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About this time I fell into his company. His appearance was decent and manly; his knowledge considerable, his views extensive, his conversation elegant, and his disposition cheerful. By degrees I gained his confidence; and one day was admitted to him when he was immured by a bailiff, that was prowling in the street. On this occasion recourse was had to the booksellers, who, on the credit of a translation of Aristotle's Poetics, which he engaged to write with a large commentary, advanced as much money as enabled him to escape into the country. He shewed me the guineas safe in his hand. Soon afterward his uncle, Mr. Martin, a lieutenant-colonel, left him about two thousand pounds; a sum which Collins could scarcely think exhaustible, and which he did not live to exhaust. The guineas were then repaid, and the translation neg. lected.
But man is not born for happiness: Collins, who, while he studied to live, felt no evil but poverty, no sooner lived to study than his life was assailed by more dreadful calamities, disease and insanity.
Having formerly written his character, while perhaps it was yet more distinctly impressed upon my memory,
1 shall insert it here.
Mr. Collins was a man of extensive literature, and of vigorous faculties. He was acquainted not only with the learned tongues, but with the Italian, French, and Spanish languages. He had employed his mind chiefly upon works of fiction, and subjects of fancy; and, by indulging some peculiar habits of thought, was eminently delighted with those flights of imagination which pass the bounds of nature, and to which the mind is reconciled only by a passive acquiescence in popular traditions. He loved fairies, genii, giants, and monsters; he delighted to rove through the meanders of enchantment, to gaze on the magnificence of golden palaces, to repose by the waterfalls of Elysian gardens.
This was, however, the character rather of his inclination than his genius; the grandeur of wildness, and the novelty of extravagance, were always desired by him, but were not always attained. Yet as diligence is never wholly lost, if his efforts sometimes
caused harshness and obscurity, they likewise produced in happier moments sublimity and splendour. This idea which he had formed of excellence, led him to oriental fictions and allegorical imagery: and, perhaps, while he was intent upon description he did not sufficiently cultivate sentiment. His poems are the productions of a mind not deficient in fire, nor unfurnished with knowledge either of books or life, but somewhat obstructed in its progress by deviation in quest of mistaken beauties.
His morals were pure, and his opinions pious; in a long continuance of poverty, and long habits of dissipation, it cannot be expected that any character should be exactly uniform. There is a degree of want by which the freedom of agency is almost destroyed: and long association with fortuitous companions will at last relax the strictness of truth and abate the fervour of sincerity. That this man, wise and virtuous as he was, passed always unentangled through the snares of life, it would be prejudice and temerity to affirm; but it may be said that at least he preserved the source of action unpolluted, that his principles were never shaken, that his distinctions of right and wrong were never confounded, and that his faults had nothing of malignity or design, but proceeded from some unexpected pressure, or casual temptation.
"The latter part of his life cannot be remembered but with pity and sadness. He languished some years under that depression of mind which unchains the faculties without destroying them, and leaves reason the knowledge of right, without the power of pursuing it, These clouds which he perceived gathering on his intellects, he endeavoured to disperse by travel, and passed into France: but found himself constrained to yield to his malady, and returned. He was for some time confined in a house for lunatics, and afterward retired to the care of his sister in Chichester, where death, in 1756, came to his relief.
'After his return from France, the writer of this character paid him a visit at Islington, where he was waiting for his sister, whom he had directed to meet him: there was then nothing of disorder discernible in his
mind by any but himself; but he had withdrawn from study, and travelled with no other book than an English Testament, such as children carry to the school: when his friend took it into his hand, out of curiosity to see what companion a man of letters had chosen, "I have but one book," said Collins, "but that is the best."
Such was the fate of Collins, with whom I once delighted to converse, and whom I yet remember with tenderness.
'He was visited at Chichester, in his last illness, by his learned friends Dr. Warton and his brother; to whom he spoke with disapprobation of his Oriental Eclogues, as not sufficiently expressive of Asiatic manners, and called them his Irish Eclogues. He shewed them, at the same time, an ode inscribed to Mr. John Hume, on the Superstitions of the Highlands; which they thought superior to his other works.
His disorder was not alienation of mind, but general laxity and feebleness, a deficiency rather of his vital than intellectual powers. What he spoke wanted neither judgment nor spirit; but a few minutes exhausted him, so that he was forced to rest upon the couch, till a short cessation restored his powers, and he was again able to talk with his former vigour.
The approaches of this dreadful malady he began to feel soon after his uncle's death; and, with the usual weakness of men so diseased, eagerly snatched that temporary relief with which the table and the bottle flatter and seduce. But his health continually declined, and he grew more and more burthensome to himself.
To what I have formerly said of his writings may be added, that his diction was often harsh, unskilfully laboured, and injudiciously selected. He affected the obsolete when it was not worthy of revival; and he puts his words out of the common order, seeming to think, with some later candidates for fame, that not to write prose is certainly to write poetry. His lines commonly are of slow motion, clogged and impeded with clusters of consonants. As men are often esteemed who cannot be loved, so the poetry of Collins may sometimes extort praise, when it gives little pleasure."
Mr. Collins's first production is added here from the "Poetical Calendar.”
TO MISS AURELIA C-P.
On her weeping at her Sister's Wedding.
And seize the treasure you regret.
With Love united Ilymen stands,
And softly whispers to your charms,-
A monument has been erected by public subscription to Collins. He is represented as just recovered from: a wild fit of phrensy, to which he was subject, and in a calm and reclining posture, seeking refuge from his misfortunes in the consolations of the Gospel, while his lyre and one of the first of his poems lie neglected on the ground, &c. The whole was executed by Flaxman, at that time lately returned from Rome: the following most excellent epitaph was written by Mr. Hayley.
Ye who the merits of the dead revere,
Regard this tomb, where Collins, hapless name,
Though Nature gave him, and though Science taught
Written by Scott, of Amwell, on his return from Chichester, where he had in vain attempted to find the burial place of Collins.
To view the beauties of
From Baia's hills, from Portsea's spreading wave,
Anxious my tribute of respect to pay.
O'er the dim pavement of the solemn fane,
Midst the rude stones that croud th'adjoining space, The sacred spot I seek: but seek in vain
In vain I ask-for none can point the place.
What boots the eye whose quick observant glance
The power with force each feeling to express? How vain the hope that through life's little day,
The soul with thought of future fame can bless. While Folly frequent boasts th' insculptured tomb,
By flattery's pen inscribed with purchased praise; While rustic Labour's undistinguish'd doom
Fond Friendship's hand records in humble phrase j Of Genius oft and Learning worse the lot,
For them no care, to them no honour shewn : Alive neglected, and when dead forgot,
E'en COLLINS slumbers in a grave unknown.