'A Pictorial Tour' is an amusing account of a disastrous painting trip to an obscure French town. It seems to be based on an event during his holiday in Normandy with his friend Charles Ward in 1847. Ward is cast as a serious painter, Mr Scumble, while Wilkie is the dilettante. Ward in fact went on to work at Coutts and become Wilkie's banker.
At this time Collins was barely at the start of his literary career. Despite his three published books and a few pieces in periodicals he was still technically studying to be a barrister. He was called to the bar later that year and in the Census entry of 30 March 1851 at 17 Hanover Terrace he was described as 'law student'. His brother Charles was described as 'artist'. It is a jejune piece and many of the jokes about each other were undoubtedly funnier to those who knew them than they are to a reader today.
Wilkie was paid £10-10s-0d for the 16 pages 'A Pictorial Tour' filled. The rate was five guineas per eight pages, and Collins was consistently paid at this rate for all his original work in the Miscellany. Although this works out to the rather peculiar amount of 13s-1½d per page there was a logic to it. Contributors were paid per 'sheet'. In an octavo volume each sheet contains eight printed pages on one side and eight on the other - a total of 16 pages. Wilkie, and several other contributors, were paid 10 guineas per sheet. Each full page contains around 600 words, the total count for this piece being 9500 so he was paid about £1.10 for each 1000 words. At the time, a labourer could expect to earn about half that a week. (Click here for a short introduction to Victorian currency)
Altogether his nine pieces brought him £66-19s-0d. The receipts for all of them are extant in the British Library and seem to have been written at one later date by a clerk and initialled 'W.W.C.' by Wilkie. Headed 'W Wilkie Collins Esq in account with R Bentley for copyright in "Bentley's Miscellany"' they record each piece, and the amount and date paid. Usually he was paid in cash about two weeks after the publication date which was the first of each month. The payment for A Pictorial Tour is recorded 'By cash May 13/51'. May 13, 1851 was about eight weeks after he had first met Charles Dickens and three days before his debut as an amateur actor in Dickens's company playing Smart the butler in Bulwer Lytton's Not So Bad as We Seem before the Queen in the Duke of Devonshire's London home.