Crotchet Castle, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter II: The March of Mind

Quoth Ralpho: nothing but the abuse

Of human learning you produce.

— BUTLER

“God bless my soul, sir!” exclaimed the Reverend Doctor Folliott, bursting, one fine May morning, into the breakfast-room at Crotchet Castle, “I am out of all patience with this march of mind. Here has my house been nearly burned down by my cook taking it into her head to study hydrostatics in a sixpenny tract, published by the Steam Intellect Society, and written by a learned friend who is for doing all the world’s business as well as his own, and is equally well qualified to handle every branch of human knowledge. I have a great abomination of this learned friend; as author, lawyer, and politician, he is triformis, like Hecate; and in every one of his three forms he is bifrons, like Janus; the true Mr. Facing-both-ways of Vanity Fair. My cook must read his rubbish in bed; and, as might naturally be expected, she dropped suddenly fast asleep, overturned the candle, and set the curtains in a blaze. Luckily, the footman went into the room at the moment, in time to tear down the curtains and throw them into the chimney, and a pitcher of water on her nightcap extinguished her wick; she is a greasy subject, and would have burned like a short mould.”

The reverend gentleman exhaled his grievance without looking to the right or to the left; at length, turning on his pivot, he perceived that the room was full of company, consisting of young Crotchet, and some visitors whom he had brought from London. The Reverend Doctor Folliott was introduced to Mr. Mac Quedy, the economist; Mr. Skionar, the transcendental poet; Mr. Firedamp, the meteorologist; and Lord Bossnowl, son of the Earl of Foolincourt, and member for the borough of Rogueingrain.

The divine took his seat at the breakfast-table, and began to compose his spirits by the gentle sedative of a large cup of tea, the demulcent of a well-buttered muffin, and the tonic of a small lobster.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. You are a man of taste, Mr. Crotchet. A man of taste is seen at once in the array of his breakfast-table. It is the foot of Hercules, the far-shining face of the great work, according to Pindar’s doctrine: [Greek text]. The breakfast is the [Greek text] of the great work of the day. Chocolate, coffee, tea, cream, eggs, ham, tongue, cold fowl, all these are good, and bespeak good knowledge in him who sets them forth: but the touchstone is fish: anchovy is the first step, prawns and shrimps the second; and I laud him who reaches even to these: potted char and lampreys are the third, and a fine stretch of progression; but lobster is, indeed, matter for a May morning, and demands a rare combination of knowledge and virtue in him who sets it forth.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Well, sir, and what say you to a fine fresh trout, hot and dry, in a napkin? or a herring out of the water into the frying-pan, on the shore of Loch Fyne?

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Sir, I say every nation has some eximious virtue; and your country is preeminent in the glory of fish for breakfast. We have much to learn from you in that line at any rate.

MR. MAC QUEDY. And in many others, sir, I believe. Morals and metaphysics, politics and political economy, the way to make the most of all the modifications of smoke; steam, gas, and paper currency; you have all these to learn from us; in short, all the arts and sciences. We are the modern Athenians.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. I, for one, sir, am content to learn nothing from you but the art and science of fish for breakfast. Be content, sir, to rival the Boeotians, whose redeeming virtue was in fish, touching which point you may consult Aristophanes and his scholiast in the passage of Lysistrata, [Greek text], and leave the name of Athenians to those who have a sense of the beautiful, and a perception of metrical quantity.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Then, sir, I presume you set no value on the right principles of rent, profit, wages, and currency?

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. My principles, sir, in these things are, to take as much as I can get, and pay no more than I can help. These are every man’s principles, whether they be the right principles or no. There, sir, is political economy in a nutshell.

MR. MAC QUEDY. The principles, sir, which regulate production and consumption are independent of the will of any individual as to giving or taking, and do not lie in a nutshell by any means.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Sir, I will thank you for a leg of that capon.

LORD BOSSNOWL. But, sir, by-the-bye, how came your footman to be going into your cook’s room? It was very providential to be sure, but —

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Sir, as good came of it, I shut my eyes, and ask no questions. I suppose he was going to study hydrostatics, and he found himself under the necessity of practising hydraulics.

MR. FIREDAMP. Sir, you seem to make very light of science.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Yes, sir, such science as the learned friend deals in: everything for everybody, science for all, schools for all, rhetoric for all, law for all, physic for all, words for all, and sense for none. I say, sir, law for lawyers, and cookery for cooks: and I wish the learned friend, for all his life, a cook that will pass her time in studying his works; then every dinner he sits down to at home, he will sit on the stool of repentance.

LORD BOSSNOWL. Now really that would be too severe: my cook should read nothing but Ude.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. No, sir! let Ude and the learned friend singe fowls together; let both avaunt from my kitchen. [Greek text]. Ude says an elegant supper may be given with sandwiches. Horresco referens. An elegant supper. Di meliora piis. No Ude for me. Conviviality went out with punch and suppers. I cherish their memory. I sup when I can, but not upon sandwiches. To offer me a sandwich, when I am looking for a supper, is to add insult to injury. Let the learned friend, and the modern Athenians, sup upon sandwiches.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Nay, sir; the modern Athenians know better than that. A literary supper in sweet Edinbro’ would cure you of the prejudice you seem to cherish against us.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Well, sir, well; there is cogency in a good supper; a good supper in these degenerate days bespeaks a good man; but much more is wanted to make up an Athenian. Athenians, indeed! where is your theatre? who among you has written a comedy? where is your Attic salt? which of you can tell who was Jupiter’s great-grandfather? or what metres will successively remain, if you take off the three first syllables, one by one, from a pure antispastic acatalectic tetrameter? Now, sir, there are three questions for you: theatrical, mythological, and metrical; to every one of which an Athenian would give an answer that would lay me prostrate in my own nothingness.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Well, sir, as to your metre and your mythology, they may e’en wait a wee. For your comedy there is the “Gentle Shepherd” of the divine Allan Ramsay.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. The “Gentle Shepherd”! It is just as much a comedy as the Book of Job.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Well, sir, if none of us have written a comedy, I cannot see that it is any such great matter, any more than I can conjecture what business a man can have at this time of day with Jupiter’s great-grandfather.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. The great business is, sir, that you call yourselves Athenians, while you know nothing that the Athenians thought worth knowing, and dare not show your noses before the civilised world in the practice of any one art in which they were excellent. Modern Athens, sir! the assumption is a personal affront to every man who has a Sophocles in his library. I will thank you for an anchovy.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Metaphysics, sir; metaphysics. Logic and moral philosophy. There we are at home. The Athenians only sought the way, and we have found it; and to all this we have added political economy, the science of sciences.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. A hyperbarbarous technology, that no Athenian ear could have borne. Premises assumed without evidence, or in spite of it; and conclusions drawn from them so logically, that they must necessarily be erroneous.

MR. SKIONAR. I cannot agree with you, Mr. Mac Quedy, that you have found the true road of metaphysics, which the Athenians only sought. The Germans have found it, sir: the sublime Kant and his disciples.

MR. MAC QUEDY. I have read the sublime Kant, sir, with an anxious desire to understand him, and I confess I have not succeeded.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. He wants the two great requisites of head and tail.

MR. SKIONAR. Transcendentalism is the philosophy of intuition, the development of universal convictions; truths which are inherent in the organisation of mind, which cannot be obliterated, though they may be obscured, by superstitious prejudice on the one hand, and by the Aristotelian logic on the other.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Well, sir, I have no notion of logic obscuring a question.

MR. SKIONAR. There is only one true logic, which is the transcendental; and this can prove only the one true philosophy, which is also the transcendental. The logic of your Modern Athens can prove everything equally; and that is, in my opinion, tantamount to proving nothing at all.

MR. CROTCHET. The sentimental against the rational, the intuitive against the inductive, the ornamental against the useful, the intense against the tranquil, the romantic against the classical; these are great and interesting controversies, which I should like, before I die, to see satisfactorily settled.

MR. FIREDAMP. There is another great question, greater than all these, seeing that it is necessary to be alive in order to settle any question; and this is the question of water against human life. Wherever there is water, there is malaria, and wherever there is malaria, there are the elements of death. The great object of a wise man should be to live on a gravelly hill, without so much as a duck-pond within ten miles of him, eschewing cisterns and waterbutts, and taking care that there be no gravel-pits for lodging the rain. The sun sucks up infection from water, wherever it exists on the face of the earth.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Well, sir, you have for you the authority of the ancient mystagogue, who said: [Greek text]. For my part I care not a rush (or any other aquatic and inesculent vegetable) who or what sucks up either the water or the infection. I think the proximity of wine a matter of much more importance than the longinquity of water. You are here within a quarter of a mile of the Thames, but in the cellar of my friend, Mr. Crotchet, there is the talismanic antidote of a thousand dozen of old wine; a beautiful spectacle, I assure you, and a model of arrangement.

MR. FIREDAMP. Sir, I feel the malignant influence of the river in every part of my system. Nothing but my great friendship for Mr. Crotchet would have brought me so nearly within the jaws of the lion.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. After dinner, sir, after dinner, I will meet you on this question. I shall then be armed for the strife. You may fight like Hercules against Achelous, but I shall flourish the Bacchic thyrsus, which changed rivers into wine: as Nonnus sweetly sings, [Greek text].

MR. CROTCHET, JUN. I hope, Mr. Firedamp, you will let your friendship carry you a little closer into the jaws of the lion. I am fitting up a flotilla of pleasure-boats, with spacious cabins, and a good cellar, to carry a choice philosophical party up the Thames and Severn, into the Ellesmere canal, where we shall be among the mountains of North Wales; which we may climb or not, as we think proper; but we will, at any rate, keep our floating hotel well provisioned, and we will try to settle all the questions over which a shadow of doubt yet hangs in the world of philosophy.

MR. FIREDAMP. Out of my great friendship for you, I will certainly go; but I do not expect to survive the experiment.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Alter erit tum Tiphys, et altera quae vehat Argo Delectos Heroas. I will be of the party, though I must hire an officiating curate, and deprive poor dear Mrs. Folliott, for several weeks, of the pleasure of combing my wig.

LORD BOSSNOWL. I hope, if I am to be of the party, our ship is not to be the ship of fools: He! he!

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. If you are one of the party, sir, it most assuredly will not: Ha! ha!

LORD BOSSNOWL. Pray sir, what do you mean by Ha! ha!?

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Precisely, sir, what you mean by He! he!

MR. MAC QUEDY. You need not dispute about terms; they are two modes of expressing merriment, with or without reason; reason being in no way essential to mirth. No man should ask another why he laughs, or at what, seeing that he does not always know, and that, if he does, he is not a responsible agent. Laughter is an involuntary action of certain muscles, developed in the human species by the progress of civilisation. The savage never laughs.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. No, sir, he has nothing to laugh at. Give him Modern Athens, the “learned friend,” and the Steam Intellect Society. They will develop his muscles.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24