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Peacock Essay

By | March 2011
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Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866), The Four Ages of Poetry (1820) Qui inter hæc nutriuntur non magis sapere possunt, quam bene olere qui in culinâ habitant. PETRONIUS. OETRY, like the world, may be said to have four ages, but in a different order: the first age of poetry being the age of iron; the second, of gold; the third, of silver; and the fourth, of brass. ¶2 §2 The first, or iron age of poetry, is that in which rude bards celebrate in rough numbers the exploits of ruder chiefs, in days when every man is a warrior, and when the great practical maxim of every form of society, "to keep what we have and to catch what we can," is not yet disguised under names of justice and forms of law, but is the naked motto of the naked sword, which is the only judge and jury in every question of meum and tuum. §3 In these days, the only three trades flourishing (besides that of priest which flourishes always) are those of king, thief, and beggar: the beggar being for the most part a king deject, and the thief a king expectant. §4 The first question asked of a stranger is, whether he is a beggar or a thief *: the stranger, in reply, usually assumes the first, and awaits a convenient opportunity to prove his claim to the second appellation. * See the Odyssey, passim: and Thucydides, I. 5.

¶3 §5 The natural desire of every man to engross to himself as much power and property as he can acquire by any of the means which might makes right, is accompanied by the no less natural desire of making known to as many people as possible the extent to which he has been a winner in this universal game. §6 The successful warrior becomes a chief; the successful chief becomes a king: his next want is an organ to disseminate the fame of his achievements and the extent of his possessions; and this organ he finds in a bard, who is always ready to celebrate the strength of his arm, being first duly inspired by that of his liquor. §7 This is the origin of poetry, which, like all other trades, takes...

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