Page images
PDF
EPUB

vourite with the public; Shenstone had not yet risen into fame ; and Lyttelton was engrossed by politics. When, therefore, Collins's Odes appeared, all speculation would have anticipated that they must have been successful. But we must recollect that they did not excite the admiration of Johnson; and that Gray did not read them with that unqualified approval which his native taste would have inspired. This singularity must be accounted for by other causes than their want of merit.

The disappointment of Collins was so keen and deep, that he not only burned the unsold copies with his own hand, but soon fell into a melancholy which ended in insanity. Many persons have affected to comment on this result with an unfeeling ignorance of human nature, and, more especially, of fervid genius. It is, undoubtedly, highly dangerous to give the entire reins to imagination; the discipline of a constant exercise of reason is not only salutary, but necessary. But one can easily conceive how the indulgence of that state of mind which produced Collins's Odes could end in an entire overthrow of the intellect, when embittered by a defect of the principal objects of his worldly ambition. He is said to have been puffed up by a vanity which prompted him to expect that all eyes would be upon him, and all voices lifted in his praise. Such was the conception of a vulgar observer of the human character. Why should it have been vanity that prompted this hope? It was a consciousness of merit, of those brilliant powers which produced the Ode to the Passions ! was ever a voice content which sung to those who would not hear, which was condemned

" To waste its sweetness on the desert air?

Spenser's power of personification is copious beyond example; but it is seldom sufficiently select; rich as it is in imagination, it too commonly wants taste and delicacy: it has the fault of coarseness, which Burke's images in prose two centuries afterwards, sometimes fell into. But Collins's images are as pure, and of as exquisite delicacy, as they are spiritual. They are not human beings invested with some of the attributes of angels, but the whole figure is purely angelic, and of a higher order of creation; in this they are distinct even from the admirable personifications of Gray, because they are less earthly. The Ode to the Passions is, by universal consent, the noblest of Collins's productions, because it exhibits a much more extended invention, not of one passion only, but of all the passions combined, acting, according to the powers of each, to one end. The execution, also, is the happiest, each particular passion is drawn with inimitable force and compression. Let us take only FEAR and DESPAIR, each dashed out in four lines, of which every word is like inspiration. Beautiful as Spenser is, and sometimes sublime, yet he redoubles his touches too much, and often introduces some coarse feature or expression, which destroys the spell. Spenser, indeed, has other merits of splendid and inexhaustible invention, which render it impossible to put Collins on a par with him : but we must not estimate merit by mere quantity: if a poet produces but one short piece, which is perfect, he must be placed according to its quality. . And surely there is not a single figure in Collins's Ode to the Passions which is not perfect, both in conception and language. He has had many imitators, but no one has ever approached him in his own department.

The Ode to Evening is, perhaps, the next in point of merit. It is quite of a different cast; it is descriptive of natural scenery; and such a scene of enchanting repose was never exhibited by Claude, or any other among the happiest of painters. Though a mere verbal description can never rival a fine picture in a mere address to the material part of our nature, yet it far eclipses it with those who have the endowment of a brilliant fancy, because it gratifies their taste, selection, and sentiment. Delightful, therefore, as it is to look upon a Claude, it is more delightful to look upon this description. It is vain to attempt to analyse the charm of this Ode; it is so subtle, that it escapes analysis. Its harmony is so perfect, that it requires no rhyme : the objects are so happily chosen, and the simple epithets convey ideas and feelings so congenial to each other, as to throw the reader into the very mood over which the personified being so beautifully designed presides. No other poem on the same subject has the same magic. It assuredly suggested some images and a tone of expression to Gray in his Elegy.

The Ode on the Poetical Character is here and there a little involved and obscure; but its general conception is magnificent, and beaming that spirit of inventive enthusiasm, which alone can cherish the poet's powers, and bring forth the due fruits. Collins never touched the lyre but he was borne away by the inspiration under which he laboured. The Dirge in Cymbeline, the lines on Thomson, and the Ode on Colonel Ross breathe such a beautiful simplicity of pathos, and yet are so highly poetical and graceful in every thought and tone, that, exquisitely polished as they are, and without one superfluous, or one prosaic word, they never once betray the artifices of composition. The extreme transparency of the words and thoughts would induce a vulgar reader to consider them trite, while they are the expression of a genius so refined as to be all essence of spirit. In Gray, excellent as he is, we continually encounter the marks of labour and effort, and occasional crudeness, which shows that effort had not always succeeded, such as "iron hand and torturing hour;" but nothing of this kind occurs in the principal poems of Collins. There is a fire of mind which supersedes labour, and produces what labour cannot. It has been said that Collins is neither sublime nor pathetic; but only ingenious and fanciful. The truth is, that he was cast in the very mould of sublimity and pathos. He lived in an atmosphere above the earth, and breathed only in a visionary world. He was conversant with nothing else, and this must have been the secret by which he produced compositions so entirely spiritual. He who has daily intercourse with the world, and feels the vulgar human passions, cannot be in a humour to write poems which do not partake of earthly

coarseness.

It may be asked, cui bono? what is the moral use of such poems as these? Whatever refines the intellect improves the heart; whatever augments and fortifies the spiritual part of our nature raises us in the rank of created beings. And what poems are more calculated to refine our intellect, and increase our spirituality than the poems of Collins ? To embody, in a brilliant manner, the most beautiful abstractions, to put them into action, and to add to them splendour, harmony, strength, and purity of language, is to complete a task as admirable for its use and its delight, as

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »