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them you were disappointed not to find so
clever a writer more original but they were
worth listening to for their solid common-sense,
tending rather to commonplace sense, and you
enjoyed the ardour with which he threw him-
self into a discussion. Though boisterous and
insistent in his talk, he was free from assumption
or conceit, and gave the impression of liking the

Anthony Trollopc 119

world he lived in, and being satisfied with his
own place in it. Neither did one observe in him
that erratic turn which is commonly attributed to
literary men. He was a steady and regular worker,
who rose every morning between five and six to
turn out a certain quantity of copy for the printer
before breakfast, enjoying his work, and fond of
his own characters indeed he declared that he
filled his mind with them and saw them moving
before him yet composing a novel just as other
people might compose tables of statistics. These
methodical habits were to some extent due to his
traininor as a clerk in the Post Of^ce, where he
spent the earlier half of his working life, having
retired in 1864. He did not neglect his duties
there, even when occupied in writing, and claimed
to have been the inventor of the pillar letter-box.
It was probably in his tours as an inspector of
postal deliveries that he obtained that knowledge
of rural life which gives reality to his pictures
of country society. He turned his Civil Service
experiences to account in some of his stories,
giving faithful and characteristic sketches, in
The Three Cle^'ks and The Small Hotise at
Allington, of different types of Government
officials, a class which is much more of a class in
England than it is in America, though less of
a class than it is in Germany or France. His
favourite amusement was hunting, as readers of his
novels know, and until his latest years he might

I20 Biographical Studies

have been seen, though a heavy weight, following
the hounds in Essex once or twice a week.

When E. A. Freeman wrote a magazine
article denouncing the cruelty of field sports,
Trollope replied, defending the amusement he
loved. Some one said it was a collision of two
rough diamonds. But the end was that Freeman
invited Trollope to come and stay with him at
Wells, and they became great friends.

Like most of his literary contemporaries, he
was a politician, and indeed a pretty keen one.
He once contested in the Liberal interest in
those days literary men were mostly Liberals the
borough of Beverley in Yorkshire, a corrupt little
place, where bribery proved too strong for him.
It was thereafter disfranchised as a punishment
for its misdeeds ; and his costly experiences doubt-
less suggested the clever electioneering sketches
in the story of Ralph the Heir. Thackeray also
was once a Liberal candidate. He stood for the
city of Oxford, and the story was current there for
years afterwards how the freemen of the borough
(not an exemplary class of voters) rose to an un-
wonted height of virtue by declaring that though
they did not understand his speeches or know
who he was, they would vote for him, expecting
nothing, because he was a friend of Mr. Neate's.
Trollope showed his continued interest in public
affairs by appearing on the platform at the great
meeting in St. James's Hall in December 1876,

Anthony Trollope 121

which was the beginning of a vehement party
struggle over the Eastern Question that only
ended at the general election of 1880. He was
a direct and forcible speaker, who would have
made his way had he entered Parliament. But
as he had no practical experience of politics
either in the House of Commons or as a working
member of a party organisation in a city where
contests are keen, the pictures of political life
which are so frequent in his later tales have
not much flavour of reality. They are sketches
obviously taken from the outside. Very rarely
do even the best writers of fiction succeed in re-
producing any special and peculiar kind of life and
atmosphere. Of the various stories that purport
to describe what goes on in the English Parlia-
ment, none gives to those who know the social
conditions and habits of the place an impression
of truth to nature, and the same has often been
remarked with regard to tales of English Uni-
versity life. Trollope, however, with his quick
eye for the superficial aspects of any society,
and his gift for noting the characteristics which
men have as members of any particular class,
might have described the House of Commons
admirably had he sat in it himself. He was
fond of travel, and between 1862 and 1880
visited the United States, the West Indies,
Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa,
about all of which he wrote books which, if

122 Biographical Studies

hardly of permanent value, were fresh, vigorous,
and eminently readable, conveying a definite and
generally correct impression of the more obvious
social and economic phenomena he found then
existing. His account of the United States,
for instance, is excellent, and did something to
make the Americans forgive the asperity with
which his mother had described her experiences
there many years before. Trollope's travel
sketches are as much superior in truthfulness to
Froude's descriptions of the same regions as
they are inferior in the allurements of style.

The old classification of novels, based on the
two most necessary elements of a drama, divided
them into novels of plot and novels of character.
To these we have of late years added novels of
incident or adventure, novels of conversation,
novels of manners, not to speak of " novels
with a purpose," which are sermons or pamphlets
in disguise. No one doubted to which of these
categories Trollope's work should be referred.
There was in his stories as little plot as a story
can well have. The conversations never beamed
with humour like that of Scott, nor glittered
with aphorisms like those of George Meredith.
The incidents carried the reader pleasantly along,
but seldom surprised him by any ingenuity of
contrivance. Character there was, and, indeed,
great fertility in the creation of character, for
there is hardly one of the tales in which three

Anthony TroUope 123

or four at least of the personages do not stand
out as people whom you would know again if
you met them years after. But the conspicuous
merit of Trollope's novels, in the eyes of his
own countrymen, is their value as pictures of
contemporary manners. Here he may claim
to have been surpassed by no writer of his
own generation. Dickens, with all his great
and splendid gifts, did not describe the society
he lived in. His personages were too un-
usual and peculiar to speak and act and think
like the ordinary men and women of the nine-
teenth century ; nor would a foreigner, however
much he might enjoy the exuberant humour and
dramatic power with which they are presented,
learn from them much about the ways and habits
of the average Englishman. The everyday life
to which the stories are most true is the life
of the lower middle class in London ; and some
one has observed that although this class changes
less quickly than the classes above it, it is already
unlike that which Dickens saw when in the
'thirties he was a police-court reporter. Critics
have, indeed, said that Dickens was too great
a painter to be a good photographer, but the
two arts are not incompatible, as appears from
the skill with which Walter Scott, for instance,
portrayed the peasantry of his own country in
The Antiquary. Thackeray, again, though he
has described certain sections of the upper or

124 Biographical Studies

upper middle class with far more power and

delicacy than Trollope ever reached, does not

go beyond those sections, and has little to tell

us about the middle class generally, still less

about the classes beneath them. Trollope

was thoroughly at home in the English middle

class and also (though less perfectly) in the

upper class ; and his pictures are all the more

true to life because there is not that vein of

stern or cynical reflection which runs through

Thackeray, and makes us think less of the

story than of the moral. Trollope usually has

a moral, but it is so obvious, so plainly and

quietly put, that it does not distract attention

from the minor incidents and little touches of

every day which render the sketches lifelike. If

even his best-drawn characters are not far removed

from the commonplace this helps to make them

fairly represent the current habits and notions of

their time. They are the same people we meet

in the street or at a dinner-party ; and they are

mostly seen under no more exciting conditions than

those of a hunting meet, or a lawn-tennis match,

or an afternoon tea. They are flirting or talking

for effect, or scheming for some petty temporary

end ; they are not under the influence of strong

passions, or forced into striking situations, like

the leading characters in Charlotte Bronte's or

George Eliot's novels ; and for this reason again

they represent faithfully the ordinary surface of

Anthony Trollope 125

English upper and upper middle class society :
its prejudices, its little pharisaisms and hypocrisies,
its snobbishness, its worship of conventionalities,
its aloofness from or condescension to those
whom it deems below its own level ; and there-
with also its public spirit, its self- helpfulness,
its neighbourliness, its respect for honesty and
straightforwardness, its easy friendliness of manner
towards all who stand within the sacred pale
of social recognition. Nor, again, has any one
more skilfully noted and set down those transient
tastes and fashions which are, so to speak, the
trimmings of the dress, and which, transient
though they are, and quickly forgotten by con-
temporaries, will have an interest for one who,
a century or two hence, feels the same curiosity
about our manners as we feel about those of
the subjects of King George the Third. That
Trollope will be read at all fifty years after
his death one may hesitate to predict, con-
sidering how comparatively few in the present
generation read Richardson, or Fielding, or Miss
Edgreworth, or Charlotte Bronte, and how much
reduced is the number of those who read even
Walter Scott and Thackeray. But whoever
does read Trollope in 1930 will gather from his
pages better than from any others an impression
of what everyday life was like in England in the
"middle Victorian" period. The aspects of that
life were already, when his latest books were

126 Biographical Studies

written, beginning to change, and the features he
drew are fast receding into history. Even the
clergy of 185 2- 1862 are no longer, except in quiet
country districts, the same as the clergy we now see.
People have often compared the personal im-
pressions which eminent writers make on those
who talk to them with the impressions previously
derived from their works. Thomas Carlyle and
Robert Browning used to be taken as two
instances representing opposite extremes. Carlyle
always talked in character : had there been phono-
graphs in his days, the phonographed "record"
might have been printed as part of one of his
books. Browning, on the other hand, seemed
unlike what his poems had made a reader
expect : it was only after a long tete-a-tete with
him that the poet whose mind had been learned
through his works stood revealed. Trollope at
first caused a similar though less marked surprise.
This bluff burly man did not seem the kind of
person who would trace with a delicate touch
the sunlight sparkling on, or a gust of temper
ruffling, the surface of a youthful soul in love.
Upon further knowledge one perceived that
the features of Trollope's talent, facile inven-
tion, quick observation, and a strong common-
sense view of things, with little originality or
intensity, were really the dominant features of his
character as expressed in talk. Still, though the
man was more of a piece with his books than he

Anthony Trollope 127

had seemed, one could never quite recognise in
him the deh'neator of Lily Dale.

As a painter of manners he recalls two of his
predecessors one greater, one less great than
himself. In his limitations and in his fidelity
to the aspects of daily life as he saw them, he
resembles Miss Austen. He is inferior to her
in delicacy of portraiture, in finish, in atmosphere.
No two of his books can be placed on a level
with Emma and Persuasion. On the other hand,
while he has done for the years 1850- 1870 what
Miss Burney did for 1770- 1790, most critics will
place him above her both in fertility and in
naturalness. Her characters are apt either to
want colour, like the heroines of Evelina and
Cecilia, or to be so exaggerated, like Mr. Briggs
and Miss Larolles, as to approach the grotesque.
Trollope is a realist in the sense of being, in all
but a few of his books, on the lines of normal
humanity, though he is seldom strong enough to
succeed, when he pierces down to the bed-rock of
human nature, in rendering the primal passions
either solemn or terrible. Like Miss Austen, he
attains actuality by observation rather than by
imagination, hardly ever entering the sphere of

His range was not wide, for he could not
present either grand characters or tragical situa-
tions, any more than he could break out into
the splendid humour of Dickens. His wings

128 Biographical Studies

never raised him far above the level floor of
earth. But within that limited range he had
surprising fertility. His clerical portrait-gallery
is the most complete that any English novelist
has given us. No two faces are exactly alike,
and yet all are such people as one might see
any day in the pulpit. So, again, there is
scarcely one of his stories in which a young
lady is not engaged, formally or practically, to
two men at the same time, or one man more
or less committed to two women ; yet no story
repeats exactly the situation, or raises the
problem of honour and duty in quite the same
form as it appears in the stories that went
before. Few people who have written so much
have so little appeared to be exhausting their

It must, however, be admitted that Trollope's
fame might have stood higher if he had written
less. The public which had been delighted with
his earlier groups of novels, and especially
with that group in which The Warden comes
first and Barchester Towers second, began
latterly to tire of what they had come to deem
the mannerisms of their favourite, and felt that
they now knew the compass of his gifts.
Partly, perhaps, because he feared to be always
too like himself, he once or twice attempted
to represent more improbable situations and ex-
ceptional personages. But the attempt was not

Anthony TroUope 129

successful. He lost his touch of ordinary life
without getting into any higher region of poetical
truth ; and in his latest stories he had begun to
return to his earlier and better manner.

New tendencies, moreover, embodying them-
selves in new schools, were already beginning to
appear. R. L. Stevenson as leader of the school
of adventure, Mr. Henry James as the apostle of
the school of psychological analysis, soon to be
followed by Mr. Kipling with a type of imaginative
directness distinctively his own, were beginning to
lead minds and tastes into other directions. The
influence of France was more felt than it had
been when Trollope began to write. And what a
contrast between Trollope's manner and that of
his chief French contemporaries, such as Octave
Feuillet or Alphonse Daudet or Guy de Mau-
passant ! The French novelists, be their faculty of
invention greater or less, at any rate studied their
characters with more care than English writers
had usually shown. The characters were fewer,
almost as few as in a classical drama ; and
the whole action of the story is carefully sub-
ordinated to the development of these char-
acters, and the placing of them in a critical
position which sets their strength and weak-
ness in the fullest liorht. There was more of a
judicious adaptation of the parts to the whole
in French fiction than in ours, and therefore more
unity of impression was attained. Trollope, no

130 Biographical Studies

doubt, set a bad example in this respect. He
crowded his canvas with figures ; he pursued the
fortunes of three or four sets of people at the same
time, caring little how the fate of the one set
affected that of the others ; he made his novel a
sort of chronicle which you might open anywhere
and close anywhere, instead of a drama animated
by one idea and converging towards one centre.
He neglected the art which uses incidents small
in themselves to lead up to the d^noument and make
it more striking. He took little pains with his
diction, seeming not to care how he said what he
had to say. These defects strike those who turn
over his pages to-day. But to those who read
him in the 'fifties or 'sixties, the carelessness was
redeemed by, or forgotten in, the vivacity with
which the story moved, the freshness and faithful-
ness of its pictures of character and manners.


John Richard Green was born in Oxford
on 1 2th December 1837, and educated first
at Magdalen College School, and afterwards,
for a short time, at a private tutor's. He
was a singularly quick and bright boy, and at
sixteen obtained by competition a scholarship
at Jesus College, Oxford, where he began to
reside in 1856. The members of that college
were in those days almost entirely Welshmen, and
thereby somewhat cut off from the rest of the
University. They saw little of men in other
colleges, so that a man might have a re-
putation for ability in his own society without
gaining any in the larger world of Oxford. It
so happened with Green. Though his few
intimate friends perceived his powers, they had
so little intercourse with the rest of the Uni-
versity, either by way of breakfasts and wine-
parties, or at the University debating society,

' This sketch was written in 1S83. A volume of Green's Letters, with
a short connecting biography by Sir Leslie Stephen, was published in
1 90 1. The letters are extremely good reading, the biography faithful and

132 Biographical Studies

or in athletic sports, that he remained unknown
even to those among his contemporaries who
were interested in the same things, and would
have most enjoyed his acquaintance. The only
eminent person who seems to have appreciated
and influenced him was Dean Stanley, then
Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Canon of
Christ Church. Green had attended Stanley's
lectures, and Stanley, whose kindly interest in
young men never failed, was struck by him, and
had some share in turning his studies towards
history. He graduated in i860, having refused
to compete for honours, because he had not
received from those who were then tutors of the
college the recognition to which he was entitled.

In i860 he was ordained, and became curate
in London at St. Barnabas, King's Square,
whence, after two years' experience, and one or
two temporary engagements, including the sole
charge of a parish in Hoxton, he was appointed
in 1865 to the incumbency of St. Philip's, Stepney,
a district church in one of the poorest parts of
London, where the vicar's income was ill-propor-
tioned to the claims which needy parishioners
made upon him. Here he worked with zeal
and assiduity for about three years, gaining an
insight into the condition and needs of the poor
which scholars and historians seldom obtain.
He learnt, in fact, to know men, and the real
forces that sway them ; and he used to say in

John Richard Green 133

later life that he was conscious how much this
had helped him in historical writing. Gibbon,
as every one knows, makes a similar remark
about his experience as a captain in the Hamp-
shire militia.

Green threw the whole force of his nature
into the parish schools, spending some part of
every day in them ; he visited incessantly, and
took an active part in the movement for regulat-
ing and controlling private charity which led
to the formation of the Charity Organisation
Society. An outbreak of cholera and period
of distress among the poor which occurred
during his incumbency drew warm-hearted men
from other parts of London to give their
help to the clergy of the East End. Edward
Denison, who was long affectionately remem-
bered by many who knew him in Oxford and
London, chose Green's parish to work in, and
the two friends confirmed one another in their
crusade against indiscriminate and demoralising
charity. It was at this time that Green, who
spent upon the parish nearly all that he received
as vicar, found himself obliged to earn some
money by other means, and began to write
for the Saturday Review. The addition of
this labour to the daily fatigues of his parish
duties told on his health, which had always
been delicate, and made him willingly accept
from Archbishop Tait, who had early marked

134 Biographical Studies

and learned to value his abilities, the post of
librarian at Lambeth. He quitted Stepney, and
never took any other clerical work.

Although physical weakness was one of the
causes which compelled this step, there was also
another. He had been brought up in Tractarian
views, and is said to have been at one time on
the point of entering the Church of Rome. This
tendency passed off, and before he went to St.
Philip's he had become a Broad Churchman, and
was much influenced by the writings of Mr. F.
D. Maurice, whom he knew and used frequently
to meet, and whose pure and noble character,
even more perhaps than his preaching, had
profoundly impressed him. However, his restless
mind did not stop long at that point. The same
tendency which had carried him away from
Tractarianism made him feel less and less at
home in the ministry of the Church of England,
and would doubtless have led him, even had his
health been stronger, to withdraw from clerical
duties. After a few years his friends ceased to
address letters to him under the usual clerical
epithet ; but he continued to interest himself in
ecclesiastical affairs, and always retained a marked
dislike to Nonconformity. Aversions sometimes
outlive attachments.

On leaving Stepney he went to live in lodgings
in Beaumont Street, Marylebone, and divided
his time between Lambeth and literary work.

John Richard Green 135

He now during several years wrote a good deal
for the Saturday Review, and his articles were
among the best which then appeared in that
organ. The most valuable of them were re-
views of historical books, and descriptions from
the historical point of view of cities or other re-
markable places, especially English and French
towns. Some of these are masterpieces. Other
articles were on social, or what may be called
occasional, topics, and attracted much notice at
the time from their gaiety and lightness of touch,
which sometimes seemed to pass into flippancy.
He never wrote upon politics, nor was he in the
ordinary sense of the word a journalist, for with
the exception of these social articles, his work
was all done in his own historical field, and done
with as much care and pains as others would
bestow on the composition of a book. Upon
this subject I may quote the words of one of his
oldest and most intimate friends (Mr. Stopford
Brooke), who knew all he did in those days.

The real history of this writing for the Saturday Review
has much personal, pathetic, and literary interest.

It was when he was vicar of St. Philip's, Stepney, that he
wrote the most. The income of the place was, I think,
^^300 a year, and the poverty of the parish was very great.
Mr. Green spent every penny of this income on the parish.
And he wrote in order to live, and often when he was
wearied out with the work of the day and late into the night
two, and often three, articles a week for the Saturday
Review. It was less of a strain to him than it would have
been to many others, because he wrote with such speed, and

136 Biographical Studies

because his capacity for rapidly throwing his subject into
form and his memory were so remarkable. But it was a
severe strain, nevertheless, for one who, at the time, had in
him the beginnings of the disease of which he died.

I was staying with him once for two days, and the first
night he said to me, " I have three articles to write for the
Saturday Review, and they must all be done in thirty- six
hours." " What are they ? " I said ; " and how have you found
time to think of them ? " " Well," he answered, " one is on

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceStudies in contemporary biography → online text (page 8 of 29)