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Thomas Love Peacock

Thomas Love Peacock, 1785-1866, English poet and satirist, friend and biographer of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Thomas Love Peacock was introduced to Shelley by the intellectual bookseller Thomas Hookham late in 1812. The next summer he found Shelley and his wife Harriet living in his vicinity near Windsor, and they began to spend a considerable amount of time together. Peacock, an autodidact who had never attended university, was a keen student of Greek, and under his prodding Shelley soon became immersed in its study as well. Although he admired Mary Shelley, Peacock always kept a warm spot in his heart for the unpretentious but kind Harriet, and he is her chief champion among biographers.

An earnest poet with neo-classical leanings, Peacock found his true metier as a writer of satirical, generally topical novels, begnning with Headlong Hall in 1816 and Melincourt in 1817. He is best remembered for the next such novel, a sendup of Gothic literature and some of its chief contemporary exponents, including Coleridge and even his friend Shelley, Nightmare Abbey (1818). A later periodical contribution, called "The Four Ages of Poetry" (1820) elicited the response of Shelley's "Defence of Poetry." Shelley's prior contribution to their literary relationship consists of the letters he wrote to Peacock on his travels. These include the records of the summer of 1816 from Lake Geneva that were published as a continuation of Mary's History of a Six Weeks' Tour in 1817.

In later life Peacock, like other of Shelley's friends, was irritated by the smug self-importance and distortions that marked Thomas Jefferson Hogg's Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley and attempted to set the record straight in a series of finely etched essays, Memoirs of Shelley, which he contributed to Fraser's Magazine between 1858 and 1862.