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years; and when, in a deplorable state of mind, he had been long under confinement: but no sooner had his old school-fellow on this occasion presented himself, than he exclaimed, 'Smith, do you remember my Dream!'
It does not appear that the topic was further dwelt upon. It is probable indeed that his enfeebled mind was exhausted by this effort, or sudden burst of anguished recollection. The presence of this old friend, altogether unexpected, and at so long an interval, drew to a point all that his miserable mind had been long brooding over, under the accumulated pressure of disease, distraction, and despair; which being interpreted, was plainly this- I feel and know that I have attained high poetical distinction and eminence; but I have, by my irregularities, sadly deprived myself of that hope which I fostered from my cradle, and know that I was otherwise destined to have realized-I have impaired and overturned my mind, that rare faculty, by which I was to have sustained the Poetical Character, (a boon scarce. ever, and, perhaps, of all the Sons of Soul, to one only imparted, p. 31.) When I was climbing with success, and had got high in the Tree, my grossness broke its branch under me, and I fell to the ground instead of reaching the top.'
"This anecdote Mr. Smith related to Dr. Busby, late Dean of Rochester, who was, like himself, a Wykehamist, and a native of Sussex."
For the foregoing paragraph I am indebted to a learned and intimate Friend, to whom Dr. Busby used to relate the story; and who, being unwilling it should be forgotten,
communicated it to me, to be employed as is here done. It is indeed to hi advice and liberal assistance that the present Edition of his favourite Poet is owing.-C.
The character which Dr. Johnson has given of his friend can hardly be perused without exciting some degree of surprise. He allows him no poetical faculty whatever, without making a considerable detraction from it. He had employed his mind upon works of fiction, and subjects of fancy: but he had indulged some peculiar habits of thinking, which led him to flights of imagination, surpassing the bounds of nature: with these flights he was delighted; but they were such, that the mind could not be reconciled to them without a passive acquiescence in popular traditions. Even for this he had rather an inclination than a genius; and did not always attain what he always desired; which was the grandeur of wildness, and the novelty of extravagance.' Here is the same charge against Collins which he had brought against Cowley, and those of his class. What was vicious was produced by a voluntary deviation from nature, in pursuit of something new and strange.'-Life of Cowley. His praise of Collins is scanty, and merely negative. His poems are the productions of a mind not deficient in fire, nor unfurnished with knowledge either of books or life, but sometimes obstructed in its progress by deviation in quest of mistaken beauties.'
To answer this injurious representation by a naked assertion to the contrary might be sufficient, for it is not supported by any proof or example: but he who will consider how the Odes of Gray have been treated by the same critic, will not require any circumstantial refutation of what he has advanced respecting these of Collins. In fact he had no congenial feeling with either of those Poets. He could perceive the extravagance of Donne and his School; and he has successfully detected and exposed them; but there were others endued with a fancy not irregular or illegitimate, who could soar to a height beyond his view.
Collins's poetry is not indeed of the first order: it exhibits no display of the human heart, or the secret workings of passion; nor do we find in it any sublime doctrines of religious or moral wisdom, which are the highest excellencies of the art. But there is another species of poetry, whose excellence consists and terminates in the exercise of a strong and lively imagination, displaying itself in active and unbounded excursions, and clothing its objects in metaphor and allegory. Among the British Poets of this class, Collins is entitled to the first rank, perhaps to the chief place. In his poetry there is no fantastical conceptions like those of the metaphysical poets (as Dr. Johnson calls them); nothing like wit, in the common acceptance of the word. There is sometimes obscurity; for unusual and sublime ideas cannot always be plainly expressed, especially in figurative language: but at other times his manner is so comprehensive and clear as to call
for admiration. I shall confine myself to a single instance: He describes Pity as having eyes of dewy light; by which is signified the sympathy she feels, and the comfort that she brings. The idea is the same that Homer conceived, when, describing the countenance of Andromache, he said it was dampvoer yıλaoaca, smiling in tears. Homer expressed it in simple terms; Collins clothed it in a rich fancy dress; and such is the general character of his compositions.
The subordinate parts of Collins's poetry are noticed by Dr. Johnson only to be condemned; and that by mere assertions without any proof. To such a mode of criticism the proper answer is, an appeal to the poetry itself; which, in my judgment, does not merit the reproach he has thrown upon it. Among the faults imputed is this,-'his lines are commonly of slow motion, clogged and impeded with clusters of consonants.' Slow motion is not necessarily a fault; it often expresses the sense, and then, is proper, and a beauty: but they are clogged with consonants. The consonants, may not be more numerous in his lines than in others, and the whole body of English Verse; in that case the charge falls not on him, but on the language. This is matter for computation.
*The Latin poets were sensible of a defect in their own language, not unlike this: it was rough and unmusical. Tanta est sermo Græcus Latino jucundior (says Quintilian) ut nostri poetæ quoties dulce carmen esse voluerunt illorun id nominibus exornent.
Joshua Steele, the author of Prosodia Rationalis, informs us that in the English tongue the proportion of consonants to vowels (taking them not as written, but sounded in pronunciation,) is as 3 to 2. P. 168. In verse the propor tion must be greater, because of the frequent contractions, as here,
T' inspect a mite, not comprehend the heav'n.-Pope.
If the consonants in a verse be only as 3 to 2, it may pass for smooth and flowing in the general body of English poetry the proportion is greater than that: in the line from Pope here quoted, the proportion is nearly as 2 to 1. He would be an ill-natured critic who should make the number of its consonants an objection to the following couplet:
Existence saw him spurn her boundless reign,
And panting Time toil'd after him in vain.-Dr. Johnson. Collins, taking all his poems, has fewer in proportion.
In his Life of Gray, Dr. Johnson says, 'there has of late arisen a practise of giving to adjectives, derived from substantives, the termination of participles; such as the cul
Lib. 12, c. 10. After their example Milton very frequently renders his lines more vocal, by the introduction of foreign names.
From Aroer to Nebo, and the wild
And Horonaim, Sehon's realm, beyond
The flowery dale of Sibma clad with vines,
And Eleäle to th' Asphaltic pool.-P. L.: B. 1, 407.-C.