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William Collins. Biography
William Collins (25 December 1721 – 12 June 1759) was an English poet. Second in influence only to Thomas Gray, he was an important poet of the middle decades of the 18th century. His lyrical odes mark a turn away from the Augustan poetry of Alexander Pope's generation and towards the Romantic era which would soon follow.
Born in Chichester, Sussex, the son of a hatmaker and former mayor of the town, he was educated at The Prebendal School, Winchester and Magdalen College, Oxford. While still at the university, he published the Persian Eclogues (1742) which he had begun at school. After graduating in 1743 he was undecided about his future. Failing to obtain a university fellowship, being judged by a military uncle as 'too indolent even for the army', and having rejected the idea of becoming a clergyman, he settled for a literary career and was supported in London by a small allowance from his cousin, George Payne. There he was befriended by James Thomson and Dr Johnson as well as the actors David Garrick and Samuel Foote.
In 1747 he published his collection of "Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegorical Subjects" on which his subsequent reputation was to rest. The poems are characterized by strong emotional descriptions and the personal relationship to the subject allowed by the ode form. At the time little notice was taken of these poems, which were at odds with the Augustan spirit of the age. With the depression on his lack of success, aggravated by drunkenness, he sank into insanity and in 1754 was confined to McDonald's Madhouse in Chelsea. From there he moved to the care of a married elder sister in Chichester until his death in 1759, when he was buried in St Andrew's Church.
After the Odes, although he had many projects in his head, none came to fruition. His only other poems were the ode written on Thomson's death (1749) and the posthumously discovered and unfinished "Ode on the popular superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland". An intriguing addition, now lost, is the "Ode on the Music of the Grecian Theatre" that he described and proposed sending to the musician William Hayes in 1750. Hayes had just set "The Passions" by Collins to music as an oratorio that was received with some acclaim. This, coupled with the popularity of the "Persian Eclogues", a revised version of which was published the year he died, was the closest approach to success that Collins knew.
William Collins's Poems:
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