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THE REV. W. LUCAS COLLINS.
There is nothing more sad in life than the disappearance of familiar faces, the closing of hospitable doors, the sudden emptiness which takes possession of a spot once warmly filled with a pleasant image. As life goes on, this is what happens constantly to us all. Often, after long tranquillity, there will arise a great wave of loss, sweeping away one after another of those whom—where they stood in the perspective of our lives, which seemed impossible without them—we had felt to be "as steadfast as the scene.' It is so natural that life should go on, and everything be as it has always been. Yet, lo! in a moment, desolation and emptiness, and what is no more.
No figure more venerable, no friend more respected, could have been withdrawn from the scene than the admirable writer and faithful counsellor whom we have now to mourn. The Rev. W. Lucas Collins died on the 24th March at the Rectory of Lowick, near Thrapston, Northamptonshire, a parish of which he had been the incumbent for more than a dozen years, after holding several other benefices. Of his character as a parish priest, devoted to all the interests of his flock, and much beloved by them, it is not for us to speak. Could it be possible to regret a good man's devotion to the highest of callings, we should indeed, we fear, have been disposed to do so, for it abridged his literary work, and kept him from the foremost rank which he would otherwise have been so well able to fill. He was almost the oldest contributor still spared to us, having begun his work in this Magazine so early as 1843, a period to which few memories now run. He was then a young man just from college, newly ordained, and full of all the fervour of beginning life. During the long period which has followed, few years have passed in which there has not been some fine piece of criticism, some graceful essay or sprightly tale, from his hand in these pages. We do not commend ourselves in rendering due honour to the writers, according to the old tradition of the Magazine anonymous, who have laboured with us, and given of their best to the never-ungrateful “ Maga.” It would be a failure in friendship as well as in justice should we keep silent as to the merits of those who, so far as the general public was concerned, gave up their own credit and praise to the honour of the ensign under which they did their work.
Mr Collins was educated at Jesus College, Oxford, having a hereditary connection with the Principality which is chiefly represented there, and took his degree in classical honours in 1838. His earliest contributions to the Magazine were illustrations of the life of the University. He took the lighter side of bright and kindly comradeship, so dear to young men who have had their share of these delights, as the most pleasant and attractive to the general world, and told the humours of the reading party before that institution had become so well known as it is now, and discoursed delightfully upon college friends. Though he soon subsided into themes of less personal interest, the subjects both political and literary, which then occupied the world, his preference was always for matters scholastic and academical, and he was the first to
open that discussion of the great public schools of England, in which he has had so many followers. Rugby, Harrow, Winchester, and Shrewsbury were all in succession the subjects of articles; and the fuller study which he was led to give to the greatest of them all resulted in
Etoniana,' one of the best and most interesting histories of Eton which exist. It is twenty years since that volume was published, and the great school has gone through a great many charges since then ; but for the aspect which has now become historical there can be no better authority; nor is there any, so far as we know, which, in respect of literary merit, can stand comparison with it. Mr Collins returned to this ever-attractive subject many times in these pages; but he did not carry his investigations further than the limits of an article with any other of the great schools. His articles on purely literary subjects were many; and some of the ablest reviews which have appeared of the works of George Eliot and other contemporary writers were from his hand. We have always strongly maintained the advantages of the anonymous, especially in literary criticism, feeling that it gives freedom to the hand of the operator, and, whether in praise or blame, liberates him from the embarrassing difficulties of holding the literary balance steady when treating friends or acquaintances; but it certainly has this one drawback, that a writer may thus influence the minds of 'numbers of his countrymen, and be, under his mask, a power in literature, while his personality remains unknown.
The first conception of the interesting and popular series of Ancient Classics for English Readers, when it. rose in the mind of the late respected editor of the Magazine, whose excellent intelligence and good taste originated so many successful undertakings, was associated at once by him with the name of Mr Collins, whom, with the insight which he possessed in a high degree, he immediately felt to be eminently qualified to carry it out. Nothing could have better suited the talents and inclinations of Mr Collins, or brought more effectually into play, for the service of the public, his good scholarship and critical acumen, as well as his faculty of selection and oversight. He was an indefatigable editor, giving himself up to that labour of love with judicious watchfulness, and a determination to make the series excellent which spared no trouble. The volumes which he himself contributed must always hold the very highest place among works of this description. The authors whom he treated were not picked up by hazard or got up for the occasion, as so often happens, but the favourites of long years, studied with affectionate devotion for half a lifetime before any thought of expounding and illustrating them for the public had occurred to him. The series was the first of its kind. It was in every way thoroughly successful, and its only drawback has been that it has suggested numberless other series, with which the world has been deluged since; but, as there is no such flattery as imitation, the compliment may be accepted without the responsibility. The work and the man in this case were so thoroughly suited to each other, that there could be no doubt of the excellence of the performance; and it was soon seen that a genuine want was supplied in this attempt to give the non-classical readers, who now form so large a number of the reading public, a scholar's account and description of those great works in which all literature has its beginning. It is pleasant to see that this able and excellent series has added a modest but enduring laurel to the name of a writer whose best works had heretofore brought him but little personal reputation.
His whole literary career was thus woven in with that of this Magazine. Its readers owe him more than they knew, but not more than the more intimate circle of friends and literary coadjutors were always sensible of, owing to his clear head, and sound views, and lucid and admirable style. His contributions have diminished in numbers of late years, for his health had been delicate for a long time, and he had been obliged to spend several winters abroad on this account. But he was always a wise counsellor and a most faithful friend. For some months past little hope had been entertained of his recovery. But even with such warnings and breakings of the inevitable, the final blow always comes with a shock. Those who are left behird cannot but think of the lessening circle, the lights which are extinguished, the voices which have gone away into the silence. Mr Collins had, however, lived out the allotted time of human life in faithful service to God and man. He had gained, if not any of the higher dignities of his profession, at least an honourable place, and, to a tranquil and gentle spirit like his, perhaps the happiest of all social positions. He left no broken threads or unaccomplished purposes behind him, and we have no right to lament over such a conclusion. May it be given to us to live as wisely and to end as well!
It is in the nature of human currents of our lives-sometimes things that the ear should grow of nothing more important than weary of hearing, and the mind of that chronicle of small beer, which following the thousand devices and fortunately is commoner than the schemes, the rhapsodies and the revolutions ; but even in the placommonplaces, the designs of self- cid tenor of a private existence, glorification hidden under a cloak the golden, nay, even the silver of loyalty, with which this year wedding, is a moment at which a has resounded, and which, in this general review of life is the most particular month, will make the natural occupation of the mind. welkin ring. The object of all these Rare are the individuals to whose honours, could we penetrate the lot it falls to celebrate the greatdepths of the august solitude in est of these anniversaries. When which the Majesty of England such an occurrence happens, the dwells, will no doubt be more glad man, however insignificant his than any one to hear the last of position, is a living chronicle. the Jubilee. But at the same time Though he may have taken a notthere is something picturesque and able part in none of them, he has striking in every such climax of at least seen a hundred changes, national life. We pause, by nat- some which make epochs, all makural impulse, at the milestones of ing history. He has seen the great the uncommemorated years as we shuttle moving through the loom pass them by, making our little of time. And if he has a mind to personal record of events and think or a voice to speak, what a changes—sometimes of revolutions crowd of incidents, what wonderunknown to fame, which alter the ful developments, what secrets new and old, are his to tell ! The fifty how the succeeding age would years that are now accomplished make out to itself an image of this are to us more impersonal. The without the help of literature. great Lady who was, so to speak, How profoundly puzzled it would the Bride of fifty years ago, hav- be with many things upon which ing begun her reign in such early at present we rather plume ourbloom of youth, is fortunately selves! No doubt the next century scarcely yet to be called old, will be so much superior to ourthough experienced in her august selves in all the inventions of pracprofession beyond all competitors, tical science, that our attempts and learned in the course of events at railways, telegraphs, &c., will and all the hidden strings and amuse it as rudimentary efforts. mechanism of State which sway It will perhaps wonder, while rethe world, as perhaps only a cognising the energy of life which sovereign, who is never out of found expression in this network office, can be. But with that of intercommunication, how grown great sphere we have no preten- men should be so infantile in their sion to intermeddle. For all so adaptation of half-developed forces, great as Queen Victoria is, and for and how it was that the human all so splendid as is her kingdom, intellect so much vaunted should did there happen to fail in her not have leaped at once to the exrealm one little implement called tended use of these forces, which, a pen, the glory and the greatness mounted on our shoulders and seewould be dim to future ages, and ing over our heads, has become our grandsons who come after'us easy to them. They will conwould but guess faintly at our template, we hope with admiration, strength and power, and of our certainly with wonder, our magniffamiliar features, and our human icent Houses of Parliament and ways, and how we succeeded to Courts of Law, grand buildings in our fathers, as they to us, would which to lodge the makers of our know nothing. The character of laws and the administrators therethe great, the meaning of the of, so majestic, so splendid-yet humble, the vesture and costume without the faintest stirring of of humanity, and all its records of an individual impulse, art whimsithe heart, depend absolutely upon cally aux prises with science, and that little implement. In the past knocking its head in blind obeages the man who stands up like dience to the rules of the past a mountain, or shines like a light against the necessities of the presacross the plains of oblivion, is ent, the comforts, only half-underthe man who has had a historian stood as our impertinent descendworthy of him. The annalists, ants will think, imperiously dethe minstrels, the story-tellers, are manded by an advancing civilito the past what the sovereign is sation. All these things our to the present—the fountain of successors would have to puzzle honour. Without these there is out with much confusion, with no memorial. Without their suc- much merry-making, probably, cessors in the modern world, there over an age which thought itself would, beyond the limit of a gen- so wise and was so fatuous. And ‘eration, and often not even in that, how strangely then would loom be little mental appreciation and through the distance the great no fame.