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LIFE OF COLLINS,
BY DR. JOHNSON.
WILLIAM COLLINS was born at Chichester, on the 25th day of December, 1721. His father was a hatter of good reputation. He was in 1733, as Dr. Warton* has kindly informed me, admitted scholar of Winchester College, where he was educated by Dr. Burton. His English exercises were better than his Latin.
He first courted the notice of the public by some verses “To a Lady Weeping," published in The Gentleman's Magazine.'
* I cannot here pass over the names of these excellent men, without a grateful acknowledgment of my lasting obligation to them. They were my only Schoolmasters in the Latin and Greek languages; and to them I am indebted for my education in Winchester College, during seven years, till the Election in 1764, when I left school; and more fortunate than my master Warton, or his schoolfellow Collins, I succeeded to New College in the year following.-C.
In 1740, he stood first in the list of the scholars to be received in succession at New College; but unhappily there was no vacancy. This was the original misfortune of his life. He became a commoner of Queen's College, probably with a scanty maintenance; but was, in about half a year, elected a demy of Magdalen College, where he continued till he had taken a bachelor's degree, and then suddenly left the university; for what reason I know not that he told.
He now (about 1744) came to London a literary adventurer, with many projects in his head, and very little money in his pockets. He designed many works; but his great fault was irresolution; or the frequent calls of immediate necessity broke his scheme, and suffered him to pursue no settled purpose. A man doubtful of his dinner, or trembling at a creditor, is not much disposed to abstracted meditation, or remote inquiries. He published proposals for a History of the Revival of Learning; and I have heard him speak with great kindness of Leo the Tenth, and with keen resentment of his tasteless successor. But probably not
*The immediate successor of Leo X. was Adrian VI., who died in about a year. He is not the Pope reproached here for his want of taste. but Clement VII., who came next. He was, like Leo X., of the House of Medici; and the world was disappointed in that he did not patronize literature and the fine arts, after the example of his relation and other princes of that munificent family. Collins and Dr. Johnson were both of that condition and adventure, which might easily induce them to feel and express some keen dislike of such a character.-C.
a page of his history was ever written. He planned several tragedies, but he only planned them. He wrote now and then odes and other poems, and did something, however little.
About this time I fell into his company. pearance 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 showed me the guineas safe in his hand. Soon afterwards his uncle, Mr. Martin, a
* In the year 1746 he had spirit and resolution enough to publish his Odes: but the sale was by no means successful; and hence it was that the author, conceiving a just indignation against a blind and tasteless age, burnt the remaining copies with his own hand.-L.
A letter from Dr. Warton to his brother, which must have been written between May, 1745, (see p. 40) and this publication, gives the following account: Collins met me at Guildford Races, when I wrote out for him my Odes, and he likewise communicated some of his to me; and being both in very high spirits, we took courage, resolved to join our forces, and to publish them immediately. You will see a very pretty one of Collins's, on the death of Colonel
lieutenant-colonel, left him about £2000; a sum which Collins could scarcely think exhaustible, and which he did not live to exhaust. The guineas were then repaid' and the translation neglected.
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 more distinctly impressed upon my memory, I 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 only reconciled by
Ross. It is addressed to a lady, who was Ross's intimate acquaintance, and who, by the way, is Miss Bett Goddard. Collins is not to publish the Odes unless he gets 10 guineas for them. I returned from Milford last night, where I left Collins with my mother and sister, and he sets out to day for London.-Wool's Warton, p. 15.
* In the Poetical Calender, a Collection of Poems, by Fawkes. and Woty, 1763.