Autobiography of Anthony Trollope
It may be well that I should put a short preface to this book. In the summer of 1878 my father told me that he had written a memoir of his own life. He did not speak about it at length, but said that he had written me a letter, not to be opened until after his death, containing instructions for publication.
This letter was dated 30th April, 1876. I will give here as much of it as concerns the public: "I wish you to accept as a gift from me, given you now, the accompanying pages which contain a memoir of my life. My intention is that they shall be published after my death, and be edited by you. But I leave it altogether to your discretion whether to publish or to suppress the work;--and also to your discretion whether any part or what part shall be omitted. But I would not wish that anything should be added to the memoir. If you wish to say any word as from yourself, let it be done in the shape of a preface or introductory chapter." At the end there is a postscript: "The publication, if made at all, should be effected as soon as possible after my death." My father died on the 6th of December, 1882.
It will be seen, therefore, that my duty has been merely to pass the book through the press conformably to the above instructions. I have placed headings to the right-hand pages throughout the book, and I do not conceive that I was precluded from so doing. Additions of any other sort there have been none; the few footnotes are my father's own additions or corrections. And I have made no alterations. I have suppressed some few passages, but not more than would amount to two printed pages has been omitted. My father has not given any of his own letters, nor was it his wish that any should be published.
So much I would say by way of preface. And I think I may also give in a few words the main incidents in my father's life after he completed his autobiography.
He has said that he had given up hunting; but he still kept
two horses for such riding as may be had in or about the immediate neighborhood
Every day, until his last illness, my father continued his work. He would not otherwise have been happy. He demanded from himself less than he had done ten years previously, but his daily task was always done. I will mention now the titles of his books that were published after the last included in the list which he himself has given at the end of the second volume:--
An Eye for an Eye, . . . . 1879
Cousin Henry, . . . . . . 1879
Thackeray, . . . . . . . 1879
The Duke's Children, . . . . 1880
Ayala's Angel, . . . . . 1881
Doctor Wortle's School, . . . 1881
Frau Frohmann and other Stories, . 1882
Lord Palmerston, . . . . . 1882
The Fixed Period, . . . . . 1882
Kept in the Dark, . . . . . 1882
Marion Fay, . . . . . . 1882
Mr. Scarborough's Family, . . . 1883
At the time of his death he had written four-fifths of an Irish story, called The Landleaguers, shortly about to be published; and he left in manuscript a completed novel, called An Old Man's Love, which will be published by Messrs. Blackwood & Sons in 1884.
In the summer of 1880 my father left
On the evening of the 3rd of November, 1882, he was seized with paralysis on the right side, accompanied by loss of speech. His mind had also failed, though at intervals his thoughts would return to him. After the first three weeks these lucid intervals became rarer, but it was always very difficult to tell how far his mind was sound or how far astray. He died on the evening of the 6th of December following, nearly five weeks from the night of his attack.
I have been led to say these few words, not at all from a desire to supplement my father's biography of himself, but to mention the main incidents in his life after he had finished his own record. In what I have here said I do not think I have exceeded his instructions.
Henry M. Trollope. September, 1883.
In writing these pages, which, for the want of a better name, I shall be fain to call the autobiography of so insignificant a person as myself, it will not be so much my intention to speak of the little details of my private life, as of what I, and perhaps others round me, have done in literature; of my failures and successes such as they have been, and their causes; and of the opening which a literary career offers to men and women for the earning of their bread. And yet the garrulity of old age, and the aptitude of a man's mind to recur to the passages of his own life, will, I know, tempt me to say something of myself;--nor, without doing so, should I know how to throw my matter into any recognised and intelligible form. That I, or any man, should tell everything of himself, I hold to be impossible. Who could endure to own the doing of a mean thing? Who is there that has done none? But this I protest:--that nothing that I say shall be untrue. I will set down naught in malice; nor will I give to myself, or others, honour which I do not believe to have been fairly won. My boyhood was, I think, as unhappy as that of a young gentleman could well be, my misfortunes arising from a mixture of poverty and gentle standing on the part of my father, and from an utter want on my part of the juvenile manhood which enables some boys to hold up their heads even among the distresses which such a position is sure to produce.
I was born in 1815, in
My two elder brothers had been sent as day-boarders to Harrow School from the bigger house, and may probably have been received among the aristocratic crowd,--not on equal terms, because a day-boarder at Harrow in those days was never so received,--but at any rate as other day-boarders. I do not suppose that they were well treated, but I doubt whether they were subjected to the ignominy which I endured. I was only seven, and I think that boys at seven are now spared among their more considerate seniors. I was never spared; and was not even allowed to run to and fro between our house and the school without a daily purgatory. No doubt my appearance was against me. I remember well, when I was still the junior boy in the school, Dr. Butler, the head-master, stopping me in the street, and asking me, with all the clouds of Jove upon his brow and the thunder in his voice, whether it was possible that Harrow School was disgraced by so disreputably dirty a boy as I! Oh, what I felt at that moment! But I could not look my feelings. I do not doubt that I was dirty;--but I think that he was cruel. He must have known me had he seen me as he was wont to see me, for he was in the habit of flogging me constantly. Perhaps he did not recognise me by my face.
At this time I was three years at
Then I was sent to a private school at Sunbury, kept by
Arthur Drury. This, I think, must have been done in accordance with the advice
of Henry Drury, who was my tutor at
When I was twelve there came the vacancy at
While I was at
Soon after I had been sent to
Over a period of forty years, since I began my manhood at a desk in the Post Office, I and my brother, Thomas Adolphus, have been fast friends. There have been hot words between us, for perfect friendship bears and allows hot words. Few brothers have had more of brotherhood. But in those schooldays he was, of all my foes, the worst. In accordance with the practice of the college, which submits, or did then submit, much of the tuition of the younger boys from the elder, he was my tutor; and in his capacity of teacher and ruler, he had studied the theories of Draco. I remember well how he used to exact obedience after the manner of that lawgiver. Hang a little boy for stealing apples, he used to say, and other little boys will not steal apples. The doctrine was already exploded elsewhere, but he stuck to it with conservative energy. The result was that, as a part of his daily exercise, he thrashed me with a big stick. That such thrashings should have been possible at a school as a continual part of one's daily life, seems to me to argue a very ill condition of school discipline.
At this period I remember to have passed one set of
holidays--the midsummer holidays--in my father's chambers in
After a while my brother left
When I had been at
When I left
Perhaps the eighteen months which I passed in this
condition, walking to and fro on those miserably dirty lanes, was the worst
period of my life. I was now over fifteen, and had come to an age at which I
could appreciate at its full the misery of expulsion from all social
intercourse. I had not only no friends, but was despised by all my companions.
The farmhouse was not only no more than a farmhouse, but was one of those
farmhouses which seem always to be in danger of falling into the neighbouring
horse-pond. As it crept downwards from house to stables, from stables to barns,
from barns to cowsheds, and from cowsheds to dungheaps, one could hardly tell
where one began and the other ended! There was a parlour in which my father
lived, shut up among big books; but I passed my most jocund hours in the
kitchen, making innocent love to the bailiff's daughter. The farm kitchen might
be very well through the evening, when the horrors of the school were over; but
it all added to the cruelty of the days. A sizar at a
I wish I could give some adequate picture of the gloom of
that farmhouse. My elder brother--Tom as I must call him in my narrative,
though the world, I think, knows him best as Adolphus--was at
And my father, though he would try, as it were by a side wind, to get a useful spurt of work out of me, either in the garden or in the hay-field, had constantly an eye to my scholastic improvement. From my very babyhood, before those first days at Harrow, I had to take my place alongside of him as he shaved at six o'clock in the morning, and say my early rules from the Latin Grammar, or repeat the Greek alphabet; and was obliged at these early lessons to hold my head inclined towards him, so that in the event of guilty fault, he might be able to pull my hair without stopping his razor or dropping his shaving-brush. No father was ever more anxious for the education of his children, though I think none ever knew less how to go about the work. Of amusement, as far as I can remember, he never recognised the need. He allowed himself no distraction, and did not seem to think it was necessary to a child. I cannot bethink me of aught that he ever did for my gratification; but for my welfare,--for the welfare of us all,--he was willing to make any sacrifice. At this time, in the farmhouse at Harrow Weald, he could not give his time to teach me, for every hour that he was not in the fields was devoted to his monks and nuns; but he would require me to sit at a table with Lexicon and Gradus before me. As I look back on my resolute idleness and fixed determination to make no use whatever of the books thus thrust upon me, or of the hours, and as I bear in mind the consciousness of great energy in after-life, I am in doubt whether my nature is wholly altered, or whether his plan was wholly bad. In those days he never punished me, though I think I grieved him much by my idleness; but in passion he knew not what he did, and he has knocked me down with the great folio Bible which he always used. In the old house were the two first volumes of Cooper's novel, called The Prairie, a relic--probably a dishonest relic--of some subscription to Hookham's library. Other books of the kind there was none. I wonder how many dozen times I read those two first volumes.
It was the horror of those dreadful walks backwards and forwards which made my life so bad. What so pleasant, what so sweet, as a walk along an English lane, when the air is sweet and the weather fine, and when there is a charm in walking? But here were the same lanes four times a day, in wet and dry, in heat and summer, with all the accompanying mud and dust, and with disordered clothes. I might have been known among all the boys at a hundred yards' distance by my boots and trousers,--and was conscious at all times that I was so known. I remembered constantly that address from Dr. Butler when I was a little boy. Dr. Longley might with equal justice have said the same thing any day,--only that Dr. Longley never in his life was able to say an ill-natured word. Dr. Butler only became Dean of Peterborough, but his successor lived to be Archbishop of Canterbury.
I think it was in the autumn of 1831 that my mother, with
the rest of the family, returned from
Through all my father's troubles he still desired to send me
When I left
And yet when I think how little I knew of Latin or Greek on
Though I do not wish in these pages to go back to the origin
of all the Trollopes, I must say a few words of my mother,--partly because
filial duty will not allow me to be silent as to a parent who made for herself
a considerable name in the literature of her day, and partly because there were
circumstances in her career well worthy of notice. She was the daughter of the
Rev. William Milton, vicar of Heckfield,
who, as well as my father, had been a fellow of
In the first ten years of her married life she became the mother of six children, four of whom died of consumption at different ages. My elder sister married, and had children, of whom one still lives; but she was one of the four who followed each other at intervals during my mother's lifetime. Then my brother Tom and I were left to her,--with the destiny before us three of writing more books than were probably ever before produced by a single family. [Footnote: The family of Estienne, the great French printers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, of whom there were at least nine or ten, did more perhaps for the production of literature than any other family. But they, though they edited, and not unfrequently translated the works which they published, were not authors in the ordinary sense.] My married sister added to the number by one little anonymous high church story, called Chollerton.
From the date of their marriage up to 1827, when my mother
In 1827 she went to
The Domestic Manners of the Americans was the first of a series of books of travels, of which it was probably the best, and was certainly the best known. It will not be too much to say of it that it had a material effect upon the manners of the Americans of the day, and that that effect has been fully appreciated by them. No observer was certainly ever less qualified to judge of the prospects or even of the happiness of a young people. No one could have been worse adapted by nature for the task of learning whether a nation was in a way to thrive. Whatever she saw she judged, as most women do, from her own standing-point. If a thing were ugly to her eyes, it ought to be ugly to all eyes,--and if ugly, it must be bad. What though people had plenty to eat and clothes to wear, if they put their feet upon the tables and did not reverence their betters? 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 volumes were very bitter; but they were very clever, and they saved the family from ruin.
Book followed book immediately,--first two novels, and then
a book on
We continued this renewed life at
The gardener who had been with us in former days stopped me as I drove up the road, and with gestures, signs, and whispered words, gave me to understand that the whole affair--horse, gig, and barness--would be made prize of if I went but a few yards farther. Why they should not have been made prize of I do not know. The little piece of dishonest business which I at once took in hand and carried through successfully was of no special service to any of us. I drove the gig into the village, and sold the entire equipage to the ironmonger for 17, the exact sum which he claimed as being due to himself. I was much complimented by the gardener, who seemed to think that so much had been rescued out of the fire. I fancy that the ironmonger was the only gainer by my smartness.
When I got back to the house a scene of devastation was in progress, which still was not without its amusement. My mother, through her various troubles, had contrived to keep a certain number of pretty-pretties which were dear to her heart. They were not much, for in those days the ornamentation of houses was not lavish as it is now; but there was some china, and a little glass, a few books, and a very moderate supply of household silver. These things, and things like them, were being carried down surreptitiously, through a gap between the two gardens, on to the premises of our friend Colonel Grant. My two sisters, then sixteen and seventeen, and the Grant girls, who were just younger, were the chief marauders. To such forces I was happy to add myself for any enterprise, and between us we cheated the creditors to the extent of our powers, amidst the anathemas, but good-humoured abstinence from personal violence, of the men in charge of the property. I still own a few books that were thus purloined.
For a few days the whole family bivouacked under the
Colonel's hospitable roof, cared for and comforted by that dearest of all
women, his wife. Then we followed my father to
There were six of us went into this new banishment. My brother Henry had left
Then, by degrees, an established sorrow was at home among
us. My brother was an invalid, and the horrid word, which of all words were for
some years after the most dreadful to us, had been pronounced. It was no longer
a delicate chest, and some temporary necessity for peculiar care,--but
At this time there came from some quarter an offer to me of
a commission in an Austrian cavalry regiment; and so it was apparently my
destiny to be a soldier. But I must first learn German and French, of which
languages I knew almost nothing. For this a year was allowed me, and in order
that it might be accomplished without expense, I undertook the duties of a
classical usher to a school then kept by William Drury at
I hurried back from
To my own initiation at the Post Office I will return in the
next chapter. Just before Christmas my brother died, and was buried at
After his death my mother moved to
She was an unselfish, affectionate, and most industrious woman, with great capacity for enjoyment and high physical gifts. She was endowed too, with much creative power, with considerable humour, and a genuine feeling for romance. But she was neither clear-sighted nor accurate; and in her attempts to describe morals, manners, and even facts, was unable to avoid the pitfalls of exaggeration.
While I was still learning my duty as an usher at Mr.
Drury's school at
But as yet the 90 a year was not secured to me. On reaching
That was the way in which candidates for the Civil Service were examined in my young days. It was at any rate the way in which I was examined. Since that time there has been a very great change indeed;--and in some respects a great improvement. But in regard to the absolute fitness of the young men selected for the public service, I doubt whether more harm has not been done than good. And I think that good might have been done without the harm. The rule of the present day is, that every place shall be open to public competition, and that it shall be given to the best among the comers. I object to this, that at present there exists no known mode of learning who is best, and that the method employed has no tendency to elicit the best. That method pretends only to decide who among a certain number of lads will best answer a string of questions, for the answering of which they are prepared by tutors, who have sprung up for the purpose since this fashion of election has been adopted. When it is decided in a family that a boy shall "try the Civil Service," he is made to undergo a certain amount of cramming. But such treatment has, I maintain, no connection whatever with education. The lad is no better fitted after it than he was before for the future work of his life. But his very success fills him with false ideas of his own educational standing, and so far unfits him. And, by the plan now in vogue, it has come to pass that no one is in truth responsible either for the conduct, the manners, or even for the character of the youth. The responsibility was perhaps slight before; but existed, and was on the increase.
There might have been,--in some future time of still increased wisdom, there yet may be,--a department established to test the fitness of acolytes without recourse to the dangerous optimism of competitive choice. I will not say but that there should have been some one to reject me,--though I will have the hardihood to say that, had I been so rejected, the Civil Service would have lost a valuable public servant. This is a statement that will not, I think, be denied by those who, after I am gone, may remember anything of my work. Lads, no doubt, should not be admitted who have none of the small acquirements that are wanted. Our offices should not be schools in which writing and early lessons in geography, arithmetic, or French should be learned. But all that could be ascertained without the perils of competitive examination.
The desire to insure the efficiency of the young men
selected, has not been the only object--perhaps not the chief object--of those
who have yielded in this matter to the arguments of the reformers. There had
As what I now write will certainly never be read till I am dead, I may dare to say what no one now does dare to say in print,--though some of us whisper it occasionally into our friends' ears. There are places in life which can hardly be well filled except by "Gentlemen." The word is one the use of which almost subjects one to ignominy. If I say that a judge should be a gentleman, or a bishop, I am met with a scornful allusion to "Nature's Gentlemen." Were I to make such an assertion with reference to the House of Commons, nothing that I ever said again would receive the slightest attention. A man in public life could not do himself a greater injury than by saying in public that the commissions in the army or navy, or berths in the Civil Service, should be given exclusively to gentlemen. He would be defied to define the term,--and would fail should he attempt to do so. But he would know what he meant, and so very probably would they who defied him. It may be that the son of a butcher of the village shall become as well fitted for employments requiring gentle culture as the son of the parson. Such is often the case. When such is the case, no one has been more prone to give the butcher's son all the welcome he has merited than I myself; but the chances are greatly in favour of the parson's son. The gates of the one class should be open to the other; but neither to the one class nor to the other can good be done by declaring that there are no gates, no barrier, no difference. The system of competitive examination is, I think, based on a supposition that there is no difference.
I got into my place without any examining. Looking back now, I think I can see with accuracy what was then the condition of my own mind and intelligence. Of things to be learned by lessons I knew almost less than could be supposed possible after the amount of schooling I had received. I could read neither French, Latin, nor Greek. I could speak no foreign language,--and I may as well say here as elsewhere that I never acquired the power of really talking French. I have been able to order my dinner and take a railway ticket, but never got much beyond that. Of the merest rudiments of the sciences I was completely ignorant. My handwriting was in truth wretched. My spelling was imperfect. There was no subject as to which examination would have been possible on which I could have gone through an examination otherwise than disgracefully. And yet I think I knew more than the average young men of the same rank who began life at nineteen. I could have given a fuller list of the names of the poets of all countries, with their subjects and periods,--and probably of historians,--than many others; and had, perhaps, a more accurate idea of the manner in which my own country was governed. I knew the names of all the Bishops, all the Judges, all the Heads of Colleges, and all the Cabinet Ministers,--not a very useful knowledge indeed, but one that had not been acquired without other matter which was more useful. I had read Shakespeare and Byron and Scott, and could talk about them. The music of the Miltonic line was familiar to me. I had already made up my mind that Pride and Prejudice was the best novel in the English language,--a palm which I only partially withdrew after a second reading of Ivanhoe, and did not completely bestow elsewhere till Esmond was written. And though I would occasionally break down in my spelling, I could write a letter. If I had a thing to say, I could so say it in written words that the readers should know what I meant,--a power which is by no means at the command of all those who come out from these competitive examinations with triumph. Early in life, at the age of fifteen, I had commenced the dangerous habit of keeping a journal, and this I maintained for ten years. The volumes remained in my possession unregarded--never looked at--till 1870, when I examined them, and, with many blushes, destroyed them. They convicted me of folly, ignorance, indiscretion, idleness, extravagance, and conceit. But they had habituated me to the rapid use of pen and ink, and taught me how to express myself with faculty.
I will mention here another habit which had grown upon me from still earlier years,--which I myself often regarded with dismay when I thought of the hours devoted to it, but which, I suppose, must have tended to make me what I have been. As a boy, even as a child, I was thrown much upon myself. I have explained, when speaking of my school-days, how it came to pass that other boys would not play with me. I was therefore alone, and had to form my plays within myself. Play of some kind was necessary to me then, as it always has been. Study was not my bent, and I could not please myself by being all idle. Thus it came to pass that I was always going about with some castle in the air firmly build within my mind. Nor were these efforts in architecture spasmodic, or subject to constant change from day to day. For weeks, for months, if I remember rightly, from year to year, I would carry on the same tale, binding myself down to certain laws, to certain proportions, and proprieties, and unities. Nothing impossible was ever introduced,--nor even anything which, from outward circumstances, would seem to be violently improbable. I myself was of course my own hero. Such is a necessity of castle-building. But I never became a king, or a duke,--much less when my height and personal appearance were fixed could I be an Antinous, or six feet high. I never was a learned man, nor even a philosopher. But I was a very clever person, and beautiful young women used to be fond of me. And I strove to be kind of heart, and open of hand, and noble in thought, despising mean things; and altogether I was a very much better fellow than I have ever succeeded in being since. This had been the occupation of my life for six or seven years before I went to the Post Office, and was by no means abandoned when I commenced my work. There can, I imagine, hardly be a more dangerous mental practice; but I have often doubted whether, had it not been my practice, I should ever have written a novel. I learned in this way to maintain an interest in a fictitious story, to dwell on a work created by my own imagination, and to live in a world altogether outside the world of my own material life. In after years I have done the same,--with this difference, that I have discarded the hero of my early dreams, and have been able to lay my own identity aside.
I must certainly acknowledge that the first seven years of
my official life were neither creditable to myself nor
useful to the public service. These seven years were passed in
Sir Francis Freeling was followed at the Post Office by Colonel Maberly, who certainly was not my friend. I do not know that I deserved to find a friend in my new master, but I think that a man with better judgment would not have formed so low an opinion of me as he did. Years have gone by, and I can write now, and almost feel, without anger; but I can remember well the keenness of my anguish when I was treated as though I were unfit for any useful work. I did struggle--not to do the work, for there was nothing which was not easy without any struggling--but to show that I was willing to do it. My bad character nevertheless stuck to me, and was not to be got rid of by any efforts within my power. I do admit that I was irregular. It was not considered to be much in my favour that I could write letters--which was mainly the work of our office--rapidly, correctly, and to the purpose. The man who came at ten, and who was always still at his desk at half-past four, was preferred before me, though when at his desk he might be less efficient. Such preference was no doubt proper; but, with a little encouragement, I also would have been punctual. I got credit for nothing and was reckless.
As it was, the conduct of some of us was very bad. There was a comfortable sitting-room up-stairs, devoted to the use of some one of our number who in turn was required to remain in the place all night. Hither one or two of us would adjourn after lunch, and play ecarte for an hour or two. I do not know whether such ways are possible now in our public offices. And here we used to have suppers and card-parties at night--great symposiums, with much smoking of tobacco; for in our part of the building there lived a whole bevy of clerks. These were gentlemen whose duty it then was to make up and receive the foreign mails. I do not remember that they worked later or earlier than the other sorting-clerks; but there was supposed to be something special in foreign letters, which required that the men who handled them should have minds undistracted by the outer world. Their salaries, too, were higher than those of their more homely brethren; and they paid nothing for their lodgings. Consequently there was a somewhat fast set in those apartments, given to cards and to tobacco, who drank spirits and water in preference to tea. I was not one of them, but was a good deal with them.
I do not know that I should interest my readers by saying much of my Post Office experiences in those days. I was always on the eve of being dismissed, and yet was always striving to show how good a public servant I could become, if only a chance were given me. But the chance went the wrong way. On one occasion, in the performance of my duty, I had to put a private letter containing bank-notes on the secretary's table,--which letter I had duly opened, as it was not marked private. The letter was seen by the Colonel, but had not been moved by him when he left the room. On his return it was gone. In the meantime I had returned to the room, again in the performance of some duty. When the letter was missed I was sent for, and there I found the Colonel much moved about his letter, and a certain chief clerk, who, with a long face, was making suggestions as to the probable fate of the money. "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 quite 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 right out 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.
I was always in trouble. A young woman down in the country had taken it into her head that she would like to marry me,--and a very foolish young woman she must have been to entertain such a wish. I need not tell that part of the story more at length, otherwise than by protesting that no young man in such a position was ever much less to blame than I had been in this. The invitation had come from her, and I had lacked the pluck to give it a decided negative; but I had left the house within half an hour, going away without my dinner, and had never returned to it. Then there was a correspondence,--if that can be called a correspondence in which all the letters came from one side. At last the mother appeared at the Post Office. My hair almost stands on my head now as I remember the figure of the woman walking into the big room in which I sat with six or seven other clerks, having a large basket on her arm and an immense bonnet on her head. The messenger had vainly endeavoured to persuade her to remain in the ante-room. She followed the man in, and walking up the centre of the room, addressed me in a loud voice: "Anthony Trollope, when are you going to marry my daughter?" We have all had our worst moments, and that was one of my worst. I lived through it, however, and did not marry the young lady. These little incidents were all against me in the office.
And then a certain other phase of my private life crept into
official view, and did me a damage. As I shall explain
just now, I rarely at this time had any money wherewith to pay my bills. In
this state of things a certain tailor had taken from me an acceptance for, I think,
12, which found its way into the hands of a money-lender. With that man, who
lived in a little street near
Of one other misfortune which happened to me in those days I
must tell the tale. A junior clerk in the secretary's office was always told
off to sleep upon the premises, and he was supposed to be the presiding genius
of the establishment when the other members of the Secretary's department had
left the building. On an occasion when I
was still little more than a lad,--perhaps one-and-twenty years old,--I was
filling this responsible position. At about seven in the evening word was
brought to me that the Queen of,--I think
I came up to town, as I said before, purporting to live a
jolly life upon 90 per annum. I remained seven years in the General Post
Office, and when I left it my income was 140. During the whole of this time I
was hopelessly in debt. There were two intervals, amounting together to nearly
two years, in which I lived with my mother, and therefore lived in
comfort,--but even then I was overwhelmed with debt. She paid much for me,--paid all that I asked
her to pay, and all that she could find out that I owed. But who in such a
condition ever tells all and makes a clean breast of it? The debts, of course,
were not large, but I cannot think now how I could have lived, and sometimes
have enjoyed life, with such a burden of duns as I endured. Sheriff's officers
with uncanny documents, of which I never understood anything, were common
attendants on me. And yet I do not remember that I was ever locked up, though I
think I was twice a prisoner. In such emergencies some one paid for me. And
now, looking back at it, I have to ask myself whether my youth was very wicked.
I did no good in it; but was there fair ground for expecting good from me? When
I wonder how many young men fall utterly to pieces from
being turned loose into
And now, except during official hours, I was entirely
without control,--without the influences of any decent household around me. I
have said something of the comedy of such life, but it certainly had its tragic
aspect. Turning it all over in my own mind, as I have constantly done in after
years, the tragedy has always been uppermost. And so it was as the time was
passing. Could there be any escape from such dirt? I would ask myself; and I
always answered that there was no escape. The mode of life was itself wretched.
I hated the office. I hated my work. More than all I hated my idleness. I had
often told myself since I left school that the only career in life within my
reach was that of an author, and the only mode of authorship open to me that of
a writer of novels. In the journal which I read and destroyed a few years
since, I found the matter argued out before I had been in the Post Office two
years. Parliament was out of the question. I had not means to go to the Bar. In
Official life, such as that to which I had been introduced, there did not seem
to be any opening for real success. Pens and paper I could command. Poetry I
did not believe to be within my grasp. The drama, too, which I would fain have
chosen, I believed to be above me. For history, biography, or essay writing I
had not sufficient erudition. But I thought it possible that I might write a
novel. I had resolved very early that in that shape must the attempt be made. But the months and years ran on, and no
attempt was made. And yet no day was passed without thoughts of attempting, and
a mental acknowledgment of the disgrace of postponing it. What reader will not
understand the agony of remorse produced by such a condition of mind? The
In those days I read a little, and did learn to read French
and Latin. I made myself familiar with Horace, and became acquainted with the
works of our own greatest poets. I had my strong enthusiasms, and remember
throwing out of the window in
How I got my daily bread I can hardly remember. But I do remember that I was often unable to
get myself a dinner. Young men generally now have their meals provided for
them. I kept house, as it were. Every day I had to find myself with the day's
food. For my breakfast I could get some credit at the lodgings, though that
credit would frequently come to an end. But for all that I had often breakfast
to pay day by day; and at your eating-house credit is
not given. I had no friends on whom I could sponge regularly. Out on the
Before I tell how it came about that I left this wretched
life, I must say a word or two of the friendships which lessened its
misfortunes. My earliest friend in life was John Merivale, with whom I had been at school at Sunbury and
W---- A----, Merivale, and I formed a little club, which we
called the Tramp Society, and subjected to certain rules, in obedience to which
we wandered on foot about the counties adjacent to
It was during these years that John Tilley, who has now been
for many years the permanent senior officer of the Post Office, married my
sister, whom he took with him into
When I had been nearly seven years in the Secretary's office
of the Post Office, always hating my position there, and yet always fearing
that I should be dismissed from it, there came a way of escape. There had
latterly been created in the service a new body of officers called surveyors'
clerks. There were at that time seven surveyors in
In the preceding pages I have given a short record of the
first twenty-six years of my life,--years of suffering, disgrace, and inward
remorse. I fear that my mode of telling will have left an idea simply of their
absurdities; but, in truth, I was wretched,--sometimes almost unto death, and
have often cursed the hour in which I was born. There had clung to me a feeling
that I had been looked upon always as an evil, an encumbrance, a useless
thing,--as a creature of whom those connected with him had to be ashamed. And I
feel certain now that in my young days I was so regarded. Even my few friends
who had found with me a certain capacity for enjoyment were half afraid of me.
I acknowledge the weakness of a great desire to be loved,--of a strong wish to
be popular with my associates. No child, no boy, no lad, no young man, had ever
been less so. And I had been so poor, and so little able to bear poverty. But
from the day on which I set my foot in
"Sin aliquem infandum casum, Fortuna, minaris; Nunc, o nunc liceat crudelem abrumpere vitam."
There is unhappiness so great that the very fear of it is an alloy to happiness. I had then lost my father, and sister, and brother,--have since lost another sister and my mother;--but I have never as yet lost a wife or a child.
When I told my friends that I was going on this mission to
But nobody then thought I was right to go. To become clerk
to an Irish surveyor, in
My ideas of the duties I was to perform were very vague, as
were also my ideas of
On the 15th of September, 1841, I landed in
On the next morning I called on the Secretary of the Irish Post Office, and learned from him that Colonel Maberly had sent a very bad character with me. He could not have sent a very good one; but I felt a little hurt when I was informed by this new master that he had been informed that I was worthless, and must, in all probability, be dismissed. "But," said the new master, "I shall judge you by your own merits." From that time to the day on which I left the service, I never heard a word of censure, nor had many months passed before I found that my services were valued. Before a year was over, I had acquired the character of a thoroughly good public servant.
The time went very pleasantly. Some adventures I had;--two
of which I told in the Tales of All Countries, under the names of The O'Conors
of Castle Conor, and Father Giles of Ballymoy. I will not swear to every detail
in these stories, but the main purport of each is true. I could tell many
others of the same nature, were this the place for them. I found that the
surveyor to whom I had been sent kept a pack of hounds, and therefore I bought
a hunter. I do not think he liked it, but he could not well complain. He never
rode to hounds himself, but I did; and then and thus began one of the great
joys of my life. I have ever since been constant to the sport, having learned
to love it with an affection which I cannot myself fathom or understand. Surely
no man has laboured at it as I have done, or hunted under such drawbacks as to
distances, money, and natural disadvantages. I am very heavy, very blind, have
been--in reference to hunting--a poor man, and am now an old man. I have often
had to travel all night outside a mail-coach, in order that I might hunt the
next day. Nor have I ever been in truth a good horseman. And I have passed the greater part of my
hunting life under the discipline of the Civil Service. But it has been for
more than thirty years a duty to me to ride to hounds; and I have performed
that duty with a persistent energy. Nothing has ever been allowed to stand in
the way of hunting,--neither the writing of books, nor the work of the Post
Office, nor other pleasures. As regarded the Post Office, it soon seemed to be
understood that I was to hunt; and when my services were re-transferred to
It was altogether a very jolly life that I led in
I had not been a fortnight in Ireland before I was sent down to a little town in the far west of county Galway, to balance a defaulting postmaster's accounts, find out how much he owed, and report upon his capacity to pay. In these days such accounts are very simple. They adjust themselves from day to day, and a Post Office surveyor has nothing to do with them. At that time, though the sums dealt with were small, the forms of dealing with them were very intricate. I went to work, however, and made that defaulting postmaster teach me the use of those forms. I then succeeded in balancing the account, and had no difficulty whatever in reporting that he was altogether unable to pay his debt. Of course, he was dismissed; but he had been a very useful man to me. I never had any further difficulty in the matter.
But my chief work was the investigating of complaints made by the public as to postal matters. The practice of the office was and is to send one of its servants to the spot to see the complainant and to inquire into the facts, when the complainant is sufficiently energetic or sufficiently big to make himself well heard. A great expense is often incurred for a very small object; but the system works well on the whole, as confidence is engendered, and a feeling is produced in the country that the department has eyes of its own and does keep them open. This employment was very pleasant, and to me always easy, as it required at its close no more than the writing of a report. There were no accounts in this business, no keeping of books, no necessary manipulation of multitudinous forms. I must tell of one such complaint and inquiry, because in its result I think it was emblematic of many.
A gentleman in
I went on with the hunting surveyor at Banagher for three
years, during which, at
For though during these three years I had been jolly enough,
I had not been altogether happy. The hunting, the whisky punch, the rattling
Irish life,--of which I could write a volume of stories were this the place to
tell them,--were continually driving from my mind the still cherished
determination to become a writer of novels. When I reached
The vigour necessary to prosecute two professions at the same time is not given to every one, and it was only lately that I had found the vigour necessary for one. There must be early hours, and I had not as yet learned to love early hours. I was still, indeed, a young man; but hardly young enough to trust myself to find the power to alter the habits of my life. And I had heard of the difficulties of publishing,--a subject of which I shall have to say much should I ever bring this memoir to a close. I had dealt already with publishers on my mother's behalf, and knew that many a tyro who could fill a manuscript lacked the power to put his matter before the public;--and I knew, too, that when the matter was printed, how little had then been done towards the winning of the battle! I had already learned that many a book--many a good book--
"is born to blush unseen And waste its sweetness on the desert air."
But still the purpose was strong within me, and the first effort was made after the following fashion. I was located at a little town called Drumsna, or rather village, in the county Leitrim, where the postmaster had come to some sorrow about his money; and my friend John Merivale was staying with me for a day or two. As we were taking a walk in that most uninteresting country, we turned up through a deserted gateway, along a weedy, grass-grown avenue, till we came to the modern ruins of a country house. It was one of the most melancholy spots I ever visited. I will not describe it here, because I have done so in the first chapter of my first novel. We wandered about the place, suggesting to each other causes for the misery we saw there, and, while I was still among the ruined walls and decayed beams, I fabricated the plot of The Macdermots of Ballycloran. As to the plot itself, I do not know that I ever made one so good,--or, at any rate, one so susceptible of pathos. I am aware that I broke down in the telling, not having yet studied the art. Nevertheless, The Macdermots is a good novel, and worth reading by any one who wishes to understand what Irish life was before the potato disease, the famine, and the Encumbered Estates Bill.
When my friend left me, I set to work and wrote the first chapter or two. Up to this time I had continued that practice of castle-building of which I have spoken; but now the castle I built was among the ruins of that old house. The book, however, hung with me. It was only now and then that I found either time or energy for a few pages. I commenced the book in September, 1843, and had only written a volume when I was married in June, 1844.
My marriage was like the marriage of other people, and of no
special interest to any one except my wife and me. It took place at Rotherham,
Many people would say that we were two fools to encounter such poverty together. I can only reply that since that day I have never been without money in my pocket, and that I soon acquired the means of paying what I owed. Nevertheless, more than twelve years had to pass over our heads before I received any payment for any literary work which afforded an appreciable increase to our income.
Immediately after our marriage, I left the west of
There has taken place a great change in
When I had been married a year my first novel was finished.
In July, 1845, I took it with me to the north of
My mother, however, did the best she could for me, and soon
reported that Mr. Newby, of
I do not remember that I felt in any way disappointed or
hurt. I am quite sure that no word of complaint passed my lips. I think I may
say that after the publication I never said a word about the book, even to my
wife. The fact that I had written and published it, and that I was writing
another, did not in the least interfere with my life, or with my determination
to make the best I could of the Post Office. In
But in reference to The O'Kellys there arose a circumstance which set my mind to work on a subject which has exercised it much ever since. I made my first acquaintance with criticism. A dear friend of mine to whom the book had been sent,--as have all my books,--wrote me word to Ireland that he had been dining at some club with a man high in authority among the gods of the Times newspaper, and that this special god had almost promised that The O'Kellys should be noticed in that most influential of "organs." The information moved me very much; but it set me thinking whether the notice, should it ever appear, would not have been more valuable, at any rate, more honest, if it had been produced by other means;--if, for instance, the writer of the notice had been instigated by the merits or demerits of the book instead of by the friendship of a friend. And I made up my mind then that, should I continue this trade of authorship, I would have no dealings with any critic on my own behalf. I would neither ask for nor deplore criticism, nor would I ever thank a critic for praise, or quarrel with him, even in my own heart, for censure. To this rule I have adhered with absolute strictness, and this rule I would recommend to all young authors. What can be got by touting among the critics is never worth the ignominy. The same may, of course, be said of all things acquired by ignominious means. But in this matter it is so easy to fall into the dirt. Facilis descensus Averni. There seems to be but little fault in suggesting to a friend that a few words in this or that journal would be of service. But any praise so obtained must be an injustice to the public, for whose instruction, and not for the sustentation of the author, such notices are intended. And from such mild suggestion the descent to crawling at the critic's feet, to the sending of presents, and at last to a mutual understanding between critics and criticised, is only too easy. Other evils follow, for the denouncing of which this is hardly the place;--though I trust I may find such place before my work is finished. I took no notice of my friend's letter, but I was not the less careful in watching The Times. At last the review came,--a real review in The Times. I learned it by heart, and can now give, if not the words, the exact purport. "Of The Kellys and the O'Kellys we may say what the master said to his footman, when the man complained of the constant supply of legs of mutton on the kitchen table. Well, John, legs of mutton are good, substantial food;' and we may say also what John replied: 'Substantial, sir,--yes, they are substantial, but a little coarse.'" That was the review, and even that did not sell the book!
From Mr. Colburn I did receive an account, showing that 375 copies of the book had been printed, that 140 had been sold,--to those, I presume, who liked substantial food though it was coarse,--and that he had incurred a loss of 63 19S. 1 1/2d. The truth of the account I never for a moment doubted; nor did I doubt the wisdom of the advice given to me in the following letter, though I never thought of obeying it--
"MY DEAR SIR,--I am sorry to say that absence from town and other circumstances have prevented me from earlier inquiring into the results of the sale of The Kellys and the O'Kellys, with which the greatest efforts have been used, but in vain. The sale has been, I regret to say, so small that the loss upon the publication is very considerable; and it appears clear to me that, although in consequence of the great number of novels that are published, the sale of each, with some few exceptions, must be small, yet it is evident that readers do not like novels on Irish subjects as well as on others. Thus, you will perceive, it is impossible for me to give any encouragement to you to proceed in novel-writing.
"As, however, I understand you have nearly finished the novel La Vendee, perhaps you will favour me with a sight of it when convenient.--I remain, etc., etc.,
This, though not strictly logical, was a rational letter, telling a plain truth plainly. I did not like the assurance that "the greatest efforts had been used," thinking that any efforts which might be made for the popularity of a book ought to have come from the author;--but I took in good part Mr. Colburn's assurance that he could not encourage me in the career I had commenced. I would have bet twenty to one against my own success. But by continuing I could lose only pen and paper; and if the one chance in twenty did turn up in my favour, then how much might I win!
I had at once gone to work on a third novel, and had nearly completed it, when I was informed of the absolute failure of the former. I find, however, that the agreement for its publication was not made till 1850, by which time I imagine that Mr. Colburn must have forgotten the disastrous result of The O'Kellys, as he thereby agrees to give me 20 down for my "new historical novel, to be called La Vendee." He agreed also to pay me 30 more when he had sold 350 copies, and 50 more should he sell 450 within six months. I got my 20, and then heard no more of a Vendee, not even receiving any account. Perhaps the historical title had appeared more alluring to him than an Irish subject; though it was not long afterwards that I received a warning from the very same house of business against historical novels,--as I will tell at length when the proper time comes.
I have no doubt that the result of the sale of this story was no better than that of the two that had gone before. I asked no questions, however, and to this day have received no information. The story is certainly inferior to those which had gone before;--chiefly because I knew accurately the life of the people in Ireland, and knew, in truth, nothing of life in the La Vendee country, and also because the facts of the present time came more within the limits of my powers of story-telling than those of past years. But I read the book the other day, and am not ashamed of it. The conception as to the feeling of the people is, I think, true; the characters are distinct, and the tale is not dull. As far as I can remember, this morsel of criticism is the only one that was ever written on the book.
I had, however, received 20. Alas! alas! years were to roll by before I should earn by my pen another shilling. And, indeed, I was well aware that I had not earned that; but that the money had been "talked out of" the worthy publisher by the earnestness of my brother, who made the bargain for me. I have known very much of publishers and have been surprised by much in their mode of business,--by the apparent lavishness and by the apparent hardness to authors in the same men,--but by nothing so much as by the ease with which they can occasionally be persuaded to throw away small sums of money. If you will only make the payment future instead of present, you may generally twist a few pounds in your own or your client's favour. "You might as well promise her 20. This day six months will do very well." The publisher, though he knows that the money will never come back to him, thinks it worth his while to rid himself of your importunity at so cheap a price.
But while I was writing La Vendee I made a literary attempt
in another direction. In 1847 and 1848 there had come upon
At this time I knew no literary men. A few I had met when
living with my mother, but that had been now so long ago that all such
acquaintance had died out. I knew who they were as far as a man could get such
knowledge from the papers of the day, and felt myself as in part belonging to
the guild, through my mother, and in some degree by my own unsuccessful
efforts. But it was not probable that any one would admit my claim;--nor on
this occasion did I make any claim. I stated my name and official position, and
the fact that opportunities had been given me of seeing the poorhouses in
Whether there ought to have been a cheque I do not even yet know. A man who writes a single letter to a newspaper, of course, is not paid for it,--nor for any number of letters on some point personal to himself. I have since written sets of letters to newspapers, and have been paid for them; but then I have bargained for a price. On this occasion I had hopes; but they never ran high, and I was not much disappointed. I have no copy now of those letters, and could not refer to them without much trouble; nor do I remember what I said. But I know that I did my best in writing them.
When my historical novel failed, as completely as had its predecessors, the two Irish novels, I began to ask myself whether, after all, that was my proper line. I had never thought of questioning the justice of the verdict expressed against me. The idea that I was the unfortunate owner of unappreciated genius never troubled me. I did not look at the books after they were published, feeling sure that they had been, as it were, damned with good reason. But still I was clear in my mind that I would not lay down my pen. Then and therefore I determined to change my hand, and to attempt a play. I did attempt the play, and in 1850 I wrote a comedy, partly in blank verse, and partly in prose, called The Noble Jilt. The plot I afterwards used in a novel called Can You Forgive Her? I believe that I did give the best of my intellect to the play, and I must own that when it was completed it pleased me much. I copied it, and re-copied it, touching it here and touching it there, and then sent it to my very old friend, George Bartley, the actor, who had when I was in London been stage-manager of one of the great theatres, and who would, I thought, for my own sake and for my mother's, give me the full benefit of his professional experience.
I have now before me the letter which he wrote to me,--a letter which I have read a score of times. It was altogether condemnatory. "When I commenced," he said, "I had great hopes of your production. I did not think it opened dramatically, but that might have been remedied." I knew then that it was all over. But, as my old friend warmed to the subject, the criticism became stronger and stronger, till my ears tingled. At last came the fatal blow. "As to the character of your heroine, I felt at a loss how to describe it, but you have done it for me in the last speech of Madame Brudo." Madame Brudo was the heroine's aunt. "'Margaret, my child, never play the jilt again; 'tis a most unbecoming character. Play it with what skill you will, it meets but little sympathy.' And this, be assured, would be its effect upon an audience. So that I must reluctantly add that, had I been still a manager, The Noble Jilt is not a play I could have recommended for production." This was a blow that I did feel. The neglect of a book is a disagreeable fact which grows upon an author by degrees. There is no special moment of agony,--no stunning violence of condemnation. But a piece of criticism such as this, from a friend, and from a man undoubtedly capable of forming an opinion, was a blow in the face! But I accepted the judgment loyally, and said not a word on the subject to any one. I merely showed the letter to my wife, declaring my conviction, that it must be taken as gospel. And as critical gospel it has since been accepted. In later days I have more than once read the play, and I know that he was right. The dialogue, however, I think to be good, and I doubt whether some of the scenes be not the brightest and best work I ever did.
Just at this time another literary project loomed before my eyes, and for six or eight months had considerable size. I
was introduced to Mr. John Murray, and proposed to him to write a handbook for
Early in 1851 I was sent upon a job of special official
work, which for two years so completely absorbed my time that I was able to
write nothing. A plan was formed for
extending the rural delivery of letters, and for adjusting the work, which up
to that time had been done in a very irregular manner. A country letter-carrier would be sent in one
direction in which there were but few letters to be delivered, the arrangement
having originated probably at the request of some influential person, while in
another direction there was no letter-carrier because no influential person had
exerted himself. It was intended to set this right throughout
All this I did on horseback, riding on an average forty miles a day. I was paid sixpence a mile for the distance travelled, and it was necessary that I should at any rate travel enough to pay for my equipage. This I did, and got my hunting out of it also. I have often surprised some small country postmaster, who had never seen or heard of me before, by coming down upon him at nine in the morning, with a red coat and boots and breeches, and interrogating him as to the disposal of every letter which came into his office. And in the same guise I would ride up to farmhouses, or parsonages, or other lone residences about the country, and ask the people how they got their letters, at what hour, and especially whether they were delivered free or at a certain charge. For a habit had crept into use, which came to be, in my eyes, at that time, the one sin for which there was no pardon, in accordance with which these rural letter-carriers used to charge a penny a letter, alleging that the house was out of their beat, and that they must be paid for their extra work. I think that I did stamp out that evil. In all these visits I was, in truth, a beneficent angel to the public, bringing everywhere with me an earlier, cheaper, and much more regular delivery of letters. But not unfrequently the angelic nature of my mission was imperfectly understood. I was perhaps a little in a hurry to get on, and did not allow as much time as was necessary to explain to the wondering mistress of the house, or to an open-mouthed farmer, why it was that a man arrayed for hunting asked so many questions which might be considered impertinent, as applying to his or her private affairs. "Good-morning, sir. I have just called to ask a few questions. I am a surveyor of the Post Office. How do you get your letters? As I am a little in a hurry, perhaps you can explain at once." Then I would take out my pencil and notebook, and wait for information. And in fact there was no other way in which the truth could be ascertained. Unless I came down suddenly as a summer's storm upon them, the very people who were robbed by our messengers would not confess the robbery, fearing the ill-will of the men. It was necessary to startle them into the revelations which I required them to make for their own good. And I did startle them. I became thoroughly used to it, and soon lost my native bashfulness;--but sometimes my visits astonished the retiring inhabitants of country houses. I did, however, do my work, and can look back upon what I did with thorough satisfaction. I was altogether in earnest; and I believe that many a farmer now has his letters brought daily to his house free of charge, who but for me would still have had to send to the post-town for them twice a week, or to have paid a man for bringing them irregularly to his door.
This work took up my time so completely, and entailed upon me so great an amount of writing, that I was in fact unable to do any literary work. From day to day I thought of it, still purporting to make another effort, and often turning over in my head some fragment of a plot which had occurred to me. But the day did not come in which I could sit down with my pen and paper and begin another novel. For, after all, what could it be but a novel? The play had failed more absolutely than the novels, for the novels had attained the honour of print. The cause of this pressure of official work lay, not in the demands of the General Post Office, which more than once expressed itself as astonished by my celerity, but in the necessity which was incumbent on me to travel miles enough to pay for my horses, and upon the amount of correspondence, returns, figures, and reports which such an amount of daily travelling brought with it. I may boast that the work was done very quickly and very thoroughly,--with no fault but an over-eagerness to extend postal arrangements far and wide.
In the course of the job I visited
Nevertheless I thought much about it, and on the 29th of
July, 1853,--having been then two years without having made any literary
effort,--I began The Warden, at Tenbury in Worcestershire. It was then more
than twelve months since I had stood for an hour on the little bridge in
We were at this time very much unsettled as regards any
residence. While we were living at Clonmel two sons had been born, who
certainly were important enough to have been mentioned sooner. At Clonmel we
had lived in lodgings, and from there had moved to Mallow, a town in the
The work of taking up a new district, which requires not only that the man doing it should know the nature of the postal arrangements, but also the characters and the peculiarities of the postmasters and their clerks, was too heavy to allow of my going on with my book at once. It was not till the end of 1852 that I recommenced it, and it was in the autumn of 1853 that I finished the work. It was only one small volume, and in later days would have been completed in six weeks,--or in two months at the longest, if other work had pressed. On looking at the title-page, I find it was not published till 1855. I had made acquaintance, through my friend John Merivale, with William Longman the publisher, and had received from him an assurance that the manuscript should be "looked at." It was "looked at," and Messrs. Longman made me an offer to publish it at half profits. I had no reason to love "half profits," but I was very anxious to have my book published, and I acceded. It was now more than ten years since I had commenced writing The Macdermots, and I thought that if any success was to be achieved, the time surely had come. I had not been impatient; but, if there was to be a time, surely it had come.
The novel-reading world did not go mad about The Warden; but I soon felt that it had not failed as the others had failed. There were notices of it in the press, and I could discover that people around me knew that I had written a book. Mr. Longman was complimentary, and after a while informed me that there would be profits to divide. At the end of 1855 I received a cheque for 9 8s. 8d., which was the first money I had ever earned by literary work;--that 20 which poor Mr. Colburn had been made to pay certainly never having been
earned at all. At the end of 1856 I received another sum of 10
15s. 1d. The pecuniary success was not great. Indeed, as regarded
remuneration for the time, stone-breaking would have done better. A thousand copies were printed, of which, after a lapse of five or six years, about 300 had to be converted into another form, and sold as belonging to a cheap edition. In its original form The Warden never reached the essential honour of a second edition.
I have already said of the work that it failed altogether in the purport for which it was intended. But it has a merit of its own,--a merit by my own perception of which I was enabled to see wherein lay whatever strength I did possess. The characters of the bishop, of the archdeacon, of the archdeacon's wife, and especially of the warden, are all well and clearly drawn. I had realised to myself a series of portraits, and had been able so to put them on the canvas that my readers should see that which I meant them to see. There is no gift which an author can have more useful to him than this. And the style of the English was good, though from most unpardonable carelessness the grammar was not unfrequently faulty. With such results I had no doubt but that I would at once begin another novel.
I will here say one word as a long-deferred answer to an
item of criticism which appeared in the Times newspaper as to The Warden. In an
article-if I remember rightly--on The Warden and
It was, I think, before I started on my English tours among
the rural posts that I made my first attempt at writing for a magazine. I had
read, soon after they came out, the two first volumes of Charles Menvale's
History of the Romans under the Empire, and had got into some correspondence
with the author's brother as to the author's views about Caesar. Hence arose in
my mind a tendency to investigate the character of probably the greatest man
who ever lived, which tendency in after years produced a little book of which I
shall have to speak when its time comes,--and also a taste generally for Latin
literature, which has been one of the chief delights of my later life. And I may say that I became at this time as
anxious about Caesar, and as desirous of reaching the truth as to his
character, as we have all been in regard to
It was while I was engaged on
In the writing of
The work succeeded just as The Warden had succeeded. It achieved no great reputation, but it was
one of the novels which novel readers were called upon to read. Perhaps I may
be assuming upon myself more than I have a right to do in saying now that
Barchester Towers has become one of those novels which do not die quite at
once, which live and are read for perhaps a quarter of a century; but if that
be so, its life has been so far prolonged by the vitality of some of its
I received my 100, in advance, with profound delight. It
was a positive and most welcome increase to my income, and might probably be
regarded as a first real step on the road to substantial success. I am well
aware that there are many who think that an author in his authorship should not
regard money,--nor a painter, or sculptor, or composer in his art. I do not know that this unnatural sacrifice
is supposed to extend itself further. A barrister, a clergyman, a doctor, an
engineer, and even actors and architects, may without disgrace follow the bent
of human nature, and endeavour to fill their bellies and clothe their backs,
and also those of their wives and children, as comfortably as they can by the
exercise of their abilities and their crafts. They may be as rationally
realistic, as may the butchers and the bakers; but the artist and the author
forget the high glories of their calling if they condescend to make a money return a first object. They who preach this doctrine
will be much offended by my theory, and by this book of mine, if my theory and
my book come beneath their notice. They require the practice of a so-called
virtue which is contrary to nature, and which, in my eyes, would be no virtue
if it were practised. They are like clergymen who preach sermons against the
love of money, but who know that the love of money is so distinctive a
characteristic of humanity that such sermons are mere platitudes called for by
customary but unintelligent piety. All material progress has come from man's
desire to do the best he can for himself and those about him, and civilisation
and Christianity itself have been made possible by such progress. Though we do not all of us argue this matter
out within our breasts, we do all feel it; and we know that the more a man
earns the more useful he is to his fellow-men. The most useful lawyers, as a
rule, have been those who have made the greatest incomes,--and it is the same
with the doctors. It would be the same in the Church if they who have the
choosing of bishops always chose the best man. And it has in truth been so too
in art and authorship. Did Titian or Rubens disregard their pecuniary rewards?
As far as we know, Shakespeare worked always for money, giving the best of his
intellect to support his trade as an actor. In our own century what literary
names stand higher than those of Byron, Tennyson, Scott, Dickens, Macaulay, and
Carlyle? And I think I may say that none of those great men neglected the
pecuniary result of their labours. Now and then a man may arise among us who in
any calling, whether it be in law, in physic, in religious teaching, in art, or
literature, may in his professional enthusiasm utterly disregard money. All will honour his enthusiasm, and if he be
wifeless and childless, his disregard of the great object of men's work will be
blameless. But it is a mistake to suppose that a man is a better man because he
despises money. Few do so, and those few in doing so suffer a defeat. Who does
not desire to be hospitable to his friends, generous to the poor, liberal to
all, munificent to his children, and to be himself free from the casking fear
which poverty creates? The subject will not stand an argument;--and yet authors
are told that they should disregard payment for their work, and be content to
devote their unbought brains to the welfare of the public. Brains that are
unbought will never serve the public much. Take away from English authors their
copyrights, and you would very soon take away from
I say this here, because it is my purpose as I go on to state what to me has been the result of my profession in the ordinary way in which professions are regarded, so that by my example may be seen what prospect there is that a man devoting himself to literature with industry, perseverance, certain necessary aptitudes, and fair average talents, may succeed in gaining a livelihood, as another man does in another profession. The result with me has been comfortable but not splendid, as I think was to have been expected from the combination of such gifts.
I have certainly always had also before my eyes the charms of reputation. Over and above the money view of the question, I wished from the beginning to be something more than a clerk in the Post Office. To be known as somebody,--to be Anthony Trollope if it be no more,--is to me much. The feeling is a very general one, and I think beneficent. It is that which has been called the "last infirmity of noble mind." The infirmity is so human that the man who lacks it is either above or below humanity. I own to the infirmity. But I confess that my first object in taking to literature as a profession was that which is common to the barrister when he goes to the Bar, and to the baker when he sets up his oven. I wished to make an income on which I and those belonging to me might live in comfort.
If indeed a man writes his books badly, or paints his pictures badly, because he can make his money faster in that fashion than by doing them well, and at the same time proclaims them to be the best he can do,--if in fact he sells shoddy for broadcloth,--he is dishonest, as is any other fraudulent dealer. So may be the barrister who takes money that he does not earn, or the clergyman who is content to live on a sinecure. No doubt the artist or the author may have a difficulty which will not occur to the seller of cloth, in settling within himself what is good work and what is bad,--when labour enough has been given, and when the task has been scamped. It is a danger as to which he is bound to be severe with himself--in which he should feel that his conscience should be set fairly in the balance against the natural bias of his interest. If he do not do so, sooner or later his dishonesty will be discovered, and will be estimated accordingly. But in this he is to be governed only by the plain rules of honesty which should govern us all. Having said so much, I shall not scruple as I go on to attribute to the pecuniary result of my labours all the importance which I felt them to have at the time.
When I went to Mr. Longman with my next novel, The Three Clerks, in my hand, I could not induce him to understand that a lump sum down was more pleasant than a deferred annuity. I wished him to buy it from me at a price which he might think to be a fair value, and I argued with him that as soon as an author has put himself into a position which insures a sufficient sale of his works to give a profit, the publisher is not entitled to expect the half of such proceeds. While there is a pecuniary risk, the whole of which must be borne by the publisher, such division is fair enough; but such a demand on the part of the publisher is monstrous as soon as the article produced is known to be a marketable commodity. I thought that I had now reached that point, but Mr. Longman did not agree with me. And he endeavoured to convince me that I might lose more than I gained, even though I should get more money by going elsewhere. "It is for you," said he, "to think whether our names on your title-page are not worth more to you than the increased payment." This seemed to me to savour of that high-flown doctrine of the contempt of money which I have never admired. I did think much of Messrs. Longman's name, but I liked it best at the bottom of a cheque.
I was also scared from the august columns of Paternoster Row by a remark made to myself by one of the firm, which seemed to imply that they did not much care for works of fiction. Speaking of a fertile writer of tales who was not then dead, he declared that ----(naming the author in question) had spawned upon them (the publishers) three novels a year! Such language is perhaps justifiable in regard to a man who shows so much of the fecundity of the herring; but I did not know how fruitful might be my own muse, and I thought that I had better go elsewhere.
I had then written The Three Clerks, which, when I could not
sell it to Messrs. Longman, I took in the first instance to Messrs. Hurst &
Blackett, who had become successors to Mr. Colburn. I had made an appointment
with one of the firm, which, however, that gentleman was unable to keep. I was
on my way from
The lawyer Chaffanbrass made his first appearance in this novel, and I do not think that I have cause to be ashamed of him. But this novel now is chiefly noticeable to me from the fact that in it I introduced a character under the name of Sir Gregory Hardlines, by which I intended to lean very heavily on that much loathed scheme of competitive examination, of which at that time Sir Charles Trevelyan was the great apostle. Sir Gregory Hardlines was intended for Sir Charles Trevelyan,--as any one at the time would know who had taken an interest in the Civil Service. "We always call him Sir Gregory," Lady Trevelyan said to me afterwards, when I came to know her and her husband. I never learned to love competitive examination; but I became, and am, very fond of Sir Charles Trevelyan. Sir Stafford Northcote, who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer, was then leagued with his friend Sir Charles, and he too appears in The Three Clerks under the feebly facetious name of Sir Warwick West End.
But for all that The Three Clerks was a good novel.
When that sale was made I was on my way to
We ourselves, however, on entering
It was on a previous visit to
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
Early in 1858, while I was writing Doctor Thorne, I was
asked by the great men at the General Post Office to go to
As I journeyed across
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 journey.
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 lessons 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
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
I had then been nearly two months in
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
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
On my return from
Then in the autumn of that year, 1858, I was asked to go to
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 any difficulty, and when I returned home
the work was complete in my desk. I began it on board the ship in which I left
The view I took of the relative position in the
I am aware that by that criticism I was much raised in my position as an author. Whether such lifting up by such means is good or bad for literature is a question which I hope to discuss in a future chapter. But the result was immediate to me, for I at once went to Chapman & Hall and successfully demanded 600 for my next novel.
Soon after my return from the West Indies I was enabled to
change my district in
At this time I did not stand very well with the dominant interest at the General Post Office. My old friend Colonel Maberly had been, some time since, squeezed into, and his place was filled by Mr. Rowland Hill, the originator of the penny post. With him I never had any sympathy, nor he with me. In figures and facts he was most accurate, but I never came across any one who so little understood the ways of men,--unless it was his brother Frederic. To the two brothers the servants of the Post Office,--men numerous enough to have formed a large army in old days,--were so many machines who could be counted on for their exact work without deviation, as wheels may be counted on, which are kept going always at the same pace and always by the same power. Rowland Hill was an industrious public servant, anxious for the good of his country; but he was a hard taskmaster, and one who would, I think, have put the great department with which he was concerned altogether out of gear by his hardness, had he not been at last controlled. He was the Chief Secretary, my brother-in-law--who afterwards succeeded him--came next to him, and Mr. Hill's brother was the Junior Secretary. In the natural course of things, I had not, from my position, anything to do with the management of affairs;--but from time to time I found myself more or less mixed up in it. I was known to be a thoroughly efficient public servant; I am sure I may say so much of myself without fear of contradiction from any one who has known the Post Office;--I was very fond of the department, and when matters came to be considered, I generally had an opinion of my own. I have no doubt that I often made myself very disagreeable. I know that I sometimes tried to do so. But I could hold my own because I knew my business and was useful. I had given official offence by the publication of The Three Clerks. I afterwards gave greater offence by a lecture on The Civil Service which I delivered in one of the large rooms at the General Post Office to the clerks there. On this occasion, the Postmaster-General, with whom personally I enjoyed friendly terms, sent for me and told me that Mr. Hill had told him that I ought to be dismissed. When I asked his lordship whether he was prepared to dismiss me, he only laughed. The threat was no threat to me, as I knew myself to be too good to be treated in that fashion. The lecture had been permitted, and I had disobeyed no order. In the lecture which I delivered, there was nothing to bring me to shame,--but it advocated the doctrine that a civil servant is only a servant as far as his contract goes, and that he is beyond that entitled to be as free a man in politics, as free in his general pursuits, and as free in opinion, as those who are in open professions and open trades. All this is very nearly admitted now, but it certainly was not admitted then. At that time no one in the Post Office could even vote for a Member of Parliament.
Through my whole official life I did my best to improve the style of official writing. I have written, I should think, some thousands of reports,--many of them necessarily very long; some of them dealing with subjects so absurd as to allow a touch of burlesque; some few in which a spark of indignation or a slight glow of pathos might find an entrance. I have taken infinite pains with these reports, habituating myself always to write them in the form in which they should be sent,--without a copy. It is by writing thus that a man can throw on to his paper the exact feeling with which his mind is impressed at the moment. A rough copy, or that which is called a draft, is written in order that it may be touched and altered and put upon stilts. The waste of time, moreover, in such an operation, is terrible. If a man knows his craft with his pen, he will have learned to write without the necessity of changing his words or the form of his sentences. I had learned so to write my reports that they who read them should know what it was that I meant them to understand. But I do not think that they were regarded with favour. I have heard horror expressed because the old forms were disregarded and language used which had no savour of red-tape. During the whole of this work in the Post Office it was my principle always to obey authority in everything instantly, but never to allow my mouth to be closed as to the expression of my opinion. They who had the ordering of me very often did not know the work as I knew it,--could not tell as I could what would be the effect of this or that change. When carrying out instructions which I knew should not have been given, I never scrupled to point out the fatuity of the improper order in the strongest language that I could decently employ. I have revelled in these official correspondences, and look back to some of them as the greatest delights of my life. But I am not sure that they were so delightful to others.
I succeeded, however, in getting the English
district,--which could hardly have been refused to me,--and prepared to change
our residence towards the end of 1859. At the time I was writing Castle
Richmond, the novel which I had sold to Messrs. Chapman & Hall for 600.
But there arose at this time a certain literary project which probably had a
great effect upon my career. Whilst travelling on postal service abroad or
riding over the rural districts in England, or arranging the mails in
Ireland,--and such for the last eighteen years had now been my life,--I had no
opportunity of becoming acquainted with the literary life in London. It was
probably some feeling of this which had made me anxious to move my penates back to
I had at this time written from time to time certain short stories, which had been published in different periodicals, and which in due time were republished under the name of Tales of All Countries. On the 23d of October, 1859, I wrote to Thackeray, whom I had, I think, never then seen, offering to send him for the magazine certain of these stories. In reply to this I received two letters,--one from Messrs. Smith & Elder, the proprietors of the Cornhill, dated 26th of October, and the other from the editor, written two days later. That from Mr. Thackeray was as follows:--
"MY DEAR MR. TROLLOPE,--Smith & Elder have sent you their proposals; and the business part done, let me come to the pleasure, and say how very glad indeed I shall be to have you as a co-operator in our new magazine. And looking over the annexed programme, you will see whether you can't help us in many other ways besides tale-telling. Whatever a man knows about life and its doings, that let us hear about. You must have tossed a good deal about the world, and have countless sketches in your memory and your portfolio. Please to think if you can furbish up any of these besides a novel. When events occur, and you have a good lively tale, bear us in mind. One of our chief objects in this magazine is the getting out of novel spinning, and back into the world. Don't understand me to disparage our craft, especially YOUR wares. I often say I am like the pastrycook, and don't care for tarts, but prefer bread and cheese; but the public love the tarts (luckily for us), and we must bake and sell them. There was quite an excitement in my family one evening when Paterfamilias (who goes to sleep on a novel almost always when he tries it after dinner) came up-stairs into the drawing-room wide awake and calling for the second volume of The Three Clerks. I hope the Cornhill Magazine will have as pleasant a story. And the Chapmans, if they are the honest men I take them to be, I've no doubt have told you with what sincere liking your works have been read by yours very faithfully,
"W. M. THACKERAY."
This was very pleasant, and so was the letter from Smith & Elder offering me 1000 for the copyright of a three-volume novel, to come out in the new magazine,--on condition that the first portion of it should be in their hands by December 12th. There was much in all this that astonished me;--in the first place the price, which was more than double what I had yet received, and nearly double that which I was about to receive from Messrs. Chapman & Hall. Then there was the suddenness of the call. It was already the end of October, and a portion of the work was required to be in the printer's hands within six weeks. Castle Richmond was indeed half written, but that was sold to Chapman. And it had already been a principle with me in my art, that no part of a novel should be published till the entire story was completed. I knew, from what I read from month to month, that this hurried publication of incompleted work was frequently, I might perhaps say always, adopted by the leading novelists of the day. That such has been the case, is proved by the fact that Dickens, Thackeray, and Mrs. Gaskell died with unfinished novels, of which portions had been already published. I had not yet entered upon the system of publishing novels in parts, and therefore had never been tempted. But I was aware that an artist should keep in his hand the power of fitting the beginning of his work to the end. No doubt it is his first duty to fit the end to the beginning, and he will endeavour to do so. But he should still keep in his hands the power of remedying any defect in this respect.
"Servetur ad imum Qualis ab incepto processerit,"
should be kept in view as to every character and every string of action. Your Achilles should all through, from beginning to end, be "impatient, fiery, ruthless, keen." Your Achilles, such as he is, will probably keep up his character. But your Davus also should be always Davus, and that is more difficult. The rustic driving his pigs to market cannot always make them travel by the exact path which he has intended for them. When some young lady at the end of a story cannot be made quite perfect in her conduct, that vivid description of angelic purity with which you laid the first lines of her portrait should be slightly toned down. I had felt that the rushing mode of publication to which the system of serial stories had given rise, and by which small parts as they were written were sent hot to the press, was injurious to the work done. If I now complied with the proposition made to me, I must act against my own principle. But such a principle becomes a tyrant if it cannot be superseded on a just occasion. If the reason be "tanti," the principle should for the occasion be put in abeyance. I sat as judge, and decreed that the present reason was "tanti." On this my first attempt at a serial story, I thought it fit to break my own rule. I can say, however, that I have never broken it since.
But what astonished me most was the fact that at so late a day this new Cornhill Magazine should be in want of a novel. Perhaps some of my future readers will he able to remember the great expectations which were raised as to this periodical. Thackeray's was a good name with which to conjure. The proprietors, Messrs. Smith & Elder, were most liberal in their manner of initiating the work, and were able to make an expectant world of readers believe that something was to be given them for a shilling very much in excess of anything they had ever received for that or double the money. Whether these hopes were or were not fulfilled it is not for me to say, as, for the first few years of the magazine's existence, I wrote for it more than any other one person. But such was certainly the prospect;--and how had it come to pass that, with such promises made, the editor and the proprietors were, at the end of October, without anything fixed as to what must be regarded as the chief dish in the banquet to be provided?
I fear that the answer to this question must be found in the habits of procrastination which had at that time grown upon the editor. He had, I imagine, undertaken the work himself, and had postponed its commencement till there was left to him no time for commencing. There was still, it may be said, as much time for him as for me. I think there was,--for though he had his magazine to look after, I had the Post Office. But he thought, when unable to trust his own energy, that he might rely upon that of a new recruit. He was but four years my senior in life but he was at the top of the tree, while I was still at the bottom.
Having made up my mind to break my principle, I started at
On my journey back to
And I will say also that in this novel there is no very weak
part,--no long succession of dull pages.
The production of novels in serial form forces upon
the author the conviction that he should not allow himself to be tedious in any
single part. I hope no reader will misunderstand me. In spite of that
conviction, the writer of stories in parts will often be tedious. That I have
been so myself is a fault that will lie heavy on my tombstone. But the writer
when he embarks in such a business should feel that he cannot afford to have
many pages skipped out of the few which are to meet the reader's eye at the
same time. Who can imagine the first
half of the first volume of
I subsequently came across a piece of criticism which was
written on me as a novelist by a brother novelist very much greater than
myself, and whose brilliant intellect and warm imagination led him to a kind of
work the very opposite of mine. This was Nathaniel Hawthorne, the American,
whom I did not then know, but whose works I knew. Though it praises myself highly, I will insert it here, because it certainly
is true in its nature: "It is odd enough," he says, "that my own
individual taste is for quite another class of works than those which I myself
am able to write. If I were to meet with such books as mine by another writer,
I don't believe I should be able to get through them. Have you ever read the
novels of Anthony Trollope? They precisely suit my taste,--solid and
substantial, written on the strength of beef and through the inspiration of
ale, and just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth
and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily
business, and not suspecting that they were being made a show of. And these
books are just as English as a beef-steak. Have they ever been tried in
This was dated early in 1860, and could have had no reference to Framley Parsonage; but it was as true of that work as of any that I have written. And the criticism, whether just or unjust, describes with wonderful accuracy the purport that I have ever had in view in my writing. I have always desired to "hew out some lump of the earth," and to make men and women walk upon it just as they do walk here among us,--with not more of excellence, nor with exaggerated baseness,--so that my readers might recognise human beings like to themselves, and not feel themselves to be carried away among gods or demons. If I could do this, then I thought I might succeed in impregnating the mind of the novel-reader with a feeling that honesty is the best policy; that truth prevails while falsehood fails; that a girl will be loved as she is pure; and sweet, and unselfish; that a man will be honoured as he is true, and honest, and brave of heart; that things meanly done are ugly and odious, and things nobly done beautiful and gracious. I do not say that lessons such as these may not be more grandly taught by higher flights than mine. Such lessons come to us from our greatest poets. But there are so many who will read novels and understand them, who either do not read the works of our great poets, or reading them miss the lesson! And even in prose fiction the character whom the fervid imagination of the writer has lifted somewhat into the clouds, will hardly give so plain an example to the hasty normal reader as the humbler personage whom that reader unconsciously feels to resemble himself or herself. I do think that a girl would more probably dress her own mind after Lucy Robarts than after Flora Macdonald.
There are many who would laugh at the idea of a novelist teaching either virtue or nobility,--those, for instance, who regard the reading of novels as a sin, and those also who think it to be simply an idle pastime. They look upon the tellers of stories as among the tribe of those who pander to the wicked pleasures of a wicked world. I have regarded my art from so different a point of view that I have ever thought of myself as a preacher of sermons, and my pulpit as one which I could make both salutary and agreeable to my audience. I do believe that no girl has risen from the reading of my pages less modest than she was before, and that some may have learned from them that modesty is a charm well worth preserving. I think that no youth has been taught that in falseness and flashness is to be found the road to manliness; but some may perhaps have learned from me that it is to be found in truth and a high but gentle spirit. Such are the lessons I have striven to teach; and I have thought it might best be done by representing to my readers characters like themselves,--or to which they might liken themselves.
Framley Parsonage--or, rather, my connection with the
Cornhill--was the means of introducing me very quickly to that literary world
from which I had hitherto been severed by the fact of my residence in
It was in January, 1860, that Mr. George Smith--to whose enterprise we owe not only the Cornhill Magazine but the Pall Mall Gazette--gave a sumptuous dinner to his contributors. It was a memorable banquet in many ways, but chiefly so to me because on that occasion I first met many men who afterwards became my most intimate associates. It can rarely happen that one such occasion can be the first starting-point of so many friendships. It was at that table, and on that day, that I first saw Thackeray, Charles Taylor (Sir)--than whom in latter life I have loved no man better,--Robert Bell, G. H. Lewes, and John Everett Millais. With all these men I afterwards lived on affectionate terms;--but I will here speak specially of the last, because from that time he was joined with me in so much of the work that I did.
Mr. Millais was engaged to illustrate Framley Parsonage, but this was not the first work he did for the magazine. In the second number there is a picture of his accompanying Monckton Milne's Unspoken Dialogue. The first drawing he did for Framley Parsonage did not appear till after the dinner of which I have spoken, and I do not think that I knew at the time that he was engaged on my novel. When I did know it, it made me very proud. He afterwards illustrated Orley Farm, The Small House of Allington, Rachel Ray, and Phineas Finn. Altogether he drew from my tales eighty-seven drawings, and I do not think that more conscientious work was ever done by man. Writers of novels know well--and so ought readers of novels to have learned--that there are two modes of illustrating, either of which may be adopted equally by a bad and by a good artist. To which class Mr. Millais belongs I need not say; but, as a good artist, it was open to him simply to make a pretty picture, or to study the work of the author from whose writing he was bound to take his subject. I have too often found that the former alternative has been thought to be the better, as it certainly is the easier method. An artist will frequently dislike to subordinate his ideas to those of an author, and will sometimes be too idle to find out what those ideas are. But this artist was neither proud nor idle. In every figure that he drew it was his object to promote the views of the writer whose work he had undertaken to illustrate, and he never spared himself any pains in studying that work, so as to enable him to do so. I have carried on some of those characters from book to book, and have had my own early ideas impressed indelibly on my memory by the excellence of his delineations. Those illustrations were commenced fifteen years ago, and from that time up to this day my affection for the man of whom I am speaking has increased. To see him has always been a pleasure. His voice has been a sweet sound in my ears. Behind his back I have never heard him praised without joining the eulogist; I have never heard a word spoken against him without opposing the censurer. These words, should he ever see them, will come to him from the grave, and will tell him of my regard,--as one living man never tells another.
Sir Charles Taylor, who carried me home in his brougham that evening, and thus commenced an intimacy which has since been very close, was born to wealth, and was therefore not compelled by the necessities of a profession to enter the lists as an author. But he lived much with those who did so,--and could have done it himself had want or ambition stirred him. He was our king at the Garrick Club, to which, however, I did not yet belong. He gave the best dinners of my time, and was,--happily I may say is, [Footnote: Alas! within a year of the writing of this he went from us.]--the best giver of dinners. A man rough of tongue, brusque in his manners, odious to those who dislike him, somewhat inclined to tyranny, he is the prince of friends, honest as the sun, and as openhanded as Charity itself.
Robert Bell has now been dead nearly ten years. As I look back over the interval and remember how intimate we were, it seems odd to me that we should have known each other for no more than six years. He was a man who had lived by his pen from his very youth; and was so far successful that I do not think that want ever came near him. But he never made that mark which his industry and talents would have seemed to ensure. He was a man well known to literary men, but not known to readers. As a journalist he was useful and conscientious, but his plays and novels never made themselves popular. He wrote a life of Canning, and he brought out an annotated edition of the British poets; but he achieved no great success. I have known no man better read in English literature. Hence his conversation had a peculiar charm, but he was not equally happy with his pen. He will long be remembered at the Literary Fund Committees, of which he was a staunch and most trusted supporter. I think it was he who first introduced me to that board. It has often been said that literary men are peculiarly apt to think that they are slighted and unappreciated. Robert Bell certainly never achieved the position in literature which he once aspired to fill, and which he was justified in thinking that he could earn for himself. I have frequently discussed these subjects with him, but I never heard from his mouth a word of complaint as to his own literary fate. He liked to hear the chimes go at midnight, and he loved to have ginger hot in his mouth. On such occasions no sound ever came out of a man's lips sweeter than his wit and gentle revelry.
George Lewes,--with his wife, whom all the world knows as George Eliot,--has also been and still is one of my dearest friends. He is, I think, the acutest critic I know,--and the severest. His severity, however, is a fault. His intention to be honest, even when honesty may give pain, has caused him to give pain when honesty has not required it. He is essentially a doubter, and has encouraged himself to doubt till the faculty of trusting has almost left him. I am not speaking of the personal trust which one man feels in another, but of that confidence in literary excellence, which is, I think, necessary for the full enjoyment of literature. In one modern writer he did believe thoroughly. Nothing can be more charming than the unstinted admiration which he has accorded to everything that comes from the pen of the wonderful woman to whom his lot has been united. To her name I shall recur again when speaking of the novelists of the present day.
Of "Billy Russell," as we always used to call him, I may say that I never knew but one man equal to him in the quickness and continuance of witty speech. That one man was Charles Lever--also an Irishman--whom I had known from an earlier date, and also with close intimacy. Of the two, I think that Lever was perhaps the more astounding producer of good things. His manner was perhaps a little the happier, and his turns more sharp and unexpected. But "Billy" also was marvellous. Whether abroad as special correspondent, or at home amidst the flurry of his newspaper work, he was a charming companion; his ready wit always gave him the last word.
Of Thackeray I will speak again when I record his death.
There were many others whom I met for the first time at George Smith's table. Albert Smith, for the first, and indeed for the last time, as he died soon after; Higgins, whom all the world knew as Jacob Omnium, a man I greatly regarded; Dallas, who for a time was literary critic to the Times, and who certainly in that capacity did better work than has appeared since in the same department; George Augustus Sala, who, had he given himself fair play, would have risen to higher eminence than that of being the best writer in his day of sensational leading articles; and Fitz-James Stephen, a man of very different calibre, who had not yet culminated, but who, no doubt, will culminate among our judges. There were many others;--but I cannot now recall their various names as identified with those banquets.
Of Framley Parsonage I need only further say, that as I wrote it I became more closely than ever acquainted with the new shire which I had added to the English counties. I had it all in my mind,--its roads and railroads, its towns and parishes, its members of Parliament, and the different hunts which rode over it. I knew all the great lords and their castles, the squires and their parks, the rectors and their churches. This was the fourth novel of which I had placed the scene in Barsetshire, and as I wrote it I made a map of the dear county. Throughout these stories there has been no name given to a fictitious site which does not represent to me a spot of which I know all the accessories, as though I had lived and wandered there.
When I had half-finished Framley Parsonage, I went back to my other story, Castle Richmond, which I was writing for Messrs. Chapman & Hall, and completed that. I think that this was the only occasion on which I have had two different novels in my mind at the same time. This, however, did not create either difficulty or confusion. Many of us live in different circles; and when we go from our friends in the town to our friends in the country, we do not usually fail to remember the little details of the one life or the other. The parson at Rusticum, with his wife and his wife's mother, and all his belongings; and our old friend, the Squire, with his family history; and Farmer Mudge, who has been cross with us, because we rode so unnecessarily over his barley; and that rascally poacher, once a gamekeeper, who now traps all the foxes; and pretty Mary Cann, whose marriage with the wheelwright we did something to expedite;--though we are alive to them all, do not drive out of our brain the club gossip, or the memories of last season's dinners, or any incident of our London intimacies. In our lives we are always weaving novels, and we manage to keep the different tales distinct. A man does, in truth, remember that which it interests him to remember; and when we hear that memory has gone as age has come on, we should understand that the capacity for interest in the matter concerned has perished. A man will be generally very old and feeble before he forgets how much money he has in the funds. There is a good deal to be learned by any one who wishes to write a novel well; but when the art has been acquired, I do not see why two or three should not be well written at the same time. I have never found myself thinking much about the work that I had to do till I was doing it. I have indeed for many years almost abandoned the effort to think, trusting myself, with the narrowest thread of a plot, to work the matter out when the pen is in my hand. But my mind is constantly employing itself on the work I have done. Had I left either Framley Parsonage or Castle Richmond half-finished fifteen years ago, I think I could complete the tales now with very little trouble. I have not looked at Castle Richmond since it was published; and poor as the work is, I remember all the incidents.
Castle Richmond certainly was not a success,--though the
plot is a fairly good plot, and is much more of a plot than I have generally
been able to find. The scene is laid in
I was now settled at Waltham Cross, in a house in which I
could entertain a few friends modestly, where we grew our cabbages and
strawberries, made our own butter, and killed our own pigs. I occupied it for
twelve years, and they were years to me of great prosperity. In 1861 I became a
member of the Garrick Club, with which institution I have since been much
identified. I had belonged to it about two years, when, on Thackeray's death, I
was invited to fill his place on the Committee, and I have been one of that
august body ever since. Having up to that time lived very little among men,
having known hitherto nothing of clubs, having even as a boy been banished from
social gatherings, I enjoyed infinitely at first the gaiety of the Garrick. It was a festival to me to dine there--which I
did indeed but seldom; and a great delight to play a rubber in the little room
up-stairs of an afternoon. I am speaking
now of the old club in
I think that I became popular among those with whom I
associated. I have long been aware of a certain weakness in my own character,
which I may call a craving for love. I have ever had a wish to be liked by
those around me,--a wish that during the first half of my life was never
gratified. In my school-days no small part of my misery came from the envy with
which I regarded the popularity of popular boys. They seemed to me to live in a
social paradise, while the desolation of my pandemonium was complete. And
afterwards, when I was in
I soon became a member of other clubs. There was the Arts
In August, 1861, I wrote another novel for the Cornhill Magazine. It was a short story, about one volume in length, and was called The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson. In this I attempted a style for which I certainly was not qualified, and to which I never had again recourse. It was meant to be funny, was full of slang, and was intended as a satire on the ways of trade. Still I think that there is some good fun it it, but I have heard no one else express such an opinion. I do not know that I ever heard any opinion expressed on it, except by the publisher, who kindly remarked that he did not think it was equal to my usual work. Though he had purchased the copyright, he did not republish the story in a book form till 1870, and then it passed into the world of letters sub silentio. I do not know that it was ever criticised or ever read. I received 600 for it. From that time to this I have been paid at about that rate for my work--600 for the quantity contained in an ordinary novel volume, or 3000 for a long tale published in twenty parts, which is equal in length to five such volumes. I have occasionally, I think, received something more than this, never I think less for any tale, except when I have published my work anonymously. [Footnote: Since the date at which this was written I have encountered a diminution in price.] Having said so much, I need not further specify the prices as I mention the books as they were written. I will, however, when I am completing this memoir, give a list of all the sums I have received for my literary labours. I think that Brown, Jones and Robinson was the hardest bargain I ever sold to a publisher.
In 1861 the War of Secession had broken out in
I started for the States in August and returned in the
following May. The war was raging during the time that I was there, and the
country was full of soldiers. A part of the time I spent in
The book I wrote was very much longer than that on the
But my book, though it was right in its views on this subject,--and wrong in none other as far as I know,--was not
a good book. I can recommend no one to read it now in order that he may be
either instructed or amused,--as I can do that on the
Before starting to
I now felt that I had gained my object. In 1862 I had
achieved that which I contemplated when I went to
This, however, has been so exactly the life which my thoughts and aspirations had marked out,--thoughts and aspirations which used to cause me to blush with shame because I was so slow in forcing myself to the work which they demanded,--that I have felt some pride in having attained it. I have before said how entirely I fail to reach the altitude of those who think that a man devoted to letters should be indifferent to the pecuniary results for which work is generally done. An easy income has always been regarded by me as a great blessing. Not to have to think of sixpences, or very much of shillings; not to be unhappy because the coals have been burned too quickly, and the house linen wants renewing; not to be debarred by the rigour of necessity from opening one's hands, perhaps foolishly, to one's friends;--all this to me has been essential to the comfort of life. I have enjoyed the comfort for I may almost say the last twenty years, though no man in his youth had less prospect of doing so, or would have been less likely at twenty-five to have had such luxuries foretold to him by his friends.
But though the money has been sweet, the respect, the friendships, and the mode of life which has been achieved, have been much sweeter. In my boyhood, when I would be crawling up to school with dirty boots and trousers through the muddy lanes, I was always telling myself that the misery of the hour was not the worst of it, but that the mud and solitude and poverty of the time would insure me mud and solitude and poverty through my life. Those lads about me would go into Parliament, or become rectors and deans, or squires of parishes, or advocates thundering at the Bar. They would not live with me now,--but neither should I be able to live with them in after years. Nevertheless I have lived with them. When, at the age in which others go to the universities, I became a clerk in the Post Office, I felt that my old visions were being realised. I did not think it a high calling. I did not know then how very much good work may be done by a member of the Civil Service who will show himself capable of doing it. The Post Office at last grew upon me and forced itself into my affections. I became intensely anxious that people should have their letters delivered to them punctually. But my hope to rise had always been built on the writing of novels, and at last by the writing of novels I had risen.
I do not think that I ever toadied any one, or that I have acquired the character of a tuft-hunter. But here I do not scruple to say that I prefer the society of distinguished people, and that even the distinction of wealth confers many advantages. The best education is to be had at a price as well as the best broadcloth. The son of a peer is more likely to rub his shoulders against well-informed men than the son of a tradesman. The graces come easier to the wife of him who has had great-grandfathers than they do to her whose husband has been less,--or more fortunate, as he may think it. The discerning man will recognise the information and the graces when they are achieved without such assistance, and will honour the owners of them the more because of the difficulties they have overcome;--but the fact remains that the society of the well-born and of the wealthy will as a rule be worth seeking. I say this now, because these are the rules by which I have lived, and these are the causes which have instigated me to work.
I have heard the question argued--On what terms should a man of inferior rank live with those who are manifestly superior to him? If a marquis or an earl honour me, who have no rank, with his intimacy, am I in my intercourse with him to remember our close acquaintance or his high rank? I have always said that where the difference in position is quite marked, the overtures to intimacy should always come from the higher rank; but if the intimacy be ever fixed, then that rank should be held of no account. It seems to me that intimate friendship admits of no standing but that of equality. I cannot be the Sovereign's friend, nor probably the friend of many very much beneath the Sovereign, because such equality is impossible.
When I first came to Waltham Cross in the winter of
1859-1860, I had almost made up my mind that my hunting was over. I could not
then count upon an income which would enable me to carry on an amusement which
I should doubtless find much more expensive in
During the early months of 1862 Orley Farm was still being
brought out in numbers, and at the same time Brown, Jones and Robinson was
appearing in the Cornhill Magazine. In September, 1862, the Small House at
Allington began its career in the same periodical. The work on
I quite admit that I crowded my wares into the market too quickly,--because the reading world could not want such a quantity of matter from the hands of one author in so short a space of time. I had not been quite so fertile as the unfortunate gentleman who disgusted the publisher in Paternoster Row,--in the story of whose productiveness I have always thought there was a touch of romance,--but I had probably done enough to make both publishers and readers think that I was coming too often beneath their notice. Of publishers, however, I must speak collectively, as my sins were, I think, chiefly due to the encouragement which I received from them individually. What I wrote for the Cornhill Magazine, I always wrote at the instigation of Mr. Smith. My other works were published by Messrs. Chapman & Hall, in compliance with contracts made by me with them, and always made with their good-will. Could I have been two separate persons at one and the same time, of whom one might have been devoted to Cornhill and the other to the interests of the firm in Piccadilly, it might have been very well;--but as I preserved my identity in both places, I myself became aware that my name was too frequent on titlepages.
Critics, if they ever trouble themselves with these pages, will, of course, say that in what I have now said I have ignored altogether the one great evil of rapid production,--namely, that of inferior work. And of course if the work was inferior because of the too great rapidity of production, the critics would be right. Giving to the subject the best of my critical abilities, and judging of my own work as nearly as possible as I would that of another, I believe that the work which has been done quickest has been done the best. I have composed better stories--that is, have created better plots--than those of The Small House at Allington and Can You Forgive Her? and I have portrayed two or three better characters than are to be found in the pages of either of them; but taking these books all through, I do not think that I have ever done better work. Nor would these have been improved by any effort in the art of story telling, had each of these been the isolated labour of a couple of years. How short is the time devoted to the manipulation of a plot can be known only to those who have written plays and novels; I may say also, how very little time the brain is able to devote to such wearing work. There are usually some hours of agonising doubt, almost of despair,--so at least it has been with me,--or perhaps some days. And then, with nothing settled in my brain as to the final development of events, with no capability of settling anything, but with a most distinct conception of some character or characters, I have rushed at the work as a rider rushes at a fence which he does not see. Sometimes I have encountered what, in hunting language, we call a cropper. I had such a fall in two novels of mine, of which I have already spoken--The Bertrams and Castle Richmond. I shall have to speak of other such troubles. But these failures have not arisen from over-hurried work. When my work has been quicker done,--and it has sometimes been done very quickly--the rapidity has been achieved by hot pressure, not in the conception, but in the telling of the story. Instead of writing eight pages a day, I have written sixteen; instead of working five days a week, I have worked seven. I have trebled my usual average, and have done so in circumstances which have enabled me to give up all my thoughts for the time to the book I have been writing. This has generally been done at some quiet spot among the mountains,--where there has been no society, no hunting, no whist, no ordinary household duties. And I am sure that the work so done has had in it the best truth and the highest spirit that I have been able to produce. At such times I have been able to imbue myself thoroughly with the characters I have had in hand. I have wandered alone among the rocks and woods, crying at their grief, laughing at their absurdities, and thoroughly enjoying their joy. I have been impregnated with my own creations till it has been my only excitement to sit with the pen in my hand, and drive my team before me at as quick a pace as I could make them travel.
The critics will again say that all this may be very well as to the rough work of the author's own brain, but it will be very far from well in reference to the style in which that work has been given to the public. After all, the vehicle which a writer uses for conveying his thoughts to the public should not be less important to him than the thoughts themselves. An author can hardly hope to be popular unless he can use popular language. That is quite true; but then comes the question of achieving a popular--in other words, I may say, a good and lucid style. How may an author best acquire a mode of writing which shall be agreeable and easily intelligible to the reader? He must be correct, because without correctness he can be neither agreeable nor intelligible. Readers will expect him to obey those rules which they, consciously or unconsciously, have been taught to regard as binding on language; and unless he does obey them, he will disgust. Without much labour, no writer will achieve such a style. He has very much to learn; and, when he has learned that much, he has to acquire the habit of using what he has learned with ease. But all this must be learned and acquired,--not while he is writing that which shall please, but long before. His language must come from him as music comes from the rapid touch of the great performer's fingers; as words come from the mouth of the indignant orator; as letters fly from the fingers of the trained compositor; as the syllables tinkled out by little bells form themselves to the ear of the telegraphist. A man who thinks much of his words as he writes them will generally leave behind him work that smells of oil. I speak here, of course, of prose; for in poetry we know what care is necessary, and we form our taste accordingly.
Rapid writing will no doubt give rise to inaccuracy,--chiefly because the ear, quick and true as may be its operation, will occasionally break down under pressure, and, before a sentence be closed, will forget the nature of the composition with which it was commenced. A singular nominative will be disgraced by a plural verb, because other pluralities have intervened and have tempted the ear into plural tendencies. Tautologies will occur, because the ear, in demanding fresh emphasis, has forgotten that the desired force has been already expressed. I need not multiply these causes of error, which must have been stumbling-blocks indeed when men wrote in the long sentences of Gibbon, but which Macaulay, with his multiplicity of divisions, has done so much to enable us to avoid. A rapid writer will hardly avoid these errors altogether. Speaking of myself, I am ready to declare that, with much training, I have been unable to avoid them. But the writer for the press is rarely called upon--a writer of books should never be called upon--to send his manuscript hot from his hand to the printer. It has been my practice to read everything four times at least--thrice in manuscript and once in print. Very much of my work I have read twice in print. In spite of this I know that inaccuracies have crept through,--not single spies, but in battalions. From this I gather that the supervision has been insufficient, not that the work itself has been done too fast. I am quite sure that those passages which have been written with the greatest stress of labour, and consequently with the greatest haste, have been the most effective and by no means the most inaccurate.
The Small House at Allington redeemed my reputation with the spirited proprietor of the Cornhill, which must, I should think, have been damaged by Brown, Jones, and Robinson. In it appeared Lily Dale, one of the characters which readers of my novels have liked the best. In the love with which she has been greeted I have hardly joined with much enthusiasm, feeling that she is somewhat of a French prig. She became first engaged to a snob, who jilted her; and then, though in truth she loved another man who was hardly good enough, she could not extricate herself sufficiently from the collapse of her first great misfortune to be able to make up her mind to be the wife of one whom, though she loved him, she did not altogether reverence. Prig as she was, she made her way into the hearts of many readers, both young and old; so that, from that time to this, I have been continually honoured with letters, the purport of which has always been to beg me to marry Lily Dale to Johnny Eames. Had I done so, however, Lily would never have so endeared herself to these people as to induce them to write letters to the author concerning her fate. It was because she could not get over her troubles that they loved her. Outside Lily Dale and the chief interest of the novel, The Small House at Allington is, I think, good. The De Courcy family are alive, as is also Sir Raffle Buffle, who is a hero of the Civil Service. Sir Raffle was intended to represent a type, not a man; but the man for the picture was soon chosen, and I was often assured that the portrait was very like. I have never seen the gentleman with whom I am supposed to have taken the liberty. There is also an old squire down at Allington, whose life as a country gentleman with rather straitened means is, I think, well described.
Of Can you Forgive Her? I cannot speak with too great affection, though I do not know that of itself it did very much to increase my reputation. As regards the story, it was formed chiefly on that of the play which my friend Mr. Bartley had rejected long since, the circumstances of which the reader may perhaps remember. The play had been called The Noble Jilt; but I was afraid of the name for a novel, lest the critics might throw a doubt on the nobility. There was more of tentative humility in that which I at last adopted. The character of the girl is carried through with considerable strength, but is not attractive. The humorous characters, which are also taken from the play,--a buxom widow who with her eyes open chooses the most scampish of two selfish suitors because he is the better looking,--are well done. Mrs. Greenow, between Captain Bellfield and Mr. Cheeseacre, is very good fun--as far as the fun of novels is. But that which endears the book to me is the first presentation which I made in it of Plantagenet Palliser, with his wife, Lady Glencora.
By no amount of description or asseveration could I succeed in making any reader understand how much these characters with their belongings have been to me in my latter life; or how frequently I have used them for the expression of my political or social convictions. They have been as real to me as free trade was to Mr. Cobden, or the dominion of a party to Mr. Disraeli; and as I have not been able to speak from the benches of the House of Commons, or to thunder from platforms, or to be efficacious as a lecturer, they have served me as safety-valves by which to deliver my soul. Mr. Plantagenet Palliser had appeared in The Small House at Allington, but his birth had not been accompanied by many hopes. In the last pages of that novel he is made to seek a remedy for a foolish false step in life by marrying the grand heiress of the day;--but the personage of the great heiress does not appear till she comes on the scene as a married woman in Can You Forgive Her? He is the nephew and heir to a duke--the Duke of Omnium--who was first introduced in Doctor Thorne, and afterwards in Framley Parsonage, and who is one of the belongings of whom I have spoken. In these personages and their friends, political and social, I have endeavoured to depict the faults and frailties and vices,--as also the virtues, the graces, and the strength of our highest classes; and if I have not made the strength and virtues predominant over the faults and vices, I have not painted the picture as I intended. Plantagenet Palliser I think to be a very noble gentleman,--such a one as justifies to the nation the seeming anomaly of an hereditary peerage and of primogeniture. His wife is in all respects very inferior to him; but she, too, has, or has been intended to have, beneath the thin stratum of her follies a basis of good principle, which enabled her to live down the conviction of the original wrong which was done to her, and taught her to endeavour to do her duty in the position to which she was called. She had received a great wrong,--having been made, when little more than a child, to marry a man for whom she cared nothing;--when, however, though she was little more than a child, her love had been given elsewhere. She had very heavy troubles, but they did not overcome her.
As to the heaviest of these troubles, I will say a word in vindication of myself and of the way I handled it in my work. In the pages of Can You Forgive Her? the girl's first love is introduced,--beautiful, well-born, and utterly worthless. To save a girl from wasting herself, and an heiress from wasting her property on such a scamp, was certainly the duty of the girl's friends. But it must ever be wrong to force a girl into a marriage with a man she does not love,--and certainly the more so when there is another whom she does love. In my endeavour to teach this lesson I subjected the young wife to the terrible danger of overtures from the man to whom her heart had been given. I was walking no doubt on ticklish ground, leaving for a while a doubt on the question whether the lover might or might not succeed. Then there came to me a letter from a distinguished dignitary of our Church, a man whom all men honoured, treating me with severity for what I was doing. It had been one of the innocent joys of his life, said the clergyman, to have my novels read to him by his daughters. But now I was writing a book which caused him to bid them close it! Must I also turn away to vicious sensation such as this? Did I think that a wife contemplating adultery was a character fit for my pages? I asked him in return, whether from his pulpit, or at any rate from his communion-table, he did not denounce adultery to his audience; and if so, why should it not be open to me to preach the same doctrine to mine. I made known nothing which the purest girl could not but have learned, and ought not to have learned, elsewhere, and I certainly lent no attraction to the sin which I indicated. His rejoinder was full of grace, and enabled him to avoid the annoyance of argumentation without abandoning his cause. He said that the subject was so much too long for letters; that he hoped I would go and stay a week with him in the country,--so that we might have it out. That opportunity, however, has never yet arrived.
Lady Glencora overcomes that trouble, and is brought, partly by her own sense of right and wrong, and partly by the genuine nobility of her husband's conduct, to attach herself to him after a certain fashion. The romance of her life is gone, but there remains a rich reality of which she is fully able to taste the flavour. She loves her rank and becomes ambitious, first of social, and then of political ascendancy. He is thoroughly true to her, after his thorough nature, and she, after her less perfect nature, is imperfectly true to him.
In conducting these characters from one story to another I realised the necessity, not only of consistency,--which, had it been maintained by a hard exactitude, would have been untrue to nature,--but also of those changes which time always produces. There, are, perhaps, but few of us who, after the lapse of ten years, will be found to have changed our chief characteristics. The selfish man will still be selfish, and the false man false. But our manner of showing or of hiding these characteristics will be changed,--as also our power of adding to or diminishing their intensity. It was my study that these people, as they grew in years, should encounter the changes which come upon us all; and I think that I have succeeded. The Duchess of Omnium, when she is playing the part of Prime Minister's wife, is the same woman as that Lady Glencora who almost longs to go off with Burgo Fitzgerald, but yet knows that she will never do so; and the Prime Minister Duke, with his wounded pride and sore spirit, is he who, for his wife's sake, left power and place when they were first offered to him;--but they have undergone the changes which a life so stirring as theirs would naturally produce. To do all this thoroughly was in my heart from first to last; but I do not know that the game has been worth the candle.
To carry out my scheme I have had to spread my picture over so wide a canvas that I cannot expect that any lover of such art should trouble himself to look at it as a whole. Who will read Can You Forgive Her? Phineas Finn, Phineas Redux, and The Prime Minister consecutively, in order that they may understand the characters of the Duke of Omnium, of Plantagenet Palliser, and of Lady Glencora? Who will ever know that they should be so read? But in the performance of the work I had much gratification, and was enabled from time to time to have in this way that fling at the political doings of the day which every man likes to take, if not in one fashion then in another. I look upon this string of characters,--carried sometimes into other novels than those just named,--as the best work of my life. Taking him altogether, I think that Plantagenet Palliser stands more firmly on the ground than any other personage I have created.
On Christmas day, 1863, we were startled by the news of Thackeray's death. He had then for many months given up the editorship of the Cornhill Magazine,--a position for which he was hardly fitted either by his habits or temperament,--but was still employed in writing for its pages. I had known him only for four years, but had grown into much intimacy with him and his family. I regard him as one of the most tender-hearted human beings I ever knew, who, with an exaggerated contempt for the foibles of the world at large, would entertain an almost equally exaggerated sympathy with the joys and troubles of individuals around him. He had been unfortunate in early life--unfortunate in regard to money--unfortunate with an afflicted wife--unfortunate in having his home broken up before his children were fit to be his companions. This threw him too much upon clubs, and taught him to dislike general society. But it never affected his heart, or clouded his imagination. He could still revel in the pangs and joys of fictitious life, and could still feel--as he did to the very last--the duty of showing to his readers the evil consequences of evil conduct. It was perhaps his chief fault as a writer that he could never abstain from that dash of satire which he felt to be demanded by the weaknesses which he saw around him. The satirist who writes nothing but satire should write but little,--or it will seem that his satire springs rather from his own caustic nature than from the sins of the world in which he lives. I myself regard Esmond as the greatest novel in the English language, basing that judgment upon the excellence of its language, on the clear individuality of the characters, on the truth of its delineations in regard to the tine selected, and on its great pathos. There are also in it a few scenes so told that even Scott has never equalled the telling. Let any one who doubts this read the passage in which Lady Castlewood induces the Duke of Hamilton to think that his nuptials with Beatrice will be honoured if Colonel Esmond will give away the bride. When he went from us he left behind living novelists with great names; but I think that they who best understood the matter felt that the greatest master of fiction of this age had gone.
Rachel Ray underwent a fate which no other novel of mine has
encountered. Some years before this a periodical called Good Words had been
established under the editorship of my friend Dr. Norman Macleod, a well-known
Presbyterian pastor in
Miss Mackenzie was written with a desire to prove that a novel may be produced without any love; but even in this attempt it breaks down before the conclusion. In order that I might be strong in my purpose, I took for my heroine a very unattractive old maid, who was overwhelmed with money troubles; but even she was in love before the end of the book, and made a romantic marriage with an old man. There is in this story an attack upon charitable bazaars, made with a violence which will, I think, convince any reader that such attempts at raising money were at the time very odious to me. I beg to say that since that I have had no occasion to alter my opinion. Miss Mackenzie was published in the early spring of 1865.
At the same time I was engaged with others in establishing a periodical Review, in which some of us trusted much, and from which we expected great things. There was, however, in truth so little combination of idea among us, that we were not justified in our trust or in our expectations. And yet we were honest in our purpose, and have, I think, done some good by our honesty. The matter on which we were all agreed was freedom of speech, combined with personal responsibility. We would be neither conservative nor liberal, neither religious nor free-thinking, neither popular nor exclusive;--but we would let any man who had a thing to say, and knew how to say it, speak freely. But he should always speak with the responsibility of his name attached. In the very beginning I militated against this impossible negation of principles,--and did so most irrationally, seeing that I had agreed to the negation of principles,--by declaring that nothing should appear denying or questioning the divinity of Christ. It was a most preposterous claim to make for such a publication as we proposed, and it at once drove from us one or two who had proposed to join us. But we went on, and our company--limited--was formed. We subscribed, I think, 1250 each. I at least subscribed that amount, and--having agreed to bring out our publication every fortnight, after the manner of the well-known French publication,--we called it The Fortnightly. We secured the services of G. H. Lewes as our editor. We agreed to manage our finances by a Board, which was to meet once a fortnight, and of which I was the Chairman. And we determined that the payments for our literature should be made on a liberal and strictly ready-money system. We carried out our principles till our money was all gone, and then we sold the copyright to Messrs. Chapman & Hall for a trifle. But before we parted with our property we found that a fortnightly issue was not popular with the trade through whose hands the work must reach the public; and, as our periodical had not become sufficiently popular itself to bear down such opposition, we succumbed, and brought it out once a month. Still it was The Fortnightly, and still it is The Fortnightly. Of all the serial publications of the day, it probably is the most serious, the most earnest, the least devoted to amusement, the least flippant, the least jocose,--and yet it has the face to show itself month after month to the world, with so absurd a misnomer! It is, as all who know the laws of modern literature are aware, a very serious thing to change the name of a periodical. By doing so you begin an altogether new enterprise. Therefore should the name be well chosen;--whereas this was very ill chosen, a fault for which I alone was responsible.
That theory of eclecticism was altogether impracticable. It was as though a gentleman should go into the House of Commons determined to support no party, but to serve his country by individual utterances. Such gentlemen have gone into the House of Commons, but they have not served their country much. Of course the project broke down. Liberalism, freethinking, and open inquiry will never object to appear in company with their opposites, because they have the conceit to think that they can quell those opposites; but the opposites will not appear in conjunction with liberalism, free-thinking, and open inquiry. As a natural consequence, our new publication became an organ of liberalism, free-thinking, and open inquiry. The result has been good; and though there is much in the now established principles of The Fortnightly with which I do not myself agree, I may safely say that the publication has assured an individuality, and asserted for itself a position in our periodical literature, which is well understood and highly respected.
As to myself and my own hopes in the matter,--I was craving after some increase in literary honesty, which I think is still desirable but which is hardly to be attained by the means which then recommended themselves to me. In one of the early numbers I wrote a paper advocating the signature of the authors to periodical writing, admitting that the system should not be extended to journalistic articles on political subjects. I think that I made the best of my case; but further consideration has caused me to doubt whether the reasons which induced me to make an exception in favour of political writing do not extend themselves also to writing on other subjects. Much of the literary criticism which we now have is very bad indeed;--. so bad as to be open to the charge both of dishonesty and incapacity. Books are criticised without being read,--are criticised by favour,--and are trusted by editors to the criticism of the incompetent. If the names of the critics were demanded, editors would be more careful. But I fear the effect would be that we should get but little criticism, and that the public would put but little trust in that little. An ordinary reader would not care to have his books recommended to him by Jones; but the recommendation of the great unknown comes to him with all the weight of the Times, the Spectator, or the Saturday.
Though I admit so much, I am not a recreant from the doctrine I then preached. I think that the name of the author does tend to honesty, and that the knowledge that it will be inserted adds much to the author's industry and care. It debars him also from illegitimate license and dishonest assertions. A man should never be ashamed to acknowledge that which he is not ashamed to publish. In The Fortnightly everything has been signed, and in this way good has, I think, been done. Signatures to articles in other periodicals have become much more common since The Fortnightly was commenced.
After a time Mr. Lewes retired from the editorship, feeling that the work pressed too severely on his moderate strength. Our loss in him was very great, and there was considerable difficulty in finding a successor. I must say that the present proprietor has been fortunate in the choice he did make. Mr. John Morley has done the work with admirable patience, zeal, and capacity. Of course he has got around him a set of contributors whose modes of thought are what we may call much advanced; he being "much advanced" himself, would not work with other aids. The periodical has a peculiar tone of its own; but it holds its own with ability, and though there are many who perhaps hate it, there are none who despise it. When the company sold it, having spent about 9000 on it, it was worth little or nothing. Now I believe it to be a good property.
My own last personal concern with it was on a matter, of
fox-hunting. [Footnote: I have written various articles for it since,
especially two on
It had been decided by the Board of Management, somewhat in opposition to my own ideas on the subject, that the Fortnightly Review should always contain a novel. It was of course natural that I should write the first novel, and I wrote The Belton Estate. It is similar in its attributes to Rachel Ray and to Miss Mackenzie. It is readable, and contains scenes which are true to life; but it has no peculiar merits, and will add nothing to my reputation as a novelist. I have not looked at it since it was published; and now turning back to it in my memory, I seem to remember almost less of it than of any book that I have written.
The Claverings, which came out in 1866 and 1867, was the last novel which I wrote for the Cornhill; and it was for this that I received the highest rate of pay that was ever accorded to me. It was the same length as Framley Parsonage, and the price was 2800. Whether much or little, it was offered by the proprietor of the magazine, and was paid in a single cheque.
In The Claverings I did not follow the habit which had now become very common to me, of introducing personages whose names are already known to the readers of novels, and whose characters were familiar to myself. If I remember rightly, no one appears here who had appeared before or who has been allowed to appear since. I consider the story as a whole to be good, though I am not aware that the public has ever corroborated that verdict. The chief character is that of a young woman who has married manifestly for money and rank,--so manifestly that she does not herself pretend, even while she is making the marriage, that she has any other reason. The man is old, disreputable, and a wornout debauchee. Then comes the punishment natural to the offence. When she is free, the man whom she had loved, and who had loved her, is engaged to another woman. He vacillates and is weak,--in which weakness is the fault of the book, as he plays the part of hero. But she is strong--strong in her purpose, strong in her desires, and strong in her consciousness that the punishment which comes upon her has been deserved.
But the chief merit of The Clarverings is in the genuine fun of some of the scenes. Humour has not been my forte, but I am inclined to think that the characters of Captain Boodle, Archie Clavering, and Sophie Gordeloup are humorous. Count Pateroff, the brother of Sophie, is also good, and disposes of the young hero's interference in a somewhat masterly manner. In The Claverings, too, there is a wife whose husband is a brute to her, who loses an only child--his heir--and who is rebuked by her lord because the boy dies. Her sorrow is, I think, pathetic. From beginning to end the story is well told. But I doubt now whether any one reads The Claverings. When I remember how many novels I have written, I have no right to expect that above a few of them shall endure even to the second year beyond publication. This story closed my connection with the Cornhill Magazine;--but not with its owner, Mr. George Smith, who subsequently brought out a further novel of mine in a separate form, and who about this time established the Pall Mall Gazette, to which paper I was for some years a contributor.
It was in 1865 that the Pall Mall Gazette was commenced, the
name having been taken from a fictitious periodical, which was the offspring of
Thackeray's brain. It was set on foot by the unassisted energy and resources of
George Smith, who had succeeded by means of his magazine and his publishing
connection in getting around him a society of literary men who sufficed, as far
as literary ability went, to float the paper at one under favourable auspices.
His two strongest staffs probably were "Jacob Omnium," whom I regard
as the most forcible newspaper writer of my days, and Fitz-James Stephen, the
most conscientious and industrious. To them the Pall Mall Gazette owed very much
of its early success,--and to the untiring energy and general ability of its
proprietor. Among its other contributors were George Lewes, Hannay,--who, I
think, came up from Edinburgh for employment on its columns,--Lord Houghton,
Lord Strangford, Charles Merivale, Greenwood the present editor, Greg, myself,
and very many others;--so many others, that I have met at a Pall Mall dinner a
crowd of guests who would have filled the House of Commons more respectably
than I have seen it filled even on important occasions. There are many who now
remember--and no doubt when this is published there will be left some to
remember--the great stroke of business which was done by the revelations of a
visitor to one of the casual wards in
My work was various. I wrote much on the subject of the American War, on which my feelings were at the time very keen,--subscribing, if I remember right, my name to all that I wrote. I contributed also some sets of sketches, of which those concerning hunting found favour with the public. They were republished afterwards, and had a considerable sale, and may, I think, still be recommended to those who are fond of hunting, as being accurate in their description of the different classes of people who are to be met in the hunting-field. There was also a set of clerical sketches, which was considered to be of sufficient importance to bring down upon my head the critical wrath of a great dean of that period. The most ill-natured review that was ever written upon any work of mine appeared in the Contemporary Review with reference to these Clerical Sketches. The critic told me that I did not understand Greek. That charge has been made not unfrequently by those who have felt themselves strong in that pride-producing language. It is much to read Greek with ease, but it is not disgraceful to be unable to do so. To pretend to read it without being able,--that is disgraceful. The critic, however, had been driven to wrath by my saying that Deans of the Church of England loved to revisit the glimpses of the metropolitan moon.
I also did some critical work for the
In the early days of the paper, the proprietor, who at that time acted also as chief editor, asked me to undertake a duty,--of which the agony would indeed at no one moment have been so sharp as that endured in the casual ward, but might have been prolonged until human nature sank under it. He suggested to me that I should during an entire season attend the May meetings in Exeter Hall, and give a graphic and, if possible, amusing description of the proceedings. I did attend one,--which lasted three hours,--and wrote a paper which I think was called A Zulu in Search of a Religion. But when the meeting was over I went to that spirited proprietor, and begged him to impose upon me some task more equal to my strength. Not even on behalf of the Pall Mall Gazette, which was very dear to me, could I go through a second May meeting,--much less endure a season of such martyrdom.
I have to acknowledge that I found myself unfit for work on a newspaper. I had not taken to it early enough in life to learn its ways and bear its trammels. I was fidgety when any work was altered in accordance with the judgment of the editor, who, of course, was responsible for what appeared. I wanted to select my own subjects,--not to have them selected for me; to write when I pleased,--and not when it suited others. As a permanent member of the staff I was of no use, and after two or three years I dropped out of the work.
From the commencement of my success as a writer, which I date from the beginning of the Cornhill Magazine, I had always felt an injustice in literary affairs which had never afflicted me or even suggested itself to me while I was unsuccessful. It seemed to me that a name once earned carried with it too much favour. I indeed had never reached a height to which praise was awarded as a matter of course; but there were others who sat on higher seats to whom the critics brought unmeasured incense and adulation, even when they wrote, as they sometimes did write, trash which from a beginner would not have been thought worthy of the slightest notice. I hope no one will think that in saying this I am actuated by jealousy of others. Though I never reached that height, still I had so far progressed that that which I wrote was received with too much favour. The injustice which struck me did not consist in that which was withheld from me, but in that which was given to me. I felt that aspirants coming up below me might do work as good as mine, and probably much better work, and yet fail to have it appreciated. In order to test this, I determined to be such an aspirant myself, and to begin a course of novels anonymously, in order that I might see whether I could obtain a second identity,--whether as I had made one mark by such literary ability as I possessed, I might succeed in doing so again. In 1865 I began a short tale called Nina Balatka, which in 1866 was published anonymously in Blackwood's Magazine. In 1867 this was followed by another of the same length, called Linda Tressel. I will speak of them together, as they are of the same nature and of nearly equal merit. Mr. Blackwood, who himself read the MS. of Nina Balatka, expressed an opinion that it would not from its style be discovered to have been written by me;--but it was discovered by Mr. Hutton of the Spectator, who found the repeated use of some special phrase which had rested upon his ear too frequently when reading for the purpose of criticism other works of mine. He declared in his paper that Nina Balatka was by me, showing I think more sagacity than good nature. I ought not, however, to complain of him, as of all the critics of my work he has been the most observant, and generally the most eulogistic. Nina Balatka never rose sufficiently high in reputation to make its detection a matter of any importance. Once or twice I heard the story mentioned by readers who did not know me to be the author, and always with praise; but it had no real success. The same may be said of Linda Tressel. Blackwood, who of course knew the author, was willing to publish them, trusting that works by an experienced writer would make their way, even without the writer's name, and he was willing to pay me for them, perhaps half what they would have fetched with my name. But he did not find the speculation answer, and declined a third attempt, though a third such tale was written for him.
Nevertheless I am sure that the two stories are good.
Perhaps the first is somewhat the better, as being the less lachrymose. They
were both written very quickly, but with a considerable amount of labour; and
both were written immediately after visits to the towns in which the scenes are
I do not wish to have it supposed from this that I quarrel with public judgment in affairs of literature. It is a matter of course that in all things the public should trust to established reputation. It is as natural that a novel reader wanting novels should send to a library for those by George Eliot or Wilkie Collins, as that a lady when she wants a pie for a picnic should go to Fortnum & Mason. Fortnum & Mason can only make themselves Fortnum & Mason by dint of time and good pies combined. If Titian were to send us a portrait from the other world, as certain dead poets send their poetry by means of a medium, it would be some time before the art critic of the Times would discover its value. We may sneer at the want of judgment thus displayed, but such slowness of judgment is human and has always existed. I say all this here because my thoughts on the matter have forced upon me the conviction that very much consideration is due to the bitter feelings of disappointed authors.
We who have succeeded are so apt to tell new aspirants not to aspire, because the thing to be done may probably be beyond their reach. "My dear young lady, had you not better stay at home and darn your stockings?" "As, sir, you have asked for my candid opinion, I can only counsel you to try some other work of life which may be better suited to your abilities." What old-established successful author has not said such words as these to humble aspirants for critical advice, till they have become almost formulas? No doubt there is cruelty in such answers; but the man who makes them has considered the matter within himself, and has resolved that such cruelty is the best mercy. No doubt the chances against literary aspirants are very great. It is so easy to aspire,--and to begin! A man cannot make a watch or a shoe without a variety of tools and many materials. He must also have learned much. But any young lady can write a book who has a sufficiency of pens and paper. It can be done anywhere; in any clothes--which is a great thing; at any hours--to which happy accident in literature I owe my success. And the success, when achieved, is so pleasant! The aspirants, of course, are very many; and the experienced councillor, when asked for his candid judgment as to this or that effort, knows that among every hundred efforts there will be ninety-nine failures. Then the answer is so ready: "My dear young lady, do darn your stockings; it will be for the best." Or perhaps, less tenderly, to the male aspirant: "You must earn some money, you say. Don't you think that a stool in a counting-house might be better?" The advice will probably be good advice,--probably, no doubt, as may be proved by the terrible majority of failures. But who is to be sure that he is not expelling an angel from the heaven to which, if less roughly treated, he would soar,--that he is not dooming some Milton to be mute and inglorious, who, but for such cruel ill-judgment, would become vocal to all ages?
The answer to all this seems to be ready enough. The judgment, whether cruel or tender, should not be ill-judgment. He who consents to sit as judge should have capacity for judging. But in this matter no accuracy of judgment is possible. It may be that the matter subjected to the critic is so bad or so good as to make an assured answer possible. "You, at any rate, cannot make this your vocation;" or "You, at any rate, can succeed, if you will try." But cases as to which such certainty can be expressed are rare. The critic who wrote the article on the early verses of Lord Byron, which produced the English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, was justified in his criticism by the merits of the Hours of Idleness. The lines had nevertheless been written by that Lord Byron who became our Byron. In a little satire called The Biliad, which, I think, nobody knows, are the following well-expressed lines:--
"When Payne Knight's Taste was issued to the town, A few Greek verses in the text set down Were torn to pieces, mangled into hash, Doomed to the flames as execrable trash,--In short, were butchered rather than dissected, And several false quantities detected,--Till, when the smoke had vanished from the cinders, 'Twas just discovered that--THE LINES WERE PINDAR'S!"
There can be no assurance against cases such as these; and yet we are so free with our advice, always bidding the young aspirant to desist.
There is perhaps no career or life so charming as that of a successful man of letters. Those little unthought of advantages which I just now named are in themselves attractive. If you like the town, live in the town, and do your work there; if you like the country, choose the country. It may be done on the top of a mountain or in the bottom of a pit. It is compatible with the rolling of the sea and the motion of a railway. The clergyman, the lawyer, the doctor, the member of Parliament, the clerk in a public office, the tradesman, and even his assistant in the shop, must dress in accordance with certain fixed laws; but the author need sacrifice to no grace, hardly even to Propriety. He is subject to no bonds such as those which bind other men. Who else is free from all shackle as to hours? The judge must sit at ten, and the attorney-general, who is making his 20,000 a year, must be there with his bag. The Prime Minister must be in his place on that weary front bench shortly after prayers, and must sit there, either asleep or awake, even though
---- or ---- should be addressing the House. During all that Sunday
which he maintains should be a day of rest, the active clergyman toils like a galley-slave. The actor, when eight o'clock comes, is bound to his footlights. The Civil Service clerk must sit there from ten till four,--unless his office be fashionable, when twelve to six is just as heavy on him. The author may do his work at five in the morning when he is fresh from his bed, or at three in the morning before he goes there. And the author wants no capital, and encounters no risks. When once he is afloat, the publisher finds all that;--and indeed, unless he be rash, finds it whether he be afloat or not. But it is in the consideration which he enjoys that the successful author finds his richest reward. He is, if not of equal rank, yet of equal standing with the highest; and if he be open to the amenities of society, may choose his own circles. He without money can enter doors which are closed against almost all but him and the wealthy. I have often heard it said that in this country the man of letters is not recognised. I believe the meaning of this to be that men of letters are not often invited to be knights and baronets. I do not think that they wish it;--and if they had it they would, as a body, lose much more than they would gain. I do not at all desire to have letters put after my name, or to be called Sir Anthony, but if my friends Tom Hughes and Charles Reade became Sir Thomas and Sir Charles, I do not know how I might feel,--or how my wife might feel, if we were left unbedecked. As it is, the man of letters who would be selected for titular honour, if such bestowal of honours were customary, receives from the general respect of those around him a much more pleasant recognition of his worth.
If this be so,--if it be true that the career of the successful literary man be thus pleasant--it is not wonderful that many should attempt to win the prize. But how is a man to know whether or not he has within him the qualities necessary for such a career? He makes an attempt, and fails; repeats his attempt, and fails again! So many have succeeded at last who have failed more than once or twice! Who will tell him the truth as to himself? Who has power to find out that truth? The hard man sends him off without a scruple to that office-stool; the soft man assures him that there is much merit in his MS.
Oh, my young aspirant,--if ever such a one should read these pages,--be sure that no one can tell you! To do so it would be necessary not only to know what there is now within you, but also to foresee what time will produce there. This, however, I think may be said to you, without any doubt as to the wisdom of the counsel given, that if it be necessary for you to live by your work, do not begin by trusting to literature. Take the stool in the office as recommended to you by the hard man; and then, in such leisure hours as may belong to you, let the praise which has come from the lips of that soft man induce you to persevere in your literary attempts. Should you fail, then your failure will not be fatal,--and what better could you have done with the leisure hours had you not so failed? Such double toil, you will say, is severe. Yes, but if you want this thing, you must submit to severe toil.
Sometime before this I had become one of the Committee appointed for the distribution of the moneys of the Royal Literary Fund, and in that capacity I heard and saw much of the sufferings of authors. I may in a future chapter speak further of this Institution, which I regard with great affection, and in reference to which I should be glad to record certain convictions of my own; but I allude to it now, because the experience I have acquired in being active in its cause forbids me to advise any young man or woman to enter boldly on a literary career in search of bread. I know how utterly I should have failed myself had my bread not been earned elsewhere while I was making my efforts. During ten years of work, which I commenced with some aid from the fact that others of my family were in the same profession, I did not earn enough to buy me the pens, ink, and paper which I was using; and then when, with all my experience in my art, I began again as from a new springing point, I should have failed again unless again I could have given years to the task. Of course there have been many who have done better than I,--many whose powers have been infinitely greater. But then, too, I have seen the failure of many who were greater.
The career, when success has been achieved, is certainly very pleasant; but the agonies which are endured in the search for that success are often terrible. And the author's poverty is, I think, harder to be borne than any other poverty. The man, whether rightly or wrongly, feels that the world is using him with extreme injustice. The more absolutely he fails, the higher, it is probable, he will reckon his own merits; and the keener will be the sense of injury in that he whose work is of so high a nature cannot get bread, while they whose tasks are mean are lapped in luxury. "I, with my well-filled mind, with my clear intellect, with all my gifts, cannot earn a poor crown a day, while that fool, who simpers in a little room behind a shop, makes his thousands every year." The very charity, to which he too often is driven, is bitterer to him than to others. While he takes it he almost spurns the hand that gives it to him, and every fibre of his heart within him is bleeding with a sense of injury.
The career, when successful, is pleasant enough certainly; but when unsuccessful, it is of all careers the most agonising.
It is nearly twenty years since I proposed to myself to
write a history of English prose fiction. I shall never do it now, but the
subject is so good a one that I recommend it heartily to some man of letters,
who shall at the same time be indefatigable and light-handed. I acknowledge
that I broke down in the task, because I could not endure the labour in
addition to the other labours of my life. Though the book might be charming,
the work was very much the reverse. It came to have a terrible aspect to me, as
did that proposition that I should sit out all the May meetings of a season.
According to my plan of such a history it would be necessary to read an
infinity of novels, and not only to read them, but so to read them as to point
out the excellences of those which are most excellent, and to explain the
defects of those which, though defective, had still reached sufficient reputation
to make them worthy of notice. I did read many after this fashion,--and here
and there I have the criticisms which I wrote. In regard to many, they were
written on some blank page within the book; I have not, however, even a list of
the books so criticised. I think that the
I began my own studies on the subject with works much earlier than Robinson Crusoe, and made my way through a variety of novels which were necessary for my purpose, but which in the reading gave me no pleasure whatever. I never worked harder than at the Arcadia, or read more detestable trash than the stories written by Mrs. Aphra Behn; but these two were necessary to my purpose, which was not only to give an estimate of the novels as I found them, but to describe how it had come to pass that the English novels of the present day have become what they are, to point out the effects which they have produced, and to inquire whether their great popularity has on the whole done good or evil to the people who read them. I still think that the book is one well worthy to be written.
I intended to write that book to vindicate my own profession as a novelist, and also to vindicate that public taste in literature which has created and nourished the profession which I follow. And I was stirred up to make such an attempt by a conviction that there still exists among us Englishmen a prejudice in respect to novels which might, perhaps, be lessened by such a work. This prejudice is not against the reading of novels, as is proved by their general acceptance among us. But it exists strongly in reference to the appreciation in which they are professed to be held; and it robs them of much of that high character which they may claim to have earned by their grace, their honesty, and good teaching.
No man can work long at any trade without being brought to consider much, whether that which he is daily doing tends to evil or to good. I have written many novels, and have known many writers of novels, and I can assert that such thoughts have been strong with them and with myself. But in acknowledging that these writers have received from the public a full measure of credit for such genius, ingenuity, or perseverance as each may have displayed, I feel that there is still wanting to them a just appreciation of the excellence of their calling, and a general understanding of the high nature of the work which they perform.
By the common consent of all mankind who have read, poetry takes the highest place in literature. That nobility of expression, and all but divine grace of words, which she is bound to attain before she can make her footing good, is not compatible with prose. Indeed it is that which turns prose into poetry. When that has been in truth achieved, the reader knows that the writer has soared above the earth, and can teach his lessons somewhat as a god might teach. He who sits down to write his tale in prose makes no such attempt, nor does he dream that the poet's honour is within his reach;--but his teaching is of the same nature, and his lessons all tend to the same end. By either, false sentiments may be fostered; false notions of humanity may be engendered; false honour, false love, false worship may be created; by either, vice instead of virtue may be taught. But by each, equally, may true honour, true love; true worship, and true humanity be inculcated; and that will be the greatest teacher who will spread such truth the widest. But at present, much as novels, as novels, are bought and read, there exists still an idea, a feeling which is very prevalent, that novels at their best are but innocent. Young men and women,--and old men and women too,--read more of them than of poetry, because such reading is easier than the reading of poetry; but they read them,--as men eat pastry after dinner,--not without some inward conviction that the taste is vain if not vicious. I take upon myself to say that it is neither vicious nor vain.
But all writers of fiction who have desired to think well of their own work, will probably have had doubts on their minds before they have arrived at this conclusion. Thinking much of my own daily labour and of its nature, I felt myself at first to be much afflicted and then to be deeply grieved by the opinion expressed by wise and thinking men as to the work done by novelists. But when, by degrees, I dared to examine and sift the sayings of such men, I found them to be sometimes silly and often arrogant. I began to inquire what had been the nature of English novels since they first became common in our own language, and to be desirous of ascertaining whether they had done harm or good. I could well remember that, in my own young days, they had not taken that undisputed possession of drawing-rooms which they now hold. Fifty years ago, when George IV. was king, they were not indeed treated as Lydia had been forced to treat them in the preceding reign, when, on the approach of elders, Peregrine Pickle was hidden beneath the bolster, and Lord Ainsworth put away under the sofa. But the families in which an unrestricted permission was given for the reading of novels were very few, and from many they were altogether banished. The high poetic genius and correct morality of Walter Scott had not altogether succeeded in making men and women understand that lessons which were good in poetry could not be bad in prose. I remember that in those days an embargo was laid upon novel-reading as a pursuit, which was to the novelist a much heavier tax than that want of full appreciation of which I now complain.
There is, we all know, no such embargo now. May we not say that people of an age to read have got too much power into their own hands to endure any very complete embargo? Novels are read right and left, above stairs and below, in town houses and in country parsonages, by young countesses and by farmers' daughters, by old lawyers and by young students. It has not only come to pass that a special provision of them has to be made for the godly, but that the provision so made must now include books which a few years since the godly would have thought to be profane. It was this necessity which, a few years since, induced the editor of Good Words to apply to me for a novel,--which, indeed, when supplied was rejected, but which now, probably, owing to further change in the same direction, would have been accepted.
If such be the case--if the extension of novel-reading be so wide as I have described it--then very much good or harm must be done by novels. The amusement of the time can hardly be the only result of any book that is read, and certainly not so with a novel, which appeals especially to the imagination, and solicits the sympathy of
the young. A vast proportion of the teaching of the day,--greater probably than many of us have acknowledged to ourselves,--comes from these books, which are in the hands of all readers. It is from them that girls learn what is expected from them, and what they are to expect when lovers come; and also from them that young men unconsciously learn what are, or should be, or may be, the charms of love,--though I fancy that few young men will think so little of their natural instincts and powers as to believe that I am right in saying so. Many other lessons also are taught. In these times, when the desire to be honest is pressed so hard, is so violently assaulted by the ambition to be great; in which riches are the easiest road to greatness; when the temptations to which men are subjected dull their eyes to the perfected iniquities of others; when it is so hard for a man to decide vigorously that the pitch, which so many are handling, will defile him if it be touched;--men's conduct will be actuated much by that which is from day to day depicted to them as leading to glorious or inglorious results. The woman who is described as having obtained all that the world holds to be precious, by lavishing her charms and her caresses unworthily and heartlessly, will induce other women to do the same with theirs,--as will she who is made interesting by exhibitions of bold passion teach others to be spuriously passionate. The young man who in a novel becomes a hero, perhaps a Member of Parliament, and almost a Prime Minister, by trickery, falsehood, and flash cleverness, will have many followers, whose attempts to rise in the world ought to lie heavily on the conscience of the novelists who create fictitious Cagliostros. There are Jack Sheppards other than those who break into houses and out of prisons,--Macheaths, who deserve the gallows more than Gay's hero.
Thinking of all this, as a novelist surely must do,--as I certainly have done through my whole career,--it becomes to him a matter of deep conscience how he shall handle those characters by whose words and doings he hopes to interest his readers. It will very frequently be the case that he will be tempted to sacrifice something for effect, to say a word or two here, or to draw a picture there, for which he feels that he has the power, and which when spoken or drawn would be alluring. The regions of absolute vice are foul and odious. The savour of them, till custom has hardened the palate and the nose, is disgusting. In these he will hardly tread. But there are outskirts on these regions, on which sweet-smelling flowers seem to grow; and grass to be green. It is in these border-lands that the danger lies. The novelist may not be dull. If he commit that fault he can do neither harm nor good. He must please, and the flowers and the grass in these neutral territories sometimes seem to give him so easy an opportunity of pleasing!
The writer of stories must please, or he will be nothing. And he must teach whether he wish to teach or no. How shall he teach lessons of virtue and at the same time make himself a delight to his readers? That sermons are not in themselves often thought to be agreeable we all know. Nor are disquisitions on moral philosophy supposed to be pleasant reading for our idle hours. But the novelist, if he have a conscience, must preach his sermons with the same purpose as the clergyman, and must have his own system of ethics. If he can do this efficiently, if he can make virtue alluring and vice ugly, while he charms his readers instead of wearying them, then I think Mr. Carlyle need not call him distressed, nor talk of that long ear of fiction, nor question whether he be or not the most foolish of existing mortals.
I think that many have done so; so many that we English novelists may boast as a class that has been the general result of our own work. Looking back to the past generation, I may say with certainty that such was the operation of the novels of Miss Edgeworth, Miss Austen, and Walter Scott. Coming down to my own times, I find such to have been the teaching of Thackeray, of Dickens, and of George Eliot. Speaking, as I shall speak to any who may read these words, with that absence of self-personality which the dead may claim, I will boast that such has been the result of my own writing. Can any one by search through the works of the six great English novelists I have named, find a scene, a passage, or a word that would teach a girl to be immodest, or a man to be dishonest? When men in their pages have been described as dishonest and women as immodest, have they not ever been punished? It is not for the novelist to say, baldly and simply: "Because you lied here, or were heartless there, because you Lydia Bennet forgot the lessons of your honest home, or you Earl Leicester were false through your ambition, or you Beatrix loved too well the glitter of the world, therefore you shall be scourged with scourges either in this world or in the next;" but it is for him to show, as he carries on his tale, that his Lydia, or his Leicester, or his Beatrix, will be dishonoured in the estimation of all readers by his or her vices. Let a woman be drawn clever, beautiful, attractive,--so as to make men love her, and women almost envy her,--and let her be made also heartless, unfeminine, and ambitious of evil grandeur, as was Beatrix, what a danger is there not in such a character! To the novelist who shall handle it, what peril of doing harm! But if at last it have been so handled that every girl who reads of Beatrix shall say: "Oh! not like that;--let me not be like that!" and that every youth shall say: "Let me not have such a one as that to press my bosom, anything rather than that!"--then will not the novelist have preached his sermon as perhaps no clergyman can preach it?
Very much of a novelist's work must appertain to the intercourse between young men and young women. It is admitted that a novel can hardly be made interesting or successful without love. Some few might be named, but even in those the attempt breaks down, and the softness of love is found to be necessary to complete the story. Pickwick has been named as an exception to the rule, but even in Pickwick there are three or four sets of lovers, whose little amatory longings give a softness to the work. I tried it once with Miss Mackenzie, but I had to make her fall in love at last. In this frequent allusion to the passion which most stirs the imagination of the young, there must be danger. Of that the writer of fiction is probably well aware. Then the question has to be asked, whether the danger may not be so averted that good may be the result,--and to be answered.
respect the necessity of dealing with love is advantageous,--advantageous from the very circumstance which has made love necessary to all novelists. It is necessary because the passion is one which interests or has interested all. Every one feels it, has felt it, or expects to feel it,--or else rejects it with an eagerness which still perpetuates the interest. If the novelist, therefore, can so handle the subject as to do good by his handling, as to teach wholesome lessons in regard to love, the good which he does will be very wide. If I can teach politicians that they can do their business better by truth than by falsehood, I do a great service; but it is done to a limited number of persons. But if I can make young men and women believe that truth in love will make them happy, then, if my writings be popular, I shall have a very large class of pupils. No doubt the cause for that fear which did exist as to novels arose from an idea that the matter of love would be treated in an inflammatory and generally unwholesome manner. "Madam," says Sir Anthony in the play, "a circulating library in a town is an evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge. It blossoms through the year; and depend on it, Mrs. Malaprop, that they who are so fond of handling the leaves will long for the fruit at last." Sir Anthony was no doubt right. But he takes it for granted that the longing for the fruit is an evil. The novelist who writes of love thinks differently, and thinks that the honest love of an honest man is a treasure which a good girl may fairly hope to win,--and that if she can be taught to wish only for that, she will have been taught to entertain only wholesome wishes.
I can easily believe that a girl should be taught to wish to love by reading how Laura Bell loved Pendennis. Pendennis was not in truth a very worthy man, nor did he make a very good husband; but the girl's love was so beautiful, and the wife's love when she became a wife so womanlike, and at the same time so sweet, so unselfish, so wifely, so worshipful,--in the sense in which wives are told that they ought to worship their husband,--that I cannot believe that any girl can be injured, or even not benefited, by reading of Laura's love.
There once used to be many who thought, and probably there
still are some, even here in
Among English novels of the present day, and among English
novelists, a great division is made. There are sensational novels and
anti-sensational, sensational novelists and anti-sensational, sensational
readers and anti-sensational. The novelists who are considered to be
anti-sensational are generally called realistic. I am realistic. My friend
Wilkie Collins is generally supposed to be sensational. The readers who prefer
the one are supposed to take delight in the elucidation of character. Those who
hold by the other are charmed by the continuation and gradual development of a
plot. All this is, I think, a
mistake,--which mistake arises from the inability of the imperfect artist to be
at the same time realistic and sensational. A good novel should be both, and
both in the highest degree. If a novel fail in either,
there is a failure in art. Let those readers who believe that they do not like
sensational scenes in novels think of some of those passages from our great
novelists which have charmed them most:--of Rebecca in the castle with Ivanhoe;
of Burley in the cave with Morton; of the mad lady tearing the veil of the expectant
bride, in Jane Eyre; of Lady Castlewood as, in her indignation, she explains to
the Duke of Hamilton Henry Esmond's right to be present at the marriage of his
Grace with Beatrix;--may I add of Lady Mason, as she makes her confession at
the feet of Sir Peregrine Orme? Will any one say that the authors of these
passages have sinned in being over-sensational?
No doubt, a string of horrible incidents, bound together without truth
in detail, and told as affecting personages without character,--wooden blocks, who cannot make themselves known to the reader as men and
women, does not instruct or amuse, or even fill the mind with awe. Horrors
heaped upon horrors, and which are horrors only in themselves, and not as
touching any recognised and known person, are not tragic, and soon cease even
to horrify. And such would-be tragic elements of a story may be increased
without end, and without difficulty. I may tell you of a woman
murdered,--murdered in the same street with you, in the next house,--that she
was a wife murdered by her husband,--a bride not yet a week a wife. I may add
to it for ever. I may say that the murderer roasted her alive. There is no end
to it. I may declare that a former wife was treated with equal barbarity; and
may assert that, as the murderer was led away to execution, he declared his
only sorrow, his only regret to be, that he could not live to treat a third
wife after the same fashion. There is nothing so easy as the creation and the
cumulation of fearful incidents after this fashion. If such creation and
cumulation be the beginning and the end of the novelist's work,--and novels
have been written which seem to be without other attractions,--nothing can be more dull or more useless. But not on that account are we
averse to tragedy in prose fiction. As
in poetry, so in prose, he who can deal adequately with tragic elements is a
greater artist and reaches a higher aim than the writer whose efforts never
carry him above the mild walks of everyday life. The Bride of Lammermoor is a
tragedy throughout, in spite of its comic elements. The life of Lady
Castlewood, of whom I have spoken, is a tragedy.
I did intend when I meditated that history of English fiction to include within its pages some rules for the writing of novels;--or I might perhaps say, with more modesty, to offer some advice on the art to such tyros in it as might be willing to take advantage of the experience of an old hand. But the matter would, I fear, be too long for this episode, and I am not sure that I have as yet got the rules quite settled in my own mind. I will, however, say a few words on one or two points which my own practice has pointed out to me.
I have from the first felt sure that the writer, when he sits down to commence his novel, should do so, not because he has to tell a story, but because he has a story to tell. The novelist's first novel will generally have sprung from the right cause. Some series of events, or some development of character, will have presented itself to his imagination,--and this he feels so strongly that he thinks he can present his picture in strong and agreeable language to others. He sits down and tells his story because he has a story to tell; as you, my friend, when you have heard something which has at once tickled your fancy or moved your pathos, will hurry to tell it to the first person you meet. But when that first novel has been received graciously by the public and has made for itself a success, then the writer naturally feeling that the writing of novels is within his grasp, looks about for something to tell in another. He cudgels his brains, not always successfully, and sits down to write, not because he has something which he burns to tell, but because be feels it to be incumbent on him to be telling something. As you, my friend, if you are very successful in the telling of that first story, will become ambitious of further storytelling, and will look out for anecdotes,--in the narration of which you will not improbably sometimes distress your audience.
So it has been with many novelists, who, after some good work, perhaps after very much good work, have distressed their audience because they have gone on with their work till their work has become simply a trade with them. Need I make a list of such, seeing that it would contain the names of those who have been greatest in the art of British novel-writing? They have at last become weary of that portion of a novelist's work which is of all the most essential to success. That a man as he grows old should feel the labour of writing to be a fatigue is natural enough. But a man to whom writing has become a habit may write well though he be fatigued. But the weary novelist refuses any longer to give his mind to that work of observation and reception from which has come his power, without which work his power cannot be continued,--which work should be going on not only when he is at his desk, but in all his walks abroad, in all his movements through the world, in all his intercourse with his fellow-creatures. He has become a novelist, as another has become a poet, because he has in those walks abroad, unconsciously for the most part, been drawing in matter from all that he has seen and heard. But this has not been done without labour, even when the labour has been unconscious. Then there comes a time when he shuts his eyes and shuts his ears. When we talk of memory fading as age comes on, it is such shutting of eyes and ears that we mean. The things around cease to interest us, and we cannot exercise our minds upon them. To the novelist thus wearied there comes the demand for further novels. He does not know his own defect, and even if he did he does not wish to abandon his own profession. He still writes; but he writes because he has to tell a story, not because he has a story to tell. What reader of novels has not felt the "woodenness" of this mode of telling? The characters do not live and move, but are cut out of blocks and are propped against the wall. The incidents are arranged in certain lines--the arrangement being as palpable to the reader as it has been to the writer--but do not follow each other as results naturally demanded by previous action. The reader can never feel--as he ought to feel--that only for that flame of the eye, only for that angry word, only for that moment of weakness, all might have been different. The course of the tale is one piece of stiff mechanism, in which there is no room for a doubt.
These, it may be said, are reflections which I, being an old novelist, might make useful to myself for discontinuing my work, but can hardly be needed by those tyros of whom I have spoken. That they are applicable to myself I readily admit, but I also find that they apply to many beginners. Some of us who are old fail at last because we are old. It would be well that each of us should say to himself,
"Solve senescentem mature sanus equum, ne Peccet ad extremum ridendus."
But many young fail also, because they endeavour to tell stories when they have none to tell. And this comes from idleness rather than from innate incapacity. The mind has not been sufficiently at work when the tale has been commenced, nor is it kept sufficiently at work as the tale is continued. I have never troubled myself much about the construction of plots, and am not now insisting specially on thoroughness in a branch of work in which I myself have not been very thorough. I am not sure that the construction of a perfected plot has been at any period within my power. But the novelist has other aims than the elucidation of his plot. He desires to make his readers so intimately acquainted with his characters that the creatures of his brain should be to them speaking, moving, living, human creatures. This he can never do unless he know those fictitious personages himself, and he can never know them unless he can live with them in the full reality of established intimacy. They must be with him as he lies down to sleep, and as he wakes from his dreams. He must learn to hate them and to love them. He must argue with them, quarrel with them, forgive them, and even submit to them. He must know of them whether they be cold-blooded or passionate, whether true or false, and how far true, and how far false. The depth and the breadth, and the narrowness and the shallowness of each should be clear to him. And, as here, in our outer world, we know that men and women change,--become worse or better as temptation or conscience may guide them,--so should these creations of his change, and every change should be noted by him. On the last day of each month recorded, every person in his novel should be a month older than on the first. If the would-be novelist have aptitudes that way, all this will come to him without much struggling;--but if it do not come, I think he can only make novels of wood.
It is so that I have lived with my characters, and thence has come whatever success I have obtained. There is a gallery of them, and of all in that gallery I may say that I know the tone of the voice, and the colour of the hair, every flame of the eye, and the very clothes they wear. Of each man I could assert whether he would have said these or the other words; of every woman, whether she would then have smiled or so have frowned. When I shall feel that this intimacy ceases, then I shall know that the old horse should be turned out to grass. That I shall feel it when I ought to feel it, I will by no means say. I do not know that I am at all wiser than Gil Blas' canon; but I do know that the power indicated is one without which the teller of tales cannot tell them to any good effect.
The language in which the novelist is to put forth his story, the colours with which he is to paint his picture, must of course be to him matter of much consideration. Let him have all other possible gifts,--imagination, observation, erudition, and industry,--they will avail him nothing for his purpose, unless he can put forth his work in pleasant words. If he be confused, tedious, harsh, or unharmonious, readers will certainly reject him. The reading of a volume of history or on science may represent itself as a duty; and though the duty may by a bad style be made very disagreeable, the conscientious reader will perhaps perform it. But the novelist will be assisted by no such feeling. Any reader may reject his work without the burden of a sin. It is the first necessity of his position that he make himself pleasant. To do this, much more is necessary than to write correctly. He may indeed be pleasant without being correct,--as I think can be proved by the works of more than one distinguished novelist. But he must be intelligible,--intelligible without trouble; and he must be harmonious.
Any writer who has read even a little will know what is meant by the word intelligible. It is not sufficient that there be a meaning that may be hammered out of the sentence, but that the language should be so pellucid that the meaning should be rendered without an effort of the reader;--and not only some proposition of meaning, but the very sense, no more and no less, which the writer has intended to put into his words. What Macaulay says should be remembered by all writers: "How little the all-important art of making meaning pellucid is studied now! Hardly any popular author except myself thinks of it." The language used should be as ready and as efficient a conductor of the mind of the writer to the mind of the reader as is the electric spark which passes from one battery to another battery. In all written matter the spark should carry everything; but in matters recondite the recipient will search to see that he misses nothing, and that he takes nothing away too much. The novelist cannot expect that any such search will be made. A young writer, who will acknowledge the truth of what I am saying, will often feel himself tempted by the difficulties of language to tell himself that some one little doubtful passage, some single collocation of words, which is not quite what it ought to be, will not matter. I know well what a stumbling-block such a passage may be. But he should leave none such behind him as he goes on. The habit of writing clearly soon comes to the writer who is a severe critic to himself.
As to that harmonious expression which I think is required, I shall find it more difficult to express my meaning. It will be granted, I think, by readers that a style may be rough, and yet both forcible and intelligible; but it will seldom come to pass that a novel written in a rough style will be popular,--and less often that a novelist who habitually uses such a style will become so. The harmony which is required must come from the practice of the ear. There are few ears naturally so dull that they cannot, if time be allowed to them, decide whether a sentence, when read, be or be not harmonious. And the sense of such harmony grows on the ear, when the intelligence has once informed itself as to what is, and what is not harmonious. The boy, for instance, who learns with accuracy the prosody of a Sapphic stanza, and has received through his intelligence a knowledge of its parts, will soon tell by his ear whether a Sapphic stanza be or be not correct. Take a girl, endowed with gifts of music, well instructed in her art, with perfect ear, and read to her such a stanza with two words transposed, as, for instance--
Mercuri, nam te docilis magistro Movit Amphion CANENDO LAPIDES, Tuque testudo resonare septem Callida nervis--
and she will find no halt in the rhythm. But a schoolboy with none of her musical acquirements or capacities, who has, however, become familiar with the metres of the poet, will at once discover the fault. And so will the writer become familiar with what is harmonious in prose. But in order that familiarity may serve him in his business, he must so train his ear that he shall be able to weigh the rhythm of every word as it falls from his pen. This, when it has been done for a time, even for a short time, will become so habitual to him that he will have appreciated the metrical duration of every syllable before it shall have dared to show itself upon paper. The art of the orator is the same. He knows beforehand how each sound which he is about to utter will affect the force of his climax. If a writer will do so he will charm his readers, though his readers will probably not know how they have been charmed.
In writing a novel the author soon becomes aware that a
burden of many pages is before him. Circumstances require that he should cover
a certain and generally not a very confined space. Short novels are not popular
with readers generally. Critics often complain of the ordinary length of
novels,--of the three volumes to which they are subjected; but few novels which
have attained great success in
There is no portion of a novelist's work in which this fault of episodes is so common as in the dialogue. It is so easy to make any two persons talk on any casual subject with which the writer presumes himself to be conversant! Literature, philosophy, politics, or sport, may thus be handled in a loosely discursive style; and the writer, while indulging himself and filling his pages, is apt to think that he is pleasing his reader. I think he can make no greater mistake. The dialogue is generally the most agreeable part of a novel; but it is only so as long as it tends in some way to the telling of the main story. It need not seem to be confined to that, but it should always have a tendency in that direction. The unconscious critical acumen of a reader is both just and severe. When a long dialogue on extraneous matter reaches his mind, he at once feels that he is being cheated into taking something which he did not bargain to accept when he took up that novel. He does not at that moment require politics or philosophy, but he wants his story. He will not perhaps be able to say in so many words that at some certain point the dialogue has deviated from the story; but when it does so he will feel it, and the feeling will be unpleasant. Let the intending novel-writer, if he doubt this, read one of Bulwer's novels,--in which there is very much to charm,--and then ask himself whether he has not been offended by devious conversations.
And the dialogue, on which the modern novelist in consulting the taste of his probable readers must depend most, has to be constrained also by other rules. The writer may tell much of his story in conversations, but he may only do so by putting such words into the mouths of his personages as persons so situated would probably use. He is not allowed for the sake of his tale to make his characters give utterance to long speeches, such as are not customarily heard from men and women. The ordinary talk of ordinary people is carried on in short, sharp, expressive sentences, which very frequently are never completed,--the language of which even among educated people is often incorrect. The novel-writer in constructing his dialogue must so steer between absolute accuracy of language--which would give to his conversation an air of pedantry, and the slovenly inaccuracy of ordinary talkers, which if closely followed would offend by an appearance of grimace--as to produce upon the ear of his readers a sense of reality. If he be quite real he will seem to attempt to be funny. If he be quite correct he will seem to be unreal. And above all, let the speeches be short. No character should utter much above a dozen words at a breath,--unless the writer can justify to himself a longer flood of speech by the specialty of the occasion.
In all this human nature must be the novel-writer's guide. No doubt effective novels have been written in which human nature has been set at defiance. I might name Caleb Williams as one and Adam Blair as another. But the exceptions are not more than enough to prove the rule. But in following human nature he must remember that he does so with a pen in his hand, and that the reader who will appreciate human nature will also demand artistic ability and literary aptitude.
The young novelist will probably ask, or more probably bethink himself how he is to acquire that knowledge of human nature which will tell him with accuracy what men and women would say in this or that position. He must acquire it as the compositor, who is to print his words, has learned the art of distributing his type--by constant and intelligent practice. Unless it be given to him to listen and to observe,--so to carry away, as it were, the manners of people in his memory as to be able to say to himself with assurance that these words might have been said in a given position, and that those other words could not have been said,--I do not think that in these days he can succeed as a novelist.
And then let him beware of creating tedium! Who has not felt the charm of a spoken story up to a certain point, and then suddenly become aware that it has become too long and is the reverse of charming. It is not only that the entire book may have this fault, but that this fault may occur in chapters, in passages, in pages, in paragraphs. I know no guard against this so likely to be effective as the feeling of the writer himself. When once the sense that the thing is becoming long has grown upon him, he may be sure that it will grow upon his readers. I see the smile of some who will declare to themselves that the words of a writer will never be tedious to himself. Of the writer of whom this may be truly said, it may be said with equal truth that he will always be tedious to his reader.
In this chapter I will venture to name a few successful novelists of my own time, with whose works I am acquainted; and will endeavour to point whence their success has come, and why they have failed when there has been failure.
I do not hesitate to name Thackeray the first. His knowledge
of human nature was supreme, and his characters stand out as human beings, with
a force and a truth which has not, I think, been within the reach of any other
English novelist in any period. I know no character in fiction, unless it be Don Quixote, with whom the reader becomes so intimately
acquainted as with Colonel Newcombe. How great a thing it is to be a gentleman
at all parts! How we admire the man of whom so much
may be said with truth! Is there any one of whom we feel more
sure in this respect than of Colonel Newcombe? It is not because Colonel
Newcombe is a perfect gentleman that we think Thackeray's work to have been so
excellent, but because he has had the power to describe him as such, and to
force us to love him, a weak and silly old man, on account of this grace of
character. It is evident from all
Thackeray's best work that he lived with the characters he was creating. He had
always a story to tell until quite late in life; and he shows us that this was
so, not by the interest which be had in his own plots,--for I doubt whether his
plots did occupy much of his mind,--but by convincing us that his characters
were alive to himself. With Becky Sharpe, with Lady Castlewood and her
daughter, and with Esmond, with
Among all our novelists his style is the purest, as to my ear it is also the most harmonious. Sometimes it is disfigured by a slight touch of affectation, by little conceits which smell of the oil;--but the language is always lucid. The reader, without labour, knows what he means, and knows all that he means. As well as I can remember, he deals with no episodes. I think that any critic, examining his work minutely, would find that every scene, and every part of every scene, adds something to the clearness with which the story is told. Among all his stories there is not one which does not leave on the mind a feeling of distress that women should ever be immodest or men dishonest,--and of joy that women should be so devoted and men so honest. How we hate the idle selfishness of Pendennis, the worldliness of Beatrix, the craft of Becky Sharpe!--how we love the honesty of Colonel Newcombe, the nobility of Esmond, and the devoted affection of Mrs. Pendennis! The hatred of evil and love of good can hardly have come upon so many readers without doing much good.
Late in Thackeray's life,--he never was an old man, but towards the end of his career,--he failed in his power of charming, because he allowed his mind to become idle. In the plots which he conceived, and in the language which he used; I do not know that there is any perceptible change; but in The Virginians and in Philip the reader is introduced to no character with which he makes a close and undying acquaintance. And this, I have no doubt, is so because Thackeray himself had no such intimacy. His mind had come to be weary of that fictitious life which is always demanding the labour of new creation, and he troubled himself with his two Virginians and his Philip only when he was seated at his desk.
At the present moment George Eliot is the first of English novelists, and I am disposed to place her second of those of my time. She is best known to the literary world as a writer of prose fiction, and not improbably whatever of permanent fame she may acquire will come from her novels. But the nature of her intellect is very far removed indeed from that which is common to the tellers of stories. Her imagination is no doubt strong, but it acts in analysing rather than in creating. Everything that comes before her is pulled to pieces so that the inside of it shall be seen, and be seen if possible by her readers as clearly as by herself. This searching analysis is carried so far that, in studying her latter writings, one feels oneself to be in company with some philosopher rather than with a novelist. I doubt whether any young person can read with pleasure either Felix Holt, Middlemarch, or Daniel Deronda. I know that they are very difficult to many that are not young.
Her personifications of character have been singularly terse and graphic, and from them has come her great hold on the public,--though by no means the greatest effect which she has produced. The lessons which she teaches remain, though it is not for the sake of the lessons that her pages are read. Seth Bede, Adam Bede, Maggie and Tom Tulliver, old Silas Marner, and, much above all, Tito, in Romola, are characters which, when once known, can never be forgotten. I cannot say quite so much for any of those in her later works, because in them the philosopher so greatly overtops the portrait-painter, that, in the dissection of the mind, the outward signs seem to have been forgotten. In her, as yet, there is no symptom whatever of that weariness of mind which, when felt by the reader, induces him to declare that the author has written himself out. It is not from decadence that we do not have another Mrs. Poyser, but because the author soars to things which seem to her to be higher than Mrs. Poyser.
It is, I think, the defect of George Eliot that she struggles too hard to do work that shall be excellent. She lacks ease. Latterly the signs of this have been conspicuous in her style, which has always been and is singularly correct, but which has become occasionally obscure from her too great desire to be pungent. It is impossible not to feel the struggle, and that feeling begets a flavour of affectation. In Daniel Deronda, of which at this moment only a portion has been published, there are sentences which I have found myself compelled to read three times before I have been able to take home to myself all that the writer has intended. Perhaps I may be permitted here to say, that this gifted woman was among my dearest and most intimate friends. As I am speaking here of novelists, I will not attempt to speak of George Eliot's merit as a poet.
There can be no doubt that the most popular novelist of my time--probably the most popular English novelist of any time--has been Charles Dickens. He has now been dead nearly six years, and the sale of his books goes on as it did during his life. The certainty with which his novels are found in every house--the familiarity of his name in all English-speaking countries--the popularity of such characters as Mrs. Gamp, Micawber, and Pecksniff, and many others whose names have entered into the English language and become well-known words--the grief of the country at his death, and the honours paid to him at his funeral,--all testify to his popularity. Since the last book he wrote himself, I doubt whether any book has been so popular as his biography by John Forster. There is no withstanding such testimony as this. Such evidence of popular appreciation should go for very much, almost for everything, in criticism on the work of a novelist. The primary object of a novelist is to please; and this man's novels have been found more pleasant than those of any other writer. It might of course be objected to this, that though the books have pleased they have been injurious, that their tendency has been immoral and their teaching vicious; but it is almost needless to say that no such charge has ever been made against Dickens. His teaching has ever been good. From all which, there arises to the critic a question whether, with such evidence against him as to the excellence of this writer, he should not subordinate his own opinion to the collected opinion of the world of readers. To me it almost seems that I must be wrong to place Dickens after Thackeray and George Eliot, knowing as I do that so great a majority put him above those authors.
My own peculiar idiosyncrasy in the matter forbids me to do so. I do acknowledge that Mrs. Gamp, Micawber, Pecksniff, and others have become household words in every house, as though they were human beings; but to my judgment they are not human beings, nor are any of the characters human which Dickens has portrayed. It has been the peculiarity and the marvel of this man's power, that he has invested, his puppets with a charm that has enabled him to dispense with human nature. There is a drollery about them, in my estimation, very much below the humour of Thackeray, but which has reached the intellect of all; while Thackeray's humour has escaped the intellect of many. Nor is the pathos of Dickens human. It is stagey and melodramatic. But it is so expressed that it touches every heart a little. There is no real life in Smike. His misery, his idiotcy, his devotion for Nicholas, his love for Kate, are all overdone and incompatible with each other. But still the reader sheds a tear. Every reader can find a tear for Smike. Dickens's novels are like Boucicault's plays. He has known how to draw his lines broadly, so that all should see the colour.
He, too, in his best days, always lived with his characters;--and he, too, as he gradually ceased to have the power of doing so, ceased to charm. Though they are not human beings, we all remember Mrs. Gamp and Pickwick. The Boffins and Veneerings do not, I think, dwell in the minds of so many.
Of Dickens's style it is impossible to speak in praise. It is jerky, ungrammatical, and created by himself in defiance of rules--almost as completely as that created by Carlyle. To readers who have taught themselves to regard language, it must therefore be unpleasant. But the critic is driven to feel the weakness of his criticism, when he acknowledges to himself--as he is compelled in all honesty to do--that with the language, such as it is, the writer has satisfied the great mass of the readers of his country. Both these great writers have satisfied the readers of their own pages; but both have done infinite harm by creating a school of imitators. No young novelist should ever dare to imitate the style of Dickens. If such a one wants a model for his language, let him take Thackeray.
Bulwer, or Lord Lytton,--but I think that he is still better known by his earlier name,--was a man of very great parts. Better educated than either of those I have named before him, he was always able to use his erudition, and he thus produced novels from which very much not only may be but must be learned by his readers. He thoroughly understood the political status of his own country, a subject on which, I think, Dickens was marvellously ignorant, and which Thackeray had never studied. He had read extensively, and was always apt to give his readers the benefit of what he knew. The result has been that very much more than amusement may be obtained from Bulwer's novels. There is also a brightness about them--the result rather of thought than of imagination, of study and of care, than of mere intellect--which has made many of them excellent in their way. It is perhaps improper to class all his novels together, as he wrote in varied manners, making in his earlier works, such as Pelham and Ernest Maltravers, pictures of a fictitious life, and afterwards pictures of life as he believed it to be, as in My Novel and The Caxtons. But from all of them there comes the same flavour of an effort to produce effect. The effects are produced, but it would have been better if the flavour had not been there.
I cannot say of Bulwer as I have of the other novelists whom I have named that he lived with his characters. He lived with his work, with the doctrines which at the time he wished to preach, thinking always of the effects which he wished to produce; but I do not think he ever knew his own personages,--and therefore neither do we know them. Even Pelham and Eugene Aram are not human beings to us, as are Pickwick, and Colonel Newcombe, and Mrs. Poyser.
In his plots Bulwer has generally been simple, facile, and successful. The reader never feels with him, as he does with Wilkie Collins, that it is all plot, or, as with George Eliot, that there is no plot. The story comes naturally without calling for too much attention, and is thus proof of the completeness of the man's intellect. His language is clear, good, intelligible English, but it is defaced by mannerism. In all that he did, affectation was his fault.
How shall I speak of my dear old friend Charles Lever, and his rattling, jolly, joyous, swearing Irishmen. Surely never did a sense of vitality come so constantly from a man's pen, nor from man's voice, as from his! I knew him well for many years, and whether in sickness or in health, I have never come across him without finding him to be running over with wit and fun. Of all the men I have encountered, he was the surest fund of drollery. I have known many witty men, many who could say good things, many who would sometimes be ready to say them when wanted, though they would sometimes fail;--but he never failed. Rouse him in the middle of the night, and wit would come from him before he was half awake. And yet he never monopolised the talk, was never a bore. He would take no more than his own share of the words spoken, and would yet seem to brighten all that was said during the night. His earlier novels--the later I have not read--are just like his conversation. The fun never flags, and to me, when I read them, they were never tedious. As to character he can hardly be said to have produced it. Corney Delaney, the old manservant, may perhaps be named as an exception.
Lever's novels will not live long,--even if they may be said to be alive now,--because it is so. What was his manner of working I do not know, but I should think it must have been very quick, and that he never troubled himself on the subject, except when he was seated with a pen in his hand.
Charlotte Bronte was surely a marvellous woman. If it could
be right to judge the work of a novelist from one small portion of one novel,
and to say of an author that he is to be accounted as strong as he shows
himself to be in his strongest morsel of work, I should be inclined to put Miss
Bronte very high indeed. I know no interest more thrilling than that which she
has been able to throw into the characters of
In Vilette, too, and in Shirley, there is to be found human life as natural and as real, though in circumstances not so full of interest as those told in Jane Eyre. The character of Paul in the former of the two is a wonderful study. She must herself have been in love with some Paul when she wrote the book, and have been determined to prove to herself that she was capable of loving one whose exterior circumstances were mean and in every way unprepossessing.
There is no writer of the present day who has so much puzzled me by his eccentricities, impracticabilities, and capabilities as Charles Reade. I look upon him as endowed almost with genius, but as one who has not been gifted by nature with ordinary powers of reasoning. He can see what is grandly noble and admire it with all his heart. He can see, too, what is foully vicious and hate it with equal ardour. But in the common affairs of life he cannot see what is right or wrong; and as he is altogether unwilling to be guided by the opinion of others, he is constantly making mistakes in his literary career, and subjecting himself to reproach which he hardly deserves. He means to be honest. He means to be especially honest,--more honest than other people. He has written a book called The Eighth Commandment on behalf of honesty in literary transactions,--a wonderful work, which has I believe been read by a very few. I never saw a copy except that in my own library, or heard of any one who knew the book. Nevertheless it is a volume that must have taken very great labour, and have been written,--as indeed he declares that it was written,--without the hope of pecuniary reward. He makes an appeal to the British Parliament and British people on behalf of literary honesty, declaring that should he fail--"I shall have to go on blushing for the people I was born among." And yet of all the writers of my day he has seemed to me to understand literary honesty the least. On one occasion, as he tells us in this book, he bought for a certain sum from a French author the right of using a plot taken from a play,--which he probably might have used without such purchase, and also without infringing any international copyright act. The French author not unnaturally praises him for the transaction, telling him that he is "un vrai gentleman." The plot was used by Reade in a novel; and a critic discovering the adaptation, made known his discovery to the public. Whereupon the novelist became angry, called his critic a pseudonymuncle, and defended himself by stating the fact of his own purchase. In all this he seems to me to ignore what we all mean when we talk of literary plagiarism and literary honesty. The sin of which the author is accused is not that of taking another man's property, but of passing off as his own creation that which he does not himself create. When an author puts his name to a book he claims to have written all that there is therein, unless he makes direct signification to the contrary. Some years subsequently there arose another similar question, in which Mr. Reade's opinion was declared even more plainly, and certainly very much more publicly. In a tale which he wrote he inserted a dialogue which he took from Swift, and took without any acknowledgment. As might have been expected, one of the critics of the day fell foul of him for this barefaced plagiarism. The author, however, defended himself, with much abuse of the critic, by asserting, that whereas Swift had found the jewel he had supplied the setting;--an argument in which there was some little wit, and would have been much excellent truth, had he given the words as belonging to Swift and not to himself.
The novels of a man possessed of so singular a mind must themselves be very strange,--and they are strange. It has generally been his object to write down some abuse with which he has been particularly struck,--the harshness, for instance, with which paupers or lunatics are treated, or the wickedness of certain classes,--and he always, I think, leaves upon his readers an idea of great earnestness of purpose. But he has always left at the same time on my mind so strong a conviction that he has not really understood his subject, that I have ever found myself taking the part of those whom he has accused. So good a heart, and so wrong a head, surely no novelist ever before had combined! In storytelling he has occasionally been almost great. Among his novels I would especially recommend The Cloister and the Hearth. I do not know that in this work, or in any, that he has left a character that will remain; but he has written some of his scenes so brightly that to read them would always be a pleasure.
Of Wilkie Collins it is impossible for a true critic not to speak with admiration, because he has excelled all his contemporaries in a certain most difficult branch of his art; but as it is a branch which I have not myself at all cultivated, it is not unnatural that his work should be very much lost upon me individually. When I sit down to write a novel I do not at all know, and I do not very much care, how it is to end. Wilkie Collins seems so to construct his that he not only, before writing, plans everything on, down to the minutest detail, from the beginning to the end; but then plots it all back again, to see that there is no piece of necessary dove-tailing which does not dove-tail with absolute accuracy. The construction is most minute and most wonderful. But I can never lose the taste of the construction. The author seems always to be warning me to remember that something happened at exactly half-past two o'clock on Tuesday morning; or that a woman disappeared from the road just fifteen yards beyond the fourth mile-stone. One is constrained by mysteries and hemmed in by difficulties, knowing, however, that the mysteries will be made clear, and the difficulties overcome at the end of the third volume. Such work gives me no pleasure. I am, however, quite prepared to acknowledge that the want of pleasure comes from fault of my intellect.
There are two ladies of whom I would fain say a word, though I feel that I am making my list too long, in order that I may declare how much I have admired their work. They are Annie Thackeray and Rhoda Broughton. I have known them both, and have loved the former almost as though she belonged to me. No two writers were ever more dissimilar,--except in this that they are both feminine. Miss Thackeray's characters are sweet, charming, and quite true to human nature. In her writings she is always endeavouring to prove that good produces good, and evil evil. There is not a line of which she need be ashamed,--not a sentiment of which she should not be proud. But she writes like a lazy writer who dislikes her work, and who allows her own want of energy to show itself in her pages.
Miss Broughton, on the other hand, is full of
energy,--though she too, I think, can become tired over her work. She, however,
does take the trouble to make her personages stand upright on the ground. And
she has the gift of making them speak as men and women do speak. "You beast!" said
There is one other name, without which the list of the best known English novelists of my own time would certainly be incomplete, and that is the name of the present Prime Minister of England. Mr. Disraeli has written so many novels, and has been so popular as a novelist that, whether for good or for ill, I feel myself compelled to speak of him. He began his career as an author early in life, publishing Vivian Grey when he was twenty-three years old. He was very young for such work, though hardly young enough to justify the excuse that he makes in his own preface, that it is a book written by a boy. Dickens was, I think, younger when he wrote his Sketches by Boz, and as young when he was writing the Pickwick Papers. It was hardly longer ago than the other day when Mr. Disraeli brought out Lothair, and between the two there were eight or ten others. To me they have all had the same flavour of paint and unreality. In whatever he has written he has affected something which has been intended to strike his readers as uncommon and therefore grand. Because he has been bright and a man of genius, he has carried his object as regards the young. He has struck them with astonishment and aroused in their imagination ideas of a world more glorious, more rich, more witty, more enterprising, than their own. But the glory has been the glory of pasteboard, and the wealth has been a wealth of tinsel. The wit has been the wit of hairdressers, and the enterprise has been the enterprise of mountebanks. An audacious conjurer has generally been his hero,--some youth who, by wonderful cleverness, can obtain success by every intrigue that comes to his hand. Through it all there is a feeling of stage properties, a smell of hair-oil, an aspect of buhl, a remembrance of tailors, and that pricking of the conscience which must be the general accompaniment of paste diamonds. I can understand that Mr. Disraeli should by his novels have instigated many a young man and many a young woman on their way in life, but I cannot understand that he should have instigated any one to good. Vivian Grey has had probably as many followers as Jack Sheppard, and has led his followers in the same direction.
Lothair, which is as yet Mr. Disraeli's last work, and, I
think, undoubtedly his worst, has been defended on a plea somewhat similar to
that by which he has defended Vivian Grey. As that was written when he was too
young, so was the other when he was too old,--too old for work of that nature,
though not too old to be Prime Minister. If his mind were so occupied with
greater things as to allow him to write such a work, yet his judgment should
have sufficed to induce him to destroy it when written. Here that flavour of
hair-oil, that flavour of false jewels, that remembrance of tailors, comes out
stronger than in all the others. Lothair is falser even than Vivian Grey, and
Lady Corisande, the daughter of the Duchess, more inane and unwomanlike than
Literary criticism in the present day has become a profession,--but it has ceased to be an art. Its object is no longer that of proving that certain literary work is good and other literary work is bad, in accordance with rules which the critic is able to define. English criticism at present rarely even pretends to go so far as this. It attempts, in the first place, to tell the public whether a book be or be not worth public attention; and, in the second place, so to describe the purport of the work as to enable those who have not time or inclination for reading it to feel that by a short cut they can become acquainted with its contents. Both these objects, if fairly well carried out, are salutary. Though the critic may not be a profound judge himself; though not unfrequently he be a young man making his first literary attempts, with tastes and judgment still unfixed, yet he probably has a conscience in the matter, and would not have been selected for that work had he not shown some aptitude for it. Though he may be not the best possible guide to the undiscerning, he will be better than no guide at all. Real substantial criticism must, from its nature, be costly, and that which the public wants should at any rate be cheap. Advice is given to many thousands, which, though it may not be the best advice possible, is better than no advice at all. Then that description of the work criticised, that compressing of the much into very little,--which is the work of many modern critics or reviewers,--does enable many to know something of what is being said, who without it would know nothing.
I do not think it is incumbent on me at present to name periodicals in which this work is well done, and to make complaints of others by which it is scamped. I should give offence, and might probably be unjust. But I think I may certainly say that as some of these periodicals are certainly entitled to great praise for the manner in which the work is done generally, so are others open to very severe censure,--and that the praise and that the censure are chiefly due on behalf of one virtue and its opposite vice. It is not critical ability that we have a right to demand, or its absence that we are bound to deplore. Critical ability for the price we pay is not attainable. It is a faculty not peculiar to Englishmen, and when displayed is very frequently not appreciated. But that critics should be honest we have a right to demand, and critical dishonesty we are bound to expose. If the writer will tell us what he thinks, though his thoughts be absolutely vague and useless, we can forgive him; but when he tells us what he does not think, actuated either by friendship or by animosity, then there should be no pardon for him. This is the sin in modern English criticism of which there is most reason to complain.
It is a lamentable fact that men and women lend themselves to this practice who are neither vindictive nor ordinarily dishonest. It has become "the custom of the trade," under the veil of which excuse so many tradesmen justify their malpractices! When a struggling author learns that so much has been done for A by the Barsetshire Gazette, so much for B by the Dillsborough Herald, and, again, so much for C by that powerful metropolitan organ the Evening Pulpit, and is told also that A and B and C have been favoured through personal interest, he also goes to work among the editors, or the editors' wives,--or perhaps, if he cannot reach their wives, with their wives' first or second cousins. When once the feeling has come upon an editor or a critic that he may allow himself to be influenced by other considerations than the duty h owes to the public, all sense of critical or of editorial honesty falls from him at once. Facilis descensus Averni. In a very short time that editorial honesty becomes ridiculous to himself. It is for other purpose that he wields the power; and when he is told what is his duty, and what should be his conduct, the preacher of such doctrine seems to him to be quixotic. "Where have you lived, my friend, for the last twenty years," he says in spirit, if not in word, "that you come out now with such stuff as old-fashioned as this?" And thus dishonesty begets dishonesty, till dishonesty seems to be beautiful. How nice to be good-natured! How glorious to assist struggling young authors, especially if the young author be also a pretty woman! How gracious to oblige a friend! Then the motive, though still pleasing, departs further from the border of what is good. In what way can the critic better repay the hospitality of his wealthy literary friend than by good-natured criticism,--or more certainly ensure for himself a continuation of hospitable favours?
Some years since a critic of the day, a gentleman well known then in literary circles, showed me the manuscript of a book recently published,--the work of a popular author. It was handsomely bound, and was a valuable and desirable possession. It had just been given to him by the author as an acknowledgment for a laudatory review in one of the leading journals of the day. As I was expressly asked whether I did not regard such a token as a sign of grace both in the giver and in the receiver, I said that I thought it should neither have been given nor have been taken. My theory was repudiated with scorn, and I was told that I was strait-laced, visionary, and impracticable! In all that the damage did not lie in the fact of that one present, but in the feeling on the part of the critic that his office was not debased by the acceptance of presents from those whom he criticised. This man was a professional critic, bound by his contract with certain employers to review such books as were sent to him. How could he, when he had received a valuable present for praising one book, censure another by the same author?
While I write this I well know that what I say, if it be ever noticed at all, will be taken as a straining at gnats, as a pretence of honesty, or at any rate as an exaggeration of scruples. I have said the same thing before, and have been ridiculed for saying it. But none the less am I sure that English literature generally is suffering much under this evil. All those who are struggling for success have forced upon them the idea that their strongest efforts should be made in touting for praise. Those who are not familiar with the lives of authors will hardly believe how low will be the forms which their struggles will take:--how little presents will be sent to men who write little articles; how much flattery may be expended even on the keeper of a circulating library; with what profuse and distant genuflexions approaches are made to the outside railing of the temple which contains within it the great thunderer of some metropolitan periodical publication! The evil here is not only that done to the public when interested counsel is given to them, but extends to the debasement of those who have at any rate considered themselves fit to provide literature for the public.
I am satisfied that the remedy for this evil must lie in the conscience and deportment of authors themselves. If once the feeling could be produced that it is disgraceful for an author to ask for praise,--and demands for praise are, I think, disgraceful in every walk of life,--the practice would gradually fall into the hands only of the lowest, and that which is done only by the lowest soon becomes despicable even to them. The sin, when perpetuated with unflagging labour, brings with it at best very poor reward. That work of running after critics, editors, publishers, the keepers of circulating libraries, and their clerks, is very hard, and must be very disagreeable. He who does it must feel himself to be dishonoured,--or she. It may perhaps help to sell an edition, but can never make an author successful.
I think it may be laid down as a golden rule in literature that there should be no intercourse at all between an author and his critic. The critic, as critic, should not know his author, nor the author, as author, his critic. As censure should beget no anger, so should praise beget no gratitude. The young author should feel that criticisms fall upon him as dew or hail from heaven,--which, as coming from heaven, man accepts as fate. Praise let the author try to obtain by wholesome effort; censure let him avoid, if possible, by care and industry. But when they come, let him take them as coming from some source which he cannot influence, and with which be should not meddle.
I know no more disagreeable trouble into which an author may plunge himself than of a quarrel with his critics, or any more useless labour than that of answering them. It is wise to presume, at any rate, that the reviewer has simply done his duty, and has spoken of the book according to the dictates of his conscience. Nothing can be gained by combating the reviewer's opinion. If the book which he has disparaged be good, his judgment will be condemned by the praise of others; if bad, his judgment will he confirmed by others. Or if, unfortunately, the criticism of the day be in so evil a condition generally that such ultimate truth cannot be expected, the author may be sure that his efforts made on behalf of his own book will not set matters right. If injustice be done him, let him bear it. To do so is consonant with the dignity of the position which he ought to assume. To shriek, and scream, and sputter, to threaten actions, and to swear about the town that he has been belied and defamed in that he has been accused of bad grammar or a false metaphor, of a dull chapter, or even of a borrowed heroine, will leave on the minds of the public nothing but a sense of irritated impotence.
If, indeed, there should spring from an author's work any assertion by a critic injurious to the author's honour, if the author be accused of falsehood or of personal motives which are discreditable to him, then, indeed, he may be bound to answer the charge. It is hoped, however, that he may be able to do so with clean hands, or he will so stir the mud in the pool as to come forth dirtier than he went into it.
I have lived much among men by whom the English criticism of
the day has been vehemently abused. I have heard it said that to the public it
is a false guide, and that to authors it is never a trustworthy
Such are not the critics of the day, of whom we are now speaking. In the literary world as it lives at present some writer is selected for the place of critic to a newspaper, generally some young writer, who for so many shillings a column shall review whatever book is sent to him and express an opinion,--reading the book through for the purpose, if the amount of honorarium as measured with the amount of labour will enable him to do so. A labourer must measure his work by his pay or he cannot live. From criticism such as this must far the most part be, the general reader has no right to expect philosophical analysis, or literary judgment on which confidence may be placed. But he probably may believe that the books praised will be better than the books censured, and that those which are praised by periodicals which never censure are better worth his attention than those which are not noticed. And readers will also find that by devoting an hour or two on Saturday to the criticisms of the week, they will enable themselves to have an opinion about the books of the day. The knowledge so acquired will not be great, nor will that little be lasting; but it adds something to the pleasure of life to be able to talk on subjects of which others are speaking; and the man who has sedulously gone through the literary notices in the Spectator and the Saturday may perhaps be justified in thinking himself as well able to talk about the new book as his friend who has bought that new book on the tapis, and who, not improbably, obtained his information from the same source.
As an author, I have paid careful attention to the reviews which have been written on my own work; and I think that now I well know where I may look for a little instruction, where I may expect only greasy adulation, where I shall be cut up into mince-meat for the delight of those who love sharp invective, and where I shall find an equal mixture of praise and censure so adjusted, without much judgment, as to exhibit the impartiality of the newspaper and its staff. Among it all there is much chaff, which I have learned bow to throw to the winds, with equal disregard whether it praises or blames;--but I have also found some corn, on which I have fed and nourished myself, and for which I have been thankful.
I will now go back to the year 1867, in which I was still
living at Waltham Cross. I had some time since bought the house there which I
had at first hired, and added rooms to it, and made it
for our purposes very comfortable. It was, however, a rickety old place,
requiring much repair, and occasionally not as weathertight as it should be. We
had a domain there sufficient for the cows, and for the making of our butter
and hay. For strawberries, asparagus, green peas, out-of-door peaches, for
roses especially, and such everyday luxuries, no place was ever more excellent.
It was only twelve miles from
The work that I did during the twelve years that I remained
there, from 1859 to 1871, was certainly very great. I feel confident that in
amount no other writer contributed so much during that time to English
literature. Over and above my novels, I
wrote political articles, critical, social, and sporting articles, for
periodicals, without number. I did the work of a surveyor of the General Post
Office, and so did it as to give the authorities of the department no slightest
pretext for fault-finding. I hunted always at least twice a week. I was
frequent in the whist-room at the Garrick.
I lived much in society in
All those I think who have lived as literary men,--working daily as literary labourers,--will agree with me that three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write. But then he should so have trained himself that he shall be able to work continuously during those three hours,--so have tutored his mind that it shall not be necessary for him to sit nibbling his pen, and gazing at the wall before him, till he shall have found the words with which he wants to express his ideas. It had at this time become my custom,--and it still is my custom, though of late I have become a little lenient to myself,--to write with my watch before me, and to require from myself 250 words every quarter of an hour. I have found that the 250 words have been forthcoming as regularly as my watch went. But my three hours were not devoted entirely to writing. I always began my task by reading the work of the day before, an operation which would take me half an hour, and which consisted chiefly in weighing with my ear the sound of the words and phrases. I would strongly recommend this practice to all tyros in writing. That their work should be read after it has been written is a matter of course,--that it should be read twice at least before it goes to the printers, I take to be a matter of course. But by reading what he has last written, just before he recommences his task, the writer will catch the tone and spirit of what he is then saying, and will avoid the fault of seeming to be unlike himself. This division of time allowed me to produce over ten pages of an ordinary novel volume a day, and if kept up through ten months, would have given as its results three novels of three volumes each in the year;--the precise amount which so greatly acerbated the publisher in Paternoster Row, and which must at any rate be felt to be quite as much as the novel-readers of the world can want from the hands of one man.
I have never written three novels in a year, but by following the plan above described I have written more than as much as three volumes; and by adhering to it over a course of years, I have been enabled to have always on hand,--for some time back now,--one or two or even three unpublished novels in my desk beside me. Were I to die now there are three such besides The Prime Minister, half of which has only yet been issued. One of these has been six years finished, and has never seen the light since it was first tied up in the wrapper which now contains it. I look forward with some grim pleasantry to its publication after another period of six years, and to the declaration of the critics that it has been the work of a period of life at which the power of writing novels had passed from me. Not improbably, however, these pages may be printed first.
In 1866 and 1867 The Last Chronicle of Barset was brought out by George Smith in sixpenny monthly numbers. I do not know that this mode of publication had been tried before, or that it answered very well on this occasion. Indeed the shilling magazines had interfered greatly with the success of novels published in numbers without other accompanying matter. The public finding that so much might be had for a shilling, in which a portion of one or more novels was always included, were unwilling to spend their money on the novel alone. Feeling that this certainly had become the case in reference to novels published in shilling numbers, Mr. Smith and I determined to make the experiment with sixpenny parts. As he paid me 3000 for the use of my MS., the loss, if any, did not fall upon me. If I remember right the enterprise was not altogether successful.
Taking it as a whole, I regard this as the best novel I have written. I was never quite satisfied with the development of the plot, which consisted in the loss of a cheque, of a charge made against a clergyman for stealing it, and of absolute uncertainty on the part of the clergyman himself as to the manner in which the cheque had found its way into his hands. I cannot quite make myself believe that even such a man as Mr. Crawley could have forgotten how he got it, nor would the generous friend who was anxious to supply his wants have supplied them by tendering the cheque of a third person. Such fault I acknowledge,--acknowledging at the same time that I have never been capable of constructing with complete success the intricacies of a plot that required to be unravelled. But while confessing so much, I claim to have portrayed the mind of the unfortunate man with great accuracy and great delicacy. The pride, the humility, the manliness, the weakness, the conscientious rectitude and bitter prejudices of Mr. Crawley were, I feel, true to nature and well described. The surroundings too are good. Mrs. Proudie at the palace is a real woman; and the poor old dean dying at the deanery is also real. The archdeacon in his victory is very real. There is a true savour of English country life all through the book. It was with many misgivings that I killed my old friend Mrs. Proudie. I could not, I think, have done it, but for a resolution taken and declared under circumstances of great momentary pressure.
It was thus that it came about. I was sitting one morning at
work upon the novel at the end of the long drawing-room of the Athenaeum
Club,--as was then my wont when I had slept the previous night in
I have sometimes regretted the deed, so great was my delight in writing about Mrs. Proudie, so thorough was my knowledge of all the shades of her character. It was not only that she was a tyrant, a bully, a would-be priestess, a very vulgar woman, and one who would send headlong to the nethermost pit all who disagreed with her; but that at the same time she was conscientious, by no means a hypocrite, really believing in the brimstone which she threatened, and anxious to save the souls around her from its horrors. And as her tyranny increased so did the bitterness of the moments of her repentance increase, in that she knew herself to be a tyrant,--till that bitterness killed her. Since her time others have grown up equally dear to me,--Lady Glencora and her husband, for instance; but I have never dissevered myself from Mrs. Proudie, and still live much in company with her ghost.
I have in a previous chapter said how I wrote Can You Forgive Her? after the plot of a play which had been rejected,--which play had been called The Noble Jilt. Some year or two after the completion of The Last Chronicle, I was asked by the manager of a theatre to prepare a piece for his stage, and I did so, taking the plot of this novel. I called the comedy Did He Steal It? But my friend the manager did not approve of my attempt. My mind at this time was less attentive to such a matter than when dear old George Bartley nearly crushed me by his criticism,--so that I forget the reason given. I have little doubt but that the manager was right. That he intended to express a true opinion, and would have been glad to have taken the piece had he thought it suitable, I am quite sure.
I have sometimes wished to see during my lifetime a combined
republication of those tales which are occupied with the fictitious
In 1867 I made up my mind to take a step in life which was
not unattended with peril, which many would call rash, and which, when taken, I
should be sure at some period to regret. This step was the resignation of my
place in the Post Office. I have described how it was that I contrived to
combine the performance of its duties with my other avocations in life. I got
up always very early; but even this did not suffice. I worked always on
Sundays,--as to which no scruple of religion made me unhappy,--and not
unfrequently I was driven to work at night. In the winter when hunting was
going on, I had to keep myself very much on the alert. And during the
The exact time chosen, the autumn of 1867, was selected because I was then about to undertake other literary work in editing a new magazine,--of which I shall speak very shortly. But in addition to these reasons there was another, which was, I think, at last the actuating cause. When Sir Rowland Hill left the Post Office, and my brother-in-law, Mr. Tilley, became Secretary in his place, I applied for the vacant office of Under-Secretary. Had I obtained this I should have given up my hunting, have given up much of my literary work,--at any rate would have edited no magazine,--and would have returned to the habit of my youth in going daily to the General Post Office. There was very much against such a change in life. The increase of salary would not have amounted to above 400 a year, and I should have lost much more than that in literary remuneration. I should have felt bitterly the slavery of attendance at an office, from which I had then been exempt for five-and-twenty years. I should, too, have greatly missed the sport which I loved. But I was attached to the department, had imbued myself with a thorough love of letters,--I mean the letters which are carried by the post,--and was anxious for their welfare as though they were all my own. In short, I wished to continue the connection. I did not wish, moreover, that any younger officer should again pass over my head. I believed that I bad been a valuable public servant, and I will own to a feeling existing at that time that I had not altogether been well treated. I was probably wrong in this. I had been allowed to hunt,--and to do as I pleased, and to say what I liked, and had in that way received my reward. I applied for the office, but Mr. Scudamore was appointed to it. He no doubt was possessed of gifts which I did not possess. He understood the manipulation of money and the use of figures, and was a great accountant. I think that I might have been more useful in regard to the labours and wages of the immense body of men employed by the Post Office. However, Mr. Scudamore was appointed; and I made up my mind that I would fall back upon my old intention, and leave the department. I think I allowed two years to pass before I took the step; and the day on which I sent the letter was to me most melancholy.
The rule of the service in regard to pensions is very just. A man shall serve till he is sixty before he is entitled to a pension,--unless his health fail him. At that age he is entitled to one-sixtieth of his salary for every year he has served up to forty years. If his health do fail him so that he is unfit for further work before the age named, then he may go with a pension amounting to one-sixtieth for every year he has served. I could not say that my health had failed me, and therefore I went without any pension. I have since felt occasionally that it has been supposed that I left the Post Office under pressure,--because I attended to hunting and to my literary work rather than to postal matters. As it had for many years been my ambition to be a thoroughly good servant to the public, and to give to the public much more than I took in the shape of salary, this feeling has sometimes annoyed me. And as I am still a little sore on the subject, and as I would not have it imagined after my death that I had slighted the public service to which I belonged, I will venture here to give the reply which was sent to the letter containing my resignation.
"GENERAL POST OFFICE, October 9th, 1867.
"Sir,--I have received your letter of the 3d inst., in which you tender your resignation as Surveyor in the Post Office service, and state as your reason for this step that you have adopted another profession, the exigencies of which are so great as to make you feel you cannot give to the duties of the Post Office that amount of attention which you consider the Postmaster-General has a right to expect.
"You have for many years ranked among the most conspicuous members of the Post Office, which, on several occasions when you have been employed on large and difficult matters, has reaped much benefit from the great abilities which you have been able to place at its disposal; and in mentioning this, I have been especially glad to record that, notwithstanding the many calls upon your time, you have never permitted your other avocations to interfere with your Post Office work, which has been faithfully and indeed energetically performed." (There was a touch of irony in this word "energetically," but still it did not displease me.)
"In accepting your resignation, which he does with much regret, the Duke of Montrose desires me to convey to you his own sense of the value of your services, and to state how alive he is to the loss which will be sustained by the department in which you have long been an ornament, and where your place will with difficulty be replaced.
(Signed) "J. TILLEY."
Readers will no doubt think that this is official flummery; and so in fact it is. I do not at all imagine that I was an ornament to the Post Office, and have no doubt that the secretaries and assistant-secretaries very often would have been glad to be rid of me; but the letter may be taken as evidence that I did not allow my literary enterprises to interfere with my official work. A man who takes public money without earning it is to me so odious that I can find no pardon for him in my heart. I have known many such, and some who have craved the power to do so. Nothing would annoy me more than to think that I should even be supposed to have been among the number.
And so my connection was dissolved with the department to which I had applied the thirty-three best years of my life;--I must not say devoted, for devotion implies an entire surrender, and I certainly had found time for other occupations. It is however absolutely true that during all those years I had thought very much more about the Post Office than I had of my literary work, and had given to it a more unflagging attention. Up to this time I had never been angry, never felt myself injured or unappreciated in that my literary efforts were slighted. But I had suffered very much bitterness on that score in reference to the Post Office; and I had suffered not only on my own personal behalf, but also and more bitterly when I could not promise to be done the things which I thought ought to be done for the benefit of others. That the public in little villages should be enabled to buy postage stamps; that they should have their letters delivered free and at an early hour; that pillar letter-boxes should be put up for them (of which accommodation in the streets and ways of England I was the originator, having, however, got the authority for the erection of the first at St. Heliers in Jersey); that the letter-carriers and sorters should not be overworked; that they should be adequately paid, and have some hours to themselves, especially on Sundays; above all, that they should be made to earn their wages and latterly that they should not be crushed by what I thought to be the damnable system of so-called merit;--these were the matters by which I was stirred to what the secretary was pleased to call energetic performance of my duties. How I loved, when I was contradicted,--as I was very often and, no doubt, very properly,--to do instantly as I was bid, and then to prove that what I was doing was fatuous, dishonest, expensive, and impracticable! And then there were feuds--such delicious feuds! I was always an anti-Hillite, acknowledging, indeed, the great thing which Sir Rowland Hill had done for the country, but believing him to be entirely unfit to manage men or to arrange labour. It was a pleasure to me to differ from him on all occasions;--and, looking back now, I think that in all such differences I was right.
Having so steeped myself, as it were, in postal waters, I could not go out from them without a regret. I wonder whether I did anything to improve the style of writing in official reports! I strove to do so gallantly, never being contented with the language of my own reports unless it seemed to have been so written as to be pleasant to be read. I took extreme delight in writing them, not allowing myself to re-copy them, never having them re-copied by others, but sending them up with their original blots and erasures,--if blots and erasures there were. It is hardly manly, I think, that a man should search after a fine neatness at the expense of so much waste labour; or that he should not be able to exact from himself the necessity of writing words in the form in which they should be read. If a copy be required, let it be taken afterwards,--by hand or by machine, as may be. But the writer of a letter, if he wish his words to prevail with the reader, should send them out as written by himself, by his own hand, with his own marks, his own punctuation, correct or incorrect, with the evidence upon them that they have come out from his own mind.
And so the cord was cut, and I was a free man to run about the world where I would.
A little before the date of my resignation, Mr. James
Virtue, the printer and publisher, had asked me to edit a new magazine for him,
and had offered me a salary of 1000 a year for the work over and above what
might be due to me for my own contributions. I had known something of
magazines, and did not believe that they were generally very lucrative. They
were, I thought, useful to some publishers as bringing grist to the mill; but
as Mr. Virtue's business was chiefly that of a printer, in which he was very
successful, this consideration could hardly have had much weight with him. I
very strongly advised him to abandon the project, pointing out to him that a
large expenditure would be necessary to carry on the magazine In accordance
with my views,--that I could not be concerned in it on any other understanding,
and that the chances of an adequate return to him of his money were very
small. He came down to
Upon this I consented to undertake the duty. My terms as to salary were those which he had himself proposed. The special stipulations which I demanded were: firstly, that I should put whatever I pleased into the magazine, or keep whatever I pleased out of it, without interference; secondly, that I should, from month to month, give in to him a list of payments to be made to contributors, and that he should pay them, allowing me to fix the amounts; and, thirdly, that the arrangement should remain in force, at any rate, for two years. To all this he made no objection; and during the time that he and I were thus bound together he not only complied with these stipulations, but also with every suggestion respecting the magazine that I made to him. If the use of large capital, combined with wide liberality and absolute confidence on the part of the proprietor, and perpetual good humour, would have produced success, our magazine certainly would have succeeded.
In all such enterprises the name is the first difficulty. There is the name which has a meaning and the name which has none--of which two the name that has none is certainly the better, as it never belies itself. The Liberal may cease to be liberal, or The Fortnightly, alas! to come out once a fortnight. But The Cornhill and The Argosy are under any set of circumstances as well adapted to these names as under any other. Then there is the proprietary name, or, possibly, the editorial name, which is only amiss because the publication may change hands. Blackwood's has, indeed, always remained Blackwood's, and Fraser's, though it has been bought and sold, still does not sound amiss. Mr. Virtue, fearing the too attractive qualities of his own name, wished the magazine to be called Anthony Trollope's. But to this I objected eagerly. There were then about the town,--still are about the town,--two or three literary gentlemen, by whom to have had myself editored would have driven me an exile from my country. After much discussion, we settled on St. Paul's as the name for our bantling--not as being in any way new, but as enabling it to fall easily into the ranks with many others. If we were to make ourselves in any way peculiar, it was not by our name that we were desirous of doing so.
I do not think that we did make ourselves in any way peculiar,--and yet there was a great struggle made. On the part of the proprietor, I may say that money was spent very freely. On my own part, I may declare that I omitted nothing which I thought might tend to success. I read all manuscripts sent to me, and endeavoured to judge impartially. I succeeded in obtaining the services of an excellent literary corps. During the three years and a half of my editorship I was assisted by Mr. Goschen, Captain Brackenbury, Edward Dicey, Percy Fitzgerald, H. A. Layard, Allingham, Leslie Stephen, Mrs. Lynn Linton, my brother, T. A. Trollope, and his wife, Charles Lever, E. Arnold, Austin Dobson, R. A. Proctor, Lady Pollock, G.
H. Lewes, C. Mackay, Hardman (of the Times), George Macdonald, W.
R. Greg, Mrs. Oliphant, Sir Charles Trevelyan, Leoni Levi, Dutton
Cook--and others, whose names would make
the list too long. It might have been thought that with such aid the
It did fail, for it never paid its way. It reached, if I remember right, a circulation of nearly 10,000--perhaps on one or two occasions may have gone beyond that. But the enterprise had been set on foot on a system too expensive to be made lucrative by anything short of a very large circulation. Literary merit will hardly set a magazine afloat, though, when afloat, it will sustain it. Time is wanted--or the hubbub, and flurry, and excitement created by ubiquitous sesquipedalian advertisement. Merit and time together may be effective, but they must be backed by economy and patience.
I think, upon the whole, that publishers themselves have been the best editors of magazines, when they have been able to give time and intelligence to the work. Nothing certainly has ever been done better than Blackwood's. The Cornhill, too, after Thackeray had left it and before Leslie Stephen had taken it, seemed to be in quite efficient hands--those hands being the hands of proprietor and publisher. The proprietor, at any rate, knows what he wants and what he can afford, and is not so frequently tempted to fall into that worst of literary quicksands, the publishing of matter not for the sake of the readers, but for that of the writer. I did not so sin very often, but often enough to feel that I was a coward. "My dear friend, my dear friend, this is trash!" It is so hard to speak thus--but so necessary for an editor! We all remember the thorn in his pillow of which Thackeray complained. Occasionally I know that I did give way on behalf of some literary aspirant whose work did not represent itself to me as being good; and as often as I did so, I broke my trust to those who employed me. Now, I think that such editors as Thackeray and myself,--if I may, for the moment, be allowed to couple men so unequal,--will always be liable to commit such faults, but that the natures of publishers and proprietors will be less soft.
Nor do I know why the pages of a magazine should be considered to be open to any aspirant who thinks that he can write an article, or why the manager of a magazine should be doomed to read all that may be sent to him. The object of the proprietor is to produce a periodical that shall satisfy the public, which he may probably best do by securing the services of writers of acknowledged ability.
Very early in life, very soon after I had become a clerk in
Independently of this, I have always thought that to sit in the British Parliament should be the highest object of ambition to every educated Englishman. I do not by this mean to suggest that every educated Englishman should set before himself a seat in Parliament as a probable or even a possible career; but that the man in Parliament has reached a higher position than the man out,--that to serve one's country without pay is the grandest work that a man can do,--that of all studies the study of politics is the one in which a man may make himself most useful to his fellow-creatures,--and that of all lives, public political lives are capable of the highest efforts. So thinking,--though I was aware that fifty-three was too late an age at which to commence a new career,--I resolved with much hesitation that I would make the attempt. Writing now at an age beyond sixty, I can say that my political feelings and convictions have never undergone any change. They are now what they became when I first began to have political feelings and convictions. Nor do I find in myself any tendency to modify them as I have found generally in men as they grow old. I consider myself to be an advanced, but still a Conservative-Liberal, which I regard not only as a possible, but as a rational and consistent phase of political existence. I can, I believe, in a very few words, make known my political theory; and, as I am anxious that any who know aught of me should know that, I will endeavour to do so.
It must, I think, be painful to all men to feel inferiority. It should, I think, be a matter of some pain to all men to feel superiority, unless when it has been won by their own efforts. We do not understand the operations of Almighty wisdom, and are, therefore, unable to tell the causes of the terrible inequalities that we see--why some, why so many, should have so little to make life enjoyable, so much to make it painful, while a few others, not through their own merit, have had gifts poured out to them from a full hand. We acknowledge the hand of God and His wisdom, but still we are struck with awe and horror at the misery of many of our brethren. We who have been born to the superior condition,--for, in this matter, I consider myself to be standing on a platform with dukes and princes, and all others to whom plenty and education and liberty have been given,--cannot, I think, look upon the inane, unintellectual, and tossed-bound life of those who cannot even feed themselves sufficiently by their sweat, without some feeling of injustice, some feeling of pain.
This consciousness of wrong has induced in many enthusiastic but unbalanced minds a desire to set all things right by a proclaimed equality. In their efforts such men have shown how powerless they are in opposing the ordinances of the Creator. For the mind of the thinker and the student is driven to admit, though it be awestruck by apparent injustice, that this inequality is the work of God. Make all men equal to-day, and God has so created them that they shall be all unequal to-morrow. The so-called Conservative, the conscientious, philanthropic Conservative, seeing this, and being surely convinced that such inequalities are of divine origin, tells himself that it is his duty to preserve them. He thinks that the preservation of the welfare of the world depends on the maintenance of those distances between the prince and the peasant by which he finds himself to be surrounded; and, perhaps, I may add, that the duty is not unpleasant, as he feels himself to be one of the princes.
But this man, though he sees something, and sees that very clearly, sees only a little. The divine inequality is apparent to him, but not the equally divine diminution of that inequality. That such diminution is taking place on all sides is apparent enough; but it is apparent to him as an evil, the consummation of which it is his duty to retard. He cannot prevent it; and, therefore, the society to which he belongs is, in his eyes, retrograding. He will even, at times, assist it; and will do so conscientiously, feeling that, under the gentle pressure supplied by him, and with the drags and holdfasts which he may add, the movement would be slower than it would become if subjected to his proclaimed and absolute opponents. Such, I think, are Conservatives; and I speak of men who, with the fear of God before their eyes and the love of their neighbours warm in their hearts, endeavour to do their duty to the best of their ability.
Using the term which is now common, and which will be best understood, I will endeavour to explain how the equally conscientious Liberal is opposed to the Conservative. He is equally aware that these distances are of divine origin, equally averse to any sudden disruption of society in quest of some Utopian blessedness; but he is alive to the fact that these distances are day by day becoming less, and he regards this continual diminution as a series of steps towards that human millennium of which he dreams. He is even willing to help the many to ascend the ladder a little, though he knows, as they come up towards him, he must go down to meet them. What is really in his mind is,--I will not say equality, for the word is offensive, and presents to the imagination of men ideas of communism, of ruin, and insane democracy,--but a tendency towards equality. In following that, however, he knows that he must be hemmed in by safeguards, lest he be tempted to travel too quickly; and, therefore, he is glad to be accompanied on his way by the repressive action of a Conservative opponent. Holding such views, I think I am guilty of no absurdity in calling myself an advanced Conservative-Liberal. A man who entertains in his mind any political doctrine, except as a means of improving the condition of his fellows, I regard as a political intriguer, a charlatan, and a conjurer--as one who thinks that, by a certain amount of wary wire-pulling, he may raise himself in the estimation of the world.
I am aware that this theory of politics will seem to many to be stilted, overstrained, and, as the Americans would say, high-faluten. Many will declare that the majority even of those who call themselves politicians,--perhaps even of those who take an active part in politics,--are stirred by no such feelings as these, and acknowledge no such motives. Men become Tories or Whigs, Liberals or Conservatives, partly by education,--following their fathers,--partly by chance, partly as openings come, partly in accordance with the bent of their minds, but still without any far-fetched reasonings as to distances and the diminution of distances. No doubt it is so; and in the battle of politics, as it goes, men are led further and further away from first causes, till at last a measure is opposed by one simply because it is advocated by another, and Members of Parliament swarm into lobbies, following the dictation of their leaders, and not their own individual judgments. But the principle is at work throughout. To many, though hardly acknowledged, it is still apparent. On almost all it has its effect; though there are the intriguers, the clever conjurers, to whom politics is simply such a game as is billiards or rackets, only played with greater results. To the minds that create and lead and sway political opinion, some such theory is, I think, ever present.
The truth of all this I had long since taken home to myself. I had now been thinking of it for thirty years, and had never doubted. But I had always been aware of a certain visionary weakness about myself in regard to politics. A man, to be useful in Parliament, must be able to confine himself and conform himself, to be satisfied with doing a little bit of a little thing at a time. He must patiently get up everything connected with the duty on mushrooms, and then be satisfied with himself when at last he has induced a Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that he will consider the impost at the first opportunity. He must be content to be beaten six times in order that, on a seventh, his work may be found to be of assistance to some one else. He must remember that he is one out of 650, and be content with 1-650th part of the attention of the nation. If he have grand ideas, he must keep them to himself, unless by chance, he can work his way up to the top of the tree. In short, he must be a practical man. Now I knew that in politics I could never become a practical man. I should never be satisfied with a soft word from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but would always be flinging my overtaxed ketchup in his face.
Nor did it seem to me to be possible that I should ever become a good speaker. I had no special gifts that way, and had not studied the art early enough in life to overcome natural difficulties. I had found that, with infinite labour, I could learn a few sentences by heart, and deliver them, monotonously indeed, but clearly. Or, again, if there were something special to be said, I could say it in a commonplace fashion--but always as though I were in a hurry, and with the fear before me of being thought to be prolix. But I had no power of combining, as a public speaker should always do, that which I had studied with that which occurred to me at the moment. It must be all lesson,--which I found to be best; or else all impromptu,--which was very bad, indeed, unless I had something special on my mind. I was thus aware that I could do no good by going into Parliament--that the time for it, if there could have been a time, had gone by. But still I had an almost insane desire to sit there, and be able to assure myself that my uncle's scorn had not been deserved.
In 1867 it had been suggested to me that, in the event of a dissolution, I should stand for one division of the
In the spring of 1868 I was sent to the
I must, however, exculpate the gentleman who acted as my
agent, from undue persuasion exercised towards me. He was a man who thoroughly
understood Parliament, having sat there himself--and he sits there now at this
moment. He understood
The borough, which returned two members, had long been represented by Sir Henry Edwards, of whom, I think, I am justified in saying that he had contracted a close intimacy with it for the sake of the seat. There had been many contests, many petitions, many void elections, many members, but, through it all, Sir Henry had kept his seat, if not with permanence, yet with a fixity of tenure next door to permanence. I fancy that with a little management between the parties the borough might at this time have returned a member of each colour quietly; but there were spirits there who did not love political quietude, and it was at last decided that there should be two Liberal and two Conservative candidates. Sir Henry was joined by a young man of fortune in quest of a seat, and I was grouped with Mr. Maxwell, the eldest son of Lord Herries, a Scotch Roman Catholic peer, who lives in the neighbourhood.
When the time came I went down to canvass, and spent, I
think, the most wretched fortnight of my manhood. In the first place, I was
subject to a bitter tyranny from grinding vulgar tyrants. They were doing what
they could, or said that they were doing so, to secure me a seat in Parliament,
and I was to be in their hands, at any rate, the period of my candidature. On
one day both of us, Mr. Maxwell and I, wanted to go out hunting. We proposed to
ourselves but the one holiday during this period of intense labour; but I was
assured, as was he also, by a publican who was working for us, that if we
committed such a crime he and all Beverley would desert us. From morning to
evening every day I was taken round the lanes and by-ways of that uninteresting
town, canvassing every voter, exposed to the rain, up to my knees in slush, and
utterly unable to assume that air of triumphant joy with which a jolly,
successful candidate should he invested. At night, every night I had to speak
somewhere,--which was bad; and to listen to the speaking of others,--which was
much worse. When, on one Sunday, I proposed to go to the
But perhaps my strongest sense of discomfort arose from the conviction that my political ideas were all leather and prunella to the men whose votes I was soliciting. They cared nothing for my doctrines, and could not be made to understand that I should have any. I had been brought to Beverley either to beat Sir Henry Edwards,--which, however, no one probably thought to be feasible,--or to cause him the greatest possible amount of trouble, inconvenience, and expense. There were, indeed, two points on which a portion of my wished-for supporters seemed to have opinions, and on both these two points I was driven by my opinions to oppose them. Some were anxious for the Ballot,--which had not then become law,--and some desired the Permissive Bill. I hated, and do hate, both these measures, thinking it to be unworthy of a great people to free itself from the evil results of vicious conduct by unmanly restraints. Undue influence on voters is a great evil from which this country had already done much to emancipate itself by extending electoral divisions and by an increase of independent feeling. These, I thought, and not secret voting, were the weapons by which electoral intimidation should be overcome. And as for drink, I believe in no Parlimentary restraint; but I do believe in the gradual effect of moral teaching and education. But a Liberal, to do any good at Beverley, should have been able to swallow such gnats as those. I would swallow nothing, and was altogether the wrong man.
I knew, from the commencement of my candidature, how it
would be. Of course that well-trained gentleman who condescended to act as my
agent, had understood the case, and I ought to have taken his thoroughly kind
advice. He had seen it all, and had told himself that it was wrong that one so
innocent in such ways as I, so utterly unable to fight such a battle, should be
carried down into Yorkshire merely to spend money and to be annoyed. He could
not have said more than he did say, and I suffered for my obstinacy. Of course
I was not elected. Sir Henry Edwards and his comrade became members for
Beverley, and I was at the bottom of the poll. I paid 400 for my expenses, and
then returned to
My friendly agent in his raillery had of course exaggerated the cost. He had, when I arrived at Beverley, asked me for a cheque for 400, and told me that that sum would suffice. It did suffice. How it came to pass that exactly that sum should be required I never knew, but such was the case. Then there came a petition,--not from me, but from the town. The inquiry was made, the two gentlemen were unseated, the borough was disfranchised, Sir Henry Edwards was put on his trial for some kind of Parliamentary offence and was acquitted. In this way Beverley's privilege as a borough and my Parliamentary ambition were brought to an end at the same time.
When I knew the result I did not altogether regret it. It may be that Beverley might have been brought to political confusion and Sir Henry Edwards relegated to private life without the expenditure of my hard-earned money, and without that fortnight of misery; but connecting the things together, as it was natural that I should do, I did flatter myself that I had done some good. It had seemed to me that nothing could be worse, nothing more unpatriotic, nothing more absolutely opposed to the system of representative government, than the time-honoured practices of the borough of Beverley. It had come to pass that political cleanliness was odious to the citizens. There was something grand in the scorn with which a leading Liberal there turned up his nose at me when I told him that there should be no bribery, no treating, not even a pot of beer on one side. It was a matter for study to see how at Beverley politics were appreciated because they might subserve electoral purposes, and how little it was understood that electoral purposes, which are in themselves a nuisance, should be endured in order that they may subserve politics. And then the time, the money, the mental energy, which had been expended in making the borough a secure seat for a gentleman who had realised the idea that it would become him to be a member of Parliament! This use of the borough seemed to be realised and approved in the borough generally. The inhabitants had taught themselves to think that it was for such purposes that boroughs were intended! To have assisted in putting an end to this, even in one town, was to a certain extent a satisfaction.
In the spring of 1868,--before the affair of Beverley,
which, as being the first direct result of my resignation of office, has been
brought in a little out of its turn,--I was requested to go over to the
I had also a commission from the Foreign Office, for which I had asked, to make an effort on behalf of an international copyright between the United States and Great Britain,--the want of which is the one great impediment to pecuniary success which still stands in the way of successful English authors. I cannot say that I have never had a shilling of American money on behalf of reprints of my work; but I have been conscious of no such payment. Having found many years ago--in 1861, when I made a struggle on the subject, being then in the States, the details of which are sufficiently amusing [Footnote: In answer to a question from myself, a certain American publisher--he who usually reprinted my works--promised me that IF ANY OTHER AMERICAN PUBLISHER REPUBLISHED MY WORK ON AMERICA BEFORE HE HAD DONE SO, he would not bring out a competing edition, though there would be no law to hinder him. I then entered into an agreement with another American publisher, stipulating to supply him with early sheets; and he stipulating to supply me a certain royalty on his sales, and to supply me with accounts half-yearly. I sent the sheets with energetic punctuality, and the work was brought out with equal energy and precision--by my old American publishers. The gentleman who made the promise had not broken his word. No other American edition had come out before his. I never got any account, and, of course, never received a dollar.]--that I could not myself succeed in dealing with American booksellers, I have sold all foreign right to the English publishers; and though I do not know that I have raised my price against them on that score, I may in this way have had some indirect advantage from the American market. But I do know that what the publishers have received here is very trifling. I doubt whether Messrs. Chapman & Hall, my present publishers, get for early sheets sent to the States as much as 5 per cent. on the price they pay me for my manuscript. But the American readers are more numerous than the English, and taking them all through, are probably more wealthy. If I can get 1000 for a book here (exclusive of their market), I ought to be able to get as much there. If a man supply 600 customers with shoes in place of 300, there is no question as to such result. Why not, then, if I can supply 60,000 readers instead of 30,000?
I fancied that I knew that the opposition to an
international copyright was by no means an American feeling, but was confined
to the bosoms of a few interested Americans. All that I did and heard in
reference to the subject on this further visit,--and having a certain authority
from the British Secretary of State with me I could hear and do
something,--altogether confirmed me in this view. I have no doubt that if I could
poll American readers, or American senators,--or even American representatives,
if the polling could be unbiassed,--or American booksellers, [Footnote: I might
also say American publishers, if I might count them by the number of heads, and
not by the amount of work done by the firms.] that an assent to an
international copyright would be the result. The state of things as it is is
crushing to American authors, as the publishers will not pay them a liberal
scale, knowing that they can supply their customers with modern English
literature without paying for it. The English amount of production so much
exceeds the American, that the rate at which the former can be published rules
the market. it
is equally injurious to American booksellers,--except to two or three of the
greatest houses. No small man can now acquire the exclusive right of printing
and selling an English book. If such a one attempt it, the work is printed
instantly by one of the leviathans,--who alone are the gainers. The argument of
course is, that the American readers are the gainers,--that as they can get for
nothing the use of certain property, they would be cutting their own throats
were they to pass a law debarring themselves from the power of such
appropriation. In this argument all idea of honesty is thrown to the winds. It
is not that they do not approve of a system of copyright,--as many great men
have disapproved,--for their own law of copyright is as stringent as is
ours. A bold assertion is made that they
like to appropriate the goods of other people; and that, as in this case, they
can do so with impunity, they will continue to do so. But the argument, as far
as I have been able to judge, comes not from the people, but from the
bookselling leviathans, and from those politicians whom the leviathans are able
to attach to their interests. The ordinary American purchaser is not much
affected by slight variations in price. He is at any rate too high-hearted to
be affected by the prospect of such variation. It is the man who wants to make
money, not he who fears that he may be called upon to spend it, who controls
such matters as this in the
Since this was written the Commission on the law of
copyright has sat and made its report. With the great body of it I agree, and
could serve no reader by alluding here at length to matters which are discussed
there. But in regard to this question of international copyright with the
United States, I think that we were incorrect in the expression of an opinion
that fair justice,--or justice approaching to fairness,--is now done by
American publishers to English authors by payments made by them for early
sheets. I have just found that 20 was
paid to my publisher in
They among Englishmen who best love and most admire the
"It is not enough that you are personally clean," he says, with what energy and courage he can command,--"not enough though the clean outnumber the foul as greatly as those gifted with eyesight outnumber the blind, if you that can see allow the blind to lead you. It is not by the private lives of the millions that the outside world will judge you, but by the public career of those units whose venality is allowed to debase the name of your country. There never was plainer proof given than is given here, that it is the duty of every honest citizen to look after the honour of his State."
Personally, I have to own that I have met Americans,--men, but more frequently women,--who have in all respects come up to my ideas of what men and women should be: energetic, having opinions of their own, quick in speech, with some dash of sarcasm at their command, always intelligent, sweet to look at (I speak of the women), fond of pleasure, and each with a personality of his or her own which makes no effort necessary on my own part in remembering the difference between Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Green, or between Mr. Smith and Mr. Johnson. They have faults. They are self-conscious, and are too prone to prove by ill-concealed struggles that they are as good as you,--whereas you perhaps have been long acknowledging to yourself that they are much better. And there is sometimes a pretence at personal dignity among those who think themselves to have risen high in the world which is deliciously ludicrous. I remember two old gentlemen,--the owners of names which stand deservedly high in public estimation,--whose deportment at a public funeral turned the occasion into one for irresistible comedy. They are suspicious at first, and fearful of themselves. They lack that simplicity of manners which with us has become a habit from our childhood. But they are never fools, and I think that they are seldom ill-natured.
There is a woman, of whom not to speak in a work purporting to be a memoir of my own life would be to omit all allusion to one of the chief pleasures which has graced my later years. In the last fifteen years she has been, out of my family, my most chosen friend. She is a ray of light to me, from which I can always strike a spark by thinking of her. I do not know that I should please her or do any good by naming her. But not to allude to her in these pages would amount almost to a falsehood. I could not write truly of myself without saying that such a friend had been vouchsafed to me. I trust she may live to read the words I have now written, and to wipe away a tear as she thinks of my feeling while I write them.
I was absent on this occasion something over three months, and on my return I went back with energy to my work at the St. Paul's Magazine. The first novel in it from my own pen was called Phineas Finn, in which I commenced a series of semi-political tales. As I was debarred from expressing my opinions in the House of Commons, I took this method of declaring myself. And as I could not take my seat on those benches where I might possibly have been shone upon by the Speaker's eye, I had humbly to crave his permission for a seat in the gallery, so that I might thus become conversant with the ways and doings of the House in which some of my scenes were to be placed. The Speaker was very gracious, and gave me a running order for, I think, a couple of months. It was enough, at any rate, to enable me often to be very tired,--and, as I have been assured by members, to talk of the proceedings almost as well as though Fortune had enabled me to fall asleep within the House itself.
In writing Phineas Finn, and also some other novels which
followed it, I was conscious that I could not make a tale pleasing chiefly, or
perhaps in any part, by politics. If I write politics for my own sake, I must
put in love and intrigue, social incidents, with perhaps a dash of sport, for
the benefit of my readers. In this way I think I made my political hero
interesting. It was certainly a blunder to take him from
In writing Phineas Finn I had constantly before me the necessity of progression in character,--of marking the changes in men and women which would naturally be produced by the lapse of years. In most novels the writer can have no such duty, as the period occupied is not long enough to allow of the change of which I speak. In Ivanhoe, all the incidents of which are included in less than a month, the characters should be, as they are, consistent throughout. Novelists who have undertaken to write the life of a hero or heroine have generally considered their work completed at the interesting period of marriage, and have contented themselves with the advance in taste and manners which are common to all boys and girls as they become men and women. Fielding, no doubt, did more than this in Tom Jones, which is one of the greatest novels in the English language, for there he has shown how a noble and sanguine nature may fall away under temptation and be again strengthened and made to stand upright. But I do not think that novelists have often set before themselves the state of progressive change,--nor should I have done it, had I not found myself so frequently allured back to my old friends. So much of my inner life was passed in their company, that I was continually asking myself how this woman would act when this or that event had passed over her head, or how that man would carry himself when his youth had become manhood, or his manhood declined to old age. It was in regard to the old Duke of Omnium, of his nephew and heir, and of his heir's wife, Lady Glencora, that I was anxious to carry out this idea; but others added themselves to my mind as I went on, and I got round me a circle of persons as to whom I knew not only their present characters, but how those characters were to be affected by years and circumstances. The happy motherly life of Violet Effingham, which was due to the girl's honest but long-restrained love; the tragic misery of Lady Laura, which was equally due to the sale she made of herself in her wretched marriage; and the long suffering but final success of the hero, of which he had deserved the first by his vanity, and the last by his constant honesty, had been foreshadowed to me from the first. As to the incidents of the story, the circumstances by which these personages were to be affected, I knew nothing. They were created for the most part as they were described. I never could arrange a set of events before me. But the evil and the good of my puppets, and how the evil would always lead to evil, and the good produce good,--that was clear to me as the stars on a summer night.
Lady Laura Standish is the best character in Phineas Finn
and its sequel Phineas Redux,--of which I will speak here together. They are,
in fact, but one novel though they were brought out at a considerable interval
of time and in different form. The first was commenced in the
Phineas Finn, the first part of the story, was completed in
May, 1867. In June and July I wrote Linda Tressel for Blackwood's Magazine, of
which I have already spoken. In September and October I wrote a short novel, called
The Golden Lion of Granpere, which was intended also for Blackwood,--with a
view of being published anonymously; but Mr. Blackwood did not find the
arrangement to be profitable, and the story remained on my hands, unread and
unthought of, for a few years. It appeared subsequently in Good Words. It was
written on the model of Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel, but is very inferior to
either of them. In November of the same year, 1867, I began a very long novel,
which I called He Knew He Was Right, and which was brought out by Mr. Virtue,
the proprietor of the St. Paul's Magazine, in sixpenny numbers, every week. I
do not know that in any literary effort I ever fell more completely short of my
own intention than in this story. It was my purpose to create sympathy for the
unfortunate man who, while endeavouring to do his duty to all around him,
should be led constantly astray by his unwillingness to submit his own judgment
to the opinion of others. The man is made to be unfortunate enough, and the
evil which he does is apparent. So far I did not fail, but the sympathy has not
been created yet. I look upon the story
as being nearly altogether bad. It is in
part redeemed by certain scenes in the house and vicinity of an old maid in
This work was finished while I was at
In 1869 I was called on to decide, in council with my two boys and their mother, what should be their destination in life. In June of that year the elder, who was then twenty-three, was called to the Bar; and as he had gone through the regular courses of lecturing tuition and study, it might be supposed that his course was already decided. But, just as he was called, there seemed to be an opening for him in another direction; and this, joined to the terrible uncertainty of the Bar, the terror of which was not in his case lessened by any peculiar forensic aptitudes, induced us to sacrifice dignity in quest of success. Mr. Frederic Chapman, who was then the sole representative of the publishing house known as Messrs. Chapman & Hall, wanted a partner, and my son Henry went into the firm. He remained there three years and a half; but he did not like it, nor do I think he made a very good publisher. At any rate he left the business with perhaps more pecuniary success than might have been expected from the short period of his labours, and has since taken himself to literature as a profession. Whether he will work at it so hard as his father, and write as many books, may be doubted.
My second son, Frederic, had very early in life gone to
The Vicar of Bullhampton was written in 1868 for publication in Once a Week, a periodical then belonging to Messrs. Bradbury & Evans. It was not to come out till 1869, and I, as was my wont had made my terms long previously to the proposed date. I had made my terms and written my story and sent it to the publisher long before it was wanted; and so far my mind was at rest. The date fixed was the first of July, which date had been named in accordance with the exigencies of the editor of the periodical. An author who writes for these publications is bound to suit himself to these exigencies, and can generally do so without personal loss or inconvenience, if he will only take time by the forelock. With all the pages that I have written for magazines I have never been a day late, nor have I ever caused inconvenience by sending less or more matter than I had stipulated to supply. But I have sometimes found myself compelled to suffer by the irregularity of others. I have endeavoured to console myself by reflecting that such must ever be the fate of virtue. The industrious must feed the idle. The honest and simple will always be the prey of the cunning and fraudulent. The punctual, who keep none waiting for them, are doomed to wait perpetually for the unpunctual. But these earthly sufferers know that they are making their way heavenwards,--and their oppressors their way elsewards. If the former reflection does not suffice for consolation, the deficiency is made up by the second. I was terribly aggrieved on the matter of the publication of my new Vicar, and had to think very much of the ultimate rewards of punctuality and its opposite. About the end of March, 1869, I got a dolorous letter from the editor. All the Once a Week people were in a terrible trouble. They had bought the right of translating one of Victor Hugo's modern novels, L'Homme Qui Rit; they bad fixed a date, relying on positive pledges from the French publishers; and now the great French author had postponed his work from week to week and from month to month, and it had so come to pass that the Frenchman's grinning hero would have to appear exactly at the same time as my clergyman. Was it not quite apparent to me, the editor asked, that Once a Week could not hold the two? Would I allow my clergyman to make his appearance in the Gentleman's Magazine instead?
My disgust at this proposition was, I think, chiefly due to Victor Hugo's latter novels, which I regard as pretentious and untrue to nature. To this perhaps was added some feeling of indignation that I should be asked to give way to a Frenchman. The Frenchman had broken his engagement. He had failed to have his work finished by the stipulated time. From week to week and from month to month he had put off the fulfilment of his duty. And because of these laches on his part,--on the part of this sententious French Radical,--I was to be thrown over! Virtue sometimes finds it difficult to console herself even with the double comfort. I would not come out in the Gentleman's Magazine, and as the Grinning Man could not be got out of the way, by novel was published in separate numbers.
The same thing has occurred to me more than once since. "You no doubt are regular," a publisher has said to me, "but Mr. ---- is irregular. He has thrown me out, and I cannot be ready for you till three months after the time named." In these emergencies I have given perhaps half what was wanted, and have refused to give the other half. I have endeavoured to fight my own battle fairly, and at the same time not to make myself unnecessarily obstinate. But the circumstances have impressed on my mind the great need there is that men engaged in literature should feel themselves to be bound to their industry as men know that they are bound in other callings. There does exist, I fear, a feeling that authors, because they are authors, are relieved from the necessity of paying attention to everyday rules. A writer, if he be making 800 a year, does not think himself bound to live modestly on 600, and put by the remainder for his wife and children. He does not understand that he should sit down at his desk at a certain hour. He imagines that publishers and booksellers should keep all their engagements with him to the letter;--but that he, as a brain-worker, and conscious of the subtle nature of the brain, should be able to exempt himself from bonds when it suits him. He has his own theory about inspiration which will not always come,--especially will not come if wine-cups overnight have been too deep. All this has ever been odious to me, as being unmanly. A man may be frail in health, and therefore unable to do as he has contracted in whatever grade of life. He who has been blessed with physical strength to work day by day, year by year--as has been my case--should pardon deficiencies caused by sickness or infirmity. I may in this respect have been a little hard on others,--and, if so, I here record my repentance. But I think that no allowance should be given to claims for exemption from punctuality, made if not absolutely on the score still with the conviction of intellectual superiority.
The Vicar of Bullhampton was written chiefly with the object of exciting not only pity but sympathy for fallen woman, and of raising a feeling of forgiveness for such in the minds of other women. I could not venture to make this female the heroine of my story. To have made her a heroine at all would have been directly opposed to my purpose. It was necessary therefore that she should be a second-rate personage in the tale;--but it was with reference to her life that the tale was written, and the hero and the heroine with their belongings are all subordinate. To this novel I affixed a preface,--in doing which I was acting in defiance of my old-established principle. I do not know that any one read it; but as I wish to have it read, I will insert it here again:--
"I have introduced in the Vicar of Bullhampton the character of a girl whom I will call,--for want of a truer word that shall not in its truth be offensive,--a castaway. I have endeavoured to endow her with qualities that may create sympathy, and I have brought her back at last from degradation, at least to decency. I have not married her to a wealthy lover, and I have endeavoured to explain that though there was possible to her a way out of perdition, still things could not be with her as they would have been had she not fallen.
"There arises, of course, the question whether a novelist, who professes to write for the amusement of the young of both sexes, should allow himself to bring upon his stage a character such as that of Carry Brattle. It is not long since,--it is well within the memory of the author,--that the very existence of such a condition of life as was hers, was supposed to be unknown to our sisters and daughters, and was, in truth, unknown to many of them. Whether that ignorance was good may be questioned; but that it exists no longer is beyond question. Then arises the further question,--how far the conditions of such unfortunates should be made a matter of concern to the sweet young hearts of those whose delicacy and cleanliness of thought is a matter of pride to so many of us. Cannot women, who are good, pity the sufferings of the vicious, and do something perhaps to mitigate and shorten them without contamination from the vice? It will be admitted probably by most men who have thought upon the subject that no fault among us is punished so heavily as that fault, often so light in itself but so terrible in its consequences to the less faulty of the two offenders, by which a woman falls. All of her own sex is against her, and all those of the other sex in whose veins runs the blood which she is thought to have contaminated, and who, of nature, would befriend her, were her trouble any other than it is.
"She is what she is, and she remains in her abject, pitiless, unutterable misery, because this sentence of the world has placed her beyond the helping hand of Love and Friendship. It may be said, no doubt, that the severity of this judgment acts as a protection to female virtue,--deterring, as all known punishments do deter, from vice. But this punishment, which is horrible beyond the conception of those who have not regarded it closely, is not known beforehand. Instead of the punishment, there is seen a false glitter of gaudy life,--a glitter which is damnably false,--and which, alas I has been more often portrayed in glowing colours, for the injury of young girls, than have those horrors which ought to deter, with the dark shadowings which belong to them.
"To write in fiction of one so fallen as the noblest of her sex, as one to be rewarded because of her weakness, as one whose life is, happy, bright, and glorious, is certainly to allure to vice and misery. But it may perhaps be possible that if the matter be handled with truth to life, some girl, who would have been thoughtless, may be made thoughtful, or some parent's heart may be softened."
Those were my ideas when I conceived the story, and with that feeling I described the characters of Carry Brattle and of her family. I have not introduced her lover on the scene, nor have I presented her to the reader in the temporary enjoyment of any of those fallacious luxuries, the longing for which is sometimes more seductive to evil than love itself. She is introduced as a poor abased creature, who hardly knows how false were her dreams, with very little of the Magdalene about her--because though there may be Magdalenes they are not often found--but with an intense horror of the sufferings of her position. Such being her condition, will they who naturally are her friends protect her? The vicar who has taken her by the hand endeavours to excite them to charity; but father, and brother, and sister are alike hard-hearted. It had been my purpose at first that the hand of every Brattle should be against her; but my own heart was too soft to enable me to make the mother cruel,--or the unmarried sister who had been the early companion of the forlorn one.
As regards all the Brattles, the story is, I think, well told. The characters are true, and the scenes at the mill are in keeping with human nature. For the rest of the book I have little to say. It is not very bad, and it certainly is not very good. As I have myself forgotten what the heroine does and says--except that she tumbles into a ditch--I cannot expect that any one else should remember her. But I have forgotten nothing that was done or said by any of the Brattles.
The question brought in argument is one of fearful importance. As to the view to be taken first, there can, I think, be no doubt. In regard to a sin common to the two sexes, almost all the punishment and all the disgrace is heaped upon the one who in nine cases out of ten has been the least sinful. And the punishment inflicted is of such a nature that it hardly allows room for repentance. How is the woman to return to decency to whom no decent door is opened? Then comes the answer: It is to the severity of the punishment alone that we can trust to keep women from falling. Such is the argument used in favour of the existing practice, and such the excuse given for their severity by women who will relax nothing of their harshness. But in truth the severity of the punishment is not known beforehand; it is not in the least understood by women in general, except by those who suffer it. The gaudy dirt, the squalid plenty, the contumely of familiarity, the absence of all good words and all good things, the banishment from honest labour, the being compassed round with lies, the flaunting glare of fictitious revelry, the weary pavement, the horrid slavery to some horrid tyrant,--and then the quick depreciation of that one ware of beauty, the substituted paint, garments bright without but foul within like painted sepulchres, hunger, thirst, and strong drink, life without a hope, without the certainty even of a morrow's breakfast, utterly friendless, disease, starvation, and a quivering fear of that coming hell which still can hardly be worse than all that is suffered here! This is the life to which we doom our erring daughters, when because of their error we close our door upon them! But for our erring sons we find pardon easily enough.
Of course there are houses of refuge, from which it has been thought expedient to banish everything pleasant, as though the only repentance to which we can afford to give a place must necessarily be one of sackcloth and ashes. It is hardly thus that we can hope to recall those to decency who, if they are to be recalled at all, must be induced to obey the summons before they have reached the last stage of that misery which I have attempted to describe. To me the mistake which we too often make seems to be this,--that the girl who has gone astray is put out of sight, out of mind if possible, at any rate out of speech, as though she had never existed, and that this ferocity comes not only from hatred of the sin, put in part also from a dread of the taint which the sin brings with it. Very low as is the degradation to which a girl is brought when she falls through love or vanity, or perhaps from a longing for luxurious ease, still much lower is that to which she must descend perforce when, through the hardness of the world around her, she converts that sin into a trade. Mothers and sisters, when the misfortune comes upon them of a fallen female from among their number, should remember this, and not fear contamination so strongly as did Carry Brattle's married sister and sister-in-law.
In 1870 I brought out three books,--or rather of the latter of the three I must say that it was brought out by others, for I had nothing to do with it except to write it. These were Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite, An Editor's Tales, and a little volume on Julius Caesar. Sir Harry Hotspur was written on the same plan as Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel, and had for its object the telling of some pathetic incident in life rather than the portraiture of a number of human beings. Nina and Linda Tressel and The Golden Lion had been placed in foreign countries, and this was an English story. In other respects it is of the same nature, and was not, I think, by any means a failure. There is much of pathos in the love of the girl, and of paternal dignity and affection in the father.
It was published first in Macmillan's Magazine, by the intelligent proprietor of which I have since been told that it did not make either his fortune or that of his magazine. I am sorry that it should have been so; but I fear that the same thing may be said of a good many of my novels. When it had passed through the magazine, the subsequent use of it was sold to other publishers by Mr. Macmillan, and then I learned that it was to be brought out by them as a novel in two volumes. Now it had been sold by me as a novel in one volume, and hence there arose a correspondence.
I found it very hard to make the purchasers understand that I had reasonable ground for objection to the process. What was it to me? How could it injure me if they stretched my pages by means of lead and margin into double the number I had intended. I have heard the same argument on other occasions. When I have pointed out that in this way the public would have to suffer, seeing that they would have to pay Mudie for the use of two volumes in reading that which ought to have been given to them in one, I have been assured that the public are pleased with literary short measure, that it is the object of novel-readers to get through novels as fast as they can, and that the shorter each volume is the better! Even this, however, did not overcome me, and I stood to my guns. Sir Harry was published in one volume, containing something over the normal 300 pages, with an average of 220 words to a page,--which I had settled with my conscience to be the proper length of a novel volume. I may here mention that on one occasion, and one occasion only, a publisher got the better of me in a matter of volumes. He had a two-volume novel of mine running through a certain magazine, and had it printed complete in three volumes before I knew where I was,--before I had seen a sheet of the letterpress. I stormed for a while, but I had not the heart to make him break up the type.
The Editor's Tales was a volume republished from the
The Caesar was a thing of itself. My friend John Blackwood had set on foot a series of small volumes called Ancient Classics for English Readers, and had placed the editing of them, and the compiling of many of them, in the hands of William Lucas Collins, a clergyman who, from my connection with the series, became a most intimate friend. The Iliad and the Odyssey had already come out when I was at Edinburgh with John Blackwood, and, on my expressing my very strong admiration for those two little volumes,--which I here recommend to all young ladies as the most charming tales they can read,--he asked me whether I would not undertake one myself. Herodotus was in the press, but, if I could get it ready, mine should be next. Whereupon I offered to say what might be said to the readers of English on The Commentaries of Julius Caesar.
I at once went to work, and in three months from that day the little book had been written. I began by reading through the Commentaries twice, which I did without any assistance either by translation or English notes. Latin was not so familiar to me then as it has since become,--for from that date I have almost daily spent an hour with some Latin author, and on many days many hours. After the reading what my author had left behind him, I fell into the reading of what others had written about him, in Latin, in English, and even in French,--for I went through much of that most futile book by the late Emperor of the French. I do not know that for a short period I ever worked harder. The amount I had to write was nothing. Three weeks would have done it easily. But I was most anxious, in this soaring out of my own peculiar line, not to disgrace myself. I do not think that I did disgrace myself. Perhaps I was anxious for something more. If so, I was disappointed.
The book I think to be a good little book. It is readable by all, old and young, and it gives, I believe accurately, both an account of Caesar's Commentaries,--which of course was the primary intention,--and the chief circumstances of the great Roman's life. A well-educated girl who had read it and remembered it would perhaps know as much about Caesar and his writings as she need know. Beyond the consolation of thinking as I do about it, I got very little gratification from the work. Nobody praised it. One very old and very learned friend to whom I sent it thanked me for my "comic Caesar," but said no more. I do not suppose that he intended to run a dagger into me. Of any suffering from such wounds, I think, while living, I never showed a sign; but still I have suffered occasionally. There was, however, probably present to my friend's mind, and to that of others, a feeling that a man who had spent his life in writing English novels could not be fit to write about Caesar. It was as when an amateur gets a picture hung on the walls of the Academy. What business had I there? Ne sutor ultra crepidam. In the press it was most faintly damned by most faint praise. Nevertheless, having read the book again within the last month or two, I make bold to say that it is a good book. The series, I believe, has done very well. I am sure that it ought to do well in years to come, for, putting aside Caesar, the work has been done with infinite scholarship, and very generally with a light hand. With the leave of my sententious and sonorous friend, who had not endured that subjects which had been grave to him should be treated irreverently, I will say that such a work, unless it be light, cannot answer the purpose for which it is intended. It was not exactly a schoolbook that was wanted, but something that would carry the purposes of the schoolroom even into the leisure hours of adult pupils. Nothing was ever better suited for such a purpose than the Iliad and the Odyssey, as done by Mr. Collins. The Virgil, also done by him, is very good; and so is the Aristophanes by the same hand.
In the spring of 1871 we,--I and my wife,--had decided that
we would go to
Before starting there came upon us the terrible necessity of
coming to some resolution about our house at
As must take place on such an occasion, there was some heart-felt grief. But the thing was done, and orders were given for the letting or sale of the house. I may as well say here that it never was let and that it remained unoccupied for two years before it was sold. I lost by the transaction about 800. As I continually hear that other men make money by buying and selling houses, I presume I am not well adapted for transactions of that sort. I have never made money by selling anything except a manuscript. In matters of horseflesh I am so inefficient that I have generally given away horses that I have not wanted.
When we started from Liverpool, in May, 1871, Ralph the Heir
was running through the
I also left in the hands of the editor of The Fortnightly, ready for production on the 1st of July following, a story called The Eustace Diamonds. In that I think that my friend's dictum was disproved. There is not much love in it; but what there is, is good. The character of Lucy Morris is pretty; and her love is as genuine and as well told as that of Lucy Robarts of Lily Dale.
But The Eustace Diamonds achieved the success which it
certainly did attain, not as a love-story, but as a record of a cunning little
woman of pseudo-fashion, to whom, in her cunning, there came a series of
adventures, unpleasant enough in themselves, but pleasant to the reader. As I
wrote the book, the idea constantly presented itself to me that Lizzie Eustace
was but a second Becky Sharpe; but in planning the character I had not thought
of this, and I believe that Lizzie would have been just as she is though Becky Sharpe
had never been described. The plot of the diamond necklace is, I think, well
arranged, though it produced itself without any forethought. I had no idea of
setting thieves after the bauble till I had got my heroine to bed in the inn at
I also left behind, in a strong box, the manuscript of Phineas Redux, a novel of which I have already spoken, and which I subsequently sold to the proprietors of the Graphic newspaper. The editor of that paper greatly disliked the title, assuring me that the public would take Redux for the gentleman's surname,--and was dissatisfied with me when I replied that I had no objection to them doing so. The introduction of a Latin word, or of a word from any other language, into the title of an English novel is undoubtedly in bad taste; but after turning the matter much over in my own mind, I could find no other suitable name.
I also left behind me, in the same strong box, another novel, called An Eye for an Eye, which then had been some time written, and of which, as it has not even yet been published, I will not further speak. It will probably be published some day, though, looking forward, I can see no room for it, at any rate, for the next two years.
If therefore the
A month or two after my return home, Lady Anna appeared in The Fortnightly, following The Eustace Diamonds. In it a young girl, who is really a lady of high rank and great wealth, though in her youth she enjoyed none of the privileges of wealth or rank, marries a tailor who had been good to her, and whom she had loved when she was poor and neglected. A fine young noble lover is provided for her, and all the charms of sweet living with nice people are thrown in her way, in order that she may be made to give up the tailor. And the charms are very powerful with her. But the feeling that she is bound by her troth to the man who had always been true to her overcomes everything,--and she marries the tailor. It was my wish of course to justify her in doing so, and to carry my readers along with me in my sympathy with her. But everybody found fault with me for marrying her to the tailor. What would they have said if I had allowed her to jilt the tailor and marry the good-looking young lord? How much louder, then, would have been the censure! The book was read, and I was satisfied. If I had not told my story well, there would have been no feeling in favour of the young lord. The horror which was expressed to me at the evil thing I had done, in giving the girl to the tailor, was the strongest testimony I could receive of the merits of the story.
I went to
I had, however, the further intentions of writing a book
about the entire group of Australasian Colonies; and in order that I might be
enabled to do that with sufficient information, I visited them all. Making my
It was a better book than that which I had written eleven
years before on the American States, but not so good
as that on the
Feeling that these volumes on
I came home across
I got home in December, 1872, and in spite of any resolution
made to the contrary, my mind was full of hunting as I came back. No real
resolutions had in truth been made, for out of a stud of four horses I kept
three, two of which were absolutely idle through the two summers and winter of
my absence. Immediately on my arrival I bought another, and settled myself down
to hunting from
"Singula de nobis anni praedantur euntes; Eripuere jocos, venerem, convivia, ladum; Tendunt extorquere poemata."
"Our years keep taking toll as they move on; My feasts, my frolics, are already gone, And now, it seems, my verses must go too."
This Is Conington's translation, but it seems to me to be a little flat.
"Years as they roll cut all our pleasures short; Our pleasant mirth, our loves, our wine, our sport, And then they stretch their power, and crush at last Even the power of singing of the past."
I think that I may say with truth that I rode hard to my end.
"Vixi puellis nuper idoneus, Et
militavi non sine gloria; Nunc arma defunctumque
"I've lived about the covert side, I've ridden straight, and ridden fast; Now breeches, boots, and scarlet pride Are but mementoes of the past."
In what I have said at the end of the last chapter about my
hunting, I have been carried a little in advance of the date at which I had
arrived. We returned from
When this was done, and the new furniture had got into its place, and my little book-room was settled sufficiently for work, I began a novel, to the writing of which I was instigated by what I conceived to be the commercial profligacy of the age. Whether the world does or does not become more wicked as years go on, is a question which probably has disturbed the minds of thinkers since the world began to think. That men have become less cruel, less violent, less selfish, less brutal, there can be no doubt;--but have they become less honest? If so, can a world, retrograding from day to day in honesty, be considered to be in a state of progress? We know the opinion on this subject of our philosopher Mr. Carlyle. If he be right, we are all going straight away to darkness and the dogs. But then we do not put very much faith in Mr. Carlyle,--nor in Mr. Ruskin and his other followers. The loudness and extravagance of their lamentations, the wailing and gnashing of teeth which comes from them, over a world which is supposed to have gone altogether shoddy-wards, are so contrary to the convictions of men who cannot but see how comfort has been increased, how health has been improved, and education extended,--that the general effect of their teaching is the opposite of what they have intended. It is regarded simply as Carlylism to say that the English-speaking world is growing worse from day to day. And it is Carlylism to opine that the general grand result of increased intelligence is a tendency to deterioration.
Nevertheless a certain class of dishonesty, dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places, has become at the same time so rampant and so splendid that there seems to be reason for fearing that men and women will be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to be abominable. If dishonesty can live in a gorgeous palace with pictures on all its walls, and gems in all its cupboards, with marble and ivory in all its corners, and can give Apician dinners, and get into Parliament, and deal in millions, then dishonesty is not disgraceful, and the man dishonest after such a fashion is not a low scoundrel. Instigated, I say, by some such reflections as these, I sat down in my new house to write The Way We Live Now. And as I had ventured to take the whip of the satirist into my hand, I went beyond the iniquities of the great speculator who robs everybody, and made an onslaught also on other vices;--on the intrigues of girls who want to get married, on the luxury of young men who prefer to remain single, and on the puffing propensities of authors who desire to cheat the public into buying their volumes.
The book has the fault which is to be attributed to almost all satires, whether in prose or verse. The accusations are exaggerated. The vices are coloured, so as to make effect rather than to represent truth. Who, when the lash of objurgation is in his hands, can so moderate his arm as never to strike harder than justice would require? The spirit which produces the satire is honest enough, but the very desire which moves the satirist to do his work energetically makes him dishonest. In other respects The Way We Live Now was, as a satire, powerful and good. The character of Melmotte is well maintained. The Beargarden is amusing,--and not untrue. The Longestaffe girls and their friend, Lady Monogram, are amusing,--but exaggerated. Dolly Longestaffe, is, I think, very good. And Lady Carbury's literary efforts are, I am sorry to say, such as are too frequently made. But here again the young lady with her two lovers is weak and vapid. I almost doubt whether it be not impossible to have two absolutely distinct parts in a novel, and to imbue them both with interest. If they be distinct, the one will seem to be no more than padding to the other. And so it was in The Way We Live Now. The interest of the story lies among the wicked and foolish people,--with Melmotte and his daughter, with Dolly and his family, with the American woman, Mrs. Hurtle, and with John Crumb and the girl of his heart. But Roger Carbury, Paul Montague, and Henrietta Carbury are uninteresting. Upon the whole, I by no means look upon the book as one of my failures; nor was it taken as a failure by the public or the press.
While I was writing The Way We Live Now, I was called upon by the proprietors of the Graphic for a Christmas story. I feel, with regard to literature, somewhat as I suppose an upholsterer and undertaker feels when he is called upon to supply a funeral. He has to supply it, however distasteful it may be. It is his business, and he will starve if he neglects it. So have I felt that, when anything in the shape of a novel was required, I was bound to produce it. Nothing can be more distasteful to me than to have to give a relish of Christmas to what I write. I feel the humbug implied by the nature of the order. A Christmas story, in the proper sense, should be the ebullition of some mind anxious to instil others with a desire for Christmas religious thought, or Christmas festivities,--or, better still, with Christmas charity. Such was the case with Dickens when he wrote his two first Christmas stories. But since that the things written annually--all of which have been fixed to Christmas like children's toys to a Christmas tree--have had no real savour of Christmas about them. I had done two or three before. Alas! at this very moment I have one to write, which I have promised to supply within three weeks of this time,--the picture-makers always require a long interval,--as to which I have in vain been cudgelling my brain for the last month. I can't send away the order to another shop, but I do not know how I shall ever get the coffin made.
For the Graphic, in 1873, I wrote a little story about
When Harry Heathcote was over, I returned with a full heart to Lady Glencora and her husband. I had never yet drawn the completed picture of such a statesman as my imagination had conceived. The personages with whose names my pages had been familiar, and perhaps even the minds of some of my readers--the Brocks, De Terriers, Monks, Greshams, and Daubeneys--had been more or less portraits, not of living men, but of living political characters. The strong-minded, thick-skinned, useful, ordinary member, either of the Government or of the Opposition, had been very easy to describe, and had required no imagination to conceive. The character reproduces itself from generation to generation; and as it does so, becomes shorn in a wonderful way of those little touches of humanity which would be destructive of its purposes. Now and again there comes a burst of human nature, as in the quarrel between Burke and Fox; but, as a rule, the men submit themselves to be shaped and fashioned, and to be formed into tools, which are used either for building up or pulling down, and can generally bear to be changed from this box into the other, without, at any rate, the appearance of much personal suffering. Four-and-twenty gentlemen will amalgamate themselves into one whole, and work for one purpose, having each of them to set aside his own idiosyncrasy, and to endure the close personal contact of men who must often be personally disagreeable, having been thoroughly taught that in no other way can they serve either their country or their own ambition. These are the men who are publicly useful, and whom the necessities of the age supply,--as to whom I have never ceased to wonder that stones of such strong calibre should be so quickly worn down to the shape and smoothness of rounded pebbles.
Such have been to me the Brocks and the Mildmays, about whom I have written with great pleasure, having had my mind much exercised in watching them. But had I also conceived the character of a statesman of a different nature--of a man who should be in something perhaps superior, but in very much inferior, to these men--of one who could not become a pebble, having too strong an identity of his own. To rid one's self of fine scruples--to fall into the traditions of a party--to feel the need of subservience, not only in acting but also even in thinking--to be able to be a bit, and at first only a very little bit,--these are the necessities of the growing statesman. The time may come, the glorious time when some great self action shall be possible, and shall be even demanded, as when Peel gave up the Corn Laws; but the rising man, as he puts on his harness, should not allow himself to dream of this. To become a good, round, smooth, hard, useful pebble is his duty, and to achieve this he must harden his skin and swallow his scruples. But every now and again we see the attempt, made by men who cannot get their skins to be hard--who after a little while generally fall out of the ranks. The statesman of whom I was thinking--of whom I had long thought--was one who did not fall out of the ranks, even though his skin would not become hard. He should have rank, and intellect, and parliamentary habits, by which to bind him to the service of his country; and he should also have unblemished, unextinguishable, inexhaustible love of country. That virtue I attribute to our statesmen generally. They who are without it are, I think, mean indeed. This man should have it as the ruling principle of his life; and it should so rule him that all other things should be made to give way to it. But he should be scrupulous, and, being scrupulous, weak. When called to the highest place in the council of his Sovereign, he should feel with true modesty his own insufficiency; but not the less should the greed of power grow upon him when he had once allowed himself to taste and enjoy it. Such was the character I endeavoured to depict in describing the triumph, the troubles, and the failure of my Prime Minister. And I think that I have succeeded. What the public may think, or what the press may say, I do not yet know, the work having as yet run but half its course. [Footnote: Writing this note in 1878, after a lapse of nearly three years, I am obliged to say that, as regards the public, The Prime Minister was a failure. It was worse spoken of by the press than any novel I had written. I was specially hurt by a criticism on it in the Spectator. The critic who wrote the article I know to be a good critic, inclined to be more than fair to me; but in this case I could not agree with him, so much do I love the man whose character I had endeavoured to portray.]
That the man's character should be understood as I understand it--or that of his wife's, the delineation of which has also been a matter of much happy care to me--I have no right to expect, seeing that the operation of describing has not been confined to one novel, which might perhaps be read through by the majority of those who commenced it. It has been carried on through three or four, each of which will be forgotten even by the most zealous reader almost as soon as read. In The Prime Minister, my Prime Minister will not allow his wife to take office among, or even over, those ladies who are attached by office to the Queen's court. "I should not choose," he says to her, "that my wife should have any duties unconnected with our joint family and home." Who will remember in reading those words that, in a former story, published some years before, he tells his wife, when she has twitted him with his willingness to clean the Premier's shoes, that he would even allow her to clean them if it were for the good of the country? And yet it is by such details as these that I have, for many years past, been manufacturing within my own mind the characters of the man and his wife.
I think that Plantagenet Palliser, Duke of Omnium, is a perfect gentleman. If he be not, then am I unable to describe a gentleman. She is by no means a perfect lady; but if she be not all over a woman, then am I not able to describe a woman. I do not think it probable that my name will remain among those who in the next century will be known as the writers of English prose fiction;--but if it does, that permanence of success will probably rest on the character of Plantagenet Palliser, Lady Glencora, and the Rev. Mr. Crawley.
I have now come to the end of that long series of books written by myself with which the public is already acquainted. Of those which I may hereafter be able to add to them I cannot speak; though I have an idea that I shall even yet once more have recourse to my political hero as the mainstay of another story. When The Prime Minister was finished, I at once began another novel, which is now completed in three volumes, and which is called Is He Popenjoy? There are two Popenjoys in the book, one succeeding to the title held by the other; but as they are both babies, and do not in the course of the story progress beyond babyhood, the future readers, should the tale ever be published, will not be much interested in them. Nevertheless the story, as a story, is not, I think, amiss. Since that I have written still another three-volume novel, to which, very much in opposition to my publisher, I have given the name of The American Senator. [Footnote: The American Senator and Popenjoy have appeared, each with fair success. Neither of them has encountered that reproach which, in regard to The Prime Minister, seemed to tell me that my work as a novelist should be brought to a close. And yet I feel assured that they are very inferior to The Prime Minister.] It is to appear in Temple Bar, and is to commence its appearance on the first of next month. Such being its circumstances, I do not know that I can say anything else about it here.
And so I end the record of my literary performances,--which I think are more in amount than the works of any other living English author. If any English authors not living have written more--as may probably have been the case--I do not know who they are. I find that, taking the books which have appeared under our names, I have published much more than twice as much as Carlyle. I have also published considerably more than Voltaire, even including his letters. We are told that Varro, at the age of eighty, had written 480 volumes, and that he went on writing for eight years longer. I wish I knew what was the length of Varro's volumes; I comfort myself by reflecting that the amount of manuscript described as a book in Varro's time was not much. Varro, too, is dead, and Voltaire; whereas I am still living, and may add to the pile.
The following is a list of the books I have written, with the dates of publication and the sums I have received for them. The dates given are the years in which the works were published as a whole, most of them having appeared before in some serial form.
Names of Works. Date of Publication. Total Sums Received.
The Macdermots of Ballycloran, 1847 48 6 9
The Kellys and the O'Kellys, 1848 123 19 5
La Vendee, 1850 20 0 0
The Warden, 1855 \ 727 11 3
The Three Clerks, 1858 250 0 0
Doctor Thorne, 1858 400 0 0
The Bertrams, 1859 400 0 0
Carried forward, 2219 16 17
Names of Works. Date of Publication. Total Sums Received.
Brought Forward, 2219 16 17
Framley Parsonage, 1861 1000 0 0
Tales of All Countries--1st Series, 1861 \ " " 2d 1863 1830 0 0 " " 3d 1870 /
Orley Farm, 1862 3135 0 0
Rachel Ray, 1863 1645 0 0
The Small House at Allington, 1864 3000 0 0
Can You Forgive Her? 1864 3525 0 0
Miss Mackenzie, 1865 1300 0 0
The Belton Estate, 1866 1757 0 0
The Claverings, 1867 2800 0 0
The Last Chronicle of Barset, 1867 3000 0 0
Nina Balatka, 1867 450 0 0
Linda Tressel, 1868 450 0 0
Phineas Finn, 1869 3200 0 0
He Knew He Was Right, 1869 3200 0 0
Brown, Jones, and Robinson, 1870 600 0 0
The Vicar of Bullhampton, 1870 2500 0 0
An Editor's Tales, 1870 378 0 0
Caesar (Ancient Classics), 1870 0 0 0
[Footnote: This was given by me as a present to my friend John Blackwood]
Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite, 1871 750 0 0
Ralph the Heir, 1871 2500 0 0
The Golden Lion of Granpere, 1872 550 0 0
The Eustace Diamonds, 1873 2500 0 0
Phineas Redux, 1874 2500 0 0
Harry Heathcote of Gangoil, 1874 450 0 0
Carry forward, 48,389 17 5
Names of Works. Date of Publication. Total Sums Received.
Brought forward, 48,389 17 5
Lady Anna, 1874 1200 0 0
The Way We Live Now, 1875 3000 0 0
The Prime Minister, 1876 2500 0 0
The American Senator, 1877 1800 0 0
Is He Popenjoy? 1878 1600 0 0
John Caldigate, 1879 1800 0 0
Sundries, 7800 0 0
68,939 17 5
It will not, I am sure, be thought that, in making my boast as to the quantity, I have endeavoured to lay claim to any literary excellence. That, in the writing of books, quantity without quality is a vice and a misfortune, has been too manifestly settled to leave a doubt on such a matter. But I do lay claim to whatever merit should be accorded to me for persevering diligence in my profession. And I make the claim, not with a view to my own glory, but for the benefit of those who may read these pages, and when young may intend to follow the same career. Nulla dies sine linea. Let that be their motto. And let their work be to them as is his common work to the common labourer. No gigantic efforts will then be necessary. He need tie no wet towels round his brow, nor sit for thirty hours at his desk without moving,--as men have sat, or said that they have sat. More than nine-tenths of my literary work has been done in the last twenty years, and during twelve of those years I followed another profession. I have never been a slave to this work, giving due time, if not more than due time, to the amusements I have loved. But I have been constant,--and constancy in labour will conquer all difficulties. Gutta cavat lapidem non vi, sed saepe cadendo.
It may interest some if I state that during the last twenty years I have made by literature something near 70,000. As I have said before in these pages, I look upon the result as comfortable, but not splendid.
It will not, I trust, be supposed by any reader that I have intended in this so-called autobiography to give a record of my inner life. No man ever did so truly,--and no man ever will. Rousseau probably attempted it, but who doubts but that Rousseau has confessed in much the thoughts and convictions rather than the facts of his life? If the rustle of a woman's petticoat has ever stirred my blood; if a cup of wine has been a joy to me; if I have thought tobacco at midnight in pleasant company to be one of the elements of an earthly paradise; if now and again I have somewhat recklessly fluttered a 5 note over a card-table;--of what matter is that to any reader? I have betrayed no woman. Wine has brought me to no sorrow. It has been the companionship of smoking that I have loved, rather than the habit. I have never desired to win money, and I have lost none. To enjoy the excitement of pleasure, but to be free from its vices and ill effects,--to have the sweet, and leave the bitter untasted,--that has been my study. The preachers tell us that this is impossible. It seems to me that hitherto I have succeeded fairly well. I will not say that I have never scorched a finger,--but I carry no ugly wounds.
For what remains to me of life I trust for my happiness still chiefly to my work--hoping that when the power of work be over with me, God may be pleased to take me from a world in which, according to my view, there can be no joy; secondly, to the love of those who love me; and then to my books. That I can read and be happy while I am reading, is a great blessing. Could I remember, as some men do, what I read, I should have been able to call myself an educated man. But that power I have never possessed. Something is always left,--something dim and inaccurate,--but still something sufficient to preserve the taste for more. I am inclined to think that it is so with most readers.
Of late years, putting aside the Latin classics, I have found my greatest pleasure in our old English dramatists,--not from any excessive love of their work, which often irritates me by its want of truth to nature, even while it shames me by its language,--but from curiosity in searching their plots and examining their character. If I live a few years longer, I shall, I think, leave in my copies of these dramatists, down to the close of James I., written criticisms on every play. No one who has not looked closely into it knows how many there are.
Now I stretch out my hand, and from the further shore I bid adieu to all who have cared to read any among the many words that I have written.