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...
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