Where so fast, Charles? You might at least congratulate me on the honour the world has lately done my memory, and felicitate me upon obtaining that fame which an insensible nation would not give me while living.
That nation was not so much to blame, Collins. Your productions were too allegorical and abstracted to be understood but by the few; and the sale of your Poems among them could not be sufficient for your maintenance. — But what am I to congratulate you upon?
A Committee are appointed, at the head of which is Mr. Hayley the Poet, who are forwarding a subscription for erecting a Monument to my Memory in the Cathedral Church of Chichester. You know I was a native of Chichester. On this Monument will be an inscription applausive of my Compositions. I suppose not less than 5 or 600 pounds will be raised and expended for that purpose — Is not this doing my memory justice?
It is making a parade of doing so; but your fair fame has been long established among those whom it is alone flattering to be beloved by. Your elegant Verses have always charmed, and always will, all true Poets, and all men of fine taste and delicacy of sentiment. The little popular whim of erecting the Monument you allude to cannot surely call a smile into your face. This, was I in your place, would not convey any pleasure to my mind equal to that which I should receive by that most excellent little piece of Biography, Doctor Langhorne's Life of you. This, indeed, does you credit, as do his Notes on your Writings. I do not mean to hurt your feelings, Collins, but this pompous tribute to your memory puts me in mind of what a Wit of our day said on Butler's Monument being placed in Westminster-Abbey: "He ask'd for bread, and he receiv'd a stone."
I understand you; here we agree. Our reflections on this head, I dare say, are as they always were. You indeed never was in absolute want; your writings were bold and satirical; they hit the humour of the times you lived in; they were generally read, paid you well, and obtained you a fame as rapid and extensive, as it was deserved, and will be lasting. You was a much greater Poet than myself, and much more voluminous in your Compositions. — Have not the world honoured you with a Monument?
No! — A little head-stone in an obscure Church-yard at Dover, is all that covers my ashes; and my memory is insulted by an ill-written and nonsensical inscription in Saint Mary's Church in that Town. Ah! Collins! by what pernicious maxims for our peace, and its own true glory, is the world governed. If in the Years 1744 and 1745, when you was starving in London, a subscription had been raised, equal to that which this Monument cost, and laid out in an Annuity, or any other way for you; your health and peace had been preserved, your life lengthened, and the world might have had many volumes of works, better, if possible, than the few pieces you have left; your life would have been more regular, and your manners and conversation the instruction and delight of mankind.
I have often felt the truth of this observation, and would readily give up the present tribute to my memory, that some living Genius in want might have it. Strange, that the pomp of things of this sort should take from the pockets of those who will not open them to assist indigent merit; and that the very people who contribute to monuments in honour of the dead, should let the living go neglected, and perhaps rather exult to the depression of genius.
All this is too true. — Farewel! I am hurrying to meet GRAY and DYER.
Adieu! thou English Juvenal.