Read CHAPTER VIII - PEACOCK of Essays in English Literature‚ 1780-1860 , free online book, by George Saintsbury, on

In the year 1875 Mr. Bentley conferred no small favour upon lovers of English literature by reprinting, in compact form and good print, the works of Thomas Love Peacock, up to that time scattered and in some cases not easily obtainable.  So far as the publisher was concerned, nothing more could reasonably have been demanded; it is not easy to say quite so much of the editor, the late Sir Henry Cole.  His editorial labours were indeed considerably lightened by assistance from other hands.  Lord Houghton contributed a critical preface, which has the ease, point, and grasp of all his critical monographs.  Miss Edith Nicolls, the novelist’s granddaughter, supplied a short biography, written with much simplicity and excellent good taste.  But as to editing in the proper sense ­introduction, comment, illustration, explanation ­there is next to none of it in the book.  The principal thing, however, was to have Peacock’s delightful work conveniently accessible, and that the issue of 1875 accomplished.  The author is still by no means universally or even generally known; though he has been something of a critic’s favourite.  Almost the only dissenter, as far as I know, among critics, is Mrs. Oliphant, who has not merely confessed herself, in her book on the literary history of Peacock’s time, unable to comprehend the admiration expressed by certain critics for Headlong Hall and its fellows, but is even, if I do not mistake her, somewhat sceptical of the complete sincerity of that admiration.  There is no need to argue the point with this agreeable practitioner of Peacock’s own art.  A certain well-known passage of Thackeray, about ladies and Jonathan Wild, will sufficiently explain her own inability to taste Peacock’s persiflage.  As for the genuineness of the relish of those who can taste him there is no way that I know to convince sceptics.  For my own part I can only say that, putting aside scattered readings of his work in earlier days, I think I have read the novels through on an average once a year ever since their combined appearance.  Indeed, with Scott, Thackeray, Borrow, and Christopher North, Peacock composes my own private Paradise of Dainty Devices, wherein I walk continually when I have need of rest and refreshment.  This is a fact of no public importance, and is only mentioned as a kind of justification for recommending him to others.

Peacock was born at Weymouth on 18th October 1785.  His father (who died a year or two after his birth) was a London merchant; his mother was the daughter of a naval officer.  He seems during his childhood to have done very much what he pleased, though, as it happened, study always pleased him; and his gibes in later life at public schools and universities lose something of their point when it is remembered that he was at no university, at no school save a private one, and that he left even that private school when he was thirteen.  He seems, however, to have been very well grounded there, and on leaving it he conducted his education and his life at his own pleasure for many years.  He published poems before he was twenty, and he fell in love shortly after he was twenty-two.  The course of this love did not run smooth, and the lady, marrying some one else, died shortly afterwards.  She lived in Peacock’s memory till his death, sixty years later, which event is said to have been heralded (in accordance with not the least poetical of the many poetical superstitions of dreaming) by frequent visions of this shadowy love of the past.  Probably to distract himself, Peacock, who had hitherto attempted no profession, accepted the rather unpromising post of under-secretary to Admiral Sir Home Popham on board ship.  His mother, in her widowhood, and he himself had lived much with his sailor grandfather, and he was always fond of naval matters.  But it is not surprising to find that his occupation, though he kept it for something like a year, was not to his taste.  He gave it up in the spring of 1809, and returned to leisure, poetry, and pedestrianism.  The “Genius of the Thames,” a sufficiently remarkable poem, was the result of the two latter fancies.  A year later he went to Wales and met his future wife, Jane Griffith, though he did not marry her for ten years more.  He returned frequently to the principality, and in 1812 made, at Nant Gwillt, the acquaintance of Shelley and his wife Harriet.  This was the foundation of a well-known friendship, which has supplied by far the most solid and trustworthy materials existing for the poet’s biography.  It was Wales, too, that furnished the scene of his first and far from worst novel Headlong Hall, which was published in 1816.  From 1815 to 1819 Peacock lived at Marlow, where his intercourse with Shelley was resumed, and where he produced not merely Headlong Hall but Melincourt (the most unequal, notwithstanding many charming sketches, of his works), the delightful Nightmare Abbey (with a caricature, as genius caricatures, of Shelley for the hero), and the long and remarkable poem of “Rhododaphne.”

During the whole of this long time, that is to say up to his thirty-fourth year, with the exception of his year of secretaryship, Peacock had been his own master.  He now, in 1819, owed curtailment of his liberty but considerable increase of fortune to a long-disused practice on the part of the managers of public institutions, of which Sir Henry Taylor gave another interesting example.  The directors of the East India Company offered him a clerkship because he was a clever novelist and a good Greek scholar.  He retained his place ("a precious good place too,” as Thackeray with good-humoured envy says of it in “The Hoggarty Diamond”) with due promotion for thirty-seven years, and retired from it in 1856 with a large pension.  He had married Miss Griffith very shortly after his appointment; in 1822 Maid Marian appeared, and in 1823 Peacock took a cottage, which became after a time his chief and latterly his only residence, at Halliford, near his beloved river.  For some years he published nothing, but 1829 and 1831 saw the production of perhaps his two best books, The Misfortunes of Elphin and Crotchet Castle.  After Crotchet Castle, official duties and perhaps domestic troubles (for his wife was a helpless invalid) interrupted his literary work for more than twenty years, an almost unexampled break in the literary activity of a man so fond of letters.  In 1852 he began to write again as a contributor to Fraser’s Magazine.  It is rather unfortunate that no complete republication, nor even any complete list of these articles, has been made.  The papers on Shelley and the charming story of Gryll Grange were the chief of them.  The author was an old man when he wrote this last, but he survived it six years, and died on 23d January 1866, having latterly lived very much alone.  Indeed, after Shelley’s death he seems never to have had any very intimate friend except Lord Broughton, with whose papers most of Peacock’s correspondence is for the present locked up.

There is a passage in Shelley’s “Letter to Maria Gisborne” which has been often quoted before, but which must necessarily be quoted again whenever Peacock’s life and literary character are discussed: ­

                                  And there     Is English P ­, with his mountain Fair     Turned into a flamingo, that shy bird     That gleams i’ the Indian air.  Have you not heard     When a man marries, dies, or turns Hindoo,     His best friends hear no more of him?  But you     Will see him, and will like him too, I hope,     With his milk-white Snowdonian Antelope     Matched with his Camelopard. His fine wit     Makes such a wound, the knife is lost in it;     A strain too learned for a shallow age,     Too wise for selfish bigots; let his page     Which charms the chosen spirits of his time,     Fold itself up for a serener clime     Of years to come, and find its recompense     In that just expectation.

The enigmas in this passage (where it is undisputed that “English P ­” is Peacock) have much exercised the commentators.  That Miss Griffith, after her marriage, while still remaining a Snowdonian antelope, should also have been a flamingo, is odd enough; but this as well as the “camelopard” (probably turning on some private jest then intelligible enough to the persons concerned, but dark to others) is not particularly worth illuminating.  The italicised words describing Peacock’s wit are more legitimate subjects of discussion.  They seem to me, though not perhaps literally explicable after the fashion of the duller kind of commentator, to contain both a very happy description of Peacock’s peculiar humour, and a very sufficient explanation of the causes which have, both then and since, made that humour palatable rather to the few than to the many.  Not only is Peacock peculiarly liable to the charge of being too clever, but he uses his cleverness in a way peculiarly bewildering to those who like to have “This is a horse” writ large under the presentation of the animal.  His “rascally comparative” fancy, and the abundant stores of material with which his reading provided it, lead him perpetually to widen “the wound,” till it is not surprising that “the knife” (the particular satirical or polemical point that he is urging) gets “lost in it.”  This weakness, if it be one, has in its different ways of operation all sorts of curious results.  One is, that his personal portraits are perhaps farther removed from faithful representations of the originals than the personal sketches of any other writer, even among the most deliberate misrepresenters.  There is, indeed, a droll topsy-turvy resemblance to Shelley throughout the Scythrop of Nightmare Abbey, but there Peacock was hardly using the knife at all.  When he satirises persons, he goes so far away from their real personalities that the libel ceases to be libellous.  It is difficult to say whether Mr. Mystic, Mr. Flosky, or Mr. Skionar is least like Coleridge; and Southey, intensely sensitive as he was to criticism, need not have lost his equanimity over Mr. Feathernest.  A single point suggested itself to Peacock, that point suggested another, and so on and so on, till he was miles away from the start.  The inconsistency of his political views has been justly, if somewhat plaintively, reflected on by Lord Houghton in the words, “the intimate friends of Mr. Peacock may have understood his political sentiments, but it is extremely difficult to discover them from his works.”  I should, however, myself say that, though it may be extremely difficult to deduce any definite political sentiments from Peacock’s works, it is very easy to see in them a general and not inconsistent political attitude ­that of intolerance of the vulgar and the stupid.  Stupidity and vulgarity not being (fortunately or unfortunately) monopolised by any political party, and being (no doubt unfortunately) often condescended to by both, it is not surprising to find Peacock ­especially with his noble disregard of apparent consistency and the inveterate habit of pillar-to-post joking, which has been commented on ­distributing his shafts with great impartiality on Trojan and Greek; on the opponents of reform in his earlier manhood, and on the believers in progress during his later; on virtual representation and the telegraph; on barouche-driving as a gentleman’s profession, and lecturing as a gentleman’s profession.  But this impartiality (or, if anybody prefers it, inconsistency) has naturally added to the difficulties of some readers with his works.  It is time, however, to endeavour to give some idea of the gay variety of those works themselves.

Although there are few novelists who observe plot less than Peacock, there are few also who are more regular in the particular fashion in which they disdain plot.  Peacock is in fiction what the dramatists of the school of Ben Jonson down to Shadwell are in comedy ­he works in “humours.”  It ought not to be, but perhaps is, necessary to remind the reader that this is by no means the same thing in essence, though accidentally it very often is the same, as being a humourist.  The dealer in humours takes some fad or craze in his characters, some minor ruling passion, and makes his profit out of it.  Generally (and almost always in Peacock’s case) he takes if he can one or more of these humours as a central point, and lets the others play and revolve in a more or less eccentric fashion round it.  In almost every book of Peacock’s there is a host who is possessed by the cheerful mania for collecting other maniacs round him.  Harry Headlong of Headlong Hall, Esquire, a young Welsh gentleman of means, and of generous though rather unchastened taste, finding, as Peacock says, in the earliest of his gibes at the universities, that there are no such things as men of taste and philosophy in Oxford, assembles a motley host in London, and asks them down to his place at Llanberis.  The adventures of the visit (ending up with several weddings) form the scheme of the book, as indeed repetitions of something very little different form the scheme of all the other books, with the exception of The Misfortunes of Elphin, and perhaps Maid Marian.  Of books so simple in one way, and so complex in others, it is impossible and unnecessary to give any detailed analysis.  But each contains characteristics which contribute too much to the knowledge of Peacock’s idiosyncrasy to pass altogether unnoticed.  The contrasts in Headlong Hall between the pessimist Mr. Escot, the optimist Mr. Foster, and the happy-mean man Mr. Jenkison (who inclines to both in turn, but on the whole rather to optimism), are much less amusing than the sketches of Welsh scenery and habits, the passages of arms with representatives of the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews (which Peacock always hated), and the satire on “improving,” craniology, and other passing fancies of the day.  The book also contains the first and most unfriendly of those sketches of clergymen of the Church of England which Peacock gradually softened till, in Dr. Folliott and Dr. Opimian, his curses became blessings altogether.  The Reverend Dr. Gaster is an ignoble brute, though not quite life-like enough to be really offensive.  But the most charming part of the book by far (for its women are mere lay figures) is to be found in the convivial scenes. Headlong Hall contains, besides other occasional verse of merit, two drinking-songs ­“Hail to the Headlong,” and the still better “A Heel-tap! a heel-tap!  I never could bear it” ­songs not quite so good as those in the subsequent books, but good enough to make any reader think with a gentle sigh of the departure of good fellowship from the earth.  Undergraduates and Scotchmen (and even in their case the fashion is said to be dying) alone practise at the present day the full rites of Comus.

Melincourt, published, and indeed written, very soon after Headlong Hall, is a much more ambitious attempt.  It is some three times the length of its predecessor, and is, though not much longer than a single volume of some three-volume novels, the longest book that Peacock ever wrote.  It is also much more ambitiously planned; the twice attempted abduction of the heiress, Anthelia Melincourt, giving something like a regular plot, while the introduction of Sir Oran Haut-ton (an orang-outang whom the eccentric hero, Forester, has domesticated and intends to introduce to parliamentary life) can only be understood as aiming at a regular satire on the whole of human life, conceived in a milder spirit than “Gulliver,” but belonging in some degree to the same class.  Forester himself, a disciple of Rousseau, a fervent anti-slavery man who goes to the length of refusing his guests sugar, and an ideologist in many other ways, is also an ambitious sketch; and Peacock has introduced episodes after the fashion of eighteenth-century fiction, besides a great number of satirical excursions dealing with his enemies of the Lake school, with paper money, and with many other things and persons.  The whole, as a whole, has a certain heaviness.  The enthusiastic Forester is a little of a prig, and a little of a bore; his friend the professorial Mr. Fax proses dreadfully; the Oran Haut-ton scenes, amusing enough of themselves, are overloaded (as is the whole book) with justificative selections from Buffon, Lord Monboddo, and other authorities.  The portraits of Southey, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Canning, and others, are neither like, nor in themselves very happy, and the heroine Anthelia is sufficiently uninteresting to make us extremely indifferent whether the virtuous Forester or the roue Lord Anophel Achthar gets her.  On the other hand, detached passages are in the author’s very best vein; and there is a truly delightful scene between Lord Anophel and his chaplain Grovelgrub, when the athletic Sir Oran has not only foiled their attempt on Anthelia, but has mast-headed them on the top of a rock perpendicular.  But the gem of the book is the election for the borough of One-Vote ­a very amusing farce on the subject of rotten boroughs.  Mr. Forester has bought one of the One-Vote seats for his friend the Orang, and, going to introduce him to the constituency, falls in with the purchaser of the other seat, Mr. Sarcastic, who is a practical humorist of the most accomplished kind.  The satirical arguments with which Sarcastic combats Forester’s enthusiastic views of life and politics, the elaborate spectacle which he gets up on the day of nomination, and the free fight which follows, are recounted with extraordinary spirit.  Nor is the least of the attractions of the book an admirable drinking-song, superior to either of those in Headlong Hall, though perhaps better known to most people by certain Thackerayan reminiscences of it than in itself: ­


    In life three ghostly friars were we,     And now three friendly ghosts we be.      Around our shadowy table placed,     The spectral bowl before us floats:      With wine that none but ghosts can taste     We wash our unsubstantial throats.      Three merry ghosts ­three merry ghosts ­three merry ghosts are we:      Let the ocean be port and we’ll think it good sport       To be laid in that Red Sea.

    With songs that jovial spectres chaunt,     Our old refectory still we haunt.      The traveller hears our midnight mirth:      “Oh list,” he cries, “the haunted choir!      The merriest ghost that walks the earth     Is now the ghost of a ghostly friar.”      Three merry ghosts ­three merry ghosts ­three merry ghosts are we:      Let the ocean be port and we’ll think it good sport       To be laid in that Red Sea.

In the preface to a new edition of Melincourt, which Peacock wrote nearly thirty years later, and which contains a sort of promise of Gryll Grange, there is no sign of any dissatisfaction on the author’s part with the plan of the earlier book; but in his next, which came quickly, he changed that plan very decidedly. Nightmare Abbey is the shortest, as Melincourt is the longest, of his tales; and as Melincourt is the most unequal and the most clogged with heavy matter, so Nightmare Abbey contains the most unbroken tissue of farcical, though not in the least coarsely farcical, incidents and conversations.  The misanthropic Scythrop (whose habit of Madeira-drinking has made some exceedingly literal people sure that he really could not be intended for the water-drinking Shelley); his yet gloomier father, Mr. Glowry; his intricate entanglements with the lovely Marionetta and the still more beautiful Celinda; his fall between the two stools; his resolve to commit suicide; the solution of that awkward resolve ­are all simply delightful.  Extravagant as the thing is, its brevity and the throng of incidents and jokes prevent it from becoming in the least tedious.  The pessimist-fatalist Mr. Toobad, with his “innumerable proofs of the temporary supremacy of the devil,” and his catchword “the devil has come among us, having great wrath,” appears just enough, and not too much.  The introduced sketch of Byron as Mr. Cypress would be the least happy thing of the piece if it did not give occasion for a capital serious burlesque of Byronic verse, the lines, “There is a fever of the spirit,” which, as better known than most of Peacock’s verse, need not be quoted.  Mr. Flosky, a fresh caricature of Coleridge, is even less like the original than Mr. Mystic, but he is much more like a human being, and in himself is great fun.  An approach to a more charitable view of the clergy is discoverable in the curate Mr. Larynx, who, if not extremely ghostly, is neither a sot nor a sloven.  But the quarrels and reconciliations between Scythrop and Marionetta, his invincible inability to make up his mind, the mysterious advent of Marionetta’s rival, and her residence in hidden chambers, the alternate sympathy and repulsion between Scythrop and those elder disciples of pessimism, his father and Mr. Toobad ­all the contradictions of Shelley’s character, in short, with a suspicion of the incidents of his life brought into the most ludicrous relief, must always form the great charm of the book.  A tolerably rapid reader may get through it in an hour or so, and there is hardly a more delightful hour’s reading of anything like the same kind in the English language, either for the incidental strokes of wit and humour, or for the easy mastery with which the whole is hit off.  It contains, moreover, another drinking-catch, “Seamen Three,” which, though it is, like its companion, better known than most of Peacock’s songs, may perhaps find a place: ­

    Seamen three!  What men be ye?      Gotham’s three wise men we be.      Whither in your bowl so free?      To rake the moon from out the sea.      The bowl goes trim, the moon doth shine,     And our ballast is old wine;     And your ballast is old wine.

    Who art thou so fast adrift?      I am he they call Old Care.      Here on board we will thee lift.      No:  I may not enter there.      Wherefore so?  ’Tis Jove’s decree     In a bowl Care may not be;     In a bowl Care may not be.

    Fear ye not the waves that roll?      No:  in charmed bowl we swim.      What the charm that floats the bowl?      Water may not pass the brim.      The bowl goes trim, the moon doth shine,     And our ballast is old wine;     And your ballast is old wine.

A third song sung by Marionetta, “Why are thy looks so blank, Grey Friar?” is as good in another way; nor should it be forgotten that the said Marionetta, who has been thought to have some features of the luckless Harriet Shelley, is Peacock’s first lifelike study of a girl, and one of his pleasantest.

The book which came out four years after, Maid Marian, has, I believe, been much the most popular and the best known of Peacock’s short romances.  It owed this popularity, in great part, doubtless, to the fact that the author has altered little in the well-known and delightful old story, and has not added very much to its facts, contenting himself with illustrating the whole in his own satirical fashion.  But there is also no doubt that the dramatisation of Maid Marian by Planche and Bishop as an operetta helped, if it did not make, its fame.  The snatches of song through the novel are more frequent than in any other of the books, so that Mr. Planche must have had but little trouble with it.  Some of these snatches are among Peacock’s best verse, such as the famous “Bramble Song,” the great hit of the operetta, the equally well-known “Oh, bold Robin Hood,” and the charming snatch: ­

    For the tender beech and the sapling oak,       That grow by the shadowy rill,     You may cut down both at a single stroke,       You may cut down which you will;

    But this you must know, that as long as they grow,       Whatever change may be,     You never can teach either oak or beech       To be aught but a greenwood tree.

This snatch, which, in its mixture of sentiment, truth, and what may be excusably called “rollick,” is very characteristic of its author, and is put in the mouth of Brother Michael, practically the hero of the piece, and the happiest of the various workings up of Friar Tuck, despite his considerable indebtedness to a certain older friar, whom we must not call “of the funnels.”  That Peacock was a Pantagruelist to the heart’s core is evident in all his work; but his following of Master Francis is nowhere clearer than in Maid Marian, and it no doubt helps us to understand why those who cannot relish Rabelais should look askance at Peacock.  For the rest, no book of Peacock’s requires such brief comment as this charming pastoral, which was probably little less in Thackeray’s mind than Ivanhoe itself when he wrote Rebecca and Rowena.  The author draws in (it would be hardly fair to say drags in) some of his stock satire on courts, the clergy, the landed gentry, and so forth; but the very nature of the subject excludes the somewhat tedious digressions which mar Melincourt, and which once or twice menace, though they never actually succeed in spoiling, the unbroken fun of Nightmare Abbey.

The Misfortunes of Elphin, which followed after an interval of seven years, is, I believe, the least generally popular of Peacock’s works, though (not at all for that reason) it happens to be my own favourite.  The most curious instance of this general unpopularity is the entire omission, as far as I am aware, of any reference to it in any of the popular guide-books to Wales.  One piece of verse, indeed, the “War-song of Dinas Vawr,” a triumph of easy verse and covert sarcasm, has had some vogue, but the rest is only known to Peacockians.  The abundance of Welsh lore which, at any rate in appearance, it contains, may have had something to do with this; though the translations or adaptations, whether faithful or not, are the best literary renderings of Welsh known to me.  Something also, and probably more, is due to the saturation of the whole from beginning to end with Peacock’s driest humour.  Not only is the account of the sapping and destruction of the embankment of Gwaelod an open and continuous satire on the opposition to Reform, but the whole book is written in the spirit and manner of Candide ­a spirit and manner which Englishmen have generally been readier to relish, when they relish them at all, in another language than in their own.  The respectable domestic virtues of Elphin and his wife Angharad, the blameless loves of Taliesin and the Princess Melanghel, hardly serve even as a foil to the satiric treatment of the other characters.  The careless incompetence of the poetical King Gwythno, the coarser vices of other Welsh princes, the marital toleration or blindness of Arthur, the cynical frankness of the robber King Melvas, above all, the drunkenness of the immortal Seithenyn, give the humorist themes which he caresses with inexhaustible affection, but in a manner no doubt very puzzling, if not shocking, to matter-of-fact readers.  Seithenyn, the drunken prince and dyke-warden, whose carelessness lets in the inundation, is by far Peacock’s most original creation (for Scythrop, as has been said, is rather a humorous distortion of the actual than a creation).  His complete self-satisfaction, his utter fearlessness of consequences, his ready adaptation to whatever part, be it prince or butler, presents itself to him, and above all, the splendid topsy-turviness of his fashion of argument, make Seithenyn one of the happiest, if not one of the greatest, results of whimsical imagination and study of human nature.  “They have not” ­says the somewhile prince, now King Melvas’s butler, when Taliesin discovers him twenty years after his supposed death ­“they have not made it [his death] known to me, for the best of all reasons, that one can only know the truth.  For if that which we think we know is not truth, it is something which we do not know.  A man cannot know his own death.  For while he knows anything he is alive; at least, I never heard of a dead man who knew anything, or pretended to know anything:  if he had so pretended I should have told him to his face that he was no dead man.”  How nobly consistent is this with his other argument in the days of his princedom and his neglect of the embankment!  Elphin has just reproached him with the proverb, “Wine speaks in the silence of reason.”  “I am very sorry,” said Seithenyn, “that you see things in a wrong light.  But we will not quarrel, for three reasons:  first, because you are the son of the king, and may do and say what you please without any one having a right to be displeased; second, because I never quarrel with a guest, even if he grows riotous in his cups; third, because there is nothing to quarrel about.  And perhaps that is the best reason of the three; or rather the first is the best, because you are the son of the king; and the third is the second, that is the second best, because there is nothing to quarrel about; and the second is nothing to the purpose, because, though guests will grow riotous in their cups in spite of my good orderly example, God forbid that I should say that is the case with you.  And I completely agree in the truth of your remark that reason speaks in the silence of wine.”

Crotchet Castle, the last but one of the series, which was published two years after Elphin and nearly thirty before Gryll Grange, has been already called the best; and the statement is not inconsistent with the description already given of Nightmare Abbey and of Elphin.  For Nightmare Abbey is chiefly farce, and The Misfortunes of Elphin is chiefly sardonic persiflage. Crotchet Castle is comedy of a high and varied kind.  Peacock has returned in it to the machinery of a country house with its visitors, each of whom is more or less of a crotcheteer; and has thrown in a little romantic interest in the suit of a certain unmoneyed Captain Fitzchrome to a noble damsel who is expected to marry money, as well as in the desertion and subsequent rescue of Susannah Touchandgo, daughter of a levanting financier.  The charm of the book, however, which distinguishes it from all its predecessors, is the introduction of characters neither ridiculous nor simply good in the persons of the Rev. Dr. Folliott and Lady Clarinda Bossnowl, Fitzchrome’s beloved.  “Lady Clarinda,” says the captain, when the said Lady Clarinda has been playing off a certain not unladylike practical joke on him, “is a very pleasant young lady;” and most assuredly she is, a young lady (in the nineteenth century and in prose) of the tribe of Beatrice, if not even of Rosalind.  As for Dr. Folliott, the author is said to have described him as his amends for his earlier clerical sketches, and the amends are ample.  A stout Tory, a fellow of infinite jest, a lover of good living, an inveterate paradoxer, a pitiless exposer of current cants and fallacies, and, lastly, a tall man of his hands, Dr. Folliott is always delightful, whether he is knocking down thieves, or annihilating, in a rather Johnsonian manner, the economist, Mr. McQuedy, and the journalist, Mr. Eavesdrop, or laying down the law as to the composition of breakfast and supper, or using strong language as to “the learned friend” (Brougham), or bringing out, partly by opposition and partly by irony, the follies of the transcendentalists, the fops, the doctrinaires, and the mediaevalists of the party.  The book, moreover, contains the last and not the least of Peacock’s admirable drinking-songs: ­

    If I drink water while this doth last,       May I never again drink wine;     For how can a man, in his life of a span,       Do anything better than dine?      We’ll dine and drink, and say if we think       That anything better can be;     And when we have dined, wish all mankind       May dine as well as we.

    And though a good wish will fill no dish,       And brim no cup with sack,     Yet thoughts will spring as the glasses ring       To illumine our studious track.      O’er the brilliant dreams of our hopeful schemes       The light of the flask shall shine;     And we’ll sit till day, but we’ll find the way       To drench the world with wine.

The song is good in itself, but it is even more interesting as being the last product of Peacock’s Anacreontic vein.  Almost a generation passed before the appearance of his next and last novel, and though there is plenty of good eating and drinking in Gryll Grange, the old fine rapture had disappeared in society meanwhile, and Peacock obediently took note of the disappearance.  It is considered, I believe, a mark of barbarian tastes to lament the change.  But I am not certain that the Age of Apollinaris and lectures has yet produced anything that can vie as literature with the products of the ages of Wine and Song.

Gryll Grange, however, in no way deserves the name of a dry stick.  It is, next to Melincourt, the longest of Peacock’s novels, and it is entirely free from the drawbacks of the forty-years-older book.  Mr. Falconer, the hero, who lives in a tower alone with seven lovely and discreet foster-sisters, has some resemblances to Mr. Forester, but he is much less of a prig.  The life and the conversation bear, instead of the marks of a young man’s writing, the marks of the writing of one who has seen the manners and cities of many other men, and the personages throughout are singularly lifelike.  The loves of the second hero and heroine, Lord Curryfin and Miss Niphet, are much more interesting than their names would suggest.  And the most loquacious person of the book, the Rev. Dr. Opimian, if he is somewhat less racy than Dr. Folliott, is not less agreeable.  One main charm of the novel lies in its vigorous criticism of modern society in phases which have not yet passed away.  “Progress” is attacked with curious ardour; and the battle between literature and science, which in our days even Mr. Matthew Arnold waged but as one cauponans bellum, is fought with a vigour that is a joy to see.  It would be rather interesting to know whether Peacock, in planning the central incident of the play (an “Aristophanic comedy,” satirising modern ways), was aware of the existence of Mansel’s delightful parody of the “Clouds.”  But “Phrontisterion” has never been widely known out of Oxford, and the bearing of Peacock’s own performance is rather social than political.  Not the least noteworthy thing in the book is the practical apology which is made in it to Scotchmen and political economists (two classes whom Peacock had earlier persecuted) in the personage of Mr. McBorrowdale, a candid friend of Liberalism, who is extremely refreshing.  And besides the Aristophanic comedy, Gryll Grange contains some of Peacock’s most delightful verse, notably the really exquisite stanzas on “Love and Age.”

The book is the more valuable because of the material it supplies, in this and other places, for rebutting the charges that Peacock was a mere Epicurean, or a mere carper.  Independently of the verses just named, and the hardly less perfect “Death of Philemon,” the prose conversation shows how delicately and with how much feeling he could think on those points of life where satire and jollification are out of place.  For the purely modern man, indeed, it might be well to begin the reading of Peacock with Gryll Grange, in order that he may not be set out of harmony with his author by the robuster but less familiar tones, as well as by the rawer though not less vigorous workmanship, of Headlong Hall and its immediate successors.  The happy mean between the heart on the sleeve and the absence of heart has scarcely been better shown than in this latest novel.

I have no space here to go through the miscellaneous work which completes Peacock’s literary baggage.  His regular poems, all early, are very much better than the work of many men who have won a place among British poets.  His criticism, though not great in amount, is good; and he is especially happy in the kind of miscellaneous trifle (such as his trilingual poem on a whitebait dinner), which is generally thought appropriate to “university wits.”  But the characteristics of these miscellanies are not very different from the characteristics of his prose fiction, and, for purposes of discussion, may be included with them.

Lord Houghton has defined and explained Peacock’s literary idiosyncrasy as that of a man of the eighteenth century belated and strayed in the nineteenth.  It is always easy to improve on a given pattern, but I certainly think that this definition of Lord Houghton’s (which, it should be said, is not given in his own words) needs a little improvement.  For the differences which strike us in Peacock ­the easy joviality, the satirical view of life, the contempt of formulas and of science ­though they certainly distinguish many chief literary men of the eighteenth century from most chief literary men of the nineteenth, are not specially characteristic of the eighteenth century itself.  They are found in the seventeenth, in the Renaissance, in classical antiquity ­wherever, in short, the art of letters and the art of life have had comparatively free play.  The chief differentia of Peacock is a differentia common among men of letters; that is to say, among men of letters who are accustomed to society, who take no sacerdotal or singing-robe view of literature, who appreciate the distinction which literary cultivation gives them over the herd of mankind, but who by no means take that distinction too seriously.  Aristophanes, Horace, Lucian, Rabelais, Montaigne, Saint-Evremond, these are all Peacock’s literary ancestors, each, of course, with his own difference in especial and in addition.  Aristophanes was more of a politician and a patriot, Lucian more of a freethinker, Horace more of a simple pococurante.  Rabelais may have had a little inclination to science itself (he would soon have found it out if he had lived a little later), Montaigne may have been more of a pure egotist, Saint-Evremond more of a man of society, and of the verse and prose of society.  But they all had the same ethos, the same love of letters as letters, the same contempt of mere progress as progress, the same relish for the simpler and more human pleasures, the same good fellowship, the same tendency to escape from the labyrinth of life’s riddles by what has been called the humour-gate, the same irreconcilable hatred of stupidity and vulgarity and cant.  The eighteenth century has, no doubt, had its claim to be regarded as the special flourishing time of this mental state urged by many others besides Lord Houghton; but I doubt whether the claim can be sustained, at any rate to the detriment of other times, and the men of other times.  That century took itself too seriously ­a fault fatal to the claim at once.  Indeed, the truth is that while this attitude has in some periods been very rare, it cannot be said to be the peculiar, still less the universal, characteristic of any period.  It is a personal not a periodic distinction; and there are persons who might make out a fair claim to it even in the depths of the Middle Ages or of the nineteenth century.

However this may be, Peacock certainly held the theory of those who take life easily, who do not love anything very much except old books, old wine, and a few other things, not all of which perhaps need be old, who are rather inclined to see the folly of it than the pity of it, and who have an invincible tendency, if they tilt at anything at all, to tilt at the prevailing cants and arrogances of the time.  These cants and arrogances of course vary.  The position occupied by monkery at one time may be occupied by physical science at another; and a belief in graven images may supply in the third century the target, which is supplied by a belief in the supreme wisdom of majorities in the nineteenth.  But the general principles ­the cult of the Muses and the Graces for their own sake, and the practice of satiric archery at the follies of the day ­appear in all the elect of this particular election, and they certainly appear in Peacock.  The results no doubt are distasteful, not to say shocking, to some excellent people.  It is impossible to avoid a slight chuckle when one thinks of the horror with which some such people must read Peacock’s calm statement, repeated I think more than once, that one of his most perfect heroes “found, as he had often found before, that the more his mind was troubled, the more madeira he could drink without disordering his head.”  I have no doubt that the United Kingdom Alliance, if it knew this dreadful sentence (but probably the study of the United Kingdom Alliance is not much in Peacock), would like to burn all the copies of Gryll Grange by the hands of Mr. Berry, and make the reprinting of it a misdemeanour, if not a felony.  But it is not necessary to follow Sir Wilfrid Lawson, or to be a believer in education, or in telegraphs, or in majorities, in order to feel the repulsion which some people evidently feel for the manner of Peacock.  With one sense absent and another strongly present it is impossible for any one to like him.  The present sense is that which has been rather grandiosely called the sense of moral responsibility in literature.  The absent sense is that sixth, seventh, or eighth sense, called a sense of humour, and about this there is no arguing.  Those who have it, instead of being quietly and humbly thankful, are perhaps a little too apt to celebrate their joy in the face of the afflicted ones who have it not; the afflicted ones, who have it not, only follow a general law in protesting that the sense of humour is a very worthless thing, if not a complete humbug.  But there are others of whom it would be absurd to say that they have no sense of humour, and yet who cannot place themselves at the Peacockian point of view, or at the point of view of those who like Peacock.  His humour is not their humour; his wit not their wit.  Like one of his own characters (who did not show his usual wisdom in the remark), they “must take pleasure in the thing represented before they can take pleasure in the representation.”  And in the things that Peacock represents they do not take pleasure.  That gentlemen should drink a great deal of burgundy and sing songs during the process, appears to them at the best childish, at the worst horribly wrong.  The prince-butler Seithenyn is a reprobate old man, who was unfaithful to his trust and shamelessly given to sensual indulgence.  Dr. Folliott, as a parish priest, should not have drunk so much wine; and it would have been much more satisfactory to hear more of Dr. Opimian’s sermons and district visiting, and less of his dinners with Squire Gryll and Mr. Falconer.  Peacock’s irony on social and political arrangements is all sterile, all destructive, and the sentiment that “most opinions that have anything to be said for them are about two thousand years old” is a libel on mankind.  They feel, in short, for Peacock the animosity, mingled with contempt, which the late M. Amiel felt for “clever mockers.”

It is probably useless to argue with any such.  It might, indeed, be urged in all seriousness that the Peacockian attitude is not in the least identical with the Mephistophelian; that it is based simply on the very sober and arguable ground that human nature is always very much the same, liable to the same delusions and the same weaknesses; and that the oldest things are likely to be best, not for any intrinsic or mystical virtue of antiquity, but because they have had most time to be found out in, and have not been found out.  It may further be argued, as it has often been argued before, that the use of ridicule as a general criterion can do no harm, and may do much good.  If the thing ridiculed be of God, it will stand; if it be not, the sooner it is laughed off the face of the earth the better.  But there is probably little good in urging all this.  Just as a lover of the greatest of Greek dramatists must recognise at once that it would be perfectly useless to attempt to argue Lord Coleridge out of the idea that Aristophanes, though a genius, was vulgar and base of soul, so to go a good deal lower in the scale of years, and somewhat lower in the scale of genius, everybody who rejoices in the author of “Aristophanes in London” must see that he has no chance of converting Mrs. Oliphant, or any other person who does not like Peacock.  The middle term is not present, the disputants do not in fact use the same language.  The only thing to do is to recommend this particular pleasure to those who are capable of being pleased by it, and to whom, as no doubt it is to a great number, it is pleasure yet untried.

It is well to go about enjoying it with a certain caution.  The reader must not expect always to agree with Peacock, who not only did not always agree with himself, but was also a man of almost ludicrously strong prejudices.  He hated paper money; whereas the only feeling that most of us have on that subject is that we have not always as much of it as we should like.  He hated Scotchmen, and there are many of his readers who without any claim to Scotch blood, but knowing the place and the people, will say,

    That better wine and better men     We shall not meet in May,

or for the matter of that in any other month.  Partly because he hated Scotchmen, and partly because in his earlier days Sir Walter was a pillar of Toryism, he hated Scott, and has been guilty not merely of an absurd and no doubt partly humorous comparison of the Waverley novels to pantomimes, but of more definite criticisms which will bear the test of examination as badly.  His strictures on a famous verse of “The Dream of Fair Women” are indefensible, though there is perhaps more to be said for the accompanying gibe at Sir John Millais’s endeavour to carry out the description of Cleopatra in black (chiefly black) and white.  The reader of Peacock must never mind his author trampling on his, the reader’s, favourite corns; or rather he must lay his account with the agreeable certainty that Peacock will shortly afterwards trample on other corns which are not at all his favourites.  For my part I am quite willing to accept these conditions.  And I do not find that my admiration for Coleridge, and my sympathy with those who opposed the first Reform Bill, and my inclination to dispute the fact that Oxford is only a place of “unread books,” make me like Peacock one whit the less.  It is the law of the game, and those who play the game must put up with its laws.  And it must be remembered that, at any rate in his later and best books, Peacock never wholly “took a side.”  He has always provided some personage or other who reduces all the whimsies and prejudices of his characters, even including his own, under a kind of dry light.  Such is Lady Clarinda, who regards all the crotcheteers of Crotchet Castle with the same benevolent amusement; such Mr. McBorrowdale, who, when he is requested to settle the question of the superiority or inferiority of Greek harmony and perspective to modern, replies, “I think ye may just buz that bottle before you.” (Alas! to think that if a man used the word “buz” nowadays some wiseacre would accuse him of vulgarity or of false English.) The general criticism in his work is always sane and vigorous, even though there may be flaws in the particular censures; and it is very seldom that even in his utterances of most flagrant prejudice anything really illiberal can be found.  He had read much too widely and with too much discrimination for that.  His reading had been corrected by too much of the cheerful give-and-take of social discussion, his dry light was softened and coloured by too frequent rainbows, the Apollonian rays being reflected on Bacchic dew.  Anything that might otherwise seem hard and harsh in Peacock’s perpetual ridicule is softened and mellowed by this pervading good fellowship which, as it is never pushed to the somewhat extravagant limits of the Noctes Ambrosianae, so it distinguishes Peacock himself from the authors to whom in pure style he is most akin, and to whom Lord Houghton has already compared him ­the French tale-tellers from Anthony Hamilton to Voltaire.  In these, perfect as their form often is, there is constantly a slight want of geniality, a perpetual clatter and glitter of intellectual rapier and dagger which sometimes becomes rather irritating and teasing to ear and eye.  Even the objects of Peacock’s severest sarcasm, his Galls and Vamps and Eavesdrops, are allowed to join in the choruses and the bumpers of his easy-going symposia.  The sole nexus is not cash payment but something much more agreeable, and it is allowed that even Mr. Mystic had “some super-excellent madeira.”  Yet how far the wine is from getting above the wit in these merry books is not likely to escape even the most unsympathetic reader.  The mark may be selected recklessly or unjustly, but the arrows always fly straight to it.

Peacock, in short, has eminently that quality of literature which may be called recreation.  It may be that he is not extraordinarily instructive, though there is a good deal of quaint and not despicable erudition wrapped up in his apparently careless pages.  It may be that he does not prove much; that he has, in fact, very little concern to prove anything.  But in one of the only two modes of refreshment and distraction possible in literature, he is a very great master.  The first of these modes is that of creation ­that in which the writer spirits his readers away into some scene and manner of life quite different from that with which they are ordinarily conversant.  With this Peacock, even in his professed poetical work, has not very much to do; and in his novels, even in Maid Marian, he hardly attempts it.  The other is the mode of satirical presentment of well-known and familiar things, and this is all his own.  Even his remotest subjects are near enough to be in a manner familiar, and Gryll Grange, with a few insignificant changes of names and current follies, might have been written yesterday.  He is, therefore, not likely for a long time to lose the freshness and point which, at any rate for the ordinary reader, are required in satirical handlings of ordinary life; while his purely literary merits, especially his grasp of the perennial follies and characters of humanity, of the ludicrum humani generis which never varies much in substance under its ever-varying dress, are such as to assure him life even after the immediate peculiarities which he satirised have ceased to be anything but history.