An English satirical
writer, lived 1785 to 1866, famous mainly for his comic
novels full of gentle mockery
of current philosophical
and sectarian foible
He was born in Weymouth on 18 October 1785, the son of a London glass merchant, who died when he was three; his mother took him to Chertsey to live with a grandfather. He attended a nearby small private school at Englefield Green between the ages of six and twelve, but was largely self-taught, with the encouragement of his mother. His reading was prodigious and he incidentally became one of the best classical scholars of the time.
He first wrote poetry, publishing in 1804, and meeting Shelley, seven years his junior, in 1812. They became close friends. He also wrote essays of various kinds, but he discovered his real métier with the novels:
is a romance
set in ancient Wales, and Marian
in the Middle Ages, but the rest are what he is best known for. They are in a large part conversation
, with all the guests assembled at some manor
, collected by the host for their disparate
opinions. There will be those obsessed
by the latest developments in geology or medicine, there will be religious doom-sayer
s and eternal optimist
s and literary reviewer
s, proponents of political economy
and of a return to mediaevalism
. Many of these are satire
s on people well known to Peacock.
There are often a couple of well-rounded, saner characters: a young lady who looks in gentle amusement on the scene; and a fat cleric who loves Greek poetry, fine food, and strong wine. The conversations are interlarded with long walks, snatches of song, and quotations from the ancients.
Peacock was just independent enough to survive on his own and publish his poetry, but his situation improved when in 1819 he got a job at the East India Company, where he rose to be examiner in 1836, and established the steamship service to India. He was friends with J.S. Mill and Bentham in later years.
His satire was never cruel. He had a tender heart and was very faithful. When he was a young man at Chertsey he had a love affair with one Fanny Falkner, and though she married someone else he was deeply affected by it, and wore a lock of her hair all his life.
In a trip to Wales in about 1811 he met Jane Gryffydh, daughter of the rector of Maentwrag. They did not keep up a correspondence, but when he got his East India job he wrote to propose to her. They were married in 1820. Shelley said it was like the dénouement of one of his own novels: and he called her a "white Snowdonian antelope" in his Letter to Maria Gisborne.
Jane suffered a breakdown in 1826 on the death of their three-year-old third daughter, Margaret, and she remained an invalid until her own death in 1861. Their eldest daughter married the novelist George Meredith.
In his later years he became fearful of fire, and when one broke out in his library, he cried out, "By the immortal gods, I will not move!". But it hastened his end. Before he died he told his granddaughter that he had been dreaming of Fanny.
One of Gritchka's highest ambitions is to be able to write like Peacock.