Glimpses Of Our Ancestors In Sussex - online book

With Sketches Of Sussex Characters, Remarkable Incidents &c

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238                Glimpses of Our Ancestors.
man of letters. He had been the school-fellow of the Wartons, Whitehead, Hampton, &c, and he now made the acquaintance of Dr. Johnson, at that time the head of the London world of wit and learning. The great Doctor, who afterwards became Collins's biographer, speaks highly of him. "His appearance," he says, "was decent and manly; his knowledge considerable; his views extensive; his con­versation elegant; and his disposition cheerful." This latter quality contrasts strangely with what we know of the after­life of Collins, for "melancholy had marked him for her own." Even in his school-days he was remarked for being depressed, and once, when questioned by a companion as to the cause, he replied that he had had a dream: he had dreamt that, while walking in the fields, he saw a lofty tree, which he strove to climb, but, when he had nearly reached the top, a great branch gave way and he fell to the ground. On his school-fellow laughing at him for being out of spirits at such a cause, Collins said he looked upon the tree as "the tree of Poetry;" betraying at the same time his poetical aspirations and his constitutional melancholy. The anecdote has some resemblance to the story of Swift—also a prey to mental depression—who, seeing a tree struck by lightning, and its topmost branches leafless, exclaimed, "Ah, I am like that tree. I shall die at the top first."
The dream of the one poet and the prophecy of the other were both fulfilled. Collins climbed high, and reached one of the highest branches of poetry. But here he fell—not, like Otway, by the stroke of Fortune, but by even a harder Fate. Fortune, in the ordinary meaning of the word, was kind to him. When Johnson knew him, he was, indeed, in distress, and, with his usual kindness to literary brethren in trouble, the great Doctor assisted him out of his temporary difficulty by helping him to sell to the booksellers the commencement of a translation of Aristotle's Poetics. This work, however, he never finished, for soon afterwards his uncle, Colonel Martyn, died, leaving him a legacy of £2,000, and this sufficed for
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