Thomas Love Peacock 

Thomas Love Peacock was an English novelist, poet, and official of the East India Company. He was born on 18th October 1785 in Weymouth, Dorset, England and died on 23rd January 1866 aged 80.

Major Works

Headlong Hall” (1815)
“Nightmare Abbey” (1818)
Maid Marian” (1822)
“Crotchet Castle” (1831)

Biography Timeline

Thomas Love Peacock was born on 18th October 1785 in Weymouth, England. His father was Samuel Peacock a glass merchant and his mother was Sarah Love, daughter of a ships sailing master in the Royal Navy.

1791: The family goes to live with his mother’s family in Chertsey.

1792: He goes a school at Englefield Green near Runnymede in Surrey run by Joseph Harris Wicks.

1794: His father dies leaving a small allowance for the family.

1795: His first known poem is an epitaph for a fellow school child.

1798: He is taken out of school, presumably because of money troubles within the family.

1800: He gets a job as a clerk at Ludlow, Fraser, and Company merchants in the City of London and lives with his mother on the premises in Throgmorton Street. He begins writing poems and essays and writes for “The Juvenile Library”. He begins frequenting the reading rooms of the British Museum which he will regularly from now on.

1805: He publishes his first collection of poems called “Palmyra” which has a favourable reception.

1806: He leaves his job and goes on a walking tour of Scotland on his own. He publishes the poetry collection “The Monks of St. Mark” 

1807: He returns to live with his mother and briefly gets engaged to Fanny Faulkner but breaks it off when her relatives disapprove.

1808: He becomes Private Secretary to Sir Henry Popham, a fleet commander in the Royal Navy and later serves aboard HMS Venerable with Captain Andrew King although the ship never goes to sea.

1809: He leaves HMS Venerable in March and walks around Ramsgate before returning home to Chertsey. He then charts the course of the Thames from its source to Chertsey.

1810: He goes on a walking tour of Wales in January where he meets Jane Gryffydh, a parson’s daughter. He publishes his poem “The Genius of the Thames” in June.

1811: He climbs Cadair Idris and visits several friends as well as visiting Aberystwyth and Devil’s Bridge in Wales. 

1812: Back home he has to move from Chertsey to Wraysbury near Staines with the help of money from friends as they were unable to pay tradesmen’s bills. He publishes the poem “The Philosophy of Melancholy” and in November he meets Percy Bysshe Shelley and the two become friends, so much so that Peacock becomes the executor of Shelley’s will. He writes two plays at this period “The Dilettanti” and “The Three Doctors” but neither are published in his lifetime.

1813: He publishes “Sir Hornbook” (A Grammatico-Allegorical Ballad) for children. He continues to travel in Wales and starts work on “Sir Proteus” a satirical attack on Robert Southey, the Poet Laureate. During the winter he accompanies Shelley and his first wife Harriet to Edinburgh.

1814: “Sir Proteus” is published under the pseudonym P. M. O’Donovan, Esq and shortly afterwards Shelley elopes with Mary Godwin and Peacock visits them at their lodgings. Shelley also arranges for him to look after Harriet’s financial needs.

1815: He begins working on his first novel “Headlong Hall” published later in the following year. It is set in a country estate in Wales where the Squire has a thirst for knowledge and invites various guests to share his library and debates and various arguments ensue. Peacock settles at Marlow and during the winter he visits Shelley at Bishopgate several times and also meets Thomas Jefferson Hogg. 

1816: While Shelley is abroad, he finds him a home near Great Marlow and looks after it for them with an advance from Shelley. He begins working on the children’s poem “The Round Table; or, King Arthur’s Feast”

1817: He works on the prose pieces “Calidore”, an unfinished novel on Arthurian legends and “Melincourt” a modern work which includes a variety of characters both serious and comedic.

1818: In February he publishes the Shelley inspired “Rhododaphne” a Greek Ode and love poem which was praised by Lord Byron. He also Publishes “Nightmare Abbey” another satirical novel in October. In it many of the characters vaguely allude to real people such as Scythrop Glowry being Percy Shelley himself and Miss Celinda Toobad being Mary Godwin Shelley. Mr Flosky is Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mr Cypress is Lord Byron. Shelley and Byron are amused by their caricatures and the press love the novel.

1819: In January he is awarded the post of assistant to the examiner for the East India Company at India House in London. He moves with his mother in July to 18 Stamford Street, Blackfriars.

1820: He marries Jane Gryffydh whom he had met earlier in Wales. In November his “The Four Ages of Poetry” is published in “Ollier’s Literary Miscellany” where he takes more pot-shots at the Lake Poets. Shelley quickly answered back with his “Defence of Poetry”, but this essay sadly doesn’t appear in print until 1840. He also starts work on “Maid Marian” about the Robin Hood era.

1821: In July his first child, Mary Ellen, is born. He continues writing “Maid Marian”, his fourth novel.

1822: He works on the “Essay on Fashionable Literature”. In July Percy Shelley drowns off the coast of Italy and Peacock successfully helps Mary Shelley in negotiations with Shelley’s father to gain financial support for her. “Maid Marian” is eventually published and an operatic version is even performed at the Covent Garden Royal Opera House in December. 

1823: In March his second daughter, Margaret Love Peacock, is born. He buys two cottages at Lower Halliford, Middlessex and moves his young family and mother there. The philosopher John Stuart Mill, joins him at India House as another assistant.

1825: He writes “Paper Money Lyrics and other Poems” and contributes to “The Examiner” and other periodicals.

1826: In January his daughter Margaret Love Peacock dies and they adopt Mary Rosewell, a young girl from the village. The death of Margaret however triggers his wife to have a mental breakdown which lasts for the rest of her life.

1829: His next novel “The Misfortunes of Elphin” is published which although set in Wales and covers political and social reform in the whole country. It is not a success with the public.

1831: He is busy writing his next novel “Crotchet Castle” whilst still writing operatic reviews for newspapers. At work he studies the concept of regular steamship service between Great Britain and India and submits them to Parliament.

1833: His mother dies and he is greatly affected by it.

1834: Peacock writes little between 1834 and 1838 as his work takes precedence.

1836: He succeeds James Mill, (John Stuart Mill’s father) as Chief Examiner of Indian Correspondence, at the India Office.

1837: His last collection of poetry called “Paper Money Lyrics and other Poems” is published with only one hundred copies. He publishes “Recollections of Childhood: The Abbey House”.

1839: He overseas the construction of iron steam ships which take part in the Chinese War.

1844: His daughter Mary Ellen marries Lieutenant Edward Nicolls of the Royal Navy but three months later he drowns at sea. She later gives birth to a daughter called Ellen who helps Peacock with editing his works.

 1849: Mary Ellen, marries the author George Meredith.

1851: He writes “Gastronomy and Civilization” which is included in “Frasers Magazine”.

1852: He writes “Horæ Dramaticæ”, a Roman comedy, for “Frasers Magazine” as well as his reminiscences of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

1856: He retires on a pension from India House in March. He then spends most of his time amongst his books and in his garden.

1857: Mary Ellen leaves George Meredith and fleas to Capri with the painter Henry Wallis and her father never sees her again.

1858: He writes the first instalments of “Memoirs of Percy Bysshe Shelley” for “Frasers Magazine”.

1860: He publishes “Gryll Grange” in serial form from April onwards.

1861: Mary Ellen dies, having returned to England alone and her father does not attend her funeral. “Gryll Grange” is published in book form. His last writings were translatiojns of Gl’ Ingannati” (The Deceived), a comedy which is performed in Siena, Italy and “Ælia Lælia Crispis” in limited edition in 1862.

1865: His wife Jane dies.

Thomas Love Peacock died at home in Lower Halliford on 23rd January 1866 from injuries received in a fire whilst attempting to save his library. He was buried in the New Cemetery at Shepperton.

Influences

Peacock was greatly influenced by his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley’s work and Shelley talked of his lightness, strength and chastity of diction which secured him an honourable rank among English writers not only upon matter but also in style.

His satirical novels discussing and criticising the philosophical opinions of the day were unique in English literature and not even Jonathan Swift used the format. His use of wit and accurate natural descriptions of things and people made him widely read but upset many famous people as nobody could mistake who the thinly veiled characters were alluding to. Of his seven novels, “Nightmare Abbey” and “Crotchet Castle” are probably the most read and therefore the most influential. His “Horae Dramaticae” brought many ancient classical plays to the attention of new readers.

There have been many satirical novels since his day and it is difficult to think that a least some owe a direct debt to the works of Peacock. 

Further Information

List of works by Peacock.

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