Collins, Anthony

, an eminent writer on the side of infidelity, was the son of Henry Collins, esq. a gentleman of considerable fortune; and born at Heston near Hounslow, in Middlesex, June 21, 1676*. He was educated in classical learning at Eton school, and removed thence to King’s college in Cambridge, where he had for his tutor Francis Hare, afterwards bishop of Chichester. Upon leaving college he went to London, and was entered a student in the Temple; but not relishing the study of the law, he abandoned it, and applied himself to letters in general. In 1700 he published a tract entitled “Several of the London Cases considered.” He cultivated an acquaintance and maintained a Correspondence with Locke in 1703 and 1704; and that Locke had a great esteem for him, appears from some letters to him published by Des Maizeaux in his collection of “Several pieces of John Locke, never before printed, or not extant in his works.” Locke, who died Oct. 28, 1704, left also a letter dated the 23d, to be delivered to Collins after his decease, full of confidence and the warmest affection; which letter is to be found in the collection above mentioned. It is plain from these memorials, that Collins at that time appeared to Locke to be an impartial and disinterested inquirer after truth, and not, as he afterwards proved, disingenuous, artfuJ, and impious.

In 1707 he published “An essay concerning the use of reason in propositions, the evidence whereof depends upon human testimony:” reprinted in 1709, and, as is the case in all his other writings, without his name. The same year, 1707, he engaged in the controversy between

*

Mr. Lysons remarks that he was baptized at Isleworth, and therefore probably born in that parish. Environs, vol. III.

| Dodwell and Clarke, concerning the natural immortality of the soul, and wrote, respecting it, 1. “A letter to the learned Mr. Henry Dodwell, containing some remarks on a pretended demonstration of the immateriality and natural immortality of the soul, in Mr. Clarke’s answer to his late epistolary discourse,” &c. 1707: reprinted in 1709. 2. “A reply to Mr. Clarke’s defence of his letter to Mr. Dodwell with a postscript to Mr. Milles’s answer to Mr. Dod well’s epistolary discourse,1707 reprinted in 1709. 3. “Reflections on Mr. Clarke’s second defence of his letter to Mr. Dodwell,1707: reprinted in 1711. 4. “An answer to Mr. Clarke’s third defence of his letter to Mr. Dodwell,1708: reprinted in 1711.

Dec. 1709, came out a pamphlet, entitled, “Priestcraft in perfection; or, a detection of the fraud of inserting and continuing that clause, ‘ The church hath power to decree rites and ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith,’ in the twentieth article of the Articles of the Church of England.” And, Feb. the year following, another called “Reflections on a late pamphlet,entitled, Priestcraft in perfection, &c.” both written by our author. The second and third editions of his “Priestcraft in perfection” were printed, with corrections, in 1710, 8vo. This book occasioned great and diligent inquiries into the subject, and was reflected on in various pamphlets, sermons, and treatises. These were answered by Collins, but not till 1724, in a work entitled, “An historical and critical essay on the 39 Articles of the Church of England: wherein it is demonstrated, that this clause, ‘The Church, &c.’ inserted in the 20th article, is not a part of the article, as they were established by act of parliament in the 13th of Elizabeth, or agreed on by the convocations of 1562 and 1571.” This essay, however, was principally designed as an answer to “The vindication of the Church of England from the aspersions of a late libel, entitled, Priestcraft in perfection, wherein the controverted clause of the church’s power in the 20th article is shewn to be of equal authority with all the rest of the articles, in 1710,” and to “An essay on the 39 Articles by Dr. Thomas Bennet,” published in 1715: “two chief works,” says Collins, “which seem written by those champions who have been supplied with materials from all quarters, and have taken great pains themselves to put their materials into the most artful light.” In the preface he tells us, that he | undertook this work at the solicitations of a worthy minister of the gospel, who knew that he had made some inquiries into the “Modern Ecclesiastical History of England;” and, particularly, that he was preparing “An history of the variations of the church of England and its clergy from the reformation down to this time, with an answer to the cavils of the papists, made on occasion of the said variations:” but this work never appeared. The reader may see the whole state of this controversy in Collier’s “Ecclesiastical History,” where particular notice is taken of our author.

In 1710 he published “A vindication of the Divine Attributes, in some remarks on the archbishop of Dublin’s (Dr. King) sermon, entitled, Divine predestination and foreknowledge consisting with the freedom of man’s will.March 1711, he went over to Holland, where he became acquainted with Le Clerc, and other learned men; and returned to London the November following, to take care of his private affairs, with a promise to his friends in Holland, that he would pay them a second visit in a short time. In 1713 he published his “Discourse of Freethinking, occasioned by the rise and growth of a sect called Free-thinkers;” which was attacked by several writers, particularly by Hoadly, afterwards bishop of Winchester, in some “Queries recommended to the authors of the late discourse of Free-thinking,” printed in his collection of tracts in 1715, 8vo and by Phileleutherus Lipsiensis, in “Remarks upon a late Discourse of Free-thinking, in a letter to F. H. D. D.” This Phileleutherus Lipsiensis was the learned Bentley; and the person to whom this performance is addressed, Hare, afterwards bishop of Chichester. The first part of these remarks gave birth to a pamphlet said to be written by Hare, entitled, “The clergyman’s thanks to Phileleutherus for his remarks on the late Discourse of Freethinking: in a letter to Dr. Bentley, 1713.” The late Mr. Cumberland, in his “Life of himself,” informs us, that when Collins had fallen into decay of circumstances, which, however, we find no where else mentioned, Dr. Bentley, suspecting he had written him out of credit by his “Phileleutherus Lipsiensis,” secretly contrived to administer to the necessities of his baffled opponent in a manner that did no less credit to his delicacy than his liberality. Of all this Dr. Bentley we believe was capable, but it is certain that Collins lived and died in opulence. | Soon after the publication of this work, Collins made a second trip to Holland; which was ascribed to the general alarm caused by the “Discourse of Free-thinking,” and himself being discovered by his printer. This is taken notice of by Hare: who, having observed that the least appearance of danger is able to damp in a moment all the zeal of the free-thinkers, tells us, that ‘‘ a bare inquiry after the printer of their wicked book has frightened them, and obliged the reputed author to take a second trip into Holland; so great is his courage to defend upon the first appearance of an opposition. And are not these rare champions for free-thinking? Is not their book a demonstration that we are in possession of the liberty they pretend to plead for, which otherwise they durst ne’er have writ? And that they would have been as mute as fishes, had they not thought they could have opened with impunity? M Hare afterwards tells us, that “the reputed author of free-thinking is, for all he ever heard, a sober man, thanks to his natural aversion to intemperance; and that,” he observed, “is more than can be said of some others of the club:” that is, the club of free-thinkers, which were supposed to meet and plan schemes in concert, for undermining the foundations of revealed religion. The “Discourse of Free-thinking” was reprinted at the Hague, with some considerable additions, in 1713, 12mo, though in the title-page it is said to be printed at London. In this edition the translations in several places are corrected from Bentley’s remarks; and some references are made to those remarks, and to Hare’s “Clergyman’s thanks.

While this book was circulating in England, and all parties were exerting their zeal, either by writing or preaching against it, the author is said to have received great civilities abroad. From Holland he went to Flanders, and intended to have visited Paris; but the death of a near relation obliged him to return to London, where he arrived Oct. 18, 1713, greatly disappointed in not having seen France, Italy, &c. In 1715 he retired into the county of Essex, and acted as a justice of the peace and deputy-lieutenant for the same county, as he had done before in the county of Middlesex and liberty of Westminster. The same year he published “A philosophical inquiry concerning Human Liberty: r ’ which was reprinted with some corrections in 1717. Dr. Samuel Clarke wrote remarks upon this inquiry, which are subjoined to the | colJection of papers between him and Leibnitz; but Collins did not publish any reply on this subject, because, as we are told, though he did not think the doctor had the advantage orer him in the dispute, yet, as he had represented his opinions as dangerous in their consequences, and improper to be insisted on, Collins affected to say that, after such an insinuation, he could not proceed in the dispute upon equal terms: The inquiry was translated into French by the rev. Mr. D. and printed in the first volume of Des Maizeaux’s” Recueilde diverses pieces sur la philosophic, la religion naturelle, &c. par M. Leibnitz, Clarke, Newton, &c." published at Amsterdam 1720, 2 vols. 12mo. In 1718 he was chosen treasurer for the county of Essex, to the great joy, it is said, of several tradesmen and others, who had large sums of money due to them from the said county; but could not get it paid them, it having been embezzled or spent by their former treasurer. We are told that he supported the poorest of them with his own private cash, and promised interest to others till it could be raised to pay them: and that in 1722 all the debts were by his integrity, care, and management discharged.

It has already been observed, that he published, in 1724, his “Historical and critical essay upon the 39 Articles, &c.” The same year he published his famous book, called “A discourse of the grounds and reasons of the Christian religion,” in two parts the first, containing some considerations on the quotations made from the Old in the New Testament, and particularly on the prophecies cited from the former, and said to be fulfilled in the latter. The second, containing an examination of the scheme advanced by Whiston in his essay towards restoring the true text of the Old Testament, and for vindicating the citations thence made in the New Testament. To which is prefixed, “An apology for free debate and liberty of writing.” This discourse was immediately attacked by a great number of books; of which Collins has given a complete list, at the end of the preface to his “Scheme of literal Prophecy.” The most considerable were: 1. “A list of suppositions or assertions in the late Discourse of the grounds, &c. which are not therein supported by any real or authentic evidence; for which some such evidence is expected to he produced. By William Whiston, M. A.1724, tfvo. In this piece Whiston treats Collins, together with Toland, in very severe terms, as guilty of impious frauds and | laycraft. 2. “The literal accomplishment of scripture -prophecies, being a full answer to a late Discourse of the grounds, &c. By William Whiston.” 3. “A defence of Christianity from the prophecies of the Old Testament, wherein are considered all the objections against this kind of proof, advanced in a late Discourse of the grounds, &c.” By Edward Chandler, then bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, afterwards of Durham. 4. “A discourse of the Connection of the Prophecies in the Old Testament, and application of them to Christ.” By Samuel Clarke, D. D. rector of St. James’s, Westminster. This however was not intended for a direct answer to Collins’s book, but as a supplement, occasioned by it, to a proposition in Clarke’s “Demonstration of the principles of natural and revealed religion” with which it has since been constantly printed. 5. “An essay upon the Truth of the Christian religion, wherein its real foundation upon the Old Testament is shewn, occasioned by the Discourse of the grounds,” &c. By Arthur Ashley Sykes. Collins gives it as his opinion, that of all the writers against the “Grounds,” &c. Sykes alone has advanced a consistent scheme of things, which he has proposed with great clearness, politeness, and moderation. 6. “The use and intent of Prophecy in the several ages of the church. In six discourses delivered at the Temple church in 1724.” By Thomas Sherlock, D. D. This was not designed as an answer to the “Grounds,” &c. but only to throw light upon the argument from prophecy attacked by our author. The reader will find the rest of the pieces written against the “Grounds,” &c. enumerated by Collins in the place referred to above; among which are Sermons, London Journals, Woolston’s Moderator between an infidel and an apostate, &c. amounting in number to no less than thirty-five, including those already mentioned. Perhaps there seldom has been a. book to which so many answers have been made in so short a time, that is, within the small compass of two years.

In 1726 appeared his “Scheme of Literal Prophecy considered; in a view of the controversy occasioned by a late book, entitled, A Discourse of the Grounds, &c.” It was printed at the Hague in 2 vols. 12mo, and reprinted at London with corrections in 1727, 8vo. In this work he mentions a dissertation he had written, but never published, against Whiston’s “Vindication of the Sibylline oracles” in which he endeavours to shew, that those | oracles were forged by the primitive Christians, who were thence called Sibyllidts by the pagans. He also mentions a ms discourse of his upon the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament. The “Scheme of Literal Prophecy 1 * had several answers made to it: the most con* siderable of which are, 1.A vindication of the defence of Christianity, from the prophecies of the Old Testament.“By Edward Chandler, D. D.; with a letter from the rev. Mr. Masson, concerning the religion of Macrobius, and his testjfnony touching the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem, with a postscript upon Virgil’s fourth eclogue, 1728, in 2 vols. 8vo. 2.” The necessity of Divine Revelation, and the truth of the Christian Revelation asserted, in eight sermons. To which is prefixed a preface, with some remarks on a late book entitled The Scheme of Literal Prophecy considered, &c. By John Rogers, D. D.“1727, 8vo. 3.A letter to the author of the London Journal, April 1, 1727,“written by Dr. Arthur Ashley Sykes. Collins replied to the two last pieces, inA Letter to Rogers, on occasion of his Eight Sermons, &c. to which is added, a Letter printed in the London Journal, April 1, 1727; with an answer to the same, 1727.“In his” Letter to Rogers“he observes, that the doctor had invited him to martyrdom in these words:A confessor or two would be a mighty ornament to his cause. If he expects to convince us that he is in earnest, and believes himself, he should not decline giving us this proof of his sincerity. What will not abide this trial, we shall suspect to have but a poor foundation.“These sentiments, Collins tells us, are in his opinion false, wicked, inhuman, irreligious, inconsistent with the peace pf society, and personally injurious to the author of the” Scheme, &c.“He remarks, that it is a degree of virtue to speak what a man thinks, though he may do it in such a way as to avoid destruction of life and fortune, &c.” He declares, that the cause of liberty, which he defends, is “the cause of virtue, learning, truth, God, religion, and Christianity; that it is the political interest of all countries; that the degree of it we enjoy in England is the strength, ornament, and glory of our own; that, if he can contribute to the defence of so excellent a cause, he shall think he has acted a good part in life: in short, it is a cause,” says he to Dr. Rogers, “in which, if your influence and interest were equal to your inclination to procure martyrdom for me, I would rather suffer, than in any cause whatsoever; | though I should be sorry that Christians should Le so weak and inconsistent with themselves, as to be your instruments in taking my life from me.

His health began to decline several years before his death: and he was extremely afflicted with the stone, which at last put an end to his life, Dec. 13, 1729; he was interred in Oxford chapel. It is remarkable that notwithstanding the accusation of being an enemy to religion, he declared, just before his last minutes, “That as he had always endeavoured, to the best of his abilities, to serve God, his king, and his country, so he was persuaded he was going to that place which God had designed for them that love him.” Presently after, he said, that “the catholic religion is to love God, and to love man;” and he advised such as were about him to have a constant regard to those principles. His library, which was very large and curious, was sold by T. Ballard in 1730-1. The catalogue was drawn up by Dr. Sykes. We are told, that “the corruption among Christians, and the persecuting spirit of the clergy, had given him a prejudice against the Christian religion; and at last induced him to think, that, upon the foot on which it is at present, it is pernicious to mankind.” He has indeed given us himself an unequivocal intimation, that he had actually renounced Christianity, Thus, in answer to Rogers, who had supposed that it was men’s lusts and passions, and not their reason, which made them depart from the gospel, he acknowledges, that <c it may be, and is undoubtedly, the case of many, who reject the gospel, to be influenced therein by their vices and immoralities. It would be very strange,“says he,” if Christianity, which teaches so much good morality, and so justly condemns divers vices, to which men are prone, was not rejected by some libertines on that account; as the several pretended revelations, which are established throughout the world, are by libertines on that very account also. But this cannot be the case of all who reject the gospel. Some of them who reject the gospel lead as good lives as those who receive it. And I suppose there is no difference to the advantage of Christians, in point of morality, between them and the Jews, Mahometans, heathens, or others, who reject Christianity. 1 * But we ought not to conclude this article without remarking, that whatever Mr. Collins’ s character in private life, he was, at the same time, a most unfair writer. He | seemed, with all his morality, to have very little conscience in his quotations, adapting them, without scruple, to his own purposes, however contrary they might be to the genuine meaning of the authors cited, or to the connection in which the passages referred to stood. So many facts of this kind were undeniably proved against him by his adversaries, that he must ever be recorded as a flagrant instance of literary disingenuity. Let these facts, which are clearly proved by Leland, be compared with his dying declarations. In addition to the answerers of Collins, we may mention dean Swift, in an excellent piece of irony, entitled “Mr. Collins’s Discourse of Freethinking, put into plain English, by way of abstract, for the use of the poor,1713, reprinted in Mr. Nichols’s edition of his Works, vol. X. The twelfth chapter also of the “Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus,” in Pope’s Works, is an inimitable ridicule on Collins’s arguments against Clarke, to prove the soul to be only a quality.

In July 1698, when he was just entered into his 23d year, he married Martha, the daughter of sir Francis Child, who was the year following lord mayor of London and by her he had two sons and two daughters. The elder of his sons died in his infancy. Anthony, the younger, was born Oct. 1701, and was a gentleman of great sweetness of temper, a fine understanding, and of good learning. He was educated at Bene’t college in Cambridge, and died universally lamented by all that knew him, Dec. 20, 1723. The year after, Collins married a second wife, namely Elizabeth, the daughter of sir Walter Wrottesley, bart. but had no children by her. His daughters survived him, and were unmarried at his death. 1

1

Biog. Brit.—Leland’s Deistical Writers.—Whiston’s Life.—Guardian, 8vo edit. 1806, vol. I. 15; II. 254.—Cumberland’s Life, 4to, p. 11.—Curll’s Coltection of Letters, &c. vol. IV. p. 29.