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Nightmare Abbey

Nightmare Abbey

Author:Thomas Love Peacock


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...
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  Nightmare Abbey, a venerable family-mansion, in a highly picturesquestate of semi-dilapidation, pleasantly situated on a strip of dry landbetween the sea and the fens, at the verge of the county of Lincoln,had the honour to be the seat of Christopher Glowry, Esquire. Thisgentleman was naturally of an atrabilarious temperament, and muchtroubled with those phantoms of indigestion which are commonly called_blue devils_. He had been deceived in an early friendship: he hadbeen crossed in love; and had offered his hand, from pique, to a lady,who accepted it from interest, and who, in so doing, violently toreasunder the bonds of a tried and youthful attachment. Her vanity wasgratified by being the mistress of a very extensive, if not verylively, establishment; but all the springs of her sympathies werefrozen. Riches she possessed, but that which enriches them, theparticipation of affection, was wanting. All that they could purchasefor her became indifferent to her, because that which they could notpurchase, and which was more valuable than themselves, she had, fortheir sake, thrown away. She discovered, when it was too late, thatshe had mistaken the means for the end--that riches, rightly used, areinstruments of happiness, but are not in themselves happiness. In thiswilful 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 confessthis to herself as a principle of action, but it operated through themedium of unconscious self-deception, and terminated in inveterateavarice. She laid on external things the blame of her mind's internaldisorder, and thus became by degrees an accomplished scold. She oftenwent her daily rounds through a series of deserted apartments, everycreature in the house vanishing at the creak of her shoe, much moreat the sound of her voice, to which the nature of things affords nosimile; for, as far as the voice of woman, when attuned by gentlenessand love, transcends all other sounds in harmony, so far doesit surpass all others in discord, when stretched into unnaturalshrillness by anger and impatience.

  Mr Glowry used to say that his house was no better than a spaciouskennel, for every one in it led the life of a dog. Disappointed bothin 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 theworld, _videlicet_, a good dinner; and this his parsimonious ladyseldom suffered him to enjoy: but, one morning, like Sir Leoline inChristabel, 'he woke and found his lady dead,' and remained a veryconsolate widower, with one small child.

  This only son and heir Mr Glowry had christened Scythrop, from thename of a maternal ancestor, who had hanged himself one rainy day in afit of _toedium vitae_, and had been eulogised by a coroner's jury inthe comprehensive phrase of _felo de se_; on which account, Mr Glowryheld 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 thenceto the university, where it was carefully taken out of him; and he wassent home like a well-threshed ear of corn, with nothing in his head:having finished his education to the high satisfaction of themaster and fellows of his college, who had, in testimony of theirapprobation, presented him with a silver fish-slice, on which his namefigured at the head of a laudatory inscription in some semi-barbarousdialect of Anglo-Saxonised Latin.

  His fellow-students, however, who drove tandem and random in greatperfection, and were connoisseurs in good inns, had taught him todrink deep ere he departed. He had passed much of his time with thesechoice spirits, and had seen the rays of the midnight lamp trembleon many a lengthening file of empty bottles. He passed his vacationssometimes at Nightmare Abbey, sometimes in London, at the house ofhis uncle, Mr Hilary, a very cheerful and elastic gentleman, who hadmarried the sister of the melancholy Mr Glowry. The company thatfrequented his house was the gayest of the gay. Scythrop danced withthe ladies and drank with the gentlemen, and was pronounced by both avery accomplished charming fellow, and an honour to the university.

  At the house of Mr Hilary, Scythrop first saw the beautiful Miss EmilyGirouette. He fell in love; which is nothing new. He was favourablyreceived; which is nothing strange. Mr Glowry and Mr Girouette hada meeting on the occasion, and quarrelled about the terms of thebargain; which is neither new nor strange. The lovers were tornasunder, weeping and vowing everlasting constancy; and, in three weeksafter this tragical event, the lady was led a smiling bride to thealtar, by the Honourable Mr Lackwit; which is neither strange nor new.

  Scythrop received this intelligence at Nightmare Abbey, and was halfdistracted on the occasion. It was his first disappointment, andpreyed 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. Heinsisted particularly on the text, 'One man among a thousand have Ifound, but a woman amongst all those have I not found.'

  'How could he expect it,' said Scythrop, 'when the whole thousand werelocked up in his seraglio? His experience is no precedent for a freestate of society like that in which we live.'

  'Locked up or at large,' said Mr Glowry, 'the result is the same:their minds are always locked up, and vanity and interest keep thekey. I speak feelingly, Scythrop.'

  'I am sorry for it, sir,' said Scythrop. 'But how is it that theirminds are locked up? The fault is in their artificial education, whichstudiously models them into mere musical dolls, to be set out for salein the great toy-shop of society.'

  'To be sure,' said Mr Glowry, 'their education is not so well finishedas yours has been; and your idea of a musical doll is good. I boughtone myself, but it was confoundedly out of tune; but, whatever be thecause, Scythrop, the effect is certainly this, that one is prettynearly as good as another, as far as any judgment can be formed ofthem before marriage. It is only after marriage that they showtheir true qualities, as I know by bitter experience. Marriage is,therefore, a lottery, and the less choice and selection a man bestowson his ticket the better; for, if he has incurred considerable painsand expense to obtain a lucky number, and his lucky number proves ablank, he experiences not a simple, but a complicated disappointment;the loss of labour and money being superadded to the disappointment ofdrawing a blank, which, constituting simply and entirely the grievanceof him who has chosen his ticket at random, is, from its simplicity,the more endurable.' This very excellent reasoning was thrown awayupon Scythrop, who retired to his tower as dismal and disconsolate asbefore.

  The tower which Scythrop inhabited stood at the south-eastern angle ofthe Abbey; and, on the southern side, the foot of the tower opened ona terrace, which was called the garden, though nothing grew on it butivy, and a few amphibious weeds. The south-western tower, which wasruinous and full of owls, might, with equal propriety, have beencalled the aviary. This terrace or garden, or terrace-garden, orgarden-terrace

the reader may name it _ad libitum_

, took in anoblique view of the open sea, and fronted a long tract of levelsea-coast, and a fine monotony of fens and windmills.

  The reader will judge, from what we have said, that this building wasa sort of castellated abbey; and it will, probably, occur to him toinquire if it had been one of the strong-holds of the ancient churchmilitant. Whether this was the case, or how far it had been indebtedto the taste of Mr Glowry's ancestors for any transmutations from itsoriginal state, are, unfortunately, circumstances not within the paleof our knowledge.

  The north-western tower contained the apartments of Mr Glowry. Themoat at its base, and the fens beyond, comprised the whole of hisprospect. This moat surrounded the Abbey, and was in immediate contactwith the walls on every side but the south.

  The north-eastern tower was appropriated to the domestics, whom MrGlowry always chose by one of two criterions,--a long face, or adismal name. His butler was Raven; his steward was Crow; his valet wasSkellet. Mr Glowry maintained that the valet was of French extraction,and that his name was Squelette. His grooms were Mattocks and Graves.On one occasion, being in want of a footman, he received a letterfrom a person signing himself Diggory Deathshead, and lost no time insecuring this acquisition; but on Diggory's arrival, Mr Glowry washorror-struck by the sight of a round ruddy face, and a pair oflaughing eyes. Deathshead was always grinning,--not a ghastly smile,but the grin of a comic mask; and disturbed the echoes of the hallwith so much unhallowed laughter, that Mr Glowry gave him hisdischarge. Diggory, however, had staid long enough to make conquestsof all the old gentleman's maids, and left him a flourishing colony ofyoung Deathsheads to join chorus with the owls, that had before beenthe exclusive choristers of Nightmare Abbey.

  The main body of the building was divided into rooms of state,spacious apartments for feasting, and numerous bed-rooms for visitors,who, however, were few and far between.

  Family interests compelled Mr Glowry to receive occasional visits fromMr and Mrs Hilary, who paid them from the same motive; and, as thelively gentleman on these occasions found few conductors for hisexuberant gaiety, he became like a double-charged electric jar, whichoften exploded in some burst of outrageous merriment to the signaldiscomposure of Mr Glowry's nerves.

  Another occasional visitor, much more to Mr Glowry's taste, was MrFlosky,[1] a very lachrymose and morbid gentleman, of some note inthe literary world, but in his own estimation of much more merit thanname. The part of his character which recommended him to Mr Glowrywas his very fine sense of the grim and the tearful. No one couldrelate a dismal story with so many minutiæ of supererogatorywretchedness. No one could call up a _raw-head and bloody-bones_ withso many adjuncts and circumstances of ghastliness. Mystery was hismental element. He lived in the midst of that visionary world in whichnothing is but what is not. He dreamed with his eyes open, and sawghosts dancing round him at noontide. He had been in his youthan enthusiast for liberty, and had hailed the dawn of the FrenchRevolution as the promise of a day that was to banish war and slavery,and every form of vice and misery, from the face of the earth. Becauseall this was not done, he deduced that nothing was done; and from thisdeduction, according to his system of logic, he drew a conclusionthat worse than nothing was done; that the overthrow of the feudalfortresses of tyranny and superstition was the greatest calamity thathad ever befallen mankind; and that their only hope now was to rakethe rubbish together, and rebuild it without any of those loopholesby which the light had originally crept in. To qualify himself for acoadjutor in this laudable task, he plunged into the centralopacity of Kantian metaphysics, and lay _perdu_ several years intranscendental darkness, till the common daylight of common sensebecame intolerable to his eyes. He called the sun an _ignis fatuus_;and exhorted all who would listen to his friendly voice, which wereabout as many as called 'God save King Richard,' to shelter themselvesfrom its delusive radiance in the obscure haunt of Old Philosophy.This word Old had great charms for him. The good old times were alwayson his lips; meaning the days when polemic theology was in its prime,and rival prelates beat the drum ecclesiastic with Herculean vigour,till the one wound up his series of syllogisms with the very orthodoxconclusion of roasting the other.

  But the dearest friend of Mr Glowry, and his most welcome guest,was Mr Toobad, the Manichaean Millenarian. The twelfth verse of thetwelfth chapter of Revelations was always in his mouth: 'Woe to theinhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come amongyou, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a shorttime.' He maintained that the supreme dominion of the world was, forwise purposes, given over for a while to the Evil Principle; and thatthis precise period of time, commonly called the enlightened age, wasthe point of his plenitude of power. He used to add that by and by hewould be cast down, and a high and happy order of things succeed; buthe never omitted the saving clause, 'Not in our time'; which lastwords were always echoed in doleful response by the sympathetic MrGlowry.

  Another and very frequent visitor, was the Reverend Mr Larynx, thevicar of Claydyke, a village about ten miles distant;--a good-naturedaccommodating divine, who was always most obligingly ready to take adinner and a bed at the house of any country gentleman in distressfor a companion. Nothing came amiss to him,--a game at billiards, atchess, at draughts, at backgammon, at piquet, or at all-fours ina _tête-à-tête_,--or any game on the cards, round, square, ortriangular, in a party of any number exceeding two. He would evendance among friends, rather than that a lady, even if she were on thewrong side of thirty, should sit still for want of a partner. For aride, a walk, or a sail, in the morning,--a song after dinner, a ghoststory after supper,--a bottle of port with the squire, or a cup ofgreen tea with his lady,--for all or any of these, or for any thingelse that was agreeable to any one else, consistently with the dye ofhis coat, the Reverend Mr Larynx was at all times equally ready. Whenat Nightmare Abbey, he would condole with Mr Glowry,--drink Madeirawith Scythrop,--crack jokes with Mr Hilary,--hand Mrs Hilary to thepiano, take charge of her fan and gloves, and turn over her music withsurprising dexterity,--quote Revelations with Mr Toobad,--and lamentthe good old times of feudal darkness with the transcendental MrFlosky.