An Collins is an English poet, and the otherwise unknown author credited with the authorship of Divine Songs and Meditacions, a collection of poems and prose meditations published in 1653.
Background and controversy
Next to nothing is known about Collins, apart from the fact that a volume of poetry titled Divine Songs and Meditacions was published in London in 1653 by R. Bishop, and the work is credited to "An Collins." However, this could be misleading, as there is no way to verify the circumstances of the publishing; there are no details as to whether or not Collins lived in London, or life it was published after her death. On the contrary, from "To the Reader", the "Preface" and "The Discourse", it can be assumed that she lived in the country, rather than the city. There is no existing biographical information, and all that can be inferred comes from what is written within the verses. The difficulty in determining concrete details about Collins is made even more difficult due to the style of her writing, as any definite facts about her life are either not present, or brief and cryptic.
Convention has led to referring to Collins as a woman, due to the ease of relating the name "An" to the more common, in the mid-17th century, "Anne". Additionally, though there is evidence within the verses that indicate that Collins is a female, there is, like much else of Collins, no firm evidence. In addition, some scholars have speculated that "An" could be a pseudonym, or the "An" could even refer to the indefinite article "an", indicating that the poet's first name was unknown to the publisher.
One aspect that can be determined is that Collins suffered from at least some sort of physical infirmity. Numerous references within Divine Songs indicate either a physical deformity, childhood illness, or adult sickness that left Collins confined to an indoors life. This is suggested to be a heavily motivating factor in her writing of Divine Songs.
Divine Songs and Meditacions
The volume, Divine Songs and Meditacions is, itself, divided into many semi-independent "songs" and "meditacions" that range in style and subject matter. Most deal directly with religious matters, but there are several portions, notably "A song composed in time of the Civill Warr, when the wicked did much insult over the godly," that focus directly on the political environment of English circa the English Civil War.
Scholars praise Collins' work for its diverse forms and striking language, however, Collins is predominantly studied for topical, thematic, or historical reasons, rather than her technical prowess as an artist. Collins' style is praised by some scholars. There has been some work done in analyzing the metric forms of Divine Songs, such as the usage of [Rime royal] in The Preface of Divine Songs. However, it is also true that Collins' work has an important historical significance. It is one of the first collected volumes of women's poetry from the seventeenth century, and provides a glimpse into the life of a woman writer, and especially the political, social, and religious background that one would have lived in.
Religious and political views
There has been a substantial amount of writing done on the subject of An Collins' religious beliefs. As Ostovich and Sauer state it, "An Collins' religious beliefs have been variously defined as anti-Puritanical, Calvinist, Catholic, anti-Calvinist, and Quaker..." All of these can be seen as true at different points in Divine Songs. In The Discourse, Collins presents a very standard primer on Protestant teachings, and her exceptional focus on sin has led some to call her a Calvinist. However, the lack of focus on predestination makes this prospect seem unlikely.
Some scholars have put forth the idea that Collins shows a tendency towards Catholicism. In particular, Collins' "meditacions" appear to follow the "Short Method for Meditation" put forth by the Catholic Bishop of Geneva, Francis de Sales. This is further evidenced by the growing popularity of de Sales' Introduction a la Vie Devote, which has three separate English editions published by 1613.
Collins viewed herself as manifesting divine truth, and that her poetic skill was simply a means to communicate a divine message. Collins intends for her readers to explore "the scriptures touched in this book."
Similar to her religious views, there has been much study and speculation on Collins' political views. She has been described as "critical of sectaries and Independents, pro-Commonwealth, opposed to the radical wing of Parliament, anti-Commonwealth, and Royalist." One thing is certain; Collins writes a great deal of responses to the conflicts between the Parliamentarians and Royalists of the English Civil War. Collins clearly opposes the Engagement Oath, which was similarly protested by many religious groups.
While Collins clearly demonstrates a measure of dissent against the politics of her day, the language of her poems makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly what her views are on many serious issues of the day.
Legacy and influence
Collins' relative obscurity have prevented a widespread influence, however, it has been argued that Collins provides a model for the later tradition of Puritan diary writing. The largest barrier to Collins' influence has been the limited availability of her works. Though the original publishing details are unknown, there is only one copy still surviving today, located at the Huntington Library. However, since the 1996 publishing of a revised edition of Divine Songs and Meditacions, edited by Sidney Gottlieb, a substantial amount of new literature has been published regarding Collins and her writing.
- Gottlieb 2004, Collins, An.
- Ostrovich and Sauer 2004, p. 387.
- Evans 2003, p. xiii
- Evans 2003, p. xi, xii
- Greer et al 1988, p. 150
- Evans 2003, p. xi
- Graham, et al 1989, p. 55
- Cunnar 1993, p. 49
- Cunnar, Eugene R. "An Collins" in Hester, M. Thomas (ed.), Seventeenth-Century British Nondramatic Poets: Third Series, Dictionary of Literart Biography, vol 131. Detroit: Gale, 1993.
- Evans, Robert C. The Early Modern Englishwoman: a Facsimile Library of Essential Works, Series II, Volume I, An Collins. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003.
- Gottlieb, Sidney. “Collins, An (fl. 1653).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: OUP, 2004. <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/45500>.
- Graham, Elspeth, et al. Her Own Life: Autobiographical Writings by Seventeenth-Century Englishwomen. New York : Routledge, 1989.
- Greer, Germaine, et al. Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Women's Verse. London : Virago, 1988.
- Ostrovich, Helen, and Elizabeth Sauer. Reading Early Modern Women; An Anthology of Texts in Manuscript and Print, 1550-1700. New York : Routledge, 2004.
- Brydges, Sir Egerton. Restituta; or, Titles, Extracts, and Characters of Old Books in English Literature, Revived. 4 Vols. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1814-1816.
- Dyce, Alexander, Specimens of British Poetesses. London: T. Rodd, 1825.
- Gottlieb, Sidney. “Collins, An (fl. 1653).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 27 Jan. 2007.
- —. “An Collins and the Experience of Defeat.” Representing Women in Renaissance England. Ed. Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997. 216-26.
- Greer, Germaine, et al., eds. "An Collins." Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth-century Women's Verse. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1988. 148-154.
- Griffith, A. F. Bibliotheca Anglo-Poetica. London: Thomas Davison, 1815.
- Howard, W. Scott. “An Collins and the Politics of Mourning.” Speaking Grief in English Literary Culture, Shakespeare to Milton. Ed. Margo Swiss and David A. Kent. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 2002. 177-96.
- —. “Of Devotion and Dissent: An Collins’s Divine Songs and Meditacions (1653). Discoveries in Renaissance Culture 22.1 (2005): http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~nydam/scrc/discoveries/archives/221/howard221pf.htm.
- Ostovich, Helen, and Elizabeth Sauer. “Introduction.” Reading Early Modern Women. New York: Routledge, 2004. 1-14.
- Price, Bronwen. “‘The Image of Her Mind’: The Self, Dissent and Femininity in An Collins’s Divine Songs and Meditacions.” Women’s Writing 9.2 (2002): 249-65.
- Wilcox, Helen. “‘Scribbling under so Faire a Coppy’: The Presence of Herbert in the Poetry of Vaughan’s Contemporaries.” Scintilla 7 (2003): 185-200.