Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Rereading Peacock forty years after

I picked up a second hand Penguin edition of Gryll Grange, Thomas Love Peacock's last and mellowest novel from 1860, in a charity shop in the enchanting and enchanted Devon town of Totnes last summer. Thanks to giving up the net (more or less) for Lent I actually reread it. I loved him when I was 14, but one is so much more highbrow at 14 than after 40.

Peacock's are conversation novels and therein is their great charm. Aldous Huxley revived the genre with Crome Yellow.

How civilised the conversations and the characters are. 
Dr Opimian's
tastes, in fact, were four: a good library, a good dinner, a pleasant garden, and rural walks.
What good have we done for America asks Lord Curryfin and Dr Optimian answers that we gave the Americans wine and Latin and Greek literature.

Nowadays such a question between British intellectuals would get such a boring answer. From Robert Peston on the BBC for example. I shall eviscerate his new book when I have time.

More excerpts from Gryll Grange, which I just finished. 

Here is Dr Opimian in his speech at the wedding breakfast that ends the book quoting Siminodes.
An old Greek poet says:- 'Four things are good for man in this world: first, health; second, personal beauty; third, riches, not dishonourably acquired; fourth, to pass life among friends.' But thereon says the comic poet Anaxandrides : ' Health is rightly placed first ; but riches should have been second ; for what is beauty ragged and starving?' Be this as it may, we here see them all four ; health in its brightest bloom ; riches in two instances more than competence in the other seven ; beauty in the brides, good looks, as far as young men need them, in the bridegrooms, and as bright a prospect of passing life among friends as ever shone on any.
And here is a quatrain from Tibullus, an epigraph to a chapter.
Let us, while Fate allows, in love combine.
Ere our last night its shade around us throw,
Or Age, slow-creeping, quench the fire divine,
And tender words befit not locks of snow.
All this reminds me that I still have not achieved my childhood ambition of throwing breakfast parties like Macaulay and Peacock did, with kedgeree, devilled kidneys and clever, funny people.

In fact I am inspired to reorganise my life taking Dr. Opimian and the high-minded literary bachelor (until he is caught by the heroine) Mr Falconer as my models. Friendship, literature, good, unacrimonious conversation, old wine and long walks sound like the recipe for a life well led.

I have no idea whether Peacock was a Tory or a Whig, by the way.

One more quotation.
MRS OPIMIAN: I think, Doctor, you would not maintain any opinion if you had not an authority two thousand years old for it.

THE REVEREND DOCTOR OPIMIAN: Well, my dear, I think most opinions worth maintaining have an authority of about that age
But this one reminds me of something I have often pondered. Until the twentieth century most things had been said before and it was a case of what oft were thought but ne'er so well expressed. Now there seem to be new thoughts all the time. In the newspapers and magazines. Even sometimes in mere blogs. Am I right? And if I am what is the explanation?


  1. I love Totnes (and Dartmouth, and all points in between) too, but we must recognise that it's been colonised for the last 50 years by the sort of wealthy left-wing people who are happy to abuse people in say, Stoke-on-Trent as racists, when their exposure to 'diversity' consists of a Polish blonde behind the bar and that African drum troupe who were at the Arts Centre last year.

    They're generally not competing for minimum wage jobs either.

  2. if one had time .... 'ting is I am minded instead to again pereuse particular Barchester.

  3. This brought a smile to my face: I loved him when I was 14, but one is so much more highbrow at 14 than after 40.

  4. haven't read. must keep an eye out for him