WILKIE COLLINS'S LAST DAYS
His Children and His Adopted Daughter—
His Life of Daily Pain
Copyright, 1889, by The Press Publishing Company (New York World).
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LONDON, Sept. 2 —Almost with his dying breath Wilkie Collins said: "I want a simple funeral and no feathers, no crape, no forms nor ceremonies." His wishes were executed to the letter. There is little to say about the modest manner in which the master of so many plots was laid to rest: but now that he has gone all sorts of strange stories are current about his life, and the innermost secrets of the novelist who sought above all things to shield himself and his home from the gaze and comment of his fellow-men are the topic of the hour. Edmund Yates set the ball rolling in a signed article in his paper, the London World, in which he said: "It was during the progress of the Moonstone, I believe, that Wilkie Collins first acquired the baleful habit of taking sedatives, which he continued more or less throughout his life. Excited beyond measure by the constant nerve pressure created by the necessity of having every thread of his story constantly within his grasp; suffering under a sharp attack of rheumatic gout in the eyes; distracted at the same time by the serious illness of his mother, to whom he was devotedly attached, Wilkie Collins did as Coleridge, De Quincey and no end of others eminent in the fraternity had done before him—he sought and found relief in anodynes. On this subject I almost fear to write, lest I should be suspected of exaggeration. But from what he himself told me, and from what I have heard from friends of even greater intimacy with him, I believe that about that period and for the greater part of his life Wilkie Collins was in the habit of taking daily, and without apparent noxious effect, more laudanum—not Batley's, nor any other minimizing solution, but absolutely pure laudanum—than would have sufficed to kill an entire ship's crew or a whole company of soldiers. This amount was of course arrived at slowly and by degree."
An actor who knew Wilkie Collins intimately remarked to THE WORLD correspondent to-day at the funeral: "I have seen Collins drink a wineglassful of laudanum at one swallow without affecting him in the least. He suffered some injury when he was a young man which rendered it necessary that he should take opium to kill the pain. Life would have been almost unbearable to him without it."
It will be some days before the will of Wilkie Collins will be offered to probate, but it is well known among his intimate friends that he provides liberally in it for the three children whom he acknowledges as his own. They were at the funeral to-day with their mother, and one of the numerous beautiful wreaths which surrounded the coffin was from them. But they were not among the chief mourners and kept out of view as much as possible. They never went near Wilkie Collins's house and few people here have heard of them. In his will Wilkie Collins refers to these children as his own and leaves one-half of his estate which, it is said, will not exceed $100,000, to be divided in their interest. The mother of these children was a housemaid in the employ of Wilkie Collins's mother and was very devoted to her while she lived. The other half of Wilkie Collins's fortune goes to his housekeeper, Mrs. Graves, while she lives, and to the novelist's adopted daughter, Mrs. Bartley, on her mother's death. This adopted daughter, the child of his housekeeper, had been a great pet of Collins for years, doing all his work as amanuensis.
From the New York World 29 September 1889.