Crotchet Castle, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter III: The Roman Camp

He loved her more then seven yere,

Yet was he of her love never the nere;

He was not ryche of golde and fe,

A gentyll man forsoth was he.

The Squyr of Lowe Degre.

The Reverend Doctor Folliott having promised to return to dinner, walked back to his vicarage, meditating whether he should pass the morning in writing his next sermon, or in angling for trout, and had nearly decided in favour of the latter proposition, repeating to himself, with great unction, the lines of Chaucer:

And as for me, though that I can but lite,

On bokis for to read I me delite,

And to ‘hem yeve I faithe and full credence,

And in mine herte have ‘hem in reverence,

So hertily, that there is game none,

That fro my bokis makith me to gone,

But it be seldome, on the holie daie;

Save certainly whan that the month of Maie

Is cousin, and I here the foulis sing,

And that the flouris ginnin for to spring,

Farwell my boke and my devocion:

when his attention was attracted by a young gentleman who was sitting on a camp stool with a portfolio on his knee, taking a sketch of the Roman Camp, which, as has been already said, was within the enclosed domain of Mr. Crotchet. The young stranger, who had climbed over the fence, espying the portly divine, rose up, and hoped that he was not trespassing. “By no means, sir,” said the divine, “all the arts and sciences are welcome here; music, painting, and poetry; hydrostatics and political economy; meteorology, transcendentalism, and fish for breakfast.”

THE STRANGER. A pleasant association, sir, and a liberal and discriminating hospitality. This is an old British camp, I believe, sir?

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Roman, sir; Roman; undeniably Roman. The vallum is past controversy. It was not a camp, sir, a castrum, but a castellum, a little camp, or watch-station, to which was attached, on the peak of the adjacent hill, a beacon for transmitting alarms. You will find such here and there, all along the range of chalk hills, which traverses the country from north-east to south-west, and along the base of which runs the ancient Iknield road, whereof you may descry a portion in that long straight white line.

THE STRANGER. I beg your pardon, sir; do I understand this place to be your property?

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. It is not mine, sir: the more is the pity; yet is it so far well, that the owner is my good friend, and a highly respectable gentleman.

THE STRANGER. Good and respectable, sir, I take it, means rich?

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. That is their meaning, sir.

THE STRANGER. I understand the owner to be a Mr. Crotchet. He has a handsome daughter, I am told.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. He has, sir. Her eyes are like the fish-pools of Heshbon, by the gate of Bethrabbim; and she is to have a handsome fortune, to which divers disinterested gentlemen are paying their addresses. Perhaps you design to be one of them?

THE STRANGER. No, sir; I beg pardon if my questions seem impertinent; I have no such design. There is a son too, I believe, sir, a great and successful blower of bubbles?

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. A hero, sir, in his line. Never did angler in September hook more gudgeons.

THE STRANGER. To say the truth, two very amiable young people, with whom I have some little acquaintance, Lord Bossnowl, and his sister, Lady Clarinda, are reported to be on the point of concluding a double marriage with Miss Crotchet and her brother; by way of putting a new varnish on old nobility. Lord Foolincourt, their father, is terribly poor for a lord who owns a borough.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Well, sir, the Crotchets have plenty of money, and the old gentleman’s weak point is a hankering after high blood. I saw your acquaintance, Lord Bossnowl, this morning, but I did not see his sister. She may be there, nevertheless, and doing fashionable justice to this fine May morning, by lying in bed till noon.

THE STRANGER. Young Mr. Crotchet, sir, has been, like his father, the architect of his own fortune, has he not? An illustrious example of the reward of honesty and industry?

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. As to honesty, sir, he made his fortune in the city of London, and if that commodity be of any value there, you will find it in the price current. I believe it is below par, like the shares of young Crotchet’s fifty companies. But his progress has not been exactly like his father’s. It has been more rapid, and he started with more advantages. He began with a fine capital from his father. The old gentleman divided his fortune into three not exactly equal portions; one for himself, one for his daughter, and one for his son, which he handed over to him, saying, “Take it once for all, and make the most of it; if you lose it where I won it, not another stiver do you get from me during my life.” But, sir, young Crotchet doubled, and trebled, and quadrupled it, and is, as you say, a striking example of the reward of industry; not that I think his labour has been so great as his luck.

THE STRANGER. But, sir, is all this solid? is there no danger of reaction? no day of reckoning to cut down in an hour prosperity that has grown up like a mushroom?

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Nay, sir, I know not. I do not pry into these matters. I am, for my own part, very well satisfied with the young gentleman. Let those who are not so look to themselves. It is quite enough for me that he came down last night from London, and that he had the good sense to bring with him a basket of lobsters. Sir, I wish you a good morning.

The stranger having returned the reverend gentleman’s good morning, resumed his sketch, and was intently employed on it when Mr. Crotchet made his appearance with Mr. Mac Quedy and Mr. Skionar, whom he was escorting round his grounds, according to his custom with new visitors; the principal pleasure of possessing an extensive domain being that of showing it to other people. Mr. Mac Quedy, according also to the laudable custom of his countrymen, had been appraising everything that fell under his observation; but, on arriving at the Roman camp, of which the value was purely imaginary, he contented himself with exclaiming: “Eh! this is just a curiosity, and very pleasant to sit in on a summer day.”

MR. SKIONAR. And call up the days of old, when the Roman eagle spread its wings in the place of that beechen foliage. It gives a fine idea of duration, to think that that fine old tree must have sprung from the earth ages after this camp was formed.

MR. MAC QUEDY. How old, think you, may the tree be?

MR. CROTCHET. I have records which show it to be three hundred years old.

MR. MAC QUEDY. That is a great age for a beech in good condition. But you see the camp is some fifteen hundred years, or so, older; and three times six being eighteen, I think you get a clearer idea of duration out of the simple arithmetic, than out of your eagle and foliage.

MR. SKIONAR. That is a very unpoetical, if not unphilosophical, mode of viewing antiquities. Your philosophy is too literal for our imperfect vision. We cannot look directly into the nature of things; we can only catch glimpses of the mighty shadow in the camera obscura of transcendental intelligence. These six and eighteen are only words to which we give conventional meanings. We can reason, but we cannot feel, by help of them. The tree and the eagle, contemplated in the ideality of space and time, become subjective realities, that rise up as landmarks in the mystery of the past.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Well, sir, if you understand that, I wish you joy. But I must be excused for holding that my proposition, three times six are eighteen, is more intelligible than yours. A worthy friend of mine, who is a sort of amateur in philosophy, criticism, politics, and a wee bit of many things more, says: “Men never begin to study antiquities till they are saturated with civilisation.”

MR. SKIONAR. What is civilisation?

MR. MAC QUEDY. It is just respect for property. A state in which no man takes wrongfully what belongs to another, is a perfectly civilised state.

MR. SKIONAR. Your friend’s antiquaries must have lived in El Dorado, to have had an opportunity of being saturated with such a state.

MR. MAC QUEDY. It is a question of degree. There is more respect for property here than in Angola.

MR. SKIONAR. That depends on the light in which things are viewed.

Mr. Crotchet was rubbing his hands, in hopes of a fine discussion, when they came round to the side of the camp where the picturesque gentleman was sketching. The stranger was rising up, when Mr. Crotchet begged him not to disturb himself, and presently walked away with his two guests.

Shortly after, Miss Crotchet and Lady Clarinda, who had breakfasted by themselves, made their appearance at the same spot, hanging each on an arm of Lord Bossnowl, who very much preferred their company to that of the philosophers, though he would have preferred the company of the latter, or any company to his own. He thought it very singular that so agreeable a person as he held himself to be to others, should be so exceedingly tiresome to himself: he did not attempt to investigate the cause of this phenomenon, but was contented with acting on his knowledge of the fact, and giving himself as little of his own private society as possible.

The stranger rose as they approached, and was immediately recognised by the Bossnowls as an old acquaintance, and saluted with the exclamation of “Captain Fitzchrome!” The interchange of salutations between Lady Clarinda and the Captain was accompanied with an amiable confusion on both sides, in which the observant eyes of Miss Crotchet seemed to read the recollection of an affair of the heart.

Lord Bossnowl was either unconscious of any such affair, or indifferent to its existence. He introduced the Captain very cordially to Miss Crotchet; and the young lady invited him, as the friend of their guests, to partake of her father’s hospitality, an offer which was readily accepted.

The Captain took his portfolio under his right arm, his camp stool in his right hand, offered his left arm to Lady Clarinda, and followed at a reasonable distance behind Miss Crotchet and Lord Bossnowl, contriving, in the most natural manner possible, to drop more and more into the rear.

LADY CLARINDA. I am glad to see you can make yourself so happy with drawing old trees and mounds of grass.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. Happy, Lady Clarinda! oh, no! How can I be happy when I see the idol of my heart about to be sacrificed on the shrine of Mammon?

LADY CLARINDA. Do you know, though Mammon has a sort of ill name, I really think he is a very popular character; there must be at the bottom something amiable about him. He is certainly one of those pleasant creatures whom everybody abuses, but without whom no evening party is endurable. I dare say, love in a cottage is very pleasant; but then it positively must be a cottage ornee: but would not the same love be a great deal safer in a castle, even if Mammon furnished the fortification?

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. Oh, Lady Clarinda! there is a heartlessness in that language that chills me to the soul.

LADY CLARINDA. Heartlessness! No: my heart is on my lips. I speak just what I think. You used to like it, and say it was as delightful as it was rare.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. True, but you did not then talk as you do now, of love in a castle.

LADY CLARINDA. Well, but only consider: a dun is a horridly vulgar creature; it is a creature I cannot endure the thought of: and a cottage lets him in so easily. Now a castle keeps him at bay. You are a half-pay officer, and are at leisure to command the garrison: but where is the castle? and who is to furnish the commissariat?

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. Is it come to this, that you make a jest of my poverty? Yet is my poverty only comparative. Many decent families are maintained on smaller means.

LADY CLARINDA. Decent families: ay, decent is the distinction from respectable. Respectable means rich, and decent means poor. I should die if I heard my family called decent. And then your decent family always lives in a snug little place: I hate a little place; I like large rooms and large looking-glasses, and large parties, and a fine large butler, with a tinge of smooth red in his face; an outward and visible sign that the family he serves is respectable; if not noble, highly respectable.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. I cannot believe that you say all this in earnest. No man is less disposed than I am to deny the importance of the substantial comforts of life. I once flattered myself that in our estimate of these things we were nearly of a mind.

LADY CLARINDA. Do you know, I think an opera-box a very substantial comfort, and a carriage. You will tell me that many decent people walk arm-inarm through the snow, and sit in clogs and bonnets in the pit at the English theatre. No doubt it is very pleasant to those who are used to it; but it is not to my taste.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. You always delighted in trying to provoke me; but I cannot believe that you have not a heart.

LADY CLARINDA. You do not like to believe that I have a heart, you mean. You wish to think I have lost it, and you know to whom; and when I tell you that it is still safe in my own keeping, and that I do not mean to give it away, the unreasonable creature grows angry.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. Angry! far from it; I am perfectly cool.

LADY CLARINDA. Why, you are pursing your brows, biting your lips, and lifting up your foot as if you would stamp it into the earth. I must say anger becomes you; you would make a charming Hotspur. Your every-day-dining-out face is rather insipid: but I assure you my heart is in danger when you are in the heroics. It is so rare, too, in these days of smooth manners, to see anything like natural expression in a man’s face. There is one set form for every man’s face in female society: a sort of serious comedy walking gentleman’s face: but the moment the creature falls in love he begins to give himself airs, and plays off all the varieties of his physiognomy from the Master Slender to the Petruchio; and then he is actually very amusing.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. Well, Lady Clarinda, I will not be angry, amusing as it may be to you: I listen more in sorrow than in anger. I half believe you in earnest: and mourn as over a fallen angel.

LADY CLARINDA. What, because I have made up my mind not to give away my heart when I can sell it? I will introduce you to my new acquaintance, Mr. Mac Quedy: he will talk to you by the hour about exchangeable value, and show you that no rational being will part with anything, except to the highest bidder.

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. Now, I am sure you are not in earnest. You cannot adopt such sentiments in their naked deformity.

LADY CLARINDA. Naked deformity! Why, Mr. Mac Quedy will prove to you that they are the cream of the most refined philosophy. You live a very pleasant life as a bachelor, roving about the country with your portfolio under your arm. I am not fit to be a poor man’s wife. I cannot take any kind of trouble, or do any one thing that is of any use. Many decent families roast a bit of mutton on a string; but if I displease my father I shall not have as much as will buy the string, to say nothing of the meat; and the bare idea of such cookery gives me the horrors.

By this time they were near the Castle, and met Miss Crotchet and her companion, who had turned back to meet them. Captain Fitzchrome was shortly after heartily welcomed by Mr. Crotchet, and the party separated to dress for dinner, the Captain being by no means in an enviable state of mind, and full of misgivings as to the extent of belief that he was bound to accord to the words of the lady of his heart.

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