Thomas Love Peacock Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Thomas Love Peacock was born at Weymouth, Dorsetshire, England, on October 18, 1785. Although he associated with important early Romantic poets, he was not truly a part of the Romantic movement. Until his early thirties he wrote poetry that was intended to inspire readers as that of the Romantics did. His poetry, however, is unmemorable. Indeed, it is as a satirist of his age that Peacock is best remembered. An intimate of the Shelleys and of Lord Byron, but nevertheless a respected officer in the East India Company, Peacock in his novels pokes lighthearted fun at the foibles of his age.

He was unsympathetic to the new ideas of the time primarily because he felt they went beyond reason—which is to say they were to him unreasonably romantic. Using the method of irony, he satirized radicalism, medievalism, and transcendentalism as well as individual romanticists such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Headlong Hall began a series of successful “conversation novels” which follow the same plan: A group of eccentric guests at a house party reveal the folly of their romantic persuasions in witty talk and inane action. Peacock’s novels Maid Marian and The Misfortunes of Elphin are burlesques of legends, the first of Robin Hood and the second of the Welsh. The critic Saintsbury believed that the latter novel was the best, although Crotchet Castle has remained the most popular. The main purpose of all the works was, Peacock said, “to blow bubbles and then burst them.” Peacock died at Halliford, Chertsey, in 1866.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Thomas Love Peacock was born at Weymouth in Dorset, England, in 1785. His father, Samuel, was a London merchant, and his mother, Sarah, was a woman of Devonshire. The young Peacock attended a private school at Englefield Green until he was thirteen years old. After leaving school, he served for some time as a clerk at a mercantile house and as a private secretary. In his youth, Peacock found employment uncongenial, however, and his private resources, although insufficient to send him to a university, did preclude his having to work. Peacock used his leisure well.

An apt and diligent student, Peacock became a sound classicist through his independent reading. In 1812, he met Shelley through the agency of a mutual friend, Thomas Hookham. For the next few years he was often a part of the Shelley circle. Closely involved in Shelley’s tangled domestic affairs, Peacock attempted to be true to his friend, fair to the poet’s wife, Harriet, and civil to Shelley’s new love, Mary Godwin. When Shelley went abroad, Peacock corresponded with him and transacted business for him. When Shelley died, Peacock, along with Byron, was named executor of the estate.

In 1819, Peacock was appointed assistant to the examiner in the East India Office. The salary he derived from his position enabled him to marry Jane Gryffydh, a rector’s daughter whom he had last seen in 1811, when he had been on a walking tour of Wales. The marriage was not a particularly happy one; the professional appointment proved rather more auspicious. In 1837, on the retirement of James Mill, Peacock became examiner at East India House. He capably held this important administrative post until his retirement in 1856.

The pleasures of Peacock’s maturity were those he ascribes to various characters (most of them urbane clergymen) in his novels: good wine, good dinners, hours in the garden or in his study with the classics, rural walks from his house at Halliford in the Thames valley. One of the few new friends Peacock made during the latter half of his life was Hobhouse, Lord Broughton. Peacock’s peaceful old age was saddened by the unhappiness of his favorite daughter, the talented Mary Ellen, who had imprudently married novelist George Meredith, and by her death in 1861. Peacock died at Halliford in 1866.