Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891


Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

The Socrates of South London

Penned upon the 18th of September, 2013

If, during the later years of the nineteenth century, you had made your way to Walworth Road and, seating yourself upon a step or perhaps a folding-stool, had observed the local citizenry going about their business, you very likely would have noticed a short, stout, very florid fellow in a cream-coloured suit and a scarlet waistcoat, taking the air with the aid of a heavy walking-stick topped with a golden knob. Indeed, so consistent were these habits and this costume that you could hardly have missed him if you visited any time within forty years. This gentleman was Mr Lucius Bumblebeigh, popularly known as “the Socrates of South London,” and was very much a fixture of this particular thoroughfare – so much so, indeed, that Kentish farmers who had met him as boys would grow up to bring their own children to the city, to “hear the Socrates pronounce on logic.”

Never a man of means, Mr Bumblebeigh was nonetheless able to maintain himself as public figure – no doubt with the assistance of bequests from admirers and through the patience and generosity of local shopkeepers and officials. Though he was not without his detractors, he was always ready with a counterargument, and was generally able to bring his critics on side through his delicately-arranged proofs. For instance, when a grocer was heard to remark that he was a nuisance and not wanted about, Mr Bumblebeigh replied “Not wanted? Why, I’ll have you know that my company is much desired by London’s brightest and best!” On being challenged upon this point, he would roll out his rhetoric. Was he not released from his duties as an advertising-writer with Salmon & Co. for being surplus to requirements? And was “surplus” not a synonym for “excess,” as any good dictionary would show? And had the finest moralists of the nation not very eloquently demonstrated that excess was the product of a life of luxury? And was luxury not a commodity which the great and good spent much time and tremendous fortune to acquire? To which his audience could only reply “Yes, Socrates” and “No, Socrates” until, having been brought to the inescapable conclusion that yes, he was much desired among the city’s elite, they would reward him with a round of applause.

Like all great philosophers, Mr Bumblebeigh had intellectual rivals who coveted his standing and his admirers. One headstrong Parisian – a student of the Collège de Montaigu – interrupted the master during an expostulation on the subject of terriers to inform him that, on the Continent, they preferred their great thinkers to be rather more slender. Without a moment’s hesitation, Bumblebeigh informed this haughty youth that, in fact, he was very often slender – for, as we all know, “slender” is but another word for “lean,” and to lean is to recline, or become recumbent – and, in an immediate and apparently effortless practical demonstration of his principles, he put his back against the four-ale bar and fell asleep. To this, the assembled crowd gave a great cheer, and, taking the challenger by the coat-collars, carried him outside and dunked him in the water-butt, where he remains to this day, clutching his lantern and calling out for an honest policeman.

While many Londoners might proudly declared that only a city as great as theirs could produce a Mr Bumblebeigh, we must recall that only a city so venal and dissolute as London could have killed him. Having sauntered for unusually long one summer’s day, he found that, owing to cancellation of bus services, he was unable to return to his regular public house in time for tea, and so was forced to drink in the Bowl of Hemlock. There, he consumed an inferior sherry, and, some nights later, died in his chambers, surrounded by his followers. His final words, to his close friend Mr Drears of Dulwich, were “Charles, we owe a farthing to the landlord of Duke of York; pray do not forget to pay the debt.” His funeral parade attracted thousands of mourners, and, in consequence of the driver becoming confused in the navigation of Elephant & Castle, lasted for nine and a half hours – a fitting tribute to the life of Southwark’s most circumlocutory flâneur.

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