Nicholas A. Joukovsky

"Peacock's Sir Oran Haut-ton: Byron's Bear or Shelley's Ape?"

from Keats-Shelley Journal XXIX (1980)

WHILE Thomas Love Peacock's reputation rests mainly on his witty "novels of talk," his most memorable character is, paradoxically, one who never utters a word and whose very humanity is in doubt. Sir Oran Haut-ton---the civilized orang-utan who is elected Member of Parliament for the rotten borough of Onevote in Meliricourt (1817)---is described by his patron and protector Sylvan Forester as "a specimen of the natural and original man---the wild man of the woods; called, in the language of the more civilized and sophisticated natives of Angola, Pongo, and in that of the Indians of South America [?Sumatra], Oran Outang.''1 Forester has acquired Sir Oran on the death of his old friend Captain Hawltaught, who had bought him on the coast of Angola from a Negro who had caught him very young and raised him with his own children. Despite his inability to speak, Sir Oran has learned to play the flute and the French horn and to imitate the manners of a polished gentleman. He finds himself completely at home in London society, especially at the opera, and his whole deportment is characterized by an air of high fashion. His prodigious strength and innate chivalry make him an ideal rescuer of damsels in distress. In fact he is the perfection of the "strong, silent type." When the heroine Anthelia is trapped on insular rock in the midst of a raging torrent, Sir Oran calmly sizes up the situation, then proceeds to uproot a large pine in order to bridge the chasm and carry her to safety. He foils one attempt to abduct Anthelia, and at a second attempt has succeeded he is instrumental in rescuing her from the wicked Lord Anophel Achthar, who has threatened to rape her if she will not marry him. Throughout the book he displays a strong sense of natural justice, along with various other attributes of the Noble Savage. Although he is not, strictly speaking, the hero of Melincourt, Sir Oran inevitably steals the show from the long-winded Mr. Forester and his interlocutor Mr. Fax; and it is hardly surprising that, when the novel was reprinted in 1856 it bore his name as a subtitle."2
  Ever since Melincourt first appeared in March 1817, critics have paid tribute to the originality of Peacock's conception of the "dumb baronet"---even when they have objected to the character on grounds of probability.3 The mixture of admiration and incredulity that characterized the novel's early reception is perhaps best illustrated in a burlesque poem entitled "The German Professor and the Ape," published in Ackermann's Repository in 1822:

                 The author of a novel lately written,
                      Entitled "Melincourt,"
                      ('Tis very sweet and short,)
                 Seems indeed by some wond'rous madness bitten,
                           Thinking it good
                      To take his hero from the wood:
                 And though I own there's nothing treasonable
                 In making ouran-outangs reasonable,
                      I really do not think he should
                      Go quite the length that he has done,
                      Whether for satire or for fun,
                      To make this creature an M.P.
                 As if mankind no wiser were than he.
                      However, those who've read it
                      Must give the author credit
                      For skill and ingenuity,
                 Although it have this monstrous incongruity.

Peacock himself said in his old age that he had "condensed Lord Monboddo's views of the humanity of the Oran Outang into the character of Sir Oran Haut-ton,"5 and his extensive footnotes to the novel show that, for the most part, this was indeed the case. But what prompted him to turn to Lord Monboddo in the first place? And what are we to make of the character of Sylvan Forester, the wealthy young idealist who has purchased an estate, a baronetcy, and a seat in Parliament for Sir Oran, and who hopes ultimately to be able to teach him to speak? After all, theory is one thing and practice another. Monboddo, for all his eccentricities, had not attempted to prove his theories by educating an orang-utan, and no one else is known to have undertaken such an experiment in Britain. As one incredulous contemporary reviewer put it, "Lord Monboddo, it is well known, held, that man and the monkey are the same; but nobody ever thought of bringing up an oran otan with the refined manners of a polished gentleman, introducing him into the first circles as a baronet, and lastly, setting him up as a candidate for a seat in the British Parliament."6 Of all Peacock's critics, only Hoxie Neal Fairchild has thought to ask why Peacock should have devoted so much attention to "the rather antiquated primitivism of Monboddo" in Melincourt. Fairchild is surely mistaken in classifying Peacock, along with Doctor Johnson and the poets of the Anti-Jacobin, as an enemy of the Noble Savage, but he does suggest the likelihood that "the eccentric Scotchman was kept fresh in Peacock's mind by the similar opinions of Shelley regarding the physical decadence of man."7 My own search for possible prototypes for Sir Oran Haut-ton and Sylvan Forester has led to two minor novels of the Romantic period, as well as to two major poets---Byron and Shelley---with some surprising results in Shelley's case.
  Byron---who probably read Melincourt on Shelley's recommendation---seems to have been convinced that the character of Sir Oran Haut-ton was based on the bear that he had kept as an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge. On 26 October 1807, he announced in a letter to Elizabeth Pigot: "I have got a new friend, the finest in the world, a tame Bear, when I brought him here, they asked me what I meant to do with him, and my reply was 'he should sit for a Fellowship.' … This answer delighted them not."8 The bear, who naturally created a sensation when Byron walked him on a chain in Cambridge, was eventually rusticated to Newstead Abbey after having embraced one of his Lordship's fellow students a little too warmly.9 He later gained a wider notoriety through Hewson Clarke's articles in The Satirist---which included a burlesque poem, "Lord B----n to his Bear"10---and through Byron's attack on Clarke in the Postscript to the second edition of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809). Byron's curious notion that Sir Oran Haut-ton was inspired by his bear was recorded by Thomas Medwin in 1821 or 1822 and published in Medwin's Conversations of Lord Byron in 1824:

You know the story of the bear that I brought up for a degree when I was at Trinity. I had a great hatred of College rules, and contempt for academical honours. How many of their wranglers have ever distinguished themselves in the world? There was, by the bye, rather a witty satire founded on my bear. A friend of Shelley's made an Ourang Outang (Oran Hauton, Esq.) the hero of a novel, had him created a baronet, and returned for the borough of One Vote---I forget the name of the novel.11

Having used his bear to express his contempt for academic honors, Byron was evidently more struck by Forester's idea of purchasing a baronetcy and a seat in Parliament for an orang-utan than by the lengthy footnotes in which Peacock cites Monboddo, Rousseau, Buffon, and others as authorities for the behavior of Sir Oran.
  Peacock, in turn, seems to have been annoyed by Byron's presumption that Melincourt was founded on his bear; and many years later, when he came to edit his "Unpublished Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley" for the March 1860 issue of Fraser's Magazine, he found an opportunity to refute this notion in a note on Shelley's letter from Ravenna of [? 10] August 1821, which contains a delightful description of Byron's Italian menagerie:

Lord B.'s establishment consists, besides servants, of ten horses, eight enormous dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow, and a falcon; and all these, except the horses, walk about the house, which every now and then resounds with their unarbitrated quarrels, as if they were the masters of it. … P.S. After I have sealed my letter, I find that my enumeration of the animals in this Circean Palace was defective, and that in a material point. I have just met on the grand staircase five peacocks, two guinea hens, and Egyptian crane. I wonder who all these animals were before they were changed into these shapes.12

Immediately following the first of these passages Shelley reported that Byron thought Peacock was the author of a pamphlet signed "John Bull" and that "he knew it by the style resembling 'Melincourt', of which he is a great admirer." In annotating this remark, Peacock professed complete ignorance of the pamphlet, which was in fact written by John Gibson Lockhart13 but he had this to say about Byron's opinion of Melincourt:

Most probably Shelley's partiality for me and my book put too favourable a construction on what Lord Byron may have said. Lord Byron told Captain Medwin that a friend of Shelley's had written a novel, of which he had forgotten the name, founded on his bear. He described it sufficiently to identify it, and Captain Medwin supplied the title in a note: but assuredly, when I condensed Lord Monboddo's views of the humanity of the Oran Outang into the character of Sir Oran Haut-ton I thought neither of Lord Byron's bear nor of Caligula's horse. But Lord Byron was much in the habit of fancying that all the world was spinning on his pivot.14

The allusion to Caligula's horse is a brilliant stroke of satire, for according to Suetonius that insane emperor provided his favorite horse, Incitatus, with a house, furniture, and slaves, and even planned to award him a consulship.15 However, Peacock's note is rather less satisfactory as an explanation of the origin of Sir Oran Haut-ton than as a satiric comment on Byron's egotism, since it merely tells us what he was not thinking of, and not what he actually was thinking of, when he embodied the theories of the eccentric Scottish philosopher in the character of the "dumb baronet." In all fairness to Byron, it is worth mentioning that there is at least one passage in Melincourt that might seem to connect him with Sylvan Forester. Forester makes his first appearance in the novel when Sir Telegraph Paxarett stops to ask him directions and recognizes him as an old college acquaintance. He informs Sir Telegraph that he has purchased Redrose Abbey (formerly Rednose Abbey) "with the view of carrying on in peace and seclusion some peculiar experiments on the nature and progress of man," and he goes on to explain that he is "digging in the old cemetery for bones and skulls" to establish the truth of his theory "that the human species is gradually decreasing in size and strength." Questioned as to his success, he replies: "About three weeks ago we dug up a very fine skeleton, no doubt of some venerable father, who must have been, in more senses than one, a pillar of the church. I have had the skull polished and set in silver. You shall drink your wine out of it, if you please, today."16 Although Forester's theory is clearly derived from Lord Monboddo, many contemporary readers would have associated the idea of drinking from a skull with Lord Byron, whose "Lines Inscribed upon a Cup Formed from a Skull," written at Newstead Abbey in 1808, had been published in the seventh edition of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage [Cantos I and II] in 1814. Indeed, Forester's account of "the Abbot's skull" in Melincourt is strikingly similar to Byron's later description of his skull-cup, as recorded in Medwin's Conversations:

  There had been found by the gardener, in digging, a skull that had probably belonged to some jolly friar or monk of the Abbey about the time it was dismonasteried. …
  Observing it to be of giant size, and in a perfect state of preservation, a strange fancy seized me of having it set and mounted as a drinking cup. I accordingly sent it to town, and it returned with a very high polish, and of a mottled colour like tortoiseshell.

Byron could hardly have failed to suspect an allusion to himself in the character of a young proprietor of an ancient abbey who has had a skull mounted as a drinking cup. However, Peacock seems to have regarded drinking from a skull as a typical romantic gesture, for the deteriorationist Mr. Escot in Headlong Hall (1815) plans to have the gigantic skull of Cadwallader "bound with a silver rim, and filled with mantling wine,"18 while the melancholy Mr. Glowry in Nightmare Abbey (1818) has made his ancestor's skull into a punchbowl, from which his son Scythrop, a caricature of the young Shelley, threatens to drink what appears to be "some deadly brewage" but is actually his favorite wine, Madeira.19
  No matter how mistaken Byron may have been about his influence on Melincourt, his remark serves to turn our attention from Sir Oran to his protector Sylvan Forester, who is evidently a Shelleyan enthusiast as well as a disciple of Lord Monboddo. Forester's resemblance to Shelley has been noticed by many of Peacock's critics and commentators. David Garnett, for example, says that "Forester is based on the maturer, as Scythrop in Nightmare Abbey is based on the immature, Shelley."20 And in many respects Forester does seem to represent Shelley as he might have been if he had remained single, inherited his family estates, curbed his wanderlust, and learned to live within his income. Forester's political radicalism and active philanthropy are thoroughly Shelleyan, as are his advocacy of Parliamentary reform, his opposition to paper money and the national debt, his views of personal property (which derive from William Godwin), his views of female education (which derive from Mary Wollstonecraft), his opposition to the Malthusian population theory, his refusal to keep pleasure horses,21 and his enthusiasm for the Greek and Latin classics and for Italian poetry. But if most of Forester's political, economic, and social views are characteristic of Shelley, his "speculations on the origin and progress of man" are taken directly from Lord Monboddo's Of the Origin and Progress of Language (1773-92) and Antient Metaphysics (1779-99). Forester appears to be entirely serious in propounding Monboddo's theories, and when Sir Telegraph Paxarett asks him whether his real object in purchasing a seat in Parliament for Sir Oran is to prove his humanity or to expose political corruption, he replies: "I really think him a variety of the human species; and this is a point which I have it very much at heart to establish in the acknowledgment of the civilized world."22
  Mr. forester was not the first character in English fiction who adopted Monboddo's theory of the humanity of the orang-utan. In Isaac D 'Israeli's satirical novel Flim-Flams! or, The Life and Errors of My Uncle and the Amours of My Aunt! (1805), the Shandean narrator tells how his uncle Jacob, among his many follies, attempted to educate an orang-utan to be a Chnstian:

  To provoke the curate, my Uncle espoused a notion of Lord MONBODDO's, that MEN once wore tails! and going on with this fascinating system, asserted with DARWIN and other Philos of this enlightened æra that MEN are only educated monkies! [M]y Uncle had long been secretly boarding and educating an orang-outang, and thought he might make him a christian, out of mere malice to our curate! The affair never went to this length---it came, however, pretty near---if the monkey was not a chnstian, he certainly turned out a gentleman! and dressed as fashionably' and in every other respect rivalled the accomplishments and the talents of a Bond-street Lounger! But for the reward of all this cynical sagacity and patience of the philosopher, our curate occasioned him a serious alarm on the score of the monkey's understanding general signs, and deducing consequences from general ideas, convincing him that the monkey (whom my Uncle had now adopted as a boy of his own) had actually become amenable to the laws of his country!
  Indeed, our family were struck with horror at the animality of our civilized ourang outang. Although I acknowledge with BUFFON, that our gentleman used his spoon and fork pretty freely, tossed off his wine without spilling it, and allowed his tea to cool before he drank it, yet his amazing swallow for all kinds of dainties, the easiness with which you might put him into a passion, and his fits of tenderness to our maids, in my humble opinion, though they evidently shewed the character of a MAN, yet, let the Philos say what they chuse, not that of a CHRISTIAN.

On the basis of this and other similarities---too numerous to go into here---I believe that Peacock had read Flim-Flams! But while Jacob's civilized orang-utan might well have suggested some of the satiric possibilities of a character such as Sir Oran Haut-ton, D'Israeli's crackbrained hero could hardly have provided a model for Sylvan Forester.
  Another satirical novel, Eaton Stannard Barrett's Six Weeks at Long's, By a Late Resident---published anonymously just three weeks before Melincourt24---throws some surprising new light on the strange mixture of Shelleyan characteristics and Monboddoist doctrines in Peacock's hero. Six Weeks at Long's may be described as a sort of portrait gallery of London society. The scene is Long's Hotel in Bond Street, and the characters include thinly disguised portraits of Lord Byron as Lord Leander (in allusion to his feat of swimming the Hellespont), Thomas Moore as Mr. Little (from his pseudonym Thomas Little, Esq.), and Beau Brummell as Mr Bellair, to name but a few. The most interesting character from our point of view, however, is "Mr. Perriwinkle, the atheist, who brought up an ape in the country, with the idea of making it speak and act as a human creature. The similarity between the experiments of Perriwinkle and Forester's in itself a curious coincidence, since there is no evidence of any connection between Barrett and Peacock, and the publication dates of the two novels would appear to rule out any possibility of imitation. But the really astonishing thing about Mr. Perriwinkle is that he turns out to be a hitherto unrecognized but nevertheless unmistakable caricature of Percy Bysshe Shelley.
  Perriwinkle makes his only appearance in the novel at a conversation party given by the Countess de Waltz. The hero, Morland, is describing the various guests to the heroine, Hyppolita, as Perriwinkle enters the room:

But, hold---look with reverence. There comes Mr. Perriwinkle, the atheist, who brought up an ape in the country, with the idea of making it speak and act as a human creature. He believes, with Monboddo, that apes are a species of men; and, in short, has so little reason, feeling, knowledge, or virtue, that he once went to [l]oggerheads with a deist; and because he was worsted in the argument, took revenge, by seducing both his daughters!.25

Periwinkle joins the conversation after Miss Chariot, a blue-stocking known as "the plague of the poets," has asked Lord Leander, or Byron, "Why do you not compose an epitaph on the death of your bear?":

  "I have written some lines on the death of a favourite ape," said Perriwmkle, a most interesting creature, who was developing prodigious powers of sagacity and human intellect, when the everlasting sleep seized him. If you please, I will repeat them to the company."
  All present testified the pleasure they should experience at hearing them. …
  Periwinkle began thus:-

            O, Ape! who diedst before thy time,
            Thy hapless fate demands a rhyme,
            Not such as bards to nobles give,
            Who, dying, hope again to live;
            And talk about a future sky,
            And lift to heav'n the hoping eye;
            As if that heav'n, where fain they'd go,
            Was all above, and none below.
            My song shall mourn th' untimely fall
            Of one, who had no ifs at all.
            Ifs are the springs that poison life;
            Were there no if, there were no wife:
            For, take from wife the I and f,
            And we, (that's man) are only left!
               'Tis said, that Apes at first were men,
            Chang'd, for their crimes, in form, and then
            That men they mimick'd; but 'tis clear,
            That men to mimic them appear.
            The beaux, who chatter in the street,
            And grin at every girl they meet,
            Resemble monkies, and their shapes
            Are most excessively like apes.

  "I protest to Mahomet!" exclaimed Lord Leander, starting from his seat; "I shall be quite excruciated if you repeat another line. I know well, I know well, my friend, you are only making a humorous experiment on our patience, and-----
  "Upon my soul!" eagerly interrupted Perriwinkle, "I was never more serious in my life; and if you only allow me to go on, 'tis five to one I beguile you of your tears."
  "Me'" cried Lord Leander: "I never wept in my life, and if I ever do I shall owe it to an onion, not an epitaph. But an epitaph on an ape! Yet, I had once a bear: yes, a sweet bear! the most interesting and most shaggy animal in existence. The friends of my soul might be false---the day might be o'ercast with clouds---a stubborn stanza might mock the ingenuity of my brain---but my faithful bear was still the same---still lovelily uncouth, still endearing in its ruggedness. Oh, ye golden hours of my early adolescence, shall I? must I? can I?"
  "No, you can't," cried Perriwinkle; "you can't get on if you were to be shot for it. You have interrupted me in the midst of my ape, and you have brought a huge bear upon the carpet which has muzzled you completely.

At this point the hostess protests that "we must not talk of apes and bears before angels." The conversation turns to other topics, and no more is heard of Mr. Perriwinkle.
There can, I think, be absolutely no doubt that Perriwinkle was intended as a recognizable caricature of Shelley, though it would be difficult to say how many contemporary readers would have been able to make the identification.27 Like Shelley, Perriwinkle is an atheist, an anti-matrimonialist a poet, and a friend of Lord Leander, alias Byron; and his seduction of the two daughters of the deist obviously alludes to Shelley's elopement with Godwin's daughter Mary and his stepdaughter CIaire Clairmont in 1814, perhaps also to rumors that Shelley and Byron were sharing both girls in a league of incest at Geneva in the summer of 1816.28 Perriwinkle's description of death as "the everlasting sleep"---the italics are Barrett's---is taken directly from Shelley's Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude (published in March 1816), and the "hapless fate" and "untimely fall" of his favorite ape seem to echo the "dark fate" and "untimely tomb" of the poet in Alastor. Indeed, it would appear that Perriwinkle's poem on the death of his ape was intended, at least in part, as a parody of the narrator's initial tribute to the dead poet in Alastor (lines 50-60):

         There was a Poet whose untimely tomb
         No human hands with pious reverence reared,
         But the charmed eddies of autumnal winds
         Built o'er his mouldering bones a pyramid
         Of mouldering leaves in the waste wilderness;---
         A lovely youth,---no mourning maiden decked
         With weeping flowers, or votive cypress wreath,
         The lone couch of his everlasting sleep---
         Gentle, and brave, and generous,---no lorn bard
         Breathed o'er his dark fate one melodious sigh:
         He lived, he died, he sung, in solitude.

Perriwinkle's phrase "the springs that poison life" appears to be a garbled echo of Shelley's Queen Mab (privately printed in 1813), IX. 87-88: "No longer prostitution's venomed bane / Poisoned the springs of happiness and life."30 The name too may provide a clue to the identity of the character, for a periwinkle is a marine snail, hence "shelly"---a pun that is embodied in the three whelk shells on the Shelley coat of arms, and one which Shelley himself is said to have used on the morning of his elopement with Harriet Westbrook in August 1811.31 We may also recall, in this connection, Peacock and Hogg both referred to Shelley as "the conchoid" in their letters of 1817.32
  The identification of Perriwinkle with Shelley not only adds to our knowledge of Shelley's contemporary reputation but raises several interesting, if perhaps unanswerable, questions about Shelley himself and the extent to which he is reflected in Peacock's Sylvan Forester. Was Forester something more than a partial portrait? Was he, in other words, a portrait of Shelley as Monboddoist, rather than a mere composite of Shelleyan characteristics and Monboddoist doctrines? If Barrett could satirize Shelley as a disciple of Lord Monboddo "who brought up an ape in the country," and could expect him to be recognized as such, was Forester also intended as a recognizable portrait of Shelley? And finally, did Shelley rather than Peacock originally conceive the idea of purchasing a baronetcy and a seat in Parliament for a civilized orang-utan? The answers to these questions may well rest in some otherwise unrecorded episode in Shelley's extraordinary life.
  Barrett's hostile caricature of Shelley as a believer in the humanity of apes would seem to indicate that some time before the end of 1816 Shelley was reputed not only to have adopted Monboddo's views on the subject but to have attempted to prove them. And Peacock's generally sympathetic treatment of Shelley in the character of Sylvan Forester suggests that there may have been more to this than malicious literary gossip. Shelley ordered Monboddo's Of the Origin and Progress of Language from Clio Rickman on 24 December 1812,33 and probably read the book the following year. Although he made no direct use of Monboddo's theories in his brief discussion of the orang-utan as "the most anthropomorphous of the ape tribe" in A Vindication of Natural Diet (probably written in November 1812 and published early in 1813), there may be traces of Monboddo's influence in a paragraph that Shelley added to the text of the Vindication when he revised it in the spring of 1813 as one of the Notes to Queen Mab.34 It has sometimes been assumed that Shelley ordered Monboddo's book on Peacock's recommendation.35 But Monboddo was---as Kenneth Neill Cameron has pointed out---the leading exponent of the naturist views adopted by Shelley's vegetarian friend John Frank Newton,36 and Peacock's earliest reference to Monboddo occurs in connection with his unfinished poem Ahrimanes (?1813-15), in which he made considerable use of Newton's mythological theories.37 Thus it seems more likely that Shelley was introduced to Monboddo's works by Newton, and that it was Shelley or Newton who first ceded Peacock's attention to the Scottish philosopher. In any case, it is reasonably certain that Shelley had firsthand knowledge of Monboddo's theories, though there is no evidence, apart from the two novels of 1817, that he actually "brought up an ape in the country," or even thought of doing so.
  If Shelley had actually attempted to educate an ape, the fact would almost certainly have been known and recorded by one or more of his early biographers. But if he had merely talked of doing so, under the temporary influence of Monboddo, the project could easily have escaped their notice. There are many reasons why the idea might have appealed to him. Hogg relates that, as a student at Oxford, Shelley snatched a child from its mother's arms in the middle of Magdalen Bridge and asked her earnestly, "Will your baby tell us anything about pre-existence, madam?"38 And Newman Ivey White has called attention to Shelley's lifelong desire to adopt and educate a little girl.39 Who knows what he might have expected to learn from an orang-utan, or what he might have hoped to teach one? Shelley might well have found Monboddo's treatment of the orang-utan unscientific; but, with his keen interest in theological controversy, he could hardly have failed to see in Monboddo's quasi-evolutionist views a potential weapon against orthodox Christianity.40 It might even have occurred to him that a well-mannered orang-utan would make as effective a Member of Parliament as his own father, a loyal party man who appears to have made only one speech in his long career in the House of Commons.41 Shelley actually did use an ape in human dress for satiric purposes in describing one of the pranks inspired by his mischievous Witch in The Witch of Atlas (written in August 1820), stanza lxxiv:

         The king would dress an ape up in his crown
         And robes, and seat him on his glorious seat,
         And on the right hand of the sunlike throne
         Would place a gaudy mock-bird to repeat
         The chatterings of the monkey.-Every one
         Of the prone courtiers crawled to kiss the feet
         Of their great Emperor when the morning came;
         And hissed-alas, how mar y kiss the same!

  Peacock remarked in his Memoirs of Shelley that the poet "had many schemes of life, the most singular being "that of entering the church,"43 and it is quite possible that one of the wildest of these schemes gave rise to Barrett's caricature, as well as to Peacock's full-length portrait, of Shelley as a disciple of Lord Monboddo. If Shelley discussed the notion of educating an orang-utan with Peacock, it is likely to have been during the winter of 1815-16 at Bishopgate, or at any rate before his departure for the Continent on 3 May 1816, since Melincourt was planned and announced before his return in September.44 If he also discussed the idea with Byron in Switzerland in the summer of 1816, perhaps in connection with Byron's ear, this might explain Byron's belief that his bear had influenced Melincourt. And if their conversation was reported in England, this might account for Barrett's treatment of Shelley's ape as a rival to Byron's bear in Six Weeks at Long's. All this is admittedly pure speculation, but some such explanation seems necessary to account for the apparently independent origin of Mr. Perriwinkle and Mr. Forester.45
  It is frustrating to have failed to discover the "missing link" that would explain Shelley's strange appearance in these two novels of 1817, but I think their combined evidence is sufficient to add one more mystery to the many that already dot Shelley's biography. Even if he existed only in the poet's imagination, Shelley's ape makes a fascinating addition to the Romantic menagerie and a worthy rival to Byron's bear---not to mention the lobster that Gerard de Nerval is said to have paraded on a ribbon in the gardens of the Palais-Royal, explaining to the curious that it did not bark and it knew the secrets of the deep.


Donald H. Reiman has recently shed new light on the authorship of Six Weeks at Long's by calling attention to William Jerdan's account of the novel in his Autobiography:

At this period the satirical novel called "Six Weeks at Long's," in the doing of which, as formerly stated, I had a hand with Michael Nugent, (a few years before a fellow-reporter with me, and a clever fellow to boot, though he never could emerge from that drudgery,) was published. The materiel was furnished by a military officer, I think, who paid us for our assistance, which, as far as I can remember, was not of the foremost character.46

It would appear, then, that Eaton Stannard Barrett was not the author of Six Weeks at Long's. But since Peacock is not known to have had any contact with William Jerdan or Michael Nugent, the discovery of their role in the writing of the novel does not alter the questions that I have raised about its treatment of Byron and Shelley. And since the "military officer" is not identified, the source of the gossip on which the novel is based is likely to remain a mystery.

Pennsylvania State University


  1.  The Works of Thomas Love Peacock,, ed. H. F. B. Brett-Smith and C. E. Jones (London: Constable, 1924-34), II, 52---hereafter cited as Works. All editions of Melincourt, including the first, read "the Indians of South America," though David Garnett points out in a note to his edition of The Novels of Thomas Love Peacock (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1948), p. 127, that "Oran Outang is Malay for wild man," and that "There are no anthropoid apes native to South America." Since Peacock must have known from his reading of Lord Monboddo that the orang-utan was native to the East Indies, it seems likely that the compositor of the first edition misread the unfamiliar "Sumatra" as "S. America". (Peacock never revised the text of Melincourt). [back]

  2.   Melincourt,; or, Sir Oran Haut-ton (London: Chapman and Hall, 1856). Although Peacock supplied a short Preface for this "Cheap Edition," he did not revise the text, and it is not clear whether he approved the addition of the subtitle. [back]

  3.  Among the first to comment on Sir Oran's originality were contemporary reviewers in the Critical Review, fifth series, 5 (May 1817), 500 ("The idea of the character of Sir Oran Haut-ton is original, and he is of great use in developing the author's opinions upon national affairs"), and the Monthly Review, second series, 83 (July 1817), 332 ("the principle personage is certainly an original conception, since he is an Oran-Outang brought forwards as a specimen of the natural man by his friend Mr. Forester"). [back]

  4.  The Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, Manufactures, &c., second series, 13 (1 March 1822), 133. The poem is signed "P.W." and dated "LONDON, Jan. 20, 1822." [back]

  5.  "Unpublished Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley," Fraser's Magazine, March 1860, quoted in Works, VIII, 500-501. [back]

  6.  New Monthly Magazine, 7 (1 May 1817), 349. [back]

  7.  The Noble Savage: A Study in Romantic Naturalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1928), p. 361. [back]

  8.  Byron's Letters and Journals, ed. Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray, 1973--), I, 135-136. [back]

  9.  See Leslie A. Marchand, Byron: A Biography, 3 vols. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957), I, 136-137. [back]

 10.  The Satirist, 2 (1 June 1808), 368. The poem which is reprinted in Samuel C. Chew's Byron in England: His Fame and After-Fame (London: John Murray, 1924), pp. 6-7---appears in "A Student's Memorandum-Book" in "The Cantab, No. III," with a note that "This bear, which is kept in one of his rooms at Trinity, is a great favourite of his Lordship's; and, if report says true, he has been seen to hug it with all the warmth off fraternal affection!" [back]

 11.  Medwin's Conversations of Lord Byron, ed. Ernest J. Lovell (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), p. 67. [back]

 12.  The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Frederick L.Jones, 2vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), II, 330-331. [back]

 13.  See John Bull's Letter to Lord Byron, ed. Alan Lang Strout (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1947), esp. pp. 49-56. [back]

 14.  Works, VIII, 500-501. [back]

 15.  Caligula, 55. [back]

 16.  Works, II, 34-36. [back]

 17.  Medwin's Conversations, pp. 64-65. [back]

 18.  Works, I, 98. [back]

 19.  Works, III [part i], 3, 31. [back]

 20.  Novels, p. 117, note. [back]

 21.  Shelley's self-denial in this respect is noted by Thomas Jefferson Hogg in The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley (London: Edward Moxon, 1858), 1, 244-245: "Out of a scanty and somewhat precarious income … he was able, by restricting himself to a diet more simple than the fare of the most austere anchorite, and by refusing himself horses and other gratifications that appear properly to belong to his station, and of which he was m truth very fond, to bestow upon men of letters, whose merits were of too high an order to be rightly estimated by their own generation, donations large indeed, if we consider from how narrow a source they flowed." [back]

 22.  Works, II, 62. [back]

 23.  Flim-Flams! (London: John Murray, 1805), II, 160-163. In a footnote D'Israeli remarks that Buffon "had such a monkey, and made a mere Frenchman of him," and points out that the curate's reasoning about the monkey becoming subject to law is taken from Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, III.xi.16. [back]

 24.  Melincourt was published early in March 1817. An advertisement in the Moming Chronicle of 24 February gave 5 March as the intended date of publication, and the novel was advertised as published in the Literary Gazette of 8 March (1, 118), quoted in the issue of 15 March (1, 118), and reviewed in the issue of 22 March (1, 132). Six Weeks at Long's was published on 12 February 1817, according to advertisements in the Morning Chronicle of 8, 10, and 12 February, and was reviewed in the Literary Gazette of 22 February (1, 69-70). The Monthly Magazine, 43 (1 June 1817), 453, was therefore mistaken in reporting that Melincourt had had "two recent imitators in the Six Weeks at Long's, and the Three Weeks at Fladong's" (the latter was an anonymous imitation of Six Weeks at Long's). Six Weeks at Long's was first attributed to Eaton Stannard Barrett, author of The Heroine; or, Adventures of a Fair Romance Reader (1813), by Robert Bell in Notes and Queries, first series, 8 (29 October 1853), 423. [back]

 25.  Six Weeks at Long's (London: Printed for the Author, 1817), II, 200-201. [back]

 26.  Six Weeks at Long's, III, 8-11. Perriwinkle's final remark is reminiscent of Hewson Clarke's review of Byron's Poems Original and Translated in The Satirist, 3 (1 August 1808), 78: "but stay, ladies, stay, 'tis a truly harmless Lord, now-he is without his BEAR, and is himself muzzled." [back]

 27.  There may be an allusion to Shelley's appearance in Six Weeks at Long's in a gossipy letter of 9 January 1818 from David Booth to his wife (Mary Shelley's girlhood friend Isabel Baxter): "Shelley, has, however, succeeded so far as to get his name associated with Lord Byron in satires and novels where follies and amours are held up to the contempt of the reader."---Shelley and his Circle, ed. Donald H. Reiman (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973), V, 392. [back]

 28.  See Newman Ivey White, Shelley (London: Secker & Warburg, 1947), I, 442, 463-464, 716; II, 616. [back]

 29.  The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Roger Ingpen and Walter E. Peck (London: Ernest Benn, 1926-30), I,178. [back]

 30.  Complete Works, I, 129-130. [back]

 31.  Edward Dowden relates, without specifying his source, that while waiting for Harriet with his cousin Charles Grove at the door of an inn, Shelley "beguiled the time by flinging the shells of the oysters on which they had breakfasted across the street, with the words, 'Grove, this is a Shelley business!' "---The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, 1886), I, 173. [back]

 32.  Hogg to Peacock, 14 July and 8 September 1817, and Peacock to Hogg, 26 September 1817, Shelley and his Circle, ed. Reiman, V, 249, 284, 299-300. [back]

 33.  Letters, I, 344. Of the Origin and Progress of Language consists of six volumes, 1773-92 (not three volumes, 1773-76, as Jones states). Monboddo's account of the orang-utan was greatly expanded in the second edition of Vol. I (1774) [back]

 34.  Kenneth Neill Cameron, The Young Shelley: Genesis of a Radical (New York: Macmillan, 1950), pp. 227-228, 375-377. For the passages in question see Shelley's Complete Works, I, 159; VI, 8. [back]

 35.  See Carl Van Doren, The Life of Thomas Love Peacock (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1911), p. 56; and James A. Notopoulos, The Platonism of Shelley (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1949), p. 41. [back]

 36.  Cameron, The Young Shelley, pp. 218, 224. [back]

 37.  See WWorks, VII, 513-518. Brett-Smith's account of the sequence and dating of the manuscripts of Ahrimanes must be supplemented by the commentary in Shelley and his Circle, ed. Kenneth Neill Cameron (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970), III, 226-244. [back]

 38.  Life, I. 239. [back]

 39.  Shelley, II, 79, 422. [back]

 40.  In Peacock's Headlong Hall (1815), the deteriorationist Mr. Escot---whose views are not only similar to Mr. Forester's, but also directly indebted to Shelley's Notes to Queen Mab---uses Monboddo's theories of the origin of man to undermine the biblical account of the Creation in chaper V (Works, I, 39-40). For a recent discussion of the question of how far it is possible to regard Monboddo as an evolutionist or pre-evolutionist, see E.L. Cloyd, James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), pp. 161-168. [back]

 41.  Cameron, The Young Shelley, p. 40. [back]

 42.  Complete Works, IV, 36. Cf. Shelley's earlier remark in Proposals for an Association of Philanthropists (1812): did either the minister, the peer, or the bishop, know their true interests … they would rejoice and co-operate with the diffusion and corroboration of those principles that would remove a load of paltry equivocation, paltrier grandeur, and of wigs that crush into emptiness the brains below them; from their shoulders, and by permitting them to resume the degraded and vilified title of man, would preclude the necessity of mystery and deception, would bestow on them a title more enobling, and a dignity which though it would be without the gravity of an ape, would possess the ease and consistency of a man."---Complete Works, V, 258. [back]

 43.  "Memoirs of Percy Bysshe Shelley" [Part I], Fraser's Magazine, June 1858, reprinted in Works, VIII, 75. [back]

 44.  For a full discussion of the probable chronology of composition, see my note on "The Composition of Peacock's Melincourt and the Date of the 'Calidore' Fragment" English Language Notes 13 (1974): 18-25. [back]

 45.  It is, of course, just conceivable that, in the small world of literary London, Barrett might have heard that Peacock was writing a novel in which Shelley would be represented as a disciple of Monboddo, but this seems most unlikely in view of Peacock's extreme reticence concerning the originals of his characters. Even if Peacock let it be known that he was writing a novel in which an orang-utan would be elected to Parliament, he is unlikely to have acknowledged that he was portraying Shelley as Forester. Shelley himself apparently did not learn that Peacock had used him as the model for Scythrop in Nightmare Abbey (1818) until he received his copy of the book in June 1819, about a year after it was completed---see their correspondence for 1818-19, passim, especially Shelley's comment in his letter to Peacock of 16 August 1818: "Nightmare Abbey finished. Well, what is in it? What is it? You are as secret as if the priest of Ceres had dictated its sacred pages."---Letters, II, 29. [back]

 46.  The Autobiography of William Jerdan (London: Arthur Hall, Virtue, 1852-53), II, 176-177. Reiman's reference to this passage in his Introduction to the "Romantic Context" volumes containing reprints of Eaton Stannard Barrett's All the Talents and Woman (New York: Garland Publishing, 1979), p. v, came to my attention after this article was set in type. [back]

republished, with permission, from Keats-Shelley Journal XXIX (1980), pp. 173-90.

©1980 by The Keats-Shelley Assoc. of America, Inc