The resistless influences which are one day to reign supreme over our poor hearts, and to shape the sad short course of our lives, are sometimes of mysteriously remote origin, and find their devious ways to us through the hearts and the lives of strangers. While the young man whose troubled career it is here proposed to follow was wearing his first jacket, and bowling his first hoop, a domestic misfortune, falling on a household of strangers, was destined nevertheless to have its ultimate influence over his happiness, and to shape the whole aftercourse of his life. For this reason, some First Words must precede the Story, and must present the brief narrative of what happened in the household of strangers. By what devious ways the event here related affected the chief personage of these pages, when he grew to manhood, it will be the business of the story to trace, over land and sea, among men and women, in bright days and dull days alike, until the end is reached, and the pen (God willing) is put back in the desk. Old Benjamin Ronald (of the Stationers' Company) took a young wife at the ripe age of fifty, and carried with him into the holy estate of matrimony some of the habits of his bachelor life. As a bachelor, he had never willingly left his shop (situated in that exclusively commercial region of London which is called "the City") from one year's end to another. As a married man, he persisted in following the same monotonous course; with this one difference, that he now had a woman to follow it with him. "Travelling by railway," he explained to his wife, "will make your head ache—it makes my head ache. Travelling by sea will make you sick—it makes me sick. If you want change of air, every sort of air is to be found in the City. If you admire the beauties of Nature, there is Finsbury Square with the beauties of Nature carefully selected and arranged. When we are in London, you (and I) are all right; and when we are out of London, you (and I) are all wrong." As surely as the autumn holiday season set in, so surely Old Ronald resisted his wife's petition for a change of scene in that form of words. A man habitually fortified behind his own inbred obstinacy and selfishness is for the most part an irresistible power within the limits of his domestic circle. As a rule, patient Mrs. Ronald yielded; and her husband stood revealed to his neighbours in the glorious character of a married man who had his own way.
Wilkie Collins was born in London in 1824, the eldest son of the landscape painter William Collins. In 1846, having spent five years in the tea business, he was entered to read for the bar at Lincoln's Inn, where he gained the legal knowledge that was to give him much material for his writing.
From the early fifties, he was a friend of Charles Dickens, acting with him, contributing to Household Words, travelling with him on the Continent. Dickens produced and acted in two melodramas written by Collins, The Lighthouse (1855) and The Frozen Deep (1857).
Collins is best remembered for his novels, particularly The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868), which T. S. Eliot called 'the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels'. His later, and at the time rather sensational, novels include The New Magdalen (1873) and The Law and The Lady (1875). Collins also braved the moral censure of the Victorian age by keeping two women (and their households) while marrying neither. He died in 1889.