First edition by Richard Bentley
A sentimental story heavily influenced by Dickens's Christmas books and published in a similar format, this was Collins's only attempt to exploit the genre. The idea of taking a cast from a statue is repeated in 'The Yellow Mask' (1853). It is notable for the frontispiece by Millais, his first book illustration. Collins had hoped to include further illustrations by his brother, Charles, and Holman Hunt. In the original preface, Collins explains that the tale is based on fact and reveals the mystery of the cash-box. The second edition eliminates most of the introduction and provides a good example of the young novelist learning the craft of suspense.
Reuben Wray, a retired actor of little note, once worked with the
illustrious John Kemble at Drury Lane. He
now earns a precarious living teaching elocution.
He arrives in Tidbury-on-the-Marsh, accompanied by his grand-daughter
Annie and Martin Blunt, his clumsy but good-natured assistant.
They had all left Stratford-upon-Avon in a hurry because Mr Wray had
made a mask of Shakespeare, his lifelong hero, and believes the authorities
are pursuing him.
The local Tidbury villains, Benjamin Grimes and Chummy Dick, see the old
cash-box in which the mask is concealed and set out to steal it.
When they discover there is no money they destroy the plaster cast and
escape, leaving Mr Wray demented at the loss of his prized possession.
The local Squire, Matthew Colebatch, in whose failed play Mr Wray had
once acted, befriends him but, despite the Squire's attentions, he recovers
only when Annie and Martin retrieve the original mould which had been left at
Stratford and make another mask. They
encourage his delusion that the robbery was all a bad dream.
The Squire obtains a legal opinion confirming no crime was committed in
taking the mask and suggests Mr Wray should manufacture them for a living.
Squire Colebatch invites himself for Christmas Dinner at which he
persuades Mr Wray to allow Annie and Martin to marry.
Shortened preface to the second edition
1 volume, Richard Bentley, London 1852 .
Blue cloth, front cover blocked in blind and lettered in gilt, spine
blocked in blind, cream end-papers. Half-title.
Preface dated December 1851. Frontispiece
by J. E. Millais, Mr Wray's Cash-Box.
Variant binding in blue-grey cloth. Published
17 December 1851.
viii + 176 pp. Publishers
advertisements occupy pp (173-176)
Second edition, 1852, now subtitled 'A Modern Story', shortened preface
dated January 1852, and frontispiece retitled The New Neckcloth.
Republished in Crime for Christmas, edited by Richard Dalby,
London 1991; Stroud 1996.
All material in these pages is © copyright Andrew Gasson 1998-2010