Throughout the 1860’s and 1870’s Trollope was at the height of his popularity. His Barsetshire novels were bestsellers and he commanded huge advances from publishers. The Palliser series of novels continued the success and his prolific output made him the most published novelist of the period.

Trollope certainly laboured hard for his income – from both his careers. The Post Office sent him in 1858 to Egypt to negotiate the transfer of mails from Alexandria to Suez, and he carried out the task so efficiently he was sent on roving commissions to West Indies, Central America and to Scotland, where he settled a dispute over whether postmen should have to climb up to the top of Glasgow’s tenement blocks by trudging the full length of every man’s round, humping the heavy sacks up long flights of stairs the midsummer heat himself. He was made Surveyor General of the Post Office at a salary of £800, but it was his writing that meant most to him. On every trip away, he would continue writing his stories, one young journalist remembering Trollope’s bulky six-foot figure puffing into his compartment on the night express out of Euston. ‘Do you ever sleep in the train?’ demanded the novelist taking a large fur cap from’ his portmanteau and pulling it over his eyes. ‘I always do’ ‘ Then, having snored loudly for two hours, he woke up as if to a timetable. ‘Do you ever write in the train?’ he asked, getting out a travelling lamp, pad a pencil. ‘I always do.’ And he then proceeded to write solidly all through the night, almost, without pause.He would usually rise every morning at 5.30 to get his writing done before he went into the office. ‘Three hours a day,’ he declared, ‘will produce as much as a man ought to write. But 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.’

He finished each of his novels within a few months of starting it, working literally to a timetable: ‘When I have commenced a book,’ he explained, ‘I have alway’s 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 fac – and demanding of me increased labour.’ I If he wasted a week or even a day he would scrawl, ‘Alas!’ in his diary and repent bitterly of his sloth -though he was at the same time somewhat ashamed of the speed and ease with which lie dashed everything off, dismissing his literary skills as ‘mechanical tricks’. The shy and secret Trollope lurked behind the bluster, acutely aware that the prolific output on which he prided himself was a standing joke among his fellow writers.Still, it yielded dividends. In October 1859 William Makepeace Thackeray commissioned Anthony to write a novel to be serialised in a new magazine he was editing, the Cornhill It was accolade enough receive such an invitation from the much respected author of Vanity Fair, but serialisation meant still more, for it was the fashion in which bestselling authors presented themselves to the Victorian reading public. The most prestigious novels appeared, in, book form only after all their chapters had been published in instalments. Dickens had written most of his novels as magazine serials – and all six Palliser novels were to be printed in serial form.

Anthony had arrived. By the early 1860s, he was acknowledged as one of the gods of the Victorian literary scene, a close friend of Thackeray and the artist Millais – who illustrated some of his books – and a welcome member of the elite gentleman’s  clubs, the Garrick and the Athenaeum. He settled in a fine Georgian mansion at Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire with his family – his two sons, were big boys – by now filled his stable with hunters, continued to turn out at least two novels a year and, in 1867 resigned from the Post Office. He had not greatly enjoyed the politicking involved in working in the main London office – riding the fields was more his style – and his brusque manner did not go down well with his colleagues. ‘I differ from you entirely,’ he once roared at some official who happened to venture an opinion. ‘What was it you said?”

No longer a Civil Servant, he could develop his eccentricities to the full. He rode harder to hounds than ever-though he was so short-sighted he could scarcely see where he was going. ‘My eyes are so constituted,’ he wrote, ‘that I can never see the nature of a fence. I either follow someone or ride at it with the full conviction that I may be going into – a horsepond or a gravel pit. I have plunged into both one and the other.’ On his mantelpiece he kept a dozen pairs of spectacles and ‘a caller, ushered in upon him would see a heavy figure rise from the desk, hurry to the fireplace and there fumble feverishly among the littered spectacles for the pair best able to reveal the visitor’s identity.’ Loud, overbearing and often intolerant, he showed himself nonetheless generous and helpful to people in need – and particularly to young writers. He nursed no jealousy, concealing but never forgetting his own diffident and unpromising youth.

Sensitive and generous to new talent – as Thackeray had been generous to him – he tried to help several young writers and poets when he became in 1867 the first editor of a new literary magazine, the St Paul’s – modesty made him oppose the owner’s suggestion – that it should be called Trollope’s Monthly. But he resigned after less than three years in the job. ‘I was too anxious to be good,’ he explained, ‘and did not enough think of what might be lucrative.’ His own novels continued to sell well, however, Phineas Finn, the second of his Palliser novels, achieving runaway success. He, stood for Parliament as a Liberal at Beverley in 1868, and was bitterly, disappointed when he was not returned. Still, he could vent his spleen in print and opened his follow-up to Phineas Finn, Phineas Redux, with an attack on the faults of the electoral system. ‘I have always thought,’ he said in a famous phrase, ‘that to sit in the British Parliament should be the highest object of ambition to every educated Englishman.’ Having failed in that ambition – to act out in real life all the excitement that he packed into the Palliser novels – the last dozen years of his life were something of an anticlimax.

© British Broadcasting Corporation 1974.
The Pallisers Radio Times Special

Chronology 1861-1880