As in his earlier novel Headlong Hall, Peacock assembles a group of eccentrics, each with a single monomaniacal obsession, and derives humour and social satire from their various interactions and conversations. The character who most closely approximates to the author’s own voice is the Reverend Doctor Folliott, a vigorous middle-aged clergyman with a love for ancient Greek language and literature, who is greatly suspicious of the reform slogan of the “March of Intellect”, as well as anything done by the “learned friend”. There are two romantic courtships, between Mr. Chainmail and Susannah Touchandgo and between Captain Fitzchrome and Lady Clarinda Bossnowl. The action begins during a house-party in the nouveau riche Mr. Crotchet’s villa on the Thames, continues during a river and canal journey towards Wales, and ends in Mr. Chainmail’s pseudo-medieval dwelling, with a parody of the Captain Swing riots. (source: Wikipedia)
149 pages, with a reading time of ~2.5 hours (37,355 words), and first published in 1831. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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In one of those beautiful valleys, through which the Thames (not yet polluted by the tide, the scouring of cities, or even the minor defilement of the sandy streams of Surrey) rolls a clear flood through flowery meadows, under the shade of old beech woods, and the smooth mossy greensward of the chalk hills (which pour into it their tributary rivulets, as pure and pellucid as the fountain of Bandusium, or the wells of Scamander, by which the wives and daughters of the Trojans washed their splendid garments in the days of peace, before the coming of the Greeks); in one of those beautiful valleys, on a bold round-surfaced lawn, spotted with juniper, that opened itself in the bosom of an old wood, which rose with a steep, but not precipitous ascent, from the river to the summit of the hill, stood the castellated villa of a retired citizen. Ebenezer Mac Crotchet, Esquire, was the London-born offspring of a worthy native of the “north countrie,” who had walked up to London on a commercial adventure, with all his surplus capital, not very neatly tied up in a not very clean handkerchief, suspended over his shoulder from the end of a hooked stick, extracted from the first hedge on his pilgrimage; and who, after having worked himself a step or two up the ladder of life, had won the virgin heart of the only daughter of a highly respectable merchant of Duke’s Place, with whom he inherited the honest fruits of a long series of ingenuous dealings.
Mr. Mac Crotchet had derived from his mother the instinct, and from his father the rational principle, of enriching himself at the expense of the rest of mankind, by all the recognised modes of accumulation on the windy side of the law. After passing many years in the Alley, watching the turn of the market, and playing many games almost as desperate as that of the soldier of Lucullus, the fear of losing what he had so righteously gained predominated over the sacred thirst of paper-money; his caution got the better of his instinct, or rather transferred it from the department of acquisition to that of conservation. His friend, Mr. Ramsbottom, the zodiacal mythologist, told him that he had done well to withdraw from the region of Uranus or Brahma, the Maker, to that of Saturn or Veeshnu, the Preserver, before he fell under the eye of Jupiter or Seva, the Destroyer, who might have struck him down at a blow.
It is said that a Scotchman, returning home after some years’ residence in England, being asked what he thought of the English, answered: “They hanna ower muckle sense, but they are an unco braw people to live amang;” which would be a very good story, if it were not rendered apocryphal by the incredible circumstance of the Scotchman going back.
Mr. Mac Crotchet’s experience had given him a just title to make, in his own person, the last-quoted observation, but he would have known better than to go back, even if himself, and not his father, had been the first comer of his line from the north. He had married an English Christian, and, having none of the Scotch accent, was ungracious enough to be ashamed of his blood. He was desirous to obliterate alike the Hebrew and Caledonian vestiges in his name, and signed himself E. M. Crotchet, which by degrees induced the majority of his neighbours to think that his name was Edward Matthew. The more effectually to sink the Mac, he christened his villa “Crotchet Castle,” and determined to hand down to posterity the honours of Crotchet of Crotchet. He found it essential to his dignity to furnish himself with a coat of arms, which, after the proper ceremonies (payment being the principal), he obtained, videlicet: Crest, a crotchet rampant, in A sharp; Arms, three empty bladders, turgescent, to show how opinions are formed; three bags of gold, pendent, to show why they are maintained; three naked swords, tranchant, to show how they are administered; and three barbers’ blocks, gaspant, to show how they are swallowed.
Mr. Crotchet was left a widower, with two children; and, after the death of his wife, so strong was his sense of the blessed comfort she had been to him, that he determined never to give any other woman an opportunity of obliterating the happy recollection.
He was not without a plausible pretence for styling his villa a castle, for, in its immediate vicinity, and within his own enclosed domain, were the manifest traces, on the brow of the hill, of a Roman station, or castellum, which was still called the "Castle" by the country people. The primitive mounds and trenches, merely overgrown with greensward, with a few patches of juniper and box on the vallum, and a solitary ancient beech surmounting the place of the praetorium, presented nearly the same depths, heights, slopes, and forms, which the Roman soldiers had originally given them. From this cartel Mr. Crotchet christened his villa.