Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/59

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Collins
Collins
47

on 8 Jan. 1824, was named after his father's intimate friend and brother academician, Sir David Wilkie. He always called himself and was addressed by his friends as Wilkie, the William being allowed to fall into abeyance. After private education at Highbury, he spent two or three years with his parents in Italy, and in 1841 was articled by his father to the London firm of Antrobus &Co., who were engaged in the tea trade. While thus employed, and while under the influence of a strong boyish admiration for Bulwer Lytton, he clandestinely produced a novel in which he utilised with great cleverness all the local information he had acquired at Rome. His father was so pleased with the novel (published some years later as 'Antonina') that he emancipated him from the tea warehouse, and caused his name to be entered at Lincoln's Inn (18 May 1846), whence he was called to the bar on 21 Nov. 1851. In the meantime his father died (in 1847), and Wilkie first appeared in print as his biographer. His rambling and diffuse, but on the whole very creditable, performance appeared in two volumes in 1848. Extremely clever and versatile, he at first cherished the idea of supporting himself and his mother by following in his father's footsteps, and he exhibited a landscape at the Royal Academy in 1849. At the same time he prepared for press his novel 'Antonina,' which was accorded an encouraging reception upon its appearance in 1850, and in 1851, as the fruit of a summer vacation in the neighbourhood of Penzance, he published his 'Rambles beyond Railways.' He only preceded the Cornish railway by one year, but the book was a success, and went through several editions. In this same year Wilkie Collins first met Charles Dickens, and from this time may be dated his vocation to letters as a profession. Collins's conception of the novel as written drama (by preference melodrama) harmonised exactly with that of Dickens, and the two novelists, unequal as they were both in genius and reputation, became almost at once firm friends and active correspondents. The letters of Dickens (which alone are preserved) are among the most interesting that we possess from his pen, and the constant inquiries as to the state of his friend's health indicate very clearly the physical weakness that Collins had to contend with even thus early in his career. In September 1852 Collins took part in the theatricals organised by Dickens at his residence, Tavistock House, and for performance there he wrote in 1855 'The Lighthouse.' Dickens formed a very high opinion of his friend's novel, 'Hide and Seek,' produced in 1854. In 1855 Collins began contributing to Dickens's periodical 'Household Words' with 'Sister Rose,' a story in four parts. He contributed again to the 'Holly Tree' Christmas number of 1855, and he spent the following winter with Dickens at Paris, and planned the 'Wreck of the Golden Mary' and 'Frozen Deep.' Both 'After Dark' and 'The Dead Secret' appeared serially in 'Household Words.' During the latter part of 1857 he further collaborated with Dickens in 'The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices,' and 'The Perils of certain English Prisoners' (for which Collins wrote chap, ii.) In 1859 he contributed the 'Queen of Hearts' to 'All the Year Round,' with which 'Household Words' was by this time incorporated, and in the same periodical appeared during 1860 his first great popular success, 'The Woman in White.' Excelling in every trick that a novelist has at his disposal, he proved a splendid serial writer, and all his best works, after the ' Woman in White,' such as 'No Name,' 'Armadale,' 'The Moonstone,' and 'The New Magdalen,' were produced in this fashion 'Armadale' and the 'New Magdalen' in the 'Cornhill' and 'Temple Bar' respectively, the other three (comprising his most brilliant work) in 'All the Year Round.' In 1867 Collins joined Dickens in writing 'No Thoroughfare.' During 1873-4 he followed Dickens's example in visiting the United States and giving public readings his short story, 'The Frozen Deep,' being generally selected for this purpose. Subsequently his play, 'Rank and Riches,' which had proved a failure at the Adelphi (June 1883), had a long and most successful career in America. After his return from America he became more and more of a recluse, though he occasionally visited Ramsgate during the summer. Intimacies formed as a young man led to his being harassed, after he became famous, in a manner which proved very prejudicial to his peace of mind. Though a genial host, he easily adopted a somewhat cynical and pessimistic tone in conversation. He was very critical of the official 'Life' of Charles Dickens, which he called 'The Life of John Forster, with occasional Anecdotes of Charles Dickens.' His own copy was covered with annotations and corrections. The last years of his life witnessed the gradual decline of his powers, due in large measure to ill-health, to relieve which he had recourse to large and always increasing doses of opium. At the time of his being called to the bar he was residing at Gloucester Place, whence he removed to Hanover Place (where Edward Pigott, Millais, and Holman