Collins

William Collins 1721-1759
Nom de plume: Delicatulus

“We Poets in our youth begin in gladness;
But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.” Resolution and Independence Wordsworth

William Collins was born on Christmas Day, 1721. His father, though of no great wealth, had certain connections that offered William a gentleman’s education that would lead to service in the Church. He attended Winchester College where dress and classic instruction were strictly followed and services were given in ancient Latin verse. At the age of twelve he wrote a parody on Swift’s Battle of the Books titled Battle of the Schoolbooks. Later in 1739 he wrote Sentiments Borrowed from Shakespeare:

Young Damon of the vale is dead,
Ye lowly hamlets, moan
A dewey turf lies o’er his head,
And at his feet a stone.

His shroud, which death’s cold damps destroy,
Of snow white threads was made:
All mourned to see so sweet a boy
In earth for ever laid.

Pale pansies o’er his corpse were placed,
Which, plucked before their time,
Bestrewed the boy, like him to waste
And wither in their prime.

But will he ne’er return, whoe tongue
Could tune the rural lay?
Ah, no! his bello of peace is ru;ng,
His lips are cold as clay.

They bore him out at twilight hour,
The youth who loved so well:
Ah, me! How many a true-love shower
Of kind remembrance fell!

Each maid was woe-but Lucy chief,
Her grief o’er all was tried;
Within his grave she dropp’d in grief,
And o’er her loved one died.

While at Winchester Collins, then seventeen, he wrote this Sonnet:

When Phoebe form’d a wanton smile,
My soul! It reach’d not here!
Strange, that thy peace, thou trembler, flies
Before a rising tear.

From midst the drops, my love is born,
That o’er those eyelids rove:
Thus issued from a teeming wve
The fabled queen of love.

Collins wrote To a Lady Weeping and Cymbeline using the pseudonym Delicatatus. Both of these early works were attempts to imitate rhyming couplets of Pope.

Joseph Warton (1722-1800 - classical scholar exponent of the role of imagination in verse) wrote: “At that time the finest students of Winchester were allowed entrance into New College, Oxford There were three conditions: first, taking an examination, second, must be eighteen years old and last, there had to be a vacancy. In 1740 he entered the competition and scored first in the group. Unfortunately there was no vacancy.” He went on as a commoner to Queen’s College, and in 1741 to Magdalen College where he entered as a Demy (a form of scholarship a demi-soci or half-fellow or half paid fellowship where for every forty wealthy highly capable fellows there should be thirty poor but highly capable ones i.e. Oscar Wilde, Lewis Gielgud, and T.E. Lawrence were demies). He received a BA from Oxford in 1743. A year later complaining of the dullness of college life and rejecting a life spent serving the Church he relinquished his demy and left abruptly. The Manners was written as a farewell and to announce his desire to live in the real world without the “haunts of learning”.

“Let some reteating Cynic find,
Those oft-turn’d Scrolls I leave behind,
The Sports and I this Hour agree,
To rove thy Scene-full World with Thee!”

The “To rove the Scene-full World” then is Collins “desire to partake of the dissipation and gaiety of London”... “gaily dressed and with a feather in his hat.” From then on he is described as “that wandering Knight Collins.” His role in poetry would be to deliver the highly imaginative...to “deliver doctrines not display events.” He would do this with his descriptive and allegorical rhymed and unrhymed Odes published in 1746. Another work were the Oriental Eclogues “Mr Collins wrote his Eclogues when he was about seventeen years old, at Winchester school…he had just been reading Salmon’s Modern History which described Persia, which determined him to lay the scene of these pieces, as being productive of new images and sentiments.” Collins humorously referred to them as the Irish Eclogues meaning that the Eclogues were as appropriate to Ireland as to Persia.

The Eclogues completed in 1742 were an attempt to imitate Pope’s Pastorals. The similarities are one, both have four episodes and two, each episode is set during a different time of day although Pope’s are set to the four seasons or the year. The differences occur in the setting, Pope’s takes place in his own England, Collins’s in the exotic East. Then there is the theme. Since Pope’s time the pastoral is understood as the innocence of nature and heaven in a disturbed world of corruption and falseness. Collins’s are secular although the setting of the first eclogue is a characteristic shepherd’s bucolic vale. But the second throws the reader into a threatening, violent desert with these words

“In silent Horror o’er the bound less waste…
What if the Lion in his Rage I meet!
Oft in the dust I view his printed Feet:
And fearful! Oft, when Day’s declining Light
Yields her pale empire to the Mourner Night
By Hunger rous’d, he scours the groaning Plain,
Gaund wolves and sullen Tygers in his Train:
Before them death with Shrieks directs their Way,
Fill the wild Yell, and leads them to their Prey…
At that dead hour the silent Asp shall creep,
If ought of rest I find, upon my Sleep,
Or some swollen Serpent twist his Scales around,
And wake to Anguish with a burning Wound.”

Goldsmith wrote several reviews on Collins’s poetry. On The Oriental (Persian) Eclogues in the State of Polite Learning in Europe, 1759 he wrote “We are much mistaken, if in this little performance, we do not discover the elegance and the picturesque genius of the too much neglected author of Odes on Several Subjects…and later “The neglected author of the Persian Eclogues, Which however, inaccurate, excel any in our language , is still alive: happy if insensible of our neglect, not raging at our ingratitude.” In a preface to The Beauties of English Poetry, Goldsmith wrote in the Preface:

“The following eclogues, written by Mr. Collins, are very pretty; the images, it must be owned, are not very local, for the pastoral subject could not well admit of it. The description of Asiatic Magnificence and Manners is a subject as yet unattempted amongst us, and I believe, capable of furnishing a great variety of poetical imagery” Collins was shocked that the Eclogues were so well received. Where his Odes published when he was not yet twenty “fell like lead upon a leaden world”. Praised by poets they remained rejected by the public.

“…his odes are all exquisitely beautiful – except his Ode to Freedom¸ it is sublime. Let us call it, then, the only truly great ode in the English Language.”

The dozen or so Odes were written in both Pindaric i.e. strophe, epode, antistrophe and Horatian or monostanzaic forms. Pity, Fear, Simplicity, and Poetical Character concern traditional English topics. Evening, the Manners, To a Lady and the Passions cover social customs. Another group, Fear, Mercy, Liberty, Peace, and 1846 are written as an observer of events not as participant.

Lyric poetry usually follows three classes: sacred, patriotic, and reflective. In the sacred group the poet may choose to engage a single topic as an emotional expression; a contemplative expression or a reflective expression where emotion and contemplation are joined together. The first class generally refers to matters of sacred, religious thought. Most of John Wesley’s hymns are examples. Collins wrote one exemplary patriotic ode, How Sleep the Brave. In English class today it is mentioned along with Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade and Byron’s The Destruction of the Sennacherib. The remainder of his better work was of a reflective or elegiac character where a single theme or subject was pursued frequently in hexameter and pentameter. His Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegoric Subjects are of the reflective class, particularly Ode to Duty. The Oriental Eclogues are Collins’s efforts on the pastoral needless to say they break with tradition and are entirely secular.

Collins never understood the discipline of managing debt and disbursements. He could not resist the company of Bohemians and used every opportunity to escape from the task of writing. When in receipt of an advance for the translation of Aristotle’s Poetics Collins took the money and left for France but at that same time Sir Thomas Hanmer bequeathed him two thousand pounds. With that Collins cancelled the translation agreement and purchased the remaining unsold copies of his Odes which he promptly burned. In great euphoria he announced his intention to write the History of the Revival of Learning and set about this task, a task never completed. A sudden calamity worse than poverty came upon him, a kind of madness, life-threatening, the nature of which was never understood but was quietly creeping over him at this time. He did complete An Epistle to Hanmer. With what funds he had left Collins fled to France believing that he his illness would be left behind like an unwanted possession. He returned with no change but even worse. He withdrew from his life in London, abandoned his friends and took up residence in Chichester with his sister. Collins joins with Cowper and Blake and sinks into madness although many claim it was a severe case of depression. On his death at thirty-seven years his close friend Samuel Johnson wrote:

“It seems rational to hope that intellectual greatness should produce better effects; that minds qualified for great attainments should first endeavor their own benefit; and that they who are most able to teach others the way to happiness should with most certainty follow it themselves. But this expectation, however plausible, has been very frequently disappointed.”

“Ten thousand glorious systems would he build,
Ten thousand great ideas filled his mind;
But with the clouds they fled, and left no trace behind.”

Here is Wordsworth’s tribute to Collins from Remembrance:

“Glide gently, thus ever glide,
O Thames! that other bards may see
As lovely visions by thy side
As now, fair river! come to me.
O glide, fair stream! for ever so,
Thy quiet soul on all bestowing,
Till all our mids for ever flow
As thy deep waters now are flowing.

Vain thought! Yet be as now thou art,
That in thy waters may be seen
The image of a poet’s heart,
How bright, how solemn, how serene!
Such as did once the Poet bless,
Who murmuring here a later ditty,
Could find no refuge for distress
But in the milder grief of pity.

Now let us, as we float along,
For him suspend the dashing oar;
And pray that never child of song
May know that Poet‘s sorrows more.
How calm! How still! The only sound,
The dripping of the oar suspended!
The evening darkness gathers round
By virtue’s holiest powers attended.”

There is a monument to Collins in the Church of Saint Andrew in Chichester that bears this inscription written by fellow friend and poet William Hayley:

“Ye who the merits of the dead revere,
Who hold misfortune 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 doomed 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 echoed to his frantic moan,
Guard the due records of this grateful stone;
Strangers to him, enamoured of his lays,
This fond memorial to his talents raise.
For this the ashes of a bard require,
Who touched the tenderest notes of pity’s lyre;
Who joined pure faith to strong poetic powers;
Who in reviving reason’s lucid hours,
Sought on one book his troubled mind to rest,
And rightly deemed the book of God the best.”

Our first characteristic is: imagination.

“It can’t be suppos’d I should think of repeating
The fancies that flow’d at this laureate meeting;

I must mention, however, that during the wine,
The mem’ry of Shakspeare was toasted with nine;
To Chaucer were five, and Spenser one more,
And Milton had seve, and Dryden had four;
Then follow’d the names, in a cursory way,
Of Fletcher, of Otway, of Collins, and Gray,
Of Cowley, Pope, Thomson, and Cowper, and Prior…
If the chair not think me a gander,
I’ll give a great genius – one Mr. Landor.” The Reflector Vol II, p. 322

“To few the God-like Gift assigns,
To gird their blest prophetic Loins,
And gaze her Visions wild, and feel unmix’d her Flame!” Ode on the Poetical Character Collins

“To Collins true poetry was a product of “Young Fancy” or the imagination. And the true function of the poetic imagination lay in its power of evoking ‘visions wild’.” Chapin

“The odes of Collins represent the most thoroughgoing attempt in eighteenth-century poetry at the evocation of images without any foundation in reality… ‘invention and imagination’ are the chief faculties of a poet.” Chester Chapin

“So perfect is its music that the ear never misses the rhyme – the soul forgets that there is such an artifice as thyme; and the imagination is so gradually filled to overflowing, that if feels but not thinks of the beauty of the medium through which its visions arise-the lucid and transparent veil of inspired words.”

Disraeli commented in Calamaties of Authors that Collins ”sacrificed his reason and his happiness to his imagination”

“Collins lived like Shakespeare, in the poet’s true province, the region of imagination; and how a mind lives, and moves, and rises, and expands in an element composed, as it were, of all the elements of the world” Leigh Hunt

Our second characteristic: verbal music.

“By turns they felt the flowing Mind,
Disturb’d, delighted, rais’d, refin’d.
Till once, ‘tis said, when all were fir’d,
Fill’d with Fury, rapt, inspir’d,
From the supporting Myrtles round,
They snatch’d here Instruments of Sound,
And as they oft had heard a-part
Sweet Lessons of her forceful Art
Each, for Madness rul’d the Hour,
Would prove his own expressive Pow’r. Power of Music over the Passions Passions

“Thy Mighty Masters (Greek musicians who set the works of Pindar to song) too unprais’d so long,
Shall not be lost, if Thou assist my Song
They who with Pindars in one Age bestow’d
Cloath’d the sweet words which in their numbers flowd
And Rome’s and Adria’s Sons – if Thou but strive
To guard their Names, shall in my Verse survive.” Passions

“First Fear his Hand, its Skiill to try,
Amid the Chords bewilder’d laid,
And back recoil’d he knew not why,
Ev’n at the Sound himself had made.” Ode to Fear 174 7

“The emper of our isle, thought cold, is clear;
And such our genius, noble though severe.
Our Shakespeare scorn’d the trifling rules of art,
But knew to conquer and surprise the heart!
In magic chains the captive thought to bind,
And fathom all the depths of human kind! On the Late Taste in Music 1747

“O Music, Sphere-descended Main,
Friend of Pleasure, Wisdom’s aid,
Why, Boddess, why to us deny’d:
As in that lov’d Athenian Bow’r,
You learn’ed an all-commanding Pow’r”

“The concluding part of The Passions expresses that kinship which Collins felt perhaps was even stronger beteen music and poetry than between painting and poetry. Ainsworth

“Fear chooses to play upon Music‘s lyre, a traditional emblem of harmony and concord. But Fear can only lay a bewilder’d hand amid the strings…Fear’s hesitant musicianship a metaphorical depiction of an emotional state that lies ‘amid’ the melodious chords of the lyre.” On Ode to Fear

“Simple-seeming sublety of tone”… the purity of “verbal music.”

Our third characteristic: description through allegory and personification

“When music, heavenly main, was young,
While yet in Early Greece she sung,
The Passions oft, to hear her shell,
Throng’d around her magic cell.” Passions

“Long, Pity, let the Nations view
They sky-worn Robes of tend’rest Blue,
And Eyes of dewy Light” Ode to Pity

“And hamlets brown, and dim-discovered spires;
And hears their simple bell,and marks o’er all
Thy dewy fingers draw
The gradual dusky veil.” Ode to Evening

“The Band (magic girdle) was wove on that creating day
When He, who call’d with Thought to Birth
Yon tented Sky, this laughing Earth,
And drest with Springs and Forests tall,
And pour’d the Main engirting all,
Long by the lov’d Enthusiast (Fancy) woo’d,
Himself in some Diviner Mood,
Retiring, sate with her alond,
And plac’d her on his Sapphire Throne,
The whiles, the vaulted Shrine around…
And Thou, Thou rich-hair’d Youth of Morn,
And all thy subject Life was born.” Ode On Poetical Character

“Thou to whom the World unknown
With all its shadowy Shapes is shown;
Who see’st appll’d th’ unreal Scene,
While Fancy lifts the Veil between:
Ah Fear! Ah frantic Fear!
I see, I see Thee near!. Ode to Fear

In Ode to Fear – Danger and Vengeance are monsters from another world as well as personifications of affective states common to human beings.”

“In Collins, the allegorical is the descriptive” A.S.P. Wodehouse

In Ode to Evening Collins portrays “Eve” as “composed, calm, reserved’…with “modest ear.” He provides her with a “car” for her travels and gives her “dewy fingers” to “draw the gradual dusky veil.”

While “friendship and science” “represent knowledge and learning.” Soule

“Collins displays a happy talent for pictorial description which raises his figure above the commonplace level of achievement. Most of the allegorical portraits in mid- and late eighteenth-century verse fail to stimulate the relatively sluggish allegorical imaginations of modern readers, largely because the great majority of poets who favor this mode of personification do not possess the “fine and sure literary tact” which Collins exercises…” Leavis

“Peace rules the day, where reason rules the mind.” Eclogue II Hassan

“For when thy folding Star arising shews
His paly circlet at his warning lamp
The fragrant hours, and Elves
Who slept in Buds the Day,
And many a Nymph who wreaths her Brows with Sedge,
And sheds the fresh’ning Dew, and lovelier still,
The Pensive Pleasures sweet
Prepare thy shadowy Car.” Ode to Evening

“By fairy hands their knell is rung,
By forms unseen their dirge is sung.” Ode Written in 1746

“Under the influence of his association with Joseph Warton, Collins consciously limited himself to subjects descriptive and allegorical, albeit highly imaginative. Ainsworth

“When sweet and blushing, like a Virgin bride,
The radiant Morn resum’d her orient Pride,
When wanton Gales, along the Valleys play,
Breathe on each Flow’r, and bear their Sweets away:
By Tigris’ wand’ring waves he sate, and sung
This useful Lesson for the Fair and Young. Selim Oriental Eclogues

Our fourth characteristic: imitation as a classical antiquarian.

“Who shall awake the Spartan fife,
And call in solemn sounds to life,
The youths, whose locks divinely spreading,
Like vernal hyacinths in sullen hue,
At once the breath of fear and virtue shedding,
Applauding Freedom, loved of old to view?” Ode to Liberty

“How Rome, before thy weeping Face,
With heaviest Sound, a Giant’statue, fell
Push’d by a wild and artless Race,
From off its wide ambitious Base,
When Time his Northern Sons of Spoil awoke,
And all the blended Work of Strength and Grace,
With many a rude repeated Stroke,
And many a barb’rous Yell, to thousand Fragments broke. Ode to Liberty

“Who shall awake the Spartan Fife,
And all in solemn Sounds to life…
What New Alcaeus, Fancy-blest,
Shall sing the Sword, in Myrtles drest,
At Wisdom’s Shrine awhile its Flame concealing,
What Place so fit to seal a deed renown’d? Ode on the Poetical Character

“Briton! The Thunder of the Wrath divine,
Due to thy Father’s Crimes, and long with-held from Thine,
Shall burst with tenfold Rage on thy devoted Head;
Unless with conscious Terrors aw’d,
But meek, heart-struck repentance led,
Suppliant thou fall before th’ offended God:
If haply yet thou may’st avert his Ire;
And stay his Arm out-strech’d to launch th’ avenging fire.” Ode to the People of great Britain an Imitation of the Sixth Ode of the third Book of Horace

“Our Youths enamour’d of the fair, Play with the tangles of her hair.” Borrowed from Milton’s Lycidas “to sport with Amaryllis in the shade, Or with the tangles of Neaera’s hair.”

“While stain’d with blood he strives to tear Unseemly from his Sea-green Hair of Ode on the Death of Colonel Ross compared to Milton’s On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity “The parting Genius is with sighing sent, with flowre-inwoven tresses torn.”
“Genius borrows nobly”

“To make choice of one excellent man above the rest, and so to follow him till he grow to be…not as a creature that swallows what it takes in, crude, raw, or undigested, but that feeds with an appetite, and hath a stomach to concoct, divide, and turn all into nourishment. Discoveries B. Jonson

Collins had great reverence for those who preceded him “O thou who first from so great darkness wert able to raise aloft a light so clear, illumining the blessings of life, thee I Follow” Wendorf

“The verse epistle to Sir Thomas Hammer written in heroic couplet with reminiscences of Pope’s Essay on Criticism as in:

“As Arts expired, resistless Dullness rose;
Both, priests, or Vandals – all were Learning’s foes.
Till Julius first recalled each exiled maid,
And Cosmo owned them in the Etrurian shade.”

“At first readiing we are struck by his outspoken admiration for the Greek lyric. The Augustans were Latin in their sympathies, their models were Juvenal and Martial, Virgil and Horace, poets from whom Collins turns to revive the just designs of Greece.”

We close with these words from The Manners:

“No more my Sail that deep Explores,
No more I search those magic Shores.”