Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 32

Hopes and Fears — Compensations in Life — Athenian Comedy — Madeira and Music — Confidences

(Greek Passage)

The Ghost of Darius to the Chorus, in the Perso of Æschylus.

Farewell, old friends: and even if ills surround you,

Seize every joy the passing day can bring,

For wealth affords no pleasure to the dead.

Dorothy had begun to hope that Harry’s news might be true, but even Harry’s sanguineness began to give way: the pertinacity with which the young master remained at home threw a damp on their expectations. But having once fairly started, in the way of making love on the one side and responding to it on the other, they could not but continue as they had begun, and she permitted him to go on building castles in the air, in which the Christmas of the ensuing year was arrayed in the brightest apparel of fire and festival.

Harry, walking home one afternoon, met the Reverend Doctor Opimian, who was on his way to the Tower, where he purposed to dine and pass the night. Mr. Falconer’s absence from the ball had surprised him, especially as Lord Curryfin’s rivalry had ceased, and he could imagine no good cause for his not returning to the Grange. The doctor held out his hand to Harry, who returned the grasp most cordially. The doctor asked him, ‘how he and his six young friends were prospering in their siege of the hearts of the seven sisters.’

Harry Hedgerow. Why, sir, so far as the young ladies are concerned, we have no cause to complain. But we can’t make out the young gentleman. He used to sit and read all the morning, at the top of the Tower. Now he goes up the stairs, and after a little while he comes down again, and walks into the forest. Then he goes upstairs again, and down again, and out again. Something must be come to him, and the only thing we can think of is, that he is crossed in love. And he never gives me a letter or a message to the Grange. So, putting all that together, we haven’t a merry Christmas, you see, sir.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I see, still harping on a merry Christmas. Let us hope that the next may make amends.

Harry Hedgerow. Have they a merry Christmas at the Grange, sir?

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Very merry.

Harry Hedgerow. Then there’s nobody crossed in love there, sir.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. That is more than I can say. I cannot answer for others. I am not, and never was, if that is any comfort to you.

Harry Hedgerow. It is a comfort to me to see you, and hear the sound of your voice, sir. It always does me good.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Why then, my young friend, you are most heartily welcome to see and hear me whenever you please, if you will come over to the Vicarage. And you will always find a piece of cold roast beef and a tankard of good ale; and just now a shield of brawn. There is some comfort in them.

Harry Hedgerow. Ah! thank ye, sir. They are comfortable things in their way. But it isn’t for them I should come.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I believe you, my young friend. But a man fights best when he has a good basis of old English fare to stand on, against all opposing forces, whether of body or mind. Come and see me. And whatever happens in this world, never let it spoil your dinner.

Harry Hedgerow. That’s father’s advice, sir. But it won’t always do. When he lost mother, that spoiled his dinner for many a day. He has never been the same man since, though he bears up as well as he can. But if I could take Miss Dorothy home to him, I’m sure that would all but make him young again. And if he had a little Harry dandle next Christmas, wouldn’t he give him the first spoonful out of the marrow-bone!

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I doubt if that would be good food for little Harry, notwithstanding it was Hector’s way of feeding Astyanax.1 But we may postpone the discussion his diet till he makes his appearance. In the meantime, live in hope; but live on beef and ale.

The doctor again shook him heartily by the hand, an Harry took his leave.

The doctor walked on, soliloquising as usual. ‘This young man’s father has lost a good wife, and has never been the same man since. If he had had a bad wife, he would have felt it as a happy release. This life has strange compensations. It helps to show the truth of Juvenal’s remark, that the gods alone know what is good for us.2

Now, here again is my friend at the Tower. If he had not, as I am sure he has, the love of Morgana, he would console himself with his Vestals. If he had not their sisterly affection, he would rejoice in the love of Morgana, but having both the love and the affection, he is between two counter-attractions, either of which would make him happy, and both together make him miserable. Who can say which is best for him? or for them? or for Morgana herself? I almost wish the light of her favour had shone on Lord Curryfin. That chance has pass from her; and she will not easily find such another. Perhaps she might have held him in her bonds, if she had been so disposed. But Miss Niphet. is a glorious girl, and there is a great charm in such perfect reciprocity. Jupiter himself, as I have before had occasion to remark, must have prearranged their consentaneity. The young lord went on some time, adhering, as he supposed, to his first pursuit, and falling unconsciously and inextricably into the second; and the young lady went on, devoting her whole heart and soul to him, not clearly perhaps knowing it herself, but certainly not suspecting that any one else could dive into the heart of her mystery. And now they both seem surprised that nobody seems surprised at their sudden appearance in the character affianced lovers. His is another example of strange compensation; for if Morgana had accepted him on his first offer, Miss Niphet would not have thought of him; but she found him a waif and stray, a flotsam on the waters of love, and landed him at her feet without art or stratagem. Artlessness and simplicity triumphed, where the deepest design would have ailed. I do not know if she had any compensation to look for; but if she had, she has found it; for never was a man with more qualities for domestic happiness, and not Pedro of Portugal himself was more overwhelmingly in love. When I first knew him, I saw only the comic side of his character: he has a serious one too, and not the least agreeable part of it: but the comic still shows itself. I cannot well define whether his exuberant good-humour is contagious, and makes me laugh by anticipation as soon as I fall into his company, or whether it is impossible to think of him, gravely lecturing on Fish, as a member of the Pantopragmatic Society, without perceiving a ludicrous contrast between his pleasant social face and the unpleasant social impertinence of those would-be meddlers with everything. It is true, he has renounced that folly; but it is not so easy to dissociate him from the recollection. No matter: if I laugh, he laughs with me: if he laughs, I laugh with him. “Laugh when you can,” is a good maxim: between well-disposed sympathies a very little cause strikes out the fire of merriment —

As long liveth the merry man, they say,

As doth the sorry man, and longer by a day.

And a day so acquired is a day worth having. But then —

Another sayd sawe doth men advise,

That they be together both merry and wise.3

Very good doctrine, and fit to be kept in mind: but there is much good laughter without much wisdom, and yet with no harm in it.’

The doctor was approaching the Tower when he met Mr. Falconer, who had made one of his feverish exits from it, and was walking at double his usual speed. He turned back with the doctor, who having declined taking anything before dinner but a glass of wine and a biscuit, they went up together to the library.

They conversed only on literary subjects. The doctor, though Miss Cryll was uppermost in his mind, determined not to originate a word respecting her, and Mr. Falconer, though she was also his predominant idea, felt that it was only over a bottle of Madeira he could unbosom himself freely to the doctor.

The doctor asked, ‘What he had been reading of late? He said, ‘I have tried many things, but I have alway returned to Orlando Innamorato. There it is on the table an old edition of the original poem.4 The doctor said, have seen an old edition, something like this, on the drawing-room table at the Grange.’ He was about to say something touching sympathy in taste, but he checked himself in time. The two younger sisters brought in lights. ‘I observe,’ said the doctor, ‘that your handmaids always move in pairs. My hot water for dressing is always brought by two inseparables, whom it seems profanation to call housemaids.’

Mr. Falconer. It is always so on my side of the house that not a breath of scandal may touch their reputation. If you were to live here from January to December, with a houseful of company, neither you nor I, nor any of my friends, would see one of them alone for a single minute.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I approve the rule. I would stake my life on the conviction that these sisters are

Pure as the new-fall’n snow,

When never yet the sullying sun

Has seen its purity,

Nor the warm zephyr touched and tainted it.5

But as the world is constituted, the most perfect virtue needs to be guarded from suspicion. I cannot, however, associate your habits with a houseful of company.

Mr. Falconer. There must be sympathies enough in the world to make up society for all tastes: more difficult to find in some cases than in others; but still always within the possibility of being found. I contemplated, when I arranged this house, the frequent presence of a select party. The Aristophanic comedy and its adjuncts brought me into pleasant company elsewhere. I have postponed the purpose, not abandoned it.

Several thoughts passed through the doctor’s mind. He was almost tempted to speak them. ‘How beautiful was Miss Gryll in Circe; how charmingly she acted. What was a select party without women? And how could a bachelor invite them?’ But this would be touching a string which he had determined not to be the first to strike. So, apropos of the Aristophanic comedy, he took down Aristophanes, and said, ‘What a high idea of Athenian comedy is given by this single line, in which the poet opines “the bringing out of comedy to be the most difficult of all arts.”’6 It would not seem to be a difficult art nowadays, seeing how much new comedy is nightly produced in London, and still more in Paris, which, whatever may be its literary value, amuses its audiences as much as Aristophanes amused the Athenians.

Mr. Falconer. There is this difference, that though both audiences may be equally amused, the Athenians felt they had something to be proud of in the poet, which our audiences can scarcely feel, as far as novelties are concerned. And as to the atrocious outrages on taste and feeling perpetrated under the name of burlesques, I should be astonished if even those who laugh at them could look back on their amusement with any other feeling than that of being most heartily ashamed of the author, the theatre, and themselves.

When the dinner was over, and a bottle of claret had been placed by the side of the doctor, and a bottle of Madeira by the side of his host, who had not been sparing during dinner of his favourite beverage, which had been to him for some days like ale to the Captain and his friends in Beaumont and Fletcher,7 almost ‘his eating and his drinking solely,’ the doctor said, ‘I am glad to perceive that you keep up your practice of having a good dinner; though I am at the same time sorry to see that you have not done your old justice to it.’

Mr. Falconer. A great philosopher had seven friends, one of whom dined with him in succession on each day of the week. He directed, amongst his last dispositions, that during six months after his death the establishment of his house should be kept on the same footing, and that a dinner should be daily provided for himself and his single guest of the day, who was to be entreated to dine there in memory of him, with one of his executors (both philosophers) to represent him in doing the honours of the table alternately.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I am happy to see that the honours of your table are done by yourself, and not by an executor, administrator, or assign. The honours are done admirably, but the old justice on your side is wanting. I do not, however, clearly see what the feralis cæna of guest and executor has to do with the dinner of two living men.

Mr. Falconer. Ah, doctor, you should say one living man and a ghost. I am only the ghost of myself. I do the honours of my departed conviviality.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I thought something was wrong; but whatever it may be, take Horace’s advice —‘Alleviate every ill with wine and song, the sweet consolations of deforming anxiety.’8

Mr. Falconer. I do, doctor. Madeira, and the music of the Seven Sisters, are my consolations, and great ones; but they do not go down to the hidden care that gnaws at the deepest fibres of the heart, like Ratatosk at the roots of the Ash of Ygdrasil.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. In the Scandinavian mythology: one of the most poetical of all mythologies. I have a great respect for Odin and Thor. Their adventures have always delighted me; and the system was admirably adapted to foster the high spirit of a military people. Lucan has a fine passage on the subject.9

The doctor repeated the passage of Lucan with great emphasis. This was not what Mr. Falconer wanted. He had wished that the doctor should inquire into the cause of his trouble; but independently of the doctor’s determination to ask no questions, and to let his young friend originate his own disclosures, the unlucky metaphor had carried the doctor into one of his old fields, and if it had not been that he awaited the confidence, which he felt sure his host would spontaneously repose in him, the Scandinavian mythology would have formed his subject for the evening. He paused, therefore, and went on quietly sipping his claret.

Mr. Falconer could restrain himself no longer, and without preface or note of preparation, he communicated to the doctor all that had passed between Miss Gryll and himself, not omitting a single word of the passages of Bojardo, which were indelibly impressed on his memory.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I cannot see what there is to afflict you in all this. You are in love with Miss Gryll. She is disposed to receive you favourably. What more would you wish in that quarter?

Mr. Falconer. No more in that quarter, but the Seven Sisters are as sisters to me. If I had seven real sisters, the relationship would subsist, and marriage would not interfere with it; but, be a woman as amiable, as liberal, as indulgent, as confiding as she may, she could not treat the unreal as she would the real tie.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I admit, it is not to be expected. Still there is one way out of the difficulty. And that is by seeing all the seven happily married.

Mr. Falconer. All the seven married? Surely that is impossible.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Not so impossible as you apprehend.

The doctor thought it a favourable opportunity to tell the story of the seven suitors, and was especially panegyrical on Harry Hedgerow, observing, that if the maxim Noscitur a sociis might be reversed, and a man’s companions judged by himself, it would be a sufficient recommendation of the other six; whom, moreover, the result of his inquiries had given him ample reason to think well of. Mr. Falconer received with pleasure at Christmas a communication which at the Midsummer preceding would have given him infinite pain. It struck him all at once that, as he had dined so ill, he would have some partridges for supper, his larder being always well stocked with game. They were presented accordingly, after the usual music in the drawing-room, and the doctor, though he had dined well, considered himself bound in courtesy to assist in their disposal; when, recollecting how he had wound, up the night of the ball, he volunteered to brew a bowl of punch, over which they sate till a late hour, discoursing of many things, but chiefly of Morgana.

1 Il. xxii. vv. 500, 501.

2 Juvenal: Sut. x. v. 346.

3 These two quotations are from the oldest comedy in the English language: Ralph Roister Doister, 1566. Republished by the Shakespeare Society, 1847.

4 Southey: Thalaba.

5 (Greek passage)— Equités.

6 Ale is their eating and their drinking solely. — Scornful Lady, Act iv. Scene 2.

7 illia omne malum vino cantuque levato, deformis aggrimonio dulcibus alloquiis.

8 Epod. xiii.

9 Pharsalia, 458–462.

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