Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Trollope, Anthony
TROLLOPE, ANTHONY (1815–1882), novelist and post-office official, son of Thomas Anthony and of Frances Trollope [q. v.], was born at 16 Keppel Street, Russell Square, on 24 April 1815. Thomas Adolphus Trollope [q. v.] was his elder brother. He was elected a scholar of Winchester in 1826, but his father, having settled at Harrow, removed his son to Harrow school next year. Anthony as a town boy and day pupil was despised and persecuted by masters and scholars alike, and so neglected that after nearly twelve years' schooling he left unable to work an ordinary sum or write a decent hand. The examination of Charley Tudor for the internal navigation office, which has so amused the readers of ‘The Three Clerks,’ is, Trollope informs us, no other than that which he himself passed, or rather was supposed to have passed, on obtaining in 1834 a clerkship in the general post-office. His first seven years in the office were, as he admits, equally unprofitable to the service and to himself, and wretched from pecuniary embarrassment. His official superiors on their side treated him harshly, and took no pains to elicit the devotion to duty and the business faculties which he was to show that he possessed in abundant measure. He seemed on the point of dismissal when, in 1841, he extricated himself by applying for an appointment as a post-office surveyor in Ireland, which no one else would accept. From this time all went well with him officially; the open-air life and extensive journeys incidental to his new duties suited him perfectly; while interest in his work and a sense of responsibility developed his business aptitudes. ‘It was altogether a very jolly life which I led in Ireland,’ he says, and he there contracted the taste for hunting which has so greatly enriched his novels with spirited scenes and descriptions. On 11 June 1844 he was married at Rotherham to Rose, daughter of Edward Heseltine, a bank manager at Rotherham. A year before he took to writing as a means of increasing his income, an end which he was long before attaining. His first novel, ‘The Macdermots of Ballycloran,’ begun in 1843, was published in 1847 by T. C. Newby, the general refuge for the destitute in those days, who was about the same time bringing out ‘Wuthering Heights.’ Notwithstanding its considerable merits, ‘The Macdermots’ fell as absolutely dead from the press as did its more remarkable companion. ‘The Kellys and the O'Kellys’ (1848) had the advantage over its predecessor in two respects: it was published by Colburn, and compared by the ‘Times’ reviewer to a leg of mutton—‘substantial, but a little coarse.’ Apparently the taste for lettered mutton was extinct, for Colburn declared that he lost sixty guineas by it, which did not, however, prevent his giving Trollope 20l. for an historical novel, ‘La Vendée’ (1850), unread then and little read since, though it has been reprinted. The two Irish novels afterwards enjoyed a fair measure of popularity.
Disappointed as a novelist, Trollope tried his hand at a comedy, ‘The Noble Jilt,’ which was never even offered to a manager, but which he afterwards utilised in ‘Can you forgive her?’ Further literary experiment was checked by an official commission which for a time prevented all attempt at composition, but proved the chief source of Trollope's subsequent distinction—an inspection of postal deliveries in rural districts throughout the south-west of Great Britain. ‘During two years,’ he says, ‘it was the ambition of my life to cover the country with rural letter-carriers.’ In this way he obtained a large portion of the immense stock of information respecting persons and things which imparts such extraordinary variety to his multitudinous novels. The idea of ‘The Warden’ came to him ‘whilst wandering one midsummer evening round the purlieus of Salisbury Cathedral,’ although the book was not begun for a year afterwards. It was published in 1855, and its success, if not brilliant, was unequivocal. It revealed a new humorist and a new type of humour. No such picture of the special features of cathedral society had been given before, nor has anything so good been done since, excepting the corresponding portions of ‘Barchester Towers’ and the rest of the ‘Barsetshire’ novels. These, however, are much more complex, Trollope having discovered that the same gifts which enabled him to portray clergymen were equally available for other classes of society. For humour, ‘Barchester Towers’ (1857) perhaps stands first; for the suspense of painful interest, ‘Framley Parsonage’ (1861); for general excellence, ‘The Last Chronicle of Barset’ (1867). They stand at the head of his writings, if we except ‘The Three Clerks’ (1858), a novel at once painfully tragic and irresistibly humorous, in which he drew upon his extensive knowledge of the civil service; and ‘Orley Farm’ (1862), where again pathos and humour contend for the mastery, and the plot is more striking than usual with him. ‘Doctor Thorne’ had appeared in 1858, ‘The Bertrams’ in 1859, and ‘Castle Richmond,’ an Irish novel, in 1860.
During this time Trollope had been rising in official dignity and emolument. Remitted from his English work to Ireland at a considerably higher salary, he had lived successively at Belfast and at Donnybrook. In 1858 he was sent on a postal mission to Egypt, and in the autumn of the same year was despatched on another to the West Indies, which originated his contributions to the literature of travel. It is no wonder that he should have enjoyed such agreeable and lucrative expeditions at the public expense; and Edmund Yates, also a post-office employé, may be well believed when he says that their frequency excited considerable comment. Sir Rowland Hill, however, Trollope's decided adversary in most things, has left it upon record that his mission to the West Indies was fruitful in valuable results, and that his suggestions for the improvement of the packet service had the assent of nautical men. The expedition resulted in ‘The West Indies and the Spanish Main’ (1859), a highly entertaining book of travel, considered by the writer as the best of his work of this kind. In 1861 he visited the United States, not, however, at the public expense, but on a nine months' furlough, granted after ‘a good deal of demurring.’ His account of his travels, entitled ‘North America’ (1862), is disparaged by the author himself, but was eminently useful at the time in aiding to direct public opinion at home into a right channel. If the mother had done America any wrong, the debt was amply discharged by the son. After his retirement from the post office he visited Australia and New Zealand (1871–2), and South Africa (1877), producing books upon these countries more fertile in instruction than in entertainment, as, with regard to the former countries, he admits. Trollope's series of colonial volumes extended to seven volumes in all, and despite their statistical character achieved some vogue. The earliest, ‘Australia and New Zealand,’ appeared in 1873 in two volumes. A one-volume edition followed in 1875. ‘South Australia and Western Australia,’ ‘Victoria and Tasmania,’ and ‘New South Wales and Queensland,’ each formed a separate volume in 1874. Trollope's account of ‘South Africa’ came out in two volumes in 1877, and reached a fourth edition in 1878.
In 1859 Trollope was transferred from Ireland to the charge of the eastern postal district in England. In the internal affairs of the post-office he had always been antagonistic to Sir Rowland Hill. It would certainly have been difficult to find two men less alike in manner, temperament, and disposition. Sir Rowland's retirement in 1864, so much desired by Trollope, indirectly terminated his own connection with the post-office, for when he became a candidate for the assistant-secretaryship, vacated by Sir John Tilley's promotion to Sir Rowland Hill's office, mortification at being passed over was, by his own admission, chief among the causes which led him to retire eight years before becoming entitled to a pension. He took two years to arrive at this decision, and evidently felt the separation very keenly. The authorities, nevertheless, were right: a man so accustomed to field sports and country life that, although prepared to give the necessary daily attendance at his office, he would, as he admits, have considered it ‘slavery,’ was clearly not the man for an assistant-secretaryship. Conspicuous as his extra-official work had been, no one could accuse him of having neglected the duties of his post, and, in addition to his services in regulating foreign mails and country deliveries, he claims the credit of one very important improvement—the postal pillar-box.
The years between Trollope's return to England and his retirement from the post-office had been fertile in literary work. He had formed connections with the ‘Cornhill Magazine,’ the ‘Fortnightly Review,’ and the ‘Pall Mall Gazette.’ For the ‘Cornhill’ he commenced in January 1860 ‘Framley Parsonage,’ not only one of his best books, but one which brought him 1,000l., nearly twice as much as he had received for any former work. The rapid development of his celebrity and the enhancement of authors' gains by the magazine system were evinced by the much higher prices subsequently paid by the proprietors of the same magazine, 3,000l. for ‘The Small House at Allington’ (1864, one of his best novels), and 2,800l. for ‘The Claverings’ (1867). Still ampler were the proceeds of the novels published in monthly parts: ‘Orley Farm’ (1862), ‘Can you forgive her?’ (1864, for which he received 3,525l.) ‘The Last Chronicle of Barset’ (1867) yielded 3,000l. All these works constitute his more remarkable fictions. ‘Rachel Ray’ (1863) and ‘Miss Mackenzie’ (1865) are of less account. ‘The Belton Estate’ (1866; French translation, 1875) was contributed to the ‘Fortnightly Review,’ for which at a later period he wrote papers on Cicero, published separately in 1880, and others in defence of fox-hunting, in reply to attacks upon the sport by Professor Freeman in the same periodical. Much amusement was occasioned by the collision of these two very rough diamonds. He contributed frequently to the ‘Pall Mall Gazette’ for some years after its commencement in 1865, and some of his papers were reprinted. Upon his retirement from the post-office he entered into an undertaking from which much was expected, the editorship of the ‘St. Paul's Magazine.’ This was really a very good magazine, but failed to attract public favour to the extent of becoming a paying speculation. It published one of Trollope's better novels, ‘Phineas Finn, the Irish Member’ (1869), the precursor of a series of similar books—‘Phineas Redux’ (1873), ‘The Prime Minister’ (1876), ‘The American Senator’ (1877), and ‘Is he Popenjoy?’ (1878)—in which the political vein was worked as the vein of country life had been formerly. The vein was not so rich nor the workmanship so skilful; nevertheless these political studies have decided interest, and are the most remarkable of Trollope's later works, except ‘The Way we live now’ (1875), a novel with a decided moral purpose; ‘The Eustace Diamonds’ (1873); and the two highly interesting novelettes, ‘Nina Balatka’ and ‘Linda Tressel,’ contributed to ‘Blackwood's Magazine’ in 1867 and 1868. They appeared anonymously, and, as no one thought of crediting Trollope with the knowledge they evince of Prague and Nuremberg respectively, their authorship remained unsuspected until discovered by the sagacity of R. H. Hutton, editor of the ‘Spectator.’ In fact Trollope had been recently visiting both these cities, yet the versatility of this most English of writers in adapting himself to a foreign atmosphere was remarkable. They were followed by ‘He knew he was Right’ (1869) and ‘The Vicar of Bullhampton’ (1870).
In 1868 Trollope, although retired from the post-office, was sent to Washington to negotiate a postal convention, in which he succeeded. In the winter of the same year he became a candidate for the representation of Beverley in parliament; he was defeated by unscrupulous bribery, but had the satisfaction of seeing the borough disfranchised in consequence. In 1870 he wrote a biography of Cæsar for Blackwood's ‘Ancient Classics,’ and in 1879 one of Thackeray for ‘English Men of Letters’—labours of love, the undertaking of which was more creditable than the performance. In 1875–6 he wrote the autobiography, published after his death, which is the main authority for his life. It is nearly as remarkable an instance of frank candour as of innocent vanity; but there is too much sermonising, and the book would gain greatly by compression. Trollope went on writing till disabled in November 1882 by a stroke of paralysis, which proved fatal on 6 Dec. He had latterly resided at Harting, a village on the confines of Sussex and Hampshire, but continued to be a frequent traveller. He was survived by his widow and by two sons.
His later novels included: ‘Mary Gresley’ (1871), ‘Ralph the Heir’ (1871), ‘The Golden Lion of Granpère’ (1872), ‘Harry Heathcote: a Story of Australian Bush Life’ (1874), ‘Lady Anna’ (1874), ‘John Caldigate’ (1879), ‘An Eye for an Eye’ (1879), ‘Cousin Henry’ (1879), ‘The Duke's Children’ (1880), ‘Ayala's Angel’ (1881), ‘Dr. Wortle's School’ (1881), ‘The Fixed Period’ (1882), ‘Kept in the Dark’ (1882), ‘Marion Fay’ (1882). At the time of his death a novel, ‘Mr. Scarborough's Family,’ was running through ‘All the Year Round,’ and he left one, ‘The Land-Leaguers,’ nearly, and another, ‘An Old Man's Love,’ entirely complete in manuscript. All were published. Up to 1879 Trollope had made nearly 70,000l. by his writings, a result which he considered fairly satisfactory, but not brilliant. This looks like cupidity; in fact, however, reckoning from the date of his first publication, his annual receipts had not greatly exceeded 2,000l., a sum such as is often paid to a barrister in a single case. The higher rewards of successful authorship were valued by him below their worth.
Trollope is a master of humour and pathos. His best novels keep the reader for pages together in a round of delighted amusement, and when he chooses to be pathetic he affects the reader with sympathy and compassion. His favourite situation of this kind, the agony of some erring man who has from weakness deeply compromised himself, but who still trembles on the verge between ruin and redemption, appeals to the sympathies with much tragic power. Talent such as this almost amounts to genius, and yet Trollope was no genius; he never creates—he only depicts. His views of his art were of the most material description; he insists that the author is a mere workman; ridicules the idea of an extraneous inspiring influence; and scoffs at the man who cannot rise regularly at half-past five and write 2,500 words before breakfast, as he did. His work, accordingly, is mechanical, and devoid of all poetical and spiritual qualities. But within its own limits it is not only strong but wonderful. If to represent reality is to be a realist, Trollope is one of the greatest realists that ever wrote. His absolute fidelity to fact is miraculous; never does one of his innumerable personages utter anything inconsistent with his character, or behave in any given situation otherwise than the character and the situation require. His success in delineating the members of social classes, such as the episcopal, of which he can have had but little personal knowledge, is most extraordinary, and seems to suggest not merely preternatural quickness of observation and retentiveness of memory, but some special instinct. His plots are indifferent, his diction is careless, he is full of technical defects, his penetration goes but a little way below the surface; but no one has exhibited the outward aspects of the England of his day—saints and sages excluded on the one hand, and abject vagabonds on the other—as Anthony Trollope has done. His works may fall into temporary oblivion, but when the twentieth century desires to estimate the nineteenth, they will be disinterred and studied with an attention accorded to no contemporary work of the kind, except, perhaps, George Eliot's ‘Middlemarch.’
In form Trollope was burly, in manner boisterous. His vociferous roughness repelled many, but was the disguise of real tenderness of heart. As his novels display an equally realistic power in depicting the tender mysteries of damsels' hearts and the ways and works of the rougher sex, so his conduct could be characterised by delicate generosity as well as by the frank, somewhat aggressive cordiality which was no doubt more congenial to his nature. ‘The larger portion of the collection of books of which he speaks with such affection in the “Autobiography,”’ says Edmund Yates, ‘was purchased to relieve the necessities of an old friend's widow, who never had an idea but that she was doing Trollope a kindness in letting him buy them.’
A portrait of Trollope was painted by Samuel Laurence; an engraving by Leopold Lowenstam is prefixed to the ‘Autobiography’ of 1883.[The principal source of information respecting Trollope's life is his Autobiography (London, 2 vols. 1883), with a preface by the novelist's son, Henry M. Trollope; he is also frequently mentioned in T. A. Trollope's What I Remember (1887), and Further Reminiscences (1889), and in Mrs. Trollope's Life of Frances Trollope (1895). See also Edmund Yates's Recollections and Experiences, chap. xiii.; Times, 7 Dec. 1882; Athenæum, 9 Dec.; and the Academy of the same date. There are excellent critical appreciations in Mr. Henry James's Partial Portraits, in Professor Saintsbury's English Literature of the Nineteenth Century, and in Mr. Frederic Harrison's Studies of the Great Victorian Writers.]