An article by Donald Macleod, D.D
Among the many memoirs which have been published of recent years, few have created greater interest than the autobiographical notes left by the late Mr. Anthony Trollope. We regret that we have been unable before to notice, in GOOD WORDS, the life of one who for many years past contributed to its pages, and to whom our readers were so much indebted.
His reminiscences are full of interest and instruction. Professing to be chiefly literary, and teeming with literary criticism and delightful literary gossip, they also contain a self-revelation in which no detail is omitted necessary to the understanding of his life. In common with all who knew him only after he had achieved distinction, we were surprised by the picture he draws of the hardships of his early life. For no trace of sorrow, no memory of disappointment, could be detected in that bluff and cheery presence. He seemed to revel in the fresh air of a healthy, happy, and useful existence. The loud manly voice, the banging emphasis and straightness of leap with which he plunged into any matter of discussion, had something in them of his favourite amusement of hunting. He addressed you as a man trotting alongside, and in the teeth of a strong breeze, might address you. There was the ring of the “View-halloo” in his heartiness. His countenance beamed with thorough honesty and kindness. And yet he describes the first twenty-six years of his life as “years of suffering, disgrace, and inward remorse.” We are disposed to make large allowance, in these statements, for the influence of a sensitive temperament. His “craving for affection” probably made him exaggerate the slights to which he was exposed. A coarser nature would have forgotten many of the incidents that left deep scars on his kindly spirit. But the picture he gives of his school-days is none the less touching. The son of a barrister of some ability, who was afflicted with poverty, a bad temper, and thorough inaptitude for business, he was born under a conjunction of evil stars. His mother, the celebrated novelist, was the one solace of his youth, but by a hard fate he was long separated from her. He thus describes his first experience at school:—
Later on, when he was at Winchester College, he was as miserable as before.
He had other sorrows to meet before he entered on the business of his life in connection with the Civil Service. The beginning of his career at the Post Office was equally unfortunate with that of his boyhood. His superior officers at “The Grand” found him unpunctual and careless, while he thought them overbearing. It seemed to him as if he were doomed to ill-usage. Yet even during those unhappy years there were the stirrings of literary ambition, and tokens of the shape which that ambition was to take. He was haunted with a passion for castle-building.
The two turning points of his career were his transference to Ireland and his marriage. In Ireland he found, for the first time, congenial surroundings, and he threw himself with enthusiasm into his official duties. His marriage added a new stimulus to his ambition. He determined to increase his income by the gains of authorship, and accordingly sat down to his first novel. This was in 1841, when he was twenty-six years old. Fortune, however, frowned on this first attempt, as she had frowned on every commencement he made in life. But a new spirit of courage was in him, and he faced the world with a determination to succeed. With that dauntless energy and perseverance which became his chief characteristic, he girded himself for his conflict with fortune. It was not, however, till 1855 that he gained his first success. It was then that “Barchester Towers” appeared, the earliest of that series which included “Framley Parsonage,” and “The Last Chronicle of Barset.” It is on that series his fame will chiefly rest. From 1855 his place in contemporary literature was recognised. If it was not the very highest place, it was close to the highest. He would himself have been the last to claim equality with Thackeray or George Eliot. They had genius; Trollope had talent: but it was talent of rare quality. It seemed exhaustless in productive power, and capable of bringing its full strength to bear on every production, however rapidly executed. If his work never rises to the loftiest range, it maintains an excellence that is astonishing in view of the speed with which story followed story. He describes his method of working with perfect frankness. He despised the idea of a writer waiting for inspiration. “Genius,” he once said to us, “is but another name for the length of time a man can sit.” “I was once told,” he says in his Autobiography, “that the surest aid to the writing of a book was a piece of cobbler’s wax on my chair. I certainly believe in the cobbler’s wax much more than in inspiration.” No cobbler’s wax, however, could have held him so firmly as did his own determination.
It was indeed a comfort for any editor to have Trollope as a writer, for there was never any anxiety as to “copy” being forthcoming at the appointed time. We remember the surprise we experienced when, on the occasion of our first arranging with him for a story, he asked, “How many words do you wish?” “On what day do you wish copy?” was the next question. A jotting was then taken of the agreement, and it was observed by him to the letter. Such methods cannot but appear inconsistent with any preconceived notions of inspiration, and as being too mechanical for the accomplishment of the best work. Yet we believe it had no such trammelling influence on Trollope, whose temperament was such that he could reach his highest power whether he was flying in an express train or being pitched about in a steamer in a gale. With unflinching regularity and decision he could concentrate his mind on his allotted task—sometimes even timing himself with his watch for the production of so many words in so many minutes. We question, however, whether the consciousness of having to fill so many pages, while quite consistent with the maintenance of a certain literary proportion, did not sometimes lead to undue “padding.” If he worked hard, he very properly expected to be paid for his work. He had no false sentimentalism as to money in connection with art. “It is a mistake to suppose that a man is a better man because he despises money. Who does not desire to be hospitable to his friends, generous to the poor, liberal to all, munificent to his children, and to be himself free from the carking fear which poverty creates?” The profits which he reaped from his works amounted in all to something between £70,000 and £80,000. It seems a large sum, but when we consider the talent and industry employed, and think of what this same talent and industry might have gained had they been engaged at the bar or in commerce, we cannot estimate the result of his life’s work as at all extraordinary.
His conception of the moral purposes to be served by the writer of novels is a noble one, and he is justified in his claim to having honestly tried to fulfil his ideal.
His life, in spite of its incessant toil, was an exceedingly happy one, and he recognised its happiness to the full. His duties afforded him the opportunity of travelling extensively. Egypt, the West Indies, America, Australia, South Africa, became familiar ground to him. When at home he had his four hunters ever ready to carry him to the covert side, and (what was more difficult) to carry a rider across country who was so short-sighted that he could never form a judgement of fence or ditch, and who boldly rode straight at everything. From his habit of rising every morning at 5.30 a.m., he was able to have his literary work over in good time, and the day free for any other duty or amusement. Loving his own fireside, he yet enjoyed going into society, and seldom in his later life did he miss, when in town, the afternoon visit to the Garrick, and the afternoon rubber at whist there. Never making any very loud professions of religion, and regarding all that was innocent in life as open to his free enjoyment, all his friends knew him to be a reverent and sincere Christian.
From the affection and admiration with which we regard him, it is painful for us to draw attention to one passage in his Autobiography in which his memory has evidently betrayed him, and in which he writes in a tone which, for many reasons well known to us, has filled us with surprise. We refer to the following passage:—
When we remember the trueness of the friendship which existed between Mr. Trollope and Dr. Norman Macleod, and which was not even disturbed by the incident of “Rachel Ray,” we are at a loss to account for the irritation which this passage betrays. Still more unaccountable is his narrative of the rejection of “Rachel Ray,” and his supposition that the only cause for it was the occurrence of some dancing in the early part of the story. To show the groundlessness of the reason he attributes, we have but to recall to our readers the song once written for GOOD WORDS by Norman Macleod himself.
But Mr. Trollope ought to have had no difficulty in divining the reasons for “Rachel Ray” not being accepted, because he had these reasons given at length by Norman Macleod in a letter which we published in the memoir of our brother, and part of which we here reproduce, not only to show that there is very little trace of “wailing and repentance,” but also to give our readers an insight into the principles upon which the former and present editors have tried to select fiction—that most difficult of all elements in a periodical with the aims which GOOD WORDS has always put before it.
We have only to add in reference to another remark made by Mr. Trollope—that such have been the changes in public opinion that the once rejected novel would probably now be published without question in GOOD WORDS,—that having just finished the perusal of “Rachel Ray,” we thoroughly endorse the judgement of the former editor.
We will close this brief sketch of the good Anthony Trollope with a story lately given us, which is both amusing and will serve to show how hearty was the friendship which existed between him and Norman Macleod, long after “Rachel Ray’s” rejection had been forgotten. They were both with Mr. John Burns (the well-known chairman of the Cunard Line) at a little Highland inn, when, after supper, stories were told, and the laughter became loud and long, lasting far into the night. In the morning an old gentleman, who slept in a bedroom above where they were, complained to the landlord of the manner in which his night’s rest had been disturbed, and presumed to express his astonishment that such men should have taken more than was good for them. “Well,” replied the landlord, “I am bound to confess there was much loud talking and laughter; but they had nothing stronger than tea and fresh herrings.” “Bless me,” rejoined the old gentleman, “if that is so, what would they be after dinner!”
 The following is a list of the stories and articles which he contributed: “The Widow’s Mite” (1863); “The Two Generals” (1863); “Malachi’s Cave” (1864); “The Last Austrian who left Venice” (1867); “The Golden Lion of Granpere” (1872); “Why Frau Frohmann raised her Prices” (1877); “Young Women at the London Telegraph Office” (1877); “The Telegraph Girl” (1877); “Alice Dugdale” (1878); “In the Hunting-Field” (1879); “A Walk in a Wood” (1879); “Kept in the Dark” (1882); “The Two Heroines of Plumpington” (1882).
 “Barchester Towers” is actually the second in the series: “The Warden” comes first. JM