Saturday, June 12, 2010

William Collins

Histories of William Collins credit him with sharing top honors with Thomas Gray as an 18th century poet.    He was enough of a talent for Samuel Johnson to include him in his "Lives of the Poets".  Scott, in an article published in the Foreign Quarterly Review (1827) titled "On the Supernatural in Fictitious Composition; and particularly on the works of Ernest Theodore William Hoffmann" refers to him as one of the Graveyard Poets.  William Collins died on June 12, 1759.

Collins was known for his talent, as well as his troubled mind.  He attended Winchester College, and began publishing verse at this time.  In 1742 he published "Persian Eclogues", which was the only work that received public support during his lifetime.  His greatest work was published on December 12, 1746; twelve odes, titled "Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegoric Subjects".

One the twelve odes, "Ode to Fear", Walter Scott quotes from in the article mentioned above.  From Scott:
...It is not so in early history, which is full of supernatural incidents; and although we now use the word romance as synonymous with fictitious composition, yet as it originally only meant a poem, or prose work contained in the Romaunce language, there is little doubt of the doughty chivalry who listened to the songs of the minstrel, "held each strange tale devoutly true", and the feats of knighthood which he recounted, mingled with tales of magic and supernatural interference, were esteemed as veracious as the legends of the monks, to which they bore a strong resemblance...

The full Ode to Fear (from Luminarium.org):


THOU, to whom the World unknown
With all its shadowy Shapes is shown;
Who see'st appall'd th'unreal Scene,
While Fancy lifts the Veil between:
Ah Fear! Ah frantic Fear!
I see, I see Thee near.
I know thy hurried Step, thy haggard Eye!
Like Thee I start, like Thee disorder'd fly,
For lo what Monsters in thy Train appear!
Danger, whose Limbs of Giant Mold
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:
And with him thousand Phantoms join'd,
Who prompt to Deeds accurs'd the Mind:
And those, the Fiends, who near allied,
O'er Nature's Wounds, and Wrecks preside;
Whilst Vengeance, in the lurid Air,
Lifts her red Arm, expos'd and bare:
On whom that rav'ning Brood of Fate,
Who lap the Blood of Sorrow, wait;
Who, Fear, this ghastly Train can see,
And look not madly wild, like Thee?

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