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Few modern authors, whose works have survived them, and whose lives have been prolonged beyond the ordinary span, have so well complied with the ancient precept λαθε βιωσας—live by stealth—as Thomas Love Peacock. The early poems which bore his name attracted little attention, the novels which might have made a known author famous were anonymous, and their writer could not have been easily identified with the Examiner of East India Correspondence, a situation, its importance considered, itself one of the most unostentatious and impersonal in the world. The life thus screened from observation offered, indeed, but little to observe. Genius and the friendship of a greater genius, however, have made it interesting to a wider circle than the personage himself expected or perhaps desired. Without violence to his known wishes and preferences, a brief memoir, mainly founded on what his attached grand-daughter and the editor of his collected works have thought it right to relate, and supplemented by a few letters and particulars in the possession of the present writer, may not inappropriately minister to the curiosity respecting a man of exceptional character, which an edition of his choicer writings, destined, as is hoped, to a wider popularity than its predecessors, should not fail to create.

Thomas Love Peacock was born at Weymouth, October 18, 1785. His father was a glass merchant in London, partner of a Mr Pellatt, presumably founder of the celebrated firm; his mother was the daughter of Thomas Love, formerly master of a man-of-war, and whom Lord Rodney's great victory had deprived of a leg. Another Love, the eccentric and corpulent bookseller of Weymouth, must have been a relation: so that Peacock's tastes for good literature, good living, navigation, and shipbuilding, seem all distinctly traceable to his mother's side of the family. Of the father we know nothing but his calling, and that he left his son an orphan at the age of three. Mrs Peacock went to live with her father at Chertsey, and from eight to thirteen Peacock was at a school at Englefield Green, kept by a Mr Wicks, of whom he wrote later in life, “The master was not much of a scholar; but he had the art of inspiring his pupils with a love of learning.” Mr Wicks is said to have prognosticated his pupil's future eminence, and indeed Peacock's juvenile compositions, some of which have been privately printed by Sir Henry Cole, exhibit just the sort of formal precocity which a schoolmaster would appreciate, and are by no means unworthy forerunners of the “Genius of the Thames” department of his writings, while displaying nothing of the peculiar fancy and humour which have given him his abiding place in literature. More interesting is a prize contribution to “The Juvenile Library,” a magazine for youth whose competitions excited the emulation of several other boys destined to celebrity, among them Leigh Hunt, De Quincey, and W. J. Fox. Peacock, in 1800, gained the eleventh prize for an essay on the comparative advantages of history and biography as themes of study, Leigh Hunt winning the fourth. The number of the magazine announcing the competition contains a coloured plate of an ourang-outang, attired, in defiance of reason and nature, in an apron, which may have had its influence on the production of “Melincourt.”

Peacock is described at this period as a remarkably handsome boy; his copious flaxen curls, afterwards brown, attracted the notice of Queen Charlotte, who stopped her carriage to kiss him. His recollections of the royal family were kindly; in his charming paper, “The Last Day of Windsor Forest,” he simply mentions George the Fourth's exclusiveness without other than implied censure, and dwells with delight on the reverse trait in the character of William the Fourth. Of his other family or friendly connections, apart from his grandfather's house, nothing seems to be known except what may be gleaned from his paper, “Recollections of Childhood,” contributed to “Bentley's Miscellany,” and reprinted in “Tales from Bentley.” Here we have pleasing reminiscences of an old-fashioned country-house and a family life placid, uneventful, and it must be added uninteresting to a degree impossible since the world has been waked up by railways and the French Revolution.

At the age of sixteen Peacock removed with his mother to London, and there is evidence in his papers of his having for a time followed some mercantile occupation, the exact nature of which is unknown. Indefatigable in bodily exercise and the acquisition of congenial knowledge, he was throughout his life indolent in every other particular, and probably lost little time in exchanging the counting-house for the Reading Room of the British Museum, which he frequented for many years, a diligent student of the best literature in Greek, Latin, French, and Italian, becoming in time one of the best classical scholars of his day, who gained in breadth what he lost in verbal accuracy. His circumstances, though narrow, must have been independent, for in 1804 and 1806 he published two volumes of poetry, “The Monks of St. Mark” and “Palmyra,” from which profit could hardly have been expected, and in 1807 he is found engaged to a young lady not named, whom in the summer of that year he used to meet in the ruins of Newark Abbey, about eight miles from Chertsey. The interviews were apparently clandestine, else it is difficult to imagine how “the underhand interference of a third person,” probably exercised in intercepting letters, could have led the young lady to suppose herself deserted, and bestow her hand elsewhere with a precipitancy only to be paralleled by her exit from this mortal scene in the following year. Something probably remains untold. Whatever reason for reproach Peacock may have had, her memory remained as a tender possession with him to the last hour of his life. “He always,” says his grand-daughter, “wore a locket with here hair in it, and only a few days before his death he spoke of her to me, saying that he had been dreaming of dear Fanny, that she had come to him in the night in his sleep, and he expressed himself as greatly pleased with the dream, remarking that it had for some weeks frequently recurred.”

Thirty-five years after his loss, Peacock's feelings in connection with the scene of his early attachment found expression in some most beautiful verses, especially admired by Tennyson, which, as his poetry, outside his novels, will not be reprinted in this edition, may find a place in the memoir:—


I gaze where August's sunbeam falls
Along these gray and lonely walls,
Till in its light absorbed appears
The lapse of five-and-thirty years.
   If change there be, I trace it not
In all this consecrated spot:
No new imprint of Ruin's march
On roofless wall and frameless arch:
The woods, the hills, the fields, the stream,
Are basking in the selfsame beam;
The fall, that turns the unseen mill,
As then it murmured, murmurs still.
It seems as if in one were cast
The present and the imaged past,
Spanning, as with a bridge sublime,
That fearful lapse of human time,—
That gulf unfathomably spread
Between the living and the dead.
   For all too well my spirit feels
The only change that time reveals.
The sunbeams play, the breezes stir,
Unseen, unfelt, unheard by her,
Who, on that long-past August day,
Beheld with me these ruins gray.
   Whatever span the fates allow
Ere I shall be as she is now,
Still in my bosom's inmost cell
Shall that long-treasured memory dwell,
That, more than language can express,
Pure miracle of loveliness,
Whose voice so sweet, whose eyes so bright,
Were my soul's music and its light;
In those blest days when life was new,
And hope was false, but love was true.

Disappointment and bereavement may have disposed Peacock to try a change of life, and his friends, as he hints, thought it wrong that so clever a man should be earning so little money. In the autumn of 1808 he became private secretary to Sir Home Popham, commanding the fleet before Flushing. His preconceived affection for the sea did not reconcile him to nautical realities. “Writing poetry,” he says, “or doing anything else that is rational, in this floating inferno, is next to a moral impossibility. I would give the world to be at home and devote the winter to the composition of a comedy.” He did write prologues and addresses for dramatic performances on board the Venerable: his dramatic taste then and for nine years subsequently found expression in attempts at comedies and pieces of a still lighter class, all of which fail from lack of ease of dialogue and the over-elaboration of incident and humour. He left the Venerable in March 1809, and is shortly afterwards found engaged in a pedestrian expedition to discover the source of the Thames, which probably supplied inspiration sufficient for the completion of the most elaborate, after “Rhododaphne,” of his longer poems, “The Genius of the Thames,” which he had meditated in 1807. It was published in 1810. There is a surprising contrast between these more ambitious undertakings and the lyrics scattered through his novels, on which his reputation as a poet entirely rests. The latter are so graceful, simple, and naturally melodious, that they might seem to have come into being of their own accord. The former are works of labour and reflection; they compel admiration of the author's powers of mind, and in “Rhododaphne” his sympathy for the vanished beauty of Hellas occasionally exalts vigorous writing into poetry. Otherwise they are best described by the passage from Plato, so admirably translated by himself in illustration of Shelley, with entire unsuspiciousness of any personal application:—

“There are several kinds of divine madness. That which proceeds from the Muses, taking possession of a tender and unoccupied soul, awakening and bacchically inspiring it towards songs and other poetry, adorning myriads of ancient deeds, instructs succeeding generations; but he who, without this madness from the Muses, approaches the poetical gates, having persuaded himself that by art alone he may become sufficiently a poet, will find in the end his own imperfection, and see the poetry of his cold prudence vanish into nothing before the light of that which has sprung from divine insanity.”

In January 1810 Peacock made his first expedition into North Wales. He was there as late as August, as appears from the last of several letters given in Sir Henry Cole's privately printed “Biographical Notes.” In April 1811 he was on the point of returning to London, as shown by the following hitherto unpublished letter. We do not know whether he had spent the whole intervening period in the country, or had made a second visit. The letter, like the others, is addressed to his friend and publisher—Hookham:—

Machynlleth, April 9, 1811.

Your letter arrived on Sunday morning. I then gave my landlord the bill, and walked up to the parson's, as I could not leave the hall without taking leave of Jane Gryffydh—the most innocent, the most amiable, the most beautiful girl in existence. The old lady being in the way, I could not speak to her there, and asked her to walk with me to the lodge. She was obliged to dress for church immediately, but promised to call on the way. She did so. I told her my intention of departing that day, and gave her my last remaining copy of the Genius. She advised me to tell my host. I did so, and arranged matters with him in a very satisfactory manner. He will send my remaining bills under cover to you. As I told him my design of walking home through South Wales, he will probably not send them for three weeks. If they arrive before me, which I do not think they will, have the goodness to lay them quietly by. This is coming off with flying colours. I then waited my lovely friend's return from church, took a final leave of her, started at three in the afternoon, and reached Dolgelly—eighteen miles— at eight. Yesterday morning I walked through a succession of most sublime scenery to the pretty little lake, Tal-y-llyn, where is a small public house, kept by a most original character, who in the triple capacity of publican, schoolmaster, and guide to Cadair Idris, manages to keep the particles of his carcase in contact. I ascended the mountain with him, seated myself in the Giant's Chair, and “looked from my throne of clouds o'er half the world.” The view from the summit of this mountain baffles description. It is the very sublimity of Nature's wildest magnificence. Beneath, the whole extent of Cardigan Bay: to the right, the immense chain of the Snowdonian mountains, partly smiling in sunshine, partly muffled in flying storm: to the left, the wide expanse of the southern principality, with all its mountain summits below us. This excursion occupied five hours, I then returned to Minffordd Inn, as he calls it, took some tea, and walked hither through a romantic and beautiful vale. The full moon in a cloudless sky illumined the latter part of my march. I shall proceed to Towyn this morning, having promised Miss Scott to call at her uncle's seat on my way to England. From Towyn I shall proceed to Aberystwith, and from thence to the Devil's Bridge at Hafod. From one of these places I will write to you again.

I have a clean shirt with me, and Luath, and Tacitus. I am in high health and spirits. On the top of Cadair Idris I felt how happy a man may be with a little money and a sane intellect, and reflected with astonishment and pity on the madness of the multitude.

T. L. Peacock.

In 1812 Peacock published another elaborate poem, “The Philosophy of Melancholy,” and in the same year made the acquaintance of Shelley: according to his grand-daughter and Sir Henry Cole at Nant Gwillt, near Rhayader, in Radnorshire. But this is a mistake. Peacock tells us himself, in his memoir of Shelley, that he did not behold this romantic spot until after Shelley had quitted it, when he went on purpose to view it: he also says that he “saw Shelley for the first time just before he went to Tanyrallt,” whither Shelley proceeded from London in November 1812 (Hogg's Life of Shelley, vol. 2, pp. 174, 175.) The medium of introduction was no doubt Mr Thomas Hookham, the publisher of all Peacock's early writings, whose circulating library ministered to Shelley's intellectual hunger for many years. He had sent “The Genius of the Thames” to Shelley, and in the “Shelley Memorials,” pp. 38-40, will be found a letter from the poet under date of August 18, 1812, extolling the poetical merits of the performance and with equal exaggeration censuring what he thought the author's misguided patriotism. Personal acquaintance almost necessarily ensued, and hence arose an intimacy not devoid of influence upon Shelley's fortunes both before and after his death, and which has made Peacock interesting to many who would not otherwise have heard of his name. At the risk of some digression, it will be most convenient to treat the subject in this place.

Though neither sufficiently ardent nor sufficiently productive to rank among famous literary friendships, the friendship of Shelley and Peacock was yet interesting both in itself and its results. Without it we should not have perused Shelley's matchless descriptive letters from Italy, almost rivalling his poetry in beauty, yet genuine letters, not rhapsodies. As authors, the two men remained almost entirely unaffected by each other's writings. Not a trace of direct influence can be found in the style of either; but the superiority of “Rhododaphne,” written during the period of their intimacy, to Peacock's other elaborate poems, justifies the inference that Shelley was performing his usual office for his friends of impregnating their brains; while on his own part he took from Peacock the idea of a poem on the suicide of Otho, which proved abortive. He justly censured Peacock's style in poetry as framed by the canons of the “exact and superficial school,” but fully appreciated the merit of his prose. “I know not,” he says, speaking of “Nightmare Abbey,” “how to praise sufficiently the lightness, chastity and strength of the language of the whole.” He naturally desiderated more moral earnestness. “Is not the misdirected enthusiasm of Seythrop what Jesus Christ calls the salt of the earth?” This craving for definiteness of purpose made him prefer “Melincourt” among Peacock's novels, in which few will agree with him. Peacock, on his part, gave, during Shelley's life, no indication of a just perception of the latter's place among poets, unless it was such to inform him, on occasion of the publication of “Adonais,” that “if he would consider who and what the readers of poetry are, and adapt his compositions to the depth of their sympathies, he would attain the highest degree of poetical fame.” Afterwards, however, he wrote of Shelley's genius as “unsurpassed in the description and imagination of scenes of beauty and grandeur; in the expression of impassioned love of ideal beauty; in the illustration of deep feeling by congenial imagery; and in the infinite variety of harmonious versification.” He will command the assent of most readers, though not ours, when he adds “What was, in my opinion, deficient in his poetry, was the want of reality in the characters with which he peopled his splendid scenes.” These passages occur in the contribution to Shelley's biography which he published at an advanced period of his life, and which must be alluded to here if only to give the present writer an opportunity of retracting criticism from his own pen which he now feels to have been unjust and uncharitable, but which he cannot feel to have been inexcusable. That Peacock totally mis-stated the matter of Shelley's separation from Harriet is as clear to him as ever; but any suspicion of wrong motives has been dispelled by more intimate acquaintance with his character, and in particular with the moral impossibility under which he laboured of relinquishing any opinion which had once become a conviction. In fact, the real point at issue continues to be misapprehended by almost every one who writes upon the question. It is exceedingly simple. If Shelley forsook Harriet for Mary merely because he liked Mary better, he cannot be justified by any code of morality. If, after an insanable breach with Harriet, he transferred his affections elsewhere, his conduct, right or wrong, would have had the approbation of Milton. It is certain that such a breach had occurred before Shelley had seen Mary; and it is equally certain, without any groundless aspersion of Harriet's conjugal fidelity, that the fault was not Shelley's.

For some years, the course of Peacock's life is only known from its connection with his illustrious friend. In the winter of 1813 he accompanies Shelley and Harriet to Edinburgh; throughout the winter of 1814-15 he is an almost daily visitor of Shelley and Mary at their London lodgings. In 1815 he shares their voyage to the source of the Thames. “He seems,” writes Charles Clairmont, a member of the party, “an idly-inclined man; indeed, he is professedly so in the summer; he owns he cannot apply himself to study, and thinks it more beneficial to him as a human being entirely to devote himself to the beauties of the season while they last; he was only happy while out from morning till night.” During the winter of 1815-16 Peacock was continually walking over from Marlow, where he had established himself some time in this year, to visit Shelley at Bishopgate. There he met Hogg, and “the winter was a mere Atticism. Our studies were exclusively Greek.” The benefit which Shelley derived from such a course of study cannot be overrated. Its influence is seen more and more in everything he wrote to the end of his life. The morbid, the fantastic, the polemical, fade gradually out of his mind; and the writer who had begun as the imitator of the wildest extravagances of German romance would, had not his genius transcended the limits of any school, have ended as scarcely less of a Hellene than Keats and Landor.

In 1815 “Headlong Hall” was written, and it was published in the following year. With this book Peacock definitively takes the place in literature which he was to maintain throughout his life, without substantial alteration or development beyond the mellowing which wider experience and increasing prosperity would naturally bring. The wine was to be the same, but improved by keeping. Of Peacock's general characteristics as an author, and of “Headlong Hall” in particular, we shall have to speak hereafter. It need only be said here that the book signalises his literary emancipation as decisively as another and far more important book written in the same year indicates the emancipation of a far greater genius. “Alastor” proclaimed Shelley's discovery that the bent of his genius was not to the didactic: and “Headlong Hall” showed no less decisively Peacock's final recognition of his deficient appreciation of form, and the futility of his endeavours to construct a comedy. What he had to do was to give plot and accurate delineation of character to the words, make his personages typical rather than individual: throw them together pell-mell and let dialogue and incident evolve themselves from the juxtaposition, and the result would be that original creation the Peacockian novel, which may be described as the spirit of comedy diffused in exemption from the restraints of the stage, like gas liberated by the disintegration of a solid.

In 1816 Shelley went abroad, and Peacock was the recipient of his beautiful descriptive letters from Switzerland. He would appear to have been entrusted with the commission of providing the Shelleys with a new residence, and it is not surprising that he should have fixed them near his own abode at Great Marlow. They settled there in December. The climate was more congenial to Peacock's constitution than to Shelley's: but the choice cannot be considered wholly unfortunate, for the beautiful river scenery re-appears transfigured in some of the most splendid passages of the “Revolt of Islam,” which Shelley composed during his residence, partly, as he himself says, where

   With sound like many voices sweet,
Waterfalls leapt among wild islands green.

Partly, as Peacock tells us, “on a high prominence in Bisham wood, where he passed whole mornings with a blank book and a pencil.” His note-books show that Peacock at this time received an annuity of £50 from him, which, if gossip in Miss Mitford's correspondence may be trusted, he repaid by driving away uninvited guests who would have eaten Shelley out of house and home. “Melincourt” was published at this time; and “Nightmare Abbey” and “Rhododaphne” written. The former book, constructed on the same lines as “Headlong Hall,” but a great advance upon it, is supposed to contain a portrait of Shelley, but the resemblance, if any, is most superficial. “Rhododaphne,” by far the best of Peacock's more ambitious poems, enjoyed the signal but barren honour of a review from Shelley's pen. Shelley is said to have assured the author that Byron professed himself willing to have fathered it, but we have not found the passage in his letters. Before these works were published in 1818, Shelley was again on the wing, and Peacock and he were never to meet again. Restlessness and embarrassment, says Peacock, were the causes of the emigration, but there were others, personified in Godwin and Byron. Peacock's fidelity as a correspondent (“this is the third letter,” he says on June 14, “that I have written since I received one from you”) was repaid by the magnificent series of letters from Shelley descriptive of Italy, which only ceased when, in the summer of 1819, he found himself settled in the comparatively uninteresting city of Leghorn. Peacock's own letters to Shelley are the principal authority for his life at this time. On May 30, 1818, he says, not speaking by the spirit of prophecy:—

I have no idea and no wish remaining to leave Marlow at all, and when you return to England you will find me still here, though not perhaps in the same house. I have almost finished Nightmare Abbey. I think it necessary to make a stand against the encroachments of black bile. The fourth canto of Childe Harold is really too bad. I cannot consent to be auditor tantum of this systematical poisoning of the mind of the reading public.

On July 19 he reports:—

I have changed my habitation, having been literally besieged out of the other by horses and children. I propose to remain in the one I am in now till death, fortune, or my landlord turns me out. It is cheap, and exceedingly comfortable. It is the one which Major Kelley lived in when you were here, facing the Coiting Place, in West Street. [This “coiting place” still exists.] The weather continues dry and sultry. I have been very late on the river for several evenings, under the beams of the summer moon, and the air has been as warm as the shade by day, and so still that the tops of the poplars have stood, black in the moonlight, as motionless as spires of stone. If the summer of last year had been like this, you would not, I think, be now in Italy; but who could have foreseen it? Do not think I wish to play the tempter. If you return to England, I would most earnestly advise you to stay the winter in a milder climate. Still I do speculate on your return within two years as a strong probability, and I think where you are likely to take up your abode. Were I to choose the spot I would fix you on one of the hills that border this valley. The Hunts would plant you at Paddington. Your own taste, and Mary's, would perhaps point to the Forest. If you ever speculate on these points among yourselves, I should be glad to understand the view you take of them. It is pleasant to plant cuttings of futurity, if only one in ten takes root. But I deem it a moral impossibility that an Englishman who is not encrusted either with natural apathy or superinduced Giaourism, can live many years among such animals as the modern Italians. There is nothing new under the political sun, except that the forgery of bank-notes increases in a compound ratio of progression, and that the silver disappears rapidly; both symptoms of inextricable disarrangement in the machinery of the omnipotent paper-mill.

August 30, 1818.

I do not find this brilliant summer very favourable to intellectual exertion. The mere pleasure of existence in the open air is too absorbing for the energies of active thought, and too attractive for that resolute perseverance in sedentary study to which I find the long and dreary winter so propitious. To me, who has never been out of England, the effect of this season is like removal to a new world. It is the climate of Italy transmitted to us by special favour of the gods; and I cannot help thinking that our incipient restoration of true piety has propitiated the deities, and especially hoc sublime candens quod vocamus omnes Jovem. For the most part, my division of time is this: I devote the forenoon to writing; the afternoon to the river, the woods, and classical poetry; the evening to philosophy—at present the ‘Novum Organon’ and the ‘Histoire Naturelle,’ which is a treasury of inexhaustible delight. My reading is, as usual at this season, somewhat desultory. I open to myself many vistas in the great forest of mind, and reconnoitre the tracts of territory which in the winter I propose to acquire.

There is enough evidence of studying and sailing at all hours of the day in a little diary kept at this time, and privately printed by Sir Henry Cole, but not much of writing in the forenoon, though literary projects were not laid aside. “Could not read or write for scheming my romance—rivers, castles, forests, abbeys, monks, maids, kings, and banditti dancing before me like a masked ball.” This was “Maid Marian,” “a comic romance of the twelfth century,” he tells Shelley on November 29, “which I shall make the vehicle of much oblique satire on all the oppressions that are done under the sun.” As, excepting three chapters, it was entirely composed in 1818, it must have made very rapid progress. A great change in Peacock's life was impending. In the above quoted letter he says, “I have heard no more of the affair which took me to London last month. I adhere to my resolution of not going there at all, unless particular business should call me, and I do not at present foresee any that is likely to do so.” On December 15, he describes himself as “rooted like a tree on the banks of one bright river.” But on January 13, 1819, he writes from 5 York Street, Covent Garden: “I now pass every morning at the India House, from half-past 10 to half-past 4, studying Indian affairs. My object is not yet attained, though I have little doubt but that it will be. It was not in the first instance of my own seeking, but was proposed to me. It will lead to a very sufficing provision for me in two or three years. It is not in the common routine of office, but is an employment of a very interesting and intellectual kind, connected with finance and legislation, in which it is possible to be of great service, not only to the Company, but to the millions under their dominion.” It would appear that the East India Company had become aware that their home staff was too merely clerical, and had determined to reinforce it by the appointment of four men of exceptional ability to the Examiner's office, including Peacock and James Mill. The circumstances of the appointment of Mill, who did apply, and who experienced many obstacles on account of the censure of the Company in his History of British India, are narrated in Professor Bain's biography, pp. 184, 185. His salary is said to have been £800 a year; we do not know whether Peacock received as much. The latter's appointment is said by Sir Henry Cole to have been owing to the influence of Peter Auber, the Company's secretary and historian, whom he had known at school, though probably not as a school-fellow. Mill appears to have undergone no probation: Peacock did, but the test papers which he drafted were returned to him with the high commendation, “Nothing superfluous, and nothing wanting”—another proof that a poet and a novelist may be a man of business. Peacock's name does not appear in the official list until 1821, when his position was improved: but already, by March 9, Leigh Hunt tells Shelley: “You have heard, of course, of Peacock's appointment in the India House; we joke him upon his new oriental grandeur, his Brahminical learning, and his inevitable tendencies to be one of the corrupt, upon which he seems to apprehend Shelleian objurgation. It is an honour to him that prosperity sits on him well. He is very pleasant and hospitable.” These hospitalities must have been exercised in lodgings: for we learn from Hogg that it was on July 1, 1819 that Peacock slept for the first time in “a house in Stamford Street (No 18) which, as you might expect from a Republican, he has furnished very handsomely.” His mother continued to reside with him, and the household soon received an addition in the person of Jane Gryffydh, henceforth Peacock, the Cambrian παρθενος ’ουρεσιφοιτος, ’ερημαδι συντροφος ‘υλη, whom, as we have seen, he had pronounced, so long ago as 1811, “the most innocent, the most amiable, the most beautiful girl in existence.” He had never seen or communicated with her since, and it says much for the depth of the impression he had received and his own constancy that on November 29 he should have addressed her as follows:—

It is more than eight years since I had the happiness of seeing you: I can scarcely hope that you have remembered me as I have remembered you: yet I feel confident that the simplicity and ingenuousness of your disposition will prompt you to answer me with the same candour with which I write to you. I long entertained the hope of returning to Merionethshire under better auspices than those under which I left it; but fortune always disappointed me, continually offering me prospects which receded as I approached them. Recently she has made amends for her past unkindness, and has given me much present good, and much promise of progressive prosperity, which leaves me nothing to desire in worldly advantage, but to participate it with you. The greatest blessing this world could bestow on me would be to make you my wife: consider if your own feelings would allow you to constitute my happiness. I desire only to promote yours; and I desire only you, for your value is beyond fortune, of which I want no more than I have. The same circumstances which have given me prosperity confine me to London, and to the duties of the department with which the East India Company has entrusted me; yet I can absent myself once in every year for a few days; if you sanction my wishes, with what delight should I employ them in bringing you to my home! If this be but a baseless dream, if I am even no more in your estimation than the sands of the sea-shore—yet I am sure, as I have already said, that you will answer me with the same candour with which I have written. Whatever may be your sentiments, the feelings with which I now write to you, and which more than eight years of absence and silence have neither obliterated nor diminished, will convince you that I never can be otherwise than most sincerely and affectionately your friend.

Sir Henry Cole thinks this “the model of a reasonable offer of marriage.” Romantic would seem a more appropriate term, unless Peacock had entirely satisfied himself that Miss Gryffydh had not in the interim acquired a wooden leg, like the young lady wooed under similar circumstances in one of Theodore Hook's tales. Shelley observed with more justice: “The affair is extremely like the denouement of one of your own novels, and as such serves to a theory I once imagined, that in everything any man ever wrote, spoke, acted, or imagined, is contained, as it were, an allegorical idea of his own future life, as the acorn contains the oak.” Jane Gryffydh's acceptance of the proposal may also be thought to have evinced courage, but there was probably no more choice of wooers at Maentwrog than of wigs on Munrimmon Moor. She might also have been convinced of his constancy if she could have seen the MS. of an unfinished and unpublished romance, “Sir Calidore,” written in 1816 or 1817, and to be included, it is hoped, in this edition; in which she is depicted with loving partiality amid a highly genial but at the same time highly uncongenial environment—a fairy islet in an ocean of strong ale. The marriage took place on March 20, 1820. “Mrs Peacock,” says Mrs Gisborne, “seems to be a very good-natured, simple, unaffected, untaught, prettyish Welsh girl.”

The following years were not eventful. In 1820 Peacock published in Ollier's “Literary Pocket Book” the “Four Ages of Poetry,” a clever paradox, inspired by disappointment at his own failure to command attention as a poet, but memorable for having provoked Shelley's “Defence.” On June 3, 1821, he tells Shelley, “I have paid Grayhurst and Harvey for the plate which you had in 1813, and which finally remained in Harriet's possession, £45, including interest.” In October he acknowledges the repayment of this sum by Shelley, and mentions the birth of “a charming little girl (now eleven weeks old) who grows and flourishes delightfully in this fumose and cinereous atmosphere.” In the same letter he says, “ I should not like your Indian project” (Shelley's letter respecting this is lost, it must have been suggested to him by Williams), “which I think would agree neither with your mind nor body, if it were practicable. But it is altogether impossible. The whole of the Civil Service of India is sealed against all but the Company's covenanted servants, who are inducted into it through established gradations, beginning at an early period of life. There is nothing that would give me so much pleasure (because I think there is nothing that would be more beneficial to you), than to see you following some scheme of flesh and blood—some interesting matter connected with the business of life, in the tangible shape of a practical man: and I shall make it a point of sedulous inquiry to discover if there be anything attainable of this nature that would be likely to please and suit you.” Excellent advice, if Shelley had not been a great poet! Shelley's death in the ensuing July put an end to all projects of this nature, and in the absence of the co-executor, Lord Byron, the duties of executorship devolved upon Peacock. One vexatious circumstance gave Mary Shelley intense annoyance, and became the occasion of much mischief—the loss of a box of papers deposited in Peacock's care when the Shelleys quitted Marlow, and very improperly left by him in the keeping of Shelley's landlord Maddocks on his own removal to London. Maddocks, who was now in desperate circumstances, refused to restore them, pretending that they were collateral security for a debt, and while Peacock hesitated about taking legal proceedings they disappeared, and have been the source of most of the Shelley forgeries which for a long time infested the autograph market.

In 1822 “Maid Marian,” begun in 1818, was completed and published. “A beautiful little thing,” says Mrs Gisborne on April 28, “but it has not taken yet. Ollier says the reason is that no work can sell which turns priests into ridicule.” It was, however, soon dramatised with great success by Planché, and enjoyed the honour of translation into French and German. Peacock's salary was now £1000 a year, and in 1823 he acquired the residence at Lower Halliford which continued his predilection to the end of his life. It was formed by throwing two cottages together. In March 1823 another daughter was born, whose death in January 1826 called forth these affecting lines, still to be read upon the gravestone in Shepperton churchyard:—

Long night succeeds thy little day;
   O blighted blossom! Can it be
That this gray stone and grassy clay
   Have closed our anxious care of thee?

The half-formed speech of artless thought
   That spoke a mind beyond thy years;
The song, the dance, by nature taught;
   The sunny smiles, the transient tears;

The symmetry of face and form,
   The eye with light and life replete;
The little heart so fondly warm;
   The voice so musically sweet.

These, lost to hope, in memory yet
   Around the hearts that loved thee cling,
Shadowing with long and vain regret
   The too fair promise of thy spring.

“My grandmother,” writes Peacock's grand-daughter, “was inconsolable for the loss of this little child, Margaret; she fell into bad health, and until her death in 1852 she was a complete invalid. Very soon after Margaret's death, my grandmother noticed a little girl in its mother's arms, at the door of a cottage on Halliford Green; she was much taken with the child, seeing in it a strong likeness to the little one she was so sorely grieving after; she coaxed the little girl, Mary Rosewell, into her own house by a promise of some cake, and dressed it in her lost child's clothes. My grandfather, on his return from town, looked in through the dining-room window as he passed round to the door of his house, and seeing the child standing on the hearthrug in the room, he was so struck by its likeness to Margaret that he afterwards declared that he felt quite stunned, for the moment believing that he really saw her again before him. My grandparents finally adopted the child, Mary Rosewell, whose family had lived for generations much respected in the neighbourhood, and a most devoted and unselfish adopted daughter she always proved to be.”

Peacock's life was protracted forty years longer, but the incidents in it worthy of record are but few. “Paper Money Lyrics,” and the inimitable satire on Sabbatarianism beginning “The poor man's sins are glaring,” were written about this time. In 1829 came “The Misfortunes of Elphin,” and in 1831 “Crotchet Castle,” the most mature and thoroughly characteristic of all his works. More might have followed, but in 1833 he was visited by the heaviest sorrow of his life, the death of his mother. It should have seen foreseen, as Mrs Peacock was born in 1754, and the effect upon Peacock showed the weak side of his philosophy of life, the obstinate refusal to look beyond the present day. “He often said that after his mother's death he wrote nothing of value, as his heart was not in the work.” A severe illness followed in 1835, but in 1836 his official career was crowned by his appointment as Chief Examiner of Indian Correspondence, in succession to James Mill. The post was one which could only be filled by one of sound business capacity and exceptional ability in drafting official documents: and Peacock's discharge of its duties, it is believed, suffered nothing by comparison either with his distinguished predecessor or his still more celebrated successor, Stuart Mill. It is much to be regretted that so little is known of the old India House, or of its eminent occupants in their official capacity. It does not seem to have afforded an employment of predilection to any of them. When Peacock's books came to be sold, it was observed that hundreds of volumes relating to India, presents or perquisites of office, were left religiously uncut, and the same is said to have been the case with those of MacCulloch, James Mill's predecessor. Stuart Mill's autobiography avoids the subject entirely, except for one memorable passage acknowledging the invaluable benefit he derived from the official collar, and the necessity of running in team and harness. Nearly all our insight is derived from Professor Bain's most interesting account of his visit to Stuart Mill at the India House, for the little way it goes altogether illuminative, as Carlyle would have said. Peacock has let in a little light in another direction:—


From ten to eleven, have breakfast for seven;
From eleven to noon, think you've come too soon;
From twelve to one, think what's to be done;
From one to two, find nothing to do;
From two to three, think it will be
A very great bore to stay till four.

But if there were intervals of idleness, owing chiefly to the long interruptions of the mails while yet the Red Sea route was not, there were also serious duties and emergencies calling for the display of practical statesmanship. Peacock's occupation seems to have principally lain with finance, commerce, and public works. The first clear glimpse we obtain of its nature is the memorandum prepared by him at the request of a Director respecting General Chesney's projected Euphrates expedition, and reprinted in the preface to the General's narrative as a tribute to its sagacity. The line of inquiry thus prescribed was followed up, and, after the production of an article in the Edinburgh Review for 1835, and much valuable evidence before Parliamentary Committees, resulted in the construction under his superintendence of iron steamboats designed to demonstrate his view of the feasibility of steam navigation round the Cape, a view propounded and steadfastly adhered to when Dr Lardner was denying the possibility of a steam voyage even to America. Not only was the voyage successfully made, but the boats, arriving about the time of the Chinese war, rendered valuable service in naval operations. It is noteworthy, nevertheless, that he opposed the no less practicable undertaking of navigating the Red Sea by steam, whether from conviction or from deference to the supposed interests of his employers. It fell to his lot to advocate in 1834 and 1836, these interests in two very unpopular cases, before the committees respectively appointed to inquire into the grievances of Mr Silk Buckingham and the Company's salt monopoly. In neither instance, however, had he to do any violence to his sense of justice: he knew that Mr Buckingham was an adventurer; that the people of Liverpool merely wanted to appropriate the Company's monopoly to themselves; and that, odious as a tax upon a prime necessary of life may appear, it is preferable to financial derangement. His evidence on both these occasions is most interesting reading; it reveals powers and accomplishments which could not otherwise have been suspected, insomuch that it may be truly said that he who does not know it does not know Peacock. No barrister could have surpassed the lucidity and cogency with which he establishes his case against Mr Buckingham: and the evidence before the Salt Committee evinces and equally remarkable ability for mastering intricate details and rendering them intelligible to others. The Company were always generous masters, and it is not surprising that in the case of so useful a servant, a salary, handsome in itself, but inadequate to his free habits of expenditure, should have been frequently supplemented by extraordinary gifts.

For many years after his appointment Peacock's authorship was in abeyance with the exception of the operatic criticisms which he regularly contributed to the “Examiner,” and an occasional article in the Westminster Review or Bentley's Miscellany. To the former he had so long previously as 1827 contributed a review of Moore's “Epicurean,” by far the best criticism he ever wrote, utterly annihilative of the book as a delineation of antique manners, while leaving it the credit to which it is justly entitled on the score of fancy and picturesqueness. Subsequent contributions, including a review of the biographies of Jefferson and the plea of a laudator temporis acti for old London Bridge, though characteristic, were much less remarkable. In 1837, “Headlong Hall,” “Nightmare Abbey,” “Maid Marian,” and “Crotchet Castle” appeared together as vol. 57 of Bentley's Standard Novels. In 1852 he lost his wife, whose memory he honoured with an affecting Latin epitaph. About the same time, taste or leisure for authorship returned, and he commenced a series of contributions to Fraser's Magazine with the first, and most interesting, paper of his Horae Dramaticae, a delightful restoration of the “Querolus,” a Roman comedy probably of the time of Diocletian. Many other papers followed, of which the three on Shelley were by far the most important; but the review of Müller and Donaldson's History of Greek Literature was the ablest and most characteristic. One little essay of singular charm, “The Last Day of Windsor Forest,” written out fairly for the press but never published, was rescued from oblivion by the present writer, and published in the National Review. Peacock had in the interim retired from the India House on an ample pension (March 29, 1856). Throughout 1860 his last novel, “Gryll Grange,” continued to appear in Fraser's Magazine. Though not so nearly on a par with his other works as has been sometimes asserted, it is still a surprisingly vigorous performance for a man of his years. The volatile spirit of humour has indeed mainly evaporated, but the residuum is anything but a caput mortuum. The principal note of senility is, as in the second part of “Wilhelm Meister,” the serious respect paid to ceremonial mummeries which previously would only have been introduced to be laughed at.

Peacock died at Lower Halliford, January 23, 1866, and is buried in the new cemetery at Shepperton. In penning this memoir, we seem to have unconsciously depicted much of his character, and his writings will do the rest. It will nevertheless be well to record some traits, which might not readily be collected from either, in the simple and affectionate words of his grand-daughter:—

In society my grandfather was ever a welcome guest, his genial manner, hearty appreciation of wit and humour in others, and the amusing way in which he told stories made him a very delightful acquaintance; he was always so agreeable and so very witty that he was called by his most intimate friends the ‘Laughing Philosopher,’ and it seems to me that the term ‘Epicurean Philosopher,’ which I have often heard applied to him, describes him accurately and briefly. In public business my grandfather was upright and honourable; but as he advanced in years his detestation of anything disagreeable made him simply avoid whatever fretted him, laughing off all sorts of ordinary calls upon his leisure time. His love of ease and kindness of heart made it impossible that he could be actively unkind to any one, but he would not be worried, and just got away from anything that annoyed him. He was very fond of his children, and was an indulgent father to them, and he was a kind and affectionate grandfather; he could not bear any one to be unhappy or uncomfortable about him, and this feeling he carried down to the animal creation; his pet cats and dogs were especially cared for by himself, the birds in the garden were carefully watched over and fed, and no gun was ever allowed to be fired about the place. After he retired from the India House he seldom left Halliford; his life was spent among his books, and in the garden, in which he took great pleasure, and on the river. May-day he always kept in true old English fashion; all the children of the village came round with their garlands of flowers, and each child was presented with a new penny, or silver threepenny or fourpenny piece, according to the beauty of their garlands; the money was given by the Queen of the May, always one of his granddaughters, who sat beside him, dressed in white and crowned with flowers, and holding a sceptre of flowers in her hand.

Peacock's position in the intellectual world was intended by him to have been expressed by the motto on his seal: “Nec tardum opperior, nec præcedentibus in sto”; but the first half of the precept was insufficiently observed by him. Injustice, however, is done to him by those who call him a mere Pagan: he allowed English, French, and Italian a place among the great literatures of the world, and his unreasonable prejudice against German and Spanish at all events prevented his taking trouble to acquire what would not after all have suited him. His knowledge of the literature he did relish was exceedingly accurate, but his reproductions of antique models have neither the antique form nor the antique spirit, and he cannot escape the reproach, common with exact scholars, of anathematising in a modern what he admired in an ancient. Tennyson he could never appreciate, and of Keats he says in a letter to Shelley, “I should never read Hyperion if I lived to the age of Methuselah.” His tepidity towards Byron and Shelley arose rather from antipathy in the strict etymological sense than from insensibility: we have seen his deliberate verdict on Shelley, and he says in a letter to him, “Cain is fine, Sardanapalus finer, Don Juan best of all.” But the milder beauties of Wordsworth and Coleridge were fairly recognised by him. His own strongest predilections were naturally for the humourists, and rather for the genial extravagance of Aristophanes and Rabelais, or the polished wit of Voltaire and Petronius, than the moody bitterness of writers like Swift. Urbane philosophers like Cicero, or romantic narrators like Boiardo, held, however, an almost equal place in his esteem. He made a particular study of Tacitus, from whom he learned the pregnant brevity that renders both writers such valuable models to an age whose worst literary fault is diffuseness.

Peacock's own place in literature is pre-eminently that of a satirist. This character is not always a passport to goodwill. Satirists have met with much ignorant and invidious depreciation, as though a talent for ridicule was necessarily the index of an unkindly nature. The truth is just the reverse: as the sources of laughter and tears lie near together, so is the geniality of an intellectual man usually accompanied with a keen perception of the ridiculous. Both exist in ample measure in Peacock, whose hearty and sometimes misplaced laughter at what he deemed absurd is usually accompanied with a kindly feeling towards the exemplars of the absurdity. The only very noticeable instance of the contrary is the undoubtedly illiberal ridicule of the Lake poets in his earlier writings; still there is sufficient evidence elsewhere of his sincere admiration of their works. Brougham he certainly abhorred, and yet the denunciation of him in “Crotchet Castle” has hardly more of invective than the gibes at the “modern Athenians.” Add to this geniality a bright fancy, a lively sense of the ludicrous, a passion for natural beauty, strong sense, occasionally warped by prejudice, genuine tenderness on occasion, diction of singular purity, and a style of singular elegance, and it will be allowed that prima facie Peacock should be popular. That he has nevertheless been only the favourite of the few is owing in a measure to the highly intellectual quality of his work, but chiefly to his lack of the ordinary qualifications of the novelist, all pretension to which he entirely disclaims. He has no plot, little human interest, and no consistent delineation of character. His personages are mere puppets, or, at best, incarnations of abstract qualities, or idealisations of disembodied grace or beauty. He affected to prefer—perhaps really did prefer—the pantomimes of “the enchanter of the south” to the novels of “the enchanter of the north;” and by a whimsical retribution, his own novels have passed for pantomimes. “A queer mixture!” pronounced the Saturday Review, criticising “Gryll Grange,” and such has been the judgment of most. It will not be the judgment of any capable of appreciating the Aristophanic comedy of which, restricted as their scale is in comparison, Peacock's fiction is, perhaps, the best modern representative. Nearly everything that can be urged against him can be urged against Aristophanes too; and save that his invention is far less daring and opulent, his Muse can allege most of “the apologies of Aristophanes.” When he is depreciated, comparison with another novelist usually seems to be implied, but it would be as unfair to test him by the standard of Miss Austen or Miss Edgeworth, as to try Aristophanes by the rules of the New Comedy. A master of fiction he is not, and he never claimed to be; a satirist, a humourist, a poet he is most undoubtedly. Were these qualities less eminent than they are, he would still live by the truth of his natural description, and the grace and finish of his style: were even these in default, the literary historian would still have to note in him the first appearance of a new type, destined to be frequently imitated, but seldom approached, and never exactly reproduced.


In speaking of Peacock's general characteristics, we have said nearly all that need be said of “Headlong Hall.” It is only necessary to add that, although this novel, as the first revelation of Peacock's peculiar genius, is among the most celebrated, it is hardly among the best. There is a certain crudeness and pedantry about it, betraying the scholar who has as yet seen more of books than of the world; the fun verges more closely upon burlesque than elsewhere, and the characters are more than elsewhere mere embodiments of fads and crotchets. It possesses, however, every essential quality of the Peacockian novel. There was to be no further development, only a process of gradual mellowing under the sunshine and showers of life.

Transcription Notes


Printed book
Headlong Hall
Thomas Love Peacock
J. M. Dent & Co. at Aldine House, 69 Great Eastern St., London.
Richard Garnett, LLD.
Turnbull and Spears, Printers, Edinburgh.
British Library MARC21:
Tan cloth over board binding, 122mm x 184mm x 21mm, 176 pages plus 2 at front and 1 at back


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