1742
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Persian Eclogues: The Preface.

Persian Eclogues. Written for the Entertainment of the Ladies of Taurus. And now first translated, &c.

William Collins


William Collins, who writes anonymously, takes pastoral in an original direction: where Ambrose Philips and John Gay had introduced domestic folkways, William Collins uses the form to speculate on the peculiarities of cultural difference. The suggestion that the poems were acquired from a rug merchant is a happy conceit. The poet later made light of his early essays, describing them as "Irish Eclogues."

William Shenstone to Thomas Percy: "The Orientals afforded a new, and very fertile subject for eclogues. Poor Collins did not wholly satisfy me, having by no means sufficiently avail'd himself of their many local peculiarities" 15 February 1760; in Letters, ed. Hecht (1909) 31.

Anecdotes of Polite Literature: "These eclogues are much superior in merit to those of Gay, Philips, or any others of those absurd writers of pastorals, who imagine that a laboured rusticity forms their peculiar beauties" (1762) 2:22.

Oliver Goldsmith: "The following eclogues, written by Mr. Collins, are very pretty: the images, it must be owned, are not very local; for the pastoral subject could not well admit of it. The description of Asiatic magnificence and manners is a subject as yet unattempted amongst us, and, I believe, capable of furnishing a great variety of poetical imagery" Beauties of English Poetry (1776) in Works (1908) 9:234.

John Scott of Amwell: "By those, with whom the bulk of an author's performance is the criterion for estimating his merit, Collins, will be deemed a minor poet; there are however volumes of verses of no mean character, which contain less genuine poetry, than the few pages he produced. The Oriental Eclogues were always till lately possessed of considerable reputation, but our celebrated Biographer [Samuel Johnson] having hinted that Collins, once in conversation with a friend, happened to term them his 'Irish' Eclogues, those who form opinions not from their own reason, or on their own feelings, but from the hints of others, have caught the hint, and circulated it. That Collins ever supposed his Eclogues destitute of merit, there is no reason to believe; but it is very probable, when his judgment was improved by experience, he might discover, and be hurt by their faults, among which may possibly be found some few instances of inconsistence or absurdity. The Oriental Eclogues, nevertheless, however they may be depreciated, have all the requisites of a good poem, description, incident, sentiment, and moral; they have simplicity of thought, and melody of language" "Collins's Oriental Eclogues" in Critical Essays (1785) 153-54.

Richard Polwhele: "The foundations of European pastoral are no more. Real life no longer presents us with shepherds piping for a conch or a crook. If any source remain, to which the lover of simplicity may resort for interesting character and scenery, that source perhaps may be discovered in the East. The plains of Arabia and Persia may furnish him with elegant and striking imagery. Though the coloring of the Oriental Eclogues is evidently European, yet are they truly pathetic and beautiful. A genuine draught of the affections hath its archetype in every heart. To hold up therefore the pursuits and the passions of an Arabian shepherd to the view, amidst his spicy groves, or his camels, might be no unaffecting display. But here possibly an European imagination must repose in the indolence of translating images from books; must content itself with reflected likenesses, with unoriginal productions. Yet the remoteness of the scene, and the general ignorance of the manners that are delineated, would diffuse over such composition the delusion of novelty" Idyllia of Theocritus (1786, 1792) 2:26.

Thomas Campbell: "It seems he himself ultimately undervalued those eclogues, as deficient in characteristic manners; but surely no just reader of them cares any more about this circumstance than about the authenticity of the tale of Troy" Specimens of the British Poets (1819, 1849) 429.

Lord Byron: "In reading, I have just chanced upon an expression of Tom Campbell's;—speaking of Collins, he says that 'no reader cares any more about the characteristic manners of his Eclogues than about the authenticity of the tale of Troy.' 'Tis false—we do care about 'the authenticity of the tale of Troy.'... The secret of Tom Campbell's defence of inaccuracy in costume and description is, that his Gertrude, &c. has no more locality in common with Pennsylvania than with Penmanmaur. It is notoriously full of grossly false scenery, as all Americans declare, though they praise parts of the Poem" Journal entry, 11 January 1821; Letters and Journals, ed. Moore (1830) ii:405-06.

Edmund Gosse: "Collins was the son of a hatter in Chichester. His early verses are lost, though one copy of them was actually published, it is believed, in 1734. He was educated at Winchester and at Magdalen College, Oxford. While he was an undergraduate he printed a volume of Persian Eclogues (1742), and a brief Epistle to Sir Thomas Hamner (1743), both works now extremely scarce. He proposed to enter the army, and then the Church, but was prevented in each case by indolence, as it is said, — more probably by a nervous irresolution of character, which foreshadowed his future calamity" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature (1889) 232.

William Lyon Phelps: "In this enterprise Collins pretended to be only a translator. In the Preface he apologized for the 'rich and figurative' style of the Persians. He also spoke of their 'elegancy and wildness of thought,' saying, 'our genius's are ... much too cold for the entertainment of such sentiments.' After reading this Preface, one expects to find verses rather startling; but the four eclogues are really in no way remarkable either for literary merit or for Romantic feeling; and they are written in the heroic couplet" Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement (1893) 95.




It is with the Writings of Mankind, in some Measure, as with their Complexions or their Dress, each Nation hath a Peculiarity in all these, to distinguish it from the rest of the World.

The Gravity of the Spaniard, and the Levity of the Frenchman, are as evident in all their Productions as in their Persons themselves; and the Stile of my Countrymen is as naturally Strong and Nervous, as that of an Arabian or Persian is rich and figurative.

There is an Elegancy and Wildness of Thought which recommends all their Compositions; and our Genius's are as much too cold for the Entertainment of such Sentiments, as our Climate is for their Fruits and Spices. If any of these Beauties are to be found in the following Eclogues, I hope my Reader will consider them as an Argument of their being Original. I received them at the Hands of a Merchant, who had made it his Business to enrich himself with the Learning, as well as the Silks and Carpets of the Persians. The little Information I could gather concerning their Author, was, That his Name was Mahamed, and that he was a Native of Tauris.

It was in that City that he died of a Distemper fatal in those Parts, whilst he was engag'd in celebrating the Victories of his favourite Monarch, the Great Abbas. As to the Eclogues themselves, they give a very just View of the Miseries, and Inconveniencies, as well as the Felicities that attend one of the finest Countries in the East.

The Time of the Writing them was probably in the Beginning of Sha Sultan Hosseyn's Reign, the Successor of Sefi or Solyman the Second.

Whatever Defects, as, I doubt not, there will be many, fall under the Reader's Observation, I hope his Candour will incline him to make the following Reflections:

That the Works of Orientals contain many Peculiarities, and that thro' Defect of Language few European Translators can do them Justice.


[pp. iii-iv]