Headlong Hall, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter XIV

The Proposals

The chorus which celebrated the antiquity of her lineage, had been ringing all night in the ears of Miss Brindle-mew Grimalkin Phœbe Tabitha Ap-Headlong, when, taking the squire aside, while the visitors were sipping their tea and coffee, “Nephew Harry,” said she, “I have been noting your behaviour, during the several stages of the ball and supper; and, though I cannot tax you with any want of gallantry, for you are a very gallant young man, Nephew Harry, very gallant — I wish I could say as much for every one” (added she, throwing a spiteful look towards a distant corner, where Mr Jenkison was sitting with great nonchalance, and at the moment dipping a rusk in a cup of chocolate); “but I lament to perceive that you were at least as pleased with your lakes of milk-punch, and your bottles of Champagne and Burgundy, as with any of your delightful partners. Now, though I can readily excuse this degree of incombustibility in the descendant of a family so remarkable in all ages for personal beauty as ours, yet I lament it exceedingly, when I consider that, in conjunction with your present predilection for the easy life of a bachelor, it may possibly prove the means of causing our ancient genealogical tree, which has its roots, if I may so speak, in the foundations of the world, to terminate suddenly in a point: unless you feel yourself moved by my exhortations to follow the example of all your ancestors, by choosing yourself a fitting and suitable helpmate to immortalize the pedigree of Headlong Ap-Rhaiader.”

“Egad!” said Squire Headlong, “that is very true, I’ll marry directly. A good opportunity to fix on some one, now they are all here; and I’ll pop the question without further ceremony.”

“What think you,” said the old lady, “of Miss Nanny Glen-Du, the lineal descendant of Llewelyn Ap-Yorwerth?”

“She won’t do,” said Squire Headlong.

“What say you, then,” said the lady, “to Miss Williams, of Pontyglasrhydyrallt, the descendant of the ancient family of ——?”

“I don’t like her,” said Squire Headlong; “and as to her ancient family, that is a matter of no consequence. I have antiquity enough for two. They are all moderns, people of yesterday, in comparison with us. What signify six or seven centuries, which are the most they can make up?”

“Why, to be sure,” said the aunt, “on that view of the question, it is no consequence. What think you, then, of Miss Owen, of Nidd-y-Gygfraen? She will have six thousand a year.”

“I would not have her,” said Squire Headlong, “if she had fifty. I’ll think of somebody presently. I should like to be married on the same day with Caprioletta.”

“Caprioletta!” said Miss Brindle-mew; “without my being consulted.”

“Consulted!” said the squire: “I was commissioned to tell you, but somehow or other I let it slip. However, she is going to be married to my friend Mr Foster, the philosopher.”

“Oh!” said the maiden aunt, “that a daughter of our ancient family should marry a philosopher! It is enough to make the bones of all the Ap-Rhaiaders turn in their graves!”

“I happen to be more enlightened,” said Squire Headlong, “than any of my ancestors were. Besides, it is Caprioletta’s affair, not mine. I tell you, the matter is settled, fixed, determined; and so am I, to be married on the same day. I don’t know, now I think of it, whom I can choose better than one of the daughters of my friend Chromatic.”

“A Saxon!” said the aunt, turning up her nose, and was commencing a vehement remonstrance; but the squire, exclaiming “Music has charms!” flew over to Mr Chromatic, and, with a hearty slap on the shoulder, asked him “how he should like him for a son-in-law?” Mr Chromatic, rubbing his shoulder, and highly delighted with the proposal, answered, “Very much indeed:” but, proceeding to ascertain which of his daughters had captivated the squire, the squire demurred, and was unable to satisfy his curiosity. “I hope,” said Mr Chromatic, “it may be Tenorina; for I imagine Graziosa has conceived a penchant for Sir Patrick O’Prism.”—“Tenorina, exactly,” said Squire Headlong; and became so impatient to bring the matter to a conclusion, that Mr Chromatic undertook to communicate with his daughter immediately. The young lady proved to be as ready as the squire, and the preliminaries were arranged in little more than five minutes.

Mr Chromatic’s words, that he imagined his daughter Graziosa had conceived a penchant for Sir Patrick O’Prism, were not lost on the squire, who at once determined to have as many companions in the scrape as possible, and who, as soon as he could tear himself from Mrs Headlong elect, took three flying bounds across the room to the baronet, and said, “So, Sir Patrick, I find you and I are going to be married?”

“Are we?” said Sir Patrick: “then sure won’t I wish you joy, and myself too? for this is the first I have heard of it.”

“Well,” said Squire Headlong, “I have made up my mind to it, and you must not disappoint me.”

“To be sure I won’t, if I can help it,” said Sir Patrick; “and I am very much obliged to you for taking so much trouble off my hands. And pray, now, who is it that I am to be metamorphosing into Lady O’Prism?”

“Miss Graziosa Chromatic,” said the squire.

“Och violet and vermilion!” said Sir Patrick; “though I never thought of it before, I dare say she will suit me as well as another: but then you must persuade the ould Orpheus to draw out a few notes of rather a more magical description than those he is so fond of scraping on his crazy violin.”

“To be sure he shall,” said the squire; and, immediately returning to Mr Chromatic, concluded the negotiation for Sir Patrick as expeditiously as he had done for himself.

The squire next addressed himself to Mr Escot: “Here are three couple of us going to throw off together, with the Reverend Doctor Gaster for whipper-in: now, I think you cannot do better than make the fourth with Miss Cephalis; and then, as my father-in-law that is to be would say, we shall compose a very harmonious octave.”

“Indeed,” said Mr Escot, “nothing would be more agreeable to both of us than such an arrangement: but the old gentleman, since I first knew him, has changed, like the rest of the world, very lamentably for the worse: now, we wish to bring him to reason, if possible, though we mean to dispense with his consent, if he should prove much longer refractory.”

“I’ll settle him,” said Squire Headlong; and immediately posted up to Mr Cranium, informing him that four marriages were about to take place by way of a merry winding up of the Christmas festivities.

“Indeed!” said Mr Cranium; “and who are the parties?”

“In the first place,” said the squire, “my sister and Mr Foster: in the second, Miss Graziosa Chromatic and Sir Patrick O’Prism: in the third, Miss Tenorina Chromatic and your humble servant: and in the fourth to which, by the by, your consent is wanted ——”

“Oho!” said Mr Cranium.

“Your daughter,” said Squire Headlong.

“And Mr Panscope?” said Mr Cranium.

“And Mr Escot,” said Squire Headlong. “What would you have better? He has ten thousand virtues.”

“So has Mr Panscope,” said Mr Cranium; “he has ten thousand a year.”

“Virtues?” said Squire Headlong.

“Pounds,” said Mr Cranium.

“I have set my mind on Mr Escot,” said the squire.

“I am much obliged to you,” said Mr Cranium, “for dethroning me from my paternal authority.”

“Who fished you out of the water?” said Squire Headlong.

“What is that to the purpose?” said Mr Cranium. “The whole process of the action was mechanical and necessary. The application of the poker necessitated the ignition of the powder: the ignition necessitated the explosion: the explosion necessitated my sudden fright, which necessitated my sudden jump, which, from a necessity equally powerful, was in a curvilinear ascent: the descent, being in a corresponding curve, and commencing at a point perpendicular to the extreme line of the edge of the tower, I was, by the necessity of gravitation, attracted, first, through the ivy, and secondly through the hazel, and thirdly through the ash, into the water beneath. The motive or impulse thus adhibited in the person of a drowning man, was as powerful on his material compages as the force of gravitation on mine; and he could no more help jumping into the water than I could help falling into it.”

“All perfectly true,” said Squire Headlong; “and, on the same principle, you make no distinction between the man who knocks you down and him who picks you up.”

“I make this distinction,” said Mr Cranium, “that I avoid the former as a machine containing a peculiar cataballitive quality, which I have found to be not consentaneous to my mode of pleasurable existence; but I attach no moral merit or demerit to either of them, as these terms are usually employed, seeing that they are equally creatures of necessity, and must act as they do from the nature of their organisation. I no more blame or praise a man for what is called vice or virtue, than I tax a tuft of hemlock with malevolence, or discover great philanthropy in a field of potatoes, seeing that the men and the plants are equally incapacitated, by their original internal organisation, and the combinations and modifications of external circumstances, from being any thing but what they are. Quod victus fateare necesse est.”

“Yet you destroy the hemlock,” said Squire Headlong, “and cultivate the potato; that is my way, at least.”

“I do,” said Mr Cranium; “because I know that the farinaceous qualities of the potato will tend to preserve the great requisites of unity and coalescence in the various constituent portions of my animal republic; and that the hemlock, if gathered by mistake for parsley, chopped up small with butter, and eaten with a boiled chicken, would necessitate a great derangement, and perhaps a total decomposition, of my corporeal mechanism.”

“Very well,” said the squire; “then you are necessitated to like Mr Escot better than Mr Panscope?”

“That is a non sequitur,” said Mr Cranium.

“Then this is a sequitur,” said the squire: “your daughter and Mr Escot are necessitated to love one another; and, unless you feel necessitated to adhibit your consent, they will feel necessitated to dispense with it; since it does appear to moral and political economists to be essentially inherent in the eternal fitness of things.”

Mr Cranium fell into a profound reverie: emerging from which, he said, looking Squire Headlong full in the face, “Do you think Mr Escot would give me that skull?”

“Skull!” said Squire Headlong.

“Yes,” said Mr Cranium, “the skull of Cadwallader.”

“To be sure he will,” said the squire.

“Ascertain the point,” said Mr Cranium.

“How can you doubt it?” said the squire.

“I simply know,” said Mr Cranium, “that if it were once in my possession, I would not part with it for any acquisition on earth, much less for a wife. I have had one: and, as marriage has been compared to a pill, I can very safely assert that one is a dose; and my reason for thinking that he will not part with it is, that its extraordinary magnitude tends to support his system, as much as its very marked protuberances tend to support mine; and you know his own system is of all things the dearest to every man of liberal thinking and a philosophical tendency.”

The Squire flew over to Mr Escot. “I told you,” said he, “I would settle him: but there is a very hard condition attached to his compliance.”

“I submit to it,” said Mr Escot, “be it what it may.”

“Nothing less,” said Squire Headlong, “than the absolute and unconditional surrender of the skull of Cadwallader.”

“I resign it,” said Mr Escot.

“The skull is yours,” said the squire, skipping over to Mr Cranium.

“I am perfectly satisfied,” said Mr Cranium.

“The lady is yours,” said the squire, skipping back to Mr Escot.

“I am the happiest man alive,” said Mr Escot.

“Come,” said the squire, “then there is an amelioration in the state of the sensitive man.”

“A slight oscillation of good in the instance of a solitary individual,” answered Mr Escot, “by no means affects the solidity of my opinions concerning the general deterioration of the civilised world; which when I can be induced to contemplate with feelings of satisfaction, I doubt not but that I may be persuaded to be in love with tortures, and to think charitably of the rack1.”

Saying these words, he flew off as nimbly as Squire Headlong himself, to impart the happy intelligence to his beautiful Cephalis.

Mr Cranium now walked up to Mr Panscope, to condole with him on the disappointment of their mutual hopes. Mr Panscope begged him not to distress himself on the subject, observing, that the monotonous system of female education brought every individual of the sex to so remarkable an approximation of similarity, that no wise man would suffer himself to be annoyed by a loss so easily repaired; and that there was much truth, though not much elegance, in a remark which he had heard made on a similar occasion by a post-captain of his acquaintance, “that there never was a fish taken out of the sea, but left another as good behind.”

Mr Cranium replied that no two individuals having all the organs of the skull similarly developed, the universal resemblance of which Mr Panscope had spoken could not possibly exist. Mr Panscope rejoined; and a long discussion ensued, concerning the comparative influence of natural organisation and artificial education, in which the beautiful Cephalis was totally lost sight of, and which ended, as most controversies do, by each party continuing firm in his own opinion, and professing his profound astonishment at the blindness and prejudices of the other.

In the meanwhile, a great confusion had arisen at the outer doors, the departure of the ball-visitors being impeded by a circumstance which the experience of ages had discovered no means to obviate. The grooms, coachmen, and postillions, were all drunk. It was proposed that the gentlemen should officiate in their places: but the gentlemen were almost all in the same condition. This was a fearful dilemma: but a very diligent investigation brought to light a few servants and a few gentlemen not above half-seas-over; and by an equitable distribution of these rarities, the greater part of the guests were enabled to set forward, with very nearly an even chance of not having their necks broken before they reached home.

1 Jeremy Taylor.


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