William Collins Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

William Collins was born at Chichester in Sussex in December, 1721. His early years seem to have been those of a favored child. Whether Collins attended a school or learned his first letters at home or under the tutelage of a local curate, he was well enough prepared by the time he was eleven to be admitted as a scholar to Winchester College. His years at Winchester were important. It was there that he made friendships with Joseph Warton, William Whitehead, and James Hampton, and studied mythology and legend in Homer and Vergil. He wrote and published his first poems while at Winchester.

Some scholars believe that it was Warton’s friendship and influence that led Collins to become interested in literature. The Warton family was thoroughly literary, and it is possible that Joseph’s example first persuaded the youth from his Chichester home and encouraged him to begin cultivating his literary interests. In any case, Collins’s literary powers developed while he was at Winchester. One of the poems he wrote during these years, “Sonnet,” was published in the Gentlemen’s Magazine in October, 1739.

After completing his studies at Winchester, Collins was admitted to Queen’s College, Oxford, on March 21, 1740. On July 29, 1741, he was appointed demy of Magdalen College, allowing him some stipend, and in 1743, he took the bachelor’s degree and left Oxford. Before leaving college, he had published his Persian Eclogues, and although the work was published anonymously, the publication was Collins’s first serious claim to public notice and ironically remained his chief popular accomplishment during his lifetime. While at Oxford, Collins also...

(The entire section is 692 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

William Collins’s father was a well-to-do hatter and was twice mayor of Chichester, where William was born on Christmas Day, 1721. After attending primary school in Chichester, Collins was sent to Winchester Grammar School in 1733. Just a year later, when he was thirteen, he is thought to have published his first poem (now lost) in the Gentleman’s Magazine. His first surviving poem, to “Miss Aurelia C—r,” appeared in the same magazine in January, 1739. While at Winchester, Collins met and formed a lifelong friendship with his fellow student Joseph Warton, the future poet and the brother of Thomas, the historian of English poetry. In 1740 Collins entered Oxford University, where he became a friend of the famous Gilbert White of Selbroune, who many years later described him at the university as a young man fond of dissipation and contemptuous of pedantry and discipline. Before he graduated in 1744, Collins had published his Persian Eclogues and An Epistle: Verses Humbly Address’d to Sir Thomas Hanmer on His Edition of Shakespeare’s Works.

Collins’s father died in 1734, and shortly after he left Oxford his mother also died, leaving Collins a small inheritance, which he soon spent. In this period he probably visited a relative, Lieutenant Colonel Martin, who was then stationed in France; he also considered, but soon gave up, going into the Church. Before 1746 he was in London determined to make his way in literature....

(The entire section is 595 words.)