The Plays of Wilkie Collins: A Digital Archive

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Short extracts given here are published with the kind permission of
Ms Faith Clarke

The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection
of English and American Literature
The New York Public Library
Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

and The British Library

The Lighthouse (1855)

The Manuscripts

There are four manuscripts of The Lighthouse, representing different stages of the composition process.

  • (1) Rough draft: held at the National Art Library, London (Victoria and Albert Museum), Forster Collection, 48.D.9. [here, 'NAL1']
  • (2) Licensing copy: held in the Lord Chamberlain's collection, British Library [here, 'British Library LC'], submitted for the professional performance of the play at the Olympic Theatre in 1857. Add. MS 52967H
  • (3) Additional copy: held at the Berg Collection, NYPL [here, 'Berg2'] - the Berg collection does not have call-numbers.
  • (4) Prompt copy: held at the Berg Collection, NYPL [here, 'Berg1']

    The relationship between these manuscripts establishes some of Collins' playwrighting practices that will be a feature of his future work. They demonstrate how seriously he took the task of getting a text right for performance, and the arduous and often monotonous processes he employed in order to advance the text through several stages. They also introduce his use of copyists - something that will complicate his compositional practices on later plays.


    NAL1 provides the initial draft of the play. It is written in 2 Acts, without Dickens' Prologue at this stage. The draft is written in a notebook on the rectos of each page, with material for addition or replacement written on the opposite verso of the previous page. It is a rough draft, with deletions and emendations throughout. In places, rewritten material has been pasted onto the page on smaller slips of paper. The page numbering sequence indicates the addition of sheets into the notebook ('29 and a half'; '33a'). 67 leaves.

    British Library LC

    The copy held in the Lord Chamberlain's collection, British Library LC, is based on this manuscript and possibly prepared for the Tavistock House production in 1855 or the Olympic production of 1857. It includes Dickens' prologue and song, which links it to Tavistock. However, we do not have a sense of the kind of prompts used at the Dickens productions. The only early manuscript of The Frozen Deep bears a similar chaotic feel to it as NAL1 which could thus be the Tavistock text. British Library LC may well have been prepared specifically for the 1857 professional production as it employs a copyist or amanuensis, and perhaps provided Collins with a working copy that he could further revise in the weeks prior to its submission to the Lord Chamberlain's office. It is dated on the cover page 'Royal Olympic Theatre / July 1857' but this page could have been added later. The date is further an indication of the delays in production as the first performance was not until 10th August. Its lack of clear stage directions perhaps indicates that such detail was not needed for the Tavistock House production and so had not been determined at that point. The text is close to that of the final prompt copy, and would presumably have satisfied the licenser, but Collins was buying time for further revisions to later copies. This either implies that Collins wrote two more manuscripts between July and 10 August (which seems unlikely) or that this copy was in existence well before he worked on Berg2 and then Berg1. It was licensed on 1 August 1857. It is written on both sides of the page. 28 leaves.


    Berg2 implies a creative process in which Collins moves through his drafting in stages. Written in Collins' hand on 86 recto pages, and signed 'Wilkie Collins', it incorporates the changes made to British Library LC (deletions, additions and corrections), and includes further such. These further changes will subsequently be included in Berg1 along with even more, though minor, changes. Berg2 does not contain Dickens' prologue and song; since Berg1 also omits these, it is reasonable to suppose that the prologue and song were omitted in the Olympic Theatre production but had remained in British Library LC as this either was, or was based on, the Tavistock House manuscript. An interesting annotation on Berg2 reads: ‘This was given by Wilkie Collins to Emile Forguer his French translator. Leon Forguer gave it to me in 1866. HLE.[?]’ Berg2 was clearly used as the copy sent for French translation as Collins tried to break into the Paris theatrical world. It includes some basic stage directions that are expanded on slightly in Berg1. These might represent Collins' first draft of these or a view that they did not need to be as detailed at this stage as the Olympic stage directions. The ending of the play is altered slightly by omitting the two-line epigram and changing the stage direction. The only conclusion I can reach about this is that Collins felt the epigram and melodramatic mood was better omitted for a French production, as the lines are included in Berg1 for the Olympic. Berg2 is misdated '[1885]' in The Index of English Literary Manuscripts, probably an error for '[1855]', which is also most likely incorrect.


    Berg1 is the final copy produced before production at the Olympic. By the time of its writing, the cast has been determined, and the transcript begins with the cast list. Most of the script is written in the hand of an amanuensis, but the opening stage direction is in Collins' hand. The slightly longer stage directions begger the questions, what was this copied from, or was Collins dictating to a secretary? The relationship between Berg1 and Berg2 suggests that Berg2 is an 'in-between' text, between British Library LC and Berg1, and not a 'simultaneous' text that is being worked on at the same time as Berg1 (something Collins does with later plays). Some alterations in Berg1 but not in British Library LC are included in Berg2, but further alterations appear in Berg1. It would not make sense to see Berg2 as the later version, as this would involve removing some of the changes made in Berg1. The slightly altered ending is the only complication here, as Berg1 reproduces the ending of British Library LC, but not of Berg2. The solution given above, though, would seem to be reasonable, where Collins retains the more melodramatic ending of British Library LC for the Olympic theatre. 53 pages.


    Here are the endings of British Library LC, Berg2, and Berg1:

    British Library LC

    'Take my hand – I entreat – I command – you to take it. The privilege of forgiving, Aaron Gurnock, is a right that we may all insist upon.

    Great attribute of Him in whom we live
    And who forgives us as we do forgive!

    [Curtain descends slowly]



    'Take my hand; I entreat, I command you, to take it. (Aaron kneels and kisses Lady Grace’s hand.) The privilege of forgiving, Aaron Gurnock, is a right that we may all insist upon!

    (As they move towards the door, the Lightkeepers of the relieving party settle themselves in their places in the room and the curtain falls slowly)

    THE END'


    'Take my hand – I entreat, I command you, to take it. (He kneels and kisses it.) The privilege of forgiving, Aaron Gurnock, is a right that we may all insist upon.

    Great attribute of Him in whom we live
    And who forgives us as we do forgive!

    (As she speaks, she raises her hands to Heaven; the curtain descends very slowly)

    THE END'

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    © Richard Pearson and the Victorian Plays Project, 2011