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To answer this injarious representation by a naked assertion to the contrary might be sufficient, for it is not supported by any proof or example: but he who will consider how the Odes of Gray have been treated by the same critic, will not require any circumstantial refutation of what he has advanced respecting these of Collins. In fact he had no congenial feeling with either of those Poets. He could perceive the extravagance of Donne and bis School; and he has successfully detected and exposed them ; but there were others endued with a fancy not irregular or illegitimate, who could soar to a height beyond his view.
Collins's poetry is not indeed of the first order : it exhibits no display of the human heart, or the secret workings of passion; nor do we find in it any sublime doctrines of religious or moral wisdom, which are the highest excellencies of the art. But there is another species of poetry, whose excellence consists and terminates in the exercise of a strong and lively imagination, displaying itself in active and unbounded excursions, and clothing its objects in metaphor and allegory. Among the British Poets of this class, Collins is entitled to the first raok, perhaps to the chief place. In his poetry there is no fantastical conceptions like those of the metaphysical poets (as Dr. Johnson calls them); nothing like wit, in the common acceptance of the word. There is sometimes obscurity; for 'unusual and sublime ideas cannot always be plainly expressed, especially in figurative language: but at other times his manner is so comprehensive and clear as 'to call for admiration. I shall confine myself to a single instance: He describes Pity as having eyes of dewy light; by which is signified the sympathy she feels, and the comfort that she brings. The idea is the same that Homer conceived, . when, describing the countenance of Andromache, he said it was daxpuoev yanacara, smiling in tears. Homer expressed it in simple terms; Collins clothed it in a rich fancy dress; and such is the general character of his compositions.
The subordinate parts of Collins's poetry are noticed by Dr. Johnson only to be condemned ; and that by mere assertions without any proof. To such a mode of criticism the proper answer is, an appeal to the poetry itself; which, in my judgment, does not merit the reproach he has thrown
Among the faults impụted is this, his lines are commonly of slow motion, clogged and impeded with clusters of consonants.' Slow inotion is not necessarily a fault; it often expresses the sense, and then is proper, and a beauty: but they are clogged with consonants. The consonants may not be more numerous in his lines than in others, and the whole body of English Verse; in that case the charge falls not on him, but on the language.* This is matter for computation.
* The Latin poets were sensible of a defect in their own language, not unlike this : it was rough and unmusical. Tanta est sermo Græcus Latino jucundior (says Quintilian) ut nostri poetæ quoties dulce carmen esse voluerunt illorun id nominibus exorncnt.
Joshua Steele, the author of Prosodia Rationalis, informs us that in the English tongue. the proportion of consonants to vowels (taking them not as written, but sounded in pronunciation,) is as 3 to 2. P. 168. In verse the proportion must be greater, because of the frequent contractions, as here,
T'inspect a mite, not comprehend the heav'n.Pope. If the consonants in a verse be only as 3 to 2; it may pass for smooth and flowing : in the general body of English poetry the proportion is greater than that: in the line from Pope here quoted, the proportion is nearly as 2 to 1. He would be an ill-natured critic who should make the number of its consonants an objection to the following couplet :
Existence saw him spurn her boundless reign,
Collins, taking all his poems, has fewer in proportion.
In his Life of Gray, Dr. Johnson says, there has of late arisen a practise of giving to adjectives, derived from substantives, the termination of participles; such as the cul
Lib. 12, c. 10. After their example Milton very frequently renders his lines more vocal, by the introduction of foreign names.
From Aroer to Nebo, and the wild
tured plain, and daisied bank: but I was sorry to see, in the lines of a scholar like Gray, the honied spring. I agree with Dr. Johnson in his censure of such epithets; but they are not of late origin. Above a century before he wrote Milton had them; as honied thigh, (from which, perhaps, Gray borrowed it) and buskin'd stage: (11 Pens. 102.) from which Collins, who did not borrow much, seems to have taken buskin'd Muse.-P. 19. Still the words are not pleasing, nor formed agreeably to the genius of our tongue; and they often make a harsh phrase; as in this verse of Collins,
Even humble Harting's collag'll vale. See p. 43. But, besides this, there is no other so harsh in all his poems.
His rhymes should have obtained some notice from Dr. Johnson, for they deserve commendation: being in quality equal to those of our most correct versifiers. They are exact :* i.e. there is no difference in the vowel sound, or the consonants following it. They are varied : i.e. the same rhymes do not soon, or often, recur : in the short pieces (Ode to Mercy, to Peace, the Dirge) there is no repetitior. They are never made by little insignificant words. Double rhynies are frequently introduced, and with good effect. A double rhyme gives a sprightliness to the verse, it being a
* Identical rhymes are a fault only in our modern poetry: 'the most careful rhymers are not quite free from it. Collins has four identical rhymes; but of these two are in his Ode on the Highland Superstitions; which is not a finished poem, and therefore not to be so strictly scrutinized.-C.
trochaic foot, which is a brisk and quick measuré. Sometimes the entire line is composed of trochaics, as these,
Happier, hopeless Fair, if never
And the second of these
But thou, O Hope, with eyes so fair,
Such passages (and many others are like them) might also serve to exempt his lines from being characterized as slow. and clogged with consonants. I think it needless to enter into his defence upon the rest.
His reputation has extended beyond the limits of his own country. In 1814 an Italian translation of his Odes was published at Piacenza, in a handsome. 4to. Edition, by G. B. Martelli,* an Advocate of that City. It is dedicated to Sir Robert Wilson, who has kindly informed me that the Italians consider it as a work of great merit. Of the style and versification they are the proper and competent judges: of other points I may venture to speak : it is somewhat diffuse, sufficiently faithful, and very clear. As the work is hardly known in England, a specimen will be given at the close of this volume.
* Martelli translated all the Odes which Collins published, except only that to Liberty. The piece contains nothing to give "just offence; but for a man who lives within the dominions Francis II., the chief Member of the Holy Alliance, the omissia was prudent.-C.