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Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866)


Thomas Love Peacock was raised in a way which encouraged independence of mind. He did not attend a public school, but was privately tutored, receiving an excellent grounding in Greek, Latin, Italian and French. These languages remained with him, despite a lack of later formal training. Even towards the end of his life, in 1851, he was able to compose a poem in parallel Greek, Latin and English versions to celebrate a particularly good whitebait dinner. The conclusion of the poem records the wines which accompanied the meal:

Thy fields, Champagne, supplied us with our wine,
Madeira’s Island, and the rocks of Rhine.
The sun was set, and twilight veiled the land:
Then all stood up, — all who had strength to stand,
And pouring down, of Maraschino, fit
Libations to the gods of wine and wit . . .

Wine had been a favourite subject of Peacock’s since he first began writing verse. “The Monks of St Mark” was composed in September 1804, when he was only 18. It relates the mishaps of an evening’s drinking, when “the friars, with BACCHUS, not SATAN, to grapple, / The refect’ry have met in, instead of the chapel”:

’Stead of singing TE DEUMS, on ground-pressing knees,
They were piously bawling songs, catches, and glees:
Or, all speakers, no hearers, unceasing, untir’d,
Each stoutly held forth, by the spirit inspir’d,
Till the Abbot, who only the flock could controul,
Exclaim’d: “AUGUSTINE! pr’ythee push round the bowl!”

Augustine manages to spill the hot punch in Pedro’s lap; he helps Pedro to bed, and befuddled in drink, the taper goes out. The monks tumble downstairs, where Augustine suffers an unexpected and unfamiliar spasm of religious sentiment:

Poor AUGUSTINE’S bosom with terror was cold,
On finding his burthen thus slide from his hold:
Then, cautiously stealing, and groping around,
He felt himself suddenly struck to the ground;
Yells, groans, and strange noises, were heard in the dark,
And, trembling and sweating, he pray'd to ST MARK!

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