Wilkie's letters

The Public Face of Wilkie Collins published 2,987 letters of Wilkie Collins, most of them for the first time.

These pages support and expand the published volumes with 84 items shown both in manuscript and line by line transcription. Some have supporting material and photographs.

More than 200 letters have been discovered since The Public Face of Wilkie Collins went to press. An annual Addenda and Corrigenda has been published in the Wilkie Collins Society Journal 2005, 2006, and 2007 and also each year 2005 to 2011 as a separate pamphlet by the Wilkie Collins Society. More than 3200 letters have now been identified. As part of the preparations for a publicly available database of Wilkie Collins's Collected Letters each letter is being assigned a number as it is published. These are shown in the entries below. Recent discoveries due to appear in Addenda and Corrigenda (8) do not have a number as that will be assigned on printed publication. They are denoted [A&C8]. Two items at the bottom of the list are numbered with four zeroes and a letter eg 0000a. They are scraps that have no identified date or recipient and are outside the editorial principles which allow inclusion in The Public Face and its supplements.

These pages are the only substantial collection of Wilkie Collins's letters published with images of the original manuscripts. The letters range from important to insignificant and cover more than forty years of correspondence from 1848 to 1889. The manuscripts show the changes in the handwriting, address, and style of paper and, in some cases, envelope. Two are in the hands of Wilkie's frequent amanuenses, Caroline Graves and her daughter Harriet Elizabeth, known as Carrie.

  1. 11 December 1848 to Richard Westmacott [0055] a receipt for purchasing Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq., R.A.
    With an image of Westmacott's father.
  2. 14 April 1858 to Herbert Watkins [0278] enclosing a book.
  3. June 1856 to August 1858 to Harriet Collins [3119] about dining with her.
  4. 24 December 1859 to Messrs Williams & Norgate [0321] about importing copies of a Tauchnitz edition of his stories, with a form to Customs & Excise. 
    With a photograph of Bernhard Tauchnitz and an image of the book..
  5. 1858 - 1859 to Edmund Yates [0323] a scrap only of a letter from Wilkie Collins to Yates.
    With a picture of Yates.
  6. 27 November 1860 to Sampson Low [3148] enclosing an item - probably proofs - from his brother Charles in Paris.
    With an engraving from Charles Collins's The Eye-Witness.
  7. 25 March 1861 to Messrs Harper & Brothers, New York [0404] asking them to assist his friend John Russell Buckler
    With images of two of the Harper brothers.
  8. 30 March 1861 to Mrs Mitchell [3023] advising that her friend's poems are unlikely to be published
  9. 1861 to A W Bostwick [3151] a signature cut from a letter.
  10. 6 February 1862 to Sir James Emerson Tennent [0456] about making arrangements for dinner.
    With an image of Tennent.
  11. 25 March 1862 Unidentified [3082] requesting Ice from 'the Manager'.
  12. 6-20 August 1863 to George Redford [0549] accepting dinner tomorrow and referring to the Isle of Man.
  13. 4 April 1864 to George Russell [0572] meeting tomorrow, Shakespeare dinner put off.
  14. 22 November 1864 to Miss Thackeray [0605] the whereabouts of Jane and thanks for helping his brother Charles.
  15. 20 October 1865 to Mrs Moncton [0652] a short note fulfilling her request for an autograph.
  16. 7 June 1866 to Mrs. Mitchell [0685] about a dinner engagement. 
  17. 5 July 1866 to John Palgrave Simpson [0693] about an opera written by George Smith and mentioning The Lighthouse.
  18. 15 September 1866 to Miss Constance Lennox [0705] arranging to send her some photographs. 
    With photographs of Wilkie Collins from 1866.
  19. 12 October 1866 to John Palgrave Simpson [0710] about selling the rights to The Frozen Deep
  20. 9 December 1866 to Nina Lehmann [0714] a long, detailed letter about the reception of The Frozen Deep, the dramatisation of Armadale, his journey back from Italy and personal matters.
    With a picture of Nina Lehmann.
  21. May 1867 a small signed scrap [0752]
  22. 16 November 1867 to Benjamin Webster [0787] about Carlotta Leclercq's part in the play No Thoroughfare
    With a photograph of the actress Carlotta Leclercq.
  23. 13 February 1868 a signed compliment slip [0822]
  24. 17 November 1868 [3125] a signed scrap for an autograph hunter
  25. 12 February 1869 to Bernhard Tauchnitz [0870] thanking him for a book. 
    With a photograph of Tauchnitz.
  26. 3 March 1869 to Benjamin Webster [0874] about the contract for the production of Black and White at The Adelphi theatre.
    With a photograph of Webster in No Thoroughfare.
  27. 14 June 1869 to Margaret Carpenter [0891] thanking his aunt for a memento of his late mother.
  28. 7 March 1870 to William Dickson [0960] about selling his father's painting A Nutting Party.
    With an image of the painting
  29. 27 December 1870 to Miss Frith [1044] with views on Christmas and a dinner engagement. 
  30. 6 March 1871 to W P Frith [1070] about engagements and lack of formality. 
    With a fine engraving of Frith.
  31. 23 May 1871 to Walter Lacy [1095] with medical information and hopes to see him soon.
  32. 29 June 1871 to William F Tindell [3156] Has rheumatic gout, can he call to see him.
  33. 4 July 1871 to Harry [1101] about his and Charles's health and with a signature for an admirer.
  34. 26 July 1871 to unidentified [3093] probably sent to an autograph hunter.
  35. 12 May 1873 to Thomas Faed RA [3100] part of a letter supporting Edward Pigott's bid for a job.
  36. 25 October 1873 to James T Fields [A&C8] he will be in Boston next week and will write again.
  37. 1 November 1873 to an unidentified autograph hunter [1386] a signature and date written on a folding sheet of lined paper.
  38. 10 July 1874 to an unidentified autograph hunter [3130] a signature and date on a neatly clipped piece of laid paper
  39. 18 March 1875 a signed and dated scrap [1526] with a booklist from c1885.
  40. 27 March 1875 to Richard Edgcumbe [1531] accepting a position on the Byron Memorial committee.
  41. 10 September 1875 to Kate Field [1557] about her visit and his health and her play.
    With a picture of Kate Field.
  42. 27 December 1875 to John Palgrave Simpson [1586] about staging a play in Germany
  43. 26 January 1876 to unidentified [3013] a dated signature only
  44. 11 April 1876 to Anne Benson Procter [3161] Gout in the eye but recovering; glad about her new house.
  45. 24 June 1876 to T H French [1633] about possible performances of Miss Gwilt in the States. 
    With a picture of Ada Cavendish.
  46. 26 July 1877 to Charles Collette [1688] autograph envelope only.
    With a picture of Charles Collette.
  47. 30 July 1877 to Kate Field [1691] about Doctor Sayre of New York.
    With pictures of Kate Field and Dr Sayre.
  48. 1 August 1877 to George Claridge [3008] signed front of an envelope which probably enclosed an order or a cheque
  49. 6 August 1877 to Charles Collette [1693] sending him proofs of the dramatic version of The Moonstone.
    With a picture of Charles Collette.
  50. 19 December 1877 to Messrs Williams & Norgate [3051] asking for the form needed to get his latest book imported
    With an image of the book.
  51. 27 February 1879 to Charles Thomas [1826e] a signed envelope
  52. 23 April 1879 unidentified [3054] A signature probably for an autograph hunter.
  53. 1 May 1879 to John W Hinton [1844] thanking him for a book.
  54. 21 May 1879 to Andrew Chatto [1848] confirming a meeting tomorrow.
  55. 11 June 1879 to Charles Thomas [1856] a signed envelope which enclosed copy of The Fallen Leaves
  56. 23 June 1879 to Charles Thomas [1861] a signed envelope.
  57. 26 September 1879 to Thomas Janvier [3108] a signed envelope
  58. 1879 to Georgina Hogarth [1889] a scrap cut from a letter asking when she will be at home.
    With a photograph of Georgina.
  59. 12 April 1880 to Leonora E Frank [1911] sending her an autograph
  60. 24 June 1881 to John Palgrave Simpson [1962] asking him to vote for Charles Kent to join the Athenaeum. 
  61. 18 August 1881 to Andrew Chatto [1970a] enclosure with a letter amending The Black Robe.
    This enclosure is not transcribed in full in The Public Face.
  62. 8 November 1881 to Edward A Buck [3109] envelope front probably enclosing copy for the story 'How I married him'.
  63. 9 January 1884 to New England Mutual Life Insurance Co [3111] envelope only, letter elsewhere.
  64. 26 February 1884 to unidentified [3011] signature for autograph hunter.
  65. 2 August 1884 to Ada Cavendish [3140] giving her the exclusive right to perform The New Magdalen outside London
    With a Sarony photograph of Ada Cavendish as Mercy Merrick in The New Magdalen in 1873 in New York. 
  66. 6 October 1884 to James Payn [2997] suggesting a translator for his Italian work.
    With a cartoon of Payn.
  67. 10 October 1885 to Alexander P Watt [3143] an envelope only, but the contents can be inferred.
    With a census extract for Watt
  68. 16 November 1885 to Eleanor Selfe [2496] there is so far no sequel to The Fallen Leaves
  69. 1 June 1886 to Daniel S Ford [2568] Editor of the Youth's Companion in Boston about progress on three stories.  
    With an advert for The Youth's Companion.
  70. 18 September 1886 to unidentified [3113] apparently a signature for an autograph hunter
  71. 10 January 1887 [3013] about a premium to Manhattan Insurance company
  72. 25 April 1887 to Alfred Nutting [2712] declining an invitation to join his association's council.
  73. 25 June 1887 to Miss Burt [2731] telling her Armadale is his best novel.
  74. 18 July 1888 to James Stanley Little [3073] enclosing 10/6 for a dinner to American authors
  75. 30 July 1888 to Mrs Flint [2878] apologising for mislaying her letter.
  76. 24 September 1888 to unidentified [2998] a signature on a card probably for an autograph hunter
  77. 1 February 1889 to Benjamin Franklin Stevens [2923] saying he has referred a literary proposal to his agent A P Watt. 
  78. 19 February 1889 to Edward William Bok [2934] thanking him for copies of an excellent engraving of a photograph.
    With a picture of Bok.
  79. Undated to Coutts and Co. [3015] A fragment of an order to pay Naylor & Co.
  80. Undated to unidentified [3076] close and signature cut from a letter - and believe me.
  81. Undated to unidentified [2981] the last four lines and signature of a letter about sending proofs when they are set up.
  82. Undated to unidentified [3198] this scrap was cut from a letter for the valediction and signature.
  83. Undated to unidentified [0000a] with compliments and a signature on a small scrap presumably to an autograph hunter.
    Not in The Public Face due to editorial principles
  84. Undated to unidentified [0000b] very truly yours and a signature cut from a letter.
    Not in The Public Face due to editorial principles

Background and other sources
Wilkie Collins was a prolific correspondent. Most of his letters have disappeared and no doubt many still remain undiscovered. Dorothy L Sayers, the crime writer, who admired Collins and began a biography of him, wrote in 1928 to a friend

"...I have had a kind letter from Millais - but alas he knows nothing! That his father had "many letters" of Wilkie's but that these have "now all disappeared". It is maddening. It is like a conspiracy. He refers me to the Dickens family. Ha! ha!."

Charles Dickens burned many letters from Collins in his infamous fire at Gad's Hill Place on 3 September 1860. Nevertheless, more than 3000 of Collins's letters have now been identified in public and private collections around the world. Most are brought together in

The rest are published as they are found in an annual supplement to The Public Face.

There are three other published editions of some of Wilkie's letters.

  1. The Letters of Wilkie Collins edited by William Baker and William Clarke, Macmillan, London 1999 ISBN 0-333-73247-2. 
    The book publishes the full text of 462 letters and a further 126 letters are summarised. An appendix lists the remaining 1632 letters they had identified at that time, though with some errors. The book has a comprehensive commentary and footnotes and, despite errors of transcription and dating, is an essential companion to The Public Face of Wilkie Collins.
  2. The University of Texas Collection of the Letters of Wilkie Collins, Victorian Novelist Dissertation by William Rollin Coleman, University of Texas at Austin, 1975. 
    Contains transcripts of 262 letters from 1847 to 1889 with an introduction, full footnotes and an index. This thesis is almost impossible to obtain and contains numerous errors of transcription, dating, and addressee.
  3. Six Letters of Wilkie Collins from the Charlotte Ashley Felton Memorial Library at Stanford University introduced by J Terry Bender, Charles Wood, San Francisco, 1957.
    This limited edition book contains six letters in facsimile and transcript from the 1870s and 1880s.
Many letters are quoted and cited in the various biographies, especially the four major ones by Robinson 1951, Davis 1956, Clarke 1989 and Peters 1991. Some letters can also be found in some modern books including.
  1. The Letters of Charles Dickens ed. Graham Storey, British Academy Pilgrim Edition vol.IX, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1997 has a transcript of one of the three known letters from Wilkie Collins to Charles Dickens on p.568
  2. 'Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade: Some Unpublished Letters' by Thomas D Clareson, an essay in  Victorian Essays: A Symposium edited by Clareson and Warren D Anderson, Kent State University Press 1967. The essay lists 27 letters and includes partial or full transcripts (with some errors) and commentary for some of them. The letters are all published accurately and in full from the original manuscripts in The Public Face (see above).
  3. Robert Lee Wolff Nineteenth Century Fiction Garland Publishing, Inc. New York 1981
    The bibliography of Wolff's collection of Collins's books pp254-272 includes transcripts of 27 letters.
  4. M L Parrish and E V Miller Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade: First Editions Described with Notes London, 1940 includes transcripts of 36 letters, 28 in full.
  5. 'Wilkie Collins in the Parrish Collection' by William Baker, Princeton University Library Chronicle LXII No.3 Spring 2001 pp501-518 summarises 16 letters and publishes one in full.

Other sources for letters are the books of reminiscences or biographies by people who knew Wilkie Collins. For many letters these books provide the only source for the text as the manuscript is unknown. The Public Face of Wilkie Collins contains a comprehensive source list of previously published letters of Wilkie Collins (see I xiii-xvii). Full or partial transcripts of some letters are found in the catalogues of auction houses and dealers in manuscripts or books. More than 200 letters are only known through secondary sources.

Updated 4 June 2012

All material on these pages is Paul Lewis 1999-2012