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Thomas Love Peacock was born at Weymouth in 1785. His first poem, "The
Genius of the Thames," was in its second edition when he became one of the
friends of Shelley. That was in 1812, when Shelley's age was twenty, Peacock's
twenty-seven. The acquaintance strengthened, until Peacock became the friend
in whose judgment Shelley put especial trust. There were many points of
agreement. Peacock, at that time, shared, in a more practical way, Shelley's
desire for root and branch reform; both wore poets, although not equally gifted,
and both loved Plato and the Greek tragedians. In "Crotchet Castle" Peacock has
expressed his own delight in Greek literature through the talk of the Reverend Dr.
But Shelley's friendship for Peacock included a trust in him that was maintained
by points of unlikeness. Peacock was shrewd and witty. He delighted in
extravagance of a satire which usually said more than it meant, but always rested
upon a foundation of good sense. Then also there was a touch of the poet to give
grace to the utterances of a clear-headed man of the world. It was Peacock who
gave its name to Shelley's poem of "Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude," published
in 1816. The "Spirit of Solitude" being treated as a spirit of evil, Peacock
suggested calling it "Alastor," since the Greek [Greek text] means an evil genius.
Peacock's novels are unlike those of other men: they are the genuine
expressions of an original and independent mind. His reading and his thinking
ran together; there is free quotation, free play of wit and satire, grace of invention
too, but always unconventional. The story is always pleasant, although always
secondary to the play of thought for which it gives occasion. He quarrelled with
verse, whimsically but in all seriousness, in an article on "The Four Ages of
Poetry," contributed in 1820 to a short-lived journal, "Ollier's Literary Miscellany."
The four ages were, he said, the iron age, the Bardic; the golden, the Homeric;
the silver, the Virgilian; and the brass, in which he himself lived. "A poet in our
time," he said, "is a semi-barbarian in a civilised community . . . The highest
inspirations of poetry are resolvable into three ingredients: the rant of
unregulated passion, the whining of exaggerated feeling, and the cant of
factitious sentiment; and can, therefore, serve only to ripen a splendid lunatic like
Alexander, a puling driveller like Werter, or a morbid dreamer like Wordsworth."
In another part of this essay he says: "While the historian and the philosopher are
advancing in and accelerating the progress of knowledge, the poet is wallowing
in the rubbish of departed ignorance, and raking up the ashes of dead savages to
find gewgaws and rattles for the grown babies of the age. Mr. Scott digs up the
poacher and cattle-stealers of the ancient Border. Lord Byron cruises for thieves
and pirates on the shores of the Morea and among the Greek islands. Mr.
Southey wades through ponderous volumes of travels and old chronicles, from
which he carefully selects all that is false, useless, and absurd, as being
essentially poetical; and when he has a commonplace book full of monstrosities,
strings them into an epic."
And so forth; Peacock going on to characterise, in further illustration of his
argument, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Moore, and Campbell. He did not refer to