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Thomas Love Peacock

Thomas Love Peacock

The work of the English novelist and satirist Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866) is distinguished by its incisive penetration of the intellectual tendencies of his time. He ranks high as a comic novelist of ideas.

Thomas Love Peacock, the son of a London merchant, was educated for a business career and not for a life of artistic pursuits. Finding work in an office uncongenial, he was able to leave his job and to live for a while on his inherited income. During these years he began to write poetry, and he became a close friend of Percy Bysshe Shelley. After the poet's death, Peacock became his literary executor and edited a volume of memorials. Peacock married Jane Gryffydh, a lady mentioned in glowing terms in Shelley's poem "Letter to Maria Gisborne."

In this period Peacock also began to write the satirical novels on which his reputation rests. The first group includes Headlong Hall (1815), Melincourt (1817), and Nightmare Abbey (1818). His pattern in these works was to dispense with all but the most mechanical plotting and to devote his attention to extended conversations between the inhabitants and guests at characteristic English country houses. Headlong Hall includes Mr. Foster, an optimist; Mr. Escot, a pessimist; Mr. Jenkinson, an advocate of the status quo; and Dr. Gaster, a minister more distinguished by his worldliness than by his piety. Melincourt has a more integrated plot, centering on the wooing of a wealthy heiress. Its main interest lies, however, in its satirical portraits of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, Thomas Malthus, and Lord Monboddo. Nightmare Abbey continues the satire of poets and philosophers of the day, including Coleridge, Lord Byron, and Shelley.

In 1819 Peacock joined the East India Company and became a competent and successful executive of colonial affairs. He continued his imaginative writing. In addition to poetry, he published two romance-novels dealing with fairy-tale plots and characters. Maid Marian (1822) is set in medieval England and concerns the legendary exploits of Robin Hood's band. The Misfortunes of Elphin (1829) is a parody of the Arthurian legend in which King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, and the Welsh bard Taliesin figure.

After these forays into the romance-novel, Peacock returned to his true métier with another satirical novel, Crotchet Castle (1831). Leading intellectual figures of the day satirized in this work include Coleridge, the rigorous school of Scottish economic thinkers, and those who joined in the period's growing tendency to glorify the Middle Ages. Perhaps the most remarkable achievement of Peacock's career was, however, his production of another novel of the same type almost 30 years afterward. Gryll Grange (1860) shows the marks of age in its tendency to ramble from scholarly to domestic subjects and in its avoidance of personal satire of leading intellectual figures. Gryll Grange was Peacock's last novel. He was one of the most incisive commentators on the cultural life of England in the first half of the 19th century.

Further Reading

The most readable biography of Peacock is Carl Van Doren, The Life of Thomas Love Peacock (1911; repr. 1966). The best critical studies are Howard Mills, Peacock: His Circle and His Age (1968), and Carl Dawson, His Fine Wit (1970).

Additional Sources

Freeman, A. Martin (Alexander Martin), Thomas Love Peacock: a critical study, Philadelphia: R. West, 1977. □

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Peacock, Thomas Love

Thomas Love Peacock, 1785–1866, English novelist and poet. He was employed by the East India Company from 1819 to 1856, serving as its chief examiner the final 20 years. Peacock's novels, comic and delightfully satirical, parody the intellectual modes and pretenses of his age. Nightmare Abbey (1818), his best-known work, satirizes the English romantic movement and contains characters based on Coleridge, Byron, and Shelley. Other novels include Headlong Hall (1816), Melincourt (1817), Maid Marian (1822), Crotchet Castle (1831), and Gryll Grange (1860). Peacock's best poems—lyrics and drinking songs—are interspersed in his novels. He was one of Shelley's most intimate friends, and after the famous poet's death Peacock was his literary executor.

See his works (ed. by H. F. B. Brett-Smith and C. E. Jones, 10 vol., 1924–34); biography by C. Van Doren (1911, repr. 1966); study by B. Burns (1985).

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"Peacock, Thomas Love." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Peacock, Thomas Love

Peacock, Thomas Love (1785–1866). Peacock had modest private means but earned his living as an official in the East India Company. He wrote essays, poetry, plays, and pamphlets, but is best known for his novels, Headlong Hall (1816), Melincourt (1817), Nightmare Abbey (1818), Crotchet Castle (1831), and Gryll Grange (1860–1). Peacock was a friend of Shelley in his youth and radical in politics, but he grew increasingly independent, and his satirical victims included ardent Romantics as well as ‘march of mind’ men like Henry Brougham. The novels are quirky and an acquired taste, with little plot and much conversation, but offer vignettes of Peacock's contemporaries—Repton (Milestone in Headlong Hall), Malthus (Fax in Melincourt), Coleridge (Flosky in Nightmare Abbey), Shelley (Foster in Headlong Hall).

J. A. Cannon

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"Peacock, Thomas Love." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Peacock, Thomas Love." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved April 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/peacock-thomas-love

Peacock, Thomas Love

Peacock, Thomas Love (1785–1866) English novelist and poet. Peacock is chiefly remembered for his idiosyncratic satirical romances, such as Nightmare Abbey (1818), Crotchet Castle (1831), and Gryll Grange (1860–61).

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