Surtees, Robert Smith

Surtees, Robert Smith
born May 17, 1803, The Riding, Northumberland, Eng.
died March 16, 1864, Brighton, Sussex

English novelist.

Passionately addicted to riding to hounds from his youth, Surtees devoted nearly all his writings to horses and riding. In 1831 he launched New Sporting Magazine. His famous comic character Mr. Jorrocks, a blunt Cockney grocer entirely given over to fox hunting, appeared in Jorrocks's Jaunts and Jollities (1838), Handley Cross (1843), and Hillingdon Hall (1845). Among his other novels, which also portray the boredom, ill manners, discomfort, and coarse food of English provincial life, are Hawbuck Grange (1847) and Mr. Facey Romford's Hounds (1865).

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▪ British writer
born , May 17, 1805, The Riding, Northumberland, Eng.
died March 16, 1864, Brighton, Sussex
 English novelist of the chase and the creator of Mr. Jorrocks, one of the great comic characters of English literature, a Cockney grocer who is as blunt as John Bull and entirely given over to fox hunting.

      A younger son, Surtees worked as a lawyer until he inherited his family's estate in 1838. But riding to hounds was his passion, and nearly all his writing involved horses and riding. Surtees' earliest works were published in The Sporting Magazine, and in 1831, with Rudolph Ackermann as publisher, he launched the New Sporting Magazine (N.S.M.), editing it until 1836. His novels appeared as serials in the N.S.M. or elsewhere or in monthly parts before final publication in book form, and these first and last dates are given after their titles. Jorrocks' Jaunts and Jollities (1831, 1838), a collection of tales (a prototype for Charles Dickens's Pickwick Papers), Handley Cross (1843, expanded 1854), and Hillingdon Hall (1843, 1845) all feature Mr. Jorrocks. There followed Hawbuck Grange (1846, 1847); Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour (1849, 1853); Ask Mamma (1857, 1858); Plain or Ringlets? (1858, 1860); and Mr. Romford's Hounds (posthumous, 1865). Connoisseurs generally put first the chronicles of Soapey Sponge and Facey Romford, whose chief business is to pass off dangerous horses as tractable animals. In nearly all these books Surtees was fortunate to have as illustrators John Leech and Hablot Knight Browne (“Phiz”), the illustrator of the Pickwick Papers. All were also published anonymously, with Surtees' name appearing only on his first book, the factual Horseman's Manual (1831).

      Surtees was a mordant satirist. The snobbery, envy, greed, and ignorance that consume many of his characters are set down without geniality. His portrayal of provincial England just leaving the coaching for the railway era exposes its boredom, ill manners, discomfort, and coarse food, and its matter-of-factness makes admirable social history. Yet the descriptions of fast runs with hounds over open country leave the most lasting impression.

Additional Reading
Frederick Watson, Robert Smith Surtees: A Critical Study (1933, reissued 1991); David R. Johnston-Jones, The Deathless Train: The Life and Work of Robert Smith Surtees (1974); John Welcome, The Sporting World of R.S. Surtees (1982).

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Universalium. 2010.

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