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Peacock, Thomas Love / Nightmare Abbey
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Tom Allen,
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.



_Thomas Love Peacock_



NOTES TO _Nightmare Abbey_




* * * * *

There's a dark lantern of the spirit,
Which none see by but those who bear it,
That makes them in the dark see visions
And hag themselves with apparitions,
Find racks for their own minds, and vaunt
Of their own misery and want.

* * * * *



MATTHEW. Oh! it's your only fine humour, sir. Your true melancholy
breeds your perfect fine wit, sir. I am melancholy myself, divers
times, sir; and then do I no more but take pen and paper presently,
and overflow you half a score or a dozen of sonnets at a sitting.

STEPHEN. Truly, sir, and I love such things out of measure.

MATTHEW. Why, I pray you, sir, make use of my study: it's at your

STEPHEN. I thank you, sir, I shall be bold, I warrant you. Have you a
stool there, to be melancholy upon?

BEN JONSON, _Every Man in his Humour_, Act 3, Sc. I

Ay esleu gazouiller et siffler oye, comme dit le commun
proverbe, entre les cygnes, plutoust que d'estre entre
tant de gentils poëtes et faconds orateurs mut du tout

RABELAIS, _Prol. L_. 5

* * * * *


Nightmare Abbey, a venerable family-mansion, in a highly picturesque
state of semi-dilapidation, pleasantly situated on a strip of dry land
between the sea and the fens, at the verge of the county of Lincoln,
had the honour to be the seat of Christopher Glowry, Esquire. This
gentleman was naturally of an atrabilarious temperament, and much
troubled with those phantoms of indigestion which are commonly called
_blue devils_. He had been deceived in an early friendship: he had
been crossed in love; and had offered his hand, from pique, to a lady,
who accepted it from interest, and who, in so doing, violently tore
asunder the bonds of a tried and youthful attachment. Her vanity was
gratified by being the mistress of a very extensive, if not very
lively, establishment; but all the springs of her sympathies were
frozen. Riches she possessed, but that which enriches them, the
participation of affection, was wanting. All that they could purchase
for her became indifferent to her, because that which they could not
purchase, and which was more valuable than themselves, she had, for
their sake, thrown away. She discovered, when it was too late, that
she had mistaken the means for the end--that riches, rightly used, are
instruments of happiness, but are not in themselves happiness. In this
wilful blight of her affections, she found them valueless as means:
they had been the end to which she had immolated all her affections,
and were now the only end that remained to her. She did not confess
this to herself as a principle of action, but it operated through the
medium of unconscious self-deception, and terminated in inveterate
avarice. She laid on external things the blame of her mind's internal
disorder, and thus became by degrees an accomplished scold. She often
went her daily rounds through a series of deserted apartments, every
creature in the house vanishing at the creak of her shoe, much more
at the sound of her voice, to which the nature of things affords no
simile; for, as far as the voice of woman, when attuned by gentleness
and love, transcends all other sounds in harmony, so far does
it surpass all others in discord, when stretched into unnatural
shrillness by anger and impatience.

Mr Glowry used to say that his house was no better than a spacious
kennel, for every one in it led the life of a dog. Disappointed both
in love and in friendship, and looking upon human learning as vanity,
he had come to a conclusion that there was but one good thing in the
world, _videlicet_, a good dinner; and this his parsimonious lady
seldom suffered him to enjoy: but, one morning, like Sir Leoline in
Christabel, 'he woke and found his lady dead,' and remained a very
consolate widower, with one small child.

This only son and heir Mr Glowry had christened Scythrop, from the
name of a maternal ancestor, who had hanged himself one rainy day in a
fit of _toedium vitae_, and had been eulogised by a coroner's jury in
the comprehensive phrase of _felo de se_; on which account, Mr Glowry
held his memory in high honour, and made a punchbowl of his skull.

When Scythrop grew up, he was sent, as usual, to a public school,
where a little learning was painfully beaten into him, and from thence
to the university, where it was carefully taken out of him; and he was
sent home like a well-threshed ear of corn, with nothing in his head:
having finished his education to the high satisfaction of the
master and fellows of his college, who had, in testimony of their
approbation, presented him with a silver fish-slice, on which his name
figured at the head of a laudatory inscription in some semi-barbarous
dialect of Anglo-Saxonised Latin.

His fellow-students, however, who drove tandem and random in great
perfection, and were connoisseurs in good inns, had taught him to
drink deep ere he departed. He had passed much of his time with these
choice spirits, and had seen the rays of the midnight lamp tremble
on many a lengthening file of empty bottles. He passed his vacations
sometimes at Nightmare Abbey, sometimes in London, at the house of
his uncle, Mr Hilary, a very cheerful and elastic gentleman, who had
married the sister of the melancholy Mr Glowry. The company that
frequented his house was the gayest of the gay. Scythrop danced with
the ladies and drank with the gentlemen, and was pronounced by both a
very accomplished charming fellow, and an honour to the university.

At the house of Mr Hilary, Scythrop first saw the beautiful Miss Emily
Girouette. He fell in love; which is nothing new. He was favourably
received; which is nothing strange. Mr Glowry and Mr Girouette had
a meeting on the occasion, and quarrelled about the terms of the
bargain; which is neither new nor strange. The lovers were torn
asunder, weeping and vowing everlasting constancy; and, in three weeks
after this tragical event, the lady was led a smiling bride to the
altar, by the Honourable Mr Lackwit; which is neither strange nor new.

Scythrop received this intelligence at Nightmare Abbey, and was half
distracted on the occasion. It was his first disappointment, and
preyed deeply on his sensitive spirit. His father, to comfort him,
read him a Commentary on Ecclesiastes, which he had himself composed,
and which demonstrated incontrovertibly that all is vanity. He
insisted particularly on the text, 'One man among a thousand have I
found, but a woman amongst all those have I not found.'

'How could he expect it,' said Scythrop, 'when the whole thousand were
locked up in his seraglio? His experience is no precedent for a free
state of society like that in which we live.'

'Locked up or at large,' said Mr Glowry, 'the result is the same:
their minds are always locked up, and vanity and interest keep the
key. I speak feelingly, Scythrop.'

'I am sorry for it, sir,' said Scythrop. 'But how is it that their
minds are locked up? The fault is in their artificial education, which
studiously models them into mere musical dolls, to be set out for sale
in the great toy-shop of society.'

'To be sure,' said Mr Glowry, 'their education is not so well finished
as yours has been; and your idea of a musical doll is good. I bought
one myself, but it was confoundedly out of tune; but, whatever be the
cause, Scythrop, the effect is certainly this, that one is pretty
nearly as good as another, as far as any judgment can be formed of
them before marriage. It is only after marriage that they show
their true qualities, as I know by bitter experience. Marriage is,
therefore, a lottery, and the less choice and selection a man bestows
on his ticket the better; for, if he has incurred considerable pains
and expense to obtain a lucky number, and his lucky number proves a
blank, he experiences not a simple, but a complicated disappointment;
the loss of labour and money being superadded to the disappointment of
drawing a blank, which, constituting simply and entirely the grievance
of him who has chosen his ticket at random, is, from its simplicity,
the more endurable.' This very excellent reasoning was thrown away
upon Scythrop, who retired to his tower as dismal and disconsolate as

The tower which Scythrop inhabited stood at the south-eastern angle of
the Abbey; and, on the southern side, the foot of the tower opened on
a terrace, which was called the garden, though nothing grew on it but
ivy, and a few amphibious weeds. The south-western tower, which was
ruinous and full of owls, might, with equal propriety, have been
called the aviary. This terrace or garden, or terrace-garden, or
garden-terrace (the reader may name it _ad libitum_), took in an
oblique view of the open sea, and fronted a long tract of level
sea-coast, and a fine monotony of fens and windmills.

The reader will judge, from what we have said, that this building was
a sort of castellated abbey; and it will, probably, occur to him to
inquire if it had been one of the strong-holds of the ancient church
militant. Whether this was the case, or how far it had been indebted
to the taste of Mr Glowry's ancestors for any transmutations from its
original state, are, unfortunately, circumstances not within the pale
of our knowledge.

The north-western tower contained the apartments of Mr Glowry. The
moat at its base, and the fens beyond, comprised the whole of his
prospect. This moat surrounded the Abbey, and was in immediate contact
with the walls on every side but the south.

The north-eastern tower was appropriated to the domestics, whom Mr
Glowry always chose by one of two criterions,--a long face, or a
dismal name. His butler was Raven; his steward was Crow; his valet was
Skellet. Mr Glowry maintained that the valet was of French extraction,
and that his name was Squelette. His grooms were Mattocks and Graves.
On one occasion, being in want of a footman, he received a letter
from a person signing himself Diggory Deathshead, and lost no time in
securing this acquisition; but on Diggory's arrival, Mr Glowry was
horror-struck by the sight of a round ruddy face, and a pair of
laughing eyes. Deathshead was always grinning,--not a ghastly smile,
but the grin of a comic mask; and disturbed the echoes of the hall
with so much unhallowed laughter, that Mr Glowry gave him his
discharge. Diggory, however, had staid long enough to make conquests
of all the old gentleman's maids, and left him a flourishing colony of
young Deathsheads to join chorus with the owls, that had before been
the exclusive choristers of Nightmare Abbey.

The main body of the building was divided into rooms of state,
spacious apartments for feasting, and numerous bed-rooms for visitors,
who, however, were few and far between.

Family interests compelled Mr Glowry to receive occasional visits from
Mr and Mrs Hilary, who paid them from the same motive; and, as the
lively gentleman on these occasions found few conductors for his
exuberant gaiety, he became like a double-charged electric jar, which
often exploded in some burst of outrageous merriment to the signal
discomposure of Mr Glowry's nerves.

Another occasional visitor, much more to Mr Glowry's taste, was Mr
Flosky,[1] a very lachrymose and morbid gentleman, of some note in
the literary world, but in his own estimation of much more merit than
name. The part of his character which recommended him to Mr Glowry,
was his very fine sense of the grim and the tearful. No one could
relate a dismal story with so many minutiæ of supererogatory
wretchedness. No one could call up a _raw-head and bloody-bones_ with
so many adjuncts and circumstances of ghastliness. Mystery was his
mental element. He lived in the midst of that visionary world in which
nothing is but what is not. He dreamed with his eyes open, and saw
ghosts dancing round him at noontide. He had been in his youth
an enthusiast for liberty, and had hailed the dawn of the French
Revolution as the promise of a day that was to banish war and slavery,
and every form of vice and misery, from the face of the earth. Because
all this was not done, he deduced that nothing was done; and from this
deduction, according to his system of logic, he drew a conclusion
that worse than nothing was done; that the overthrow of the feudal
fortresses of tyranny and superstition was the greatest calamity that
had ever befallen mankind; and that their only hope now was to rake
the rubbish together, and rebuild it without any of those loopholes
by which the light had originally crept in. To qualify himself for a
coadjutor in this laudable task, he plunged into the central
opacity of Kantian metaphysics, and lay _perdu_ several years in
transcendental darkness, till the common daylight of common sense
became intolerable to his eyes. He called the sun an _ignis fatuus_;
and exhorted all who would listen to his friendly voice, which were
about as many as called 'God save King Richard,' to shelter themselves
from its delusive radiance in the obscure haunt of Old Philosophy.
This word Old had great charms for him. The good old times were always
on his lips; meaning the days when polemic theology was in its prime,
and rival prelates beat the drum ecclesiastic with Herculean vigour,
till the one wound up his series of syllogisms with the very orthodox
conclusion of roasting the other.

But the dearest friend of Mr Glowry, and his most welcome guest,
was Mr Toobad, the Manichaean Millenarian. The twelfth verse of the
twelfth chapter of Revelations was always in his mouth: 'Woe to the
inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come among
you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short
time.' He maintained that the supreme dominion of the world was, for
wise purposes, given over for a while to the Evil Principle; and that
this precise period of time, commonly called the enlightened age, was
the point of his plenitude of power. He used to add that by and by he
would be cast down, and a high and happy order of things succeed; but
he never omitted the saving clause, 'Not in our time'; which last
words were always echoed in doleful response by the sympathetic Mr

Another and very frequent visitor, was the Reverend Mr Larynx, the
vicar of Claydyke, a village about ten miles distant;--a good-natured
accommodating divine, who was always most obligingly ready to take a
dinner and a bed at the house of any country gentleman in distress
for a companion. Nothing came amiss to him,--a game at billiards, at
chess, at draughts, at backgammon, at piquet, or at all-fours in
a _tête-à-tête_,--or any game on the cards, round, square, or
triangular, in a party of any number exceeding two. He would even
dance among friends, rather than that a lady, even if she were on the
wrong side of thirty, should sit still for want of a partner. For a
ride, a walk, or a sail, in the morning,--a song after dinner, a ghost
story after supper,--a bottle of port with the squire, or a cup of
green tea with his lady,--for all or any of these, or for any thing
else that was agreeable to any one else, consistently with the dye of
his coat, the Reverend Mr Larynx was at all times equally ready. When
at Nightmare Abbey, he would condole with Mr Glowry,--drink Madeira
with Scythrop,--crack jokes with Mr Hilary,--hand Mrs Hilary to the
piano, take charge of her fan and gloves, and turn over her music with
surprising dexterity,--quote Revelations with Mr Toobad,--and lament
the good old times of feudal darkness with the transcendental Mr

* * * * *


Shortly after the disastrous termination of Scythrop's passion for
Miss Emily Girouette, Mr Glowry found himself, much against his will,
involved in a lawsuit, which compelled him to dance attendance on the
High Court of Chancery. Scythrop was left alone at Nightmare Abbey. He
was a burnt child, and dreaded the fire of female eyes. He wandered
about the ample pile, or along the garden-terrace, with 'his
cogitative faculties immersed in cogibundity of cogitation.' The
terrace terminated at the south-western tower, which, as we have said,
was ruinous and full of owls. Here would Scythrop take his evening
seat, on a fallen fragment of mossy stone, with his back resting
against the ruined wall,--a thick canopy of ivy, with an owl in it,
over his head,--and the Sorrows of Werter in his hand. He had some
taste for romance reading before he went to the university, where, we
must confess, in justice to his college, he was cured of the love of
reading in all its shapes; and the cure would have been radical, if
disappointment in love, and total solitude, had not conspired to bring
on a relapse. He began to devour romances and German tragedies, and,
by the recommendation of Mr Flosky, to pore over ponderous tomes of
transcendental philosophy, which reconciled him to the labour of
studying them by their mystical jargon and necromantic imagery. In
the congenial solitude of Nightmare Abbey, the distempered ideas of
metaphysical romance and romantic metaphysics had ample time and space
to germinate into a fertile crop of chimeras, which rapidly shot up
into vigorous and abundant vegetation.

He now became troubled with the _passion for reforming the world_.[2]
He built many castles in the air, and peopled them with secret
tribunals, and bands of illuminati, who were always the imaginary
instruments of his projected regeneration of the human species. As he
intended to institute a perfect republic, he invested himself with
absolute sovereignty over these mystical dispensers of liberty. He
slept with Horrid Mysteries under his pillow, and dreamed of venerable
eleutherarchs and ghastly confederates holding midnight conventions in
subterranean caves. He passed whole mornings in his study, immersed
in gloomy reverie, stalking about the room in his nightcap, which
he pulled over his eyes like a cowl, and folding his striped calico
dressing-gown about him like the mantle of a conspirator.

'Action,' thus he soliloquised, 'is the result of opinion, and to
new-model opinion would be to new-model society. Knowledge is power;
it is in the hands of a few, who employ it to mislead the many, for
their own selfish purposes of aggrandisement and appropriation. What
if it were in the hands of a few who should employ it to lead the
many? What if it were universal, and the multitude were enlightened?
No. The many must be always in leading-strings; but let them have wise
and honest conductors. A few to think, and many to act; that is the
only basis of perfect society. So thought the ancient philosophers:
they had their esoterical and exoterical doctrines. So thinks the
sublime Kant, who delivers his oracles in language which none but
the initiated can comprehend. Such were the views of those secret
associations of illuminati, which were the terror of superstition and
tyranny, and which, carefully selecting wisdom and genius from the
great wilderness of society, as the bee selects honey from the flowers
of the thorn and the nettle, bound all human excellence in a chain,
which, if it had not been prematurely broken, would have commanded
opinion, and regenerated the world.'

Scythrop proceeded to meditate on the practicability of reviving a
confederation of regenerators. To get a clear view of his own ideas,
and to feel the pulse of the wisdom and genius of the age, he wrote
and published a treatise, in which his meanings were carefully wrapt
up in the monk's hood of transcendental technology, but filled with
hints of matter deep and dangerous, which he thought would set
the whole nation in a ferment; and he awaited the result in awful
expectation, as a miner who has fired a train awaits the explosion of
a rock. However, he listened and heard nothing; for the explosion, if
any ensued, was not sufficiently loud to shake a single leaf of the
ivy on the towers of Nightmare Abbey; and some months afterwards he
received a letter from his bookseller, informing him that only seven
copies had been sold, and concluding with a polite request for the

Scythrop did not despair.

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