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- Autobiography of Anthony Trollope - 20/46 -


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.

CHAPTER IX

"CASTLE RICHMOND;" "BROWN, JONES, AND ROBINSON;" "NORTH AMERICA;" "ORLEY FARM"

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 Ireland, during the famine; and I am well aware now that English readers no longer like Irish stories. I cannot understand why it should be so, as the Irish character is peculiarly well fitted for romance. But Irish subjects generally have become distasteful. This novel, however, is of itself a weak production. The characters do not excite sympathy. The heroine has two lovers, one of whom is a scamp and the other a prig. As regards the scamp, the girl's mother is her own rival. Rivalry of the same nature has been admirably depicted by Thackeray in his Esmond; but there the mother's love seems to be justified by the girl's indifference. In Castle Richmond the mother strives to rob her daughter of the man's love. The girl herself has no character; and the mother, who is strong enough, is almost revolting. The dialogue is often lively, and some of the incidents are well told; but the story as a whole was a failure. I cannot remember, however, that it was roughly handled by the critics when it came out; and I much doubt whether anything so hard was said of it then as that which I have said here.

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 King Street. This playing of whist before dinner has since that become a habit with me, so that unless there be something else special to do--unless there be hunting, or I am wanted to ride in the park by the young tyrant of my household--it is "my custom always in the afternoon." I have sometimes felt sore with myself for this persistency, feeling that I was making myself a slave to an amusement which has not after all very much to recommend it. I have often thought that I would break myself away from it, and "swear off," as Rip Van Winkle says. But my swearing off has been like that of Rip Van Winkle. And now, as I think of it coolly, I do not know but that I have been right to cling to it. As a man grows old he wants amusement, more even than when he is young; and then it becomes so difficult to find amusement. Reading should, no doubt, be the delight of men's leisure hours. Had I to choose between books and cards, I should no doubt take the books. But I find that I can seldom read with pleasure for above an hour and a half at a time, or more than three hours a day. As I write this I am aware that hunting must soon be abandoned. After sixty it is given but to few men to ride straight across country, and I cannot bring myself to adopt any other mode of riding. I think that without cards I should now be much at a loss. When I began to play at the Garrick, I did so simply because I liked the society of the men who played.

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


Autobiography of Anthony Trollope - 20/46

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