William Collins - Biography and Works

William Collins was one of the most influential English poet of the mid-18th century literature. He was born as the son of a mayor and was educated in The Prebendal School and Megdalen College.

William Collins (1721-1759)

Collins published his first poem in 1734, but unfortunately the original copy of the poem does not exist today. Then he started composing his famous Persian Eclogues and finally published in 1742. At the time of publication, there were four poems, later it was edited and in 1759 it was reprinted as Oriental Eclogues. After leaving Oxford in the middle of the session for his mother’s bad health, he did not come back to attain the college again. He went to join the army and the church service, but he was rejected in both cases.  He came to London and started living with some help of his uncle, where he made friends with Johnson and other important literary personalities. He was encouraged to write again by his friends and he started writing History of the Revival of Learning, many tragedies, but he could not finish any of the works.

In 1749, when his uncle died he was put into the forced poverty. He had not been a well-paid writer till then, so he began to frustrate. To freshen up, he started travelling. During his travel, he published two important poetic pieces named ‘Elegy on Thomson’ and ‘Dirge in Cymbeline.’ His ‘Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands’ was composed in 1750, but was not published in his lifetime. It is regarded that his loss of the poem called ‘Ode on the Music of the Grecian Theatre’ is a great loss to English literature. This poem was the last poem of Collins in his literary career.

Collins’ odes are lyrical and discontinue the prevailing Augustan poetry of Pope’s generation. His odes have pre-romantic elements, though the style is strictly neoclassical. Collins’ way of dealing with the emotions and individual experiences paved the way to the romanticism very soon.  ‘The Passion’ is his most famous ode and Ode to the Evening is the classical example of unrhymed poetry. His other famous odes are Ode to Simplicity and Ode on Popular Superstitions. He published all his odes in a collection called Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegorical Subjects.

Because of his diversion from the Augustan style of writing, his odes and poems were not considered seriously by the people and critic at that time. This failure in the writing career caused him frustration and insanity. So, he moved to the McDonald’s Madhouse in Chelsea. From there his sister took him to keep with her till his death in 1759.

Related Topic

Ode to Evening: Summary and Analysis