The Poetical Works of William Collins - With a Memoir
by William Collins
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[63] See Memoir, p. xxxviii.

[64] Now Countess-dowager of Peterborough.

[65] Vauxhall.

[66] Vide the Spectator's Letters from Camilla, vol. vi.

[67] Milton's Comus lately revived.

[68] Senesino has built a palace near Sienna on an estate which carries the title of a Marquisate, but purchased with English gold.

[69] The king-fisher.




The genius of the pastoral, as well as of every other respectable species of poetry, had its origin in the east, and from thence was transplanted by the muses of Greece; but whether from the continent of the Lesser Asia, or from Egypt, which, about the era of the Grecian pastoral, was the hospitable nurse of letters, it is not easy to determine. From the subjects, and the manner of Theocritus, one would incline to the latter opinion, while the history of Bion is in favour of the former.

However, though it should still remain a doubt through what channel the pastoral traveled westward, there is not the least shadow of uncertainty concerning its oriental origin.

In those ages which, guided by sacred chronology, from a comparative view of time, we call the early ages, it appears, from the most authentic historians, that the chiefs of the people employed themselves in rural exercises, and that astronomers and legislators were at the same time shepherds. Thus Strabo informs us, that the history of the creation was communicated to the Egyptians by a Chaldean shepherd.

From these circumstances it is evident, not only that such shepherds were capable of all the dignity and elegance peculiar to poetry, but that whatever poetry they attempted would be of the pastoral kind; would take its subjects from those scenes of rural simplicity in which they were conversant, and, as it was the offspring of harmony and nature, would employ the powers it derived from the former, to celebrate the beauty and benevolence of the latter.

Accordingly we find that the most ancient poems treat of agriculture, astronomy, and other objects within the rural and natural systems.

What constitutes the difference between the georgic and the pastoral, is love and the colloquial or dramatic form of composition peculiar to the latter; this form of composition is sometimes dispensed with, and love and rural imagery alone are thought sufficient to distinguish the pastoral. The tender passion, however, seems to be essential to this species of poetry, and is hardly ever excluded from those pieces that were intended to come under this denomination: even in those eclogues of the Amoebean kind, whose only purport is a trial of skill between contending shepherds, love has its usual share, and the praises of their respective mistresses are the general subjects of the competitors.

It is to be lamented, that scarce any oriental compositions of this kind have survived the ravages of ignorance, tyranny, and time; we cannot doubt that many such have been extant, possibly as far down as that fatal period, never to be mentioned in the world of letters without horror, when the glorious monuments of human ingenuity perished in the ashes of the Alexandrian library.

Those ingenious Greeks, whom we call the parents of pastoral poetry, were, probably, no more than imitators, of imitators that derived their harmony from higher and remoter sources, and kindled their poetical fires at those then unextinguished lamps which burned within the tombs of oriental genius.

It is evident that Homer has availed himself of those magnificent images and descriptions so frequently to be met with in the books of the Old Testament; and why may not Theocritus, Moschus, and Bion have found their archetypes in other eastern writers, whose names have perished with their works? yet, though it may not be illiberal to admit such a supposition, it would certainly be invidious to conclude, what the malignity of cavillers alone could suggest with regard to Homer, that they destroyed the sources from which they borrowed, and, as it is fabled of the young of the pelican, drained their supporters to death.

As the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament was performed at the request, and under the patronage, of Ptolemy Philadelphus, it were not to be wondered if Theocritus, who was entertained at that prince's court, had borrowed some part of his pastoral imagery from the poetical passages of those books. I think it can hardly be doubted that the Sicilian poet had in his eye certain expressions of the prophet Isaiah, when he wrote the following lines:

Nyn ia men phoreoite batoi, phoreoite d' akanthai. Ha de kala Narkissos ep' arkeuthoisi komasai; Panta d' enalla genoito, kai ha pitus ochnas eneikai ——kai tos kynas holaphos helkoi.

Let vexing brambles the blue violet bear, On the rude thorn Narcissus dress his hair, All, all reversed—The pine with pears be crown'd, And the bold deer shall drag the trembling hound.

The cause, indeed, of these phenomena is very different in the Greek from what it is in the Hebrew poet; the former employing them on the death, the latter on the birth, of an important person: but the marks of imitation are nevertheless obvious.

It might, however, be expected, that if Theocritus had borrowed at all from the sacred writers, the celebrated pastoral epithalamium of Solomon, so much within his own walk of poetry, would not certainly have escaped his notice. His epithalamium on the marriage of Helena, moreover, gave him an open field for imitation; therefore, if he has any obligations to the royal bard, we may expect to find them there. The very opening of the poem is in the spirit of the Hebrew song:

Houto de proiza katedrathes, o phile gambre;

The colour of imitation is still stronger in the following passage:

Aos antelloisa kalon diephaine prosopon, Potnia nyx hate, leukon ear cheimonos anentos? Hode kai ha chrysea Helena diephainet' en amin, Pieira megala hat' anedrame kosmos aroura. He kapo kyparissos, e harmati Thessalos hippos.

This description of Helen is infinitely above the style and figure of the Sicilian pastoral: "She is like the rising of the golden morning, when the night departeth, and when the winter is over and gone. She resembleth the cypress in the garden, the horse in the chariots of Thessaly." These figures plainly declare their origin; and others, equally imitative, might be pointed out in the same idyllium.

This beautiful and luxuriant marriage pastoral of Solomon is the only perfect form of the oriental eclogue that has survived the ruins of time; a happiness for which it is, probably, more indebted to its sacred character than to its intrinsic merit. Not that it is by any means destitute of poetical excellence: like all the eastern poetry, it is bold, wild, and unconnected in its figures, allusions, and parts, and has all that graceful and magnificent daring which characterizes its metaphorical and comparative imagery.

In consequence of these peculiarities, so ill adapted to the frigid genius of the north, Mr. Collins could make but little use of it as a precedent for his Oriental Eclogues; and even in his third eclogue, where the subject is of a similar nature, he has chosen rather to follow the mode of the Doric and the Latian pastoral.

The scenery and subjects then of the foregoing eclogues alone are oriental; the style and colouring are purely European; and, for this reason, the author's preface, in which he intimates that he had the originals from a merchant who traded to the east, is omitted, as being now altogether superfluous.[70]

With regard to the merit of these eclogues, it may justly be asserted, that in simplicity of description and expression, in delicacy and softness of numbers, and in natural and unaffected tenderness, they are not to be equaled by any thing of the pastoral kind in the English language.


[70] In the present edition the preface is restored.


This eclogue, which is entitled Selim, or the Shepherd's Moral, as there is nothing dramatic in the subject, may be thought the least entertaining of the four: but it is by no means the least valuable. The moral precepts which the intelligent shepherd delivers to his fellow-swains, and the virgins their companions, are such as would infallibly promote the happiness of the pastoral life.

In impersonating the private virtues, the poet has observed great propriety, and has formed their genealogy with the most perfect judgment, when he represents them as the daughters of truth and wisdom.

The characteristics of modesty and chastity are extremely happy and peinturesque:

"Come thou, whose thoughts as limpid springs are clear, To lead the train, sweet Modesty, appear; With thee be Chastity, of all afraid, Distrusting all, a wise, suspicious maid; Cold is her breast, like flowers that drink the dew; A silken veil conceals her from the view."

The two similes borrowed from rural objects are not only much in character, but perfectly natural and expressive. There is, notwithstanding, this defect in the former, that it wants a peculiar propriety; for purity of thought may as well be applied to chastity as to modesty; and from this instance, as well as from a thousand more, we may see the necessity of distinguishing, in characteristic poetry, every object by marks and attributes peculiarly its own.

It cannot be objected to this eclogue, that it wants both those essential criteria of the pastoral, love and the drama; for though it partakes not of the latter, the former still retains an interest in it, and that too very material, as it professedly consults the virtue and happiness of the lover, while it informs what are the qualities

——that must lead to love.


All the advantages that any species of poetry can derive from the novelty of the subject and scenery, this eclogue possesses. The route of a camel-driver is a scene that scarce could exist in the imagination of a European, and of its attendant distresses he could have no idea.—These are very happily and minutely painted by our descriptive poet. What sublime simplicity of expression! what nervous plainness in the opening of the poem!

"In silent horror o'er the boundless waste The driver Hassan with his camels past."

The magic pencil of the poet brings the whole scene before us at once, as it were by enchantment; and in this single couplet we feel all the effect that arises from the terrible wildness of a region unenlivened by the habitations of men. The verses that describe so minutely the camel-driver's little provisions have a touching influence on the imagination, and prepare the reader to enter more feelingly into his future apprehensions of distress:

"Bethink thee, Hassan, where shall thirst assuage, When fails this cruise, his unrelenting rage!"

It is difficult to say whether his apostrophe to the "mute companions of his toils" is more to be admired for the elegance and beauty of the poetical imagery, or for the tenderness and humanity of the sentiment. He who can read it without being affected, will do his heart no injustice if he concludes it to be destitute of sensibility:

"Ye mute companions of my toils, that bear In all my griefs a more than equal share! Here, where no springs in murmurs break away, Or moss-crown'd fountains mitigate the day, In vain ye hope the green delights to know, Which plains more blest, or verdant vales, bestow: Here rocks alone and tasteless sands are found, And faint and sickly winds for ever howl around."

Yet in these beautiful lines there is a slight error, which writers of the greatest genius very frequently fall into.—It will be needless to observe to the accurate reader, that in the fifth and sixth verses there is a verbal pleonasm where the poet speaks of the green delights of verdant vales. There is an oversight of the same kind in the Manners, an Ode, where the poet says,

"——Seine's blue nymphs deplore In watchet weeds——."

This fault is indeed a common one, but to a reader of taste it is nevertheless disgustful; and it is mentioned here, as the error of a man of genius and judgment, that men of genius and judgment may guard against it.

Mr. Collins speaks like a true poet, as well in sentiment as expression, when, with regard to the thirst of wealth, he says,

"Why heed we not, while mad we haste along, The gentle voice of Peace, or Pleasure's song? Or wherefore think the flowery mountain's side, The fountain's murmurs, and the valley's pride, Why think we these less pleasing to behold, Than dreary deserts, if they lead to gold?"

But however just these sentiments may appear to those who have not revolted from nature and simplicity, had the author proclaimed them in Lombard Street, or Cheapside, he would not have been complimented with the understanding of the bellman.—A striking proof, that our own particular ideas of happiness regulate our opinions concerning the sense and wisdom of others!

It is impossible to take leave of this most beautiful eclogue, without paying the tribute of admiration so justly due to the following nervous lines:

"What if the lion in his rage I meet!—— Oft in the dust I view his printed feet: And, fearful! oft, when day's declining light Yields her pale empire to the mourner night, By hunger roused, he scours the groaning plain, Gaunt wolves and sullen tigers in his train: Before them death with shrieks directs their way, Fills the wild yell, and leads them to their prey."

This, amongst many other passages to be met with in the writings of Collins, shows that his genius was perfectly capable of the grand and magnificent in description, notwithstanding what a learned writer has advanced to the contrary. Nothing, certainly, could be more greatly conceived, or more adequately expressed, than the image in the last couplet.

The deception, sometimes used in rhetoric and poetry, which presents us with an object or sentiment contrary to what we expected, is here introduced to the greatest advantage:

"Farewell the youth, whom sighs could not detain, Whom Zara's breaking heart implored in vain! Yet, as thou go'st, may every blast arise—— Weak and unfelt as these rejected sighs!"

But this, perhaps, is rather an artificial prettiness, than a real or natural beauty.


That innocence, and native simplicity of manners, which, in the first eclogue, was allowed to constitute the happiness of love, is here beautifully described in its effects. The sultan of Persia marries a Georgian shepherdess, and finds in her embraces that genuine felicity which unperverted nature alone can bestow. The most natural and beautiful parts of this eclogue are those where the fair sultana refers with so much pleasure to her pastoral amusements, and those scenes of happy innocence in which she had passed her early years; particularly when, upon her first departure,

"Oft as she went, she backward turned her view, And bade that crook and bleating flock adieu."

This picture of amiable simplicity reminds one of that passage where Proserpine, when carried off by Pluto, regrets the loss of the flowers she has been gathering:

"Collecti flores tunicis cecidere remissis: Tantaque simplicitas puerilibus adfuit annis, Haec quoque virgineum movit jactura dolorem."


The beautiful but unfortunate country where the scene of this pathetic eclogue is laid, had been recently torn in pieces by the depredations of its savage neighbours, when Mr. Collins so affectingly described its misfortunes. This ingenious man had not only a pencil to portray, but a heart to feel for the miseries of mankind; and it is with the utmost tenderness and humanity he enters into the narrative of Circassia's ruin, while he realizes the scene, and brings the present drama before us. Of every circumstance that could possibly contribute to the tender effect this pastoral was designed to produce, the poet has availed himself with the utmost art and address. Thus he prepares the heart to pity the distresses of Circassia, by representing it as the scene of the happiest love:

"In fair Circassia, where, to love inclined, Each swain was blest, for every maid was kind."

To give the circumstance of the dialogue a more affecting solemnity, he makes the time midnight, and describes the two shepherds in the very act of flight from the destruction that swept over their country:

"Sad o'er the dews, two brother shepherds fled, Where wildering fear and desperate sorrow led."

There is a beauty and propriety in the epithet wildering, which strikes us more forcibly, the more we consider it.

The opening of the dialogue is equally happy, natural, and unaffected; when one of the shepherds, weary and overcome with the fatigue of flight, calls upon his companion to review the length of way they had passed. This is certainly painting from nature, and the thoughts, however obvious, or destitute of refinement, are perfectly in character. But as the closest pursuit of nature is the surest way to excellence in general, and to sublimity in particular, in poetical description, so we find that this simple suggestion of the shepherd is not unattended with magnificence. There is a grandeur and variety in the landscape he describes:

"And first review that long extended plain, And yon wide groves, already past with pain! Yon ragged cliff, whose dangerous path we tried! And, last, this lofty mountain's weary side!"

There is, in imitative harmony, an act of expressing a slow and difficult movement by adding to the usual number of pauses in a verse. This is observable in the line that describes the ascent of the mountain:

And last this lofty mountain's weary side .

Here we find the number of pauses, or musical bars, which, in an heroic verse, is commonly two, increased to three.

The liquid melody, and the numerous sweetness of expression, in the following descriptive lines, is almost inimitably beautiful:

"Sweet to the sight is Zabran's flowery plain, And once by nymphs and shepherds loved in vain! No more the virgins shall delight to rove By Sargis' banks, or Irwan's shady grove; On Tarkie's mountain catch the cooling gale, Or breathe the sweets of Aly's flowery vale."

Nevertheless, in this delightful landscape there is an obvious fault; there is no distinction between the plain of Zabran and the vale of Aly; they are both flowery, and consequently undiversified. This could not proceed from the poet's want of judgment, but from inattention: it had not occurred to him that he had employed the epithet flowery twice within so short a compass; an oversight which those who are accustomed to poetical, or, indeed, to any other species of composition, know to be very possible.

Nothing can be more beautifully conceived, or more pathetically expressed, than the shepherd's apprehensions for his fair countrywomen, exposed to the ravages of the invaders:

"In vain Circassia boasts her spicy groves, For ever famed for pure and happy loves: In vain she boasts her fairest of the fair, Their eyes' blue languish, and their golden hair! Those eyes in tears their fruitless grief shall send; Those hairs the Tartar's cruel hand shall rend."

There is certainly some very powerful charm in the liquid melody of sounds. The editor of these poems could never read or hear the following verse repeated, without a degree of pleasure otherwise entirely unaccountable:

"Their eyes' blue languish, and their golden hair."

Such are the Oriental Eclogues, which we leave with the same kind of anxious pleasure we feel upon a temporary parting with a beloved friend.



The genius of Collins was capable of every degree of excellence in lyric poetry, and perfectly qualified for that high province of the muse. Possessed of a native ear for all the varieties of harmony and modulation, susceptible of the finest feelings of tenderness and humanity, but, above all, carried away by that high enthusiasm which gives to imagination its strongest colouring, he was at once capable of soothing the ear with the melody of his numbers, of influencing the passions by the force of his pathos, and of gratifying the fancy by the luxury of description.

In consequence of these powers, but, more particularly, in consideration of the last, he chose such subjects for his lyric essays as were most favourable for the indulgence of description and allegory; where he could exercise his powers in moral and personal painting; where he could exert his invention in conferring new attributes on images or objects already known, and described by a determinate number of characteristics; where he might give an uncommon eclat to his figures, by placing them in happier attitudes, or in more advantageous lights, and introduce new forms from the moral and intellectual world into the society of impersonated beings.

Such, no doubt, were the privileges which the poet expected, and such were the advantages he derived from the descriptive and allegorical nature of his themes.

It seems to have been the whole industry of our author, (and it is, at the same time, almost all the claim to moral excellence his writings can boast,) to promote the influence of the social virtues, by painting them in the fairest and happiest lights.

"Melior fieri tuendo"

would be no improper motto to his poems in general; but of his lyric poems it seems to be the whole moral tendency and effect. If, therefore, it should appear to some readers, that he has been more industrious to cultivate description than sentiment, it may be observed, that his descriptions themselves are sentimental, and answer the whole end of that species of writing, by embellishing every feature of virtue, and by conveying, through the effects of the pencil, the finest moral lessons to the mind.

Horace speaks of the fidelity of the ear in preference to the uncertainty of the eye; but if the mind receives conviction, it is certainly of very little importance through what medium, or by which of the senses it is conveyed. The impressions left on the imagination may possibly be thought less durable than the deposits of the memory, but it may very well admit of a question, whether a conclusion of reason, or an impression of imagination, will soonest make it sway to the heart. A moral precept, conveyed in words, is only an account of truth in its effects; a moral picture is truth exemplified; and which is most likely to gain upon the affections, it may not be difficult to determine.

This, however, must be allowed, that those works approach the nearest to perfection which unite these powers and advantages; which at once influence the imagination, and engage the memory; the former by the force of animated and striking description, the latter by a brief, but harmonious conveyance of precept: thus, while the heart is influenced through the operation of the passions or the fancy, the effect, which might otherwise have been transient, is secured by the cooperating power of the memory, which treasures up in a short aphorism the moral of the scene.

This is a good reason, and this, perhaps, is the only reason that can be given, why our dramatic performances should generally end with a chain of couplets. In these the moral of the whole piece is usually conveyed; and that assistance which the memory borrows from rhyme, as it was probably the original cause of it, gives it usefulness and propriety even there.

After these apologies for the descriptive turn of the following odes, something remains to be said on the origin and use of allegory in poetical composition.

By this we are not to understand the trope in the schools, which is defined aliud verbis, aliud sensu ostendere; and of which Quintilian says, usus est, ut tristia dicamus melioribus verbis, aut bonae rei gratia quaedam contrariis significemus, &c. It is not the verbal, but the sentimental allegory, not allegorical expression (which, indeed, might come under the term of metaphor), but allegorical imagery, that is here in question.

When we endeavour to trace this species of figurative sentiment to its origin, we find it coeval with literature itself. It is generally agreed, that the most ancient productions are poetical; and it is certain that the most ancient poems abound with allegorical imagery.

If, then, it be allowed that the first literary productions were poetical; we shall have little or no difficulty in discovering the origin of allegory.

At the birth of letters, in the transition from hieroglyphical to literal expression, it is not to be wondered if the custom of expressing ideas by personal images, which had so long prevailed, should still retain its influence on the mind, though the use of letters had rendered the practical application of it superfluous. Those who had been accustomed to express strength by the image of an elephant, swiftness by that of a panther, and courage by that of a lion, would make no scruple of substituting, in letters, the symbols for the ideas they had been used to represent.

Here we plainly see the origin of allegorical expression, that it arose from the ashes of hieroglyphics; and if to the same cause we should refer that figurative boldness of style and imagery which distinguish the oriental writings, we shall, perhaps, conclude more justly, than if we should impute it to the superior grandeur of eastern genius.

From the same source with the verbal, we are to derive the sentimental allegory, which is nothing more than a continuation of the metaphorical or symbolical expression of the several agents in an action, or the different objects in a scene.

The latter most peculiarly comes under the denomination of allegorical imagery; and in this species of allegory, we include the impersonation of passions, affections, virtues, and vices, &c. on account of which, principally, the following odes were properly termed, by their author, allegorical.

With respect to the utility of this figurative writing, the same arguments that have been advanced in favour of descriptive poetry will be of weight likewise here. It is, indeed, from impersonation, or, as it is commonly termed, personification, that poetical description borrows its chief powers and graces. Without the aid of this, moral and intellectual painting would be flat and unanimated, and even the scenery of material objects would be dull, without the introduction of fictitious life.

These observations will be most effectually illustrated by the sublime and beautiful odes that occasioned them; in those it will appear how happily this allegorical painting may be executed by the genuine powers of poetical genius, and they will not fail to prove its force and utility by passing through the imagination to the heart.


"By Pella's bard, a magic name, By all the griefs his thoughts could frame, Receive my humble rite: Long, Pity, let the nations view Thy sky-worn robes of tenderest blue, And eyes of dewy light!"

The propriety of invoking Pity, through the mediation of Euripides, is obvious.—That admirable poet had the keys of all the tender passions, and therefore could not but stand in the highest esteem with a writer of Mr. Collins's sensibility.—He did, indeed, admire him as much as Milton professedly did, and probably for the same reasons; but we do not find that he has copied him so closely as the last mentioned poet has sometimes done, and particularly in the opening of Samson Agonistes, which is an evident imitation of the following passage in the Phoenissae:

Hegou paroithe, thygater, hos typhlo podi Ophthalmos ei su, nautiloisin astron hos? Deur' eis to leuron pedon ichnos titheis' emon, Probaine——— Act. III. Sc. I.

The "eyes of dewy light" is one of the happiest strokes of imagination, and may be ranked among those expressions which

"—give us back the image of the mind."

"Wild Arun too has heard thy strains, And Echo, 'midst my native plains, Been soothed by Pity's lute."

"There first the wren thy myrtles shed On gentlest Otway's infant head."

Sussex, in which county the Arun is a small river, had the honour of giving birth to Otway as well as to Collins: both these poets, unhappily, became the objects of that pity by which their writings are distinguished. There was a similitude in their genius and in their sufferings. There was a resemblance in the misfortunes and in the dissipation of their lives; and the circumstances of their death cannot be remembered without pain.

The thought of painting in the temple of Pity the history of human misfortunes, and of drawing the scenes from the tragic muse, is very happy, and in every respect worthy the imagination of Collins.


Mr. Collins, who had often determined to apply himself to dramatic poetry, seems here, with the same view, to have addressed one of the principal powers of the drama, and to implore that mighty influence she had given to the genius of Shakespeare:

"Hither again thy fury deal, Teach me but once like him to feel: His cypress wreath my meed decree, And I, O Fear, will dwell with thee!"

In the construction of this nervous ode, the author has shown equal power of judgment and imagination. Nothing can be more striking than the violent and abrupt abbreviation of the measure in the fifth and sixth verses, when he feels the strong influence of the power he invokes:

"Ah Fear! ah frantic Fear! I see, I see thee near."

The editor of these poems has met with nothing in the same species of poetry, either in his own, or in any other language, equal, in all respects, to the following description of Danger:

"Danger whose limbs of giant mould What mortal eye can fix'd behold? Who stalks his round, an hideous form, Howling amidst the midnight storm, Or throws him on the ridgy steep Of some loose hanging rock to sleep."

It is impossible to contemplate the image conveyed in the two last verses, without those emotions of terror it was intended to excite. It has, moreover, the entire advantage of novelty to recommend it; for there is too much originality in all the circumstances, to suppose that the author had in his eye that description of the penal situation of Catiline in the ninth AEneid:

"———Te, Catilina, minaci Pendentem scopulo."

The archetype of the English poet's idea was in Nature, and, probably, to her alone he was indebted for the thought. From her, likewise, he derived that magnificence of conception, that horrible grandeur of imagery, displayed in the following lines:

"And those, the fiends, who, near allied, O'er Nature's wounds and wrecks preside; While Vengeance in the lurid air Lifts her red arm, exposed and bare: On whom that ravening brood of fate, Who lap the blood of sorrow, wait."

That nutritive enthusiasm, which cherishes the seeds of poetry, and which is, indeed, the only soil wherein they will grow to perfection, lays open the mind to all the influences of fiction. A passion for whatever is greatly wild or magnificent in the works of nature seduces the imagination to attend to all that is extravagant, however unnatural. Milton was notoriously fond of high romance and gothic diableries; and Collins, who in genius and enthusiasm bore no very distant resemblance to Milton, was wholly carried away by the same attachments.

"Be mine to read the visions old, Which thy awakening bards have told: And, lest thou meet my blasted view, Hold each strange tale devoutly true."

"On that thrice hallow'd eve," &c.

There is an old traditionary superstition, that on St. Mark's eve, the forms of all such persons as shall die within the ensuing year make their solemn entry into the churches of their respective parishes, as St. Patrick swam over the Channel, without their heads.


The measure of the ancient ballad seems to have been made choice of for this ode, on account of the subject; and it has, indeed, an air of simplicity, not altogether unaffecting:

"By all the honey'd store On Hybla's thymy shore, By all her blooms, and mingled murmurs dear, By her whose lovelorn woe, In evening musings slow, Sooth'd sweetly sad Electra's poet's ear."

This allegorical imagery of the honeyed store, the blooms, and mingled murmurs of Hybla, alluding to the sweetness and beauty of the Attic poetry, has the finest and the happiest effect: yet, possibly, it will bear a question, whether the ancient Greek tragedians had a general claim to simplicity in any thing more than the plans of their drama. Their language, at least, was infinitely metaphorical; yet it must be owned that they justly copied nature and the passions, and so far, certainly, they were entitled to the palm of true simplicity; the following most beautiful speech of Polynices will be a monument of this, so long as poetry shall last:

————polydakrys d' aphikomen Chronios idon melathra, kai bomous theon, Gymnasia th' oisin enetraphen, Dirkes, th' hydor, Hon ou dikaios apelatheis, xenen polin Naio, di' osson nam echon dakryrrhooun. All' ek gar algous algos au, se derkomai Kara xyrekes, kai peplous melanchimous Echousan. Eurip. Phoeniss. ver. 369.

22 "But staid to sing alone 33 To one distinguish'd throne."

The poet cuts off the prevalence of simplicity among the Romans with the reign of Augustus; and, indeed, it did not continue much longer, most of the compositions, after that date, giving into false and artificial ornament.

"No more, in hall or bower, The passions own thy power, Love, only love, her forceless numbers mean."

In these lines the writings of the Provencal poets are principally alluded to, in which simplicity is generally sacrificed to the rhapsodies of romantic love.


Procul! O! procul este profani!

This ode is so infinitely abstracted and replete with high enthusiasm, that it will find few readers capable of entering into the spirit of it, or of relishing its beauties. There is a style of sentiment as utterly unintelligible to common capacities, as if the subject were treated in an unknown language; and it is on the same account that abstracted poetry will never have many admirers.

The authors of such poems must be content with the approbation of those heaven-favoured geniuses, who, by a similarity of taste and sentiment, are enabled to penetrate the high mysteries of inspired fancy, and to pursue the loftiest flights of enthusiastic imagination. Nevertheless, the praise of the distinguished few is certainly preferable to the applause of the undiscerning million; for all praise is valuable in proportion to the judgment of those who confer it.

As the subject of this ode is uncommon, so are the style and expression highly metaphorical and abstracted: thus the sun is called "the rich-hair'd youth of morn," the ideas are termed "the shadowy tribes of mind," &c. We are struck with the propriety of this mode of expression here, and it affords us new proofs of the analogy that subsists between language and sentiment.

Nothing can be more loftily imagined than the creation of the cestus of Fancy in this ode: the allegorical imagery is rich and sublime: and the observation, that the dangerous passions kept aloof during the operation, is founded on the strictest philosophical truth: for poetical fancy can exist only in minds that are perfectly serene, and in some measure abstracted from the influences of sense.

The scene of Milton's "inspiring hour" is perfectly in character, and described with all those wild-wood appearances of which the great poet was so enthusiastically fond:

"I view that oak, the fancied glades among, By which as Milton lay, his evening ear, Nigh sphered in heaven, its native strains could hear."




The Ode written in 1746, and the Ode to Mercy, seem to have been written on the same occasion, viz. the late rebellion; the former in memory of those heroes who fell in defence of their country, the latter to excite sentiments of compassion in favour of those unhappy and deluded wretches who became a sacrifice to public justice.

The language and imagery of both are very beautiful; but the scene and figures described, in the strophe of the Ode to Mercy, are exquisitely striking, and would afford a painter one of the finest subjects in the world.


The ancient states of Greece, perhaps the only ones in which a perfect model of liberty ever existed, are naturally brought to view in the opening of the poem:

"Who shall awake the Spartan fife, And call in solemn sounds to life, The youths, whose locks divinely spreading, Like vernal hyacinths in sullen hue."

There is something extremely bold in this imagery of the locks of the Spartan youths, and greatly superior to that description Jocasta gives us of the hair of Polynices:

Bostrychon te kyanochrota chaitas Plokamon———

"What new Alcaeus, fancy-blest, Shall sing the sword, in myrtles drest," &c.

This alludes to a fragment of Alcaeus still remaining, in which the poet celebrates Harmodius and Aristogiton, who slew the tyrant Hipparchus, and thereby restored the liberty of Athens.

The fall of Rome is here most nervously described in one line

"With heaviest sound, a giant statue, fell."

The thought seems altogether new, and the imitative harmony in the structure of the verse is admirable.

After bewailing the ruin of ancient liberty, the poet considers the influence it has retained, or still retains, among the moderns; and here the free republics of Italy naturally engage his attention.—Florence, indeed, only to be lamented on account of losing its liberty under those patrons of letters, the Medicean family; the jealous Pisa, justly so called, in respect to its long impatience and regret under the same yoke; and the small Marino, which, however unrespectable with regard to power or extent of territory, has, at least, this distinction to boast, that it has preserved its liberty longer than any other state, ancient or modern, having, without any revolution, retained its present mode of government near fourteen hundred years. Moreover the patron saint who founded it, and from whom it takes its name, deserves this poetical record, as he is, perhaps, the only saint that ever contributed to the establishment of freedom.

"Nor e'er her former pride relate To sad Liguria's bleeding state."

In these lines the poet alludes to those ravages in the state of Genoa, occasioned by the unhappy divisions of the Guelphs and Gibelines.

"——When the favour'd of thy choice, The daring archer heard thy voice."

For an account of the celebrated event referred to in these verses, see Voltaire's Epistle to the King of Prussia.

"Those whom the rod of Alva bruised, Whose crown a British queen refused!"

The Flemings were so dreadfully oppressed by this sanguinary general of Philip the Second, that they offered their sovereignty to Elizabeth; but, happily for her subjects, she had policy and magnanimity enough to refuse it. Desormeaux, in his Abrege Chronologique de l'Histoire d'Espagne, thus describes the sufferings of the Flemings: "Le duc d'Albe achevoit de reduire les Flamands au desespoir. Apres avoir inonde les echafauds du sang le plus noble et le plus precieux, il faisoit construire des citadelles en divers endroits, et vouloit etablir l'Alcavala, ce tribute onereux qui avoit ete longtems en usage parmi les Espagnols."—Abreg. Chron. tom. iv.

"———Mona, Where thousand elfin shapes abide."

Mona is properly the Roman name of the Isle of Anglesey, anciently so famous for its Druids; but sometimes, as in this place, it is given to the Isle of Man. Both these isles still retain much of the genius of superstition, and are now the only places where there is the least chance of finding a fairy.



The iambic kind of numbers in which this ode is conceived seems as well calculated for tender and plaintive subjects, as for those where strength or rapidity is required.—This, perhaps, is owing to the repetition of the strain in the same stanza; for sorrow rejects variety, and affects a uniformity of complaint. It is needless to observe, that this ode is replete with harmony, spirit, and pathos; and there surely appears no reason why the seventh and eighth stanzas should be omitted in that copy printed in Dodsley's Collection of Poems.


The blank ode has for some time solicited admission into the English poetry; but its efforts, hitherto, seem to have been in vain, at least its reception has been no more than partial. It remains a question, then, whether there is not something in the nature of blank verse less adapted to the lyric than to the heroic measure, since, though it has been generally received in the latter, it is yet unadopted in the former. In order to discover this, we are to consider the different modes of these different species of poetry. That of the heroic is uniform; that of the lyric is various; and in these circumstances of uniformity and variety probably lies the cause why blank verse has been successful in the one, and unacceptable in the other. While it presented itself only in one form, it was familiarized to the ear by custom; but where it was obliged to assume the different shapes of the lyric muse, it seemed still a stranger of uncouth figure, was received rather with curiosity than pleasure, and entertained without that ease or satisfaction which acquaintance and familiarity produce.—Moreover, the heroic blank verse obtained a sanction of infinite importance to its general reception, when it was adopted by one of the greatest poets the world ever produced, and was made the vehicle of the noblest poem that ever was written. When this poem at length extorted that applause which ignorance and prejudice had united to withhold, the versification soon found its imitators, and became more generally successful than even in those countries from whence it was imported. But lyric blank verse had met with no such advantages; for Mr. Collins, whose genius and judgment in harmony might have given it so powerful an effect, has left us but one specimen of it in the Ode to Evening.

In the choice of his measure he seems to have had in his eye Horace's Ode to Pyrrha; for this ode bears the nearest resemblance to that mixed kind of the asclepiad and pherecratic verse; and that resemblance in some degree reconciles us to the want of rhyme, while it reminds us of those great masters of antiquity, whose works had no need of this whimsical jingle of sounds.

From the following passage one might be induced to think that the poet had it in view to render his subject and his versification suitable to each other on this occasion, and that, when he addressed himself to the sober power of Evening, he had thought proper to lay aside the foppery of rhyme:

"Now teach me, maid composed, To breathe some soften'd strain, Whose numbers, stealing through thy darkening vale, May not unseemly with its stillness suit, As, musing slow, I hail Thy genial loved return!"

But whatever were the numbers or the versification of this ode, the imagery and enthusiasm it contains could not fail of rendering it delightful. No other of Mr. Collins's odes is more generally characteristic of his genius. In one place we discover his passion for visionary beings:

"For when thy folding-star arising shows His paly circlet, at his warning lamp The fragrant Hours, and Elves Who slept in buds the day,

And many a Nymph who wreathes her brows with sedge, And sheds the freshening dew, and, lovelier still, The pensive Pleasures sweet, Prepare thy shadowy car."

In another we behold his strong bias to melancholy:

"Then let me rove some wild and heathy scene, Or find some ruin 'midst its dreary dells, Whose walls more awful nod By thy religious gleams."

Then appears his taste for what is wildly grand and magnificent in nature; when, prevented by storms from enjoying his evening walk, he wishes for a situation,

"That from the mountain's side Views wilds and swelling floods;"

And through the whole, his invariable attachment to the expression of painting:

"——and marks o'er all Thy dewy fingers draw The gradual dusky veil."

It might be a sufficient encomium on this beautiful ode to observe, that it has been particularly admired by a lady to whom nature has given the most perfect principles of taste. She has not even complained of the want of rhyme in it; a circumstance by no means unfavourable to the cause of lyric blank verse; for surely, if a fair reader can endure an ode without bells and chimes, the masculine genius may dispense with them.



From the subject and sentiments of this ode, it seems not improbable that the author wrote it about the time when he left the university; when, weary with the pursuit of academical studies, he no longer confined himself to the search of theoretical knowledge, but commenced the scholar of humanity, to study nature in her works, and man in society.

The following farewell to Science exhibits a very just as well as striking picture: for however exalted in theory the Platonic doctrines may appear, it is certain that Platonism and Pyrrhonism are nearly allied:

"Farewell the porch, whose roof is seen, Arch'd with the enlivening olive's green: Where Science, prank'd in tissued vest, By Reason, Pride, and Fancy drest, Comes like a bride, so trim array'd, To wed with Doubt in Plato's shade!"

When the mind goes in pursuit of visionary systems, it is not far from the regions of doubt; and the greater its capacity to think abstractedly, to reason and refine, the more it will be exposed to, and bewildered in, uncertainty.—From an enthusiastic warmth of temper, indeed, we may for a while be encouraged to persist in some favourite doctrine, or to adhere to some adopted system; but when that enthusiasm, which is founded on the vivacity of the passions, gradually cools and dies away with them, the opinions it supported drop from us, and we are thrown upon the inhospitable shore of doubt.—A striking proof of the necessity of some moral rule of wisdom and virtue, and some system of happiness established by unerring knowledge, and unlimited power.

In the poet's address to Humour in this ode there is one image of singular beauty and propriety. The ornaments in the hair of Wit are of such a nature, and disposed in such a manner, as to be perfectly symbolical and characteristic:

"Me too amidst thy band admit, There where the young-eyed healthful Wit, (Whose jewels in his crisped hair Are placed each other's beams to share, Whom no delights from thee divide) In laughter loosed, attends thy side."

Nothing could be more expressive of wit, which consists in a happy collision of comparative and relative images, than this reciprocal reflection of light from the disposition of the jewels.

"O Humour, thou whose name is known To Britain's favour'd isle alone."

The author could only mean to apply this to the time when he wrote, since other nations had produced works of great humour, as he himself acknowledges afterwards.

"By old Miletus," &c. "By all you taught the Tuscan maids," &c.

The Milesian and Tuscan romances were by no means distinguished for humour; but as they were the models of that species of writing in which humour was afterwards employed, they are, probably for that reason only, mentioned here.



If the music which was composed for this ode had equal merit with the ode itself, it must have been the most excellent performance of the kind in which poetry and music have, in modern times, united. Other pieces of the same nature have derived their greatest reputation from the perfection of the music that accompanied them, having in themselves little more merit than that of an ordinary ballad: but in this we have the whole soul and power of poetry—expression that, even without the aid of music, strikes to the heart; and imagery of power enough to transport the attention, without the forceful alliance of corresponding sounds! what, then, must have been the effect of these united!

It is very observable, that though the measure is the same, in which the musical efforts of Fear, Anger, and Despair are described, yet, by the variation of the cadence, the character and operation of each is strongly expressed: thus particularly of Despair:

"With woful measures wan Despair— Low, sullen sounds his grief beguiled, A solemn, strange, and mingled air, 'Twas sad by fits, by starts 'twas wild."

He must be a very unskilful composer who could not catch the power of imitative harmony from these lines!

The picture of Hope that follows this is beautiful almost beyond imitation. By the united powers of imagery and harmony, that delightful being is exhibited with all the charms and graces that pleasure and fancy have appropriated to her:

Relegat, qui semel percurrit; Qui nunquam legit, legat.

"But thou, O Hope, with eyes so fair, What was thy delighted measure! Still it whisper'd promised pleasure, And bade the lovely scenes at distance hail! Still would her touch the strain prolong, And from the rocks, the woods, the vale, She call'd on Echo still through all the song; And where her sweetest theme she chose, A soft responsive voice was heard at every close, And Hope enchanted smiled, and waved her golden hair."

In what an exalted light does the above stanza place this great master of poetical imagery and harmony! what varied sweetness of numbers! what delicacy of judgment and expression! how characteristically does Hope prolong her strain, repeat her soothing closes, call upon her associate Echo for the same purposes, and display every pleasing grace peculiar to her!

"And Hope enchanted smiled, and waved her golden hair."

Legat, qui nunquam legit; Qui semel percurrit, relegat.

The descriptions of Joy, Jealousy, and Revenge are excellent, though not equally so. Those of Melancholy and Cheerfulness are superior to every thing of the kind; and, upon the whole, there may be very little hazard in asserting, that this is the finest ode in the English language.



This poem was written by our author at the university, about the time when Sir Thomas Hanmer's pompous edition of Shakespeare was printed at Oxford. If it has not so much merit as the rest of his poems, it has still more than the subject deserves. The versification is easy and genteel, and the allusions always poetical. The character of the poet Fletcher in particular is very justly drawn in this epistle.



Mr. Collins had skill to complain. Of that mournful melody, and those tender images, which are the distinguishing excellencies of such pieces as bewail departed friendship, or beauty, he was an almost unequaled master. He knew perfectly to exhibit such circumstances, peculiar to the objects, as awaken the influences of pity; and while, from his own great sensibility, he felt what he wrote, he naturally addressed himself to the feelings of others.

To read such lines as the following, all-beautiful and tender as they are, without corresponding emotions of pity, is surely impossible:

"The tender thought on thee shall dwell; Each lonely scene shall thee restore, For thee the tear be duly shed; Beloved till life can charm no more, And mourn'd till Pity's self be dead."

The Ode on the Death of Thomson seems to have been written in an excursion to Richmond by water. The rural scenery has a proper effect in an ode to the memory of a poet, much of whose merit lay in descriptions of the same kind; and the appellations of "Druid," and "meek Nature's child," are happily characteristic. For the better understanding of this ode, it is necessary to remember, that Mr. Thomson lies buried in the church of Richmond.


* * * * *

Transcriber Notes

Archaic and variable spelling is preserved.

Author's punctuation style is preserved. Quotes in the poetry are sometimes repeated on every line, as in the original.

Poetry line numbers regularized.

Footnote 4's location is approximated.

Passages in italics indicated by underscores.

Greek transliterations are surrounded by tildes.

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