Headlong Hall, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter V

The Dinner

The sun was now terminating his diurnal course, and the lights were glittering on the festal board. When the ladies had retired, and the Burgundy had taken two or three tours of the table, the following conversation took place:—

Squire Headlong. Push about the bottle: Mr Escot, it stands with you. No heeltaps. As to skylight, liberty-hall.

Mr Mac Laurel. Really, Squire Headlong, this is the vara nectar itsel. Ye hae saretainly discovered the tarrestrial paradise, but it flows wi’ a better leecor than milk an’ honey.

The Reverend Doctor Gaster. Hem! Mr Mac Laurel! there is a degree of profaneness in that observation, which I should not have looked for in so staunch a supporter of church and state. Milk and honey was the pure food of the antediluvian patriarchs, who knew not the use of the grape, happily for them. —(Tossing off a bumper of Burgundy.)

Mr Escot. Happy, indeed! The first inhabitants of the world knew not the use either of wine or animal food; it is, therefore, by no means incredible that they lived to the age of several centuries, free from war, and commerce, and arbitrary government, and every other species of desolating wickedness. But man was then a very different animal to what he now is: he had not the faculty of speech; he was not encumbered with clothes; he lived in the open air; his first step out of which, as Hamlet truly observes, is into his grave1. His first dwellings, of course, were the hollows of trees and rocks. In process of time he began to build: thence grew villages; thence grew cities. Luxury, oppression, poverty, misery, and disease kept pace with the progress of his pretended improvements, till, from a free, strong, healthy, peaceful animal, he has become a weak, distempered, cruel, carnivorous slave.

The Reverend Doctor Gaster. Your doctrine is orthodox, in so far as you assert that the original man was not encumbered with clothes, and that he lived in the open air; but, as to the faculty of speech, that, it is certain, he had, for the authority of Moses ——

Mr Escot. Of course, sir, I do not presume to dissent from the very exalted authority of that most enlightened astronomer and profound cosmogonist, who had, moreover, the advantage of being inspired; but when I indulge myself with a ramble in the fields of speculation, and attempt to deduce what is probable and rational from the sources of analysis, experience, and comparison, I confess I am too often apt to lose sight of the doctrines of that great fountain of theological and geological philosophy.

Squire Headlong. Push about the bottle.

Mr Foster. Do you suppose the mere animal life of a wild man, living on acorns, and sleeping on the ground, comparable in felicity to that of a Newton, ranging through unlimited space, and penetrating into the arcana of universal motion — to that of a Locke, unravelling the labyrinth of mind — to that of a Lavoisier, detecting the minutest combinations of matter, and reducing all nature to its elements — to that of a Shakespeare, piercing and developing the springs of passion — or of a Milton, identifying himself, as it were, with the beings of an invisible world?

Mr Escot. You suppose extreme cases: but, on the score of happiness, what comparison can you make between the tranquil being of the wild man of the woods and the wretched and turbulent existence of Milton, the victim of persecution, poverty, blindness, and neglect? The records of literature demonstrate that Happiness and Intelligence are seldom sisters. Even if it were otherwise, it would prove nothing. The many are always sacrificed to the few. Where one man advances, hundreds retrograde; and the balance is always in favour of universal deterioration.

Mr Foster. Virtue is independent of external circumstances. The exalted understanding looks into the truth of things, and, in its own peaceful contemplations, rises superior to the world. No philosopher would resign his mental acquisitions for the purchase of any terrestrial good.

Mr Escot. In other words, no man whatever would resign his identity, which is nothing more than the consciousness of his perceptions, as the price of any acquisition. But every man, without exception, would willingly effect a very material change in his relative situation to other individuals. Unluckily for the rest of your argument, the understanding of literary people is for the most part exalted, as you express it, not so much by the love of truth and virtue, as by arrogance and self-sufficiency; and there is, perhaps, less disinterestedness, less liberality, less general benevolence, and more envy, hatred, and uncharitableness among them, than among any other description of men.

(The eye of Mr Escot, as he pronounced these words, rested very innocently and unintentionally on Mr Gall.)

Mr Gall. You allude, sir, I presume, to my review.

Mr Escot. Pardon me, sir. You will be convinced it is impossible I can allude to your review, when I assure you that I have never read a single page of it.

Mr Gall, Mr Treacle, Mr Nightshade, and Mr Mac Laurel. Never read our review!!!!

Mr Escot. Never. I look on periodical criticism in general to be a species of shop, where panegyric and defamation are sold, wholesale, retail, and for exportation. I am not inclined to be a purchaser of these commodities, or to encourage a trade which I consider pregnant with mischief.

Mr Mac Laurel. I can readily conceive, sir, ye wou’d na wullingly encoorage ony dealer in panegeeric: but, frae the manner in which ye speak o’ the first creetics an’ scholars o’ the age, I shou’d think ye wou’d hae a leetle mair predilaction for deefamation.

Mr Escot. I have no predilection, sir, for defamation. I make a point of speaking the truth on all occasions; and it seldom happens that the truth can be spoken without some stricken deer pronouncing it a libel.

Mr Nightshade. You are perhaps, sir, an enemy to literature in general?

Mr Escot. If I were, sir, I should be a better friend to periodical critics.

Squire Headlong. Buz!

Mr Treacle. May I simply take the liberty to inquire into the basis of your objection?

Mr Escot. I conceive that periodical criticism disseminates superficial knowledge, and its perpetual adjunct, vanity; that it checks in the youthful mind the habit of thinking for itself; that it delivers partial opinions, and thereby misleads the judgment; that it is never conducted with a view to the general interests of literature, but to serve the interested ends of individuals, and the miserable purposes of party.

Mr Mac Laurel. Ye ken, sir, a mon mun leeve.

Mr Escot. While he can live honourably, naturally, justly, certainly: no longer.

Mr Mac Laurel. Every mon, sir, leeves according to his ain notions of honour an’ justice: there is a wee defference amang the learned wi’ respact to the defineetion o’ the terms.

Mr Escot. I believe it is generally admitted that one of the ingredients of justice is disinterestedness.

Mr Mac Laurel. It is na admetted, sir, amang the pheelosophers of Edinbroo’, that there is ony sic thing as desenterestedness in the warld, or that a mon can care for onything sae much as his ain sel: for ye mun observe, sir, every mon has his ain parteecular feelings of what is gude, an’ beautifu’, an’ consentaneous to his ain indiveedual nature, an’ desires to see every thing aboot him in that parteecular state which is maist conformable to his ain notions o’ the moral an’ poleetical fetness o’ things. Twa men, sir, shall purchase a piece o’ grund atween ’em, and ae mon shall cover his half wi’ a park ——

Mr Milestone. Beautifully laid out in lawns and clumps, with a belt of trees at the circumference, and an artificial lake in the centre.

Mr Mac Laurel. Exactly, sir: an’ shall keep it a’ for his ain sel: an’ the other mon shall divide his half into leetle farms of twa or three acres ——

Mr Escot. Like those of the Roman republic, and build a cottage on each of them, and cover his land with a simple, innocent, and smiling population, who shall owe, not only their happiness, but their existence, to his benevolence.

Mr Mac Laurel. Exactly, sir: an’ ye will ca’ the first mon selfish, an’ the second desenterested; but the pheelosophical truth is semply this, that the ane is pleased wi’ looking at trees, an’ the other wi’ seeing people happy an’ comfortable. It is aunly a matter of indiveedual feeling. A paisant saves a mon’s life for the same reason that a hero or a footpad cuts his thrapple: an’ a pheelosopher delevers a mon frae a preson, for the same reason that a tailor or a prime meenester puts him into it: because it is conformable to his ain parteecular feelings o’ the moral an’ poleetical fetness o’ things.

Squire Headlong. Wake the Reverend Doctor. Doctor, the bottle stands with you.

The Reverend Doctor Gaster. It is an error of which I am seldom guilty.

Mr Mac Laurel. Noo, ye ken, sir, every mon is the centre of his ain system, an’ endaivours as much as possible to adapt every thing aroond him to his ain parteecular views.

Mr Escot. Thus, sir, I presume, it suits the particular views of a poet, at one time to take the part of the people against their oppressors, and at another, to take the part of the oppressors, against the people.

Mr Mac Laurel. Ye mun alloo, sir, that poetry is a sort of ware or commodity, that is brought into the public market wi’ a’ other descreptions of merchandise, an’ that a mon is pairfectly justified in getting the best price he can for his article. Noo, there are three reasons for taking the part o’ the people; the first is, when general leeberty an’ public happiness are conformable to your ain parteecular feelings o’ the moral an’ poleetical fetness o’ things: the second is, when they happen to be, as it were, in a state of exceetabeelity, an’ ye think ye can get a gude price for your commodity, by flingin’ in a leetle seasoning o’ pheelanthropy an’ republican speerit; the third is, when ye think ye can bully the menestry into gieing ye a place or a pansion to hau’d your din, an’ in that case, ye point an attack against them within the pale o’ the law; an’ if they tak nae heed o’ ye, ye open a stronger fire; an’ the less heed they tak, the mair ye bawl; an’ the mair factious ye grow, always within the pale o’ the law, till they send a plenipotentiary to treat wi’ ye for yoursel, an’ then the mair popular ye happen to be, the better price ye fetch.

Squire Headlong. Off with your heeltaps.

Mr Cranium. I perfectly agree with Mr Mac Laurel in his definition of self-love and disinterestedness: every man’s actions are determined by his peculiar views, and those views are determined by the organisation of his skull. A man in whom the organ of benevolence is not developed, cannot be benevolent: he in whom it is so, cannot be otherwise. The organ of self-love is prodigiously developed in the greater number of subjects that have fallen under my observation.

Mr Escot. Much less I presume, among savage than civilised men, who, constant only to the love of self, and consistent only in their aim to deceive, are always actuated by the hope of personal advantage, or by the dread of personal punishment2.

Mr Cranium. Very probably.

Mr Escot. You have, of course, found very copious specimens of the organs of hypocrisy, destruction, and avarice.

Mr Cranium. Secretiveness, destructiveness, and covetiveness. You may add, if you please, that of constructiveness.

Mr Escot. Meaning, I presume, the organ of building; which I contend to be not a natural organ of the featherless biped.

Mr Cranium. Pardon me: it is here. —(As he said these words, he produced a skull from his pocket, and placed it on the table to the great surprise of the company.)— This was the skull of Sir Christopher Wren. You observe this protuberance —(The skull was handed round the table.)

Mr Escot. I contend that the original unsophisticated man was by no means constructive. He lived in the open air, under a tree.

The Reverend Doctor Gaster. The tree of life. Unquestionably. Till he had tasted the forbidden fruit.

Mr Jenkison. At which period, probably, the organ of constructiveness was added to his anatomy, as a punishment for his transgression.

Mr Escot. There could not have been a more severe one, since the propensity which has led him to building cities has proved the greatest curse of his existence.

Squire Headlong. (taking the skull.) Memento mori. Come, a bumper of Burgundy.

Mr Nightshade. A very classical application, Squire Headlong. The Romans were in the practice of adhibiting skulls at their banquets, and sometimes little skeletons of silver, as a silent admonition to the guests to enjoy life while it lasted.

The Reverend Doctor Gaster. Sound doctrine, Mr Nightshade.

Mr Escot. I question its soundness. The use of vinous spirit has a tremendous influence in the deterioration of the human race.

Mr Foster. I fear, indeed, it operates as a considerable check to the progress of the species towards moral and intellectual perfection. Yet many great men have been of opinion that it exalts the imagination, fires the genius, accelerates the flow of ideas, and imparts to dispositions naturally cold and deliberative that enthusiastic sublimation which is the source of greatness and energy.

Mr Nightshade. Laudibus arguitur vini vinosus Homerus.3

Mr Jenkison. I conceive the use of wine to be always pernicious in excess, but often useful in moderation: it certainly kills some, but it saves the lives of others: I find that an occasional glass, taken with judgment and caution, has a very salutary effect in maintaining that equilibrium of the system, which it is always my aim to preserve; and this calm and temperate use of wine was, no doubt, what Homer meant to inculcate, when he said: Παρ δε δεπας οινοιο, πιειν ‘οτε ϑυμος ανωγοι.4

Squire Headlong. Good. Pass the bottle. (Un morne silence). Sir Christopher does not seem to have raised our spirits. Chromatic, favour us with a specimen of your vocal powers. Something in point.

Mr Chromatic, without further preface, immediately struck up the following

SONG

In his last binn Sir Peter lies,
   Who knew not what it was to frown:
Death took him mellow, by surprise,
   And in his cellar stopped him down.
Through all our land we could not boast
   A knight more gay, more prompt than he,
To rise and fill a bumper toast,
   And pass it round with THREE TIMES THREE.

None better knew the feast to sway,
   Or keep Mirth’s boat in better trim;
For Nature had but little clay
   Like that of which she moulded him.
The meanest guest that graced his board
   Was there the freest of the free,
His bumper toast when Peter poured,
   And passed it round with THREE TIMES THREE.

He kept at true good humour’s mark
   The social flow of pleasure’s tide:
He never made a brow look dark,
   Nor caused a tear, but when he died.
No sorrow round his tomb should dwell:
   More pleased his gay old ghost would be,
For funeral song, and passing bell,
   To hear no sound but THREE TIMES THREE.

(Hammering of knuckles and glasses and shouts of bravo!)

Mr Panscope. (Suddenly emerging from a deep reverie.) I have heard, with the most profound attention, every thing which the gentleman on the other side of the table has thought proper to advance on the subject of human deterioration; and I must take the liberty to remark, that it augurs a very considerable degree of presumption in any individual, to set himself up against the authority of so many great men, as may be marshalled in metaphysical phalanx under the opposite banners of the controversy; such as Aristotle, Plato, the scholiast on Aristophanes, St Chrysostom, St Jerome, St Athanasius, Orpheus, Pindar, Simonides, Gronovius, Hemsterhusius, Longinus, Sir Isaac Newton, Thomas Paine, Doctor Paley, the King of Prussia, the King of Poland, Cicero, Monsieur Gautier, Hippocrates, Machiavelli, Milton, Colley Cibber, Bojardo, Gregory Nazianzenus, Locke, D’Alembert, Boccaccio, Daniel Defoe, Erasmus, Doctor Smollett, Zimmermann, Solomon, Confucius, Zoroaster, and Thomas-a-Kempis.

Mr Escot. I presume, sir, you are one of those who value an authority more than a reason.

Mr Panscope. The authority, sir, of all these great men, whose works, as well as the whole of the Encyclopædia Britannica, the entire series of the Monthly Review, the complete set of the Variorum Classics, and the Memoirs of the Academy of Inscriptions, I have read through from beginning to end, deposes, with irrefragable refutation, against your ratiocinative speculations, wherein you seem desirous, by the futile process of analytical dialectics, to subvert the pyramidal structure of synthetically deduced opinions, which have withstood the secular revolutions of physiological disquisition, and which I maintain to be transcendentally self-evident, categorically certain, and syllogistically demonstrable.

Squire Headlong. Bravo! Pass the bottle. The very best speech that ever was made.

Mr Escot. It has only the slight disadvantage of being unintelligible.

Mr Panscope. I am not obliged, sir, as Dr Johnson observed on a similar occasion, to furnish you with an understanding.

Mr Escot. I fear, sir, you would have some difficulty in furnishing me with such an article from your own stock.

Mr Panscope. ‘Sdeath, sir, do you question my understanding?

Mr Escot. I only question, sir, where I expect a reply; which, from things that have no existence, I am not visionary enough to anticipate.

Mr Panscope. I beg leave to observe, sir, that my language was perfectly perspicuous, and etymologically correct; and, I conceive, I have demonstrated what I shall now take the liberty to say in plain terms, that all your opinions are extremely absurd.

Mr Escot. I should be sorry, sir, to advance any opinion that you would not think absurd.

Mr Panscope. Death and fury, sir ——

Mr Escot. Say no more, sir. That apology is quite sufficient.

Mr Panscope. Apology, sir?

Mr Escot. Even so, sir. You have lost your temper, which I consider equivalent to a confession that you have the worst of the argument.

Mr Panscope. Lightning and devils! sir ——

Squire Headlong. No civil war! — Temperance, in the name of Bacchus! — A glee! a glee! Music has charms to bend the knotted oak. Sir Patrick, you’ll join?

Sir Patrick O’Prism. Troth, with all my heart; for, by my soul, I’m bothered completely.

Squire Headlong. Agreed, then; you, and I, and Chromatic. Bumpers! Come, strike up.

Squire Headlong, Mr Chromatic, and Sir Patrick O’Prism, each holding a bumper, immediately vociferated the following

GLEE

A heeltap! a heeltap! I never could bear it!
So fill me a bumper, a bumper of claret!
Let the bottle pass freely, don’t shirk it nor spare it,
For a heeltap! a heeltap! I never could bear it!

No skylight! no twilight! while Bacchus rules o’er us:
No thinking! no shrinking! all drinking in chorus:
Let us moisten our clay, since ’tis thirsty and porous:
No thinking! no shrinking! all drinking in chorus!

GRAND CHORUS

By Squire Headlong, Mr Chromatic, Sir Patrick O’Prism, Mr Panscope, Mr Jenkison, Mr Gall, Mr Treacle, Mr Nightshade, Mr Mac Laurel, Mr Cranium, Mr Milestone, and the Reverend Dr Gaster.

A heeltap! a heeltap! I never could bear it!
So fill me a bumper, a bumper of claret!
Let the bottle pass freely, don’t shirk it nor spare it,
For a heeltap! a heeltap! I never could bear it!

‘ΟΜΑΔΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΔΟΥΠΟΣ ΟΡΩΡΕΙ’

The little butler now waddled in with a summons from the ladies to tea and coffee. The squire was unwilling to leave his Burgundy. Mr Escot strenuously urged the necessity of immediate adjournment, observing, that the longer they continued drinking the worse they should be. Mr Foster seconded the motion, declaring the transition from the bottle to female society to be an indisputable amelioration of the state of the sensitive man. Mr Jenkison allowed the squire and his two brother philosophers to settle the point between them, concluding that he was just as well in one place as another. The question of adjournment was then put, and carried by a large majority.

1 See Lord Monboddo’s Ancient Metaphysics.

2 Drummond’s Academical Questions.

3 Homer is proved to have been a lover of wine by the praises he bestows upon it.

4 A cup of wine at hand, to drink as inclination prompts.

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