Page:Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day.djvu/141

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77
Wilkie Collins.

moor,' where every chapter is necessary—not one is redundant; where every line contributes to the final and splendidly effective climax. And in this quality alone can Mr. Collins's novels be compared, with advantage to their author, with the greater works of greater men.

His plots are commonly intricate. Often it is too difficult for the reader to hold all the threads for it to be a pleasant task to peruse his books, for he has the trick of ending every chapter with a bang. He is admirably suited to supply the wants of periodicals to whose readers a sensational story is the one attraction, e. g.

On the white dress of the child was traced, in letters of blood, the word 'HELP!'

This habit is contrary to every true principle of art, and is dictated, probably, by the wants of periodical literature.

The characters in Mr. Collins's books are some of them very original and striking, being manifestly sketches from real life; but the situations in which these puppets are placed by the wire-puller are often wildly improbable. 'Fact is stranger than fiction,' Mr. Collins will reply. Indeed, he threatens us with a production which shall put the plot of 'The Woman in White' in the shade, made from materials kindly sent him by various correspondents. These are, of course, narratives of fact. His English is not drawn from the purest fount, nor is his literary style to be compared with that of several living writers. He is a manufacturer of interesting works of fiction, pure and simple. He has made it his business in life. And, under the circumstances, it is perhaps a little provoking that he should so often ring the changes on such phrases as 'my art,' 'my purpose in writing the book,' 'the object I had in view,' &c., as each of his later novels has probably brought him 4000l.

We should place 'Man and Wife' among his best productions; but in literature he will be remembered as the author of 'The Woman in White.' That wonderful story made him famous.