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little in the surprising, the exceptional, the compli-
cated ; as a general thing he has no great story to
tell. The thing is not so much a story as a picture ;
if we hesitate to call it a picture it is because the
idea of composition is not the controlling one and
we feel that the author would regard the artistic, in
general, as a kind of affectation. There is not
even much description, in the sense which the pre-
sent votaries of realism in France attach to that
word. The painter lays his scene in a few de-
liberate, not especially pictorial strokes, and never
dreams of finishing the piece for the sake of enabling
the reader to hang it up. The finish, such as it is,


comes later, from the slow and somewhat clumsy
accumulation of small illustrations. These illustra-
tions are sometimes of the commonest ; Trollope
turns them out inexhaustibly, repeats them freely,
unfolds them without haste and without rest. But
they are all of the most obvious sort, and they are
none the worse for that. The point to be made is
that they have no great spectacular interest (we beg
pardon of the innumerable love-affairs that Trollope
has described), like many of the incidents, say, of
Walter Scott and of Alexandre Dumas : if we care
to know about them (as repetitions of a usual case),
it is because the writer has managed, in his candid,
literal, somewhat lumbering way, to tell us that
about the men and women concerned which has
already excited on their behalf the impression of life.
It is a marvel by what homely arts, by what imper-
turbable button -holing persistence, he contrives to
excite this impression. Take, for example, such a work
as The Vicar of Bullhampton. It would be difficult to
state the idea of this slow but excellent story, which
is a capital example of interest produced by the quietest
conceivable means. The principal persons in it are
a lively, jovial, high-tempered country clergyman, a
young woman who is in love with her cousin, and a
small, rather dull squire who is in love with the
young woman. There is no 'connection between the
affairs of the clergyman and those of the two other
persons, save that these two are the Vicar's friends.
The Vicar gives countenance, for Christian charity's


sake, to a young countryman who is suspected
(falsely, as it appears), of murder, and also to the
lad's sister, who is more than suspected of leading an
immoral life. Various people are shocked at his
indiscretion, but in the end he is shown to have
been no worse a clergyman because he is a good fellow.
A cantankerous nobleman, who has a spite against
him, causes a Methodist conventicle to be erected at
the gates of the vicarage ; but afterward, finding that
he has no title to the land used for this obnoxious
purpose, causes the conventicle to be pulled down,
and is reconciled with the parson, who accepts an
invitation to stay at the castle. Mary Lowther, the
heroine of The Vicar of Bullhampton, is sought in
marriage by Mr. Harry Gilmore, to whose passion she
is unable to respond ; she accepts him, however,
making him understand that she does not love him,
and that her affections are fixed upon her kinsman,
Captain Marrable, whom she would marry (and who
would marry her), if he were not too poor to support
a wife. If Mr. Gilmore will take her on these terms
she will become his spouse ; but she gives him all
sorts of warnings. They are not superfluous ; for, as
Captain Marrable presently inherits a fortune, she
throws over Mr. Gilmore, who retires to foreign lands,
heart-broken, inconsolable. This is the substance of
The Vicar of Bullhampton ; the reader will see that it
is not a very tangled skein. But if the interest is
gradual it is extreme and constant, and it comes
altogether from excellent portraiture. It is essen-


tially a moral, a social interest. There is something
masterly in the large-fisted grip with which, in work
of this kind, Trollope handles his brush. The Vicar's
nature is thoroughly analysed and rendered, and his
monotonous friend the Squire, a man with limitations,
but possessed and consumed by a genuine passion,
is equally near the truth.

Trollope has described again and again the ravages
of love, and it is wonderful to see how well, in these
delicate matters, his plain good sense and good taste
serve him. His story is always primarily a love-
story, and a love-story constructed on an inveterate
system. There is a young lady who has two lovers,
or a young man who has two sweethearts ; we are
treated to the innumerable forms in which this pre-
dicament may present itself and the consequences,
sometimes pathetic, sometimes grotesque, which spring
from such false situations. Trollope is not what is
called a colourist j still less is he a poet : he is seated
on the back of heavy-footed prose. But his account
of those sentiments which the poets are supposed to
have made their own is apt to be as touching as
demonstrations more lyrical There is something
wonderfully vivid in the state of mind of the unfor-
tunate Harry Gilmore, of whom I have just spoken ;
and his history, which has no more pretensions to
style than if it were cut out of yesterday's newspaper,
lodges itself in the imagination in all sorts of classic
company. He is not handsome, nor clever, nor rich,
nor romantic, nor distinguished in any way ; he is


simply rather a dense, narrow-minded, stiff, obstinate,
common - place, conscientious modern Englishman,
exceedingly in love and, from his own point of view,
exceedingly ill-used. He is interesting because he
suffers and because we are curious to see the form
that suffering will take in that particular nature.
Our good fortune, with Trollope, is that the person
put before us will have, in spite of opportunities not
to have it, a certain particular nature. The author has
cared enough about the character of such a person to
find out exactly what it is. Another particular nature
in The Vicar of Bullliampton is the surly, sturdy, scep-
tical old farmer Jacob Brattle, who doesn't want to
be patronised by the parson, and in his dumb, dusky,
half-brutal, half-spiritual melancholy, surrounded by
domestic troubles, financial embarrassments and a
puzzling world, declines altogether to be won over to
clerical optimism. Such a figure as Jacob Brattle,
purely episodical though it be, is an excellent English
portrait. As thoroughly English, and the most strik-
ing thing in the book, is the combination, in the
nature of Frank Fenwick the delightful Vicar of
the patronising, conventional, clerical element with
all sorts of manliness and spontaneity ; the union, or
to a certain extent the contradiction, of official and
personal geniality. Trollope touches these points in
a way that shows that he knows his man. Delicacy
is not his great sign, but when it is necessary he can
be as delicate as any one else.

I alighted, just now, at a venture, upon the history


of Frank Fen wick ; it is far from being a conspicuous
work in the immense list of Trollope's novels. But
to choose an example one must choose arbitrarily,
for examples of almost anything that one may wish
to say are numerous to embarrassment. In speaking
of a writer who produced so much and produced
always in the same way, there is perhaps a certain
unfairness in choosing at all. As no work has higher
pretensions than any other, there may be a certain
unkindness in holding an individual production up to
the light. " Judge me in the lump," we can imagine
the author saying ; " I have only undertaken to enter-
tain the British public. I don't pretend that each of
my novels is an organic whole." Trollope had no
time to give his tales a classic roundness ; yet there
is (in spite of an extraordinary defect), something of
that quality in the thing that first revealed him.
The Warden was published in 1855. It made a great
impression; and when, in 1857, Barchester Towers
followed it, every one saw that English literature had
a novelist the more. These were not the works of a
young man, for Anthony Trollope had been born in
1815. It is remarkable to reflect, by the way, that
his prodigious fecundity (he had published before
The Warden three or four novels which attracted
little attention), was enclosed between his fortieth
and his sixty-seventh years. Trollope had lived long
enough in the world to learn a good deal about it ;
and his maturity of feeling and evidently large know-
ledge of English life were for much in the effect pro-


duced by the two clerical tales. It was easy to see
that he would take up room. What he had picked
up, to begin with, was a comprehensive, various im-
pression of the clergy of the Church of England and
the manners and feelings that prevail in cathedral
towns. This, for a while, was his speciality, and,
as always happens in such cases, the public was
disposed to prescribe to him that path. He knew
about bishops, archdeacons, prebendaries, precentors,
and about their wives and daughters ; he knew what
these dignitaries say to each other when they are
collected together, aloof from secular ears. He even
knew what sort of talk goes on between a bishop and
a bishop's lady when the august couple are enshrouded
in the privacy of the episcopal bedroom. This know-
ledge, somehow, was rare and precious. No one, as
yet, had been bold enough to snatch the illuminating
torch from the very summit of the altar. Trollope
enlarged his field very speedily there is, as I
remember that work, as little as possible of the
ecclesiastical in the tale of TJie Three Clerks, which
came after Barchester Towers. But he always retained
traces of his early divination of the clergy ; he in-
troduced them frequently, and he always did them
easily and well. There is no ecclesiastical figure,
however, so good as the first no creation of this
sort so happy as the admirable Mr. Harding. The
Warden is a delightful tale, and a signal instance of
Trollope's habit of offering us the spectacle of a
character. A motive more delicate, more slender, ap


well as more charming, could scarcely be conceived.
It is simply the history of an old man's conscience.

The good and gentle Mr. Harding, precentor of
Barchester Cathedral, also holds the post of warden
of Hiram's Hospital, an ancient charity where twelve
old paupers are maintained in comfort. The office is
in the gift of the bishop, and its emoluments are as
handsome as the duties of the place are small. Mr.
Harding has for years drawn his salary in quiet
gratitude ; but his moral repose is broken by hearing
it at last begun to be said that the wardenship is a
sinecure, that the salary is a scandal, and that a large
part, at least, of his easy income ought to go to the
pensioners of the hospital. He is sadly troubled and
perplexed, and when the great London newspapers
take up the affair he is overwhelmed with confusion
and shame. He thinks the newspapers are right he
perceives that the warden is an overpaid and rather a
useless functionary. The only thing he can do is to
resign the place. He has no means of his own he
is only a quiet, modest, innocent old man, with a
taste, a passion, for old church-music and the violon-
cello. But he determines to resign, and he does
resign in spite of the sharp opposition of his friends.
He does what he thinks right, and goes to live in
lodgings over a shop in the Barchester High Street.
That is all the story, and it has exceeding beauty.
The question of Mr. Harding's resignation becomes a
drama, and we anxiously wait for the catastrophe.
Trollope never did anything happier than the picture


of this sweet and serious little old gentleman, who on
most of the occasions of life has shown a lamblike
softness and compliance, but in this particular matter
opposes a silent, impenetrable obstinacy to the argu-
ments of the friends who insist on his keeping his
sinecure fixing his mild, detached gaze on the dis-
tance, and making imaginary passes with his fiddle-
bow while they demonstrate his pusillanimity. The
subject of The Warden, exactly viewed, is the opposition
of the two natures of Archdeacon Grantley and Mr.
Harding, and there is nothing finer in all Trollope
than the vividness with which this opposition is
presented. The archdeacon is as happy a portrait
as the precentor an image of the full-fed, worldly
churchman, taking his stand squarely upon his rich
temporalities, and regarding the church frankly as a
fat social pasturage. It required the greatest tact
and temperance to make the picture of Archdeacon
Grantley stop just where it does. The type, im-
partially considered, is detestable, but the individual
may be full of amenity. Trollope allows his arch-
deacon all the virtues he was likely to possess, but
he makes his spiritual grossness wonderfully natural.
No charge of exaggeration is possible, for we are
made to feel that he is conscientious as well as
arrogant, and expansive as well as hard. He is one
of those figures that spring into being all at once,
solidifying in the author's grasp. These two capital
portraits are what we carry away from The Warden,
which some persons profess to regard as our writer's


masterpiece. We remember, while it was still some-
thing .of a novelty, to have heard a judicious critic
say that it had much of the charm of The Vicar of
Wakejield. Anthony Trollope would not have accepted
the compliment, and would not have wished this little
tale to pass before several of its successors. He would
have said, very justly, that it gives too small a measure
of his knowledge of life. It has, however, a certain
classic roundness, though, as we said a moment since,
there is a blemish on its fair face. The chapter on
Dr. Pessimist Anticant and Mr. Sentiment would be
a mistake almost inconceivable if Trollope had not in
other places taken pains to show us that for certain
forms of satire (the more violent, doubtless), he had
absolutely no gift. Dr. Anticant is a parody of Car-
lyle, and Mr. Sentiment is an exposure of Dickens :
and both these little jeux d'esprit are as infelicitous
as they are misplaced. It was no less luckless an
inspiration to convert Archdeacon Grantley's three
sons, denominated respectively Charles James, Henry
and Samuel, into little effigies of three distinguished
English bishops of that period, whose well - known
peculiarities are reproduced in the description of
these unnatural urchins. The whole passage, as we
meet it, is a sudden disillusionment ; we are trans-
ported from the mellow atmosphere of an assimilated
Barchester to the air of ponderous allegory.

I may take occasion to remark here upon a very
curious fact the fact that there are certain pre-
cautions in the way of producing that illusion dear


to the intending novelist which Trollope not only
habitually scorned to take, hut really, as we. may
say, asking pardon for the heat of the thing, delighted
wantonly to violate. He took a suicidal satisfaction
in reminding the reader that the story he was telling
was only, after all, a make-helieve. He habitually
referred to the work in hand (in the course of that
work) as a novel, and to himself as a novelist, and .
was fond of letting the reader know that this novelist
could direct the course of events according to his
pleasure. Already, in Barchester Towers, he falls into
this pernicious trick. In describing the wooing of
Eleanor Bold by Mr. Arabin he has occasion to say
that the lady might have acted in a much more
direct and natural way than the way he attributes to
her. But if she had, he adds, "where would have
been my novel ? " The last chapter of the same
story begins with the remark, " The end of a novel,
like the end of a children's dinner party, must be
made up of sweetmeats and sugar -plums." These
little slaps at credulity (we might give many more
specimens) are very discouraging, but they are even
more inexplicable ; for they are deliberately inartistic,
even judged from the point of view of that rather
vague consideration of form which is the only canon
we have a right to impose upon Trollope. It is
impossible to imagine what a novelist takes himself
to be unless he regard himself as an historian and
his narrative as a history. It is only as an historian
that he has the smallest locus standi. As a narrator


of fictitious events he is nowhere ; to insert into his
attempt a back-bone of logic, he must relate events
that are assumed to be real. This assumption per-
meates, animates all the work of the most solid
story-tellers; we need only mention (to select a
single instance), the magnificent historical tone of
Balzac, who would as soon have thought of admitting
to the reader that he was deceiving him, as Garrick
or John Kemble would have thought of pulling off
his disguise in front of the foot-lights. Therefore,
when Trollope suddenly winks at us and reminds us
that he is telling us an arbitrary thing, we are startled
and shocked in quite the same way as if Macaulay or
Motley were to drop the historic mask and intimate
that William of Orange was a myth or the Duke
of Alva an invention.

It is a part of this same ambiguity of mind as to
what constitutes evidence that Trollope should some-
times endow his people with such fantastic names.
Dr. Pessimist Anticant and Mr. Sentiment make, as
we have seen, an awkward appearance in a modern
novel; and Mr. Neversay Die, Mr. Stickatit, Mr.
Rerechild and Mr. Fillgrave (the two last the family
physicians), are scarcely more felicitous. It would be
better to go back to Bunyan at once. There is a
person mentioned in The Warden under the name
of Mr. Quiverful a poor clergyman, with a dozen
children, who holds the living of Puddingdale. This
name is a humorous allusion to his overflowing nursery,
and it matters little so long as he is not brought to


the front. But in Barchester Towers, which carries on
the history of Hiram's Hospital, Mr. Quiverful be-
comes, as a candidate for Mr. Harding's vacant place,
an important element, and the reader is made pro-
portionately unhappy by the primitive character of
this satiric note. A Mr. Quiverful with fourteen
children (which is the number attained in Barchester
Towers} is too difficult to believe in. We can believe
in the name and we can believe in the children ; but
we cannot manage the combination. It is probably
not unfair to say that if Trollope derived half his
inspiration from life, he derived the other half from
Thackeray ; his earlier novels, in especial, suggest an
honourable emulation of the author of The Newcomes.
Thackeray's names were perfect ; they always had a
meaning, and (except in his absolutely jocose pro-
ductions, where they were still admirable) we can
imagine, even when they are most figurative, that
they should have been borne by real people. But in
this, as in other respects, Trollope's hand was heavier
than his master's ; though when he is content not to
be too comical his appellations are sometimes for-
tunate enough. Mrs. Proudie is excellent, for Mrs.
Proudie, and even the Duke of Omnium and Gatherum
Castle rather minister to illusion than destroy it.
Indeed, the names of houses and places, throughout
Trollope, are full of colour.

I would speak in some detail of Barchester Towers
if this did not seem to commit me to the prodigious
task of appreciating each of Trollope's works in sue-


cession. Such an attempt as that is so far from
being possible that I must frankly confess to not
having read everything that proceeded from his pen.
There came a moment in his vigorous career (it was
even a good many years ago) when I renounced the
effort to "keep up" with him. It ceased to seem
obligatory to have read his last story ; it ceased soon
to be very possible to know which was his last.
Before that, I had been punctual, devoted ; and the
memories of the earlier period are delightful. It
reached, if I remember correctly, to about the pub-
lication of He Knew lie Was Right ; after which, to
my recollection (oddly enough, too, for that novel
was good enough to encourage a continuance of past
favours, as the shopkeepers say), the picture becomes
dim and blurred. The author of Orley Farm and
The Small House at Allington ceased to produce in-
dividual works ; his activity became a huge "serial."'
Here and there, in the vast fluidity, an organic
particle detached itself. The Last Chronicle of Barset,
for instance, is one of his most powerful things ; it
contains the sequel of the terrible history of Mr.
Crawley, the starving curate an episode full of that
literally truthful pathos of which Trollope was so
often a master, and which occasionally raised him
quite to the level of his two immediate predecessors
in the vivid treatment of English life great artists
whose pathetic effects were sometimes too visibly
prepared. For the most part, however, he should
be judged by the productions of the first half of


his career; later the strong wine was rather too
copiously watered. His practice, his acquired facility,
were such that his hand went of itself, as it were,
and the thing looked superficially like a fresh in-
spiration. But it was not fresh, it was rather
stale; and though there was no appearance of. effort,
there was a fatal dryness of texture. It was too
little of a new story and too much of an old one.
Some of these ultimate compositions Phineas Redux
(Phineas Finn is much better), The Prime Minister, John
Caldigate, The American Senator, The Duke's Children
betray the dull, impersonal rumble of the mill-wheel
What stands Trollope always in good stead (in
addition to the ripe habit of writing), is his various
knowledge of the English world to say nothing of
his occasionally laying under contribution the Ameri-
can. His American portraits, by the way (they are
several in number), are always friendly ; they hit it
off more happily than the attempt to depict American
character from the European point of view is accus-
tomed to do : though, indeed, as we ourselves have
not yet learned to represent our types very finely
are not apparently even very sure what our types
are it is perhaps not to be wondered at that trans-
atlantic talent should miss the mark. The weakness
of transatlantic talent in this particular is apt to be
want of knowledge ; but Trollope's knowledge has
all the air of being excellent, though not intimate.
Had he indeed striven to learn the way to the
American heart ] No less than twice, and possibly


even oftener, has he rewarded the merit of a scion of
the British aristocracy with the hand of an American
girl. The American girl was destined sooner or later
to make her entrance into British fiction, and Trol-
lope's treatment of this complicated being is full of
good humour and of that fatherly indulgence, that
almost motherly sympathy, which characterises his
attitude throughout toward the youthful feminine.
He has not mastered all the springs of her delicate
organism nor sounded all the mysteries of her con-
versation. Indeed, as regards these latter pheno-
mena, he has observed a few of which he has been
the sole observer. "I" got to be thinking if any one
of them should ask me to marry him," words attributed
to Miss Boncassen, in The Duke's Children, have much
more the note of English American than of American
English. But, on the whole, in these matters Trollope
does very well. His fund of acquaintance with his
own country and indeed with the world at large
was apparently inexhaustible, and it gives his novels
a spacious, geographical quality which we should not
know where to look for elsewhere in the same degree,
and which is the sign of an extraordinary difference
between such an horizon as his and the limited
world-outlook, as the Germans would say, of the
brilliant writers who practise the art of realistic
fiction on the other side of the Channel. Trollope
was familiar with all sorts and conditions of men,
with the business of life, with affairs, with the great
world of sport, with every component part of the


ancient fabric of English society. He had travelled
more than once all over the globe, and for him,
therefore, the background of the human drama was
a very extensive scene. He had none of the
pedantry of the cosmopolite ; he remained a sturdy
and sensible middle-class Englishman. But his work-

Online LibraryHenry JamesPartial portraits → online text (page 7 of 24)