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William Collins

(1721 - 1759 / England)

Biography of William Collins

William Collins was born at Chichester and was educated at Winchester College and at Magdalen College, Oxford. His Persian Eclogues (1742) were published anonymously when he was seventeen. Coming up to London from Oxford he tried to establish himself as an author. He published Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegorical Subjects (1746) with his friend Joseph Warton whilst in London. The volume did not do well, and when his father died in 1744, Collins was left in debt and without a job. He got to know Dr Johnson who arranged an advance for him to write a translation of Aristotle's Poetics. However, when an uncle died leaving him £2000, Collins abandoned the project and paid his debts. After this he travelled for a while, but fits of depression became more serious and debilitating. He broke down completely on a journey in France in 1750, and died insane at the age of 38 in his sister's house in Chichester.

The poet Thomas Gray commented favourably on Collins's work, and as the century progressed, he gained in reputation. Some of his finest odes as said to be 'Ode to Evening' and 'Dirge in Cymbeline'. His last know poem is Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands , written in 1749. His sister destroyed his manuscripts after his death. The Complete Works are edited by Richard Wendorf and Charles Ryskamp for the Oxford English Texts Series (1978).

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Ode To Evening

If aught of oaten stop or pastoral song
May hope, chaste Eve, to soothe thy modest ear,
Like thy own solemn springs,
Thy springs, and dying gales,
O nymph reserved, while now the bright-haired sun
Sits in yon western tent, whose cloudy skirts,
With brede ethereal wove,
O'erhang his wavy bed:

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