1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Love Peacock

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:627.



This gentleman has written some lively, natural, and humorous novels — Headlong Hall, 1816; Nightmare Abbey, 1818; Maid Marian, 1822; and Crotchet Castle, 1831. These were republished in 1837 in one volume of Bentley's Standard Library, and no single volume of fiction of modern production contains more witty or sarcastic dialogue, or more admirable sketches of eccentric and ludicrous characters. His dramatis personae are finely arranged and diversified, and are fall of life, argument, and observation. From the "higher mood" of the author we extract one short sketch — a graphic account, in the tale of Maid Marian, of freebooter life in the forest.

"'I am in fine company,' said the baron. 'In the very best of company,' said the friar; in the high court of Nature, and in the midst of her own nobility. Is it not so? This goodly grove is our palace; the oak and the beech are its colonnade and its canopy; the sun, and the moon, and the stars, are its everlasting lamps; the grass, and the daisy, and the primrose, and the violet, are its many-coloured floor of green, white, yellow, and bias; the Mayflower, and the woodbine, and the eglantine, and the ivy, are its decorations, its curtains, and its tapestry; the lark, and the thrush, and the linnet, and the nightingale, are its unhired minstrels and musicians. Robin Hood is king of the forest both by dignity of birth and by virtue of his standing army, to say nothing of the free choice of his people, which he has indeed; but I pass it by as an illegitimate basis of power. He holds his dominion over the forest, and its horned multitude of citizen-deer, and its swinish multitude or peasantry of wild boars, by right of conquest and force of arms. He levies contributions among them by the free consent of his archers, their virtual representatives, if they should find a voice to complain that we are 'tyrants and usurpers, to kill and cook them up in their assigned and native dwelling-place,' we should most convincingly admonish them, with point of arrow, that they have nothing to do with our laws but to obey them. Is it not written that the fat ribs of the herd shall be fed upon by the mighty in the land? And have not they, withal, my blessing? — my orthodox, canonical, and archiepiscopal blessing? Do I not give thanks for them when they are well roasted and smoking under my nose? What title had William of Normandy to England that Robin of Locksley has not to merry Sherwood? William fought for his claim. So does Robin. With whom both? With any that would or will dispute it. William raised contributions. So does Robin. From whom both? From all that they could or can make pay them. Why did any pay them to William? Why do any pay them to Robin? For the same reason to both — because they could not or cannot help it. They differ, indeed, in this, that William took from the poor and gave to the rich, and Robin takes from the rich and gives to the poor; and therein is Robin illegitimate, though in all else be is true prince. Scarlet and John, are they not peers of the forest? — lords temporal of Sherwood? And am not I lord spiritual? Am I not archbishop? Am I not Pope? Do I not consecrate their banner and absolve their sins? Are not they State, and am not I Church? Are not they State monarchical, and am not I Church militant? Do I not excommunicate our enemies from venison and brawn, and, by'r Lady! when need calls, beat thorn down under my feet? The State levies tax, and the Church levies tithe. Even so do we. Mass! — we take all at once. What then? it is tax by redemption, and tithe by commutation. Your William and Richard can cut and come again, but our Robin deals with slippery subjects that come not twice to his exchequer. What need we, then, to constitute a court, except a fool and a laureate? For the fool, his only use is to make false knaves merry by art, and we are true men, and are merry by nature. For the laureate, his only office is to find virtues in those who have none, and to drink sack for his pains. We have quite virtue enough to need him not, and can drink our sack for ourselves."