Anthony Trollope.

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this occasion, as we made our way slowly through Switzerland and over
the Alps, we encountered again and again a poor forlorn Englishman,
who had no friend and no aptitude for travelling. He was always
losing his way, and finding himself with no seat in the coaches and
no bed at the inns. On one occasion I found him at Coire seated at
5 A.M. in the _coupé_ of a diligence which was intended to start at
noon for the Engadine, while it was his purpose to go over the Alps
in another which was to leave at 5.30, and which was already crowded
with passengers. "Ah!" he said, "I am in time now, and nobody shall
turn me out of this seat," alluding to former little misfortunes of
which I had been a witness. When I explained to him his position,
he was as one to whom life was too bitter to be borne. But he made
his way into Italy, and encountered me again at the Pitti Palace in
Florence. "Can you tell me something?" he said to me in a whisper,
having touched my shoulder. "The people are so ill-natured I don't
like to ask them. Where is it they keep the Medical Venus?" I sent
him to the Uffizzi, but I fear he was disappointed.

We ourselves, however, on entering Milan had been in quite as much
distress as any that he suffered. We had not written for beds, and
on driving up to a hotel at ten in the evening found it full. Thence
we went from one hotel to another, finding them all full. The misery
is one well known to travellers, but I never heard of another case
in which a man and his wife were told at midnight to get out of the
conveyance into the middle of the street because the horse could not
be made to go any further. Such was our condition. I induced the
driver, however, to go again to the hotel which was nearest to him,
and which was kept by a German. Then I bribed the porter to get the
master to come down to me; and, though my French is ordinarily very
defective, I spoke with such eloquence to that German innkeeper that
he, throwing his arms round my neck in a transport of compassion,
swore that he would never leave me nor my wife till he had put us to
bed. And he did so; but, ah! there were so many in those beds! It
is such an experience as this which teaches a travelling foreigner
how different on the Continent is the accommodation provided for him,
from that which is supplied for the inhabitants of the country.

It was on a previous visit to Milan, when the telegraph-wires were
only just opened to the public by the Austrian authorities, that we
had decided one day at dinner that we would go to Verona that night.
There was a train at six, reaching Verona at midnight, and we asked
some servant of the hotel to telegraph for us, ordering supper and
beds. The demand seemed to create some surprise; but we persisted,
and were only mildly grieved when we found ourselves charged twenty
zwanzigers for the message. Telegraphy was new at Milan, and the
prices were intended to be almost prohibitory. We paid our twenty
zwanzigers and went on, consoling ourselves with the thought of our
ready supper and our assured beds. When we reached Verona, there
arose a great cry along the platform for Signor Trollope. I put
out my head and declared my identity, when I was waited upon by a
glorious personage dressed like a beau for a ball, with half-a-dozen
others almost as glorious behind him, who informed me, with his hat
in his hand, that he was the landlord of the "Due Torre." It was
a heating moment, but it became more hot when he asked me after
my people, - "mes gens." I could only turn round, and point to my
wife and brother-in-law. I had no other "people." There were three
carriages provided for us, each with a pair of grey horses. When we
reached the house it was all lit up. We were not allowed to move
without an attendant with a lighted candle. It was only gradually
that the mistake came to be understood. On us there was still the
horror of the bill, the extent of which could not be known till the
hour of departure had come. The landlord, however, had acknowledged
to himself that his inductions had been ill-founded, and he treated
us with clemency. He had never before received a telegram.

I apologise for these tales, which are certainly outside my purpose,
and will endeavour to tell no more that shall not have a closer
relation to my story. I had finished _The Three Clerks_ just before I
left England, and when in Florence was cudgelling my brain for a new
plot. Being then with my brother, I asked him to sketch me a plot,
and he drew out that of my next novel, called _Doctor Thorne_. I
mention this particularly, because it was the only occasion in which
I have had recourse to some other source than my own brains for the
thread of a story. How far I may unconsciously have adopted incidents
from what I have read, - either from history or from works of
imagination, - I do not know. It is beyond question that a man
employed as I have been must do so. But when doing it I have not been
aware that I have done it. I have never taken another man's work, and
deliberately framed my work upon it. I am far from censuring this
practice in others. Our greatest masters in works of imagination
have obtained such aid for themselves. Shakespeare dug out of such
quarries wherever he could find them. Ben Jonson, with heavier hand,
built up his structures on his studies of the classics, not thinking
it beneath him to give, without direct acknowledgment, whole pieces
translated both from poets and historians. But in those days no such
acknowledgment was usual. Plagiary existed, and was very common, but
was not known as a sin. It is different now; and I think that an
author, when he uses either the words or the plot of another, should
own as much, demanding to be credited with no more of the work than
he has himself produced. I may say also that I have never printed as
my own a word that has been written by others.[4] It might probably
have been better for my readers had I done so, as I am informed that
_Doctor Thorne_, the novel of which I am now speaking, has a larger
sale than any other book of mine.

[Footnote 4: I must make one exception to this declaration. The
legal opinion as to heirlooms in _The Eustace Diamonds_ was
written for me by Charles Merewether, the present Member for
Northampton. I am told that it has become the ruling authority
on the subject.]

Early in 1858, while I was writing _Doctor Thorne_, I was asked by
the great men at the General Post Office to go to Egypt to make a
treaty with the Pasha for the conveyance of our mails through that
country by railway. There was a treaty in existence, but that had
reference to the carriage of bags and boxes by camels from Alexandria
to Suez. Since its date the railway had grown, and was now nearly
completed, and a new treaty was wanted. So I came over from Dublin
to London, on my road, and again went to work among the publishers.
The other novel was not finished; but I thought I had now progressed
far enough to arrange a sale while the work was still on the stocks.
I went to Mr. Bentley and demanded £400, - for the copyright. He
acceded, but came to me the next morning at the General Post Office
to say that it could not be. He had gone to work at his figures after
I had left him, and had found that £300 would be the outside value
of the novel. I was intent upon the larger sum; and in furious
haste, - for I had but an hour at my disposal, - I rushed to Chapman &
Hall in Piccadilly, and said what I had to say to Mr. Edward Chapman
in a quick torrent of words. They were the first of a great many
words which have since been spoken by me in that back-shop. Looking
at me as he might have done at a highway robber who had stopped him
on Hounslow Heath, he said that he supposed he might as well do as
I desired. I considered this to be a sale, and it was a sale. I
remember that he held the poker in his hand all the time that I was
with him; - but in truth, even though he had declined to buy the book,
there would have been no danger.



As I journeyed across France to Marseilles, and made thence a
terribly rough voyage to Alexandria, I wrote my allotted number of
pages every day. On this occasion more than once I left my paper on
the cabin table, rushing away to be sick in the privacy of my state
room. It was February, and the weather was miserable; but still I did
my work. _Labor omnia vincit improbus_. I do not say that to all men
has been given physical strength sufficient for such exertion as
this, but I do believe that real exertion will enable most men to
work at almost any season. I had previously to this arranged a system
of task-work for myself, which I would strongly recommend to those
who feel as I have felt, that labour, when not made absolutely
obligatory by the circumstances of the hour, should never be allowed
to become spasmodic. There was no day on which it was my positive
duty to write for the publishers, as it was my duty to write reports
for the Post Office. I was free to be idle if I pleased. But as I had
made up my mind to undertake this second profession, I found it to be
expedient to bind myself by certain self-imposed laws. When I have
commenced a new book, I have always prepared a diary, divided into
weeks, and carried it on for the period which I have allowed myself
for the completion of the work. In this I have entered, day by day,
the number of pages I have written, so that if at any time I have
slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness
has been there, staring me in the face, and demanding of me increased
labour, so that the deficiency might be supplied. According to the
circumstances of the time, - whether my other business might be then
heavy or light, or whether the book which I was writing was or was
not wanted with speed, - I have allotted myself so many pages a week.
The average number has been about 40. It has been placed as low as
20, and has risen to 112. And as a page is an ambiguous term, my page
has been made to contain 250 words; and as words, if not watched,
will have a tendency to straggle, I have had every word counted as
I went. In the bargains I have made with publishers I have, - not, of
course, with their knowledge, but in my own mind, - undertaken always
to supply them with so many words, and I have never put a book out
of hand short of the number by a single word. I may also say that the
excess has been very small. I have prided myself on completing my
work exactly within the proposed dimensions. But I have prided myself
especially in completing it within the proposed time, - and I have
always done so. There has ever been the record before me, and a week
passed with an insufficient number of pages has been a blister to my
eye, and a month so disgraced would have been a sorrow to my heart.

I have been told that such appliances are beneath the notice of a
man of genius. I have never fancied myself to be a man of genius,
but had I been so I think I might well have subjected myself to
these trammels. Nothing surely is so potent as a law that may not be
disobeyed. It has the force of the water-drop that hollows the stone.
A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a
spasmodic Hercules. It is the tortoise which always catches the hare.
The hare has no chance. He loses more time in glorifying himself
for a quick spurt than suffices for the tortoise to make half his

I have known authors whose lives have always been troublesome and
painful because their tasks have never been done in time. They have
ever been as boys struggling to learn their lesson as they entered
the school gates. Publishers have distrusted them, and they have
failed to write their best because they have seldom written at
ease. I have done double their work, - though burdened with another
profession, - and have done it almost without an effort. I have not
once, through all my literary career, felt myself even in danger of
being late with my task. I have known no anxiety as to "copy." The
needed pages far ahead - very far ahead - have almost always been in
the drawer beside me. And that little diary, with its dates and ruled
spaces, its record that must be seen, its daily, weekly demand upon
my industry, has done all that for me.

There are those who would be ashamed to subject themselves to such a
taskmaster, and who think that the man who works with his imagination
should allow himself to wait till - inspiration moves him. When I have
heard such doctrine preached, I have hardly been able to repress my
scorn. To me it would not be more absurd if the shoemaker were to
wait for inspiration, or the tallow-chandler for the divine moment of
melting. If the man whose business it is to write has eaten too many
good things, or has drunk too much, or smoked too many cigars, - as
men who write sometimes will do, - then his condition may be
unfavourable for work; but so will be the condition of a shoemaker
who has been similarly imprudent. I have sometimes thought that the
inspiration wanted has been the remedy which time will give to the
evil results of such imprudence. - _Mens sana in corpore sano_. The
author wants that as does every other workman, - that and a habit of
industry. I was once told 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 the inspiration.

It will be said, perhaps, that a man whose work has risen to no
higher pitch than mine has attained, has no right to speak of the
strains and impulses to which real genius is exposed. I am ready to
admit the great variations in brain power which are exhibited by the
products of different men, and am not disposed to rank my own very
high; but my own experience tells me that a man can always do the
work for which his brain is fitted if he will give himself the habit
of regarding his work as a normal condition of his life. I therefore
venture to advise young men who look forward to authorship as the
business of their lives, even when they propose that that authorship
be of the highest class known, to avoid enthusiastic rushes with
their pens, and to seat themselves at their desks day by day as
though they were lawyers' clerks; - and so let them sit until the
allotted task shall be accomplished.

While I was in Egypt, I finished _Doctor Thorne_, and on the
following day began _The Bertrams_. I was moved now by a
determination to excel, if not in quality, at any rate in quantity.
An ignoble ambition for an author, my readers will no doubt say. But
not, I think, altogether ignoble, if an author can bring himself to
look at his work as does any other workman. This had become my task,
this was the furrow in which my plough was set, this was the thing
the doing of which had fallen into my hands, and I was minded to
work at it with a will. It is not on my conscience that I have ever
scamped my work. My novels, whether good or bad, have been as good as
I could make them. Had I taken three months of idleness between each
they would have been no better. Feeling convinced of that, I finished
_Doctor Thorne_ on one day, and began _The Bertrams_ on the next.

I had then been nearly two months in Egypt, and had at last succeeded
in settling the terms of a postal treaty. Nearly twenty years have
passed since that time, and other years may yet run on before these
pages are printed. I trust I may commit no official sin by describing
here the nature of the difficulty which met me. I found, on my
arrival, that I was to communicate with an officer of the Pasha, who
was then called Nubar Bey. I presume him to have been the gentleman
who has lately dealt with our Government as to the Suez Canal shares,
and who is now well known to the political world as Nubar Pasha. I
found him a most courteous gentleman, an Armenian. I never went to
his office, nor do I know that he had an office. Every other day he
would come to me at my hotel, and bring with him servants, and pipes,
and coffee. I enjoyed his coming greatly; but there was one point on
which we could not agree. As to money and other details, it seemed
as though he could hardly accede fast enough to the wishes of the
Postmaster-General; but on one point he was firmly opposed to me.
I was desirous that the mails should be carried through Egypt in
twenty-four hours, and he thought that forty-eight hours should be
allowed. I was obstinate, and he was obstinate; and for a long time
we could come to no agreement. At last his oriental tranquillity
seemed to desert him, and he took upon himself to assure me, with
almost more than British energy, that, if I insisted on the quick
transit, a terrible responsibility would rest on my head. I made this
mistake, he said, - that I supposed that a rate of travelling which
would be easy and secure in England could be attained with safety
in Egypt. "The Pasha, his master, would," he said, "no doubt accede
to any terms demanded by the British Post Office, so great was his
reverence for everything British. In that case he, Nubar, would at
once resign his position, and retire into obscurity. He would be
ruined; but the loss of life and bloodshed which would certainly
follow so rash an attempt should not be on his head." I smoked my
pipe, or rather his, and drank his coffee, with oriental quiescence
but British firmness. Every now and again, through three or four
visits, I renewed the expression of my opinion that the transit
could easily be made in twenty-four hours. At last he gave way, - and
astonished me by the cordiality of his greeting. There was no longer
any question of bloodshed or of resignation of office, and he assured
me, with energetic complaisance, that it should be his care to see
that the time was punctually kept. It was punctually kept, and, I
believe, is so still. I must confess, however, that my persistency
was not the result of any courage specially personal to myself.
While the matter was being debated, it had been whispered to me that
the Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Company had conceived that
forty-eight hours would suit the purposes of their traffic better
than twenty-four, and that, as they were the great paymasters on the
railway, the Minister of the Egyptian State, who managed the railway,
might probably wish to accommodate them. I often wondered who
originated that frightful picture of blood and desolation. That it
came from an English heart and an English hand I was always sure.

From Egypt I visited the Holy Land, and on my way inspected the Post
Offices at Malta and Gibraltar. I could fill a volume with true tales
of my adventures. The _Tales of All Countries_ have, most of them,
some foundation in such occurrences. There is one called _John Bull
on the Guadalquivir_, the chief incident in which occurred to me and
a friend of mine on our way up that river to Seville. We both of
us handled the gold ornaments of a man whom we believed to be a
bullfighter, but who turned out to be a duke, - and a duke, too,
who could speak English! How gracious he was to us, and yet how
thoroughly he covered us with ridicule!

On my return home I received £400 from Messrs. Chapman & Hall
for _Doctor Thorne_, and agreed to sell them _The Bertrams_ for
the same sum. This latter novel was written under very vagrant
circumstances, - at Alexandria, Malta, Gibraltar, Glasgow, then at
sea, and at last finished in Jamaica. Of my journey to the West
Indies I will say a few words presently, but I may as well speak of
these two novels here. _Doctor Thorne_ has, I believe, been the most
popular book that I have written, - if I may take the sale as a proof
of comparative popularity. _The Bertrams_ has had quite an opposite
fortune. I do not know that I have ever heard it well spoken of even
by my friends, and I cannot remember that there is any character in
it that has dwelt in the minds of novel-readers. I myself think that
they are of about equal merit, but that neither of them is good.
They fall away very much from _The Three Clerks_, both in pathos
and humour. There is no personage in either of them comparable to
Chaffanbrass the lawyer. The plot of _Doctor Thorne_ is good, and
I am led therefore to suppose that a good plot, - which, to my own
feeling, is the most insignificant part of a tale, - is that which
will most raise it or most condemn it in the public judgment. The
plots of _Tom Jones_ and of _Ivanhoe_ are almost perfect, and they
are probably the most popular novels of the schools of the last and
of this century; but to me the delicacy of Amelia, and the rugged
strength of Burley and Meg Merrilies, say more for the power of those
great novelists than the gift of construction shown in the two works
I have named. A novel should give a picture of common life enlivened
by humour and sweetened by pathos. To make that picture worthy of
attention, the canvas should be crowded with real portraits, not
of individuals known to the world or to the author, but of created
personages impregnated with traits of character which are known. To
my thinking, the plot is but the vehicle for all this; and when you
have the vehicle without the passengers, a story of mystery in which
the agents never spring to life, you have but a wooden show. There
must, however, be a story. You must provide a vehicle of some sort.
That of _The Bertrams_ was more than ordinarily bad; and as the book
was relieved by no special character, it failed. Its failure never
surprised me; but I have been surprised by the success of _Doctor

At this time there was nothing in the success of the one or the
failure of the other to affect me very greatly. The immediate sale,
and the notices elicited from the critics, and the feeling which
had now come to me of a confident standing with the publishers, all
made me know that I had achieved my object. If I wrote a novel,
I could certainly sell it. And if I could publish three in two
years, - confining myself to half the fecundity of that terrible
author of whom the publisher in Paternoster Row had complained to
me, - I might add £600 a-year to my official income. I was still
living in Ireland, and could keep a good house over my head, insure
my life, educate my two boys, and hunt perhaps twice a-week, on £1400
a-year. If more should come, it would be well; - but £600 a-year I was
prepared to reckon as success. It had been slow in coming, but was
very pleasant when it came.

On my return from Egypt I was sent down to Scotland to revise the
Glasgow Post Office. I almost forget now what it was that I had
to do there, but I know that I walked all over the city with the
letter-carriers, going up to the top flats of the houses, as the
men would have declared me incompetent to judge the extent of their
labours had I not trudged every step with them. It was midsummer,
and wearier work I never performed. The men would grumble, and then
I would think how it would be with them if they had to go home
afterwards and write a love-scene. But the love-scenes written in
Glasgow, all belonging to _The Bertrams_, are not good.

Then in the autumn of that year, 1858, I was asked to go to the West
Indies, and cleanse the Augean stables of our Post Office system
there. Up to that time, and at that time, our Colonial Post Offices
generally were managed from home, and were subject to the British
Postmaster-General. Gentlemen were sent out from England to be
postmasters, surveyors, and what not; and as our West Indian islands
have never been regarded as being of themselves happily situated for
residence, the gentlemen so sent were sometimes more conspicuous for
want of income than for official zeal and ability. Hence the stables
had become Augean. I was also instructed to carry out in some of the
islands a plan for giving up this postal authority to the island
Governor, and in others to propose some such plan. I was then to go
on to Cuba, to make a postal treaty with the Spanish authorities, and
to Panama for the same purpose with the Government of New Grenada.
All this work I performed to my satisfaction, and I hope to that of
my masters in St. Martin's le Grand.

But the trip is at the present moment of importance to my subject, as
having enabled me to write that which, on the whole, I regard as the
best book that has come from my pen. It is short, and, I think I may
venture to say, amusing, useful, and true. As soon as I had learned
from the secretary at the General Post Office that this journey
would be required, I proposed the book to Messrs. Chapman & Hall,
demanding £250 for a single volume. The contract was made without

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Online LibraryAnthony TrollopeAutobiography of Anthony Trollope → online text (page 8 of 23)