Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 14

Music and Painting — Jack of Dover

(Greek passage)


I love not him, who o’er the wine-cup’s flow

Talks but of war, and strife, and scenes of woe:

But him who can the Muses’ gifts employ,

To mingle love and song with festal joy.

The dinner and dessert passed away. The ladies retired to the drawing-room: the gentlemen discoursed over their wine. Mr. MacBorrowdale pronounced a eulogium on the port, which was cordially echoed by the divine in regard to the claret.

Mr. Falconer. Doctor, your tastes and sympathies are very much with the Greeks; but I doubt if you would have liked their wine. Condiments of sea-water and turpentine must have given it an odd flavour; and mixing water with it, in the proportion of three to one, must have reduced the strength of merely fermented liquor to something like the smallest ale of Christophero Sly.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I must say I should not like to put either salt water or turpentine into this claret: they would not improve its bouquet; nor to dilute it with any portion of water: it has to my mind, as it is, just the strength it ought to have, and no more. But the Greek taste was so exquisite in all matters in which we can bring it to the test, as to justify a strong presumption that in matters in which we cannot test it, it was equally correct. Salt water and turpentine do not suit our wine: it does not follow that theirs had not in it some basis of contrast, which may have made them pleasant in combination. And it was only a few of their wines that were so treated.

Lord Curryfin. Then it could not have been much like their drink of the present day. ‘My master cannot be right in his mind,’ said Lord Byron’s man Fletcher, ‘or he would not have left Italy, where we had everything, to go to a country of savages; there is nothing to eat in Greece but tough billy-goats, or to drink but spirits of turpentine.’1

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. There is an ambiguous present, which somewhat perplexes me, in an epigram of Rhianus, ‘Here is a vessel of half-wine, half-turpentine, and a singularly lean specimen of kid: the sender, Hippocrates, is worthy of all praise.’2 Perhaps this was a doctor’s present to a patient. Alcaeus, Anacreon, and Nonnus could not have sung as they did under the inspiration of spirit of turpentine. We learn from Athenseus, and Pliny, and the old comedians, that the Greeks had a vast variety of wine, enough to suit every variety of taste. I infer the unknown from the known. We know little of their music. I have no doubt it was as excellent in its kind as their sculpture.

Mr. Minim. I can scarcely think that, sir. They seem to have had only the minor key, and to have known no more of counterpoint than they did of perspective.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Their system of painting did not require perspective. Their main subject was on one foreground. Buildings, rocks, trees, served simply to indicate, not to delineate, the scene.

Mr. Falconer. I must demur to their having only the minor key. The natural ascent of the voice is in the major key, and with their exquisite sensibility to sound they could not have missed the obvious expression of cheerfulness. With their three scales, diatonic, chromatic, and enharmonic, they must have exhausted every possible expression of feeling. Their scales were in true intervals; they had really major and minor tones; we have neither, but a confusion of both. They had both sharps and flats: we have neither, but a mere set of semitones, which serve for both. In their enharmonic scale the fineness of their ear perceived distinctions which are lost on the coarseness of ours.

Mr. Minim. With all that they never got beyond melody. They had no harmony, in our sense. They sang only in unisons and octaves.

Mr. Falconer. It is not clear that they did not sing in fifths. As to harmony in one sense, I will not go so far as to say with Ritson that the only use of the harmony is to spoil the melody; but I will say, that to my taste a simple accompaniment, in strict subordination to the melody, is far more agreeable than that Niagara of sound under which it is now the fashion to bury it.

Mr. Minim. In that case, you would prefer a song with a simple pianoforte accompaniment to the same song on the Italian stage.

Mr. Falconer. A song sung with feeling and expression is good, however accompanied. Otherwise, the pianoforte is not much to my mind. All its intervals are false, and temperament is a poor substitute for natural intonation. Then its incapability of sustaining a note has led, as the only means of producing effect, to those infinitesimal subdivisions of sound, in which all sentiment and expression are twittered and frittered into nothingness.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I quite agree with you. The other day a band passed my gate playing ‘The Campbells are coming’; but instead of the fine old Scotch lilt, and the emphasis on ‘Oho! oho!’ what they actually played was, ‘The Ca-a-a-a-ampbells are coo-o-o-ming, Oh-o-ho-o-o! Oh-o-ho-o-o’; I thought to myself, There is the essence and quintessence of modern music. I like the old organ-music such as it was, when there were no keys but C and F, and every note responded to a syllable. The effect of the prolonged and sustained sound must have been truly magnificent:

‘Where, through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault,

The pealing anthem swelled the note of praise.’

Who cares to hear sacred music on a piano?

Mr. Minim. Yet I must say that there is a great charm in that brilliancy of execution which is an exclusively modern and very modern accomplishment

Mr. Falconer. To those who perceive it. All things are as they are perceived. To me music has no charm without expression.

Lord Curryfin. (who, having observed Mr. MacBorrowdale’s determination not to be drawn into an argument, amused himself with asking his opinion on all subjects). What is your opinion, Mr. MacBorrowdale?

Mr. MacBorrowdale. I hold to the opinion I have already expressed, that this is as good a glass of port as ever I tasted.

Lord Curryfin. I mean your opinion of modern music and musical instruments.

Mr. MacBorrowdale. The organ is very good for psalms, which I never sing, and the pianoforte for jigs, which I never dance. And if I were not to hear either of them from January to December, I should not complain of the privation.

Lord Curryfin. You are an utilitarian, Mr. MacBorrowdale. You are all for utility — public utility — and you see none in music.

Mr. MacBorrowdale. Nay, not exactly so. If devotion is good, if cheerfulness is good, and if music promotes each of them in proper time and place, music is useful. If I am as devout without the organ, and as cheerful without the piano, as I ever should be with them, that may be the defect of my head or my ear. I am not for forcing my tastes or no-tastes on other people. Let every man enjoy himself in his own way, while he does not annoy others. I would not deprive you of your enjoyment of a brilliant symphony, and I hope you would not deprive me of my enjoyment of a glass of old wine.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian:

‘Très mihi convivae prope dissentire videntur,

Poscentes vario multum diversa palate’3

Mr. Falconer. Nor our reverend friend of the pleasure of a classical quotation.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. And the utility, too, sir: for I think I am indebted to one for the pleasure of your acquaintance.

Mr. Falconer. When you did me the honour to compare my house to the Palace of Circe. The gain was mine.

Mr. Pallet. You admit, sir, that the Greeks had no knowledge of perspective.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Observing that they had no need of it. Their subject was a foreground like a relievo. Their background was a symbol, not a representation. ‘No knowledge is perhaps too strong. They had it where it was essential. They drew a peristyle, as it appeared to the eye, as accurately as we can do. In short, they gave to each distinct object its own proper perspective, but to separate objects they did not give their relative perspective, for the reason I have given, that they did not need it.

Mr. Falconer. There is to me one great charm in their painting, as we may judge from the specimens in Pompeii, which, though not their greatest works, indicate their school. They never crowded their canvas with figures. They presented one, two, three, four, or at most five persons, preferring one and rarely exceeding three. These persons were never lost in the profusion of scenery, dress, and decoration. They had clearly-defined outlines, and were agreeable objects from any part of the room in which they were placed.

Mr. Pallet. They must have lost much in beauty of detail.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Therein is the essential difference of ancient and modern taste. Simple beauty — of idea in poetry, of sound in music, of figure in painting — was their great characteristic. Ours is detail in all these matters, overwhelming detail. We have not grand outlines for the imagination of the spectator or hearer to fill up: his imagination has no play of its own: it is overloaded with minutio and kaleidoscopical colours.

Lord Curryfin. Detail has its own beauty. I have admired a Dutch picture of a butcher’s shop, where all the charm was in detail.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I cannot admire anything of the kind. I must take pleasure in the thing represented before I can derive any from the representation.

Mr. Pallet. I am afraid, sir, as our favourite studies all lead us to extreme opinions, you think the Greek painting was the better for not having perspective, and the Greek music for not having harmony.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I think they had as much perspective and as much harmony as was consistent with that simplicity which characterised their painting and music as much as their poetry.

Lord Curryfin. What is your opinion, Mr. MacBorrowdale?

Mr. MacBorrowdale. I think you may just buz that bottle before you.

Lord Curryfin. I mean your opinion of Greek perspective?

Mr. MacBorrowdale. Troth, I am of opinion that a bottle looks smaller at a distance than when it is close by, and I prefer it as a full-sized object in the foreground.

Lord Curryfin. I have often wondered that a gentleman so well qualified as you are to discuss all subjects should so carefully avoid discussing any.

Mr. MacBorrowdale. After dinner, my lord, after dinner. I work hard all the morning at serious things, sometimes till I get a headache, which, however, does not often trouble me. After dinner I like to crack my bottle and chirp and talk nonsense, and fit myself for the company of Jack of Dover.

Lord Curryfin. Jack of Dover! Who was he?

Mr. MacBorrowdale. He was a man who travelled in search of a greater fool than himself, and did not find him.4

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. He must have lived in odd times. In our days he would not have gone far without falling in with a teetotaller, or a decimal coinage man, or a school-for-all man, or a competitive examination man, who would not allow a drayman to lower a barrel into a cellar unless he could expound the mathematical principles by which he performed the operation.

Mr. MacBorrowdale. Nay, that is all pragmatical fooling. The fooling Jack looked for was jovial fooling, fooling to the top of his bent, excellent fooling, which, under the semblance of folly, was both merry and wise. He did not look for mere unmixed folly, of which there never was a deficiency. The fool he looked for was one which it takes a wise man to make — a Shakespearian fool.5

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. In that sense he might travel far, and return, as he did in his own day, without having found the fool he looked for.

Mr. MacBorrowdale. A teetotaller! Well! He is the true Heautontimorumenos, the self-punisher, with a jug of toast-and-water for his Christmas wassail. So far his folly is merely pitiable, but his intolerance makes it offensive. He cannot enjoy his own tipple unless he can deprive me of mine. A fox that has lost his tail. There is no tyrant like a thoroughpaced reformer. I drink to his own reformation.

Mr. Gryll. He is like Bababec’s faquir, who sat in a chair full of nails, pour avoir de la considération. But the faquir did not want others to do the same. He wanted all the consideration for himself, and kept all the nails for himself. If these meddlers would do the like by their toast-and-water, nobody would begrudge it them.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Now, sir, if the man who has fooled the greatest number of persons to the top of their bent were to be adjudged the fittest companion for Jack of Dover, you would find him in a distinguished meddler with everything who has been for half-a-century the merry-andrew of a vast arena, which he calls moral and political science, but which has in it a dash of everything that has ever occupied human thought.

Lord Curryfin. I know whom you mean; but he is a great man in his way, and has done much good.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. He has helped to introduce much change; whether for good or for ill remains to be seen. I forgot he was your lordship’s friend. I apologise, and drink to his health.

Lord Curryfin. Oh! pray, do not apologise to me. I would not have my friendships, tastes, pursuits, and predilections interfere in the slightest degree with the fullest liberty of speech on all persons and things. There are many who think with you that he is a moral and political Jack of Dover. So be it. Time will bring him to his level.

Mr. MacBorrowdale. I will only say of the distinguished personage, that Jack of Dover would not pair off with him. This is the true universal science, the oracle of La Dive Bouteille.

Mr. Gryll. It is not exactly Greek music, Mr. Minim, that you are giving us for our Aristophanic choruses.

Mr. Minim. No, sir; I have endeavoured to give you a good selection, as appropriate as I can make it.

Mr. Pallet. Neither am I giving you Greek painting for the scenery. I have taken the liberty to introduce perspective.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Very rightly both, for Aristophanes in London.

Mr. Minim. Besides, sir, we must have such music as your young ladies can sing.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Assuredly; and so far as we have yet heard them rehearse, they sing it delightfully.

After a little more desultory conversation, they adjourned to the drawing-rooms.

1 Trelawny’s Recollections.

2 (Greek passage) Anthologia Palatina: Appendix: 72.

3 Three guests dissent most widely in their wishes:

With different taste they call for different dishes.

4 Jacke of Dover His Quest of Inquirie, or His Privy Search for the Veriest Foote in England. London, 1604. Reprinted for the Percy Society, 1842.

5 OEuvre, ma foi, où n’est facile atteindre:

Pourtant qu’il faut parfaitement sage être,

Pour le vrai fol bien naïvement feindre.

EUTRAPEL, p. 28.

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