1825 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Collins

Henry Mackenzie, Anecdotes and Egotisms, 1825 ca.; ed. Thompson (1927) 165-66.



There is a considerable similarity of character and situation between Collins and Cowper. Both of great genius, both nervous in constitution, and both having fits of low spirits approaching to derangement (the last at the close of life actually deranged or imbecile). There is, however, a marked difference in their poetry: Collins is abstract (sometimes bordering on obscurity and his figures so bold as scarcely to be understood), drawing from his imagination independently of actual things; Cowper going into the world as it is, with literal and graphic description. In expression Collins infinitely more rich and poetical; Cowper nearly prosaic, but strongly expressive and with words that, if they do not burn, yet enlighten their subject.

Collins's first published poems attracted little notice and seemed in danger of falling into utter neglect, till Langhorne, I think it was, in the Monthly Review called on the readers of that journal to do justice to their merits. — "Quis numquam legit legat," said he; "Quis semel legit relegat."— His Ode to the Passions, if he had never written anything else, would have established his reputation....

A gentleman who proposed publishing a new edition of Collins's Works wrote to me (August 1816), asking if from my intimacy with John Home (who was at one time a good deal in the society of Collins) I could procure him any particulars of that poet's biography, but I could not, never having heard Mr. Home speak of Collins (probably from his thinking it an unpleasant subject), nor among Mr. Home's papers were any letters or notes from Collins or concerning him. The beautiful Ode on the Superstitions in the Highlands lay long among Mr. Home's papers unknown to him till Dr. Carlyle found it and gave it to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. I filled up at the desire of Mr. Tytler a chasm that had somehow been made in it, which obtained the Society's approbation; it was an almost extempore production, written the same evening in which Mr. Tytler asked me to write it.