Mirror of Literature,  12 (1828), 24–28.

Captain Popanilla's Voyage



Abstract, Novel

Publications abstracted:

[Disraeli] 1828


Education, Publishing, Utility, Human Species, Progress, Evolution, Reading, Physics, Government, Utilitarianism, Steam-power, Lecturing, Navigation, Naturalists, Political Economy, Agriculture, Exploration, Authorship, Display, Gas Chemistry, Botany, Disease, Race, Medical Treatment, Nutrition, Medical Practitioners, Emigration

Institutions mentioned:

Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge , Select Committee on Emigration

    Popanilla, the narrator of the novel, is the native of an Indian isle called the Isle of Fantaisie. A ship being wrecked off the coast, Popanilla finds 'a chest [...] filled with "Useful Knowledge Tracts," books on "the Hamiltonian system," [a system of language learning designed by James Hamilton] &c.' He falls asleep, and when he awakes, finds that a troop of monkeys 'had taken the opportunity of his slumber to become acquainted with some of the first principles of science'. Some of the monkeys have since been seen with their tails cut off, 'passing themselves for human beings among those people who do not read novels, and are consequently unacquainted with mankind'. Popanilla reads a treatise on hydrostatics, and incessantly speculates on the cause of all incidents involving the action of water. He 'soon becomes a man of science: his wit flies off in tangents, and he tries to prove his sovereign a lantern, and himself a sun, by undertaking to re-shape all the institutions of Fantaisie'. He dogmatises about utility and 'man being a developing animal'. After offending the king he 'consoles himself for having nobody to speak to, by reading some very amusing "Conversations on Political Economy"'. He takes on many pupils, who, as soon as they have 'mastered the first principles of science' begin 'lecturing upon every lecturable topic'.

    Becoming a favourite at court, Popanilla 'is overpowered with promotion, told that "with the aid of a treatise or two," he will make "a consummate naval commander," although he has "never been at sea in the whole course of his life"'. He is sent out in a canoe, and arrives at a 'magnificent city' ['Hubbabub'—i.e. London], where, thanks to the Hamiltonian system, he is 'more loquacious than could have been Capt. Parry'. (25) He exchanges his gold for 'the banker's pink shells', and there follow 'some quips on the shell question (currency), and Mr. Secretary Perriwinkle, the most eminent conchologist', and on the national debt. Popanilla publishes an account of his three-day voyage in a quarto volume, the eminent bookseller having assured him that 'it was by no means difficult for a man to publish his travels without writing a line'. 'Then we have a shower of squibs on converzazioni—as dukes imbibing a new theory of gas [...] a field-marshal intent on essence of hellebore'. Popanilla is most delighted by 'hearing a lecture from the most eminent lawyer and statesman [i.e. Henry P Brougham] in Vraibleusia [i.e. Britain], on his first and favourite study of hydrostatics'. (26) 'In one morning's lionizing [...] he acquires "a general knowledge of the chief arts and sciences, eats three hundred sandwiches, and tastes as many bottles of sherry' (26–27). Describes 'the establishment of a "Society for the Diffusion of Fashionable Knowledge"—its first treatise, Nonchalance—dissertations "on leaving cards," "cutting friends," "on bores", &c.'.

    Popanilla becomes ill, 'like all other great foreigners who visit England', and his treatment and recovery is described. Arrested for high treason during a financial crisis, he is imprisoned in great luxury, and is daily attended by 'the most eminent physician, and the most celebrated practitioner in Hubbabub'; he is informed that 'the rest of the prisoners were treated in a manner equally indulgent'. (27) A 'public instructor, Flummery Flam, [...] ascribes all the debt and distress to "a slight overtrading," chatters about demand, supply, rent, wages, profit, and, as a temporary relief, suggests "emigration." "Flummery-Flammism triumphs, and every person, from the managers to the chalk-chewing mechanics, attends lectures on that enlightening science"' (27–28). After being acquitted, Popanilla sees the words 'Emigration Committee' on the blind of a house, and joins 'the last Emigration squadron', which is about to sail.

© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005 - 2020

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