Robert Smith Surtees

English writer (1805-1864)

Robert Smith Surtees (May 17 1805March 16 1864) was an English journalist, comic novelist and writer on field sports. His best-known creation, the Cockney huntsman Jorrocks, inspired Dickens's Pickwick Papers.

Quotes edit

  • Mr. Jorrocks then called upon the company in succession for a toast, a song, or a sentiment. Nimrod gave, "The Royal Staghounds"; Crane gave, "Champagne to our real friends, and real pain to our sham friends."
    • Jorrocks's Jaunts and Jollities (1838) ch. 12
  • More people are flattered into virtue than bullied out of vice.
    • The Analysis of the Hunting Field (1846) ch. 1
  • The only infallible rule we know is, that the man who is always talking about being a gentleman never is one.
    • Ask Mamma (1858) ch. 1
  • There may be said to be three sorts of lawyers, able, unable, and lamentable.
    • Plain or Ringlets? (1860) ch. 40
  • The supply of good fellows is by no means in excess of the demand. A man has only to hoist the flag of hospitality to insure a very considerable amount of custom.
    • Plain or Ringlets? ch. 65
  • Better be killed than frightened to death.
    • Mr. Facey Romford's Hounds (1865) ch. 39
  • Life would be very pleasant if it were not for its enjoyments.
    • Mr. Facey Romford's Hounds ch. 39

Handley Cross (1843) edit

  • I am a sportsman all over, and to the back-bone – 'Unting is all that's worth living for – all time is lost wot is not spent in 'unting – it is like the hair we breathe – if we have it not we die – it's the sport of kings, the image of war without its guilt, and only five-and-twenty per cent of its danger.
    • Ch. 7
  • 'Untin' fills my thoughts by day, and many a good run I have in my sleep. Many a dig in the ribs I gives Mrs. J. when I think they're runnin' into the warmint…No man is fit to be called a sportsman wot doesn't kick his wife out of bed on a haverage once in three weeks!
    • Ch. 11
  • It is an inwariable rule with the dealers to praise the bad points and let the good 'uns speak for themselves.
    • Ch. 18

Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour (1853) edit

  • Thus attired, with smiles assumed at the door, the young ladies entered the drawing-room in the full fervour of sisterly animosity.
    • Ch. 16
  • Women never look so well as when one comes in wet and dirty from hunting.
    • Ch. 21
  • He was a gentleman who was generally spoken of as having nothing a-year, paid quarterly.
    • Ch. 24
  • It is best to let the horse go his way, and pretend it is yours. There is no secret so close as that between a rider and his horse.
    • Ch. 30
  • No man rides harder than my Lord Scamperdale – always goes as if he had a spare neck in his pocket.
    • Ch. 36
  • When at length they rose to go to bed, it struck each man as he followed his neighbour upstairs that the one before him walked very crookedly.
    • Ch. 40

Quotes about Surtees edit

  • What is remarkable is the portrait not only of Sponge, but of the whole society in which he moves. It is an extraordinarily tough society, without any of that self-consciousness which belongs to Hemingway's heroes. The men are tough as a matter of course. ... Probably Surtees owes this success to that observant eye and candour of speech which is his chief force as a writer. He has no cant of any kind; he is sucking up to nobody and no class. He has his moral standards, but he is not trying to preach them; there is none of that sense that we have, even in Trollope, of the moralizer. ... He writes of what he sees and knows, with a reckless sincerity especially refreshing in these self-conscious times.
    • Joyce Cary in The Sunday Times (1957), reprinted as ‘Introduction’, R. S. Surtees, Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour [1853] (1982), pp. ix–xi
  • Surtees was himself a country squire from the deep North. ... He had all the prejudices of his kind. He hated the fashionable places and people and smart society, he was suspicious of any kind of cleverness. He was prickly and hard, he had little compassion except for dogs and horses. ... Surtees prefers crooks to fools, because they are hard, because, as he thinks, they have no illusions. ... He has no self-consciousness, as man or writer. He is not afraid of anybody and rolls no logs. To read him is to escape for an hour or two from eye-wash and cant into an atmosphere as brisk as one of his hunting mornings, sharp and raw, highly unflattering to everything in sight, faces, hedges, trees, nibbled pasture and greasy plough, but thoroughly bracing.
    • Joyce Cary in The Sunday Times (1957), reprinted as ‘Introduction’, R. S. Surtees, Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour [1853] (1982), pp. xii–xiv
  • At last he was driven to paw over a few score books in a panelled room called the library. ... He opened and thrust them back, one after another, till crude coloured illustrations of men on horses held his eye. He began at random and read a little, moved into the drawing-room with the volume, and settled down by the fire still reading. It was a foul world into which he peeped for the first time—a heavy-eating, hard-drinking hell of horse-copers, swindlers, matchmaking mothers, economically dependent virgins selling themselves blushingly for cash and lands: Jews, tradesmen, and an ill-considered spawn of Dickens-and-horsedung characters (I give Midmore's own criticism), but he read on, fascinated.
    • Rudyard Kipling, ‘My Son's Wife’ (1913), A Diversity of Creatures (1917), pp. 346–347
  • I am reading Ask Mamma by Surtees. ... Despite my hatred of blood sports, I find him highly amusing (and he always lets the hares escape, have you noticed?).
    • Philip Larkin to Judy Egerton (11 September 1982), quoted in Philip Larkin, Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, 1940–1985, ed. Anthony Thwaite (1992), p. 679
  • The recent volume of Siegfried Sassoon's Diaries finds him making a doomed effort to convert his fellow-guests at Garsington: but he tells us elsewhere how ‘when I mentioned him to Arnold Bennett, he merely enquired “Can he ... really be perused?” Whereupon I went straight to a bookseller's near the Reform Club and ordered Sponge and Romford to be sent to him. A few days later I received a postcard. “Many thanks for putting me right on Surtees. Romford is the real thing.”’
    • Jeremy Lewis, ‘Adventurer’, The Spectator (15 May 1982), pp. 23–24
  • On the one hand, Surtees was a man of the eighteenth century—hence Thackeray's understanding of him; on the other, he was an amateur who dealt almost entirely with background figures, the great Jorrocks excepted. He was deeply knowing about English sporting life, the squirearchy and the law, but he did not construct the melodramas and elaborate plots of the other Victorian novelists, nor did he issue their moralisings. He often excelled them in the recording of ordinary speech and day-to-day incident. He is fresher than the masters, but he is artless. A good deal of his humour is the humour of shrewd sayings which, later on, we find in Kipling. His original contribution is in the field of invective. Surtees has a truly Elizabethan power of denunciation.
    • V. S. Pritchett, ‘The Brutal Chivalry’, The Working Novelist (1965), p. 94
  • Mr. Surtees, a well-known country gentleman, who was passionately devoted to the healthy sport of fox-hunting, and gifted with a keen spirit of manly humour of a Rabelaisian tinge.
    • Advertisement by Bradbury, Agnew and Co., quoted in R. S. Surtees, Hawbuck Grange, or, The sporting adventures of Thomas Scott, Esq. (1847), p. 356

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