Glimpses Of Our Ancestors In Sussex - online book

With Sketches Of Sussex Characters, Remarkable Incidents &c

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240                Glimpses of Our Ancestors.
wander, giving vent to the distresses of his mind in lamenta­tions and sobs. But, though the branch of the tree he essayed to climb was broken—though no longer able to write, or even to study, all light was not shut out. At this period of Collins's career he was seen once by his old friend, Dr. Johnson. It was after his return from France, and when awaiting his sister at Islington. " There was no apparent insanity (we quote from Mr. M. A. Lower's admirable piece of biography in his 'Worthies of Sussex')—but he had given up study and travelled with no other book than a New Testament, such as children carry to school. Johnson took it into his hand, from simple curiosity as to what book a classical scholar (for Collins, besides being a thorough classical scholar, was master of Italian, French, and Spanish) had chosen for his vade mecum. ' I have but one book,' said the poor stricken poet; ' but that is the best.'"
It is to this incident that Hayley refers, in those lines (beneath Flaxman's monument to Collins in Chichester Cathedral) which are, perhaps, the finest he ever wrote:—
Ye who the merits of the dead revere,
Who hold misfortune sacred—genius dear—
Regard this tomb, where Collins' hapless name
Solicits kindness with a double claim.
Though Nature gave him, and though Science taught,
The fire of Fancy and the reach of Thought,
Severely doomed in penury's extreme
He passed in maddening pain Life's feverish dream ;
While rays of genius only served to show
The thickening horror and exalt his woe.
Ye walls, that echoed to his frantic moan,
Guard the due records of this graceful stone;
Strangers to him, enamoured of his lays,
This fond memorial to his talents raise ;
For this the ashes of the Bard require
Who touched the tenderest notes of Pity's lyre ;
Who joined pure faith to strong poetic powers;
Who, in reviving Reason's lucid hours,
Sought on one Book his troubled mind to rest,
And rightly deemed the Book of God the best.
In penning these fine lines, Hayley rose to the level of his theme, and proved, if his age erred in thinking him a poet, that he could at least write poetry. Collins lived until
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