Collins, Arthur (DNB00)
COLLINS, ARTHUR (1690?–1760), author of the 'Peerage,' was born probably in 1690. His father had been in 1669 gentleman-usher to Queen Catherine of Braganza, consort of Charles II, and while dissipating a large fortune is said to have given him a liberal education. Collins is first noticed as a bookseller at 'the Black Boy, opposite St. Dunstan's Church in Fleet Street,' in partnership with Abel Roper, a name which appears among those of the publishers of Dugdale's ' Baronage ' issued in 1675-6. In 1709 was published the first edition of Collins's ' Peerage of England, or an Historical and Genealogical Account of the Present Nobility. … collected as well from our best historians, publick records, and other sufficient authorities, as from the personal information of most of the Nobility,' without the compiler's name, but described on the title-page as ' printed … for Abel Roper and Arthur Collins.' It is an octavo volume of only 470 pages, and its accounts of noble families are naturally meagre. But it supplied a want by its accounts of those families in which peerages had been conferred subsequently to the publication of Dugdale's 'Baronage,' and in the preface to the second edition the compiler speaks of ' the extraordinary success ' of the first. This second edition, with large additions and corrections, appeared in 1710 (some copies are dated 1712), a second volume being added in 1711 (some copies are dated 1714), ' printed for A. Collins ' alone. A third edition in two parts, ' sold by Arthur Collins,' was issued in 1714 (some copies are dated 1715), followed by a supplementary volume in 1716. The so-called fourth edition of 1717 is said to be merely a reissue of the third with new titles and an appendix (Lowndes, i. 498). In 1716, in expectation of a place under government, apparently a situation in the custom house, Collins gave up his business in Fleet Street (Thoresby Correspondence, ii. 359, 363). In 1720 appeared, in two volumes, his 'Baronetage of England, being an Historical Account of Baronets from their first introduction.' In the preface Collins speaks of it as merely an instalment of a projected work, and of the great discouragements which he had met with in compiling it among the rest, the failure of many families to let him see their pedigrees. In a letter of March 1723 (ib. ii. 377) he represents himself as very poor, as still expecting some provision to be made for him by the government, as not intending to publish any more of the ' Baronetage,' and as occupied with the preparation of an enlarged peerage. Of this work a one-volume instalment was issued in 1727, as ' The English Baronage ; or an Historical Account of the Lives and most memorable Actions of our Nobility, with their Descent, Marriages, and Issue.' It was dedicated to Sir Robert Walpole, on whom there is a rather fulsome eulogium in a preliminary address 'to the reader, while a flattering account of the Walpole family is thrust into the fourteenth volume on the strength of the peerage conferred on Walpole's eldest son, Lord Walpole. In 1735 appeared, in three volumes, the first approximately complete edition of Collins's 'Peerage,' with the arms, crests, and supporters of the then existing peers. In compiling it Collins drew largely onDugdale, of whose manuscript corrections of the ' Baronage ' he had become possessed, but he added much multifarious information laboriously collected by himself. A second of this new series of editions (4 vols. 1741) was further distinguished by copious references to authorities. The completed 'English Baronetage,' 5 vols. 1741, is often ascribed to Collins, an error committed even by Sir Egerton Brydges in the preface to his edition of the 'Peerage.' It is more accurately called Wotton's, from the name of the editor, who in the preface, however, acknowledges obligations to Collins for assistance. In the preface to a supplement (2 vols. 1750) to the 1741 edition of the 'Peerage,' Collins complains that he has spent his fortune in researches the results of which he will be unable to publish without help. He contrasts the neglect of himself with the favour shown to Dugdale and Ashmole. In a plaintive letter to the Duke of Newcastle, 3 Feb. 1752 (Nichols, viii. 392), he describes himself as engaged on a new edition of the 'Peerage,' but without funds to pay for a transcriber. At the same time he acknowledges kindness from Lord Granville. In another letter to the Duke of Newcastle (Gent. Mag. liii. 414) Collins represents himself as ' reduced to great straits ' by having to pay for printing of his account of Holles's family, and asks for ' a warrant for some money.' Ultimately he received from the king a pension of 400l. a year, and thus probably was enabled to complete the third of the enlarged editions of his 'Peerage,' 5 vols. in 6, 1756, the last published under his own superintendence. He died in March 1760, and was buried in Battersea Church, 'aged 70,' according to the burial register (Lysons, Environs of London, Supplement, 1811, p. 4), a statement irreconcilable with the date (1682) generally assigned to his birth. The posthumous editions of his ' Peerage ' are : (1) the fourth, 7 vols. 1768 ; (2) the fifth, 8 vols. 1779, edited by B. Long-mate, who in 1784 added a supplementary volume, bringing the work up to date; and (3) the final and standard edition, 'Collins's Peerage of England, Genealogical, Biographical, and Historical, greatly augmented and continued to the Present Time by Sir Egerton Brydges,' 9 vols. 1812. Collins's indefatigable industry and general accuracy are worthy of all praise. In these respects he rivalled Dugdale, on whose method he improved but little. In prosecuting his unrequited, or very tardily requited, labours, on which he expended not only a lifetime but all that he possessed, his only inducement to persevere was, as he himself has said (Preface to the Historical Collections of the Families of Cavendish, &c.), ' an innate desire to preserve the memory of famous men ; ' and his general disinterestedness must be set off against what may often seem adulation of birth and rank. Carlyle, in his rectorial address to the students of Edinburgh University, acknowledged that when writing his ' Cromwell ' he ' got a great deal of help out of poor Collins,' whom he called ' a diligent and dark London bookseller of about a hundred years ago, a very meritorious man,' and whose chief work he pronounced ' a very poor peerage as a work of genius, but an excellent book for diligence and fidelity.' In a letter of 9 Feb. 1752 to theDuke of Newcastle, already quoted, Collins says : ' I have left, in manuscript, an account of my family, my life, and the cruel usage I have undeservedly undergone ; ' but no trace of its survival has been discovered by the writer of this article.
The other works compiled or edited by Collins are: 1. 'The Life of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, published from the original manuscript wrote soon after his Lordship's death, now in the Library of the . . . Earl of Exeter,' 1732, Collins adding memoirs of the Cecil family and other matter. 2. ' Proceedings, Precedents, and Arguments on Claims and Controversies concerning Baronies by writ and other honours,' 1734, fol., much of the volume being based on the collections made by Gregory King [q. v.], Lancaster herald. 3. 'The Life and Glorious Actions of Edward, Prince of Wales, commonly called the Black Prince,' 1740, which, with the 'History of John of Gaunt,' published in the same year, was written for the uncompleted 'English Baronage' of 1727. 4. 'Genealogical Account of the Ancient Family of Harley,' 1741. 5. 'Memoirs of the Antient and Noble Family of Sackville,' 1741, consisting simply of those leaves detached from the copies of the 'Peerage' of 1741 which contain the history of the Sackvilles. 6. 'Letters and Memorials of State in the Reigns of Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, King James, King Charles I, part of the Reign of King Charles II, and Oliver's Usurpation, faithfully transcribed from the originals at Penshurst Place in Kent, and from his Majesty's Office of Papers and Records of State,' 2 vols. fol. 1746, published by subscription. To the 'Sydney Papers,' as this work is commonly called, Collins added 'genealogical and historical observations,' and ' memorials of the actions of the Sydneys,' with Sir Philip Sydney's 'defence of Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester.' 7. 'A History of the Ancient and Illustrious Family of the Percys,' 1750. 8. 'Historical Collections of the Noble Families of Cavendish, Holies, Vere and Harley, and Ogle, with . . . prints of the principal persons, engraved by Mr. George Vertue from original pictures drawn by the most eminent painters,' fol. 1752. The Countess Dowager of Oxford, widow of the son and successor of Harley the statesman, contributed to the printing of this volume, which contained a great deal about her ancestors. 9. 'Historical Collections of the Family of Windsor,' 1754, 'printed for the author.' 10. 'A History of the Noble Family of Carteret, … inscribed to … John, Earl Granville,' 1756, privately printed.
[Collins's Works, especially the Prefaces; notice of him in Gent. Mag. for April 1799; Nichols's Lit. Anecd.; Letters of Eminent Men addressed to Ralph Thoresby, 1832; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn), 1864.]