Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 12

The Forest Dell — The Power of Love — The Lottery of Marriage

(Greek passage) Philetaerus: Cynagis.

I pray you, what can mortal man do better

Than live his daily life as pleasantly

As daily means avail him? Life’s frail tenure

Warns not to trust tomorrow.

The next day Mr. Falconer was perfectly certain that Miss Gryll was not yet well enough to be removed. No one was anxious to refute the proposition; they were all so well satisfied with,»the place and the company they were in, that they felt, the young lady included, a decided unwillingness to go. That day Miss Gryll came to dinner, and the next day she came to breakfast, and in the evening she joined in the music, and, in short, she was once more altogether herself; but Mr. Falconer continued to insist that the journey home would be too much for her. When this excuse failed, he still entreated his new friends to remain; and so passed several days. At length Mr. Gryll found he must resolve on departing, especially as the time had arrived when he expected some visitors. He urgently invited Mr. Falconer to visit him in return. The invitation was cordially accepted, and in the meantime considerable progress had been made in the Aristophanic comedy. Mr. Falconer, after the departure of his visitors, went up into his library. He took down oner book after another, but they did not fix his attention as they used to do; he turned over the leaves of Homer, and read some passages about Circe; then took down Bojardo, and read of Morgana and Falerina and Dragontina; then took down Tasso and read of Armida. He would not look at Ariosto’s Alcina, because her change into an old woman destroyed all the charm of the previous picture. He dwelt on the enchantress who remained in unaltered beauty. But even this he did only by fits and starts, and found himself continually wandering away towards a more enchanting reality.

He descended to his bedroom, and meditated on ideal beauty in the portraits of Saint Catharine. But he could not help thinking that the ideal might be real, at least in one instance, and he wandered down into his drawing-room. There he sat absorbed in thought, till his two young handmaids appeared with his luncheon. He smiled when he saw them, and sat down to the table as if nothing had disturbed him. Then, taking his stick and his dog, he walked out into the forest.

There was within moderate distance a deep dell, in the bottom of which ran a rivulet, very small in dry weather, but in heavy rains becoming a torrent, which had worn itself a high-banked channel, winding in fantastic curves from side to side of its narrow boundaries. Above this channel old forest trees rose to a great height on both sides of the dell The slope every here and there was broken by promontories which during centuries the fall of the softer portions of the soil had formed; and on these promontories were natural platforms, covered, as they were more or less accessible to the sun, with grass and moss and fern and foxglove, and every variety of forest vegetation. These platforms were favourite resorts of deer, which imparted to the wild scene its own peculiar life.

This was a scene in which, but for the deeper and deeper wear of the floods and the bolder falls of the promontories, time had made little change. The eyes of the twelfth century had seen it much as it appeared to those of the nineteenth. The ghosts of departed ages might seem to pass through it in succession, with all their changes of faith and purpose and manners and costume. To a man who loved to dwell in the past, there could not be a more congenial scene. One old oak stood in the centre of one of the green platforms, and a portion of its gnarled roots presented a convenient seat. Mr. Falconer had frequently passed a day here when alone. The deer had become too accustomed to him to fly at his approach, and the dog had been too well disciplined to molest them. There he had sat for hours at a time, reading his favourite poets.

There was no great poet with some of whose scenes this scenery did not harmonise. The deep woods that surrounded the dwelling of Circe, the obscure sylvan valley in which Dante met Virgil, the forest depths through which Angelica fled, the enchanted wood in which Rinaldo met the semblance of Armida, the forest-brook by which Jaques moralised over the wounded deer, were all reproduced in this single spot, and fancy peopled it at pleasure with nymphs and genii, fauns and satyrs, knights and ladies, friars, foresters, hunters, and huntress maids, till the whole diurnal world seemed to pass away like a vision. There, for him, Matilda had gathered flowers on the opposite bank;1 Laura had risen from one of the little pools — resting-places of the stream — to seat herself in the shade;2 Rosalind and Maid Marian had peeped forth from their alleys green; all different in form, in feature, and in apparel; but now they were all one; each, as she rose in imagination, presented herself under the aspect of the newly-known Morgana.

Finding his old imaginations thus disturbed, he arose and walked home. He dined alone, drank a bottle of Madeira, as if it had been so much water, summoned the seven sisters to the drawing-room earlier and detained them later than usual, till their music and its old associations had restored him to something like tranquillity. He had always placed the summum bonum of life in tranquillity, and not in excitement. He felt that his path was now crossed by a disturbing force, and determined to use his utmost exertions to avoid exposing himself again to its influence.

In this mood the Reverend Doctor Opimian found him one morning in the library reading. He sprang up to meet the Divine, exclaiming, ‘Ah, dear doctor, I am very glad to see you. Have you any special favourite among the Odes of Pindar?’

The doctor thought this an odd question for the first salutation. He had expected that the first inquiry would have been for the fair convalescent. He divined that the evasion of this subject was the result of an inward struggle. He thought it would be best to fall in with the mood of the questioner, and said, ‘Charles Fox’s favourite is said to have been the second Olympic; I am not sure that there is, or can be, anything better. What say you?’

Mr. Falconer. It may be that something in it touches a peculiar tone of feeling; but to me there is nothing like the ninth Pythian.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I can understand your fancy for that ode. You see an image of ideal beauty in the nymph Cyrene.

Mr. Falconer. ‘Hidden are the keys of wise persuasion of sacred endearments,’3 seems a strange phrase in English; but in Greek the words invest a charming sentiment with singular grace. Fit words to words as closely as we may, the difference of the mind which utters them fails to reproduce the true semblance of the thought. The difference of the effect produced, as in this instance, by exactly corresponding words, can only be traced to the essential difference of the Greek and the English mind.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. And indeed, as with the words, so with the image. We are charmed by Cyrene wrestling with the lion; but we should scarcely choose an English girl so doing as the type of ideal beauty.

Mr. Falconer. We must draw the image of Cyrene, not from an English girl but from a Greek statue.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Unless a man is in love, and then to him all images of beauty take something of the form and features of his mistress.

Mr. Falconer. That is to say, a man in love sees everything through a false medium. It must be a dreadful calamity to be in love.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Surely not when all goes well with it.

Mr. Falconer. To me it would be the worst of all mischances.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Every man must be subject to Love once in his life. It is useless to contend with him. ‘Love,’ says Sophocles, ‘is unconquered in battle, and keeps his watch in the soft cheeks of beauty.’4

Mr. Falconer. I am afraid, doctor, the Morgana to whom you have introduced me is a veritable enchantress. You find me here, determined to avoid the spell.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Pardon me. You were introduced, as Jupiter was to Semele, by thunder and lightning, which was, happily, not quite as fatal.

Mr. Falconer. I must guard against its being as fatal in a different sense; otherwise I may be myself the triste bidental.5 I have aimed at living, like an ancient Epicurean, a life of tranquillity. I had thought myself armed with triple brass against the folds of a three-formed Chimaera. What with classical studies, and rural walks, and a domestic society peculiarly my own, I led what I considered the perfection of life: ‘days so like each other they could not be remembered.’ 6

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. It is vain to make schemes of life. The world will have its slaves, and so will Love.

Say, if you can, in what you cannot change. For such the mind of man, as is the day The Sire of Gods and men brings over him.7

Mr. Falconer. I presume, doctor, from the complacency with which you speak of Love, you have had no cause to complain of him.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Quite the contrary. I have been an exception to the rule that ‘The course of true love never did run smooth.’ Nothing could run more smooth than mine. I was in love. I proposed. I was accepted. No crossings before. No bickerings after. I drew a prize in the lottery of marriage.

Mr. Falconer. It strikes me, doctor, that the lady may say as much.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I have made it my study to give her cause to say so. And I have found my reward.

Mr. Falconer. Still, yours is an exceptional case. For, as far as my reading and limited observation have shown me, there are few happy marriages. It has been said by an old comic poet that ‘a man who brings a wife into his house, brings into it with her either a good or an evil genius.’8 And I may add from Juvenal: ‘The Gods only know which it will be.’9

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Well, the time advances for the rehearsals of our Aristophanic comedy, and, independently of your promise to visit the Grange, and their earnest desire to see you, you ought to be there to assist in the preliminary arrangements.

Mr. Falconer. Before you came, I had determined not to go; for, to tell you the truth, I am afraid of falling in love.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. It is not such a fearful matter. Many have been the better for it. Many have been cured of it. It is one of those disorders which every one must have once.

Mr. Falconer. The later the better.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. No; the later the worse, if it falls into a season when it cannot be reciprocated.

Mr. Falconer. That is just the season for it. If I were sure that it would not be reciprocated, I think I should be content to have gone through it.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Do you think it would be reciprocated?

Mr. Falconer. Oh no. I only think it possible that it might be.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Well, there is a gentleman doing his best to bring about your wish.

Mr. Falconer. Indeed! Who?

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. A visitor at the Grange, who seems in great favour with both uncle and niece — Lord Curryfin.

Mr. Falconer. Lord Curryfin! I never heard you speak of him, but as a person to be laughed at.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. That was my impression of him before I knew him. Barring his absurdities, in the way of lecturing on fish, and of shining in absurd company in the science of pantopragmatics, he has very much to recommend him: and I discover in him one quality which is invaluable. He does all he can to make himself agreeable to all about him, and he has great tact in seeing how to do it. In any intimate relation of life — with a reasonable wife, for instance — he would be the pink of a good husband.

The doctor was playing, not altogether unconsciously, the part of an innocent Iago. He only said what was true, and he said it with a good purpose; for, with all his repeated resolutions against match-making, he could not dismiss from his mind the wish to see his young friends come together; and he would not have liked to see Lord Curryfin carry off the prize through Mr. Falconer’s neglect of his opportunity. Jealousy being the test of love, he thought a spice of it might be not unseasonably thrown in.

Mr. Falconer. Notwithstanding your example, doctor, love is to be avoided, because marriage is at best a dangerous experiment. The experience of all time demonstrates that it is seldom a happy condition. Jupiter and Juno to begin with; Venus and Vulcan. Fictions, to be sure, but they show Homer’s view of the conjugal state. Agamemnon in the shades, though he congratulates Ulysses on his good fortune in having an excellent wife, advises him not to trust even her too far. Come down to realities, even to the masters of the wise: Socrates with Xantippe; Euripides with his two wives, who made him a woman-hater; Cicero, who was divorced; Marcus Aurelius. — Travel downwards: Dante, who, when he left Florence, left his wife behind him; Milton, whose first wife ran away from him; Shakespeare, who scarcely shines in the light of a happy husband. And if such be the lot of the lights of the world, what can humbler men expect?

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. You have given two or three heads of a catalogue which, I admit, might be largely extended. You can never read a history, you can never open a newspaper, without seeing some example of unhappy marriage. But the conspicuous are not the frequent. In the quiet path of every-day life — the secretum iter et fallentis semita vita — I could show you many couples who are really comforts and helpmates to each other. Then, above all things, children. The great blessing of old age, the one that never fails, if all else fail, is a daughter.

Mr. Falconer. All daughters are not good.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Most are. Of all relations in life, it is the least disappointing: where parents do not so treat their daughters as to alienate their affections, which unhappily many do.

Mr. Falconer. You do not say so much for sons.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Young men are ambitious, self-willed, self-indulgent, easily corrupted by bad example, of which there is always too much. I cannot say much for those of the present day, though it is not absolutely destitute of good specimens.

Mr. Falconer. You know what Paterculus says of those of his own day.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. ‘The faith of wives towards the proscribed was great; of freed-men, middling; of slaves, some; of sons, none.’10 So he says; but there were some: for example, of the sons of Marcus Oppius and Quintus Cicero.11 You may observe, by the way, he gives the first place to the wives.

Mr. Falconer. Well, that is a lottery in which every man must take his chance. But my scheme of life was perfect.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Perhaps there is something to be said against condemning seven young women to celibacy.

Mr. Falconer. But if such were their choice —

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. No doubt there are many reasons why they should prefer the condition they are placed in to the ordinary chances of marriage: but, after all, to be married is the natural aspiration of a young woman, and if favourable conditions presented themselves —

Mr. Falconer. Conditions suitable to their education are scarcely compatible with their social position.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. They have been educated to be both useful and ornamental. The ornamental need not, and in their case certainly does not, damage the useful, which in itself would procure them suitable matches.

Mr. Falconer shook his head, and, after a brief pause, poured out a volume of quotations, demonstrating the general unhappiness of marriage. The doctor responded by as many, demonstrating the contrary. He paused to take breath. Both laughed heartily. But the result of the discussion and the laughter was, that Mr. Falconer was curious to see Lord Curryfin, and would therefore go to Gryll Grange.

1 Dante: Purgatorio, c. 28.

2 Or in forma di Ninfa o d’ altra Diva, Che del più chiaro fondo di Sorga esca, E pongasi a seder in sulla riva. PETRARCA: Sonetto 240.

3 (Greek passage)— Pindar?

4 (Greek passage)— Antigone.

5 Bidental is usually a place struck by lightning: thence enclosed, and the soil forbidden to be moved. Persius uses it for a person so killed.

6 Wordsworth: The Brothers.

7 Quid placet aut odio est, quod non mutabile credas?

(Greek phrase) These two quotations form the motto of Knight’s Principles of Taste.

8 (Greek passage)

Theodectes: apud Stobaeum.

9 Conjugium petimus partumque uxoris, at illis Notum, qui pueri, qualisque futura sit uxor. JUV. Sat. x. 352–3.

10 Id tamen nolandum est, fuisse in proscriptos uxorum fidem summam, libcriorum niediam, servorum ahquam, filiorum nullam. — Paterculus, 1. ii. c. 67.

11 A compendious and comprehensive account of these and other instances of filial piety, in the proscription of the second triumvirate, will be found in Freinihemius; Suppununta Liviania, cxx. 77–80.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59