Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 3

The Duke’s Folly

Moisten your lungs with wine. The dog-star’s sway

Returns, and all things thirst beneath his ray.

Alcaeus

Falernum. Opimianum. Annorum. Centum.

Heu! Heu! inquit Trimalchio, ergo diutius vivit vinum quam

homuncio! Quare reyye reviovas faciamus. Vita vinum est. —

Petronius Arbiter.

Falernian Opimian Wine an hundred years old.

Alas! Alas! exclaimed Trimalchio. This wine lives longer

than man! Wherefore let us sing, ‘moisten your lungs.’

Wine is life.

Wordsworth’s question, in his Poets Epitaph,

Art thou a man of purple cheer,

A rosy man, right plump to see?

might have been answered in the affirmative by the Reverend Doctor Opimian. The worthy divine dwelt in an agreeably situated vicarage, on the outskirts of the New Forest. A good living, a comfortable patrimony, a moderate dowry with his wife, placed him sufficiently above the cares of the world to enable him to gratify all his tastes without minute calculations of cost. His tastes, in fact, were four: a good library, a good dinner, a pleasant garden, and rural walks. He was an athlete in pedestrianism. He took no pleasure in riding, either on horseback or in a carriage; but he kept a brougham for the service of Mrs. Opimian, and for his own occasional use in dining out.

Mrs. Opimian was domestic. The care of the doctor had supplied her with the best books on cookery, to which his own inventive genius and the kindness of friends had added a large, and always increasing manuscript volume. The lady studied them carefully, and by diligent superintendence left the doctor nothing to desire in the service of his table. His cellar was well stocked with a selection of the best vintages, under his own especial charge. In all its arrangements his house was a model of order and comfort; and the whole establishment partook of the genial physiognomy of the master. From the master and mistress to the cook, and from the cook to the torn cat, there was about the inhabitants of the vicarage a sleek and purring rotundity of face and figure that denoted community of feelings, habits, and diet; each in its kind, of course, for the doctor had his port, the cook her ale, and the cat his milk, in sufficiently liberal allowance. In the morning while Mrs. Opimian found ample occupation in the details of her household duties and the care of her little family, the doctor, unless he had predestined the whole day to an excursion, studied in his library. In the afternoon he walked; in the evening he dined; and after dinner read to his wife and family, or heard his children read to him. This was his home life. Now and then he dined out; more frequently than at any other place with his friend and neighbour, Mr. Gryll, who entirely sympathised with him in his taste for a good dinner.

Beyond the limits of his ordinary but within those of his occasional range was a solitary round tower on an eminence backed with wood, which had probably in old days been a landmark for hunters; but having in modern days no very obvious use, was designated, as many such buildings are, by the name of The Folly. The country people called it ‘The Duke’s Folly,’ though who the Duke in question was nobody could tell. Tradition had dropped his name.

One fine Midsummer day, with a southerly breeze and a cloudless sky, the doctor, having taken an early breakfast, in the progress of which he had considerably reduced the altitude of a round of beef, set out with a good stick in his hand and a Newfoundland dog at his heels for one of his longest walks, such as he could only take in the longest days.

Arriving at the Folly, which he had not visited for a long time, he was surprised to find it enclosed, and having at the back the novelty of a covered passage, built of the same gray stone as the tower itself. This passage passed away into the wood at the back, whence was ascending a wreath of smoke which immediately recalled to him the dwelling of Circe.1 Indeed, the change before him had much the air of enchantment; and the Circean similitude was not a little enhanced by the antique masonry,2 and the expanse of sea which was visible from the eminence. He leaned over the gate, repeated aloud the lines of the Odyssey, and fell into a brown study, from which he was aroused by the approach of a young gentleman from within the enclosure.

‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ said the doctor, ‘but my curiosity is excited by what I see here; and if you do not think it impertinent, and would inform me how these changes have come about, I should be greatly obliged.’

‘Most willingly, sir,’ said the other; ‘but if you will walk in, and see what has been done, the obligation will be mine.’

The doctor readily accepted the proposal. The stranger led the way, across an open space in the wood, to a circular hall, from each side of which a wide passage led, on the left hand to the tower, and on the right to the new building, which was so masked by the wood as not to be visible except from within the glade. It was a square structure of plain stone, much in the same style as that of the tower.

The young gentleman took the left-hand passage, and introduced the doctor to the lower floor of the tower.

‘I have divided the tower,’ he observed, ‘into three rooms: one on each floor. This is the dining-room; above it is my bedroom; above it again is my library. The prospect is good from all the floors, but from the library it is most extensive, as you look over the woods far away into the open sea.’

‘A noble dining-room,’ said the doctor. ‘The height is well proportioned to the diameter. That circular table well becomes the form of the room, and gives promise of a fine prospect in its way.’

‘I hope you will favour me by forming a practical judgment on the point,’ said his new acquaintance, as he led the way to the upper floor, the doctor marvelling at the extreme courtesy with which he was treated. ‘This building,’ thought he, ‘might belong to the age of chivalry, and my host might be Sir Calidore himself.’ But the library brought him back to other days.

The walls were covered with books, the upper portion accessible by a gallery, running entirely round the apartment. The books of the lower circle were all classical; those of the upper, English, Italian, and French, with a few volumes in Spanish.

The young gentleman took down a Homer, and pointed out to the doctor the passage which, as he leaned over the gate, he had repeated from the Odyssey, This accounted to the doctor for the deference shown to him. He saw at once into the Greek sympathy.

‘You have a great collection of books,’ said the doctor.

‘I believe,’ said the young gentleman, ‘I have all the best books in the languages I cultivate. Home Tooke says: “Greek, Latin, Italian, and French, are unfortunately the usual bounds of an English scholar’s acquisition.” I think any scholar fortunate whose acquisition extends so far. These languages and our own comprise, I believe, with a few rare exceptions, all the best books in the world. I may add Spanish for the sake of Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Calderon.3

It was a dictum of Porson, that “Life is too short to learn German “: meaning, I apprehend, not that it is too difficult to be acquired within the ordinary space of life, but that there is nothing in it to compensate for the portion of life bestowed on its acquirement, however little that may be.’4

The doctor was somewhat puzzled what to say. He had some French and more Italian, being fond of romances of chivalry; and in Greek and Latin he thought himself a match for any man; but he was more occupied with speculations on the position and character of his new acquaintance than on the literary opinions he was enunciating. He marvelled to find a young man, rich enough to do what he here saw done, doing anything of the kind, and fitting up a library in a solitary tower, instead of passing his time in clubs and réunions, and other pursuits and pleasures of general society. But he thought it necessary to say something to the point, and rejoined:

‘Porson was a great man, and his dictum would have weighed with me if I had had a velleity towards German; but I never had any. But I rather wonder you should have placed your library on the upper instead of the middle floor. The prospect, as you have observed, is fine from all the floors; but here you have the sea and the sky to the greatest advantage; and I would assign my best look-out to the hours of dressing and undressing; the first thing in the morning, the last at night, and the half-hour before dinner. You can give greater attention to the views before you when you are following operations, important certainly, but mechanical from repetition, and uninteresting in themselves, than when you are engaged in some absorbing study, which probably shuts out all perception of the external world.’

‘What you say is very true, sir,’ said the other; ‘but you know the lines of Milton —

‘Or let my lamp, at midnight hour,

Be seen in some high lonely tower,

Where I may oft outwatch the Bear,

With thrice great Hermes.

‘These lines have haunted me from very early days, and principally influenced me in purchasing this tower, and placing my library on the top of it. And I have another association with such a mode of life.’

A French clock in the library struck two, and the young gentleman proposed to his visitor to walk into the house. They accordingly descended the stairs, and crossed the entrance-hall to a large drawing-room, simply but handsomely furnished; having some good pictures on the walls, an organ at one end of the room, a piano and harp at the other, and an elegantly-disposed luncheon in the middle.

‘At this time of the year,’ said the young gentleman, ‘I lunch at two, and dine at eight. This gives me two long divisions of the morning, for any indoor and out-door purposes. I hope you will partake with me. You will not find a precedent in Homer for declining the invitation.’

‘Really,’ said the doctor, ‘that argument is cogent and conclusive. I accept with pleasure: and indeed my long walk has given me an appetite.’

‘Now you must know,’ said the young gentleman, ‘I have none but female domestics. You will see my two waiting-maids.’

He rang the bell, and the specified attendants appeared: two young girls about sixteen and seventeen; both pretty, and simply, but very becomingly, dressed.

Of the provision set before him the doctor preferred some cold chicken and tongue. Madeira and sherry were on the table, and the young attendants offered him hock and claret. The doctor took a capacious glass from each of the fair cup-bearers, and pronounced both wines excellent, and deliciously cool. He declined more, not to overheat himself in walking, and not to infringe on his anticipations of dinner. The dog, who had behaved throughout with exemplary propriety, was not forgotten. The doctor rose to depart.

‘I think,’ said his host, ‘I may now ask you the Homeric question —(Greek phrase)5

‘Most justly,’ said the doctor. My name is Theophilus Opimian. I am a Doctor of Divinity, and the incumbent of Ashbrook-cum-Ferndale.’

‘I am simply,’ said the other, ‘Algernon Falconer. I have inherited some money, but no land. Therefore, having the opportunity, I made this purchase to fit it up in my own fashion, and live in it in my own way.’

The doctor preparing to depart, Mr. Falconer proposed to accompany him part of the way, and calling out another Newfoundland dog, who immediately struck up a friendship with his companion, he walked away with the doctor, the two dogs gamboling before them.

1 (Greek passage) Od. k 145–152.

I climbed a cliff with spear and sword in hand,

Whose ridge o’erlooked a shady length of land:

To learn if aught of mortal works appear,

Or cheerful voice of mortal strike the ear.

From the high point I marked, in distant view,

A stream of curling smoke ascending blue,

And spiry tops, the tufted trees above,

Of Circe’s palace bosomed in the grove.

Thither to haste, the region to explore,

Was first my thought. . .

2 (Greek passage) Id. 210, 211.

The palace in a woody vale they found,

High-raised of stone, a shaded space around.

Pope.

3 Mr. Buchanan says that Peacock learned Spanish at an advanced period of life, which ought to have been mentioned in our introductory memoir. Scarcely a Spanish book, however, appears in the catalogue of his library. — G.

4 Mr. Hayward’s French hotel-keeper in Germany had a different, but not less cogent reason for not learning German. ‘Whenever a dish attracts attention by the art displayed in its conception or preparation, apart from the material, the artist will commonly be discovered to be French. Many years ago we had the curiosity to inquire at the Hôtel de France, at Dresden, to whom our party were indebted for the enjoyment they had derived from a suprême de volaille, and were informed the cook and the master of the hotel were one and the same person: a Frenchman, ci-devant chef of a Russian minister. He had been eighteen years in Germany, but knew not a word of any language but his own. “A quoi bon, messieurs” was his reply to our expression of astonishment; “à quoi bon apprendre la langue d’un peuple qui ne possède pas une cuisine?” ‘— Art of Dining, pp, 69, 70.

5 Who, and whence, are you?

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