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. [...] 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.
(No comment, really).
Little Posts on Little Books #1 (or, Scrambling to Catch Up on Blogging): Nightmare Abbey (1818) by Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866). Peacock's later life was given over to paperwork and steamship design under the auspices of the British East India Company; in his youth, however, he had hovered on the fringes of the Romantic movement, a friend of Shelley and an occasional writer. Thackeray, who met Peacock in 1850, described him thus: "A charming lyrical poet and Horatian satirist he was when a writer; now he is a whiteheaded jolly old worldling [...] full of information about India and everything else in the world."
Nightmare Abbey, one of several satirical sort-of novels that the young Peacock wrote, lampoons the excesses of Romanticism. Its central character, Scythrop, is the quintessential parody of a Romantic poet (specifically, I understand, a caricature of Shelley) - a dim idealist with a penchant for melodramatic posturing and German tragedies:
Scythrop was in heaven again. "What would I have? What but you, Marionetta? You, for the companion of my studies, the partner of my thoughts, the auxiliary of my great designs for the emancipation of mankind."
"I am afraid I should be but a poor auxiliary, Scythrop. What would you have me do?"
"Do as Rosalia does with Carlos, divine Marionetta. Let us each open a vein in the other's arm, mix our blood in a bowl, and drink it as a sacrament of love. Then we shall see visions of transcendental illumination, and soar on the wings of ideas into the space of pure intelligence."
[aside: I'm reminded of the Goth-O-Matic poetry generator ("Create Your Own Darkly Gothic Poem" :-D). Sadly the site seems to have vanished into the ether, but a few of its products can be read at my old blog - mine in the post, Victoria's in the comments]
There's little in the way of plot, and the characters exist mostly as parodies and/or mouthpieces for positions in the debate Peacock wishes to stage. Most are deeply ridiculous figures - like the Byronic Flosky, who invents long words to sound lofty and considers utter disinterest in "any person or thing on the face of the earth" to be "the most refined philanthropy". Indeed, such is Peacock's commitment to his exchange of ideas that the prose disappears entirely in places, leaving characters' statements in a bald play format, shorn of context or action beyond the occasional snarky bit of editorialising:
(Mr Flosky suddenly stopped: he found himself unintentionally trespassing within the limits of common sense)
Such narrative drive as there is centres on Scythrop's inability to choose between two eligible ladies. Such is his dreamy solipsism, however, that he ends up with neither - the novel's very funny conclusion sees Scythrop rousing himself from his cod-suicidal brooding long enough to discover that both women have deserted him for other, quicker-off-the-mark suitors. This, it seems, is Peacock's main complaint against Romanticism: that its melodramatic misanthropy tends to foster a listless disengagement from the world (in case we missed this, one of the characters is even called Listless).
Slight, but fun; and all the better, I suspect, if you know your Romantic poets... ;-)
(who - following the header quote, which is how the titular Abbey is described - is definitely feeling more dilapidated than picturesque just now, after a month that can only be described as On The Busy Side)