Crotchet Castle, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter IV: The Party

En quoi cognoissez-vous la folie anticque? En quoi cognoissez-vous la sagesse presente? — RABELAIS.

“If I were sketching a bandit who had just shot his last pursuer, having outrun all the rest, that is the very face I would give him,” soliloquised the Captain, as he studied the features of his rival in the drawing-room, during the miserable half-hour before dinner, when dulness reigns predominant over expectant company, especially when they are waiting for some one last comer, whom they all heartily curse in their hearts, and whom, nevertheless, or indeed therefore-the-more, they welcome as a sinner, more heartily than all the just persons who had been punctual to their engagement. Some new visitors had arrived in the morning, and, as the company dropped in one by one, the Captain anxiously watched the unclosing door for the form of his beloved: but she was the last to make her appearance, and on her entry gave him a malicious glance, which he construed into a telegraphic communication that she had stayed away to torment him. Young Crotchet escorted her with marked attention to the upper end of the drawing-room, where a great portion of the company was congregated around Miss Crotchet. These being the only ladies in the company, it was evident that old Mr. Crotchet would give his arm to Lady Clarinda, an arrangement with which the Captain could not interfere. He therefore took his station near the door, studying his rival from a distance, and determined to take advantage of his present position, to secure the seat next to his charmer. He was meditating on the best mode of operation for securing this important post with due regard to bien-seance, when he was twitched by the button by Mr. Mac Quedy, who said to him: “Lady Clarinda tells me, sir, that you are anxious to talk with me on the subject of exchangeable value, from which I infer that you have studied political economy, and as a great deal depends on the definition of value, I shall be glad to set you right on that point.” “I am much obliged to you, sir,” said the Captain, and was about to express his utter disqualification for the proposed instruction, when Mr. Skionar walked up and said: “Lady Clarinda informs me that you wish to talk over with me the question of subjective reality. I am delighted to fall in with a gentleman who daily appreciates the transcendental philosophy.” “Lady Clarinda is too good,” said the Captain; and was about to protest that he had never heard the word “transcendental” before, when the butler announced dinner. Mr. Crotchet led the way with Lady Clarinda: Lord Bossnowl followed with Miss Crotchet: the economist and transcendentalist pinned in the Captain, and held him, one by each arm, as he impatiently descended the stairs in the rear of several others of the company, whom they had forced him to let pass; but the moment he entered the dining-room he broke loose from them, and at the expense of a little brusquerie, secured his position.

“Well, Captain,” said Lady Clarinda, “I perceive you can still manoeuvre.”

“What could possess you,” said the Captain, “to send two unendurable and inconceivable bores to intercept me with rubbish about which I neither know nor care any more than the man in the moon?”

“Perhaps,” said Lady Clarinda, “I saw your design, and wished to put your generalship to the test. But do not contradict anything I have said about you, and see if the learned will find you out.”

“There is fine music, as Rabelais observes, in the cliquetis d’asssiettes, a refreshing shade in the ombre de salle a manger, and an elegant fragrance in the fumee de roti,” said a voice at the Captain’s elbow. The Captain turning round, recognised his clerical friend of the morning, who knew him again immediately, and said he was extremely glad to meet him there; more especially as Lady Clarinda had assured him that he was an enthusiastic lover of Greek poetry.

“Lady Clarinda,” said the Captain, “is a very pleasant young lady.”

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. So she is, sir: and I understand she has all the wit of the family to herself, whatever that totum may be. But a glass of wine after soup is, as the French say, the verre de sante. The current of opinion sets in favour of Hock: but I am for Madeira; I do not fancy Hock till I have laid a substratum of Madeira. Will you join me?

CAPTAIN FITZCHROME. With pleasure.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Here is a very fine salmon before me: and May is the very point nomme to have salmon in perfection. There is a fine turbot close by, and there is much to be said in his behalf: but salmon in May is the king of fish.

MR. CROTCHET. That salmon before you, doctor, was caught in the Thames, this morning.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. [Greek text]. Rarity of rarities! A Thames salmon caught this morning. Now, Mr. Mac Quedy, even in fish your Modern Athens must yield. Cedite Graii.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Eh! sir, on its own around, your Thames salmon has two virtues over all others; first, that it is fresh; and, second, that it is rare; for I understand you do not take half a dozen in a year.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. In some years, sir, not one. Mud, filth, gas-dregs, lock-weirs, and the march of mind, developed in the form of poaching, have ruined the fishery. But, when we do catch a salmon, happy the man to whom he falls.

MR. MAC QUEDY. I confess, sir, this is excellent: but I cannot see why it should be better than a Tweed salmon at Kelso.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Sir, I will take a glass of Hock with you.

MR. MAC QUEDY. With all my heart, sir. There are several varieties of the salmon genus: but the common salmon, the salmo salar, is only one species, one and the same everywhere, just like the human mind. Locality and education make all the difference.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Education! Well, sir, I have no doubt schools for all are just as fit for the species salmo salar as for the genus homo. But you must allow that the specimen before us has finished his education in a manner that does honour to his college. However, I doubt that the salmo salar is only one species, that is to say, precisely alike in all localities. I hold that every river has its own breed, with essential differences; in flavour especially. And as for the human mind, I deny that it is the same in all men. I hold that there is every variety of natural capacity from the idiot to Newton and Shakespeare; the mass of mankind, midway between these extremes, being blockheads of different degrees; education leaving them pretty nearly as it found them, with this single difference, that it gives a fixed direction to their stupidity, a sort of incurable wry neck to the thing they call their understanding. So one nose points always east, and another always west, and each is ready to swear that it points due north.

MR. CROTCHET. If that be the point of truth, very few intellectual noses point due north.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Only those that point to the Modern Athens.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Where all native noses point southward.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Eh, sir, northward for wisdom, and southward for profit.

MR. CROTCHET, JUN. Champagne, doctor?

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Most willingly. But you will permit my drinking it while it sparkles. I hold it a heresy to let it deaden in my hand, while the glass of my compotator is being filled on the opposite side of the table. By-the-bye, Captain, you remember a passage in Athenaeus, where he cites Menander on the subject of fish-sauce: [Greek text]. (The Captain was aghast for an answer that would satisfy both his neighbours, when he was relieved by the divine continuing.) The science of fish-sauce, Mr. Mac Quedy, is by no means brought to perfection; a fine field of discovery still lies open in that line.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Nay, sir, beyond lobster-sauce, I take it, ye cannot go.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. In their line, I grant you, oyster and lobster-sauce are the pillars of Hercules. But I speak of the cruet sauces, where the quintessence of the sapid is condensed in a phial. I can taste in my mind’s palate a combination, which, if I could give it reality, I would christen with the name of my college, and hand it down to posterity as a seat of learning indeed.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Well, sir, I wish you success, but I cannot let slip the question we started just now. I say, cutting off idiots, who have no minds at all, all minds are by nature alike. Education (which begins from their birth) makes them what they are.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. No, sir, it makes their tendencies, not their power. Caesar would have been the first wrestler on the village common. Education might have made him a Nadir Shah; it might also have made him a Washington; it could not have made him a merry-andrew, for our newspapers to extol as a model of eloquence.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Now, sir, I think education would have made him just anything, and fit for any station, from the throne to the stocks; saint or sinner, aristocrat or democrat, judge, counsel, or prisoner at the bar.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. I will thank you for a slice of lamb, with lemon and pepper. Before I proceed with this discussion — Vin de Grave, Mr. Skionar — I must interpose one remark. There is a set of persons in your city, Mr. Mac Quedy, who concoct, every three or four months, a thing, which they call a review: a sort of sugar-plum manufacturers to the Whig aristocracy.

MR. MAC QUEDY. I cannot tell, sir, exactly, what you mean by that; but I hope you will speak of those gentlemen with respect, seeing that I am one of them.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Sir, I must drown my inadvertence in a glass of Sauterne with you. There is a set of gentlemen in your city —

MR. MAC QUEDY. Not in our city, exactly; neither are they a set. There is an editor, who forages for articles in all quarters, from John o’ Groat’s house to the Land’s End. It is not a board, or a society: it is a mere intellectual bazaar, where A, B, and C, bring their wares to market.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Well, sir, these gentlemen among them, the present company excepted, have practised as much dishonesty as, in any other department than literature, would have brought the practitioner under the cognisance of the police. In politics, they have ran with the hare and hunted with the hound. In criticism, they have, knowingly and unblushingly, given false characters, both for good and for evil; sticking at no art of misrepresentation, to clear out of the field of literature all who stood in the way of the interests of their own clique. They have never allowed their own profound ignorance of anything (Greek for instance) to throw even an air of hesitation into their oracular decision on the matter. They set an example of profligate contempt for truth, of which the success was in proportion to the effrontery; and when their prosperity had filled the market with competitors, they cried out against their own reflected sin, as if they had never committed it, or were entitled to a monopoly of it. The latter, I rather think, was what they wanted.

MR. CROTCHET. Hermitage, doctor?

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Nothing better, sir. The father who first chose the solitude of that vineyard, knew well how to cultivate his spirit in retirement. Now, Mr. Mac Quedy, Achilles was distinguished above all the Greeks for his inflexible love of truth; could education have made Achilles one of your reviewers?

MR. MAC QUEDY. No doubt of it, even if your character of them were true to the letter.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. And I say, sir — chicken and asparagus — Titan had made him of better clay. I hold with Pindar, “All that is most excellent is so by nature.” [Greek text]. Education can give purposes, but not powers; and whatever purposes had been given him, he would have gone straight forward to them; straight forward, Mr. Mac Quedy.

MR. MAC QUEDY. No, sir, education makes the man, powers, purposes, and all.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. There is the point, sir, on which we join issue.

Several others of the company now chimed in with their opinions, which gave the divine an opportunity to degustate one or two side dishes, and to take a glass of wine with each of the young ladies.

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