"Thomas Love Peacock" from On Writers and Writing
THERE is nothing misanthropical about Peacock. He admires, and loves. All that is simple and matter of affection, and private, is dear to him. He laughs at idealists, and makers of systems. Yet---here is the strange thing---he is not common sense against the idea. He has, deep down in him, a great love for ideas. How easy to make fun of Rousseau, Mme de Genlis, Thomas Day---all that world of theory which belongs to the French Revolution! Peacock does make fun of it, but he has been touched by it. The two most virtuous characters in Melincourt are Sir Oran Haut-ton and Sylvan Forester---separate embodiments of the natural man of the revolutionary philosophy. Life in the woods---life in a cottage with a garden---Peacock is almost passionate about these. Yet he praises them chiefly in conversations that take place round tables amply suppled with old silver and madeira.
He was a friend of Shelley, and a wine-drinker---perhaps that best describes him. His friendship for Shelley had in it some kinship of ideas, not a merely personal liking. Indeed, Peacock himself was something of a theorist. He loved the consistency of the Latin mind; he adored logic; he loved a rebel, if the rebel was in earnest, as Shelley was. His ridicule of the other poets of the time turns for the most part on a single point, that they have given up their youthful creeds and have settled down in comfort.
Talk gives the structure of his books. They are a world of talk. "It's all very fine talking," people say, "but is it practical?" In Peacock the standard is reversed. "It's all very practical, but is it fine talking?" The atmosphere of conviviality in the novels keeps the differences from bursting into drama. When the dispute waxes hot someone says, "Buz the bottle."
Allow for the difference between a persecuted preacher of the gospel and a prosperous clerk in the Examiner's office of the East India Company, and Peacock's work is a kindly Pilgrim's Progress. He gives his characters the same kind of names. Bunyan would have said it was a Pilgrm's Progress by Mr Byends of the City of Fairspeech.
Type in Peacock hardly ever passes into character. His work continually borders on character drawing, but he values the play of wit and theory too well. The whole world is a salon to him.
If there are any of Peacock's persons who are felt to be living human characters, they are to be found among his young ladies and his drunkards. The first are real, perhaps because they are pleasant and sensible (which few of the men are), perhaps because the author takes fewer freedoms in the portraiture. It is difficult to say exactly how they make so pleasant an impression---probably by their freedom from censoriousness, and by the good will of the other characters towards them. A novelist may learn something from the wisdom of Lord Halifax in his Advice to a Daughter:
"The triumph of wit is to make your good nature subdue your censure, to be quick in seeing fults and slow in exposing them. You are to consider that the invisible thing called a Good Name is made up of the breth of numbers that speak well of you; so that if by a disobliging word you silence the meanest, the gale will be less strong which is to bear up your esteem. And though nothing is so vain as the eager pursuit of empty applause, yet to be well thought of and to be kindly used by the world is like a glory about a woman's head' 'tis a perfumeshe carrieth about with her and leaveth wherever she goeth; 'tis a charm against ill-will. Malice may empty her quiver, but cannot wound; the dirt will not stick, the jests will not take."
Something of this charm is to be found in Peacock's heroines, so to call them.
George Meredith was Peacock's son-in-law, and learned more from Peacock than from any other writer; in his characters of women especially, and his convivial scenes.
There is, it has often been remarked a certain Gallic quality in Peacock's wit. It is gay and polished, and usually subtle. Our satirists are commonly heavy-weight prize-fighters. Our irony is often as strong as cheese. He has the spirit of wise mischief, like M. Anatole France.
---from On Writing and Writers by Walter Raleigh, being extracts from his note-books, selected and edited by George Gordon, London. (1926), pp. 151-54.