Passages from the Life of a Philosopher/Chapter XXII


scene from a new after-piece,


"Politics and Poetry'" or, "The Decline of Science."

dramatis personæ.


Turnstile, a retired Philosopher, M.P. for Shoreditch.

Lord Flumm, a Tory nobleman of ancient family.
Countess of Flumm, his wife.
Lady Selina, their daughter.

Hon. Mrs. Fubsey, sister of the Countess.


Lord A., Prime Minister.

Closewind, First Lord of the Admiralty.
Shift, Secretary at War.

Smooth, Secretary far the Colonies; also M.P. for Shoreditch.


  Lord George, Members of the Conservative Club.
  Lord Charles,
  Marquis of Flamborough,
  Dick Trim, a former Whipper-in,


Highway, a Radical.

Griskin, Colonel of the Lumber Troop.

Tripes, his Lieutenant.


Sir Orlando Windfall, Knt. R. Han. Guelph. Order, an Astronomical Observer.

Sir Simon Smugg, Knt, R. Han. Guelph. Order, Professor of Botanism.
Atall, an Episcopising Mathematician, Dean of Canterbury.

Byeways, a Calculating Officer.

Other Lords—Conservative and Whig.

The Scene is laid in London; principally at the West-end of the Town.

The time is near the end of May, 1835.

SCENES, &c., Extracted.


Scene I.Committee-room of the Conservatives, Charles-street; Lord Flumm; Marquis of Flamborough; Lord George; Lord Charles; other Tory Lords, and Trim. A table covered with papers; Lord Charles smoking a cigar; Lord George half asleep in an arm-chair; Trim busy in looking over a list of the House of Commons.

Trim. It will be a devilish close run I see!—yet I think we might manage some of them (Pause), Does anybody know Turnstile?

Marquis. Never heard of him!

Lord George. (Mumbling). The reform Member for Puddledock, isn't he?— the author of a book on Pinmaking, and things of that kind. An ironmonger in Newgate-street!

Trim. No, no! Member for Shoreditch;—with Smooth, the Colonial Secretary!

Lord Charles. (Taking the cigar from his mouth.) I think I've heard something of him at Cambridge: he was Newtonian Professor of Chemistry when I was at College.

Trim. Can't we talk him over?

Lord Charles. No, no! he is too sharp for that.

Trim. Will anybody speak to him?—and if he won't vote with us, keep him out of the way.

Marquis. Perhaps a hint at an appointment!—

Lord Charles. Nor that either; he is a fellow of some spirit; and devilish proud.

Lord Flumm. But what are his tastes?—how does he employ himself?—who are his friends?

Trim. Why he's—a sort of a—philosopher,—that wants to be a man of the world!

Lord Flumm. Oh!—now I begin to recollect;—I must have seen him at Sir Phillip's. Leave him to me;—I think Lady Flumm and my daughter can manage to keep him quiet on Thursday night.

Trim. But for Tuesday,—my Lord?

Lord Flumm. Two nights!—Then I must try what I can do for you, myself.


Scene IV.Grosvenor-square.

Enter Turnstile, musing.

Turnstile. This will never do! They make use of me, and laugh at me in their sleeves;—push me round and go by. That break down was a devil of a business! They didn't laugh out to be sure; but they coughed and looked unutterably!! And where is this to end? What shall I have to show for it? Confounded loss of time;—to hear those fellows prosing, instead of seeing the occultation last night. And that book of Ls.'; so much that I had begun upon,—and might have finished! It never will do! (Rousing himself after a pause.) But knowledge, after all, is power! That at least is certain,—power—to do what? to refuse Lord Doodle's invitation; and to ask Lord Humbug for a favour, which it is ten to one he will refuse! But the Royal Society is defunct! That I have accomplished. Gilbert, and the Duke! and the Secretaries! I have driven them all before me!—and, now, though I must not be a knight of the Guelphic order, (yet a riband is a pretty looking thing! and a star too!—) I will show that I can teach them how to make knights; and describe the decorations that other men are to wear. But here comes Lord Flumm, and I am saved the bore of calling upon him.

Scene V.

Enter Lord Flumm.

Lord Flumm. Mr. Turnstile, if I do not mistake! My dear Turnstile: how glad I am to see you again! it was kind of Sir Phillip to introduce me. You know that you are near our house; and Lady Flumm will be so happy——

Turnstile. In truth, my Lord, I was about to call upon you. After what you were so good as to say last night, I took the first opportunity.

Lord Flumm. Well, that is kind. But you did not speak last night. How came that? I don't find you in the paper, yet the subject was quite your own. Tallow and bar-iron, raw materials and machinery. Ah, my dear sir! when science condescends to come among us mortals, the effects to be expected are wonderful indeed!

Turnstile. My Lord, you flatter. But we have reached your door. (Aside.) [Confound him!—But I am glad he was not in the house. It's clear he hasn't heard of the break down.]

Lord Flumm. While I have you to myself, Turnstile, remember that you dine with me on Tuesday. I am to have two friends, Lord S—— and Sir George Y——, who wish very much to be acquainted with you. Half-past seven.

Turnstile. You are very good, my lord. I dare not refuse so kind an invitation.


Scene VI.—Lady Flumm's drawing-room. Lady Flumm at the writing-table, Mrs. Fubsey at work on a sofa.

Enter Lord Flumm and Turnstile.

Lord Flumm. Lady Flumm, this is Mr. Turnstile, whom you have so long wished to know. Mr. Turnstile,—Lady Flumm.

Lady Flumm. The Mr. Turnstile. My dear sir, I am too happy to see you. We had just been speaking of your delightful book. Selina! (Calling.) [Enter Lady Selina.] This is Mr. Turnstile.

Lady Selina. Indeed!

Lady Flumm. Yes, indeed! You see he is a mortal man after all. Bring me, my love, the book you will find open on the table in the boudoir. I wish to show Mr. Turnstile the passages I have marked this morning.

Lady Selina. (Returning with the book, and running over the leaves.) "Lace made by caterpillars."—"Steam-engines with fairy fingers."—"Robe of nature."—"Sun of science."—"Faltering worshipper."—"Altar of truth."It is, indeed, delightful! The taste, the poetical imagination, are surprising. I hope, Mr. Turnstile,—indeed I am sure, that you love music?

Turnstile. Not very particularly, I must acknowledge (smiling); a barrel-organ is the instrument most in my way.

Lady Flumm. (Smiling.) Music and machinery, Mr. Turnstile. Polite literature and mathematics. You do know how to combine. Others must judge of the profounder parts of your works; but the style, and the fancy, are what I should most admire.—You dine with Lord Flumm, he tells me, on Tuesday. Now you must come to me on Thursday night.

Turnstile. I am sorry to say, that, on recollection, I ought to have apologized to Lord Flumm. The Pottery Question stands for Tuesday; and I should be there, as one of the Committee; and Thursday, your Ladyship knows, is the second reading of the Place and Pension Bill.

Lady Flumm. Oh, we are Staffordshire people! that will excuse you to the pottery folks; and, for Thursday, I will absolutely take no excuse. We have Pasta and Donzelli! perhaps a quadrille afterwards—(you dance, Mr. Turnstile?)—and Lady Sophia C—— and her cousin, Lord F——, have said so much about those beautiful passages at the end of your book, that they will be quite disappointed if I do not keep my promise to introduce them. (Touching his arm with her finger.)

Turnstile. Your Ladyship knows how to conquer: I feel that I cannot refuse.


Scene VII.Grosvenor-square; before Lord Flumm's house.

Enter Turnstile, from the house.

Turnstile. This is all very delightful; but what will they say at Shoreditch?—twice in one week absent from the House, and at two Tory parties.

Enter Griskin, hastily, heated; his hat in his left hand; a pocket-handkerchief in his right.

Griskin. Mr. Turnstile, I'm glad to find you; just called on you, as I came to this quarter to look after a customer—long way from the City—sorry not to hear from you.

Turnstile. Why, really, Mr. Griskin, I am very sorry; but I am not acquainted with the Commander-in-chief. And I must say that I should not know how to press for the contract, knowing that your nephew's prices are thirty per cent., at least, above the market.

Griskin. That's being rather nice, I should say, Mr. Turnstile. My nephew is as good a lad as ever stood in shoe-leather; and has six good wotes in Shoreditch,—and, as to myself, Mr. Turnstile, I must say that, after all I did at your election—and in such wery hot weather—I did not expect you'd be so wery particular about a small matter.—Sir, I wish you a good morning.

Turnstile. (Bowing and looking after him.) So this fellow, like the rest of them, thinks that I am to do his jobs, and to neglect my own. And this is your reformed Parliament.

Scene IX.The street, near Turnstile's house.

Enter Tripes and Smooth, meeting.

Smooth. (Taking both Tripes' hands). My dear Tripes, how d'ye do?—Pray, how is your good lady?—What a jolly party at your house last night! and Mrs. Tripes, I hope, is none the worse for it?

Tripes. Oh dear sir, no! Mrs. Tripes and my daughters were so pleased with your Scotch singing.

Smooth. And your boys, how are they?—fine, promising, active fellows.—You've heard from MacLeech?

Tripes. Just received the note as I left home.

Smooth. All is quite right, you see, your cousin has the appointment at the Cape. I knew MacLeech was just the man for the details. A ship, I find, is to sail in about three weeks; and (significantly) I don't think your cousin need be very scrupulous about freight and passage.

Tripes. You are too good, Mr. Smooth. I'm sure if anything that I can do,—my sense of all your kindness——

Smooth. I was thinking, when I saw those fine lads of yours, that another assistant to my under secretary's deputy—but (between you and me) Hume thinks that one is more than enough. We must wait a little.

Takes Tripes' arm.


Scene X.—Turnstile's parlour, 11½ a.m. Breakfast on the table; pamphlets and newspapers. In the corners of the room, books and philosophical instruments, dusty and thrown together; heaps of Parliamentary Reports lying above them. Turnstile alone, musing, and looking over some journals.

Turnstile. This headache! Impossible to sleep when one goes to bed by daylight. Experiments by Arago! Ah! a paper by Cauchy, on my own subject. But here is this cursed committee in Smithfield to be attended; and it is already past eleven. (Rising).

[Knock at the hall door.]

Enter Servant.

Servant. Mr. Tripes, sir.

Turnstile. Show him in. He comes, no doubt, to say that my election is arranged. A good, fat-headed, honest fellow.

Enter Tripes.

Well Mr. Tripes, I'm glad to see you. Pray take a chair.

Tripes. We hoped to have seen you at the meeting yesterday, sir. Capital speech from Mr. Smooth. You know, of course, that Mr. Highway is a candidate; and Mr. MacLeech is talked of;—very sorry, indeed, you weren't there.

Turnstile. A transit of Venus, Mr. Tripes, is a thing that does not happen every day. Besides, my friend, Stellini from Palermo, is here; and I had promised to go with him to Greenwich.

Tripes. Almost a pity, sir, to call off your attention from such objects. But in the City we are men of business, you know,—plain, every-day people.

Turnstile. It was unlucky; but I could not help it. The committee, I hope, is by this time at work?

Tripes. It was just that, I called about. I wished to tell you myself how very sorry I am that I cannot be your chairman. But—my large family—press of business,—in short,—you must excuse me;—and, if I should be upon Mr. Smooth's committee, I don't well see how I can attend to both.

Turnstile. Smooth!—but he and I go together, you know,—at least, I understood it so.

Tripes. I'm glad to hear it; I feared there might be some mistake. And, if Mr. MacLeech comes forward,—being a fellow-townsman of Mr. Smooth, and a good deal in the Glasgow interest;—a commercial man too, Mr. Turnstile;—a practical man—Mr. Turnstile;—I am not quite sure that you can count upon Mr. Smooth's assistance;—and Government, you know, is strong.

Turnstile. Assistance, Mr. Tripes,—from Smooth!—why I came in on my own ground;—on the Independent interest.—Assistance from Smooth!—Besides,—Smooth knows very well that our second votes secured him.

Tripes. Very true, sir; but these Independent people are hard to deal with; and Mr. Highway, I assure you, hit very hard in his speech at the meeting yesterday. He talked of amateur politicians,—attention to the business of the people,—dinners with the opposite party. In short, I fear, they will say,—like the others,—that what they want is something of "a practical man," Mr. Turnstile.—I'm sorry that I must be going.—Sir, your servant.

Turnstile. (Rising and ringing.) [Enter servant.] Open the door for Mr. Tripes. [Exit Tripes.] D——d, double-faced, selfish blockhead!

Scene XI.The street, as before.

Enter Tripes, from Turnstile's house.

Tripes. (Putting on his hat.) He might have been more civil, too;—though he did count upon me for his chairman. But I'll show him that I'm not to be insulted; and if, MacLeech manages the matter well for Charles, this Mr. Philosopher Turnstile, though he thinks himself so clever, may go to the devil.



Scene I.Downing-street, after a Cabinet Meeting. Lord A.; Closewind; Shift; Smooth; and other Members of the Cabinet.

Lord A. That point being settled, gentlemen, the sooner you are at your posts the better. The King comes down to dissolve on Friday.[1] But, before we part, we had better decide about this Presidency of the Board of Manufactures. The appointment requires an able man; of rather peculiar attainments. Mr. Turnstile has been mentioned to me; and his claims I am told, are strong:—long devotion to science,—great expense and loss of time for public objects,—high reputation, and weight of opinion, as a man of science.

Smooth. I believe that he has left science; at least, he wishes it to be so considered. He is my colleague at Shoreditch; and, of course, I wish to support him;—but,—when business is to be done;—and men,—and things, to be brought together,—I own,—I doubt—whether a more practical man,—might not——

Shift. And that poor Turnstile certainly is not He must always have a reason;— nothing but the quod erat demonstrandum; a romancer; if you have anything to do, his first object is to do it well. I am quite sure he will not answer our purpose.

Closewind. He talks too much about consistency; and on party questions, you are never sure of him: last week he did not divide with us, on either night.

Lord A. Well; I am quite indifferent I did hear of his being at Lord Flumm's; and after what had just passed in the Lords, a personal friend of mine would, perhaps, have kept away from that quarter. Is there no other person?

Smooth. (Hesitatingly.) Davies Gilbert.

Shift. (Laughing.) Pooh! Pooh! Poor Gilbert! No, that will never do.

Smooth. Or—Warburton?

Shift. (Sneering.) Worse and worse!— if ever there was an impracticable——

Closewind. But we don't know that Turnstile is sure of his seat. Smooth, hasn't MacLeech been talked of for Shoreditch?

Smooth. He's certain of succeeding! The independent gentlemen don't quite like Turnstile—they wish for Highway—and the split will foil them both. MacLeech—now that he has been mentioned—I must acknowledge, does seem to me to be the very man for the manufactures,—a practical, persevering man of business,—never absent from the House,—excellent Scotch connections,—a cousin of the Duke of Y.'s——.

Lord A. That is a good point, certainly. An appointment given there would be candid and liberal;—it might conciliate——

Closewind. A very civil, excellent fellow, too. MacLeech, I should say, is the man.

Shift. I quite agree with you.

Smooth. I confess, I think he will fill the office well. And if it is thought quite necessary that Hume's motion to reduce the salary,—though it is not large——

Closewind. Oh, no! The salary had better remain;—2000l. is not too much. Besides, the principle of giving way is bad.

Lord A. Well, gentlemen, let it be so. Smooth, you will let MacLeech know that he has the office.

Smooth. And at the present salary?

Lord A. Agreed.


Scene IV.The Athenæum Club. Smooth and Atall at a table.

Smooth. I saw it this morning on the breakfast-table at Lord A's; it is an admirable article, and I was told is yours.

Atall. (Decliningly.) These things, you know, are always supposed to be anonymous. But I am not sorry that you liked the paper. Did his lordship speak of it?

Smooth. The book was open at the article upon the table. It does you honour. Hits just the happy point,—hints probable intentions, without giving any pledge,—enough to please the Liberals,—and full room for explanation, if any change becomes expedient. The true plan, believe me, for a ministry, in times like these, is to proceed en tâtonnant.—Pray, Mr. Dean, how is the Bishop of Hereford?

Atall. I didn't know that he was particularly ill. He has long been feeble.

Smooth. These complainers do sometimes hold out. But they cannot last for ever.—We meet I hope to-morrow at the levee. You ought to be there.

Atall. I have come to town for the purpose; having secured, I think, Closewind's election at Cambridge.

Smooth. Well done, my very good friend! Men of talent should always pull together. Sorry that I must go; but we meet to-morrow. (Shaking hands very cordially.)


Scene VI.—Byeways' lodgings. Byeways alone, writing. Enter Turnstile.

Turnstile. My dear Byeways; I want your assistance. Deserted by those shabby dogs the Radicals, and tricked, I fear, by the Whigs, I find I have no chance of a decent show of numbers at the next election, if my scientific friends do not support me with spirit. Even so, it can be only an honourable retreat. I count upon you,—you understand the world;—and as soon as we can muster a committee, you must be my chairman.

Byeways. My good friend, don't be in a hurry; sit down and tell me all about it. I know you don't care much about your seat,—and after all,—it is,—to you, a waste of time;— but, with the Independents at your back, you are secure. As to me, my dear fellow, you know that I am——

Turnstile. But man! the Independents, as you call them, have taken up Highway; he blusters, and goes any length.

Byeways. But Smooth, you know, is strong in Shoreditch,—Government interest,—you brought him in last time; and you and he, together——

Turnstile. I know it; but he says he is not strong enough to run any risk. If you will be my chairman, with a good committee, we may at least die game.

Byeways. My dear Turnstile, you know how glad I always am to serve you—and you know what I think;—but in my situation, my dear fellow, it is quite impossible that I can oppose the ministers. MacLeech too, they say, is a candidate; and his brother-in-law's uncle was very civil, last year, in Scotland, to my wife's cousin.—But I have a plan for you. There is Atall, just come to town; make him your chief, and bring the Cambridge men together. The clergy were always strong in Shoreditch. Atall can speak to them.—I am obliged to go to the War Office.—And you had better lose no time in seeing Atall. Sorry to bid you good-bye.


Turnstile. Well, this is strange! yet I thought I might have counted upon Byeways.


Scene VIII.—Lady Flumm's Drawing-room. Lady Flumm; Lady Selina; Hon. Mrs. Fubsey.

Mrs. Fubsey. But, my dear sister; how can you so beflatter that poor man? You don't know all the mischief you may do to him.

Lady Flumm. "Poor man!" I cannot pity him. His maxim is, that knowledge is power; and he thinks his knowledge is all that can be known. He has to learn that our knowledge, also, is power; and that we know how to use it too.

Enter Lord Flumm.

Lord Flumm. There, Lady Selina, so much for your philosophic friend. Poor Turnstile! What a business he has made of it. Here is the "Times," with the report of the Shoreditch election meeting. Turnstile has no chance. The Scotchmen coalesce; Highway none of us can think of; and Smooth and MacLeech walk over the ground in triumph: and then, the Presidency of Manufactures, the very appointment for which poor Turnstile was fitted (and, to do the poor devil justice, he could have filled it well), is given to MacLeech, a Scotch hanger on, or distant cousin of Smooth's, and with the old salary, in spite of all that Hume could say against it.—Bravo! Reform, and the Whigs for ever!—We Tories could not have done the business in a better style.

Enter a Footman.

Footman. Mr. Turnstile, my Lady, sends up his card.

Lady Flumm. Oh, not at home! And Sleek, put a memorandum in the visiting-book, that we are "out of town," whenever Mr. Turnstile calls.

Scene XII.—Turnstile's Parlour. Night. Turnstile alone.

Turnstile. Then all is up. What a fool have I been to embark upon this sea of trouble! Two years of trifling and lost time; while others have been making discoveries and adding to their reputation. Those rascal Whigs, my blood boils to think of them. I can forgive the Shoreditch people—the greasy, vulgar, money-getting beasts;—but my friends,—the men of principle—— (Getting up and walking about.)

Is it still too late to return? (Looking round upon his books and instruments.) There you are, my old friends, whom I have treated rather ungratefully. What a scene at that cursed meeting! Highway's bullying; and the baseness of Smooth; the sleek, sly, steering of that knave MacLeech; and yet they must succeed. There's no help for it. I am fairly beaten—thrown overboard, with not a leg to stand upon; and all I have to do is to go to bed now, to sleep off this fever; and to-morrow, take leave of politics, and try to be myself once more.


Note.—The reader will doubtlessly have already discovered that "Byeways," with the other dramatis personæ of this squib, are living characters not unknown in fashionable and political circles. In a future edition, if it can be done without offence, I may perhaps be induced to present them to the public without their masks and buskins.

  1. Parliament is ordinarily dissolved by Proclamation, after having been previously prorogued. However, there is at least one modern instance to justify the historical consistency of the text, namely, that which occurred on the 10th June, 1818, when the Prince Regent, afterwards George IV., dissolved the Parliament in person. The Dramatist cannot therefore be properly accused of drawing heedlessly upon his imagination, though even had he thus far transgressed the boundaries of historical truth, Horace's maxim might have been pleaded in excuse:—

    "Pictoribus atque Poetis
    Quidlibet audendi semper fuit æqua potestas."

This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.