1784 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Collins

William Cowper to Rev. John Newton, 19 March 1784; Southey, Life and Works of Cowper (1835-37) 5:11.



I have lately finished eight volumes of Johnson's Prefaces, or Lives of the English Poets. In all that number I observe but one man — a poet of no great fame, — of whom I did not know that he existed till I found him there, whose mind seems to have had the slightest tincture of religion; and he was hardly in his senses. His name was Collins. He sunk into a state of melancholy and died young. Not long before his death he was found at his lodgings in Islington by his biographer, with the New Testament in his hand. He said to Johnson, "I have but one book, but it is the best." Of him, therefore, there are some hopes. But from the lives of the rest there is but one inference to be drawn: — that poets are a very worthless, wicked set of people.