Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 11

Electrical Science — The Death of Philemon

Where wine is not, no mirth the banquet knows:

Where wine is not, the dance all joyless goes.

The man, oppressed with cares, who tastes the bowl,

Shall shake the weight of sorrow from his soul.

Bacchus, on the birth of the vine, predicting its benefits: in the twelfth book of the Dionysiaca of Nonnus.

The conversation at dinner turned on the occurrences of the morning and the phenomena of electricity. The physician, who had been a traveller, related many anecdotes from his own observation: especially such as tended to show by similarity that the injury to Miss Gryll would not be of long duration. He had known, in similar cases, instances of apparent total paralysis; but he had always found it temporary. Perhaps in a day or two, but at most in a very few days, it would certainly pass away. In the meantime, he recommended absolute repose. Mr. Falconer entreated Mr. Gryll to consider the house as his own. Matters were arranged accordingly; and it was determined that the next morning a messenger should be despatched to Gryll Grange for a supply of apparel. The Rev. Dr. Opimian, who was as fond as the Squire himself of the young lady, had been grievously discomposed by the accident of the morning, and felt that he should not thoroughly recover his serenity till he could again see her in her proper character, the light and life of her society. He quoted Homer, Æschylus, Aristotle, Plutarch, Athenaeus, Horace, Persius, and Pliny, to show that all which is practically worth knowing on the subject of electricity had been known to the ancients. The electric telegraph he held to be a nuisance, as disarranging chronology, and giving only the heads of a chapter, of which the details lost their interest before they arrived, the heads of another chapter having intervened to destroy it. Then, what an amount of misery it inflicted, when, merely saying that there had been a great battle, and that thousands had been wounded or killed, it maintained an agony of suspense in all who had friends on the field, till the ordinary channels of intelligence brought the names of the suflferers. No Sicilian tyrant had invented such an engine of cruelty. This declamation against a supposed triumph of modern science, which was listened to with some surprise by the physician, and with great respect by his other auditors, having somewhat soothed his troubled spirit, in conjunction with the physician’s assurance, he propitiated his Genius by copious libations of claret, pronouncing high panegyrics on the specimen before him, and interspersing quotations in praise of wine as the one great panacea for the cares of this world.

A week passed away, and the convalescent had made good progress. Mr. Falconer had not yet seen his fair guest. Six of the sisters, one remaining with Miss Gryll, performed every evening, at the earnest request of Mr. Gryll, a great variety of music, but always ending with the hymn to their master’s saint. The old physician came once or twice, and stayed the night. The Reverend Doctor Opimian went home for his Sunday duties, but took too much interest in the fair Morgana not to return as soon as he could to the Tower. Arriving one morning in the first division of the day, and ascending to the library, he found his young friend writing. He asked him if he were working on the Aristophanic comedy. Mr. Falconer said he got on best with that in the doctor’s company. ‘But I have been writing,’ he said, ‘on something connected with the Athenian drama. I have been writing a ballad on the death of Philemon, as told by Suidas and Apuleius.’ The doctor expressed a wish to hear it, and Mr. Falconer read it to him.

THE DEATH OF PHILEMON1

Closed was Philemon’s hundredth year:

The theatre was thronged to hear

His last completed play:

In the mid scene, a sudden rain

Dispersed the crowd — to meet again

On the succeeding day.

He sought his home, and slept, and dreamed.

Nine maidens through his door, it seemed,

Passed to the public street.

He asked them, ‘Why they left his home?’

They said, ‘A guest will hither come

We must not stay to meet.’

He called his boy with morning light,

Told him the vision of the night,

And bade his play be brought.

His finished page again he scanned,

Resting his head upon his hand,

Absorbed in studious thought

He knew not what the dream foreshowed:

That nought divine may hold abode

Where death’s dark shade is felt:

And therefore were the Muses nine

Leaving the old poetic shrine,

Where they so long had dwelt.

II

The theatre was thronged once more,

More thickly than the day before,

To hear the half-heard song.

The day wore on. Impatience came.

They called upon Philemon’s name,

With murmurs loud and long.

Some sought at length his studious cell,

And to the stage returned, to tell

What thousands strove to ask.

‘The poet we have been to seek

Sate with his hand upon his cheek,

As pondering o’er his task.

‘We spoke. He made us no reply.

We reverentially drew nigh,

And twice our errand told.

He answered not We drew more near

The awful mystery then was clear:

We found him stiff and cold.

‘Struck by so fair a death, we stood

Awhile in sad admiring mood:

Then hastened back, to say

That he, the praised and loved of all,

Is deaf for ever to your call:

That on this self-same day,

‘When here presented should have been

The close of his fictitious scene,

His life’s true scene was o’er:

We seemed, in solemn silence awed,

To hear the “Farewell and applaud,”

Which he may speak no more.

‘Of tears the rain gave prophecy:

The nuptial dance of comedy

Yields to the funeral train.

Assemble where his pyre must burn:

Honour his ashes in their urn:

And on another day return

To hear his songs again.’

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. A beautiful fiction.

Mr. Falconer. If it be a fiction. The supernatural is confined to the dream. All the rest is probable; and I am willing to think it true, dream and all.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. You are determined to connect the immaterial with the material world, as far as you can.

Mr. Falconer. I like the immaterial world. I like to live among thoughts and images of the past and the possible, and even of the impossible, now and then.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Certainly, there is much in the material world to displease sensitive and imaginative minds; but I do not know any one who has less cause to complain of it than you have. You are surrounded with all possible comforts, and with all the elements of beauty, and of intellectual enjoyment.

Mr. Falconer. It is not my own world that I complain of.

It is the world on which I look ‘from the loopholes of retreat.’ I cannot sit here, like one of the Gods of Epicurus, who, as Cicero says, was satisfied with thinking, through all eternity, ‘how comfortable he was.’2 I look with feelings of intense pain on the mass of poverty and crime; of unhealthy, unavailing, unremunerated toil, blighting childhood in its blossom, and womanhood in its prime; of ‘all the oppressions that are done under the sun.’

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I feel with you on all these points; but there is much good in the world; more good than evil, I have always maintained.

They would have gone off in a discussion on this point, but the French cook warned them to luncheon.

In the evening the young lady was sufficiently recovered to join the little party in the drawing-room, which consisted, as before, of Mr. Falconer, Mr. Gryll, Doctor Anodyne, and the Reverend Doctor Opimian. Miss Gryll was introduced to Mr. Falconer. She was full of grateful encomium for the kind attention of the sisters, and expressed an earnest desire to hear their music. The wish was readily complied with. She heard them with great pleasure, and, though not yet equal to much exertion, she could not yet refrain from joining in with them in their hymn to Saint Catharine.

She accompanied them when they retired.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I presume those Latin words are genuine old monastic verses: they have all the air of it.

Mr. Falconer. They are so, and they are adapted to old music.

Dr. Anodyne. There is something in this hymn very solemn and impressive. In an age like ours, in which music and pictures are the predominant tastes, I do not wonder that the forms of the old Catholic worship are received with increasing favour. There is a sort of adhesion to the old religion, which results less from faith than from a certain feeling of poetry; it finds its disciples; but it is of modern growth; and has very essential differences from what it outwardly resembles.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. It is, as I have frequently had occasion to remark, and as my young friend here will readily admit, one of the many forms of the love of ideal beauty, which, without being in itself religion, exerts on vivid imaginations an influence that is very often like it.

Mr. Falconer. An orthodox English Churchman was the poet who sang to the Virgin:

‘Thy image fells to earth. Yet some, I ween,

Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend,

As to a visible Power, in which did blend

All that was mixed and reconciled in thee,

Of mother’s love with maiden purity,

Of high with low, celestial with terrene.’3

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. — Well, my young friend, the love of ideal beauty has exercised none but a benignant influence on you, whatever degree of orthodoxy there may be in your view of it.

The little party separated for the night.

1 Suidas: sub voce (Greek), Apuleius: Florid, 16.

2 Comprehende igitur animo, et propone ante oculos, deura nihil aliud in omni aeternitate, nisi, Mihi pulchre est, et, Ego beatus sum, cogitant em. — Cicero: De natura deorum, 1. i. c. 41.

3 Wordsworth: Ecclesiastical Sonnets, i 21.

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