1830 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Collins

The Harrovian [Robert Aris Willmott], in "The Minor Greek Poets" Fraser's Magazine 2 (August 1830) 57-58.



William Collins goes further towards realizing my idea of a poet than almost any one I remember. His spirit seems to have been full of the dim beautiful light ever glimmering in the tent which "beauty pitched before him;" we can fancy him to have sat in the shadow. Johnson's notice of Collins is written with more affectionate interest than any other of his lives, with the exception of the Life of Savage; but his estimate of the poetry is perfectly worthless. I scarcely recollect a more complete failure in the appreciation of a character. "He loved fairies," says his biographer, "genii, giants, and monsters; he delighted to rove through the meanders of enchantment — to gaze on the magnificence of golden palaces — to repose by the waterfalls of Elysian gardens. This was, however, the character of his inclination rather than his genius; the grandeur of wildness, and the novelty of extravagance were always desired by him, but were not always attained. His poems are the productions of a mind not deficient in fire, nor unfurnished with knowledge either of books or life; but somewhat obstructed in its progress by deviations in quest of mistaken beauties."

William Collins could not have found a less congenial critic than Samuel Johnson; of the pure glory of the imagination, the gleaminess which seemeth to fall like an angel's raiment about the form of poetry, the author of the Rambler knew absolutely nothing — nay more, he did not believe in its existence. Pope, and even Dryden, he was able to appreciate; for their poetry was, for the most part, "the blossom of all knowledge." I say nothing of Collins's Pastorals, except that they are much better than Pope's, which, heaven knows, is saying very little. The only people calculated to write pastorals are such men as, Robert Bloomfield, whose Farmer's Boy is the best existing. But the Odes — surely, Dr. Johnson, you never read the odes. "Golden palaces, and genii, and monsters" — where did you find them? In the Hymn to Evening, or the Ode to Liberty, or that on the Passions, of which it is hardly justice to say that it is equal to any thing in the language? In the meanders of enchantment his heart might certainly be said to delight — in the rich arabesque of the imagination; but it was like a glad field-bird cheering its path along the lights and glooms of some silvery rivulet, and nestling itself down every instant among the dewy hedge-flowers so silently that, but for the trembling of the leaves, its hiding-place would not be discovered. Collins is our Simonides — his imagination is like some ancient flute forgotten in an old ruined temple, upon which the breath of a passing stranger hath produced a faint and yet most entrancing harmony. How melancholy the reflection, that all the long train of sorrows attendant upon this gifted enthusiast was attributable to the circumstance of there being no vacancy for a scholar at New College when it was his turn to be elected. It matters not now — he hath been admitted of that sacred company, where the voice of lamentation is not heard, and the spoiler cannot enter — the heaven of the heart's immortality!