Surtees, Robert Smith (DNB00)
|←Surtees, Robert (1799-1834)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 55
Surtees, Robert Smith
SURTEES, ROBERT SMITH (1803–1864), sporting novelist, of an old Durham family, was the second son of Anthony Surtees (d. 1838) of Hamsterley Hall, who married, on 14 March 1801, Alice, sister of Christopher Blackett of Wylam, M.P. for south Northumberland 1837–1841. His grandfather, Robert Surtees (1741–1811), was of Milkwell Burn in the parish of Ryton, an estate purchased by his ancestor, Anthony Surtees, in 1626; the estate of Hamsterley Hall was acquired about 1807 from the executors of Thomas, eldest surviving son of Henry Swinburne [q. v.] the traveller (cf. Surtees, Durham, ii. 290).
Born in 1803, Robert was educated at Durham grammar school, which he left in 1819 for a solicitor's office. Having qualified as a solicitor, he bought a partnership in London; but the business was misrepresented, and he had difficulty in recovering the purchase money. He took rooms in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and began contributing to the old ‘Sporting Magazine.’ During 1830 he compiled a manual for horse-buyers, in which he combined his knowledge of the law with his taste for sporting matters. In 1831 his elder brother, Anthony, died unmarried at Malta on 24 March, thus materially altering his prospects. Before the close of the same year, in conjunction with Rudolph Ackermann [q. v.], he started the ‘New Sporting Magazine,’ which Surtees edited down to 1836. Between July 1831 and September 1834 he developed in these pages the humorous character of Mr. John Jorrocks, a sporting grocer, the quintessence of Cockney vulgarity, good humour, absurdity, and cunning. The success of the sketches led to the conception of a similar scheme by Chapman and Seymour, which resulted in the ‘Pickwick Papers.’ The papers of Surtees were collected as ‘Jorrocks's Jaunts’ in 1838, in which year, by the death of his father on 5 March, Surtees succeeded to the estate of Hamsterley Hall. He became a J.P. for Durham, a major of the Durham militia, and high sheriff of the county in 1856. In the meantime, Lockhart, having seen the ‘Jorrocks Papers,’ suggested to a common friend, ‘Nimrod’ (i.e. Charles James Apperley), that Surtees ought to try his hand at a novel. The result was ‘Handley Cross,’ in which Jorrocks reappears as a master of foxhounds and the possessor of a county seat. The coarseness of the text was redeemed in 1854 by the brilliantly humorous illustrations of John Leech, who utilised a sketch of a coachman made in church as his model for the ex-grocer. Some of Leech's best work is to be found among his illustrations to Surtees's later novels, notably ‘Ask Mamma’ and ‘Mr. Romford's Hounds.’ Without the original illustrations these works have very small interest. At the time of his death Surtees had just prepared for appearance in serial parts his last novel, ‘Mr. Facey Romford's Hounds.’ Leech himself died during its issue, and the illustrations were completed by Hablot K. Browne (‘Phiz’). The novelist was a keen observer, very tall, but a good horseman, who, ‘without ever riding for effect, usually saw a deal of what hounds were doing.’ He died at Brighton on 16 March 1864.
Surtees married, on 19 May 1841, Elizabeth Jane (d. 1879), daughter and coheir of Addison Fenwick of Bishop Wearmouth, and had issue Anthony, who died at Rome on 17 March 1871; and two daughters, Elizabeth Anne and Eleanor, who married, on 28 Jan. 1885, John Prendergast Vereker, heir to the viscounty of Gort.
Surtees wrote: 1. ‘The Horseman's Manual, being a Treatise on Soundness, the Law of Warranty, and generally on the Laws relating to Horses. By R. S. Surtees, Lincoln's Inn Fields,’ London, 1831, 8vo. 2. ‘Jorrocks's Jaunts and Jollities, or the Hunting, Shooting, Racing, Driving, Sailing, Eating, Eccentric and Extravagant Exploits of that renowned Sporting Citizen, Mr. John Jorrocks of St. Botolph Lane and Great Coram Street,’ with twelve illustrations by ‘Phiz,’ London, 1838, 8vo (a copy fetched 11l. in 1895); 3rd edition, revised, with sixteen coloured plates after Henry Alken, 1843, 8vo, and, with three additional papers from the pages of the ‘New Sporting Magazine,’ 1869 and 1890. 3. ‘Handley Cross, or the Spa Hunt: a Sporting Tale. By the author of “Jorrocks's Jaunts,”’ 3 vols. 1843, London, 12mo. This was expanded into ‘Handley Cross, or Mr. Jorrocks's Hunt,’ London, 1854, 8vo (first issued in seventeen monthly parts, March 1853–October 1854, in red wrappers designed by Leech; a complete set is valued at 9l.), with seventeen admirable engravings on steel, coloured, and eighty-four woodcuts by John Leech; reprinted with coloured plates by Wildrake, Heath, and Jellicoe ; other editions 1891, 1892, and 1898. 4. ‘Hillingdon Hall, or the Cockney Squire: a Tale of Country Life. By the author of “Handley Cross,”’ 3 vols. 1845, London, 12mo; another edition, London, 1888, 8vo. Jorrocks figures once more in this novel, which first appeared in serial form, and has an ironical dedication to the Royal Agricultural Society. 5. ‘Hawbuck Grange, or the Sporting Adventures of Thomas Scott, Esq. With eight illustrations by Phiz,’ London, 1847, 8vo; other editions, London, 1891, 8vo, and London, 1892, 8vo. These papers appeared originally as by Thomas Scott in ‘Bell's Life in London.’ 6. ‘Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour; with illustrations by John Leech,’ London, 1853, 8vo (the thirteen original parts fetch about 8l.); 1892, 8vo; and as ‘Soapey Sponge's Sporting Tour,’ 1893, 8vo. 7. ‘Ask Mamma, or the Richest Commoner in England; with illustrations by John Leech’ (thirteen engravings on steel, coloured, and sixty-nine woodcuts), London, 1858, 8vo (issued in thirteen monthly parts); another edition, London, 1892, 8vo. 8. ‘Plain or Ringlets? By the author of “Handley Cross;” with illustrations by John Leech,’ London, 1860, 8vo (the thirteen monthly parts, in red pictorial wrappers after Leech, fetch 5l. to 6l.); another edition 1892, 8vo. The forty-three woodcuts by Leech are exceptionally good, and there are thirteen coloured plates. 9. ‘Mr. Facey Romford's Hounds; with illustrations by John Leech and Hablot K. Browne,’ London, 1865, 8vo (in twelve parts; the first fourteen coloured plates by Leech, the remaining ten by Browne); the ‘Jorrocks edition,’ illustrated, London, 1892, 8vo.
The ‘Jorrocks Birthday Book,’ being selections from ‘Handley Cross,’ appeared in 1897, 8vo. Surtees ‘had a positive objection to seeing his name in print,’ and his ‘Horseman's Manual’ was the only one of his books to which he affixed his name.[Gent. Mag. 1864, i. 542, 671; Burke's Landed Gentry, 1886, ii. 1771; Memorial Sketch prefixed to the Jaunts and Jollities, ed. 1869; Frith's John Leech, 1891, chs. xv., xvii.; Scott's Book Sales, 1895, pp. 93, 279; Slater's Early Editions, 1894, pp. 280–7; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Anonym. and Pseudonym. Lit.; Brit. Mus. Cat.]