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keener eyes, and a fixed, sedate aspect, which from intense thinking had contracted an habitual frown. In the London Morning Chronicle, some time in the year 1799, there was an advertisement of a portrait of Collins for sale. It was stated to be the only one in existence, and to have belonged to his sister. The only engraved portrait of him is from a drawing formerly in the possession of Mr. William Seward, and is prefixed to Pickering's Aldine edition of the poet, and represents him at the age of fourteen years. Whether or not this pleasing and bright boy's face is from the same portrait which is said to have belonged to his sister, we have no means of ascertaining. So much interest, however, has been excited of late years in tracing every memorial of Collins, that if any other portrait than this is in existence, it will some time be brought to light again.
Collins was an accomplished classical scholar, an accurate linguist, and well versed in early English poetry and literature. In his History of English Poetry, Mr. T. Warton refers more than once to black-letter treasures in the “ dispersed library of the late Mr. William Collins,” and speaks of the fidelity, judgment and industry, with which he had pursued these studies. He was well acquainted with the best authors of Spain, Italy and France. He sometimes handled the pencil, though without much skill. Of music he is said to have been passionately fond.
Besides the fragments of poetry said to have been in the possession of Dr. Warton, there were extant, some seventy years ago, other fragments and letters in the possession of his friend Mr. Ragsdale, the fate of which he thus describes :
“ 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.”
It is not likely that we shall ever hear again of these remains. It is as little likely that the History of Learning will ever be recovered, for it is said that his sister, in his last days, not only repressed all
she could of his remaining enthusiasm for poetry, but destroyed all his papers, in a paroxysm of resentment because he squandered what little
money he had, or gave it away to the boys in the cloisters. This anecdote rests on the authority of a son of her second husband, Dr. Durnford, who related it to Mr. Park. For the honor of human nature we must refuse our belief to it.
Johnson was attached to Collins, and during his illness was a frequent inquirer after his health. His correspondence with Joseph Warton contains several allusions to his friend, which are preserved in the following extracts :
“ 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.”
We hear nothing of Collins's life after the visit of the Wartons, except that he passed his last year in a state bordering on insanity, till he was released from his sufferings on the 12th of June, 1759. He was buried in the church of St. Andrew, at Chichester, where a monument by Flaxman was long afterwards erected, by subscription, to his memory. In this Collins is represented in a reclining posture, with his lyre and a neglected poem lying upon the ground, and the
Gospel open on a table before him. On the pediment ideal pictures of Love and Pity embracing are placed in relief. This monument was completed in 1795. It was projected not only to do honor to Collins, but to afford an early field for the talents of Flaxman. The son of the poet Hayley, then a student of the sculptor, sat for the figure; and the epitaph was the joint production of two Sussex poets, W. Hayley and J. Sargent.
6 Ye who the merits of the dead revere,
Who hold misfortune's sacred genius dear,
“ The neglected author of the Persian Eclogues,” wrote Goldsmith, in 1759, “ which, however inaccurate, excel any in our language, is still alive ; happy, if insensible of our neglect, not raging at our ingratitude.” Within four months afterwards, the poet was in his grave. Six years later Dr. Langhorne published an edition of his collected poems, with commentaries and a biographical notice. But thirty-eight years after the appearance of his Odes, Cowper first heard of their author through the memoir in Dr. Johnson's Collection - one of his most remarkable and inexplicable productions.
A few years after the death of Collins, Johnson communicated to
the Poetical Calendar a critical notice, which renders ample justice to its subject :
“ Mr. Collins was a man of extensive literature, and of vigorous faculties. He was acquainted not only with the learned tongues, but with the Italian, French and Spanish languages. He had employed his mind chiefly upon works of fiction, and subjects of fancy; and, by indulging some peculiar habits of thought, was eminently delighted with those flights of imagination which pass the bounds of nature, and to which the mind is reconciled only by a passive acquiescence in popular traditions. He loved fairies, genii, giants and monsters; he delighted to rove through the meanders of enchantment, to gaze on the magnificence of golden palaces, to repose by the water-falls of Elysian gardens.
- This was, however, the character rather of his inclination than his genius ; the grandeur of wildness, and the novelty of extravagance, were always desired by him, but were not always attained. Yet, as diligence is never wholly lost, if his efforts sometimes caused harshness and obscurity, they likewise produced in happier moments sublimity and splendor. 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.
“ 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 fervor 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.
“ 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 endeavored to disperse by travel, and passed into France; but found himself constrained to yield to his malady, and returned. He was for some time confined in a house of lunatics, and afterwards returned to the care of his sister in Chichester, where death, in 1759, came to his relief.
“ After his return from France, the writer of this character paid him a visit at Islington, where he was waiting for his sister, whom he had directed to meet him; there was then nothing of disorder discernible in his mind by any but himself; but he had withdrawn from study, and travelled with 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, ó but that is the best.””
When preparing the life for his edition of the poets, Johnson extracted this account of Collins as having been written when his character was, perhaps, more deeply impressed on his memory, and speaks of him as a man with whom he once delighted to converse,
and whom he still remembered with tenderness. He then proceeds in the following severe strain of censure :
“ To what I have formerly said of his writings may be added, that his diction was often harsh, unskilfully labored, and injudiciously selected. He affected the obsolete when it was not worthy of revival ; and he puts his words out of the common order, seeming to think, with some later candidates for fame, that not to write prose is certainly to write poetry. His lines commonly are of slow motion, clogged and impeded with clusters of consonants. As men are often esteemed who cannot be loved, so the poetry of Collins may sometimes extort praise when it gives little pleasure.”
But in spite of the neglect of his contemporaries, and the sweeping condemnation of Dr. Johnson, Collins has risen in the estimation of critics and the literary world, till his poems are now universally acknowledged, as Southey says,
66 to be the best of their kind in the language.” We have studied them to discover the faults pointed