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'William Collins was born at Chichester on the 25th of December, 1721. His father was a hatter, and an alderman of the city. He received his education under Dr. Burton, at Winchester, where his name may still be seen inscribed on the walls of the school-room. In 1740, he stood first on the list of scholars to be received in succession at New College, but there being no vacancy, he became a commoner of Queen's College, Oxford; which he suddenly quitted at the end of three years, having gained a reputation for "ability and indolence."
He arrived in London, to use the language of Johnson, “a literary adventurer, with many projects in his head, and very little money in his pocket." The mode of life which he adopted was by no means calculated to carry those projects into execution. A contributor to the Gentleman's Magazine of some anecdotes respecting him, states, that on his arrival in the metropolis, he commenced a man of the town, spending all his time in the dissipations of Ranelagh, Vauxhall, and the playhouses. That he was devoted at this time to a life of pleasure, may be gathered from Dr. Johnson's account of him. The poetical genius of Collins began to develop itself while he was a scholar at Winchester College. At Oxford he published his Eclogues; and, in December, 1743, his “Verses to Sir T. Hanmer, on his Edition of Shakspeare." But it was not until 1747, after a residence of nearly four years in London, that his Odes made their appearance. It has been stated, upon the authority of a person who was intimate with him at this time, that these imperishable productions were written to raise a present subsistence. They failed however to effect this object, and the public, grossly insensible to their merits, suffered them to rest on the shelves of the publisher. A few years afterwards, when Collins received a legacy under his uncle's will, he pur. chased the whole remainder of the impression, and committed it to the flames. It was not until several years after his death that his poems began to attract popular attention, His value was estimated only when he was beyond the reach of praise or censure.
Clouds and darkness rest upon the latter years of the life of Collins. From what cause the distressing malady arose which embittered the remainder of his existence does not appear. It is not stated that any of his family had been affected with similar mental disease, nor is it intimated that the Poet himself, in his earlier life, had manifested any symptom of its approach. About the year 1750 his health began to decline, and with the view of restoring it he visited the continent; but without success. His bodily strength almost entirely failed him, and with it all his mental energy appeared to pass away. He was for some time in an asylum for lunatics; but subsequently returned to his birth-place, remained under the care of his sister, and in 1756 “ death came to his relief."
A writer in the Gentleman's Magazine-1781-describes the Poet, with whom he was "intimately acquainted," as of "a moderate stature, of a light and clear complexion, with grey eyes." Dr. Johnson says, “his appearance was decent and manly; his knowledge considerable; his views extensive; his conversation elegant; and his disposition cheerful." His early struggles with pecuniary difficulty—when "doubtful of a dinner or trembling at a creditor" - perhaps shook his mind, and laid the foundation of that terrible malady which made him in his latter years "burthensome to himself," and deprived the world of many great things he had planned, and to the execution of which he was competent. His fate was a sad one; " while he studied to live, he felt no evil but poverty;" but when he lived to study, his life was assailed by more dreadful calamities-disease and insanity."
The poetical productions of Collins fill but a few pages. Of late years they have been justly claşsed among the finest and most perfect compositions in the language. It is singular that his merit should not have been appreciated by his contemporaries : Cowper never heard of him until after his death ; and Dr. Johnson, who knew and loved him, appears to be in no way surprised that fame should not have followed his publications. Posterity has made ample amends for the neglect it was his destiny to experience.
* The autograph of Collins is copied from a deed signed by him and his two sisters, dated May 1, 1747, assigning to a person of the name of Crowcher, their interest in the house and premises in the East-street--the house in which the Poet was born.
O thou! who sitt'st a smiling bride
By Valour's arm'd and awful side,
Who oft, with songs, divine to hear,
Winn'st from his fatal grasp the spear, And hid'st in wreaths of Howers his bloodless sword !
Thou who, amidst the deathful field, By godlike chiefs alone beheld, Oft with thy bosom bare art found, Pleading for him, the youth who sinks to ground:
See, Mercy, see! with pure and loaded hands,
Before thy shrine my country's Genius stands, And decks thy altar still, though piered with many a
When he whom e'en our joys provoke,
Thy form, from out thy sweet abode,
O'ertook him on his blasted road,
I see recoil his sable steeds,
That bore him swift to savage deeds,
Where Justice bars her iron tower,
To thee we build a roseate bower, Thou, thou shalt rule our queen, and share our monarch's
ODE TO EVENING.
If aught of oaten stop, or pastoral song,
Like thy own solemn springs,
Thy springs, and dying gales;
With brede ethereal wove,
O'erhang his wavy bed :
Or where the beetle winds
His small but sullen horn,
Now teach me, maid compos’d,
Whose numbers, stealing through thy darkening vale,
As, musing slow, I hail
For when thy folding-star arising shows
The fragrant hours, and elves
Who slept in buds the day, And many a nymph who wreathes her brows with sedge, And sheds the freshening dew, and lovelier still,
The pensive pleasures sweet
Prepare thy shadowy car.
Whose walls more awful nod
By thy religious gleams.
That from the mountain's side
Views wilds and swelling floods,
Thy dewy fingers draw
The gradual dusky veil.
While Summer loves to sport
Beneath thy lingering light:
Affrights thy shrinking train,
And rudely rends thy robes :
Thy gentlest influence own,
DIRGE IN CYMBELINE.
To fair Fidele's
Soft maids and village hinds shall bring
And rifle all the breathing Spring.
To vex with shrieks this quiet grove,
And melting virgins own their love.
No goblins lead their nightly crew;
And dress thy grave with pearly dew.
Shall kindly lend his little aid,
To deck the ground where thou art laid.
In tempests shake thy sylvan cell;
The tender thought on thee shall dwell.
For thee the tear be duly shed ;
And mourn'd, till Pity's self be dead.
O thou, by Nature taught
To breathe her genuine thought,
Who first on mountains wild,
In Fancy, loveliest child, Thy babe, and Pleasure's, nursed the powers of song!
Thou, who with hermit heart
Disdain'st the wealth of art,
But com'st a decent maid,
In Attic robe array'd,