Frith's Reminiscences


William Powell Frith RA (1819-1909) was a distinguished artist particularly of narrative paintings. He was a close and early friend of Wilkie and his brother Charles Allston Collins with whom he studied at the Royal Academy. These brief lines are the only mentions of Wilkie in Frith's two volume Autobiography and Reminiscences and a third volume of Further Reminscences all published in 1888. Charles gets not a single mention. This self-portrait was done in 1883.

I think it was at this time that I first saw Dickens as an actor. He played the principal character in a piece called "The Frozen Deep." written by my old friend Wilkie Collins, in a theatre erected in the garden of Tavistock House. I append a bill of the play:
[vol I p265]

It was about this time that Dickens bought the property at Gad’s Hill, near Rochester—the reputed locality of the famous Falstaff robbery—upon which his longing youthful eyes had been cast so many years before. My first visit to the new house—where Dickens and his family had gone for Christmas—was paid in December 1858. The day was wet and dreary, but we passed it agreeably in talk and bagatelle; the players being Wilkie Collins and myself, with Dickens and Gordon—most genial of Scotchmen and Sheriff of Midlothian—for opponents.
[vol I p314]

When I speak of Wilkie Collins, whom I have known all his life, I shall meet with no contradiction when I say he is one of the most popular novelists of the present day. There again you have a man who is as delightful in private as he is in public. That he is an admirable raconteur goes without saying; of an imperturbably good temper, on one occasion at my own table, when a rude guest—of whom I was heartily ashamed—after declaring that popularity was no proof of merit, said to Collins by way of example:

"Why, your novels are read in every back-kitchen in England."

This Collins heard without a sign of irritation…I need scarcely add that this was the first and last time that my disagreeable guest appeared at my table.
[vol II pp333-334]

From My Autobiography and Reminiscences by W. P. Frith, R.A., London 1888.

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