1902 Encyclopedia > Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope
English novelist
(1815-82)




ANTHONY TROLLOPE (1815-1882), English novelist, was born in Keppel Street, Russell Square, London, according to most authorities, on 24th April 1815 ; in his own Autobiography he merely gives the year. His father, a barrister, who had been fellow of New College, Oxford, brought himself and his family into the sorest straits by unbusiness-like habits, by quarrelling with his profession, or at least with the attorneys, and by injudicious speculations, especially in farming. Trollope's mother, Frances Milton, according to her son, was nearly thirty when she married in 1809. By her husband's wish she made a strange journey to America in 1827, for the purpose of setting up a kind of fancy shop in Cincinnati, which failed utterly. Her visit, however, furnished her with the means of writing The Domestic Manners of the Americans. This at once brought her in a considerable sum, and thence-forward she continued to be the mainstay of her family. Her husband being obliged at last actually to fly the country from his creditors, his wife maintained him by her pen, at Bruges, till his death there in 1835. For some time Mrs Trollope wrote chiefly travels; but she soon became known as a novelist, and was very industrious. Her novels, the best of which are probably The Vicar of Wrexhill and The Widow Barnaby, are now rarely read, and indeed were never at their best above good circulating library level: they are written with cleverness indeed, and a certain amount of observation, but with many faults of taste, and with an almost total want of artistic completeness and form. Her late beginning, her industrious career (for she wrote steadily for more than thirty years, till her death in October 1863, at Florence), and the entire absence in her of any blue-stocking or femme-savante weakness would have made her remarkable, even if she had not transmitted, as she undoubtedly did transmit, her talent, much increased, to her children.

Anthony Trollope was the third son. By his own account few English men of letters have had an unhappier childhood and youth. He puts down his own misfortunes, at Harrow, at Winchester, at Harrow again, and elsewhere, to his father's pecuniary circumstances, which made his own appearance dirty and shabby, and subjected him to various humiliations. But it is permissible to suspect that this was not quite the truth, and that some peculiarities of temper, of which in after life he had many, contributed to his unpopularity. At any rate he seems to have reached the verge of manhood as ignorant as if he had had no education at all. While living abroad he tried ushership; but at the age of nineteen he was pitchforked by favour (for he could not pass even the ridiculous examination then usual) into the post-office. Even then his troubles were not over. He got into debt; he got into ridiculous entanglements of love affairs, which he has very candidly avowed; he was in constant hot water with the authorities ; and he seems to have kept some very queer company, which long afterwards stood him in stead as models for some of his novel pictures. At last in August 1841 he obtained the appointment of clerk to one of the post-office surveyors in a remote part of Ireland, with a very small nominal salary. This salary, however, was practically quadrupled by allowances ; living was cheap ; and the life suited Trollope exactly, being not office work, which he always hated, but a kind of travelling inspectorship. And here he not only began that habit of hunting which (after a manner hardly possible in the stricter conditions of official work nowadays) he kept up for many years even in England, but within three years of his appointment engaged himself to Miss Rose Heseltine, whom he had met in Ireland but who was of English birth. They were married in June 1844. His headquarters had previously been at Banagher; he was now transferred to Clonmel.

Trollope had always dreamt of novel-writing, and his Irish experiences seemed to supply him with promising subjects. With some assistance from his mother he got his first two books, The Macdermots of Bcdlycloran and The Kellys and the O'Kellys, published, the one in 1847, the other the next year. But neither was in the least a success, though the second perhaps deserved to be; and a third, La Vendee, which followed in 1850, besides being a much worse book than either, was an equal failure. Trollope made various other literary attempts, but for a time ill fortune attended all of them. Meanwhile he was set on a new kind of post-office work, which suited him even better than his former employment—a sort of roving commission to inspect rural post deliveries and devise their extension, first in Ireland, then throughout the west of England and South Wales. That he did good work is undeniable; but his curious conception of official duty (on his discharge of which he prided himself immensely) is exhibited by his confessions that he "got his hunting out of it," and that he felt "the necessity of travelling miles enough [he was paid by mileage] to keep his horses." It was during this work that he struck the vein which gave him fortune and fame—which might perhaps have given him more fame and not much less fortune if he had not worked it so hard—by conceiving The Warden. This was published in 1855. It brought him little immediate profit, nor was even Barchester Towers, which followed, very profitable, though it contains his freshest, his most original, and, with the exception of The Last Chronicle of'Barset, his best work. The two made him a reputation, however, and in 1858 he was able for the first time to sell a novel, The Three Clerics, for a substantial sum, £250. A journey on post-office business to the West Indies gave him material for a book of travel, The West Indies and the Spanish Main, which he frankly and quite truly acknowledges to be much better than some subsequent work of his in the same kind. From this time his production (mainly of novels) was incessant, and the sums which he received were very large, amounting in one case to as much as £3525 for a single book, and to nearly £70,000 in the twenty years between 1859 and 1879. All these particulars are given with great minuteness by himself, and are characteristic. The full high tide of his fortunes began when the Cornhill Magazine was established in the autumn of 1859. He was asked at short notice to write a novel, and wrote Framley Parsonage, which was extremely popular; two novels immediately preceding it, The Bertrams and Castle Richmond, had been much less successful.

As it will be possible to notice few of his subsequent works in detail, the list of them, a sufficiently astonishing one, may be given here:—Tales of All pountries (3 series, 1861-1870); Orley Farm, North America (1862); Rachael May (1863); The Small House at Allington, Can You Forgive Her? (1864) ; Miss Mackenzie (1865) ; The Claverings, Nina Balatka, TheLast Chronicle of Barset (1867); Linda Tressel (1868); Phineas Finn, He Knew He Was Right (1869); Brown, Jones, and Robinson, The Vicar of Bullhampton, An Editor s Tales, Cmsar (1870); Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite, Ralph the Heir (1871); The Golden Lion of Granpere (1872); The Eustace Diamonds, Australia and New Zealand (1873); Phineas Redux, Harry Heathcote of Gangoil, Lady Anna (1874); The Way We Live Now (1875); The Prime Minister (1876) ; The American Senator (1877); Is He Popenjoy ? South Africa (1878); John Caldigate, An Eye for an Eye, Cousin Henry, Thackeray (1879); The Duke's Children, Cicero (1880); Ayala's Angel, Dr Worth's School (1881) ; Fran Frohmann, Lord Palmerston, The Fixed Period, Kept in the Dark, Marion Fay (1882); Mr Scarborough's Family, The Land Leaguers (1883); and An Old Man's Love (1884).

How this enormous total was achieved in spite of official work (of which, lightly as he took it, he did a good deal, and which he did not give up for many years), of hunting three times a week in the season, of whist-playing, of not a little going into general society, he has explained with his usual curious minuteness. "He reduced novel-writing to the conditions of regular mechanical work—so much so that latterly he turned out so many words in a quarter of an hour, and wrote at this rate so many hours a day. He divided every book beforehand into so many days' work and checked off the tallies as he wrote.

A life thus spent could not be very eventful, and its events may be summed up rapidly. In 1858 he went to Egypt also on post-office business, and at the end of 1859 he got himself transferred from Ireland to the eastern district of England. Here he took a house at Waltham. He took an active part in the establishment of The Fortnightly Review in 1865; he was editor of St Paul's for some time after 1867; and at the end of that year he resigned his position in the post-office. He stood for Beverley and was defeated; he received from his old department special missions to America and elsewhere (he had already gone to America in the midst of the Civil War). He went to Australia in 1871, and before going broke up his household at Waltham. When he returned he established himself in London, and lived there till 1880, when he removed to Harting on the confines of Sussex and Hampshire. He had visited South Africa in 1877 and travelled elsewhere. On 3rd November 1882 he was seized with paralysis, and died on 6th December.

Of Trollope's personal character it is not necessary to say much. Strange as his conception of official duty may seem, it was evidently quite honest and sincere, and, though he is said to have been as an official popular neither with superiors nor inferiors, he no doubt did much good work. Privately he was much liked and much disliked,—a great deal of real kindness being accompanied by a blustering and overbearing manner, and an egotism, not perhaps more deep than other men's, but more vociferous. His literary work needs more notice. Nothing of it but the novels is remarkable for merit. His Czsar and the Cicero are curious examples of a man's undertaking work for which he was not in the least fitted. Thackeray exhibits (though Trollope appears to have both admired Thackeray as an artist and liked him as a man) grave faults of taste and judgment and a complete lack of real criticism. The books of travel are not good, and of a kind not good. Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel, published anonymously and as experiments in the romantic style, have been better thought of by the author and by some competent judges than by the public or the publishers. Brown, Jones, and Robinson was still more disliked, and is certainly very bad as a whole, but has touches of curious originality in parts. The rest of the novels have been judged very differently by different persons. There is no doubt that their enormous volume prejudiced readers against them even long before the author let the public into the secret of their manufacture, which has made the prejudice deeper. There is also no doubt that Trollope seldom or never creates a character of the first merit (Mr Crawley in the Last Chronicle of Barset is the one possible exception), and that not one of his books can be called a work of genius. At the same time no one probably has produced anything like such a volume of anything like such merit. He claims for himself that his characters are always more or less alive, and they are. After his first failures he never produced anything that was not a faithful and sometimes a very amusing transcript of the sayings and doings of possible men and women. His characters are never marionettes, much less sticks. He has some irritating mannerisms, notably a trick of repetition of the same form of words. He is sometimes absolutely vulgar,— that is to say, he does not deal"with low life, but shows, though always robust and pure in morality, a certain coarseness of taste. He is constantly rather trivial, and perhaps nowhere out of the Barset series (which, however, is of itself no inconsiderable work) has he produced books that will live. The very faithfulness of his representation of a certain phase of thought, of cultivation, of society, uninformed as it is by any higher spirit, in the long run damaged, as it had first helped, the popularity of his work. But, allowing for all this, it may and must still be said that he held up his mirror steadily to nature, and that the mirror itself was fashioned with no inconsiderable art. (G. SA.)







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