William Collins is regarded as one of the most skilled 18th-century lyric poets. Marking a transitional period in English literature, Collins’s style is formally Neoclassical but presages the themes of the Romantic period. His treatment of individual experience and descriptions of emotion influenced his peers as well as the next generation of writers.
Collins was born in Chichester, England, where his father served as mayor. He enrolled in Winchester College at age 11 and began publishing poems, later earning a BA in art under scholarship at Magdalen College, Oxford. His 1742 publication, Persian Eclogues, was warmly received by both readers and critics, and he followed his success with Verses Humbly Address’d to Sir Thomas Hanmer (1743). Collins moved to London to write, forfeiting his scholarship, but was forced to leave the city after his extravagant lifestyle created a significant debt.
While they garnered little attention during Collins’s lifetime, the poems in his Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegoric Subjects (1746) are among his most celebrated and include “Ode to Evening” and “Ode to Fear.” Collins’s mental health began to fail during the final decade of his life, and his writing suffered as a result. He began drafting his final poem, “An Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands,” in 1749, but at the time of his death 10 years later, it had yet to be completed.