Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 31

A Twelfth-Night Ball — Pantopragmatic Cookery — Modern Vandalism — A Bowl of Punch

sic erimus cuncti, postquam nos auferet Orcus:

ergo vivamus, dura licet esse bene.

So must we be, when ends our mortal day:

Then let us live, while yet live well we may.

Trimalchio, with the silver skeleton: in Petronius: c. 34.

Twelfth-night was the night of the ball. The folding-doors of the drawing-rooms, which occupied their entire breadth, were thrown wide open. The larger room was appropriated to grown dancers; the smaller to children, who came in some force, and were placed within the magnetic attraction of an enormous twelfth-cake, which stood in a decorated recess. The carpets had been taken up, and the floors were painted with forms in chalk1 by skilful artists, under the superintendence of Mr. Pallet. The library, separated from all the apartments by ante-chambers with double doors, was assigned, with an arrangement of whist-tables, to such of the elder portion of the party as might prefer that mode of amusement to being mere spectators of the dancing. Mr. Gryll, with Miss Ilex, Mr. MacBorrowdale, and the Reverend Dr. Opimian, established his own quadrille party in a corner of the smaller drawing-room, where they could at once play and talk, and enjoy the enjoyment of the young. Lord Curryfin was Master of the Ceremonies.

After two or three preliminary dances, to give time for the arrival of the whole of the company, the twelfth-cake was divided. The characters were drawn exclusively among the children, and the little king and queen were duly crowned, placed on a theatrical throne, and paraded in state round both drawing-rooms, to their own great delight and that of their little associates. Then the ball was supposed to commence, and was by general desire opened with a minuet by Miss Niphet and Lord Curryfin. Then came alternations of quadrilles and country dances, interspersed with occasional waltzes and polkas. So the ball went merrily, with, as usual, abundant love-making in mute signs and in sotto voce parlance.

Lord Curryfin, having brought his own love-making to a satisfactory close, was in exuberant spirits, sometimes joining in the dance, sometimes — in his official capacity — taking the round of the rooms to see that everything was going on to everybody’s satisfaction. He could not fail to observe that his proffered partnership in the dance, though always graciously, was not so ambitiously accepted as before he had disposed of himself for life. A day had sufficed to ask and obtain the consent of Miss Niphet’s father, who now sate on the side of the larger drawing-room, looking with pride and delight on his daughter, and with cordial gratification on her choice; and when it was once, as it was at once known, that Miss Niphet was to be Lady Curryfin, his lordship passed into the class of married men, and was no longer the object of that solicitous attention which he had received as an undrawn prize in the lottery of marriage, while it was probable that somebody would have him, and nobody knew who.

The absence of Mr. Falconer was remarked by several young ladies, to whom it appeared that Miss Gryll had lost her two most favoured lovers at once. However, as she had still many others, it was not yet a decided case for sympathy. Of course she had no lack of partners, and whatever might have been her internal anxiety, she was not the least gay among the joyous assembly.

Lord Curryfin, in his circuit of the apartments, paused at the quadrille-table, and said, ‘You have been absent two or three days, Mr. MacBorrowdale — what news have you brought from London?’

Mr. MacBorrowdale. Not much, my lord. Tables turn as usual, and the ghost-trade appears to be thriving instead of being merely audible, the ghosts are becoming tangible, and shake hands under the tables with living wiseacres, who solemnly attest the fact. Civilised men ill-use their wives; the wives revenge themselves in their own way, and the Divorce Court has business enough on its hands to employ it twenty years at its present rate of progression. Commercial bubbles burst, and high-pressure boilers blow up, and mountebanks of all descriptions flourish on public credulity. Everywhere there are wars and rumours of wars. The Peace Society has wound up its affairs in the Insolvent Court of Prophecy. A great tribulation is coming on the earth, and Apollyon in person is to be perpetual dictator all the nations. There is, to be sure, one piece of news your line, but it will be no news to you. There is a meeting of the Pantopragmatic Society, under the presidency of Lord Facing-both-ways, who has opened it with a long speech, philanthropically designed as an elaborate exercise in fallacies, for the benefit of young rhetoricians. The society has divided its work into departments, which are to meddle with everything, from the highest to the lowest — from a voice in legislation to a finger in Jack Horner’s pie. I looked for a department of Fish, with your lordship’s name at the head of it; but I did not find it. It would be a fine department. It would divide itself naturally into three classes — living fish, fossil fish, and fish in the frying-pan.

Lord Curryfin. I assure you, Mr. MacBorrowdale, all this seems as ridiculous now to me as it does to you. The third class of fish is all that I shall trouble myself with in future, and that only at the tables of myself and my friends.

Mr. Gryll. I wonder the Pantopragmatics have not a department of cookery; a female department, to teach young wives how to keep their husbands at home, by giving them as good dinners as they can get abroad, especially at club. Those anti-domestic institutions receive their chief encouragment from the total ignorance of cookery on the part of young wives: for in this, as in all other arts of life, it is not sufficient to order what shall be done: it is necessary to know how it ought to be done. This is a matter of more importance to social well-being than nine-tenths of the subjects the Pantopragmatics meddle with.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. And therefore I rejoice that they do not meddle with it. A dinner, prepared from a New Art of Cookery, concocted under their auspices, would be more comical and more uneatable than the Roman dinner in Peregrine Pickle. Let young ladies learn cookery by all means: but let them learn under any other tuition than that of the Pantopragmatic Society.

Mr. Gryll. As for the tribulation coming on the earth, I am afraid there is some ground to expect it, without looking for its foreshadowing exclusively to the Apocalypse. Niebuhr, who did not draw his opinions from prophecy, rejoiced that his career was coming to a close, for he thought we were on the eve of a darker middle age.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. He had not before his eyes the astounding march of intellect, drumming and trumpeting science from city to city. But I am afraid that sort of obstreperous science only gives people the novel ‘use of their eyes to see the way of blindness.’2

Truths which, from action’s paths retired,

My silent search in vain required,3

I am not likely to find in the successive gabblings of a dozen lecturers of Babel.

Mr. Gryll. If you could so find them, they would be of little avail against the new irruption of Goths and Vandals, which must have been in the apprehension of Niebuhr. There are Vandals on northern thrones, anxious for nothing so much as to extinguish truth and liberty wherever they show themselves — Vandals in the bosom of society everywhere even amongst ourselves, in multitudes, with precisely the same aim, only more disguised by knaves, and less understood by dupes.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. And, you may add, Vandals dominating over society throughout half America, who deal with free speech and even the suspicion of free thought just as the Inquisition dealt with them, only substituting Lynch law and the gallows for a different mockery of justice, ending in fire and faggot.

Mr. Gryll. I confine my view to Europe. I dread northern monarchy, and southern anarchy; and rabble brutality amongst ourselves, smothered and repressed for the present, but always ready to break out into inextinguishable flame, like hidden fire under treacherous ashes.4

Mr. MacBorrowdale. In the meantime, we are all pretty comfortable; and sufficient for the day is the evil thereof; which in our case, so far as I can see, happens to be precisely none.

Miss Ilex. Lord Curryfin seems to be of that opinion, for he has flitted away from the discussion, and is going down a country dance with Miss Niphet..

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. He has chosen his time well. He takes care to be her last partner before supper, that he may hand her to the table. But do you observe how her tragic severity has passed away? She was always pleasant to look on, but it was often like contemplating ideal beauty in an animated statue — Now she is the image of perfect happiness, and irradiates all around her.

Miss Ilex. How can it be otherwise? The present and the future are all brightness to her. She cannot but reflect their radiance.

Now came the supper, which, as all present had dined early, was unaffectedly welcomed and enjoyed. Lord Curryfin looked carefully to the comfort of his idol, but was unremitting in his attentions to her fair neighbours. After supper, dancing was resumed, with an apparent resolution in the greater portion of the company not to go home till morning. Mr. Gryll, Mr. MacBorrowdale, the Reverend Doctor Opimian, and two or three elders of the party, not having had their usual allowance of wine after their early dinner, remained at the supper table over a bowl of punch, which had been provided in ample quantity, and, in the intervals of dancing, circulated, amongst other refreshments, round the sides of the ballroom, where it was gratefully accepted by the gentlemen, and not absolutely disregarded even by the young ladies. This may be conceded on occasion, without admitting Goldoni’s facetious position, that a woman, masked and silent, may be known to be English by her acceptance of punch.5

1 These all wear out of me, like forms with chalk Painted on rich men’s floors, for one feast-night: says Wordsworth, of ‘chance acquaintance,’ in his neighbourhood. — Miscellaneous Sonnets, No. 39.

2 Gaoler. For look you, sir: you know not which way you shall go.

Posthumus. Yes, indeed do I, fellow.

Gaoler. Your death has eyes in’s head, then: I have not seen him so pictured . . . .

Posthumus. I tell thee, fellow, there are none want eyes to direct them the way I am going, but such as wink, and will not use them.

Gaoler. What an infinite mock is this, that a man should have the best use of eyes to see the way of blindness!

Cymbeline: Act v. Scene 4.

3 Collins: Ode on the Manners.

4 —— incedis per ignes suppositos cineri doloso. — Hor. Carm, 11. i.

5 Lord Runebif, in Venice, meets Rosaura, who is masked, before a bottega di caffè. She makes him a curtsey in the English fashion.

Milord. Madama, molto compita, voleté caffè?

Rosaura. (Fa cenno di no. )

Milord. Cioccolata?

Rosaura. (Fa cenno di no. )

Milord. Voleté ponce?

Rosaura. (Fa cenno di si. )

Milord. Oh! è Inglese.

La Vedova Scaltra, A. iii. S. 10.

He does not offer her tea, which, as a more English drink than either coffee or chocolate, might have entered into rivalry with punch: especially if, as Goldoni represented in another comedy, the English were in the habit of drinking it, not with milk, but with arrack. Lord Arthur calls on his friend Lord Bonfil in the middle of the day, and Lord Bonfil offers him tea, which is placed on the table with sugar and arrack. While they are drinking it, Lord Coubrech enters.

Bonfil. Favorite, bevete con noi.

Coubrech. Il tè non si rifiuta.

Artur. E bevanda salutifera.

Bonfil. Voleté rak?

Coubrech. Si, rak.

Bonfil. Ecco, vi servo.

Pamela Fanciulla, A. i. S. 15.

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