Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 29

The Bald Venus — Inez De Castro — The Unity of Love

Within the temple of my purer mind

One imaged form shall ever live enshrined,

And hear the vows, to first affection due,

Still breathed: for love that ceases ne’er was true.

— Leyden’s Scenes of Infancy.

An interval of a week was interposed between the comedy and the intended ball. Mr. Falconer having no fancy for balls, and disturbed beyond endurance by the interdict which Miss Gryll had laid on him against speaking, for four times seven days, on the subject nearest his heart, having discharged with becoming self-command his share in the Aristophanic comedy, determined to pass his remaining days of probation in the Tower, where he found, in the attentions of the seven sisters, not a perfect Nepenthe, but the only possible antidote to intense vexation of spirit. It is true, his two Hebes, pouring out his Madeira, approximated as nearly as anything could do to Helen’s administration of the true Nepenthe. He might have sung of Madeira, as Redi’s Bacchus sang of one of his favourite wines:—

Egli è il vero oro potabile,

Che mandar suole in esilio

Ogni male inrimediabile:

Egli è d Elena il Nepente,

Che fa stare il mondo allegro,

Dai pensieri

Foschi e neri

Sempre sciolto, e sempre esente.1

Matters went on quietly at the Grange. One evening, Mr. Gryll said quietly to the Reverend Doctor Opimian —

‘I have heard you, doctor, more than once, very eulogistic of hair as indispensable to beauty. What say you to the bald Venus of the Romans — Venus Calva?’

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Why, sir, if it were a question whether the Romans had any such deity, I would unhesitatingly maintain the negatur. Where do you find her?

Mr. Gryll. In the first place, I find her in several dictionaries.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. A dictionary is nothing without an authority. You have no authority but that of one or two very late writers, and two or three old grammarians, who had found the word and guessed at its meaning. You do not find her in any genuine classic. A bald Venus! It is as manifest a contradiction in terms as hot ice, or black snow.

Lord Curryfin. Yet I have certainly read, though I cannot at this moment say where, that there was in Rome a temple to Venus Calva, and that it was so dedicated in consequence of one of two circumstances: the first being that through some divine anger the hair of the Roman women fell off, and that Ancus Martius set up a bald statue of his wife, which served as an expiation, for all the women recovered their hair, and the worship of the Bald Venus was instituted; the other being, that when Rome was taken by the Gauls, and when they had occupied the city, and were besieging the Capitol, the besieged having no materials to make bowstrings, the women cut off their hair for the purpose, and after the war a statue of the Bald Venus was raised in honour of the women.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I have seen the last story transferred to the time of the younger Maximin.2 But when two or three explanations, of which only one can possibly be true, are given of any real or supposed fact, we may safely conclude that all are false. These are ridiculous myths, founded on the misunderstanding of an obsolete word. Some hold that Calva, as applied to Venus, signifies pure; but I hold with others that it signifies alluring, with a sense of deceit. You will find the cognate verbs, calvo and calvor, active,3 passive,4 and deponent,5 in Servius, Plautus, and Sallust Nobody pretends that the Greeks had a bald Venus. The Venus Calva of the Romans was the Aphrodite Dolie of the Greeks.6 Beauty cannot coexist with baldness; but it may and does coexist with deceit. Homer makes deceitful allurement an essential element in the girdle of Venus.7 Sappho addresses her as craft-weaving Venus.8 Why should I multiply examples, when poetry so abounds with complaints of deceitful love that I will be bound every one of this company could, without a moment’s hesitation, find a quotation in point? — Miss Gryll, to begin with.

Miss Gryll. Oh, doctor, with every one who has a memory for poetry, it must be l’embarras de richesses. We could occupy the time till midnight in going round and round on the subject. We should soon come to an end with instances of truth and constancy.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Not so soon, perhaps. If we were to go on accumulating examples, I think I could find you a Penelope for a Helen, a Fiordiligi for an Angelica, an Imogene for a Calista, a Sacripant for a Rinaldo, a Romeo for an Angelo, to nearly the end of the chapter. I will not say quite, for I am afraid at the end of the catalogue the numbers of the unfaithful would predominate.

Miss Ilex. Do you think, doctor, you would find many examples of love that is one, and once for all; love never transferred from its first object to a second?

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Plato holds that such is the essence of love, and poetry and romance present it in many instances.

Miss Ilex. And the contrary in many more.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. If we look, indeed, into the realities of life, as they offer themselves to us in our own experience, in history, in biography, we shall find few instances of constancy to first love; but it would be possible to compile a volume of illustrious examples of love which, though it may have previously ranged, is at last fixed in single, unchanging constancy. Even Inez de Castro was only the second love of Don Pedro of Portugal; yet what an instance is there of love enduring in the innermost heart, as if it had been engraved on marble.

Miss Gryll. What is that story, doctor? I know it but imperfectly.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Inez de Castro was the daughter, singularly beautiful and accomplished, of a Castilian nobleman, attached to the court of Alphonso the Fourth of Portugal. When very young, she became the favourite and devoted friend of Constance, the wife of the young Prince Don Pedro. The princess died early, and the grief of Inez touched the heart of Pedro, who found no consolation but in her society. Thence grew love, which resulted in secret marriage. Pedro and Inez lived in seclusion at Coimbra, perfectly happy in each other, and in two children who were born to them, till three of Alphonso’s courtiers, moved by I know not what demon of mischief — for I never could discover an adequate motive — induced the king to attempt the dissolution of the marriage, and failing in this, to authorise them to murder Inez during a brief absence of her husband. Pedro raised a rebellion, and desolated the estates of the assassins, who escaped, one into France, and two into Castile. Pedro laid down his arms on the entreaty of his mother, but would never again see his father, and lived with his two children in the strictest retirement in the scene of his ruined happiness. When Alphonso died, Pedro determined not to assume the crown till he had punished the assassins of his wife. The one who had taken refuge in France was dead; the others were given up by the King of Castile. They were put to death, their bodies were burned, and their ashes were scattered to the winds. He then proceeded to the ceremony of his coronation. The mortal form of Inez, veiled and in royal robes, was enthroned by his side: he placed the queenly crown on her head, and commanded all present to do her homage. He raised in a monastery, side by side, two tombs of white marble, one for her, one for himself. He visited the spot daily, and remained inconsolable till he rejoined her in death. This is the true history, which has been sadly perverted by fiction.

Miss Ilex. There is, indeed, something grand in that long-enduring constancy: something terribly impressive in that veiled spectral image of robed and crowned majesty. You have given this, doctor, as an instance that the first love is not necessarily the strongest, and this, no doubt, is frequently true. Even Romeo had loved Rosalind before he saw Juliet. But love which can be so superseded is scarcely love. It is acquiescence in a semblance: acquiescence, which may pass for love through the entire space of life, if the latent sympathy should never meet its perfect counterpart.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Which it very seldom does; but acquiescence in the semblance is rarely enduring, and hence there are few examples of lifelong constancy. But I hold with Plato that true love is single, indivisible, unalterable.

Miss Ilex. In this sense, then, true love is first love; for the love which endures to the end of life, though it may be the second in semblance, is the first in reality.

The next morning Lord Curryfin said to Miss Niphet. ‘You took no part in the conversation of last evening. You gave no opinion on the singleness and permanence of love.’

Miss Niphet. I mistrust the experience of others, and I have none of my own.

Lord Curryfin. Your experience, when it comes, cannot but confirm the theory. The love which once dwells on you can never turn to another.

Miss Niphet.. I do not know that I ought to wish to inspire such an attachment.

Lord Curryfin. Because you could not respond to it?

Miss Niphet.. On the contrary; because I think it possible I might respond to it too well.

She paused a moment, and then, afraid of trusting herself to carry on the dialogue, she said: ‘Come into the hall, and play at battledore and shuttlecock.’

He obeyed the order: but in the exercise her every movement developed some new grace, that maintained at its highest degree the intensity of his passionate admiration.

1 Redi: Bacco in Toscana.

2 Julius Capitolinus: Max. Jun. c. 7.

3 Est et Venus Calva ob hanc causam, quod cum Galli Capitolium obsiderent, et deessent funes Romanis ad tormenta facienda, prima. Domitia crinem suum, post caeterae matron», imitatae earn, exsecuerun^, unde facta tormenta; et post bellum statua Veneri hoc nomine collocata est: licet alii Calvam Venerem quasi puram tradant: alii Calvam, quod corda calviat, id est, fallat atque éludât. Quidam dicunt, porrigine olim capillos cecidisse fominis, et Ancum regem suae uxori statuam Calvam posuisse, quod constitit piaculo; nam mox omnibus fominis capilli renati sunt: unde institutum ut Calva Venus coleretur. — Servius ad Aen. i.

4 Contra ille calvi ratus. — Sallust: Hist. iii. Thinking himself to be deceitfully allured.

5 Nam ubi domi sola sum, sopor manus calvitur. — Plautus in Casina. For when I am at home alone, sleep alluringly deceives my hands.

6 (Greek passage)

7 (Greek passage)

8 (Greek passage)

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