Nightmare Abbey

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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

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