Essay on the Epic Poets of all Nations [Euvres, viii. 385]. Warton's Pope's Works, v. 281.
[Mr. Moy Thomas (Collins's Poems, p. 26), in reference to Warton's note, says that the name of Collins's uncle was simply Martin, and not Martin
pounds; a sum which Collins could scarcely think exhaustible, and which he did not live to exhaust. The guineas were then repaid, and the translation neglected.
But man is not born for happiness. Collins, who, while he 6 'studied to live',' felt no evil but poverty, no sooner 'lived to study' than his life was assailed by more dreadful calamities, disease and insanity.
Having formerly written his character, while perhaps it was 7 yet more distinctly impressed upon my memory, I shall insert it here.
'Mr. Collins was a man of extensive literature, and of vigorous 8 faculties. He was acquainted not only with the learned tongues, but with the Italian, French, and Spanish languages 3. 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 inchantment, to gaze on the magnificence of golden palaces, to repose by the water-falls of Elysian gardens *.
'This was, however, the character rather of his inclination 9 than his genius; the grandeur of wildness and the novelty of extravagance were always desired by him, but were not always
Bladen, the translator of Caesar's Commentaries, with whom he had no connexion whatever.]
Curiously enough on the page of Gent. Mag. quoted above is the death on April 6 of 'Martin Bladen of Wigan, Esq.' Cunningham (iii. 282) is mistaken when he says that his uncle was Colonel Martin Bladen who died Feb. 15, 1745-6.
'I would live to study, and not study to live.' BACON, Works, 1803, vi. 332.
'You only paint to live, not live to paint.' DRYDEN, Works, xi. 89. "For we that live to please must please to live.'
JOHNSON, Drury Lane Prologue. In 1763 in The Poetical Character by Fawkes and Woty, vol. xii. p. 108, quoted in Gent. Mag. 1764, p. 24. It is introduced as an account of Mr. Collins by a gentleman deservedly
LIVES OF POETS. III
attained. Yet as diligence is never wholly lost, if his efforts sometimes caused harshness and obscurity, they likewise produced in happier moments sublimity and splendour. This idea which he had formed of excellence led him to oriental fictions and allegorical imagery, and perhaps, while he was intent upon description, he did not sufficiently cultivate sentiment. His poems are the productions of a mind not deficient in fire, nor unfurnished with knowledge either of books or life, but somewhat obstructed in its progress by deviation in quest of mistaken beauties.
10 'His morals were pure, and his opinions pious; in a long continuance of poverty and long habits of dissipation it cannot be expected that any character should be exactly uniform. There is a degree of want by which the freedom of agency is almost destroyed; and long association with fortuitous companions will at last relax the strictness of truth, and abate the fervour of sincerity. That this man, wise and virtuous as he was, passed always unentangled through the snares of life, it would be prejudice and temerity to affirm; but it may be said that at least he preserved the source 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 3.
'The latter part of his life cannot be remembered but with pity and sadness. He languished some years under that depression of mind which enchains the faculties without destroying them, and leaves reason the knowledge of right without the power of pursuing it. These clouds which he perceived gathering on his intellects he endeavoured to disperse by travel,
Ante, PRIOR, 52; SAVAGE, 341. Johnson wrote of Collins on March 8, 1754:-' 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.' Boswell's Johnson, i. 276 n.
See also ib. for Johnson's letters of Dec. 24, 1754; April 15, 1756.
5 Johnson, in his Dictionary, gives no example of this use of intellect in the plural. In Rasselas, ch. iii, he describes a man as 'one whose intellects were exhausted.' In The Idler, No. 78, he has 'a superiority of intel