Half hours with novelists


Henry Thomas Mackenzie Bell (1856-1930) was a minor poet and biographer. Although he says he saw Wilkie in the late 188os whether he actually met and talked with him is not clear. This short essay introduces a piece of Wilkie's writing. Collins was not, of course, born in Tavistock Square. His three volume book, published in 1927, contained extracts from novels with a short introductory essay.


Born in Tavistock Square, London, Jan. 8, 1824. Died at 82 Wimpole Street, London, Sept. 23, 1889

HE was the son of William Collins, a Royal Academician and a notable painter; while his mother was also associated, in some degree, with art. After spending a while at a school in London, he was sent abroad, there acquiring French and German. Devoted for a time to commercial pursuits, he was subsequently a student of Lincolnís Inn. Eventually, however, he gave himself entirely to literature. His first novel was Antonina: or the Fall o f Rome. Its success was only moderate because it happened to be an historical tale: perhaps, the most difficult form of imaginative work in which to excel. Basil (1852) was the first of his stories to exhibit the characteristics, especially his own. Several other efforts, include the interesting Hide and Seek, which depicts, feelingly, how a deaf and dumb girl is made by kindness to find the world not altogether dreary. His three outstanding achievements are The Woman in White, Armadale, and The Moonstone. He had much close companionship with Dickens, especially as to Household Words and All the Year Round.

Probably, incited thereto by Dickensí success in this respect, he gave readings, in America, from his own compositions throughout 1873-4-the bulk of his readings being from the short tale The Frozen Deep. When in Great Britain once more-he grew much of a recluse, partly, because he was bored by indiscreet attentions owing to his celebrity, partly, because of ill-health and the habit of opium taking originally induced thereby. Despite his really kindly nature, he was, nevertheless, inclined to employ, in talk, his genius for clever sarcasm, as when he called the "official" life of Dickens "The Life of John Forster, with occasional Anecdotes of Charles Dickens." When, a year or two before his death, I saw him, I was deeply impressed by the contrast between this feeble, attenuated, small body, and his magnificent brow.

From Half Hours with Representative Novelists of the 19th Century by (Henry Thomas) Mackenzie Bell (1856-1930), London 1927 vol.I p385.

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