British Museum

This short extract from a piece by William M Towle in Harper's New Monthly Magazine may be the result of artistic licence or as we would say now, sloppy journalism. There is no evidence that Wilkie read in the British Museum reading room after the 1840s, when he did have a ticket and researched material for his first novel, Antonina, set at the time of the fall of Rome. Towle also wrote an account of Wilkie in Appleton’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art in 1870.

The British Museum and Its Reading Room
by George M. Towle

The great reading-room of the Museum is the almost daily resort of many of the men and women whose names are famous here as there, yet such is the democracy of its government, the humblest and obscurest of authors, would-be authors, amateur dabblers in books, and mere pleasure-seeking novel-readers may, by complying with forms, jostle the world-renowned poet at the threshold or sit cheek by jowl with an essayist and reviewer in the luxurious, leather-bound arm-chairs provided for all the world. One, as he sits there, is sometimes startled, as he refreshes his eyes a moment by glancing off his book and round upon his neighbors, to see just beside him a familiar face — a face that has many a time looked out on him from frontispieces of half-calf volumes, or in the windows of photographers and bookstores. So, cozily ensconced in a spacious fauteuil, with a pile of books which have been summoned from the vasty ocean of surrounding shelves scattered about the desk, have I many times recognized these historic faces. [...] and Wilkie Collins, with full beard and mustache, large, round blue eyes, and quick, prompt manner.

From: Harper's New Monthly Magazine Vol. 46, No. 272 January, 1873

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