Headlong Hall, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter III

The Arrivals

In the midst of that scene of confusion thrice confounded, in which we left the inhabitants of Headlong Hall, arrived the lovely Caprioletta Headlong, the Squire’s sister (whom he had sent for, from the residence of her maiden aunt at Caernarvon, to do the honours of his house), beaming like light on chaos, to arrange disorder and harmonise discord. The tempestuous spirit of her brother became instantaneously as smooth as the surface of the lake of Llanberris; and the little fat butler “plessed Cot, and St Tafit, and the peautiful tamsel,” for being permitted to move about the house in his natural pace. In less than twenty-four hours after her arrival, everything was disposed in its proper station, and the Squire began to be all impatience for the appearance of his promised guests.

The first visitor with whom he had the felicity of shaking hands was Marmaduke Milestone, Esquire, who arrived with a portfolio under his arm. Mr Milestone1 was a picturesque landscape gardener of the first celebrity, who was not without hopes of persuading Squire Headlong to put his romantic pleasure-grounds under a process of improvement, promising himself a signal triumph for his incomparable art in the difficult and, therefore, glorious achievement of polishing and trimming the rocks of Llanberris.

Next arrived a post-chaise from the inn at Capel Cerig, containing the Reverend Doctor Gaster. It appeared, that, when the mail-coach deposited its valuable cargo, early on the second morning, at the inn at Capel Cerig, there was only one post-chaise to be had; it was therefore determined that the reverend Doctor and the luggage should proceed in the chaise, and that the three philosophers should walk. When the reverend gentleman first seated himself in the chaise, the windows were down all round; but he allowed it to drive off under the idea that he could easily pull them up. This task, however, he had considerable difficulty in accomplishing, and when he had succeeded, it availed him little; for the frames and glasses had long since discontinued their ancient familiarity. He had, however, no alternative but to proceed, and to comfort himself, as he went, with some choice quotations from the book of Job. The road led along the edges of tremendous chasms, with torrents dashing in the bottom; so that, if his teeth had not chattered with cold, they would have done so with fear. The Squire shook him heartily by the hand, and congratulated him on his safe arrival at Headlong Hall. The Doctor returned the squeeze, and assured him that the congratulation was by no means misapplied.

Next came the three philosophers, highly delighted with their walk, and full of rapturous exclamations on the sublime beauties of the scenery.

The Doctor shrugged up his shoulders, and confessed he preferred the scenery of Putney and Kew, where a man could go comfortably to sleep in his chaise, without being in momentary terror of being hurled headlong down a precipice.

Mr Milestone observed, that there were great capabilities in the scenery, but it wanted shaving and polishing. If he could but have it under his care for a single twelvemonth, he assured them no one would be able to know it again.

Mr Jenkison thought the scenery was just what it ought to be, and required no alteration.

Mr Foster thought it could be improved, but doubted if that effect would be produced by the system of Mr Milestone.

Mr Escot did not think that any human being could improve it, but had no doubt of its having changed very considerably for the worse, since the days when the now barren rocks were covered with the immense forest of Snowdon, which must have contained a very fine race of wild men, not less than ten feet high.

The next arrival was that of Mr Cranium, and his lovely daughter Miss Cephalis Cranium, who flew to the arms of her dear friend Caprioletta, with all that warmth of friendship which young ladies usually assume towards each other in the presence of young gentlemen.2

Miss Cephalis blushed like a carnation at the sight of Mr Escot, and Mr Escot glowed like a corn-poppy at the sight of Miss Cephalis. It was at least obvious to all observers, that he could imagine the possibility of one change for the better, even in this terrestrial theatre of universal deterioration.

Mr Cranium’s eyes wandered from Mr Escot to his daughter, and from his daughter to Mr Escot; and his complexion, in the course of the scrutiny, underwent several variations, from the dark red of the peony to the deep blue of the convolvulus.

Mr Escot had formerly been the received lover of Miss Cephalis, till he incurred the indignation of her father by laughing at a very profound craniological dissertation which the old gentleman delivered; nor had Mr Escot yet discovered the means of mollifying his wrath.

Mr Cranium carried in his own hands a bag, the contents of which were too precious to be intrusted to any one but himself; and earnestly entreated to be shown to the chamber appropriated for his reception, that he might deposit his treasure in safety. The little butler was accordingly summoned to conduct him to his cubiculum.

Next arrived a post-chaise, carrying four insides, whose extreme thinness enabled them to travel thus economically without experiencing the slightest inconvenience. These four personages were, two very profound critics, Mr Gall and Mr Treacle, who followed the trade of reviewers, but occasionally indulged themselves in the composition of bad poetry; and two very multitudinous versifiers, Mr Nightshade and Mr Mac Laurel, who followed the trade of poetry, but occasionally indulged themselves in the composition of bad criticism. Mr Nightshade and Mr Mac Laurel were the two senior lieutenants of a very formidable corps of critics, of whom Timothy Treacle, Esquire, was captain, and Geoffrey Gall, Esquire, generalissimo.

The last arrivals were Mr Cornelius Chromatic, the most profound and scientific of all amateurs of the fiddle, with his two blooming daughters, Miss Tenorina and Miss Graziosa; Sir Patrick O’Prism, a dilettante painter of high renown, and his maiden aunt, Miss Philomela Poppyseed, an indefatigable compounder of novels, written for the express purpose of supporting every species of superstition and prejudice; and Mr Panscope, the chemical, botanical, geological, astronomical, mathematical, metaphysical, meteorological, anatomical, physiological, galvanistical, musical, pictorial, bibliographical, critical philosopher, who had run through the whole circle of the sciences, and understood them all equally well.

Mr Milestone was impatient to take a walk round the grounds, that he might examine how far the system of clumping and levelling could be carried advantageously into effect. The ladies retired to enjoy each other’s society in the first happy moments of meeting: the Reverend Doctor Gaster sat by the library fire, in profound meditation over a volume of the “Almanach des Gourmands:” Mr Panscope sat in the opposite corner with a volume of Rees’ Cyclopædia: Mr Cranium was busy upstairs: Mr Chromatic retreated to the music-room, where he fiddled through a book of solos before the ringing of the first dinner bell. The remainder of the party supported Mr Milestone’s proposition; and, accordingly, Squire Headlong and Mr Milestone leading the van, they commenced their perambulation.

1 Mr Knight, in a note to the Landscape, having taken the liberty of laughing at a notable device of a celebrated improver, for giving greatness of character to a place, and showing an undivided extent of property, by placing the family arms on the neighbouring milestones, the improver retorted on him with a charge of misquotation, misrepresentation, and malice prepense. Mr Knight, in the preface to the second edition of his poem, quotes the improver’s words:—“The market-house, or other public edifice, or even a mere stone with distances, may bear the arms of the family:” and adds:—“By a mere stone with distances, the author of the Landscape certainly thought he meant a milestone; but, if he did not, any other interpretation which he may think more advantageous to himself shall readily be adopted, as it will equally answer the purpose of the quotation.” The improver, however, did not condescend to explain what he really meant by a mere stone with distances, though he strenuously maintained that he did not mean a milestone. His idea, therefore, stands on record, invested with all the sublimity that obscurity can confer.

2 “Il est constant qu’elles se baisent de meilleur cœur, et se caressent avec plus de grace devant les hommes, fières d’aiguiser impunément leur convoitise par l’image des faveurs qu’elles savent leur faire envier.”— Rousseau, Emile, liv. 5.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/p/peacock/thomas_love/p35h/chapter3.html

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