Read an Excerpt
By Graham Handley
The History PressCopyright © 2011 Graham Handley
All rights reserved.
Trials and Tribulations
Anthony Trollope was born on 24 April 1815 at 16 Keppel Street, Bloomsbury, London, the fourth son of a sparsely-practising barrister, Thomas Anthony Trollope, and his wife Frances (née Milton). His eldest brother, Thomas Adolphus, was born in 1810, and became a literary man, writing novels, travel and history. Two other brothers, Henry (born 1811) and Arthur (born 1812), died young, the first in 1824 and the second in 1834 some weeks after Anthony's appointment in the Post Office. Emily, born in 1818, survived until 1836. Her death was perhaps the most traumatic for Anthony. He wrote feelingly to Tom in February of that year, 'Poor Emily breathed her last this morning. She died without any pain, and without a struggle.' The fourth member of the family to die from the scourge of consumption was Cecilia (born 1817). She had married Anthony's friend and colleague, John Tilley, and survived until April 1849 before succumbing at the age of thirty-two.
Anthony's father was a melancholy man of extreme moods, his mother a vivacious woman of great fortitude and industry, as she was soon to demonstrate. Some short time after Anthony's birth the family moved to Harrow-on-the-Hill where Thomas Anthony had unwisely leased some farmland, and by 1823 Anthony was attending Harrow School as a day-boy. The plan was that he should go on from there to Winchester, his father's old school, and from there to Oxford (Tom and Henry had been sent to Winchester in 1820/21). The early pages of An Autobiography reflect just how conscious Anthony was of his hobbledehoy image, his poor clothes, the various petty incidents of this phase of his schooldays, as he saw them later, and other more serious marks of denigration which emphasized his sense of isolation. The boys who lived at home were often snubbed and bullied. Even if we allow for some exaggeration in this recall of his early life, the tone of bitterness, largely absent from his adult life, is unmistakable.
Mr Trollope had expectations, having calculated that he would be left money by a rich relative, Adolphus Meetkeerke. But these fell through when Meetkeerke remarried at the age of sixty-four, his wife being much younger than he was.
Soon the shunting which was to disrupt Anthony's development began. In 1825 he was transferred to a private school in Sunbury, and from there to Winchester College two years later where, according to his own account in An Autobiography, he was regularly flogged by his brother Tom as part of his daily discipline and further endured the then spartan conditions of school life. By now the family was in dire financial straits. Influenced by a friend, Frances Wright, who had founded a Utopian community at Nashoba in Tennessee with the object of freeing the slaves, Frances Trollope sailed for America in November 1827. Her son Henry and two daughters accompanied her, as did an artist friend, Auguste Hervieu, a member of the Trollope household at Harrow. He was devoted to her, and continued to be (he later illustrated her books) and would have been of practical help with the community idea in the capacity of teaching. However, Frances apparently spent less than a fortnight at Nashoba, where the community had a high incidence of disease and was in a largely disorganized state, before she left for Cincinnati.
The initial disaster of Nashoba was compounded by Frances' sheer impracticality in business. She set up a kind of superstore (known later to many as 'Trollope's Folly'), in which she intended to have 'a variety of shops and boutiques on the main floor, with a refreshment hall and gallery for paintings; on the next a ballroom and concert hall ...'. In 1828 her husband and eldest son sailed to join her, leaving Anthony behind. He was at Winchester at this time, and felt somewhat forsaken. Frances hoped to sell goods which her husband had purchased for the venture, but failure was absolute. In 1829 Tom and Mr Trollope returned, followed by Henry, and because of the lack of funds and increasing debts Anthony had to leave Winchester in 1830. He returned to Harrow at the beginning of the following year, and resumed his daily walks to school and back to the decaying farmhouse. His memories stress the fact that he was dirty and slovenly, but there is little doubt that he acquired the lasting effects of an interest in the Latin classics which were to give him so much pleasure throughout life. Ten years before he wrote of this time of personal suffering in An Autobiography he had sung the praises of the public schools for installing courage and integrity in their pupils.
Frances Trollope, like her son Anthony after her, found travel the stimulant she needed despite the weight of adversities. She arrived back from America at the beginning of August 1831, and scarcely seven months later had published The Domestic Manners of the Americans, which became a bestseller. It angered many Americans, so much so that the name 'Trollope' became equated with unfair criticism of their way of life, but it found an appreciative reading public in England. She made enough money to settle the most pressing debts, though the family fortunes could hardly be completely retrieved or set on a firm footing. She became a literary lion, and followed her initial success by writing a wide range of books. Her next was called The Refugee in America. Her subjects included popular travel, works of social concern (Michael Armstrong, the Factory Boy) and she of course contributed to the current vogue for romances. Despite her son's later strictures on their quality, her novels exhibit a remarkable variety. Her husband meanwhile was beginning the laborious task of compiling his Encyclopedia Ecclesiastica, his temper, indigestion, headaches and the general malaise of moods certainly exacerbated by the misprescription of drugs.
Anthony may have felt left out even after his mother's return, but he must have admired her incredible achievements and self- discipline: she became a role-model at least in part for his own future practice. She nursed her ailing husband, wrote her books, socialized, and spent. As Anthony later wrote, 'She was at her table at four in the morning, and had finished her work before the world had begun to be aroused.' By contrast his father continued to decline, having nothing of his wife's taste for what Anthony calls 'joy'. 'The touch of his hand seemed to create failure' and 'His life as I knew it was one long tragedy' are his son's poignant glosses on a failed life. But the ambitious nature of his father's literary project may have influenced his son to entertain the idea some time later of writing a history of world literature. Meanwhile Anthony himself had little time for joy, though on one occasion he and Tom apparently walked from Harrow to Vauxhall Gardens to see the amusements there, and then walked home again in the small hours of the following morning.
In April 1834 the family were forced to leave the country because of their debts. Mrs Trollope was already on the continent gathering information for her next book, and Anthony had to drive his father to London to catch the Ostend boat. Lord Northwich, their landlord, had seized their property and possessions because of their debts: they literally scuttled out of the back door as the debt collectors arrived at the front. They went to Bruges, Anthony and his sister Cecilia arriving in May, and Henry joined them there. He was already in the later stages of consumption. Anthony in fact had a short taste of teaching, acting as classics' usher at a school in Brussels for a period of about six weeks. He has left on record, again with some bitterness between the lines, the fact that he had failed to get into Oxford or Cambridge, though when he left Harrow at the age of nineteen he was in fact near the top of the school. He never forgave the Headmaster, Dr Butler, for castigating his dirtiness in the street much earlier in his school career and casting doubt on whether this really was a Harrow boy: Anthony knew he knew who he was, for 'he was in the habit of flogging me constantly'.
But in October 1834 the clerical vacancy in the Post Office arose. The son of Sir Francis Freeling, secretary to the Post Office in London, was married to a friend of Frances Trollope, and through the good offices of this friend an interview was granted to Anthony. His appointment was confirmed early in November. On 23 December his brother Henry died. The new era in his life had opened sadly and things were to get progressively worse on both personal and professional levels as the nineteen-year-old Anthony insecurely began his career.
He and his fellow clerks had the primary task of copying documents, generally letters, their hours being from ten until four. Eighteen months after Anthony's appointment Freeling died and was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel Maberly, who was pretty soon at odds with his junior clerk. But Anthony did have his leisure, and has given some account of the long walks he enjoyed with his friends Henry Merivale (this was a lifelong attachment) and Walter Awdry, touring the countryside and vowing never to spend more than five shillings a day. Anthony read, he had ambitions to write, he played cards and, of course, he got into debt. One amusing incident is recounted in An Autobiography which was later to be recycled in The Three Clerks (1857). Anthony tells how he was embarrassed in front of his colleagues by the arrival of a woman in the office who upbraided him for not saying when he was going to marry her daughter, the latter having been convinced (which Trollope was not) that he had proposed to her. In the novel Charley Tudor, who has many marks of identity with the young Anthony Trollope, is confronted at his work by Mrs Davis, landlady of the Cat and Whistle (the pub much frequented by Charley). Charley has become romantically involved with her barmaid, Norah Geraghty:
'And, Mr Tudor, what are you a-going to do about that poor girl there?' said Mrs Davis, as soon as she found herself in the passage, and saw that Charley was comfortably settled with his back against the wall.
'She may go to Hong-Kong for me.' That is what Charley should have said. But he did not say it. He had neither the sternness of heart nor the moral courage to enable him to do so. He was very anxious, it is true, to get altogether quit of Norah Geraghty; but his present immediate care was confined to a desire of getting Mrs Davis out of the office.
'Do!' said Charley. 'Oh, I don't know; I'll come and settle something some of these days; let me see when – say next Tuesday.'
'Settle something,' said Mrs Davis. 'If you are an honest man, as I take you, there is only one thing to settle; when do you mean to marry her?'
Meanwhile Anthony's father died on 23 October 1835, and Mrs Trollope took a house at Hadley near Barnet early in 1836, bringing the now terminally ill Emily with her. Anthony came down from London to stay with them from time to time. Again there is a link with The Three Clerks where the young Katie Woodward, whom Charley Tudor really loves, goes into a decline which seems to be fatal. She survives, for fiction can be made softer than life.
With typical resilience Mrs Trollope was in Vienna by the summer, collecting material for her forthcoming study of Vienna and the Austrians. Tom was appointed to a teaching post at King Edward's Grammar School, Birmingham, and Anthony muddled on in London. He was in trouble in 1838 for failing to produce a copy of a document, his pay was held over for a week as a result, and he also had to stay behind after office hours to do extra work. There was some brightening of the atmosphere when one of Anthony's fellow clerks, John Tilley, later to rise to the heights of executive authority in the Post Office (and to have some rivalry with Anthony), married his last surviving sister Cecilia in February 1839. He had just been appointed as a district surveyor for the Post Office in Northern England. The house at Hadley was given up in 1838, Mrs Trollope moved temporarily to London and then fell in love with the Lake District. She researched Michael Armstrong, the Factory Boy, took a house at Penrith and then, towards the end of 1839, went to Paris with Anthony to give him a holiday. After his return he became ill, and from May to September 1840 he was on sick leave, later visiting his mother and the Tilleys in Cumberland.
Anthony's appraisal of his mother in An Autobiography was criticized by his brother Tom after his death. It is a curious mixture of pride in her courage and criticism of her writing and personality. He said that everything with her was 'an affair of the heart', and added of her bestselling book that 'The Americans were to her rough, uncouth, and vulgar, – and she told them so. Those communistic and social ideas, which had been so pretty in a drawing-room, were scattered to the winds.' Her fame encouraged her natural tendency towards social climbing, and her son Anthony was hardly dissimilar from her in this respect.
In addition to his postal work, Anthony had acted for his mother with publishers in London, a practice from which he was to benefit later. By 1841 his salary had risen to £180 per annum, but his reputation had not risen with it. When the position of Postal Surveyor's clerk came up in Banagher, Ireland, Anthony decided to apply for it. The salary was £100, but the travel and subsistence expenses were such that he could hope to earn at least £300. His application was successful, and he has suggested that Maberly was only too glad to see him go and that, had he not done so, he might not have survived in the Post Office much longer. He cleared his debts and provided for his initial expenses by borrowing £200 from a relative. He has left one amusing account of his relations with Maberly which testifies to his feelings of frustration during his office life. A letter placed there by the clerk, Trollope, was missing from Maberly's desk:
When the letter was missed I was sent for, and there I found the Colonel much moved about his letter ... 'The letter has been taken,' said the Colonel, turning to me angrily, 'and, by G ----! there has been nobody in the room but you and I.' As he spoke he thundered his fist down upon the table. 'Then,' said I, 'by G ----! you have taken it.' And I also thundered my fist down; but, accidentally, not upon the table. There was there a standing movable desk, at which, I presume, it was the Colonel's habit to write, and on this movable desk was a large bottle full of ink. My fist unfortunately came on the desk, and the ink at once flew up, covering the Colonel's face and shirt-front. Then it was a sight to see that senior clerk, as he seized a quire of blotting-paper, and rushed to the aid of his superior officer, striving to mop up the ink; and a sight also to see the Colonel, in his agony, hit out right through the blotting-paper at that senior clerk's unoffending stomach. At that moment there came in the Colonel's private secretary, with the letter and the money, and I was desired to go back to my own room. This was an incident not much in my favour, though I do not know that it did me special harm.CHAPTER 2
A Real Change
Trollope arrived in Ireland in mid-September 1841, the base for his operations being established at Banagher on the Shannon, a central location. He had the daily travelling allowance referred to above, and he was soon riding the length and breadth of the country, which he came to love. He turned the screw on those who were inefficient and established his own authority in the outlying places, for instance dealing summarily with a defaulting postmaster on Galway Bay.
Hitherto trapped behind a desk and what he called 'this wretched life' of debt, passing degradation and frustration, Anthony now surfaced into an unclerical and free-ranging life which gave him the impetus for success. It made him, for in many ways he was able to become his own man, a travelling man physically but, one senses from his own words, a travelling man imaginatively as well. Even as a boy he had gone about 'with some castle in the air firmly built within my mind' and had chosen 'to live in a world altogether outside the world of my own material life'.
By July/August 1842 he was in Kingstown, a seaside place close to Dublin. Here he met the Rotherham bank manager, Edward Heseltine, and his daughters. He married one of them, Rose, on 11 June 1844, in Rotherham, naming that day as being 'the commencement of my better life'. Typical of his reticence though is his laconic observation some two or three pages later that, 'My marriage was like the marriage of other people, and of no special interest to any one except my wife and me.' He was soon introduced to the sport of fox-hunting which was to become the passion of his life whenever he had leisure; socially too his life expanded, and he visited his old Harrow friend, William Gregory, at Coole Park, a place later indelibly associated through Gregory's second wife with the poet W. B. Yeats. Trollope's first two novels were set in Ireland, as was his final uncompleted one. He saw the famine of 1846–7 at first hand, and later got into print in the Examiner, then edited by Dickens' friend John Forster, by supporting the government measures in Ireland which had been so condemned by radicals in London.
Above all initially, he made his professional mark, and he also set up in his own mind a databank on which he could draw to sustain the imaginative life which was so essential to him. Always the ambition to be a novelist was present. In 1843 he tentatively began his first novel, based on his observation of a distinctive old house at Drumsna in Leitrim. It set his imagination working, and in that first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran, he describes it. After his marriage to Rose he was appointed clerk for the Southern District of Ireland in August 1844, and moved to Clonmel in Tipperary, which became his next base. In 1846 and 1847 sons were born to this socially rising couple, Henry in March 1846 and Frederic in September 1847. Trollope was instrumentally responsible for improvements in the postal services, helping to initiate the movement of mail from coaches and Bianconi's cars to the emergent and extending railways in Ireland. His own peregrinations continued, and by 1848 he had moved house to County Cork.
Excerpted from Anthony Trollope by Graham Handley. Copyright © 2011 Graham Handley. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsList of Illustrations,
Acknowledgements & Further Reading,
1 Trials and Tribulations,
2 A Real Change,
3 Home and Away,
4 Fame and Considerable Fortune,
5 Politics and After,
6 The Ways He Lived Then,
Notes and References,