Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 2

The Squire and His Niece




Marmor vetus apud Feam, ad Hor. Epist. i. ii, 23.

Fortune makes many promises to many,

Keeps them to none.

Live to the days and hours,

For nothing is your own.

Gregory Gryll, Esq., of Gryll Grange in Hampshire, on the borders of the New Forest, in the midst of a park which was a little forest in itself, reaching nearly to the sea, and well stocked with deer, having a large outer tract, where a numerous light-rented and well-conditioned tenantry fattened innumerable pigs, considering himself well located for what he professed to be, Epicuri de grege porcus,2 and held, though he found it difficult to trace the pedigree, that he was lineally descended from the ancient and illustrious Gryllus, who maintained against Ulysses the superior happiness of the life of other animals to that of the life of man.3

It might be seen that, to a man who traced his ancestry from the palace of Circe, the first care would be the continuance of his ancient race; but a wife presented to him the forethought of a perturbation of his equanimity, which he never could bring himself to encounter. He liked to dine well, and withal to dine quietly, and to have quiet friends at his table, with whom he could discuss questions which might afford ample room for pleasant conversation, and none for acrimonious dispute. He feared that a wife would interfere with his dinner, his company, and his after-dinner bottle of port. For the perpetuation of his name, he relied on an orphan niece, whom he had brought up from a child, who superintended his household, and sate at the head of his table. She was to be his heiress, and her husband was to take his name. He left the choice to her, but reserved to himself a veto, if he should think the aspirant unworthy of the honourable appellation.

The young lady had too much taste, feeling, and sense to be likely to make a choice which her uncle would not approve; but time, as it rolled on, foreshadowed a result which the squire had not anticipated. Miss Gryll did not seem likely to make any choice at all. The atmosphere of quiet enjoyment in which she had grown up seemed to have steeped her feelings in its own tranquillity; and still more, the affection which she felt for her uncle, and the conviction that, though he had always premeditated her marriage, her departure from his house would be the severest blow that fate could inflict on him, led her to postpone what she knew must be an evil day to him, and might peradventure not be a good one to her.

‘Oh, the ancient name of Gryll!; sighed the squire to himself. ‘What if it should pass away in the nineteenth century, after having lived from the time of Circe!’

Often, indeed, when he looked at her at the head of his table, the star of his little circle, joyous herself, and the source of joy in others, he thought the actual state of things admitted no change for the better, and the perpetuity of the old name became a secondary consideration; but though the purpose was dimmed in the evening, it usually brightened in the morning. In the meantime, the young lady had many suitors, who were permitted to plead their cause, though they made little apparent progress.

Several young gentlemen of fair promise, seemingly on the point of being accepted, had been, each in his turn, suddenly and summarily dismissed. Why, was the young lady’s secret. If it were known, it would be easy, she said, in these days of artificial manners, to counterfeit the presence of the qualities she liked, and, still more easy, the absence of the qualities she disliked. There was sufficient diversity in the characters of the rejected to place conjecture at fault, and Mr. Gryll began to despair.

The uncle and niece had come to a clear understanding on this subject. He might present to her attention any one whom he might deem worthy to be her suitor, and she might reject the suitor without assigning a reason for so doing. In this way several had appeared and passed away, like bubbles on a stream.

Was the young lady over fastidious, or were none among the presented worthy, or had that which was to touch her heart not yet appeared?

Mr. Gryll was the godfather of his niece, and to please him, she had been called Morgana. He had had some thoughts of calling her Circe, but acquiesced in the name of a sister enchantress, who had worked out her own idea of a beautiful garden, and exercised similar power over the minds and forms of men.

1 This inscription appears to consist of comic senarii, slightly dislocated for the inscriptional purpose.


Fortuna multa multis, praestat nemini.

Vive in dies et horas: nam proprium est nihil.

2 A pig from the herd of Epicurus. The old philosophers accepted good-humouredly the disparaging terms attached to them by their enemies or rivals. The Epicureans acquiesced in the pig, the Cynics in the dog, and Cleanthes was content to be called the Ass of Zeno, as being alone capable of bearing the burthen of the Stoic philosophy.

3 Plutarch. Bruta animalia raiione uti. Gryllus in this dialogue seems to have the best of the argument. Spenser, however, did not think. . . . so, when he introduced his Gryll, in the Paradise of Acrasia, reviling Sir Guyon’s Palmer for having restored him to the human form.

Streightway he with his virtuous staff them strooke,

And streight of beasts they comely men became:

Yet being men they did unmanly looke,

And stared ghastly, some for inward shame,

And some for wrath to see their captive dame:

But one above the rest in speciall,

That had an hog been late, hight Grylle by name,

Repyned greatly, and did him miscall,

That had from hoggish forme him brought to naturall.

Said Guyon: ‘See the mind of beastly man,

That hath so soon forgot the excellence

Of his creation when he life began,

That now he chooseth, with vile difference,

To be a beast, and lacke intelligence.’

Fairy Queen, book ii. canto 12.

In Plutarch’s dialogue, Ulysses, after his own companions have been restored to the human form, solicits Circe to restore in the same manner any other Greeks who may be under her enchantments. Circe consents, provided they desire it. Gryllus, endowed with speech for the purpose, answers for all, that they had rather remain as they are; and supports the decision by showing the greater comfort of their condition as it is, to what it would probably be if they were again sent forth to share the common lot of mankind. We have unfortunately only the beginning of the dialogue, of which the greater portion has perished.

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