Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 7

The Vicar and His Wife — Families of Love — The Newspaper

Indulge Genio: carpamus dulcia: nostrum est

Quod vivis: cinis, et manes, et fabula fies.

Vive memor lethi: fugit hora: hoc quod loquor, inde est.

Persius.

Indulge thy Genius, while the hour’s thine own:

Even while we speak, some part of it has flown.

Snatch the swift-passing good: ’twill end ere long

In dust and shadow, and an old wife’s song.

‘Agapetus and Agapêtê,’ said the Reverend Doctor Opimian, the next morning at breakfast, ‘in the best sense of the words: that, I am satisfied, is the relation between this young gentleman and his handmaids.’

Mrs. Opimian. Perhaps, doctor, you will have the goodness to make your view of this relation a little more intelligible to me.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Assuredly, my dear. The word signifies ‘beloved’ in its purest sense. And in this sense it was used by Saint Paul in reference to some of his female coreligionists and fellow-labourers in the vineyard, in whose houses he occasionally dwelt. And in this sense it was applied to virgins and holy men, who dwelt under the same roof in spiritual love.

Mrs. Opimian. Very likely, indeed. You are a holy man, doctor, but I think, if you were a bachelor, and I were a maid, I should not trust myself to be your aga — aga —

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Agapêtê. But I never pretended to this sort of spiritualism. I followed the advice of Saint Paul, who says it is better to marry.

Mrs. Opimian. You need not finish the quotation.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Agapêtê is often translated ‘adoptive sister.’ A very possible relation, I think, where there are vows of celibacy, and inward spiritual grace.

Mrs. Opimian. Very possible, indeed: and equally possible where there are none.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. But more possible where there are seven adoptive sisters, than where there is only one.

Mrs. Opimian. Perhaps.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. The manners, my dear, of these damsels towards their young master are infallible indications of the relations between them. Their respectful deference to him is a symptom in which I cannot be mistaken.

Mrs. Opimian. I hope you are not.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I am sure I am not. I would stake all my credit for observation and experience on the purity of the seven Vestals. I am not strictly accurate in calling them so: for in Rome the number of Vestals was only six. But there were seven Pleiads, till one disappeared. We may fancy she became a seventh Vestal. Or as the planets used to be seven, and are now more than fifty, we may pass a seventh Vestal in the name of modern progress.

Mrs. Opimian. There used to be seven deadly sins. How many has modern progress added to them?

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. None, I hope, my dear. But this will be due, not to its own tendencies, but to the comprehensiveness of the old definitions.

Mrs. Opimian. I think I have heard something like your Greek word before.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Agapêmonê, my dear. You may have heard the word Agapêmonê.

Mrs. Opimian. That is it. And what may it signify?

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. It signifies Abode of Love: spiritual love of course.

Mrs. Opimian. Spiritual love, which rides in carriages and four, fares sumptuously, like Dives, and protects itself with a high wall from profane observation.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Well, my dear, and there may be no harm in all that.

Mrs. Opimian. Doctor, you are determined not to see harm in anything.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I am afraid I see more harm in many things than I like to see. But one reason for not seeing harm in this Agapêmonâ matter is, that I hear so little about it The world is ready enough to promulgate scandal; but that which is quietly right may rest in peace.

Mrs. Opimian. Surely, doctor, you do not think this Agapemone right?

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I only say I do not know whether it is right or wrong. It is nothing new. Three centuries ago there was a Family of Love, on which Middleton wrote a comedy. Queen Elizabeth persecuted this family; Middleton made it ridiculous; but it outlived them both, and there may have been no harm in it after all.

Mrs. Opimian. Perhaps, doctor, the world is too good to see any novelty except in something wrong.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Perhaps it is only wrong that arrests attention, because right is common, and wrong is rare. Of the many thousand persons who walk daily through a street you only hear of one who has been robbed or knocked down. If ever Hamlet’s news —‘that the world has grown honest’— should prove true, there would be an end of our newspaper. For, let us see, what is the epitome of a newspaper? In the first place, specimens of all the deadly sins, and infinite varieties of violence and fraud; a great quantity of talk, called by courtesy legislative wisdom, of which the result is ‘an incoherent and undigested mass of law, shot down, as from a rubbish-cart, on the heads of the people ‘;1 lawyers barking at each other in that peculiar style of dylactic delivery which is called forensic eloquence, and of which the first and most distinguished practitioner was Cerberus;2 bear-garden meetings of mismanaged companies, in which directors and shareholders abuse each other in choice terms, not all to be found even in Rabelais; burstings of bank bubbles, which, like a touch of harlequin’s wand, strip off their masks and dominoes from ‘highly respectable’ gentlemen, and leave them in their true figures of cheats and pickpockets; societies of all sorts, for teaching everybody everything, meddling with everybody’s business, and mending everybody’s morals; mountebank advertisements promising the beauty of Helen in a bottle of cosmetic, and the age of Old Parr in a box of pills; folly all alive in things called réunions; announcements that some exceedingly stupid fellow has been ‘entertaining’ a select company; matters, however multiform, multifarious, and multitudinous, all brought into family likeness by the varnish of false pretension with which they are all overlaid.

Mrs. Opimian. I did not like to interrupt you, doctor; but it struck me, while you were speaking, that in reading the newspaper you do not hear the bark of the lawyers.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. True; but no one who has once heard the wow-wow can fail to reproduce it in imagination.

Mrs. Opimian. You have omitted accidents, which occupy a large space in the newspaper. If the world grew ever so honest, there would still be accidents.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. But honesty would materially diminish the number. High-pressure steam-boilers would not scatter death and destruction around them, if the dishonesty of avarice did not tempt their employment, where the more costly low pressure would ensure absolute safety. Honestly built houses would not come suddenly down and crush their occupants. Ships, faithfully built and efficiently manned, would not so readily strike on a lee shore, nor go instantly to pieces on the first touch of the ground. Honestly made sweetmeats would not poison children; honestly compounded drugs would not poison patients. In short, the larger portion of what we call accidents are crimes.

Mrs. Opimian. I have often heard you say, of railways and steam-vessels, that the primary cause of their disasters is the insane passion of the public for speed. That is not crime, but folly.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. It is crime in those who ought to know better than to act in furtherance of the folly. But when the world has grown honest, it will no doubt grow wise. When we have got rid of crime, we may consider how to get rid of folly. So that question is adjourned to the Greek kalends.

Mrs. Opimian. There are always in a newspaper some things of a creditable character.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. When we are at war, naval and military heroism abundantly; but in time of peace these virtues sleep. They are laid up like ships in ordinary. No doubt, of the recorded facts of civil life some are good, and more are indifferent, neither good nor bad; but good and indifferent together are scarcely more than a twelfth part of the whole. Still, the matters thus presented are all exceptional cases. A hermit reading nothing but a newspaper might find little else than food for misanthropy; but living among friends, and in the bosom of our family, we see the dark side of life in the occasional picture, the bright is its every-day aspect The occasional is the matter of curiosity, of incident, of adventure, of things that really happen to few, and may possibly happen to any. The interest attendant on any action or event is in just proportion to its rarity; and, happily, quiet virtues are all around us, and obtrusive virtues seldom cross our path. On the whole, I agree in opinion with Theseus,3 that there is more good than evil in the world.

Mrs. Opimian. I think, doctor, you would not maintain any opinion if you had not an authority two thousand years old for it.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Well, my dear, I think most opinions worth mentioning have an authority of about that age.

1 Jeremy Bentham.

2 Cerberus forensis erat causidicus. — Petronius Arbiter.

3 Eurip. Suppl. 207: Herm.

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