Mrs E M Ward's Reminiscences

Henrietta Mary Ada Ward (1832-1924) was the wife of Collins's close friend Edward Ward (1816-1879). These early Reminiscences contain short and scrappy memories of Wilkie Collins, some memories of life at Wilkie's home in Hanover Terrace which they rented for a while and a mention of his brother Charles. Her later Memories (1924) contain more.

Among Edward’s friends of this period, and they were legion, were Wilkie Collins, Augustus Egg, R.A. (who lived at Ivy Cottage, in Black Lion Lane, where he entertained extensively), John Leech, Mark Lemon, D. Maclise, R.A., Thomas Webster, R.A., and a host more, to most of whom I will refer later on.

I fancy I must have given Edward satisfaction when I sat to him in " The Temptation," for he soon wanted me to sit again. I posed for him twice as the girl coming downstairs with the Admiral in " The South Sea Bubble " (1847), which is, perhaps, the most popular of all his works. His studio was in the house of a Mr. Illidge, in Berners Street, and I used to spend the day with Mrs. Illidge when I went there. I also sat to Edward as the "Singer" leaning on the black boy, in his "Johnson in Lord Chesterfield’s Ante-room" (1845), the model for the black boy being a bona fide negro who had the most taking manners and charming expression possible. But, alas! boys—at any rate negro boys—are not always what they seem, and I had not only my handkerchief stolen but also the entire contents of my pocket. The next time I posed as principal was in the "Fall of Clarendon" (1846). (p41)

My father, my future father-in-law, and Edward were great friends, and when the trio met they invariably discussed old times, leaving me, not altogether to my liking, quite in the cold.

Thanks to Edward’s able coaching, however, I had progressed sufficiently well with my work to get the black-and-white picture of "Elizabeth Woodville Parting from the Duke of York" (to which I have already alluded) accepted by the Royal Academy shortly before I was fourteen, whilst the following year two of my studies of heads were also accepted and hung. When I was sixteen I married (Wilkie Collins officiating as best man), and the next scene of my life is laid at St. John’s Wood and Harewood Square. (p61)

Millais, at the time my husband first met him, at the house of Wilkie Collins, was, I believe, only nineteen.

He had just painted his first Royal Academy picture, a brilliant success, and was looked upon as an extremely clever and promising young painter.

I was immensely struck with his appearance when I first saw him at a fancy dress ball at the Loudons’ (Mr. Loudon was the well-known garden designer), clad in a long silk coat, lace tie, and breeches, with riding boots to the knee, a costume becoming enough on anyone, but just giving the right touch to him, the touch of positive perfection.

He had a magnificently shaped head, faultless classic features, a superbly elegant figure, tall and slim, and was quite one of the handsomest men I have ever seen.

In conversation he was charming, not the least affected; but on the contrary so frank, boyish, and breezy in his manners that he completely captivated the hearts of the fair sex-indeed everyone, men, women, and children, particularly children, loved Millais.

Apart from painting he had much in common with my husband; being passionately fond of music and, in a lesser degree, of acting.

Edward was a good actor, and not only had invitations from friends and strangers alike all over the country, asking him to take part in amateur theatricals, but was offered several very tempting parts on the professional stage. The latter, it is needless to say, he declined and, later on, finding that even amateur acting might become a hindrance in the profession he loved, he made a vow never again to take part in any play.

I believe his last performance was that of the Goodnatured Man in Goldsmith’s play of that name, at Mrs. Collins’ house in Hanover Terrace, Regent’s Park. It was got up entirely by amateurs, and at least one amusing incident occurred during the rehearsals.

A Mr. G——, who was extremely ugly, was cast to play the role of lover to a Miss C——, who also had the misfortune to be most extraordinarily plain.

One morning when the play was well advanced, Miss C. rushed into Mrs. Collins’ room declaring that it was impossible for her to act with such an unsightly man as Mr. G., and that she really must give up her part unless she had a more prepossessing lover.

No sooner had she gone than Mr. G., perspiring with suppressed indignation, burst in, protesting in an injured voice that he could not make love to such a hideous creature as Miss C., and that it made him positively ill to have to hold her in his arms. In fact, he really must decline, he said, to act any longer with such an ogress.

Wilkie Collins, accepting these resignations with no little satisfaction, as well as amusement, for he was only too glad to be rid of both Miss C. and Mr. G., soon found others to succeed them, and the play in every particular proved a great success.

It was acted on June 19th, 1849, and among the audience were many painters and writers of note, including Frith, Millais, and Charles Dickens. The costumes, which met with universal admiration, were designed by my husband, and suggested to Mr. Frith the idea contained in his picture of "The Forties" that now hangs in the Kensington Museum.

I did not see the performance for the very simple reason that on the day of its production my eldest child, Alice, was born. (pp76-78)

About this time we were haunted by a perfect epidemic of thefts and burglaries, of which either we ourselves or our friends were the victims. I have already referred to my father-in-law’s adventure with the burglar. Well, in addition to this, when we were living at Slough, and temporarily renting the house of Mrs. Collins (Wilkie Collins’ mother) in Hanover Terrace, Regent’s Park (as it was my husband’s turn to attend the Academy Schools and to assist in hanging the pictures of that year), we experienced what I am glad to say was only an attempted and not a successful burglary. One evening the governess and I were in the dining-room talking, when we heard the street door gently open and shut, and someone tip-toe stealthily along the passage. The irregularity of this proceeding naturally awoke my suspicions, and the governess, I suppose, interpreting my thoughts from my face, flew to the chimney, determining at all hazards to escape even if she got roasted and choked in the attempt. Being a little more self-possessed, I rang the bell, and the housemaid answering my summons, I asked her who it was that entered the house without knocking.

Greatly scared, she told me she did not know but that she, too, heard someone come in and go upstairs.

Bidding both the governess and the housemaid follow, I now hastened to the nursery, to find the head and under-nurses both very pale and agitated.

"I was just coming to tell you, madam," Nurse stammered, " that as I was going into the children’s bedroom a minute or so ago, a strange boy rushed out of it, and, slipping past me, disappeared downstairs."

"And I saw him, too!" another nurse chimed in, "he brushed against me as he ran."

"Then why on earth did not you catch him?" I said, rather nettled. "Surely two women should be more than a match for one boy." But they shook their heads guiltily. "He took us by surprise, madam," they faltered. "We were struck all of a heap, and besides his speed was so terrific, he flew faster than any arrow.

"What was he like?" I demanded. "I suppose you saw his face?"

"No, indeed, madam," they replied in chorus, "he went far too quickly for us to see him properly; indeed he was down the stairs almost before we had realised he was a boy."

Perceiving that it was useless to question them any further, I sent for the police. The latter searched the house thoroughly, but, of course, found no one, as the birds had long since flown. Outside in the snow, however, they discovered the footprints of a child’s naked feet, from which they deduced that the boy we had heard, had entered the house with the intention of concealing himself till after dark, when he would creep downstairs, unbolt the front door, and admit his burglar confederates: As one may well imagine, we did not sleep very comfortably for nights afterwards. (pp118-119)

At the time of the occurrence, I was standing with my back to the grate in my husband’s studio, nursing my second girl. My thoughts, far away in some remote period of our national history, were gradually recalled by a cloud of smoke rising in some mysterious fashion all round me. I was wondering how on earth it came there, and bemoaning the possibility of the chimney having to be swept, when someone rushing frantically at me, enveloped me in a rug and hugged me for some seconds with all the vehemence we attribute to a bear. I had not the least idea I was on fire, and only felt very indignant at such rude and extraordinary behaviour on the part of one of my household. Fortunately none of us were burnt.

Apropos of this incident—that is to say if an unpleasant experience can in any way be connected with a pleasant one—the biggest display of fireworks I ever witnessed was on the night of the Declaration of Peace with Russia in 1856.

We were still at the Collins’ house in Hanover Terrace, and Charley Collins, who was to have dined with us that night, was unable to keep his engagement owing to the vast concourse of people blocking the streets. He managed to get half way, and then, the crowd, literally sweeping him off his feet, forced him to retire. The next day I received, in lieu of an apology, a sketch of himself stuck in a very uncomfortable and precarious position on the railings of a house.

The fireworks, and the noise accompanying them, substantially augmented at intervals by the booming of "mortars," were continued all through the night, and even far into the morning. (pp124-125)

From Mrs. E. M. Ward’s Reminiscences Ed. Elliott O’Donnell, London 1911.

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