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Crotchet Castle   By: (1785-1866)

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CROTCHET CASTLE

by Thomas Love Peacock

INTRODUCTION

Thomas Love Peacock was born at Weymouth in 1785. His first poem, "The Genius of the Thames," was in its second edition when he became one of the friends of Shelley. That was in 1812, when Shelley's age was twenty, Peacock's twenty seven. The acquaintance strengthened, until Peacock became the friend in whose judgment Shelley put especial trust. There were many points of agreement. Peacock, at that time, shared, in a more practical way, Shelley's desire for root and branch reform; both wore poets, although not equally gifted, and both loved Plato and the Greek tragedians. In "Crotchet Castle" Peacock has expressed his own delight in Greek literature through the talk of the Reverend Dr. Folliott.

But Shelley's friendship for Peacock included a trust in him that was maintained by points of unlikeness. Peacock was shrewd and witty. He delighted in extravagance of a satire which usually said more than it meant, but always rested upon a foundation of good sense. Then also there was a touch of the poet to give grace to the utterances of a clear headed man of the world. It was Peacock who gave its name to Shelley's poem of "Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude," published in 1816. The "Spirit of Solitude" being treated as a spirit of evil, Peacock suggested calling it "Alastor," since the Greek [Greek text] means an evil genius.

Peacock's novels are unlike those of other men: they are the genuine expressions of an original and independent mind. His reading and his thinking ran together; there is free quotation, free play of wit and satire, grace of invention too, but always unconventional. The story is always pleasant, although always secondary to the play of thought for which it gives occasion. He quarrelled with verse, whimsically but in all seriousness, in an article on "The Four Ages of Poetry," contributed in 1820 to a short lived journal, "Ollier's Literary Miscellany." The four ages were, he said, the iron age, the Bardic; the golden, the Homeric; the silver, the Virgilian; and the brass, in which he himself lived. "A poet in our time," he said, "is a semi barbarian in a civilised community . . . The highest inspirations of poetry are resolvable into three ingredients: the rant of unregulated passion, the whining of exaggerated feeling, and the cant of factitious sentiment; and can, therefore, serve only to ripen a splendid lunatic like Alexander, a puling driveller like Werter, or a morbid dreamer like Wordsworth." In another part of this essay he says: "While the historian and the philosopher are advancing in and accelerating the progress of knowledge, the poet is wallowing in the rubbish of departed ignorance, and raking up the ashes of dead savages to find gewgaws and rattles for the grown babies of the age. Mr. Scott digs up the poacher and cattle stealers of the ancient Border. Lord Byron cruises for thieves and pirates on the shores of the Morea and among the Greek islands. Mr. Southey wades through ponderous volumes of travels and old chronicles, from which he carefully selects all that is false, useless, and absurd, as being essentially poetical; and when he has a commonplace book full of monstrosities, strings them into an epic." And so forth; Peacock going on to characterise, in further illustration of his argument, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Moore, and Campbell. He did not refer to Shelley; and Shelley read his friend's whimsical attack on poetry with all good humour, proceeding to reply to it with a "Defence of Poetry," which would have appeared in the same journal, if the journal had survived. In this novel of "Crotchet Castle" there is the same good humoured exaggeration in the treatment of "our learned friend" Lord Brougham to whom and to whose labours for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge there are repeated allusions. In one case Peacock associates the labours of "our learned friend" for the general instruction of the masses with encouragement of robbery (page 172), and in another with body snatching, or, worse, murder for dissection (page 99)... Continue reading book >>




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