Once a Week

Once A Week was owned and edited by James Rice (1844-1882) from 1868 to 1873. During that time he published a series of contemporary ‘Caricature Portraits of Eminent Public Men’ drawn by Frederick Waddy. This drawing of Collins shows him pasting up the poster for The Woman in White which was currently showing at the Olympic theatre. Each cartoon was accompanied by short biographical notes on the subject. Collins appeared in the issue of 24 February 1872. The author of the piece is unknown but could have been Rice himself.



THE subject of our cartoon, Mr. Wilkie Collins, is one of the most successful novel writers of the day.

He is the eldest son of the late Mr. W. Collins, R.A., an artist of great ability in the delineation of rustic landscapes. Mr. Wilkie Collins was born in London in the year 1824, and received his education at a private school. He was associated with the late Charles Dickens in the celebrated amateur performances at Tavistock House. In 1859-60 his famous story of “The Woman in White” appeared in “All the Year Round.”

Besides “The Woman in White,” Mr. Collins is the author of the following works of fiction:—”The Queen of Hearts,” “No Name,” “The Moonstone,” “My Miscellanies,” “Mr, Wray’s Cash Box; or, the Mask and the Mystery: a Christmas Sketch,” “Man and Wife,” “Poor Miss Finch,” “ Miss or Mrs.,” “ Hide and Seek,” “The Dead Secret,” “Basil: a Story of Modern Life,” “Armadale,” “Antonina; or, the Fall of Rome,” “After Dark;” and he was, jointly with Charles Dickens, the author of two of the Christmas stories published as supplementary numbers of “All the Year Round.”

He has written also a life of his father, Mr. W. Collins, R.A., published in 1848, entitled “Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, with Selections from his Journal and Correspondence”; and a book of sketches, called “Rambles beyond Railways; or, Notes in Cornwall taken a-Foot.”

As a writer of fiction, Mr. Collins is remarkable for the ingenuity of his plots, and for the air of mystery that he contrives to throw over commonplace events. He—in striking contrast to many writers of much greater eminence and merit—devotes the greatest care to keeping his story “close together.” Everything in his books has a bearing on the issue of the plot. Not a window is opened, a door shut, or a nose blown, but, depend upon it, the act will have something to do with the end of the book. Yet no book of Mr. Collins’s can compare in this respect with Scott’s “Bride of Lammermoor,” where every chapter is necessary—not one is redundant; where every line contributes to the final and splendidly effective climax. And in this quality alone can Mr. Collins’s novels be compared, with advantage to their author, with the greater works of greater men.

His plots are commonly intricate. Often it is too difficult for the reader to hold all the threads for it to be a pleasant task to peruse his books, for he has the trick of ending every chapter with a bang. He is admirably suited to supply the wants of periodicals to whose readers a sensational story is the one attraction—e.g.

On the white dress of the child was traced, in letters of blood, the word—


(To be continued in our next.)

This habit is contrary to every true principle of art, and is dictated, probably, by the wants of periodical literature.

The characters in Mr. Collins’s books are some of them very original and striking, being manifestly sketches from real life; but the situations in which these puppets are placed by the wire-puller are often wildly improbable. “Fact is stranger than fiction,” Mr. Collins will reply. Indeed, he threatens us with a production which shall put the plot of “The Woman in White” in the shade, made from materials kindly sent him by various correspondents. These are, of course, narratives of fact.

His English is not drawn from the purest fount, nor is his literary style to be compared with that of several living writers. He is a manufacturer of interesting works of fiction, pure and simple. He has made it his business in life. And, under the circumstances, it is perhaps a little provoking that he should so often ring the changes on such phrases as “my art,” “my purpose in writing the book,” “the object I had in view,” &c., &c., &c., as each of his later novels has probably brought him £4,000.

And he is at present publishing books rather fast.

We should place “Man and Wife” among his best productions; but in literature he will be remembered as the author of “The Woman in White.” That wonderful story made him famous.

 From Once A Week 24 February 1872 Vol. IX No.218 pp 196-197

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