(8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889)
- WE MUCH REGRET to announce the death of Mr. Wilkie Collins, the well-known novelist, which took place yesterday morning at his house in Wimpole-Street.
- Wilkie Collins, whose Christian name was given him in memory of his father’s intimate friendship with his brother Academician, Sir David Wilkie, did not receive any very thorough education; he went first to a private school, then spent two years with his parents in Italy, then was articled to a firm in the tea trade, then became a student at Lincoln’s Inn, and finally, after his father’s death, found his true path in the profession of letters. His first work was a biography of his father, which was published in two volumes in 1848 a very respectable performance for a young and comparatively untrained man, but somewhat diffuse in style, and giving little promise of the future literary eminence of the author.
- Soon after this Mr. Collins became intimately acquainted with Charles Dickens, and the friendship had a profound effect upon the whole of Collins’s later life.
- In 1860, however, he had his success – a remarkable success, and one most eminently deserved – on the publication of that striking story ‘The Woman in White.’
- It is avowedly a sensational story; it is a story of mystery, of intrigue, of secret plotting, of crime, and of thrice-ingenious discovery; but it is at the same time something more. It differs, for instance, from Gaboriau’s novels in one essential particular. They are police novels pure and simple; their interest wholly depends upon the riddle that is asked in the first chapter and that is slowly answered through the succeeding pages. But ‘The Woman in White’ is a novel of character as well, and Count Fosco is a creation almost of the first order.
- Of course, it is easy to see the influences that were at work upon him when he wrote it, and especially to recognise the influence of Dickens; but, on the other hand, there is reason to believe that Collins had nearly as much influence upon the last works of the greater writer as Dickens had upon him.
- In 1862 there followed ‘No Name,’ a curious story, which neither deserved nor obtained anything like the success of its predecessor, but which still had a certain quality of its own. ‘Armadale’ came next, in 1866, having first appeared in the Cornhill Magazine; and then, in 1868, there followed the second of Collins’s great successes, ‘The Moonstone.’ From some points of view, indeed, this book may be placed higher than ‘The Woman in White,’ for while the interest was kept up quite as skilfully, the original plan was even more ingenious than that of the earlier novel.
- There were elements of mysterious poetry about the Indian priests, and the last chapters of ‘The Moonstone’ will remain, so long as sensation novels are read, as a model of all that is most sensational, most thrilling, and most ingeniously probable in the midst of improbability.
- The stories that followed – ‘Man and Wife’ (1870), ‘Poor Miss Finch’ (1872), ‘Miss or Mrs.?’ (1873), and several others – were read by multitudes of people, but in none of them, excepting in ‘The New Magdalen,’ did it seem that the hand preserved its cunning. This last-named book, however, was a moving and an interesting story, and on the stage it has awakened in many an audience something very like enthusiasm.
- It might, indeed, be said that Wilkie Collins’s gifts in general were of a dramatic character. He was a master of plot and a master of dramatic situations; his style was rather rapid and nervous than literary. He was fond of the theatre and of actors, his affection for them dating from the old days of Tavistock House and the days of his collaboration with Dickens. Often they acted together on the private stage, and, though they never actually wrote a play together, they tastes in this respect were alike; they enjoyed and understood the world of the theatre perhaps better than they understood the world of real life.
- The funeral will take place at Kensal-green Cemetery on Friday, at noon.