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all agonies; but ignorant of the intermediate plains of peaceof calm, sober, solid enjoyment — of “deep self-possession and intense repose !
Johnson never saw Collins from the day he left him at Islington; but he continued warmly to sympathise with him. To Joseph Warton he wrote letter after letter regarding him. In one of them he says: “But how little can we venture to exult in any intellectual powers or literary attainments, when we consider the case of poor Collins ! I knew him a few years ago, full of hopes and full of projects—versed in many languages, high in fancy, and strong in retention. This busy and forcible mind is now under the government of those who lately would not have been able to comprehend the least and most narrow of its designs. Poor dear Collins ! I have often been near his state, and have it, therefore, in great commiseration."
At last, in 1759 (not 1756, as Johnson and Langhorne have it), this gifted, accomplished, but unfortunate being passed from out the cloud, and entered, we trust, the regions of a milder and holier day. He died on the 12th June, and was buried on the 15th, in St Andrew's Church, Chichester. In the Cathedral, an elegant monument, from the hand of Flaxman, was erected by public subscription, and represents him, in a lucid interval, musing over the open page of the New Testament, while his Lyre and one of his Odes lie neglected on the ground.
Collins, apart from his poetical genius, was an admirable linguist and general scholar. He left, it is said, a Preliminary Dissertation to be prefixed to his History of the Restoration of Learning, of great merit, which is unhappily amissing; and, had he lived, and continued sane, was capable, we think, of all but the very greatest achievements both in general literature and in poetry. He was amiable and good-natured; passionately fond of music; in his earlier days very temperate; of moderate stature; his eyes grey and keen, but at times weak; and his complexion brown, but clear. He was the slave of sensibility, he nursed it in his bosom when it was young, and, when grown, it stung and strangled him.
We come now to the examination of his genius. It was of that highly imaginative order which deals more with abstractions than with human forms or feelings. He was a painter of shadows and gigantic ghosts. The power which Macaulay ascribes justly to Shelley, of vivifying abstractions, and giving them statuesque shapes and pictorial hues, was enjoyed in still greater plenitude by Collins. No one has excelled him in the power of personification. He flushes the pale cheeks of Abstract Ideas. He breathes on their skeleton shapes, and makes them live. All the objects he describes seem seen at night; and yet, in general, they are shewn in a clear and rich chiaroscuro, as distinctly, but in mellower tone than though it were day. He has been accused of obscurity, and obscure he often is, but can we wonder that a describer and painter of darkness should often be dark? The wonder is, that he is so clear and picturesque in his representation of forms so shadowy. Witness his great group of the "Passions." Every one of them is a perfect picture;–Fear recoiling from the sound himself had made—Anger with his eyes on fireHope, smiling enchanted, waving her golden hair, and
calling on Echo still, through all her song"-Revenge blowing his war-denouncing trumpet,
“ While each strain'd ball of sight seem'd bursting from his head”Pity moaning dejected at his side-Melancholy sitting pale and retired, and pouring through the mellow horn her pensive soul-Love dancing with Mirth to the viol of JoyCheerfulness in hunter-garb, the bow slung over her shoulder, her buskins gemmed with morning dew, and blowing her inspiring air, while to the music
Sport leapt up, and seized his beechen spear.” With the same glorious instinct, he paints Liberty “ weeping" beside the giant statue of Rome, as it falls with heaviest sound; Mercy sitting, a
" Smiling bride, By Valour's arm’d and awful side ;” and Evening with her " dewy fingers” drawing the “gradual dusky veil" over the wild and swelling floods, the hamlets brown, and the dim-discovered spires of the landscape.
And yet, although he has so exquisitely described the Passions, the great want of his poetry is passion. He has the highest enthusiasm, but little human interest. His figures are warm with the breath of genius, but there is little of the life’sblood of heart about them. Hence his “ Oriental Eclogues," although full of fine description, are felt to be rather tame and stiff. How different from the easy, spirited, and glowing dialogues in the “Gentle Shepherd !” His genius, in fact, was essentially lyrical. The lyrical poet has little inclination to study the human heart, or to look abroad
or to look abroad upon universality. He is rapt in a dream of his own; he is chained to his lyre; he contemplates one great exalting idea, which at once insulates and inflames him; and his song, even when enriched with learning, and radiant with historical allusion, rises like a new thing in the earth,—like the tongue of fire from the mouth of an altar to Heaven-in the world, but not of it, and aspiring ever to surmount its sphere. And thus rose the magnificent Odes of Collins.
His figures are less numerous than they are intense. He deals little in simile, but much in burning metaphor—that short-hand of imagination. His thought is not often subtle, but it is never shallow or commonplace. His versification has in parts a finer music, more varied in cadence, more melodious in intonation, less the effect of mechanical contrivance, and more the mere pace and measure of poetical feeling, than any verse between Milton and Coleridge; and his language, according to Campbell, is distinguished by a “rich economy of expression ” — the richness, however, we think often beggaring the economy. His four best compositions are the “Ode to Evening,” distinguished by its fine selection of the most poetical images out of a region where all is poetry, by its delicate personification, and its rhymeless rhythm; his “ Ode to the Passions," already characterised for its inimitable dealing with abstractions ; his “ Ode to Liberty," the most ambitious, and, perhaps the grandest of his strains,— dark, rugged, bold, and soaring as the wing of the Eagle; and his “ Ode on the Superstitions of Scotland "-less poetical, but easier, clearer, more complete, and more interesting than any of his other strains.
Our volume contains all the fragments which remain of that noble, although diseased and unhappy, nature which belonged to William Collins. His mind, originally, was like that “ blended work of strength and grace," the Roman Commonwealth, as described by himself; but, like it, it was broken
“ With many a rude repeated stroke' of poverty, neglect, disappointment, dissipation, and disease; and now we must say of it, as he says of the more sublime edifice
“ Yet, even where'er the least appear'd,
Th'admiring world thy hand revered ;
SELIM; OR, THE SHEPHERD'S MORAL.
Scene—A VALLEY NEAR BAGDAT. Time-THE MORNING.
“ Ye Persian maids, attend your poet's lays,
Thus Selim sung, by sacred Truth inspired ;
When sweet and blushing, like a virgin bride,