« PreviousContinue »
LIFE OF COLLINS.
WILLIAM COLLINS was born at Chichester, on the 25th of December, about 1720. His father was a hatter, of good reputation. He was, in 1733, as Dr. Warton has kindly informed me, admitted scholar of Winchester College, where he was educated by Dr. Burton. His English exercises were better than his Latin.
He first courted the notice of the public by some verses to a 'Lady weeping,' published in the Gentleman's Magazine.
In 1740, he stood first in the list of the Scholars to de received in succession at New College; but unbappily 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.
He now (about 1744) came to London a literary adventurer, with
many projects in his head, and very little money in his pocket. He designed many works; but his great fault was irresolution, or the frequent calls of immediate necessity broke his schemes, and suffered him to pursue no settled purpose. A man, doubtful of his dinner, or trembling at a creditor, is not much disposed to abstracted meditation, or remote nquiries. 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. 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.
About this time I fell into his company. His appearance was decent and manly; his knowledge con. siderable, his views extensive, his conversation elegant, and his disposition cheerful. 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 Poetics, 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 afterward bis uncle, Mr. Martin, a lieutenant-colonel, left him about two thousand 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 neg. lected.
But man is not born for happiness: Collins, who, while he 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 yet more distincıly impressed upon my memory, I shall insert it here.
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 emidently delighted with those flights of imagination which pass the bounds of nature, and to which the mind is re. conciled only by a passive acquiescence in popular traditions. He loved fairies, genii, giants, and inonsters; he delighted to rove through the meanders of enchant. ment, to gaze on the magnificence of golden palaces, to repose by the waterfalls of Elysian gardens.
• This was, however, the character rather of his in. clination than his genius; the grandeur of wildness, and the novelty of extravagance, were always desired by him, but were not always attained. Yet as dili. gence is never wholly lost, if his efforts sometimes