Cart 0

Thomas Love Peacock

Thomas Love Peacock was born on October 18th 1785 in Weymouth, Dorset. 

His parents were Samuel Peacock, a glass merchant, and Sarah Love, daughter of Thomas Love a retired master of a man-of-war in the Royal Navy. 

Thomas went with his mother to live with her family at Chertsey in 1791 and the following year to a school run by Joseph Harris Wicks at Englefield Green where he stayed for a further six years. 

Thomas’s father died in 1794 leaving only a small annuity. 

It is shortly after this that Thomas wrote his first poem: an epitaph for a school friend. At thirteen he wrote another on his Midsummer Holidays.  In 1798 he was withdrawn from school and became entirely self-educated. 

In February 1800, Thomas was made a clerk with Ludlow Fraser Company, merchants at Throgmorton Street in the City of London. He lived at the premise’s with his widowed mother. 

For the country at large the new century was a time of much effort.  The expansion of its empire abroad and the unsettled times nearer in Europe made for complex times. 

For Thomas it was work and the nurturing of his writing. He won the eleventh prize from the Monthly Preceptor for a verse answer to the question "Is History or Biography the More Improving Study?" and contributed to "The Juvenile Library", a youth magazine. 

When time allowed he would visit the Reading Room of the British Museum, studying classic literature in Greek, Latin, French, and Italian. 

In 1804 and 1806 he published two volumes of poetry, The Monks of St. Mark and Palmyra. 

By 1806 Peacock left his job in the city for a solitary walking tour of Scotland. In October the annuity left by his father had expired and the following year he returned to live at his mother's house at Chertsey. He was briefly engaged to Fanny Faulkner, but it was broken off through the interference of her relations. 

In the autumn of 1808 he became private secretary to Sir Home Popham, commanding the fleet before Flushing and by the year-end served aboard HMS Venerable. His romantic affection for the sea was at odds though with the nautical reality. 

"Writing poetry", he says, "or doing anything else that is rational, in this floating inferno, is next to a moral impossibility. I would give the world to be at home and devote the winter to the composition of a comedy". 

On 29th May 1809 he set out on a two-week expedition to trace the course of the Thames from its source to Chertsey and spent two or three days staying in Oxford expanding a previously written poem into ‘The Genius of the Thames’. 

Peacock travelled to North Wales in January 1810 where he visited Tremadog and settled at Maentwrog in Merionethshire. At Maentwrog he was attracted to the parson's daughter Jane Gryffydh, whom he referred to as the "Caernavonshire nymph."  She was to become the love of his life and they were later to marry. 

Early in June 1810, the Genius of the Thames was published. 

In late 1811 his mother’s finances became tighter and this necessitated a move to Morven Cottage Wraysbury near Staines but within a few months problems paying tradesmen meant they had to leave. 

In 1812 Peacock published another elaborate poem, The Philosophy of Melancholy, and made the acquaintance of Shelley. He wrote in his memoir of Shelley, that he "saw Shelley for the first time just before he went to Tanyrallt", whither Shelley proceeded from London in November 1812. 

A circulating library run by his publisher Edward Hookham had sent The Genius of the Thames to Shelley. A letter from the poet dated 18 August 1812, extols the poetical merits of the performance and with equal exaggeration censuring what he thought the author's misguided patriotism. Despite this Peacock and Shelley became friends. 

In the winter of 1813 Peacock accompanied Shelley and his first wife Harriet to Edinburgh. Peacock was very fond of Harriet, and the following year when Shelley left her for Mary Godwin he was somewhat torn. That year, 1814, Peacock published a satirical ballad, Sir Proteus which appeared under the pseudonym "P. M. O'Donovan, Esq." Shelley relied on Peacock a great deal at this time and Peacock visited almost daily throughout the winter of 1814–15 to Shelley and Mary, at their London lodgings. 

In 1815 Peacock shared their voyage to the source of the Thames. "He seems", writes Charles Clairmont, Mary's stepbrother and a member of the party, "an idly-inclined man; indeed, he is professedly so in the summer; he owns he cannot apply himself to study, and thinks it more beneficial to him as a human being entirely to devote himself to the beauties of the season while they last; he was only happy while out from morning till night". 

By September 1815 had settled at Great Marlow and wrote Headlong Hall in 1815. It was published the following year. With this work Peacock found the true field for his literary gift in the satiric novel. 

During the winter of 1815–16 Peacock was regularly walking over to visit Shelley at Bishopgate. 

In 1816 Shelley went abroad, and Peacock was asked to find them a new residence. He found them one near his home at Great Marlow. For a time he received a pension from Shelley, and was put into service to keep off the flock of people intent on becoming part of Shelley's hospitable household. 

Shelley's influence upon Peacock may be traced in the latter's poem of Rhododaphne, or the Thessalian Spell (published in 1818) and Shelley wrote a eulogistic review of it. 

Peacock continued to produce better works; the satirical novels Melincourt in 1817 and Nightmare Abbey published in 1818. 

Shelley made his final departure for Italy and the friends' agreement for mutual correspondence produced Shelley's magnificent descriptive letters from Italy. 

Peacock wrote to Shelley that "he did not find this brilliant summer," of 1818, "very favourable to intellectual exertion;" but before it was over "rivers, castles, forests, abbeys, monks, maids, kings, and banditti were all dancing before me like a masked ball." He was at this time writing his romance of Maid Marian. 

At the beginning of 1819, Peacock was unexpectedly summoned to London for a period of probation with the East India Company. Peacock's test papers earned the high commendation, "Nothing superfluous and nothing wanting." On 13th January 1819, he wrote from 5 York Street, Covent Garden: "I now pass every morning at the India House, from half-past 10 to half-past 4, studying Indian affairs. My object is not yet attained, though I have little doubt but that it will be. It was not in the first instance of my own seeking, but was proposed to me. It will lead to a very sufficing provision for me in two or three years. It is not in the common routine of office, but is an employment of a very interesting and intellectual kind, connected with finance and legislation, in which it is possible to be of great service, not only to the Company, but to the millions under their dominion." 

On 1st July 1819 Peacock slept for the first time in a house at 18 Stamford Street, Blackfriars which, "as you might expect from a Republican, he has furnished very handsomely." His mother continued to live with him. 

Peacock married Jane Griffith or Gryffydh in 1820. In his "Letter to Maria Gisborne", Shelley referred to Jane as "the milk-white Snowdonian Antelope." They went on to have four children, a son Edward who was a champion rower, and three daughters.  

In 1820 Peacock contributed to Ollier's Literary Pocket Book and wrote The Four Ages of Poetry, the latter of which argued that poetry's relevance was being eclipsed by science, a claim which provoked Shelley's Defence of Poetry. 

The official duties of the India House delayed the completion and publication of Maid Marian, until 1822. This delay saw it taken as an imitation of Ivanhoe although it had, in fact, preceded Scott's novel. It was dramatised with great success by Planché, and translated into French and German. 

Peacock's salary was now £1000 a year, and in 1823 he acquired a country residence at Lower Halliford, near Shepperton, Middlesex, constructed out of two old cottages, where he could gratify the love of the Thames. 

In the winter of 1825–6 he wrote Paper Money Lyrics and other Poems "during the prevalence of an influenza to which the beautiful fabric of paper-credit is periodically subject." 

Peacock added an undoubted ability in business to his skill set.  His drafting of official papers was exemplary.  In 1829 he began to devote attention to steam navigation, and drew up a memorandum for General Chesney's Euphrates expedition, which was praised both by Chesney and Lord Ellenborough. 

In 1829 he published The Misfortunes of Elphin founded upon Welsh roots, and in 1831 Crotchet Castle, the most mature and perhaps most appreciated of his works. 

Sadly two year later, in 1833, his beloved mother died and her loss naturally affected him greatly. 

Peacock often appeared before parliamentary committees as the company's champion. In this role in 1834, he resisted James Silk Buckingham's claim to compensation for his expulsion from the East Indies, and in 1836, he defeated the attack of the Liverpool merchants and Cheshire manufacturers upon the Indian salt monopoly. 

By 1836 his official career was crowned by his appointment as Chief Examiner of Indian Correspondence. The post was one which could only be filled by someone of sound business capacity and exceptional ability in drafting official documents. 

His writing career also continued and in 1837 a 100 copies of Paper Money Lyrics and other Poems was published. 

In 1839 and 1840 Peacock superintended the construction of iron steamers which rounded the Cape, and took part in the Chinese war. 

In about 1852 towards the end of Peacock's service in the India office, his taste for leisure and appetite for writing returned, and he began to contribute to Fraser's Magazine in which appeared his entertaining and scholarly Horæ Dramaticæ. 

Peacock retired from the India House on 29th March 1856 with a generous pension. In his retirement he seldom left Halliford and spent his life among his books, and in the garden, in which he took great pleasure, and on the River Thames. 

In 1860 came the publication of his last novel; Gryll Grange. Later, that same year he added the appendix of Shelley's letters, a matter of great literary importance. 

His last writings were two translations, Gl' Ingannati (The Deceived) a comedy, performed at Siena in 1861 and Ælia Lælia Crispis of which a limited edition was circulated in 1862. 

His wife Jane died in 1865 and a few months later Thomas Love Peacock died at Lower Halliford, on 23rd January, 1866, from injuries sustained in a fire in attempting to save his library. He is buried in the new cemetery at Shepperton.