« PreviousContinue »
BY DR. JOHNSON.
WILLIAM COLLINS was born at Chichester1, on the twenty-fifth of December, about 1720. 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.
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 college3, 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 pocket. He designed many works; but his great fault was irresolution, or the frequent calls of immediate necessity broke his schemes, 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 enquiries. 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 a page of the 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. His appearance was decent and manly; his knowledge considerable, his views extensive, his conversation elegant, and his disposition cheerful9. 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 lieutenant-colonel 10, 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 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 a In Fawkes' and Woty's Poetical Calendar, vol. xii. p. 110. D.