The Postman Turned Hunter

This week we kick off our Annual Auction, our main Library fundraiser of the year. Our highlight today comes from the books for sale in the Auction, but it wouldn’t be for sale without a string of failed careers (including a miserable stint for the postal service) across three countries. The book in question is called Hunting Sketches, and it’s a wonderfully illustrated 1933 imprint of the original, written in 1865. The author is Anthony Trollope (1815-1882).

Anthony Trollope, Esqre. Illustration by Robert Ball.

Today, Trollope is recognized as one of the most prolific novelists of the Victorian era, but he took a long path to get there. His parents were of the gentry, but Trollope’s father, a barrister, did not have the money to support the gentlemanly lifestyle. After losing his law practice and failing as a farmer, the Trollope family relocated to Belgium to avoid debtors prison. At 19 years old, Anthony worked for some time as a tutor and flirted with joining the cavalry before returning to London to work as a clerk in the General Post Office.

The 19th Century headquarters of the General Post Office in St. Martins-le-Grand in the City of London. Antique steel engraved print by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (1793-1864).

It wasn’t a good fit. Trollope was consistently late to work, surly and unhappy, and didn’t get along with his supervisors. He later described his time there as “neither creditable to myself nor useful to the public service.” Facing deepening debts, however, Trollope remained at the Post Office, feeling he had no other choice but to continue working.

Trollope praises John Leech as a man with “an eye… for the man who hunts and doesn’t like it.”

Trollope’s fortunes changed in 1841, when a postal inspector in Ireland was discharged. The position was widely considered undesirable, but Trollope volunteered for the job. Eager to move Trollope out of the General Post Office, his supervisors approved him and Trollope was off to Ireland.

This edition of Hunting Sketches contains many illustrations by Robert Ball, and an introduction by James Boyd, MFH.

Trollope found almost immediately that Ireland agreed with him. Not only could his civil service stipend go much further in the economically depressed Irish countryside, but he appears to have gotten along well with the people as well. With a more comfortable living, Trollope began foxhunting and continued to do so for much of the rest of his life.

Trollope’s Hunting Sketches consists of essays about many different aspects of hunting in the mid 19th Century.

Trollope’s new job was heavy on travel, and he spent much of his time on trains in writing his novels. The rest, as they say, is history. In 1865, Trollope wrote his Hunting Sketches, a mild, witty, and insightful look into hunting and its popular reception during Trollope’s time. Because Trollope endured years of failure at a postal worker, we have his observations available to us today. You can read more about participation in the NSLM Annual Auction by viewing the catalog.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail


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