Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866) was a satirist, essayist, and poet, the son of a London glass merchant, though brought up by his mother. He had published two volumes of verse when, in 1812, he met P B.Shelley, who became a close friend.
Peacock’s prose satires, Headlong Hall (1816), Melincourt (I817), and Nightmare Abbey (1818), survey the contemporary political and cultural scene from a radical viewpoint. Formally they owe most to two classical genres: the ‘Anatomy’, or miscellaneous prose satire, and the Socratic dialogue, especially perhaps Plato’s Symposium which, like many of Peacock’s convivial arguments, takes place over a dinner table. The debate is diversified by a romantic love plot, increasingly important in Crotchet Castle (1831) and Gryll Grange (1860-61), and by songs.
Peacock’s fictional world is a pleasant one, for he assembles his characters in English country houses, and sends them on excursions into mountain and forest scenery. In Maid Marian(1822) and Misfortunes of Elphin (1829), he employs historical settings, 12th-century England and 6th-century Wales, but the topical satirical reference remains unmistakable.
Peacock’s early volumes of poetry are of antiquarian interest, but Rhododaphne (1818) is a powerful poem, in the mythological manner of John Keats’s Lamia’. Peacock also wrote touching lyrics, especially ‘Long Night Succeeds thy Little Day’ (1826) and ‘Newark Abbey’ (1842).
Of his satirical poems, Paper Money Lyrics (1837) attack the dogmas of political economists and the malpractices of bankers. Peacock’s sceptical attitude to the fashionable cult of the arts is apparent in his two most sustained critical essays, ‘Essay on Fashionable Literature’ (a fragment, written 1818) and “The Four Ages of Poetry” (1820), to which Shelley replied in a “Defence of Poetry“.
In 1819 Peacock married Jane Gryffydh, the ‘White Snowdonian antelope’ of Shelley’s ‘Letter to Maria Gisborne’; she suffered a breakdown at the death of their third daughter in 1826, though she lived until 1851. His favourite child was his eldest daughter Mary Ellen, who became the first wife of George Meredith, and features in Meredith’s sonnet sequence Modern Love.
Peacock entered the East India Company’s service in 1819 and worked under James Mill until the latter’s death in 1836 when he succeeded to the responsible position of an examiner. There is a biography by C. van Doren (1911).