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ILLIAM COLLINS was born at Chi, chefter on the twenty-fifth day of December, about 1720. His father was a hatter of good repu tation. He was in 1733, as Dr. Warton has kindly informed me, admitted scholar of Winchester Col lege, where he was educated by Dr. Burton. His English exercises were better than his Latin.
He first courted the notice of the publick by fome verfes to a "Lady weeping," published in "The Gentleman's Magazine."
In 1740, he stood first in the lift of the scholars to be received in fucceffion at New College, but unhappily there was no vacancy. He became a Commoner of Queen's College, probably with a fcanty 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 fuddenly left the Univerfity; for what reafon 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 defigned many works; but his great fault was irrefolution; or the frequent calls of immediate neceffity broke his scheme, and suffered him to purfue no fettled pur. pofe. A man doubtful of his dinner, or trembling at a creditor, is not much difpofed to abstracted meditation, or remote enquiries. He published propo⚫ fals for a Hiftory of the Revival of Learning; and I have heard him fpeak with great kindness of Leo the Tenth, and with keen refentment of his taftelefs fucceffor. But probably not a page of his hiftory was ever written. He planned feveral tragedies, but he only planned them. He wrote now-and-then odes and other poems, and did fomething, however little. About this time I fell into his company. His appearance was decent and manly; his knowledge confiderable, his views extenfive, his converfation elegant, and his difpofition 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 occafion recourse was had to the bookfellers, who, on the credit of a tranflation of Ariftotle's Poeticks, which he engaged to write with a large commentary, advanced as much money as enabled him to efcape into the country. He fhewed me the guineas fafe in his hand. Soon afterwards his uncle, Mr. Martin, a lieutenantcolonel, left him about two thousand pounds; a fum which Collins could fcarcely think exhaustible, and which he did not live to exhauft. The guineas were then rapid, and the tranflation neglected.
But man is not born for happiness. who, while he ftudied to live, felt no evil but poverty, no fooner lived to study than his life was affailed by more dreadful calamities, difeafe and infanity.
Having formerly written his character, while perhaps it was yet more diftinctly impreffed upon my memory, 1 fhall insert it here.
"Mr. Collins was a man of extenfive 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 on the works of fiction, and subjects of fancy; and, by indulging fome peculiar habits of thought, was eminently delighted with those flights of imagination which pafs the bounds of nature, and to which the mind is reconciled only by a paffive acquiefcence 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 repofe by the water-falls of Elyfian gardens.
"This was however the character rather of his in. clination than his genius; the grandeur of wildnefs, and the novelty of extravagance, were always defired by him, but not always attained. Yet, as diligence is never wholly loft, if his efforts fometimes caused harshness and obfcurity, they likewife produced in happier moments fublimity and fplendour. This idea which he had formed of excellence, led him to oriental fictions and allegorical imagery, and perhaps, while he was intent upon defcription, he did not fuffi.
ciently cultivate fentiment. His poems are the ductions of a mind not deficient in fire, nor unfurnished with knowledge either of books or life, but fomewhat obstructed in its progrefs by deviation in queft of miftaken beauties.
"His morals were pure, and his opinions pious; in a long continuance of poverty, and long habits of diffipation, it cannot be expected that any character fhould be exactly uniform. There is a degree of want by which the freedom of agency is almost destroyed; and long affociation with fortuitous companions will at laft relax the ftrictness of truth, and abate the fervour of fincerity. That this man, wife and virtuous as he was, paffed always unentangled through the fnares of life, it would be prejudice and temerity to affirm; but it may be faid that at least he preferved the fource of action unpolluted, that his principles were never fhaken, that his distinctions of right and wrong were never confounded, and that his faults had nothing of malignity or defign, but proceeded from fome unexpected preffure, or casual temptation.
"The latter part of his life cannot be remembered but with pity and sadness. He languished some years under that depreffion of mind which enchains the faculties without deftroying them, and leaves reafon the knowledge of right without the power of purfuing it. Thefe clouds which he perceived gathering on his intellects, he endeavoured to difperfe by travel, and paffed into France; but found himself conftrained to yield to his malady, and returned. He was for fome time confined in a houfe of lunaticks, and afterwards retired
retired to the care of his fifter in Chichester, where death in 1756 came to his relief.
"After his return from France, the writer of this character paid him a vifit at Iflington, where he was waiting for his fifter, whom he had directed to meet him there was then nothing of disorder difcernible in his mind by any but himself; but he had withdrawn from ftudy, and travelled with no other book than an English Teftament, fuch as children carry to the school: when his friend took it into his hand, out of curiofity to fee what companion a Man of Letters had chofen, I have but one book,' said Collins, but that is the beft"."
Such was the fate of Collins, with whom I once delighted to converfe, and whom I yet remember with
He was vifited at Chichester in his laft illness, by his learned friends Dr. Warton and his brother; to whom he spoke with difapprobation of his Oriental Eclogues, as not fufficiently expreffive of Afiatick manners, and called them his Irish Eclogues. He thewed them, at the fame time, an ode infcribed to Mr. John Hume, on the fuperftitions of the Highlands; which they thought fuperior to his other works, but which no fearch has yet found *, *.
His diforder was no alienation of mind, but general laxity and feebleness, a deficiency rather of his vital than his intellectual powers. What he spoke wanted neither judgement nor fpirit; but a few minutes. exhaufted him, fo that he was forced to reft upon
It is printed in the late Collection. R.