1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Collins

William Seward, "Drossiana: William Collins" European Magazine 28 (October, December 1795) 236, 377.



Collins, the poet, though a man of a melancholy cast of mind, was by no means averse to a "jeu de mot," or quibble. Upon coming into a town the day after a young lady of whom he was fond had left it, he said, how unlucky he was that he had come "a day after the Fair."

The following ridiculous incident respecting this very great Poet happened some years ago to that elegant writer Dr. Langhorne, according to the ingenious author of The Juvenilia. Dr. Langhorne, hearing that Collins the Poet was buried at Chichester, travelled thither on purpose to enjoy all the luxury of poetic sorrow, and to weep over his grave. On enquiry, he found that Mr. Collins was interred in a sort of garden, surrounded by the cloyster of the Cathedral, which is called The Paradise. He was let into this place by the Sexton, and after an hour's seclusion in it, came forth with all the solemn dignity of woe. On supping with an inhabitant of the town in the evening, and describing to him the spot sacred to his sorrows, he was told, that he had by no means been misapplying his tears, that he had been lamenting a very honest man, and a very useful member of society, Mr. Collins the taylor! — The close of the life of Collins can never be adverted to without commiseration; when he could have enjoyed his fortune he had it not; when it came to him he was in too melancholy a state to enjoy it. It reminds one of the celebrated Greek Epigram—

What cruel disappointments wait
On wretched mortals' ev'ry state!
When young, chill penury represt
Each ardour of my glowing breast;
But now, indifferent grown and old,
My coffers teem with useless gold....

A singular line of this great Poet, in a juvenile Poem which he made when he was twelve years old, on a Battle of the School Books at Winchester, is remembered, "An every Gradus flapped his leathern wing."

Mr. Collins's beautiful Ode to the Passions was set to Music by the late Dr. Hayes, Professor of Music to the University of Oxford, so entirely to the Poet's satisfaction, that there is a letter extent of the Poet to the Composer, expressing his obligations to him for having so completely appropriated the sense to the sound, and offering him another Ode (an Ode to the Music of the Grecian Theatre), which he had just finished, to perform the same kind offer to. Poor Collins died soon after he had written this letter, and the Ode has not been found amongst his papers.

Collins is buried at Chichester, in the county of Sussex, a county famous for its production of Poets — Otway, Collins, Hayley, Parsons. Their poetical talents have done honour to it.