Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 17

Horse-Taming — Love in Dilemma — Injunctions — Sonorous Vases

O gran contrasto in giovenil pensiero,

Desir di laude, ed impeto d’amore 1

Ariosto: c. 25.

How great a strife in youthful minds can raise

Impulse of love, and keen desire of praise.

Lord Curryfin, amongst his multifarious acquirements, had taken lessons from the great horse-tamer, and thought himself as well qualified as his master to subdue any animal of the species, however vicious. It was therefore with great pleasure he heard that there was a singularly refractory specimen in Mr. Gryll’s stables.

The next morning after hearing this, he rose early, and took his troublesome charge in hand. After some preliminary management he proceeded to gallop him round and round a large open space in the park, which was visible from the house. Miss Niphet, always an early riser, and having just prepared for a walk, saw him from her chamber window engaged in this perilous exercise, and though she knew nothing of the peculiar character of his recalcitrant disciple, she saw by its shakings, kickings, and plungings, that it was exerting all its energies to get rid of its rider. At last it made a sudden dash into the wood, and disappeared among the trees.

It was to the young lady a matter of implicit certainty that some disaster would ensue. She pictured to herself all the contingencies of accident; being thrown to the ground and kicked by the horse’s hoofs, being dashed against a tree, or suspended, like Absalom, by the hair. She hurried down and hastened towards the wood, from which, just as she reached it, the rider and horse emerged at full speed as before. But as soon as Lord Curryfin saw Miss Niphet, he took a graceful wheel round, and brought the horse to a stand by her side; for by this time he had mastered the animal, and brought it to the condition of Sir Walter’s hunter in Wordsworth —

Weak as a lamb the hour that it is yeaned

And foaming like a mountain cataract1

She did not attempt to dissemble that she had come to look for him, but said —

‘I expected to find you killed.’

He said, ‘You see, all my experiments are not failures. I have been more fortunate with the horse than the sail.’

At this moment one of the keepers appeared at a little distance. Lord Curryfin beckoned to him, and asked him to take the horse to the stables. The keeper looked with some amazement, and exclaimed —

‘Why, this is the horse that nobody could manage!’

‘You will manage him easily enough now,’ said Lord Curryfin.

So it appeared; and the keeper took charge of him, not altogether without misgiving.

Miss Niphefs feelings had been over-excited, the more so from the severity with which she was accustomed to repress them. The energy which had thus far upheld her suddenly gave way. She sat down on a fallen tree, and burst into tears. Lord Curryfin sat down by her, and took her hand. She allowed him to retain it awhile; but all at once snatched it from him and sped towards the house over the grass, with the swiftness and lightness of Virgil’s Camilla, leaving his lordship as much astonished at her movements as the Volscian crowd, attonitis inhians animis,2 had been at those of her prototype. He could not help thinking, ‘Few women run gracefully; but she runs like another Atalanta.’

When the party met at breakfast, Miss Niphet was in her place, looking more like a statue than ever, with, if possible, more of marble paleness. Lord Curryfin’s morning exploit, of which the story had soon found its way from the stable to the hall, was the chief subject of conversation. He had received a large share of what he had always so much desired — applause and admiration; but now he thought he would willingly sacrifice all he had ever received in that line, to see even the shadow of a smile, or the expression of a sentiment of any kind, on the impassive face of Melpomene. She left the room when she rose from the breakfast-table, appeared at the rehearsal, and went through her part as usual; sat down at luncheon, and departed as soon as it was over. She answered, as she had always done, everything that was said to her, frankly, and to the purpose; and also, as usual, she originated nothing.

In the afternoon Lord Curryfin went down to the pavilion. She was not there. He wandered about the grounds in all directions, and returned several times to the pavilion, always in vain. At last he sat down in the pavilion, and fell into a meditation. He asked himself how it could be, that having begun by making love to Miss Gryll, having, indeed, gone too far to recede unless the young lady absolved him, he was now evidently in a transition state towards a more absorbing and violent passion, for a person who, with all her frankness, was incomprehensible, and whose snowy exterior seemed to cover a volcanic fire, which she struggled to repress, and was angry with herself when she did not thoroughly succeed in so doing. If he were quite free he would do his part towards the solution of the mystery, by making a direct and formal proposal to her. As a preliminary to this, he might press Miss Gryll for an answer. All he had yet obtained from her was, ‘Wait till we are better acquainted.’ He was in a dilemma between Morgana and Melpomene. It had not entered into his thoughts that Morgana was in love with him; but he thought it nevertheless very probable that she was in a fair way to become so, and that even as it was she liked him well enough to accept him. On the other hand, he could not divest himself of the idea that Melpomene was in love with him. It was true, all the sympathy she had yet shown might have arisen from the excitement of strong feelings, at the real or supposed peril of a person with whom she was in the habit of daily intercourse. It might be so. Still, the sympathy was very impassioned; though, but for his rashness in self-exposure to danger, he might never have known it. A few days ago, he would not press Miss Gryll for an answer, because he feared it might be a negative. Now he would not, because he was at least not in haste for an affirmative. But supposing it were a negative, what certainty had he that a negative from Morgana would not be followed by a negative from Melpomene? Then his heart would be at sea without rudder or compass. We shall leave him awhile to the contemplation of his perplexities.

As his thoughts were divided, so were Morgana’s. If Mr. Falconer should propose to her, she felt she could accept him without hesitation. She saw clearly the tendency of his feelings towards her. She saw, at the same time, that he strove to the utmost against them in behalf of his old associations, though, with all his endeavours, he could not suppress them in her presence. So there was the lover who did not propose, and who would have been preferred; and there was the lover who had proposed, and who, if it had been clear that the former chance was hopeless, would not have been lightly given up.

If her heart had been as much interested in Lord Curryfin. as it was in Mr. Falconer, she would quickly have detected a diminution in the ardour of his pursuit; but so for as she might have noticed any différence in his conduct, she ascribed it only to deference to her recommendation to ‘wait till they were better acquainted.’ The longer and the more quietly he waited, the better it seemed to please her. It was not on him, but on Mr. Falconer, that the eyes of her observance were fixed. She would have given Lord Curryfin his liberty instantly if she had thought he wished it.

Mr. Falconer also had his own dilemma, between his new love and his old affections. Whenever the first seemed likely to gain the ascendency, the latter rose in their turn, like Antaeus from earth, with renovated strength. And he kept up their force by always revisiting the Tower, when the contest seemed doubtful.

Thus, Lord Curryfin and Mr. Falconer were rivals, with a new phase of rivalry. In some of their variations of feeling, each wished the other success; the latter, because he struggled against a spell that grew more and more difficult to be resisted; the former, because he had been suddenly overpowered by the same kind of light that had shone from the statue of Pygmalion. Thus their rivalry, such as it was, was entirely without animosity, and in no way disturbed the harmony of the Aristophanic party.

The only person concerned in these complications whose thoughts and feelings were undivided, was Miss Niphet. She had begun by laughing at Lord Curryfin, and had ended by forming a decided partiality lor him. She contended against the feeling; she was aware of his intentions towards Miss Gryll; and she would perhaps have achieved a conquest over herself, if her sympathies had not been kept in a continual fever by the rashness with which he exposed himself to accidents by flood and field. At the same time, as she was more interested in observing Morgana than Morgana was in observing her, she readily perceived the latter’s predilection for Mr. Falconer, and the gradual folding around him of the enchanted net. These observations, and the manifest progressive concentration of Lord Curryfin’s affections on herself, showed her that she was not in the way of inflicting any very severe wound on her young friend’s feelings, or encouraging a tendency to absolute hopelessness in her own.

Lord Curryfin was pursuing his meditations in the pavilion, when the young lady, whom he had sought there in vain, presented herself before him in great agitation. He started up to meet her, and held out both his hands. She took them both, held them a moment, disengaged them, and sat down at a little distance, which he immediately reduced to nothing. He then expressed his disappointment at not having previously found her in the pavilion, and his delight at seeing her now. After a pause, she said: ‘I felt so much disturbed in the morning, that I should have devoted the whole day to recovering calmness of thought, but for something I have just heard. My maid tells me that you are going to try that horrid horse in harness, and in a newly-invented high phaeton of your own, and that the grooms say they would not drive that horse in any carriage, nor any horse in that carriage, and that you have a double chance of breaking your neck. I have disregarded all other feelings to entreat you to give up your intention.’

Lord Curryfin assured her that he felt too confident in his power over horses, and in the safety of his new invention, to admit the possibility of danger: but that it was a very small sacrifice to her to restrict himself to tame horses and low carriages, or to abstinence from all horses and carriages, if she desired it.

‘And from sailing-boats,’ she added.

‘And from sailing-boats,’ he answered.

‘And from balloons,’ she said.

‘And from balloons,’ he answered. ‘But what made you think of balloons?’

‘Because,’ she said, ‘they are dangerous, and you are inquiring and adventurous.’

‘To tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘I have been up in a balloon. I thought it the most disarming excursion I ever made. I have thought of going up again. I have invented a valve ———’

‘O heavens!’ she exclaimed. ‘But I have your promise touching horses, and carriages, and sails, and balloons.’

‘You have,’ he said. ‘It shall be strictly adhered to.’

She rose to return to the house. But this time he would not part with her, and they returned together.

Thus prohibited by an authority to which he yielded implicit obedience from trying further experiments at the risk of his neck, he restricted his inventive faculty to safer channels, and determined that the structure he was superintending should reproduce, as far as possible, all the peculiarities of the Athenian Theatre. Amongst other things, he studied attentively the subject of the echeia, or sonorous vases, which, in that vast theatre, propagated and clarified sound; and though in its smaller representative they were not needed, he thought it still possible that they might produce an agreeable effect But with all the assistance of the Reverend Doctor Opimian, he found it difficult to arrive at a clear idea of their construction, or even of their principle; for the statement of Vitruvius, that they gave an accordant resonance in the fourth, the fifth, and the octave, seemed incompatible with the idea of changes of key, and not easily reconcilable with the doctrine of Harmonics. At last he made up his mind that they had no reference to key, but solely to pitch, modified by duly-proportioned magnitude and distance; he therefore set to work assiduously, got a number of vases made, ascertained that they would give a resonance of some kind, and had them disposed at proper intervals round the audience part of the building. This being done, the party assembled, some as audience, some as performers, to judge of the effect. The first burst of choral music produced a resonance, like the sound produced by sea-shells when placed against the ear, only many times multiplied, and growing like the sound of a gong: it was the exaggerated concentration of the symphony of a lime-grove full of cockchafers,3 on a fine evening in the early summer. The experiment was then tried with single voices: the hum was less in itself, but greater in proportion. It was then tried with speaking: the result was the same: a powerful and perpetual hum, not resonant peculiarly to the diatessaron, the diapente, or the diapason, but making a new variety of continuous fundamental bass.

‘I am satisfied,’ said Lord Curryfin, ‘the art of making these vases is as hopelessly lost as that of making mummies.’ Miss Niphet encouraged him to persevere. She said:

‘You have produced a decided resonance: the only thing is to subdue it, which you may perhaps effect by diminishing the number and enlarging the intervals of the vases.’

He determined to act on the suggestion, and she felt that, for some little time at least, she had kept him out of mischief. But whenever anything was said or sung in the theatre, it was necessary, for the time, to remove the echeia.

1 Hartleap Well.

2 Gaping with wondering minds.

3 The drone of the cockchafer, as he wheels by you in drowsy hum, sounds his corno di bassetto on F below the line. — Gardiner’s Music of Nature.

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