Come Little Babe

1739. Of his early educational experience, Samuel Johnson later noted, "His English exercises were better than his Latin"; Collins would become skilled in other languages, including French, Italian, and Spanish. Johnson wrote that the lack of openings in New College, Oxford, which Collins should have attended as a nominated scholar, became "the original misfortune of his life." Collins instead attended Queen's College by default. He completed his Persian Eclogues (1742) while still a teen. Employing the ruse that he had translated the poems from the Turkish language, Collins attempted to depart from what he termed the "strong and nervous" conceits of his era, adopting a Middle Eastern approach, one enriched by more figurative


Collins remained determined to become a poet, and with that goal in mind, he moved while near-penniless in 1744 to London, for which Johnson labeled him "a literary adventurer." Although it did not at first gain him fame, Collins's Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegoric Subjects (1746) became the work for which he would be remembered. John Milton influenced his choice of the blank verse ode stanza and of some of his expressions, as the critic Arthur Johnston notes. As Milton wrote in L'Allergo, "Tells how the drudging Goblin sweat / To earn his cream-bowl duly set" (105106), Collins wrote in "Ode on Popular Superstitions," "There each trim lass that skims the milky store / To the swart tribes their creamy bowl allots" (22-23).

of a sensitive temperament, Collins lived always in fear of poverty. According to Johnson, "his great fault was irresolution," because he was "doubtful of his dinner, or trembling at a creditor." Collins decided to return to Chichester after working under contract for a brief time as a translator. A £2,000 inheritance in 1749 from his uncle allowed him the freedom to give up work on a translation of Aristotle's Poetics, return the advance he had received, and focus on his own writing. However, poor health prevented additional work, and Collins eventually suffered from an increase in melancholia. The heavy depression evolved into insanity, and Collins died at age 38; he was buried at St. Andrew's Church.

The few poems Collins left behind indicated the potential for a robust career, based on his success in countering convention. Johnson wrote that Collins occasionally exhibited "sublimity and splendor." The most widely anthologized of his poems include "Ode to Evening," "How Sleep the Brave," and "A Song from Shakespeare's Cymbeline." Additional popular poems are "Ode to Simplicity" and the posthumous "Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands" (1788). Much of Collins's scant work remains available in electronic format.

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