Chichester Cathedral Cloisters, 1758
Poor Collins, near the end, a lunatic,
would claim he’d found the source of Shakespeare’s Tempest
in a Spanish novel called Aurelio,
but when the Wartons asked to see the book,
he drew a map that led into the trees.
Poor Collins seldom left his mottled couch,
where he would often rave and “make great moanings,”
dying from melancholia, which was terminal
back then, at least for fey types like poor Collins.
Poor Collins reimbursed his publisher
for his unsold (and only) book of verse.
Then, like an idle felon flipping cards
into a hat, he stacked his books and flung
the whole edition in the fire. Poor Collins.
His sister Anne averred, glumly, that drink
had wrecked his nerves, but what unhinged poor Collins
was a horror of perdition. Now his name,
he feared, was blotted from the book of life,
and now his couch was just a grimy drum,
a rank mephitic chute into the wide
and gaping brimstone pit of Hell. Poor Collins,
condemned eternally, but for what sin?
Condemned for midnight trysts at Vauxhall Gardens?
Condemned for kissing Mrs. Cibber’s hand?
Poor Collins, dosed with brandy by the spoon,
would even miss, at times, McDonald’s madhouse,
especially when the tower bells rang down
to wig poor Collins out and set him spinning,
as dizzy as a dervish on his couch.
The unsung Pindar of his age, poor Collins,
a turbot flung up gasping hard, poor Collins.
A burly footman held him down, poor Collins.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 31 Number 5, on page 47
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