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In 1815, the library of Thomas Park, which had already passed from Park to Thomas Hill to Longman, was sold. In the catalog of that collection, a volume of devotional and autobiographical verse written by one Anne Collins, Divine Songs and Meditacions (1653), was described as “so rare as to be probably unique.”[1] That same year, Longman and his associates published an anthology of “Old Books in English Literature, Revived,” edited by Sir Egerton Brydges and entitled Restituta. Brydges, who acknowledged the help of Park in editing the four volume work,[2] reprinted long passages from the Songs and Meditacions. By mid-century, the book had passed through the possession of James Midgeley, Sir Mark Masterman Sykes, Thomas Thorpe,[3] and Richard Heber. In 1878, Alexander Dyce reprinted all but the last stanza of “Another Song exciting to spirituall Mirth,” and some twenty years later, S. Austin Allibone included reference to Anne Collins in his Critical Dictionary of English Literature. By this time, however, the remaining copy of Divine Songs and Meditacions seems to have slipped from sight; scholars were a long time finding it, but in 1924, the “unique” copy bearing the autograph of Thomas Park was removed from the library at Britwell Court and sold by Sotheby to A. S. W. Rosenbach, who acted in behalf of Henry E. Huntington, in whose memorial library it now remains. If a second edition of the work ever existed, as claimed by Allibone,[4] it has vanished (to my knowledge, without a further trace); for all practical purposes, Anne Collins and her Divine Songs and Meditacions are unknown even to scholars of seventeenth-century literature.

Though it appears that the verses of Anne Collins have been spared extinction, it is problematic whether they will escape obscurity. Dr. Johnson and Warton did not mention them. Yet knowledgeable, if lesser, men found the Songs and Meditacions worth reading. We may infer, for example, that Thomas Park, who was praised by Southey as the most distinguished authority on Old-English poetry, admired the Songs, for it seems probable that he recommended to Brydges the passages finally anthologized in Restituta. In any case, for their metrical variety, spiritual tone, and structural quaintness, Brydges found the Songs and Meditacions to ii be of value. Allibone reprinted Brydges’ commentary, implying (at least) that he had no strong quarrel with it; and in our own century, I. A. Williams, having read the single poem in Dyce, described the “lilt and diction” of the language as “charming,” and called for a new edition of the work.[5] It may be that a wider knowledge of her writing would rescue Anne Collins only from oblivion into abuse. But if that is so, it is only fair to say that she wrote with a full awareness of her poetic limitations. Referring to herself as “unskilfull,” she claimed to have written only to occupy her mind, and then only that, in her lingering illness, she might not fall victim to Sloth. Anne Collins may not have been a Puritan,[6] but her verses are, in several respects, a form of the diary. To her, questions of aesthetics, at least as we would normally think of them, were quite irrelevant. She was convinced that the expression of a dedicated heart was of greater value than a polished line. Even if that expression were in the form of somewhat unsteady verses, it would not be without merit: “Yet for theyr matter, I suppose they bee / Not worthlesse quite, whilst they with Truth agree.

We are dependent upon the autobiographical quality of the work for all we know of its author. She might have been any one of the many Annes who, during the first half of the seventeenth century, married into or out of the Collins name (or the name might be a pseudonym). But especially in the first third of the work, in the prose “To the Reader” and the metrical “Preface” and “Discourse,” we recognize the autobiography of a woman who was, from early childhood, the chronic victim of disease. In “The Discourse” (omitted here because of its length and repetitiousness), she describes the life of one whose hope lay in her adjustment to pain. Drawing upon the imagery of spiritual autobiography, Anne Collins describes her youth as a wilderness, her soul as a withered flower. Only when she takes direction from her sorrow does her soul draw in the rain of grace. And that regenerating force is the recurrent theme of her writing, the sole enduring source of peace; the world offered only the appearance, the “counterfet” of satisfaction. Thus, as Anne Collins composes her devotional verses, she is impelled by four pious reasons. These are indicative, not only of how the author justifies her writing from a poetic point of view, but of how completely she has explained away all the claims of a world that had iii once tortured her with longing. First, all creatures had been ordained to praise God; this, in her songs and meditations, she attempts to do. Recognizing that her talents are few, she recalls that even the man with a single talent would be called to account. Third, she wishes that some kinsman out of interest in her writing might be encouraged to read the Scriptures. And last, she thinks of those who will never meet or know her; by reading the Divine Songs and Meditacions, they may look upon “the image of her mind,” and from that learn how God takes pity on even his most lowly servant.

The selections in this reprint have been made in the hope of fairly representing Anne Collins to the scholarly reader. Within the range of possibilities, an attempt was made to preserve the proportions in the original work among the various kinds of writing attempted by the author. Perhaps deletion of “The Discourse” defeated this purpose. But it was decided also that no individual poem would be cut. Thus, to have included the 102 stanzas of “The Discourse” would have required dropping several more songs and meditations.[7] The poem on the Civil War, like the paraphrase on the fifth chapter of Ecclesiastes, was eliminated because its subject matter was not thought representative of the work as a whole. The notes will direct the reader to parts of Anne Collins’ work which may be found in previous publications.

The Huntington copy of Divine Songs and Meditacions is a small octavo volume, measuring slightly larger than five by three inches. The pages have been cropped and the margins have worn away; thus, in some instances (pp. 50, 56, 68), text has been lost. The original volume is now sandwiched within protecting leaves of blank paper, and the entire volume is bound in thick, brown calf. The title page, once detached, has been backed and cemented to the second leaf, but this repair was made long before the blank leaves were inserted. The original volume is made up of 52 leaves; the first gathering consists of four, the remaining six of eight leaves. There are 102 pages of text.

This material is reproduced by permission of the Librarian of The Huntington Library.

Stanley Stewart University of California, Riverside

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