Charles Babbage.

Passages from the Life of a Philosopher online

. (page 20 of 36)
Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 20 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

were informed that a committee in the liberal interest was sitting in
every town in the county, and that at the proper time the name of a fit
candidate would be announced.

My friends cordially concurring in these sentiments, unanimously
adopted the addresses, undertook to publish them in the newspapers,
to arrange their distribution, and organize committees throughout the
county. They were, of course, very anxious to know who was to be their
candidate. I told them at once that it was not to be expected that they
could succeed in their first attempt, but that such a course would
{271} assuredly secure for them in future much more attention to their
interests from their county members. With respect to a candidate, if
they could not themselves find one, these placards and advertisements
would without doubt produce one.

I may here mention that a member of the Cambridge committee in
Cockspur Street had taken rooms at the Crown and Anchor, and, in
conjunction with many other Liberals, instituted the Patriotic Fund,
for the purpose of collecting subscriptions for the support of liberal
candidates at the first elections under the Reform Bill. A very large
sum was soon subscribed.

In the broadsides and placards issued in Shropshire, I had taken care
to allude to this fund in large capitals.

I now got into the mail for London, amidst the hearty congratulations
of my Shropshire friends. During the few minutes’ rest at Northampton,
I had an opportunity of seeing a member of the Liberal committee and
of informing him of our proceedings in Shropshire, and afterwards of
conveying his report of the prospects of the contest in that town to
our friends in London.

Two or three days after every town, and almost every village in
Shropshire, was enlightened by my placards; and in the course of a few
days more, three candidates were in the field.


On my return to London I communicated with the Patriotic Fund, who sent
down 500 _l._ to support the party in Shropshire. After a short contest
the Liberal party was of course beaten; but the diversion produced the
intended effect.

* * * * *

One portion of electioneering tactics is thought to consist in the
manufacture of squibs. These should never give pain nor allude to
any personal defect or inevitable evil. They {272} ought either to
produce a broad laugh or that involuntary smile which true wit usually
provokes. They are productive of little effect except the amusement of
the supporters engaged in carrying on the contest.

My own share in elections has generally been in more serious
departments. I remember, however, a very harmless squib which I
believed equally amused both parties, and which, I was subsequently
informed, was concocted in Mr. Cavendish’s committee-room.

High mathematical knowledge is by no means a very great qualification
in a candidate for the House of Commons, nor is the absence of it any
disparagement. In the contest to which I refer, the late Mr. Goulburn
was opposed to Mr. Cavendish. The following paragraph appeared in the
‘Morning Post:’—

“The Whigs lay great stress on the academical distinction attained
by Mr. Cavendish. Mr. Goulburn, it is true, was not a candidate for
university honours; but his scientific attainments are by no means
insignificant. He has succeeded in the exact rectification of a
circular arc; and he has likewise discovered the equation of the
lunar caustic, a problem likely to prove of great value in nautical

It appears that late one evening a cab drove up in hot haste to the
office of the ‘Morning Post,’ delivered the copy as coming from Mr.
Goulburn’s committee, and at the same time ordered fifty _extra_ copies
of the ‘Post’ to be sent next morning to their committee-room.

* * * * *


During my own contest for the borough of Finsbury few incidents worth
note occurred. One day, as I was returning in an omnibus from the City,
an opportunity presented itself by which I acquired a few votes. A
gentleman at the extreme end of the omnibus being about to leave it,
asked the {273} conductor to give him change for a sovereign. Those
around expressed their opinion that he would acquire bad silver by the
exchange. On hearing this remonstrance, I thought it a good opportunity
to make a little political capital, which might perhaps be improved by
a slight delay. So I did not volunteer my services until a neighbour
of the capitalist who possessed the sovereign had offered him the loan
of a sixpence. It was quite clear that the borrower would ask for
the address of the lender, and tolerably certain that it would be in
some distant locality. So, in fact, it turned out: Richmond being the
abode of the benevolent one. Other liberal individuals offered their
services, but they only possessed half-sovereigns and half-crowns.


In the mean time I had taken from my well-loaded breast-pocket one
of my own charming addresses to my highly-cultivated and independent
constituents, and having also a bright sixpence in my hand, I
immediately offered the latter as a loan, and the former as my address
for repayment. I remarked at the same time that my committee-room on
Holborn Hill, at which I was about to alight, would be open continually
for the next five weeks. This offer was immediately accepted, and
further extensive demands were instantly made upon my pocket for other
copies of my address.

My immediate neighbour, having read its fascinating contents, applied
to me for more copies, saying that he highly agreed with my sound and
patriotic views, would at once promise me six votes, and added that
he would also immediately commence a canvass in his own district. On
arriving at my committee-room I had already acquired other supporters.
Indeed, I am pretty sure I carried the whole of my fellow-passengers
with me: for I left the omnibus amidst the hearty cheers of my
newly-acquired friends. {274}


About a year or two after this long-forgotten loan, I received a letter
from a gentleman whose name I did not recognize as being one of my too
numerous correspondents. It commenced thus:—“Sir, I am the gentleman to
whom you lent sixpence in the omnibus.” He then went on to state, in
terms too flattering for me to repeat, that he had watched the Finsbury
election with the greatest interest, and much deplored the taste of the
electors in rejecting so, &c. &c., a candidate. My friend then informed
me of an approaching vacancy in the borough of Stroud, in which town he
resided. He proceeded to give me an outline of the state of opinion,
and of the wants of the electors, and concluded by saying he was
certain that my opinions would be very favourably received. He also
assured me, if I decided on offering my services to the constituency,
that he should have great pleasure in giving me every support in his
power. In reply, I cordially thanked him for his generous offer, but
declined the proposed honour. In fact, I was not peculiarly desirous
of wasting my time for the benefit of my country. The constituency
of Finsbury had already expressed their opinion that Mr. Wakley and
Mr. Thomas Duncombe were fitter than myself to represent them in
Parliament, and in that decision I most cordially concurred.

* * * * *

During some of the early contests for the borough of Marylebone, it too
frequently occurred that ladies drove round to their various tradesmen
to canvass for their votes, threatening, in case of refusal, to
withdraw their custom. This unfeminine conduct occasionally drew upon
them unpleasant though well-deserved rebukes.


In one of those contests I took a considerable interest in favour of a
candidate whom I shall call Mr. A. Meeting {275} a very respectable
tradesman—a plumber and painter, whom I had employed in decorating
my own house—I asked him how he intended to vote. He replied that he
wished to vote for Mr. A., but that one of his customers had been to
his shop and asked him to vote for Mr. Z., threatening, in case he
declined, never to employ him again.

I inquired whether his customer’s house was larger than mine, to which
he replied that mine was twice the size of the other. I then asked
whether his customer was a younger man than myself, to this he replied,
“He is a much older man.”

I then asked him what he would do if I adopted the same line of
conduct, and insisted on his voting for my friend Mr. A. This query
was unanswerable. Of course I did not attempt to make him violate his
extorted promise.

Such conduct is disgraceful, and if of frequent occurrence would have
a tendency to introduce the vote by ballot; a mode of voting for
representatives which, in my opinion, nothing short of the strongest
necessity could justify.

The election for Finsbury gave occasion to the following _jeu
d’esprit_, which, as a specimen of the electioneering _squibs_ of the
day, I give _in extenso:_—





“_Politics and Poetry_;” _or_, “_The Decline of Science_.”



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 for the Colonies; also M.P. for Shoreditch_.

_TORIES_ (_Members of the Conservative Club_):—

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
SIR SIMON SMUGG, Knt. R. Han. Guelph. Order, _Professor of Botanism_.
ATALL, _an Episcopizing 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. {277}



SCENE I.—_Committee-room of the Conservatives, Charles-street_; LORD
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

_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. {278}

_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

_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. [_Exit._

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 {279}
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.



_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

_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

_Turnstile._ You are very good, my lord. I dare not refuse so kind an
invitation. [_Exeunt._ {280}

SCENE VI.—LADY FLUMM’S _drawing-room_. LADY FLUMM _at the
writing-table_. MRS. FUBSEY _at work on a sofa_.


_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
{281} 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

_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. [_Exit._

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

_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 {282} 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—— {283}

_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_. [_Exeunt._

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 {284} 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

_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
{285} 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. [_Exit._


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.[40]
But, before we part, we had better {286} 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.

[40] 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

Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 20 of 36)