Charles Reade as I Knew Him



John Coleman (died 21 April 1904) was an actor and producer who knew Charles Reade but did not seem directly acquainted with Wilkie Collins. So these few mentions of Wilkie are second-hand from Charles Reade.


The termination of Vining's tenure of the Princess's did not deter him from acting elsewhere, and he played two or three engagements, one with dubious results at the Holborn in the 'Rag Picker of Paris' (one of Lemaitre's great parts); another at the Olympic as Count Fosco in Wilkie Collins' prosaic and long-winded version of his own striking story of 'The Woman in White.'

By-the-by, this work, in the construction of which Collins was assisted by Regnier, the famous 'coach' of the Français, was the precursor of the numerous inarticulate plays which terminate upon an empty stage and a mere note of interrogation.


Amongst other features of his workshop there used to be a couple of volumes full of remarkable letters from remarkable people.

A note from George H. Lewes states: 'An article by you that wouldn't be worth printing would be a curiosity in its way; it must be so infernally wrong. Are we never to see you on Sunday between five and six? We are always in, and generally get some good talkers to come.'

The other letters I am not at liberty to quote, but the endorsements are so quaint that, by his permission, I made notes of some of them, and quote a few.

One from Wilkie Collins is endorsed: 'An artist of the pen; there are terribly few amongst us.'


Of all his contemporaries he yielded the palm to Dickens, and to him alone. Him he always acknowledged as his master.

Next for variety and scope came Bulwer Lytton.

'For literary ingenuity in building up a plot and investing it with mystery, give me dear old Wilkie Collins against the world.'
'Payne's stories have beguiled me of many a weary hour. For accuracy of detail, ingenuity of construction, and sustained interest, he treads hard upon the heels of Wilkie Collins, while he has a quaint grace of manner and an occasional epigrammatic sprightliness all his own.'


On Tuesday, 15th April 1884, all that was mortal of Charles Reade was buried in Willesden Churchyard. The funeral rites were as unostentatious as his life had been. There were only ten chief mourners -- kinsmen and old friends -- among whom I was privileged to take a place. Wilkie Collins was peremptorily ordered by his physician to refrain from attending; but he wrote a most touching letter, bewailing the loss of a comrade of forty years' standing.

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