Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 18

Lectures — The Power of Public Opinion — A New Order of Chivalry

si, Mimnermus uti censet, sine amore jocisque

nil est jucundum, vivas in amore jorisqne.

HOR. Epist. I. vi 65, 66.

If, as Mimnennus held, nought else can move

Your soul to pleasure, live in sports and love.

The theatre was completed, and was found to be, without the echeia, a fine vehicle of sound. It was tried, not only in the morning rehearsals, but occasionally, and chiefly on afternoons of bad weather, by recitations, and even lectures; for though some of the party attached no value to that mode of dogmatic instruction, yet with the majority, and especially with the young ladies, it was decidedly in favour.

One rainy afternoon Lord Curryfin was entreated to deliver in the theatre his lecture on Fish; he readily complied, and succeeded in amusing his audience more, and instructing them as much, as any of his more pretentious brother lecturers could have done. We shall not report the lecture, but we refer those who may be curious on the subject to the next meeting of the Pantopragmatic Society, under the presidency of Lord Facing-both-ways, and the vice-presidency of Lord Michin Malicho.

At intervals in similar afternoons of bad weather some others of the party were requested to favour the company with lectures or recitations in the theatre. Mr. Minim delivered a lecture on music, Mr. Pallet on painting; Mr. Falconer, though not used to lecturing, got up one on domestic life in the Homeric age. Even Mr. Gryll took his turn, and expounded the Epicurean philosophy. Mr. MacBorrowdale, who had no objection to lectures before dinner, delivered one on all the affairs of the world — foreign and domestic, moral, political, and literary. In the course of it he touched on Reform. ‘The stone which Lord Michin Malicho — who was the Gracchus of the last Reform, and is the Sisyphus of the present — has been so laboriously pushing up hill, is for the present deposited at the bottom in the Limbo of Vanity. If it should ever surmount the summit and run down on the other side, it will infallibly roll over and annihilate the franchise of the educated classes; for it would not be worth their while to cross the road to exercise it against the rabble preponderance which would then have been created. Thirty years ago, Lord Michin Malicho had several cogent arguments in favour of Reform. One was, that the people were roaring for it, and that therefore they must have it. He has now in its favour the no less cogent argument, that the people do not care about it, and that the less it is asked for the greater will be the grace of the boon. On the former occasion the out-of-door logic was irresistible. Burning houses, throwing dead cats and cabbage-stumps into carriages, and other varieties of the same system of didactics, demonstrated the fitness of those who practised them to have representatives in Parliament. So they got their representatives, and many think Parliament would have been better without them. My father was a staunch Reformer. In his neighbourhood in London was the place of assembly of a Knowledge-is-Power Club. The members at the close of their meetings collected mending-stones from the road, and broke the windows to the right and left of their line of march. They had a flag on which was inscribed, “The power of public opinion.” Whenever the enlightened assembly met, my father closed his shutters, but, closing within, they did not protect the glass. One morning he picked up, from where it had fallen between the window and the shutter, a very large, and consequently very demonstrative, specimen of dialectical granite. He preserved it carefully, and mounted it on a handsome pedestal, inscribed with “The power of public opinion.” He placed it on the middle of his library mantelpiece, and the daily contemplation of it cured him of his passion for Reform. During the rest of his life he never talked, as he had used to do, of “the people”: he always said “the rabble,” and delighted in quoting every passage of Hudibras in which the rabble-rout is treated as he had come to conclude it ought to be. He made this piece of granite the nucleus of many political disquisitions. It is still in my possession, and I look on it with veneration as my principal tutor, for it had certainly a large share in the elements of my education. If, which does not seem likely, another reform lunacy should arise in my time, I shall take care to close my shutters against “The power of public opinion.1”

The Reverend Doctor Opimian being called on to contribute his share to these diversions of rainy afternoons, said —

‘The sort of prose lecture which I am accustomed to deliver would not be exactly appropriate to the present time and place. I will therefore recite to you some verses, which I made some time since, on what appeared to me a striking specimen of absurdity on the part of the advisers of royalty here — the bestowing the honours of knighthood, which is a purely Christian institution, on Jews and Paynim; very worthy persons in themselves, and entitled to any mark of respect befitting their class, but not to one strictly and exclusively Christian; money-lenders, too, of all callings the most anti-pathetic to that of a true knight. The contrast impressed itself on me as I was reading a poem of the twelfth century, by Hues de Tabaret — L’Ordène de Chevalerie — and I endeavoured to express the contrast in the manner and form following:—

A NEW ORDER OF CHIVALRY

Sir Moses, Sir Aaron, Sir Jamramajee,

Two stock-jobbing Jews, and a shroffing Parsee,

Have girt on the armour of old Chivalrie,

And, instead of the Red Cross, have hoisted Balls Three.

Now fancy our Sovereign, so gracious and bland,

With the sword of Saint George in her royal right hand,

Instructing this trio of marvellous Knights

In the mystical meanings of Chivalry’s rites.

‘You have come from the bath, all in milk-white array,

To show you have washed worldly feelings away,

And, pure as your vestments from secular stain,

Renounce sordid passions and seekings for gain.

‘This scarf of deep red o’er your vestments I throw,

In token, that down them your life-blood shall flow,

Ere Chivalry’s honour, or Christendom’s faith,

Shall meet, through your failure, or peril or scaith.

‘These slippers of silk, of the colour of earth,

Are in sign of remembrance of whence you had birth;

That from earth you have sprung, and to earth you return,

But stand for the faith, life immortal to earn.

‘This blow of the sword on your shoulder-blades true

Is the mandate of homage, where homage is due,

And the sign that your swords from the scabbard shall fly

When “St George and the Right” is the rallying cry.

‘This belt of white silk, which no speck has defaced,

Is the sign of a bosom with purity graced,

And binds you to prove, whatsoever betides,

Of damsels distressed the friends, champions, and guides.

‘These spurs of pure gold are the symbols which say,

As your steeds obey them, you the Church shall obey,

And speed at her bidding, through country and town,

To strike, with your falchions, her enemies down.’

II

Now fancy these Knights, when the speech they have heard,

As they stand, scarfed, shoed, shoulder-dubbed, belted and spurred,

With the cross-handled sword duly sheathed on the thigh,

Thus simply and candidly making reply:

‘By your Majesty’s grace we have risen up Knights,

But we feel little relish for frays and for fights:

There are heroes enough, full of spirit and fire,

Always ready to shoot and be shot at for hire.

‘True, with bulls and with bears we have battled our cause;

And the bulls have no horns, and the bears have no paws;

And the mightiest blow which we ever have struck

Has achieved but the glory of laming a duck.1

‘With two nations in arms, friends impartial to both,

To raise each a loan we shall be nothing loth;

We will lend them the pay, to fit men for the fray;

But shall keep ourselves carefully out of the way.

‘We have small taste for championing maids in distress:

For State we care little: for Church we care less:

To Premium and Bonus our homage we plight:

“Percentage!” we cry: and “A fig for the right!”

”Twixt Saint George and the Dragon we settle it thus:

Which has scrip above par is the Hero for us:

For a turn in the market, the Dragon’s red gorge

Shall have our free welcome to swallow Saint George.’

Now, God save our Queen, and if aught should occur

To peril the crown or the safety of her,

God send that the leader, who faces the foe,

May have more of King Richard than Moses and Co.

ALFRED

Quand nous sommes vainqueurs, dire qu’on a baissé!

Si nous étions battus, on aurait donc-haussé?

DELATOUR

On a craint qu’un succès, si brillant pour la France,

De la paix qu’on rêvait n’éloignât l’espérance.

ALFRED

Cette Bourse, morbleu! n’a donc rien dans le cour!

Ventre affamé n’a point d’oreilles . . . pour l’honneur!

Aussi je ne veux plus jouer — qu’après ma noce —

Et j’attends Waterloo pour me mettre à la hausse.

1 In Stock Exchange slang, Bulls are speculators for a rise, Bears for a fall. A lame duck is a man who cannot pay his dififerences, and is said to waddle off. The patriotism of the money-market is well touched by Ponsard, in his comedy La Bourse: Acte iv. Scène 3 —

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/p/peacock/thomas_love/p35g/chapter18.html

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