The Thomas Love Peacock Page

Thomas Love Peacock at age 72

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866) is one of the most interesting as well as the most neglected of nineteenth century writers. His prose is intellectual and satirical, speaks only to the well educated and is unlikely to command a wide readership in the twentyfirst century. Nevertheless, Peacock was a close friend of many major figures of his day, including Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), both his wives Harriet Westbrook (who killed herself 1816) and Mary Godwin (1797-1851), Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and many others. He was Shelley's literary agent during the latter's absence abroad from 1818 to his death in 1822, and afterwards was the executor of Shelley's will.

Born at Weymouth on 18 October, 1785, he entered the service of the East India Company in 1819, and in 1820 married Jane Gryffydh, daughter of the rector of Maentwrog in Wales. His daughter married the novelist George Meredith (1828-1909). Peacock became Chief Examiner of Indian Correspondence in 1836, retired from the East India Company in 1856, and died at Halliford-on-Thames at the age of 81 on 23 January, 1866. Peacock wrote both prose and poetry, but is best known for the former. For a selection of the shorter poems, click here. His novels are essentially conversation pieces, with just sufficient action to keep the story going, but while they are entertaining in themselves, they are made much more interesting if the reader has a key to the characters, because most of the books are romans à clef, and many well known figures of the day are gently satirized in them. These include Shelley, Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey, and Humphrey Repton, the landscape gardener. Peacock was one of the most scholarly and philosophical of nineteenth century writers, and it is interesting that his scholarship was entirely self-taught. His formal education ended at the age of 12, and he never entered a university.

There is a long page showing what his contemporaries thought of him, see Biographical and Critical Excerpts. Until recently, very few of Peacock's writings were available in full as electronic texts, but recent work by the Thomas Love Peacock Society is setting out to remedy this. Links in my Bibliography give access to those titles currently available. Most of the books are still in print, at least in England.

Bibliography of Thomas Love Peacock

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Page © Peter J. Large

Last updated 5 February 2020.