On the Poetical Works of Mr. William Collins - PA Criticism Archive

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THE different species of Poetry may be reduced under two comprehensive classes. The first includes all in which the charms of verse are made use of, to illustrate subjects which in their own nature are affecting or interesting. Such are Didactic and Dramatic compositions. Such is the Epic, where a story, a series of adventures, carries the reader on through the impulse of curiosity, and loses not its interest intirely even if translated into Prose. Such are descriptions of natural objects, where the mind recognizes with pleasure the forms and colouring it admires in the various



scenes and productions of the visible world. Such is, also, that moral painting of men and manners, that spontaneously approves itself to the spirit of observation, and the moral sense, that more or less are implanted in the breast of every man. Hence the Essays and Epistles of Pope have been popular among all that read. A lively representation of the passions, particularly those of love, terror, and pity, commands the attention even of those who are but indifferent judges of the vehicle in which it may be conveyed. The other class consists of what may be called pure Poetry, or Poetry in the abstract. It is conversant with an imaginary world, peopled with beings of its own creation. It deals in splendid imagery, bold fiction, and allegorical personages. It is necessarily obscure to a certain degree; because, having to do chiefly with ideas generated within the mind, it cannot be at all comprehended by any whose intellect has not been exercised in similar contemplations; while the conceptions of the Poet (often highly metaphysical) are rendered still


more remote from common apprehension by the figurative phrase in which they are clothed. All that is properly Lyric Poetry is of this kind. It depends for effect on the harmony of the verse, which must be modulated with the nicest care; and on a felicity of expression, rather than a fullness of thought. An Epic Poem may be compared to a piece of massy plate finely wrought; it is intrinsically valuable, though its value is much increased by the work bestowed upon it. An Ode, like a delicate piece of silver filligree, receives in a manner all its value from the art and curiosity of the workmanship. Hence Lyric Poetry will very seldom bear translation, which is a kind of melting down of a Poem, and reducing it to the sterling value of the matter contained in it. Who can read the greatest part of the Odes of Horace in any translation that has yet appeared? and who, but a native of France, reads, what a native of France reads with rapture, the Odes of Jean Baptiste Rousseau?—Nor can this species of Poetry, though most answering

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to Shakespear's definition, as it gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name, [2]  ever be popular. The substratum, if I may so express myself, or subject matter, which every composition must have, is, in a Poem of this kind, so extremely slender, that it requires not only art, but a certain artifice of construction, to work it up into a beautiful piece; and to judge of or relish such a composition requires a practised ear, and a taste formed by elegant reading. Moliere, it is said, used to submit his Comedies to the criticism of an old woman; but the most beautiful Ode will only please those who by being long conversant with the best models of Poetry in a polished age, have acquired a scientific and perhaps, in some degree, a factitious taste.

Collins, amongst our English Authors, has cultivated the Lyric Muse with peculiar felicity; his works are small in bulk, but highly finished; and have deservedly gained him a respectable rank amongst our minor Poets. His characteristics are tenderness, tin-


ged with melancholy, beautiful imagery, a fondness for allegory and abstract ideas, purity and chasteness of sentiment, and an exquisite ear for harmony. In his endeavours to embody the fleeting forms of mind, and clothe them with correspondent imagery, he is not unfrequently obscure; but even when obscure, the reader who possesses congenial feelings is not ill pleased to find his faculties put upon the stretch in search of those sublime ideas which are apt, from their shadowy nature, to elude the grasp of the mind.

Collins has written but little, and is said, probably with truth, to have been inclined to indolence; but it is likewise true that the man of fine imagination who draws his productions from the stores of his own mind, ought to have large allowance made before this accusation is fixed upon him. A real Poet must always appear indolent to the man of the world. The alacrity and method of business is not to be expected in his occupation. His mind works in silence, and exhausts itself with the various emotions which it che-


rishes, while to a common eye it appears fixed in stupid apathy. The Poet requires long intervals of ease and leisure; his imagination should be fed with novelty, and his ear soothed by praise. But it was not the fortune of Collins to meet with that notice which his productions have since obtained; and after he had published his beautiful Odes, indignant and disappointed at the slowness of the sale, he is said to have burnt the remaining copies with his own hands. His end was unhappy; his mind, abandoned to inaction, preyed upon itself, and he fell into that malady most humiliating to a being possessed of rational powers. [3] 

The Epistle to Sir Thomas Hanmer seems to have been the first of our author's productions. [4]  As the subject is historical, rather than fanciful, it has less of the peculiar manner of Collins than any other of his Poems. In a slight, but neatly executed sketch, he traces the state of the Drama through the writers of other countries; and with a partiality, in which the


other nations of Europe seem almost to acquiesce, gives the palm to the Englishman's idol, Shakespear, after whom,

No second growth the western isle could bear,
At once exhausted with too rich a year. [5] 

It is probable that our Poet, who was then a student at the university, knew nothing at that time of Massinger; otherwise, when he distinguishes Shakespear from Fletcher, by the strength and masculine turn of his Drama, he could not have omitted one who came so near him in those characteristic qualities. It is remarkable, that in this piece, the plan which has since been carried into execution through the spirit and liberality of Mr. Boydel, that of a gallery of paintings to illustrate the pieces of our great Dramatist, is here first proposed to the public. The subjects are particularly pointed out, Coriolanus reluctantly yielding to the intreaties of his wife and mother,

Rage grasps the sword, while pity melts the eyes [6] 


And, Antony, pronouncing the funeral oration over the dead body of: Julius Cæsar;

Still as they press he calls on all around;
Lifts the torn robe, and points the bleeding wound. [7] 

It were to be wished that all the scenes which have been transferred to the canvass, had been selected with as much judgment. It is not every scene that may be found in Shakespear, which illustrates Shakespear.

In 1742, while Collins was still a student at Magdalen College, he published his Oriental, or, as they were first entitled, Persian Eclogues. [8]  Sensible of the triteness of common Pastoral, which had become almost proverbial, the author has endeavoured to throw interest and variety into this elegant species of composition, by introducing the manners, and especially the appropriate scenery of other countries. The attempt was laudable, and the effect happy. The Oriental Eclogues have not indeed attained equal


popularity with the Delias and Strephons [9]  of the Arcadian school, but they have always stood high in the opinion of real judges, and have opened sources of new and striking imagery which succeeding Poets have often availed themselves of. The passions of men are uniform; but, modified by the influence of climate, government, manners, and local circumstance, and accompanied with the various tints which employ the pencil of a landscape painter, they present an inexhaustible variety, from the song of Solomon breathing of cassia, myrrh, and cinnamon, to the Gentle Shepherd of Ramsay, whose damsels carry their milking pails through the frost and snows of their less genial, but not less pastoral country. The province of Pastoral may in this way be enlarged to take in all the beautiful and all the grand appearances of nature, which observation or reading may have brought the Poet acquainted with; he may sport in the vast savannahs of America; he may regale his shepherds with the


bread-fruit of Otaheite, or sadden them with the prospect of an impending eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

The Eclogues are four in number, corresponding to the four periods of morning, noon, evening, and midnight. Selim, or the Shepherd's Moral, is the least interesting of the number. It has nothing dramatic in its structure, and the two similes with which it is adorned are more quaint than beautiful. It is, however, calculated to please by the purity and sweetness of its moral ideas, and serves, as it were, to prepare and put the mind in tune for virtuous sympathy with the feelings of shepherds. The personification of Chastity,

—————of all afraid,
Distrusting all, a wise suspicious maid;
But man the most————— [10] 

is remarkably happy.

Hassan, or the Camel-driver, stands upon a ground of superior merit. There is a peculiar strength of painting in the opening of the Poem. The horror of a


boundless desart, arid and sultry, the intense beams of noon, the absence of all vestige of vegetation, the undulating ocean of sand swept by the rising whirlwind, present a scenery of gloomy grandeur strictly appropriate to the country. A single group appears upon the canvass, composed of laden camels, so emphatically called in the East the ships of the desart, pursuing their painful march through a cloud of dust, and the driver Hassan, with his single cruise of water, and fan made of feathers, who is represented striking his breast with his hand, according to the eastern expression of strong emotion, before he begins his complaint. The scene is highly finished, and shews what advantage might be gained to this kind of Poetry, by studying the more picturesque features of nature. This piece is a monodrame, but the apostrophe to the camels, and the introduction of the speech of Hassan's mistress, give it sufficient dramatic effect. The danger incurred in these desarts from poisonous reptiles and wild beasts is strikingly impressed:


What if the lion in his rage I meet!
Oft in the dust I view his printed feet. [11] 

The images in the two following lines seem to be borrowed from the 5th chapter of Matthew,

The lily, Peace, outshines the silver store,
And life is dearer than the golden ore. [12] 

There is a prettiness in the prayer of Zara, that the blasts of the desart might be weak as her rejected sighs, which is unworthy of the rest. Collins had a fine imagination, but he did not possess the language of passion. There seems also a small impropriety in Hassan's bearing himself the cruise of water, when he was master of laden camels.

The subject of the next Eclogue is truly pastoral. A young shepherdess making garlands of such flowers as, though they are the product of our gardens only, are known to grow wild in many parts of Persia, is discovered by Abbas the Great, sultan of that country, who falls in love with her, and leads her to his palace. Filled with awe, no less than pleasure, she complies


with the wishes of the monarch; but, like Proserpine in the valley of Enna, looks back with fond regret on the peaceful scenes of her happy life;

Oft as she went, she turn'd her backward view,
And bade that crook and bleating flock adieu. [13] 

A pretty incident is added, that she makes an annual visit to the place of her former habitation, and persuades her royal lover to accompany her in a rural festival, in which they lay aside the pomp of the court for the garb and simple fare of the surrounding shepherds. As the narrative is put into the mouth of another Georgian maiden, who relates it among her companions, there should have been some return to her at the close of the piece, without which we are apt to forget that Emyra and not the Poet is the narrator.

Agib and Secander is in every respect the most finished of these Pastorals. It is the only one which is in dialogue. It is full of lively description, and mixes the sweetness of the Pastoral with the keener sensations of the Drama or the Epic. The opening is na-


tural, and immediately interests us in the fate of the speakers. The subject is new, interesting, and strictly belonging to the life of shepherds in those countries, which are unhappily exposed to the incursions of bordering tribes of free-booters. Two Circassian shepherds flying from the sudden attack of a horde of Tartars, pursue their journey by midnight for some time,

Where wildering fear and desperate sorrow led; [14] 

after a while, one of them, exhausted by the length of the way, intreats the other to stop, on which a dialogue ensues, descriptive of the miseries of the inhabitants. At length they descry the approach of the enemy.

—— loud along the vale was heard
A shriller shriek, and nearer fires appear'd. [15] 

This naturally puts an end to the dialogue; they rise and continue their flight. Circassia has the reputation of producing the most beautiful women of the east. This gives the Poet a favorable opportunity of contrasting the soft scenes of innocence, love and pleasure,


with the affecting ones of wasted harvests, citron groves destroyed, villages in flames, and all the destructive ravages of predatory war. The two following lines are uncommonly musical, and have an indescribable charm in their versification,

In vain she boasts her fairest of the fair,
Their eyes' blue languish and their golden hair. [16] 

He adds

Those hairs the Tartar's cruel hand shall rend. [17] 

With equal truth of penciling does he mark "the villain Arab prowling for his prey." [18] 

Some feeble or unmeaning epithets might be pointed out in this and in the other Eclogues; and other marks may be perceived of a juvenile poet; but on the whole, they may be considered as spirited sketches of a new kind of Pastoral, which is susceptible of unlimited variety and improvement.

The reputation of Collins is chiefly built upon his Odes. These were published in the year 1746. They are entitled Odes descriptive and allego-


rical. Allegorical they certainly are, so far as that term may be applied to the personification of abstract ideas, though figurative would perhaps have been a more proper term: but they do not seem to have an equal claim to the epithet descriptive; by which we generally understand a delineation of some portion of real nature. Few of the Odes of Collins are of this cast, which indeed does not belong so properly to the nature of the Ode; but they are in the high spirit of pure Poetry. Their beginning is commonly abrupt and bold; often a spirited apostrophe:

Thou to whom the world unknown
With all its shadowy shapes is shewn! [19] 

Sometimes it is in the interrogative;

Who shall awake the Spartan fife? [20] 

The language is highly figurative, sometimes obscure; the measure is various; the versification in general easy and flowing, and in many passages wrought up to all the harmony the English language is capable of exhibiting.


The first of these compositions, To Pity, is chiefly remarkable for the sweetness and tenderness congenial to the subject. Pity is represented as being sent into the world to bind the wounds and sooth the sorrows of man,

When first Distress with dagger keen
Broke forth to waste his destin'd scene. [21] 

The eyes of dewy light [22]  is an expression peculiarly happy; but the personification of Distress does not seem equally accurate, since Distress is commonly used for the sensation felt by the person afflicted, not for misfortune itself. The mention of Otway, born as well as Collins near the Arun, probably suggested to his melancholy and indignant mind an analogy in their fates, which he has forborne to express. They both of them were the objects of pity, from that circumstance in which a liberal mind would least wish to become so, pecuniary distress. The idea of building a temple to Pity, on the walls of which should be painted a variety of tragic subjects, might, if the Poet had



pleased, have enabled him to lengthen his ode, by enriching it with sketches to any extent.

The Ode to Fear is one of the finest in the collection. Nothing can be more spirited than the opening, which at once introduces the mind to all those undefined terrors which wait upon "the world unknown." [23]  The break in the fifth line, Ah, Fear! ah frantic Fear! I see, I see thee near! [24]  has the happiest effect on the ear and on the mind. The hurried step, the haggard eye, the withering power of Fear, are all highly characteristic. Danger with gigantic limbs enjoying the midnight storm, and sleeping on a loose precipice; and the ravening brood of Fate who lap the blood of sorrow, [25]  are finely imagined. It is difficult to keep intirely separate the active and passive qualities of allegorical personages: difficult to say whether such a being as Fear should be the agent in inspiring, or the victim agitated by the passion. In this Ode the latter idea prevails, for Fear appears in the character of a nymph pursued, like Dryden's Honoria, by the ravening


brood of Fate. She is distracted by the ghastly train conjured up by Danger, and hunted through the world without being suffered to take repose; yet this idea is somewhat departed from, when the Poet endeavours to propitiate Fear by offering her as a suitable abode, the cell where Rape and Murder dwell; or a cave, whence she may hear the cries of drowning seamen. [26]  She then becomes the power who delights in inflicting fear. But perhaps the reader is an enemy to his own gratification, who investigates the attributes of these shadowy beings with too nice and curious an eye. In his reference to the goblins of Midsummer eve, the Poet shews that disposition to take advantage of the traditionary superstitions of his country, which he afterwards indulged more fully in his Ode on the Highland Superstition; a piece he did not live to finish. The division of this Ode into Epode and Antistrophe is no advantage to it. The change of measure is so violent from the Lyric to the Elegiac, that in fact they make two different Poems; and the terms themselves, not be-

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ing supported, as among the ancients, by any adaptation of musical accompaniments, are in our Poetry totally unmeaning. The complimentary valediction so often imitated from Milton, And I, O Fear, will dwell with thee, [27]  is in this instance but a compliment; for however a man might be content to have his days tinged with the soft influence of a penseroso-melancholy; he could not, for any reward, wish to subject himself habitually to the distracting emotions of such a passion as Fear.

The Ode to Simplicity is chiefly distinguished by a smoothness and uniformity of melody, adapted to the sober nature of the subject. It chiefly insists on the power of Simplicity in touching the heart, and its necessary connection with Liberty: the latter, though a sentiment we have early imbibed, is probably imaginary. The Poet is obliged to include the Augustan age of writers under the votaries of Simplicity, and how few were the Poets whom the Romans had to boast of before that period? Where Collins is not


sustained by richness of Poetry, his sentiments will be found to be trite.

On the Poetical Character. This is one of the most difficult and perhaps least satisfactory of the Odes. It begins with an ingenious comparison drawn from Spenser. As the girdle of Florimel, though apparently within the reach of all, would not fit any but the virtuous fair destined to wear it; so the girdle of Fancy, the magic cestus of poetic powers, can only be worn by him whom Nature has cast in the mould of true genius. So far is apt and intelligible; but the Poet afterwards, actuated as it should seem by a vague desire of exalting his favorite occupation, rather than by any clear and distinct ideas, goes on to say how this cestus was produced. His allegory here is neither luminous nor decent. The Supreme Being, he tells us, being in a diviner mood than usual, [28]  retired with Fancy, having long been woed by her, (from whom retired? for nothing was yet created,) and placed her on his throne, sitting with her there alone; in the mean time


music was heard from behind the veil; the sun, signified by the rich-hair'd youth of morn, [29]  and all the visible creation, started into being; and as the work of creation went forward, this magic web, the cestus, was woven: and who after this account, he adds, will now dare to assert his claim to it?

It is difficult to reduce to any thing like a meaning this strange and by no means reverential fiction concerning the Divine Being. Probably the obscure idea that floated in the mind of the Author was this, that true Poetry being a representation of Nature, must have its archetype in those ideas of the supreme mind, which originally gave birth to Nature; and therefore, that no one should attempt it without being conversant with the fair and beautiful, the true and perfect, both in moral ideas, the shadowy tribes of mind, [30]  and the productions of the material world. Some of the separate images are good, as, ecstatic wonder, listening the deep applauding thunder; [31]  and the description of the residence of Milton approaches the sublime; though the quaint


expression of his evening ear [32]  is not to be commended. [33]  The Author concludes with expressing his despair of fulfilling, or seeing fulfilled by any future Poet, that high idea of the poetical character which he has been impressing on the mind.

The Ode on the Death of Colonel Ross is in perfect contrast with the former. It is flowing, tender, and touches all the springs of sympathetic sorrow. Every sweet allusion which can sooth the hero fallen in the bed of honor, is here conjured up with a masterly hand; and when, from the patriotic ideas of freedom, honour, and just vengeance over the enemies of our country, the Poet by a sudden change in the movement reverts to the situation of the mourning and desolated friend, unable to forget the real sorrows of life in the contemplation of shadowy glories,

If yet in Sorrow's distant eye
Expos'd and pale thou see'st him lie,
Wild war insulting near; [34] 


the soul is struck, and acknowledges the force of Nature above the power of lofty figures or swelling sentiment. The William mentioned in the poem is the hero of Culloden, then a favorite with the people. [35]  It is not improbable that in this Ode the Author had in view the popular song of Hosier's Ghost. [36]  The beautiful little dirge which follows this piece, bears the same relation to it, which an elegant vignette does to an engraving of full size.

The maxim of Horace, Ut pictura poesis, [37]  may be strictly applied to the first stanza of the Ode to Mercy; for the figures and attitudes are delineated so perfectly, that a painter has nothing left to do but to transfer it to the canvass. Valour, under the figure of an armed youth, sits grasping his spear with a threatening gesture. Mercy, in the character of a bride, seated beside him, is employed in covering his sword with wreaths of flowers; and by her blandishments endeavours to get his spear out of his hand.

This Ode, as well as the former, seems to have been


written just after the rebellion of 1745, and was probably intended to move pity, possibly to express sympathy towards the unhappy victims of an ill-judged and abortive attempt, to raise the fortunes of a fallen race. He seems to refer to this transient interruption of the peace of these kingdoms, in another piece, where he invokes Concord to return to the ravaged shores of Britain.

To Liberty. The opening of this spirited Ode rouses the mind susceptible of patriotic feelings, as with the sound of a trumpet.

Who shall awake the Spartan fife,
And call in solemn sounds to life? [38] 

The subject of the Poem is similar to that of Thomson's long, and to say the truth, rather heavy, composition, which bears the same title. Its object is to give a free and rapid sketch of the various states which in different ages have possessed this inestimable blessing. Having called up interrogatively the shades of Sparta and Athens, the gigantic Republic of Rome is repre-


sented under the original and striking figure of a huge statue, which after having stood the wonder of ages, is pushed from its base and broken to pieces at length by the rude conquerors of the North. In this place the imitative harmony of the following line is much to be admired,

With heaviest sound a giant statue fell. [39] 

The various free states which arose out of the ruins, as Venice, Florence, &c. are fragments of this great mass. They are denoted by little characteristic circumstances, historical, or picturesque, which give truth and life to the description, sunny Florence; the willowed meads of Holland to whom the stork is dear; he who weds in the Adriatic his green-hair'd bride; Jealous Pisa's olive shade; the daring archer, &c. [40]  The remainder of the piece is taken up in complimenting Britain upon possessing in the fullest manner the affection of the Goddess.

For thou hast made her vales thy lov'd thy last abode. [41] 


Collins has here taken advantage of a tradition, that Britain was formerly connected with the Continent; and of another, less known, that in the time of the Druids there existed in Britain a temple sacred to Liberty. The wide wild storm even Nature's self confounding, [42]  by which our island is supposed to have been separated, is described with great force and beauty of language. It may be observed, however, that the Author is obliged to Milton's Comus, for some of his images; the green navel of our isle. [43] 

Within the navel of this hideous wood.     Comus. [44] 
And see like gems her laughing train
The little isles on every side. [45] 
That like to rich and various gems inlay
The unadorned bosom of the deep.    Comus. [46] 

The hyacinthine locks of the Spartans, though an expression very classic, has, to an English reader, more of sound than sense in it; especially if referred, as it is here, to the colour; yet the magic of numbers is such that the passage cannot be read without pleasure, and


the allusion to the custom the Spartans had of arranging their hair before a battle, is just and happy.

Beautiful as is this Ode, the philosophic reader will find much to object to. The ideas of Liberty referring to ancient states, are formed upon those splendid notions, which are imbibed in early youth, and are little applicable to the real and practical principles of just legislation. The practice of slavery alone completely destroys, in all those states who used it, all pretence to the blessings of fair and equal government; and there exists no country where the stern regulations of power entered, more than at Sparta, into every scene of private life. The parent could not there exercise the sacred and inalienable right of education; nor the husband enjoy his home. And with regard to religious liberty, so dear to every ingenuous and inquiring mind, it was not even thought of in the Grecian States. As to Rome, the Author has fallen into the anachronism common to the admirers of antiquity, of confounding the times of the republic with


those of the empire; in order, by blending the glories of each, to delight the imagination with an era more free than the later, more splendid than the earlier periods of its history; for surely that Rome which was overthrown by the northern sons of spoil, [47]  had no claim to draw down the tears of Freedom at her fall.

Ode to Evening. As the English language will bear verse without rhyme in the ten-syllable Heroic measure, and even possesses many pieces of that kind which are admired for the harmony of their cadence, it has been the opinion of many that blank verse might also be extended to our Lyric measures, and several attempts have been made to realize this idea, amongst which the Ode to Evening is undoubtedly the most beautiful. It has more description than any other of the Poems of Collins, and the whole of it is highly finished. The imitative harmony of the following line will scarcely escape the reader,

——————————the weak-ey'd bat,
With short shrill shriek flits by on leathern wing; [48] 


nor the exquisite description of the gradual approach of Evening,

And hears their simple bell, and marks o'er all
Their dewy fingers draw
Their gradual dusky veil. [49] 

His propensity to the pensive pleasures sweet, [50]  which pervades all his Poems, appears with much grace in this address to Evening, where it peculiarly suits the sober and quiet character of that season. But notwithstanding its superior merit considered as a Poem, in the chief object of its construction this Ode will probably be considered rather as a literary curiosity than as a successful pattern of a new mode of versification. The imagination indeed is gratified, but the ear is disappointed; nor is this merely the effect of custom. So long as our verse is constructed chiefly with iambics, particularly in the close of the line, the absence of rhyme will appear a defect; but Lyric measures might be formed composed of dactyls and anapæsts, which would probably sustain themselves with-


out this ornament, by some thought so Gothic; the only objection to this, and it is to be feared an insuperable one, is, that our language does not naturally run into these measures, and the genius of a language cannot be forced. Those who think no practice can have the stamp of taste which has not the sanction of the antients, will continue to inveigh against rhyme; writers, studious of novelty, will, from time to time, make attempts to do without it; but we may venture to pronounce it far from probable, that the mode in which the great masters of English versification, from Pope to Darwin, have charmed the readers of successive generations, should be discovered to be the offspring of tasteless caprice, or the blind compliance with unmeaning custom. It is moreover a fact, which those who have tried it will bear witness to, that the necessity of labouring the line and turning the expressions frequently in the mind, is favorable to excellence; and, that, whatever might be presumed to the contrary, a thought is oftener condensed than di-


lated by the necessity of putting it into rhyme. Our common blank verse is so extremely easy to compose, that it tempts a young author to negligence. The art of versification is as essential to the nature of Poetry as beauty of thought; and however difficult it may be to bind in rhyme the unwilling phrase, the Poet should remember that he cannot free himself from a chain, but by abandoning an ornament.

To Peace. In reading the Author before us, our attention cannot but be attracted by the frequent recurrence of those subjects which indicate a gentleness of temper and a quick sensibility to the distresses of his fellow men. Collins did not use the liberal breath of Poetry to fan those flames which consume and destroy mankind; Peace, Mercy, Pity, these are the themes he delights to dress and adorn with all his pomp of imagery; and his gentle spirit seems to have been wounded with the contemplation of the miseries of his race. The image of Peace escaping to the skies, and just saving her hair from the furious grasp of her enemy, is appropriate and beautiful,


—————————tergoque fugaci
Imminet, et crinem sparsum cervicibus adflat. [51] 

This Ode was probably written during the war of the Austrian succession.

The Manners. That Collins was more fond of abstract and metaphysical ideas than of the busy haunts of common life, his works sufficiently evince. It must, therefore, have been in some moment of disgust against the usual train of his ideas, that he professes himself desirous to abandon the philosophic porch for the walks of life; and speculation, for wit and humour. We may reasonably conclude, however, that with wit and humour as well as with speculation, his acquaintance was formed through books; and that when he speaks of studying the Manners, he had only laid down his Plato to take up Gil Blas. [52]  The scintillations of wit are ingeniously alluded to by,

The jewels in his crisped hair,
—— placed each other's beams to share. [53] 



The remark that the name of humour is known only to Britain's favoured isle, is calculated to mislead; since surely no one will pretend that the thing is peculiar to our own country; and it is of little importance that the terms do not exactly correspond in different languages. Le Sage should not have been characterized by the story of Blanche, which, though beautiful, is not in his peculiar stile of excellence, and has more to do with the high passions than with Manners. Indeed the subject is not particularly proper for an Ode, and, though not devoid of merit, this is by no means one of his most striking pieces.

The Passions. The connection of Music with Poetry, and their united power over the Passions, has been a favorite theme of authors. Dryden, who had a musical ear, and Pope who had none, have both written Odes for St. Cecilia's day. To try his strength with these great masters, was an exertion worthy of the ambition, and not above the powers of Collins. This Ode to the Passions may be considered as the hap-


piest production of his pen. His art is the more to be admired, as he has not, like his predecessors, taken advantage of a story for the basis of his piece; but has raised it solely on an allegorical fiction of his own. The Passions, who had often crowded round the cell of Music, while she sung in early Greece, being once upon a time more than usually affected, and raised into a kind of extacy, snatched her instruments which hung upon the surrounding myrtles, and produced, each of them, a strain suitable to the peculiar expression of his character. The Passions are thus enumerated in the beautiful lines of Pope,

Love, Hope, and Joy, fair Pleasure's smiling train,
Hate, Fear, and Grief, the family of Pain. [54] 

This division is not exactly followed. Hate is given under the different modifications of Anger and Revenge. Fear, with that of Despair. Jealousy is introduced; a passion compounded of many others. Grief is, with the happiest effect, softened into Me-

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lancholy. Joy is preceded by Cheerfulness; and Love, all-powerful Love, is only mentioned incidentally. The reader may perhaps expect from the frame of the piece that an appropriate instrument should be found for every passion, as in the ingenious paper of Addison, in which characters are resembled to musical instruments. This however is not the case. To some of the passions no particular instrument is assigned. Anger and Joy have two, and the horn, though with "an altered tone" is common to Melancholy and Cheerfulness. The aim of the Poet was rather to describe them by their manner of playing, than by a circumstance which, if extended to every one, might have given rather a formal air to the Poem, and allied it more to wit than to fancy. In the order in which they are brought forward, the sole view seems to have been that they should relieve one another; Melancholy is followed by Cheerfulness; the song of Hope is broken off by Revenge; and his movements are contrasted by those of Pity. It may perhaps be asked, why


Fear is set in the front of the contest; he is described however very characteristically. He does not properly play, he lays his "hand, bewilder'd, amid the chords," [55]  and is startled at the sound he has himself produced. Anger sweeps the lyre in one rude clash. [56]  It is rather a violent fiction to make Despair play at all. So deadening a sensation hardly leaves room for any exertion. The next is truly enchanting. It begins with a sprightly apostrophe,

But thou, O Hope, with eyes so fair. [57] 

Her song, for she sings as well as plays, is prolonged at every close, and the soft responsive voice, at which "Hope enchanted smiled, and waved her golden hair" [58]  is conceived in the happiest spirit of allegorical fancy. The break in the next line has a fine effect; it seems to shew Revenge entering like a stern conqueror through a breach: the doubling drum, the sword thrown in thunder down, and the strained eyeball bursting from the head, mark the character with its proper strength; and we have already observed how


well it is contrasted with that of Pity. Jealousy is more feebly drawn, but Melancholy is in his softest, mellowest stile of colouring. She is placed apart from the rest, surrounded with such appropriate scenery as a pensive mind naturally delights in;

With eyes uprais'd, as one inspir'd,
Pale Melancholy sat retir'd. [59] 

And her notes die away into silence, by soft and imperceptible gradations, in a cadence much finer than the dying dying fall [60]  of Pope executed in the same key. Cheerfulness is exhibited with a lively group about her, the action is animated, and gives much of the dramatic to the piece. The Satyrs are peeping from their alleys green; brown Exercise rejoices; and Sport leaps up and seizes his beechen spear. [61]  Is it because the nature of man is less formed for rapture, than for moderate exhilaration, that when the Poet endeavours to rise from Cheerfulness to Joy, the images are less distinct, and the effect less forcible? The unaccountable exclusion of Love from the trial has already been


noticed; but surely, if he was mentioned at all, it should have been as a principal, and not introduced dancing like a Bacchanal in the train of Joy. This is what could hardly have been expected from the delicate and sentimental Collins. But whether from the shyness of his disposition, or some early disgust, or from whatever cause, certain it is that he has shewn himself rather unfriendly to the passion to which the greater part of Poets have largely sacrificed. In his Pastorals there is as little of it as is well consistent with the nature of the composition, and in another place he refers to it only in the way of complaint.

Love, only Love, her forceless numbers mean. [62] 

It is a test of merit, and not a symptom of defect in this Ode, as has been surmised by some critic, that its beauties are brought out by recitation. No composition in the language is more admirably adapted to display with effect the different modulations of impassioned sentiment and imitative harmony, and it is remarkable that this is effected not by a studious adaptation of


particular measures to the expression of different passions, for the same measure is often used for opposite passions; but by that skilful mixture of them, by those graceful cadences and judicious breaks, and sounds conveying the tone of feeling to which the ear of a Poet is his best guide. The allegory is simply this, that the art of music supplies the instruments, but that the Passions alone can make them speak to the heart; and the piece concludes with lamenting the dissolution of that union which is said to have subsisted in antient times between Poetry and Music. Of the wonderful effects of this union, every one perhaps is not prepared to affirm with our Author, "'Tis said, and I believe the tale;" but every person of taste must lament its divorce from sense, and regret, that while the English language offers to the composers of music such productions as the preceding for the basis of their exertions, the degradation of the public taste obliges them to prefer for their charming structure of sweet sounds, the slang of Newgate, the


vulgarisms of the province, or the lisping prattle of the nursery.

Ode on the Death of Thomson. This piece is tender and plaintive, the allusion to the Æolian harp, the dashing oar [63]  suspended to bid his gentle spirit rest, the gradual fading of the scenery as night approaches, are pleasing and picturesque circumstances. But there is no propriety in calling Thomson a Druid or a pilgrim, characters totally foreign to his own. To the sanguinary and superstitious Druid, whose rites were wrapped up in mystery, it was peculiarly improper to compare a Poet whose religion was simple as truth, sublime as nature, and liberal as the spirit of philosophy. Nature's child is a proper epithet, but why meek Nature's child. [64]  In short there is nothing characteristic of the Author he wished to commemorate, nor does there seem to be any local acquaintance with the scenery, for the church of Richmond is not white nor a spire, nor can it be seen from the river; and as to the monument erected in the last verse to this


great Poet, it must be looked upon in the light of a prophecy which is not yet fulfilled.

There remain two or three smaller Poems, among which the dirge in Cymbeline deserves to be noticed as perfectly corresponding with the delicacy and sweetness of the play for which it was written as an accompaniment.

To the Poems which have usually been published as the works of Collins, is now first added, An Ode on the popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland, which was read by the Reverend Dr. Carlyle on the 19th of April, 1784, at the royal society of Edinburgh. It was inscribed to Mr. John Home, and fell into the hands of Dr. Carlyle among the papers of a deceased friend, where it lay unregarded till a hint given by Dr. Johnson in his life of Collins of the existence of such a Poem revived the remembrance of it, and after diligent search it was found in the hand-writing of the Author. It seems to have been the first rough draught of the


Poem; it was written in the year 1749, and probably the Author, who died in 1756, never enjoyed spirits sufficient to finish it. Several hemistichs and words left blank leave been supplied by Dr. Carlyle; and the fifth and half of the sixth stanza by Dr. Mackenzie, with such art, that if it were not for the inverted commas, by which his lines are distinguished, the garment would appear without a seam. The cordial youth [65]  mentioned in the second stanza was a Mr. Barrow, who had been taken prisoner with Mr. Home (both of them volunteers at the battle of Falkirk) and then resided at Winchester, where Mr. Collins and Mr. Home then were.

The purport of this Ode is to recommend to the Poet of Scotland the popular superstitions of his country as peculiarly proper for works of imagination. These are enumerated with equal taste and knowledge of the subject. The imagination of Collins was apt to kindle at whatever bore the impress of the strange, the wild, and especially the supernatural; no


wonder therefore he was struck with the tales of the second sight, the elf-shot arrows, the island of pigmies, &c. in which the northern part of our island abounds. The information is chiefly taken from Martin's account of St. Kilda. It does not appear that Collins was ever in Scotland. The horror which those possessed of the second sight are said to feel often at the visions they see, is advantageously touched upon:

How they whose sight such dreary dreams engross,
With their own visions oft astonish'd droop;
When o'er the wat'ry strath or quaggy moss
They see the gliding ghosts unbodied troop.
They know what spirit brews the stormful day,
And heartless oft, like moody madness stare,
To see the phantom train their secret work prepare. [66] 

The seventh and eighth stanzas which describe a peasant drowned by the wrath of the Kelpie are parti-


cularly beautiful. The apparition of the pale and bloated corpse "with drooping willows drest," [67]  standing before his wife, reminds us of a similar pathetic passage in Ceyx and Alcyone,  [68] 

Then he perhaps, with moist and wat'ry hand,
Shall fondly seem to press her shudd'ring cheek,
And with his blue swoln face before her stand,
And shudd'ring cold these piteous accents speak." [69] 

The island of St. Kilda is marked by a negative circumstance highly descriptive,

Nor ever vernal bee was heard to murmur there. [70] 

But notwithstanding these and other striking passages, this Ode is far from possessing the spirit and pathos of the Ode to Fear. Many of these prodigies woven into a story would contribute strongly to the effect, but here


the Author speaks, and the Author has told us at the setting out that he does not believe them. It is however a Poem well worth recovering, and does credit to Collins, though it is not one of the few on which his reputation will more particularly rest.

The reader, after thus going through the productions of Collins, must have formed his opinion of the powers of the writer. He will be acknowledged to possess imagination, sweetness, bold and figurative language. His numbers dwell upon the ear, and easily fix themselves in the memory. His vein of sentiment is by turns tender and lofty, always tinged with a degree of melancholy, but not possessing any claim to originality. His originality consists in his manner; in the highly figurative garb in which he clothes abstract ideas; in the felicity of his expressions; and his skill in embodying ideal creations. He had much of the mysticism of Poetry, and sometimes became obscure, by aiming at impressions stronger than he had clear and well-defined ideas to support. Had his life


been prolonged, and with life had he enjoyed that ease and health which is necessary for the undisturbed exercise of the faculties, he would probably have risen far above most of his contemporaries. As it was, he did not enjoy much of the public favor; but posterity has done him justice, and assigned him an honorable rank among those of our Poets who are more distinguished by excellence than by bulk.


[1] The Poetical Works of Mr. William Collins. With a Prefatory Essay by Mrs. Barbauld (London: T. Cadell, Jun. and W. Davies in the Strand, 1797), iii-xlix. BACK

[2] Shakespear, A Midsummer Night's Dream V.i.16-17. BACK

[3] Collins was confined to a private madhouse in 1754. BACK

[4] Verses Humbly Address'd to Sir Thomas Hanmer: On His Edition of Shakespear's Works. By a Gentleman of Oxford (1743); revised as An Epistle: Addrest to Sir Thomas Hanmer, on His Edition of Shakespear's Works. The Second Edition. To Which Is Added a Song from the Cymbeline of the Same Author (1744). BACK

[5] Epistle […] to Hanmer 53-4. BACK

[6] Epistle […] to Hanmer 132. BACK

[7] Epistle […] to Hanmer 119-20. BACK

[8] The original title, Persian Eclogues. Written originally for the Entertainment of the Ladies of Tauris. And now first translated., appeared in 1742, with the revised publication under the new title, Oriental Eclogues. Written originally for the Entertainment of the Ladies of Tauris. And now translated., issued in 1757. BACK

[9] Stereotypical names of shepherd and nymph characters in classical pastoral poetry. BACK

[10] "Selim; or, the Shepherd's Moral" 57-9. BACK

[11] "Hassan; or, the Camel-driver" 51-2. BACK

[12] "Hassan; or, the Camel-driver" 33-4. BACK

[13] "Abra; or, the Georgian Sultana" 31-2. BACK

[14] "Agib and Secander; or, the Fugitives" 8. BACK

[15] "Agib and Secander; or, the Fugitives" 71-2. BACK

[16] "Agib and Secander; or, the Fugitives" 55-6. BACK

[17] "Agib and Secander; or, the Fugitives" 58. BACK

[18] "Agib and Secander; or, the Fugitives" 67. BACK

[19] "Ode to Fear" 1-2. BACK

[20] "Ode to Liberty" 1. BACK

[21] "Ode to Pity" 4-5. BACK

[22] "Ode to Pity" 12. BACK

[23] "Ode to Fear" 1. BACK

[24] "Ode to Fear" 5-6. BACK

[25] "Ode to Fear" 22-3. The description of "Danger" occurs in lines 10-15. BACK

[26] "Ode to Fear" 48-52. BACK

[27] "Ode to Fear" 71. BACK

[28] "Ode on the Poetical Character" 30, altered. BACK

[29] "Ode on the Poetical Character" 39. BACK

[30] "Ode on the Poetical Character" 47. BACK

[31] "Ode on the Poetical Character" 43-4. BACK

[32] "Ode on the Poetical Character" 64. BACK

[33] The tarsol, by whose eyes those of Truth were made, is the gyr-hawk or falcon; tarsol or tiercelet, being an old term in falconry, used to express the males of that species of hawk [Barbauld's note]. The lines are altered from "Ode on the Poetical Character" 45-6. BACK

[34] "Ode, to a Lady on the Death of Colonel Ross in the Action of Fontenoy" 52-4. BACK

[35] During the 1745 Jacobite rebellion of Charles Edward Stuart, Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765), led his English troops to victory over the Scottish forces in the decisive 1746 Battle of Culloden. This heroic legacy was compromised when he was tagged "Butcher Cumberland" for his severity with the defeated Scottish after this battle. BACK

[36] "Admiral Hosier's Ghost" by Richard Glover, a popular ballad about Admiral Francis Hosier (1673–1727). Sent in 1726 to the Spanish West Indies, Hosier and his fleet lay virtually inactive until he and his troops perished by endemic diseases, especially yellow fever. The song portrays the incident as one where Hosier's courage was thwarted by political corruption at home. BACK

[37] "As is painting, so is poetry," from Ars Poetica. BACK

[38] "Ode to Liberty" 1-2. BACK

[39] Perhaps, however, the hint of the image was caught from that in Nebuchadnezzar's dream [Barbauld's note]. See Daniel 2, especially 31-6. "Ode to Liberty" 19. BACK

[40] Drawn from "Ode to Liberty" 34-57, sometimes altered. BACK

[41] "Ode to Liberty" 88. BACK

[42] "Ode to Liberty" 74. BACK

[43] "Ode to Liberty" 90. BACK

[44] Milton, Comus 520. BACK

[45] "Ode to Liberty" 80-81. BACK

[46] Milton, Comus 22-3. BACK

[47] "Ode to Liberty" 22. BACK

[48] "Ode to Evening" 9-10. BACK

[49] "Ode to Evening" 38-40. BACK

[50] "Ode to Evening" 27. BACK

[51] Ovid, Metamorphoses I, 541-2. D.E. Hill translates these lines describing Apollo's pursuit of the fleeing Daphne at the moment that he "leant over the fugitive's / back and breathed on her hair as it flowed from her neck" (Ovid, Metamorphoses I-IV, ed. and trans. D.E. Hill [Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1985] 37). Collins opens his "Ode to Peace" with a similar image. Thanks to my colleague William Woods for assistance with this translation. BACK

[52] Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane (1715), a novel by Alain LeSage. BACK

[53] "The Manners. An Ode" 55-6, slightly altered. BACK

[54] Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, Epistle II, 117-8. BACK

[55] "The Passions. An Ode for Music" 17-18. BACK

[56] "The Passions. An Ode for Music" 23-4, altered. BACK

[57] "The Passions. An Ode for Music" 29. BACK

[58] "The Passions. An Ode for Music" 37-8. BACK

[59] "The Passions. An Ode for Music" 57-8. BACK

[60] Alexander Pope, "Ode on Saint Cecilia's Day" 21. BACK

[61] "The Passions. An Ode for Music" 76-9, altered. BACK

[62] "Ode to Simplicity" 39. BACK

[63] "Ode Occasion'e by the Death of Mr. Thomson" 15. BACK

[64] "Ode Occasion'e by the Death of Mr. Thomson" 36. BACK

[65] "Ode to a Friend on his Return &c [An Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland, considered as the Subject of Poetry]" 5. BACK

[66] "Ode to a Friend on his Return &c" 57-69, altered. BACK

[67] "Ode to a Friend on his Return &c" 127, altered. BACK


Luridus, exangui similis, sine vestibus ullis,
Conjugis ante torum miseræ stetit: uda videtur
Barba viri, madidisque gravis fluere unda capillis.
                Metam. xi [Barbauld's note].

D.E. Hill translates the lines "ghastly, like a dead man, without any clothes,/ he stood before the bed of his unhappy wife; it looked as if his beard/ was wet and that a heavy stream was flowing from his dripping locks (Ovid, Metamorphoses IX-XII, ed. and trans. D.E. Hill [Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1999] 101). Thanks to my colleague William Woods for assistance with this translation. Collins's lines occur in "Ode to a Friend on his Return &c" 129-132. BACK

[69] The blue swoln face is much superior to the luridus of the Latin Poet [Barbauld's note]. BACK

[70] "Ode to a Friend on his Return &c" 171. BACK

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