Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Collins, Mortimer

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COLLINS, MORTIMER (1827–1876), miscellaneous writer, was born 29 June 1827 at Plymouth, where his father, Francis Collins, was a solicitor. The father was a mathematician, and in 1824 published a volume of 'Spiritual Songs.' He died in 1839. Collins, his only child, was educated at private schools, and while still a schoolboy contributed to papers. He was anxious to become a journalist, but by his mother's desire accepted a tutorship. About 1849 he married Susannah, daughter of John Hubbard, and widow of the Rev. J. H. Crump. He had by her one daughter, married in 1871 to Mr. Keningale Cook. Soon after his marriage he went to Guernsey, where he was appointed mathematical master of Queen Elizabeth's College. He published a volume called 'Idyls and Rhymes' in 1855. In 1856 he left Guernsey to devote himself entirely to literature, which he had never abandoned. He became a well-known writer in the press, edited some provincial papers, and wrote many political squibs. He took a cottage at Knowl Hill, Berkshire, in 1862. In 1867 he lost his wife. In 1868 he married Frances Cotton and settled at Knowl Hill for the rest of his life, rarely leaving his house for a day.

Collins was a man of great physical and mental vigour. He was over six feet high and powerfully built. He wrote several hours in the day, and again from ten to two at night. Besides contributing to newspapers, he wrote many novels and other works, and turned out an enormous quantity of playful verse for the amusement of his friends. He was a great athlete, a first-rate pedestrian, a lover of dogs, and a keen observer of nature. He revered White of Selborne, and wrote many interesting letters upon the habits of birds in the 'Times' and elsewhere. He was a mathematician and a good chess-player. He had a surprising facility of versification, his work ranging from humorous doggerel to a really high level in the lighter kind of poetry. His novels, carelessly constructed, are those of a humourist, more interesting for detached remarks than for the development of the stories. He was a lover of classical literature and a special admirer of Aristophanes, whose wit and politics were both congenial to him. He was from his earliest years a strong tory and a lover of old fashions in books and principles. He had strong religious sentiments, and a special aversion to positivists and freethinkers. Though called the 'King of the Bohemians' in his earlier period, and defying social conventionalities of dress and so forth, he was an ardent defender of the established order in church and state, and could give rough though not malicious blows in controversy. He took a keen interest in his rustic neighbours, and wrote poems for 'penny readings,' one of which, by a sympathetic mention of 'kisses' and 'sweethearts' without condemnation, offended his vicar and provoked a silly feud in the village. He had many warm literary friends, among whom were James Hannay, Mr. R. H. Home, Mr. Kebbel, Mr. F. Locker, Mr. J. Ormsby, Mr. Edmund Yates, and especially Mr. R. D. Blackmore. He showed in private the chivalrous courtesy to women frequently manifested in his later writings, was kindly to his servants, and, according to the best testimony, a perfect husband. He had a rheumatic fever in the winter of 1869-70, which probably increased a tendency inherited from his mother, who died in 1873 of heart-disease. His health showed no serious symptoms till 1876, when he gradually declined. He died of heart-disease on 28 July 1876.

His works are:

  1. 'Idyls and Rhymes,' 1865.
  2. 'Summer Songs,' 1860.
  3. 'Who is the Heir?' 1865.
  4. 'Sweet Anne Page,' 1868 (partly descriptive of his own career, and accused of being 'indecorous').
  5. 'The Ivory Gate,' 1869.
  6. 'Letter to the Rt. Honble. B. Disraeli' (in verse), 1869 (anon.)
  7. 'The Vivian Romance,' 1870.
  8. 'The Inn of Strange Meetings, and other poems,' 1871.
  9. 'The Secret of Long Life,' 1871 (a collection of essays first published anonymously; it went through five editions, and is his most successful work).
  10. 'The Marquis and Merchant,' 1871 (said to be his best novel).
  11. 'The British Birds, from the Ghost of Aristophanes,' 1872.
  12. 'Two Plunges for a Pearl,' 1872.
  13. 'Princess Clarice,' 1872.
  14. 'Squire Sylvester's Whim,' 1873.
  15. 'Miranda, a Midsummer Madness,' 1873.
  16. 'Mr. Carington,' 1873. 'By Robert Turner Cotton ' (an assumed name).
  17. 'Transmigration,' 1874.
  18. 'Frances,' 1874.
  19. 'Sweet and Twenty,' 1875.
  20. 'Blacksmith and Scholar,' with 'From Midnight to Midnight,' 1875.
  21. 'Fight with Fortune,' 1876.
  22. 'The Village Comedy,' 1876 (in course of publication in the 'Pictorial World').
  23. 'You play me false' (posthumous), 1878.

Collins contributed to the ' Owl,' the 'Church and State Review,' the 'Realm,' the 'Press,' the 'Globe,' 'Punch,' the 'British Quarterly,' the 'Temple Bar,' 'Tinsley's Magazine,' the 'Press and St. James's Chronicle,' and the 'World.' 'Pen Sketches by a Vanished Hand,' from his papers, was edited by Tom Taylor in 1879; 'Attic Salt,' a selection of epigrammatic sayings from his works, by F. Kerslake in 1880; and 'Thoughts in my Garden,' by E. Yates, chiefly from a series of 'Adversaria' contributed to the 'St. James's Chronicle,' in 1885. His widow, who died on 17 March 1886, co-operated with him in 'Frances,' 'Sweet and Twenty,' 'The Village Comedy,' and 'You play me false;' and in 1882 published 'A Broken Lily,' a novel.

[Mortimer Collins, his Letters and Friendships, with some Account of his Life, edited by Frances Collins, 1877; notices of Collins prefixed to Pen Sketches and Notes in my Garden.]