Thomas Love Peacock

1856 Preface to Melincourt.

"MELINCOURT" was first published thirty-nine years ago. Many changes have since occurred, social, mechanical, and political. The boroughs of onevote and Threevotes have been extinguished: but there remain boroughs of Fewvotes, in which Sir Oran Haut-ton might still find a free and enlightened constituency. Beards disfigure the face, and tobacco poisons the air, in a degree not then imagined. A boy, with a cigar in his mouth, was a phenomenon yet unborn. Multitudinous bubbles have been blown and have burst: sometimes prostrating dupes and impostors together; sometimes leaving a colossal jobber upright in his triumphal chariot, which has crushed as many victims as the car of Juggernaut. Political mountebanks have founded profitable investments on public gullibility. British colonists have been compelled to emancipate their slaves; and foreign slave labour, under the pretext of free trade, has been brought to bear against them by the friends of liberty. The Court is more moral: therefore, the public is more moral; more decorous, at least, in external semblance, wherever the homage, which Hypocrisy pays to Virtue, can yield any profit to the professor; but always ready for the same reaction, with which the profligacy of the Restoration rolled, like a spring-tide, over the puritanism of the Commonwealth. The progress of intellect, with all deference to those who believe in it, is not quite so obvious to the progress of mechanics. The "reading public " has increased its capacity of swallow, in a proportion far exceeding-that of its digestion. Thirty-nine years ago, steam-boats were just coming into action, and the railway locomotive was not even thought of. Now everybody goes everywhere: going for the sake of going, and rejoicing in the rapidity with which they accomplish nothing. On va, mais on ne voyage pas.[*] Strenuous idleness. drives us on the wings of steam in boats and trains, seeking the art of enjoying life, which, after all, is in the regulation of the mind, and not in the whisking about of the body.* Of the disputants whose opinions and public characters (for I never trespassed on private life) were shadowed in some of the persons of the story, almost all have passed from the diurnal scene. Many of the questions, discussed in the dialogues, have more of general than of temporary application, and have still their advocates on both sides: and new questions have arisen, which furnish abundant argument for similar conversations, and of which I may yet, perhaps, avail myself on some future occasion.

March, 1856.

[*  One goes, but one does not travel.]
*  Hor. Epist. I. ii. 27-30.