Mortimer Collins

Mortimer Collins (1827-1876), from Mortimer Collins: His letters and friendships, 1877. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Edward James Mortimer Collins (29 June 1827 - 28 July 1876) was an English poet and novelist.

Life Edit


Collins, son of a solicitor at Plymouth, was for a time a teacher of mathematics in Guernsey. Settling in Berkshire he adopted a literary life, and was a prolific author, writing largely for periodicals. He also wrote a good deal of occasional and humorous verse, and several novels, including Sweet Anne Page (1868), Two Plunges for a Pearl (1872), Mr. Carrington (1873), under the name of "R.T. Cotton," and A Fight with Fortune (1876).[1]


Collins was born at Plymouth, where his father, Francis Collins (died 1839), was a solicitor. The father was a mathematician, and in 1824 published a volume of Spiritual Songs.' 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.[2]

Marriage and careerEdit

About 1849 he married Susannah, daughter of John Hubbard, and widow of the Rev. J.H. Crump. He had by her 1 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.[2]

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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[2]

He wrote several hours in the day, and again from 10 to 2 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.[2]

Collins was a man of great physical and mental vigour. He was over 6 feet high and powerfully built. 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 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.[2]

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.[2]

He had many warm literary friends, among whom were James Hannay, R.H. Home, Mr. Kebbel, F. Locker, J. Ormsby, Edmund Yates, and especially 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.[2]

His health showed no serious symptoms till 1876, when he gradually declined. He died of heart disease that July.[2]


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.[2]

His 3-volume novel Transmigration (1873) is "a fantasy of multiple incarnations of which the middle one is set on a utopian Mars"[4]

The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica declared that "Some of his lyrics, in their light grace, their sparkling wit, their airy philosophy, are equal to anything of their kind in modern English."[5]

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

'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.[3]

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.[3]


Collins is credited by the New English Dictionary with introducing the word "psithurism" to the English language: derived from the Ancient Greek for "whisper," it was applied specifically to the whispering of the wind. This was noted (inaccurately) by The Guardian newspaper in an editorial of 30 September 1909 - reprinted on 30 September 2006 but not available online.

Writing Edit



Novels Edit

  • Who is the Heir?: A novel. (3 volumes), London: J. Maxwell, 1865. Volume II,
  • Sweet Anne Page. (3 volumes), London: Hurst & Blackett, 1868. Volume I, Volume II, Volume III.
  • The Ivory Gate. (2 volumes), London: Hurst & Blackett, 1869. Volume I, Volume II.
  • The Vivian Romance. (3 volumes), London: Hurst & Blackett, 1870;[9]]
  • Marquis and Merchant. (3 volumes), London: Hurst & Blackett, 1871. Volume I, Volume II, Volume III.
  • The Secret of Long Life. London: Henry S. King, 1871.
  • The Princess Clarice: A story of 1871. (3 volumes), London: Henry S. King, 1872. Volume II
  • Two Plunges for a Pearl. London: Tinsley, 1872; New York: D. Appleton, 1872.
  • Squire Silchester's Whim. London: Henry S. King, 1873. Volume I, Volume II, Volume III.
  • Miranda: A midsummer Madness. (3 volumes), London: Henry S. King, 1873. Volume IVolume II,Volume III.'
  • Mr. Carington: A tale of love and conspiracy. London: 1873.
  • Frances. London: Hurst & Blackett, 1874.
  • Transmigration. (3 volumes), London: Hurst & Blackett, 1874. Volume I, Volume II, Volume III.
  • Sweet and Twenty. London: Hurst & Blackett, 1875.
  • A Fight with Fortune. (3 volumes), London: Hurst & Blackett, 1876. Volume I, Volume II, Volume III.
  • The Village Comedy (with Frances Cotton Collins). (3 volumes), London: Hurst & Blackett, 1878. Volume I, Volume II, Volume III.
  • You Play Me False (by Mortimer & Frances Collins). London: Richard Bentley, 1878.
  • From Midnight to Midnight: A story. London: Chatto & Windus, 1883.


  • Pen Sketches by a Vanished Hand: From the papers of the late Mortimer Collins (edited by Tom Taylor). (2 volumes), London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1879. Volume I, Volume II.
  • Thoughts in My Garden (edited by Edmund Yates). (2 volumes), London: Richard Bentley, 1880. Volume I, Volume II.


  • Walter ScottA Selection from the Works. London: Ward, Kock, 1831.

Collected editionsEdit


  • Mortimer Collins: His letters and friendships, with some account of his life (edited by Frances Collins). (2 volumes), London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1877. Volume I, Volume II.


  • Attic Salt; or, Epigrammatic sayings, healthful, humorous and wise, in prose and verse, collected from the works of Mortimer Collins (edited by Frank Kerslake). London: B. Robson, 1880.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[10]

A Game of Chess by Mortimer Collins

A Game of Chess by Mortimer Collins

See alsoEdit


  • PD-icon.svg Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1887) "Collins, Mortimer" Dictionary of National Biography 11 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 373-374 . Wikisource, Web, Feb. 3, 2017.</ref


  1. John William Cousin, "Collins, Mortimer," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 1910, 92. Web, Dec. 27, 2017.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Dictionary of National Biography, 373.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Dictionry of National Biography, 374.
  4. George Locke, "Wells in Three Volumes? A sketch of British publishing in the 19th Century," Science Fiction Studies, 3:3 (November 1976),282-6; see p. 283. Print.
  5. Mortimer Collins, Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1911). LoveToKnow Corp. Web, July 24, 2013.
  6. Windermere: A poem, and sonnets (1848), Internet Archive. Web, July 24, 2013.
  7. Idyls and Rhymes (1855), , Internet Archive, Web, Apr. 29, 2012.
  8. The British Birds: A communication from the ghost of Aristophanes (1878), Internet Archive, Web, Apr. 29, 2012.
  9. The Vivian Romance (1870) (1 volume), New York: Harper, 1870. Internet Archive. Web, July 24, 2013
  10. Search results = au:Mortimer Collins, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, July 24, 2013.

External links Edit

Audio / video

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: Collins, Mortimer

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