The Death of Anthony Trollope
- 6th December 1882 -
From a childhood that was unhappy, uncertain, in terms of a stable home, and socially awkward to a career in the Civil Service that was, in many ways, unimpressive by his own admission, sprung a writing career that is among the best known in English literature with a memorial in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.
Born on April 24th 1815 to Thomas and Frances, Anthony enjoyed, initially, a privileged upbringing. His father was a barrister and also a gentleman farmer. Unfortunately, he failed at both. It is said he left the law due to his short temper and never managed to create a living out of farming. His mother ran a bazaar for a short time in Cincinnati before becoming a writer. Moving to Belgium to avoid the debt Thomas had accrued, it was Frances who became the chief breadwinner.
Anthony attended Harrow School at the age of 7 as a free day pupil. His father’s farm in the area entitled him to this. He then transferred to Winchester and then back to Harrow as a day pupil to cut down on expenses. During his schooldays he was at his most unhappy and badly bullied. He spent much of his time day dreaming and inventing stories.
After the family moved to Belgium, Anthony was intending to join an Austrian Cavalry regiment. In order to qualify for this, he had to speak French and German. While he was learning these he taught in a school. It was while working here that he was offered a job in the Civil Service back in England. Thus from 1834-41 he worked as a junior clerk in the Post Office. It was said that he was lacking in both punctuality and demeanour and in the course of his work started to run up debts – notably to a tailor. A debt that started as £12 quickly rose to over £200.
A position in Ireland became available as a postal surveyor. Nobody else wanted to do it, his supervisor wanted to get rid of him and Trollope wanted to escape his life and debt at home. He readily applied and was given the job. His new boss liked him and he was soon regarded as a good member of the team.
He enjoyed Ireland and the Irish and it was whilst here that he met his future wife - Rose Heseltine. They married and moved to Clonmel, Tipperary when he was transferred to southern Ireland. It was at this stage that he started writing seriously – mainly before breakfast. He had a very strict regime that saw him write 1000 words an hour.
‘When I have commenced a book,’ he explained, ‘I have always prepared a diary divided into weeks . . . In this I have entered day by day the number of pages that I have written, so that if at any time I slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness has been there staring me in the face – and demanding of me increased labour.’
His first novel, The Warden, published in 1855, was set in an old folks’ home where the manager was attacked for making too much profit out of what was a charity. He had been sent to the South West of England and South Wales to look at rural mail delivery systems. It was whilst travelling to Salisbury that he was said to have thought up The Warden. This was the first of a series of books set in the fictitious county of Barsetshire. A further five followed: Barchester Towers (1857), Doctor Thorne (1858), The Family Parsonage (1861), The Small House at Allington (1864) and The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867). He was writing whilst working and in 1859 was transferred back to London and achieved a fairly senior position within the Post Office as surveyor of the Eastern District. It was whilst working for the Post Office that he devised a roadside collection idea that resulted in the red post boxes that we see today.
In 1858 he was sent to Egypt to negotiate the transfer of mail from Alexandria to Suez. He did this so successfully that he was then sent to the West Indies, Central America and Scotland. He returned to London in 1859 to carry on working for the P.O. before resigning in 1867. The following year he stood as a Liberal candidate for the constituency of Beverley but failed to get elected.
He turned his attention to writing full time, writing a prolific number of novels including the Palliser novels – a political genre that looked at the mechanics of how the country was run. There were six of these between 1864 and 1879. In 1871 he visited Australia with his wife to visit his son, Frederic who was s sheep farmer in New South Wales. He wrote the standalone novel, Lady Anna on the voyage. In total he wrote over 50 novels, 6 short story collections and 8 non-fiction books, two volumes of which were about Australia and New Zealand from his travels there. He visited again in 1875, this time to help his son close his farm – much like Frederic’s grandfather had had to do years before him.
In 1880 he moved to the West Sussex village of South Harting, where his health gradually deteriorated. Two years later, on December 6th, 1882, he died in Marylebone and is buried in Kensal Green cemetery. Trollope is better known since his death than in life. His output was huge and he is rightly now considered one of the greats of the English language.