1826 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Collins

Richard Ryan, "Collins" Poetry and Poets: being a Collection of the choicest Anecdotes relative to the Poets of every Age and Nation (1826) 2:249-51.



This sweet Poet was sent very young to Winchester College, Oxford; where he was soon distinguished for his early proficiency, and his turn for elegant composition. In the year 1740, he came off first on the roll for New College; but there being no vacancy in that Society, he entered a Commoner of Queen's. On the expiration of the year, no vacancy having happened during that time at New College, he left Queen's, on being elected a demy of Magdalen. He was soon tired of a College life, resigned his demy-ship, and went to London, where he commenced a man of the town, and was romantic enough to suppose, that his superior abilities would draw the attention of the great world, by means of whom he was to make his fortune. In this pleasurable way of life he soon wasted his little property, but was relieved by a considerable legacy left him by a maternal uncle, a colonel in the army. He soon afterwards fell into a most deplorable state of mind.

Without books, or steadiness and resolution to consult them, if he had been possessed of any, he was always planning schemes for elaborate publications, which were carried no farther than drawing up proposals for subscriptions, some of which were published; and in particular, one for "A History of the Darker Ages."

He was passionately fond of music; good-natured and affable; warm in his friendships, visionary in his pursuits, and temperate in his diet. He was of moderate stature, of a light and clear complexion, with grey eyes, so very weak at times as hardly to bear a candle in the room, and to give him apprehensions of blindness.

The following story is told of him while he was resident at Magdalen College. It happened one afternoon at a tea-visit, that several intelligent friends were assembled at his rooms, to enjoy each other's conversation, when in comes a certain member of the University, as remarkable, at that time, for his brutal disposition, as for his good scholarship; who, though he met with a circle of the most peaceable people in the world, was determined to quarrel; and, though no man said a word, raised his foot, and kicked the tea-table, and all its contents, to the other side of the room. Our Poet, though of a warm temper, was so confounded at the unexpected downfall, and so astonished at the unmerited insult, that he took no notice of the aggressor at that time, but getting up from his chair calmly, he began to pick up the slices of bread and butter, and the fragments of his china, repeating very mildly, "Invenias etiam disjecta membra poetae."