Old and New London: Volume 4. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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Advantages of the Club System—Dr. Johnson on Club-Life—Earliest Mention of Clubbing—Club-Life in Queen Anne's Time—The "Albion" Hotel—The "King's Head" and the "World" Club—Usual Arrangements of a Club House—The "Guards'" Club—"Junior Naval and Military"—The "Army and Navy"—The "United Service"—The "Junior United Service"—The "Travellers'"—The "Oxford and Cambridge"—The "Union"—The "Athenæum"—Sam Rogers and Theodore Hook—An Anecdote of Thomas Campbell, the Poet—The "Carlton"—The "Reform"—M. Soyer as Chef de Cuisine——The Kitchen of the "Reform" Club—Thackeray at the "Reform" Club—The "Pall Mall" and "Marlborough" Clubs—Sociality of Club-Life.
As Pall Mall and the immediate neighbourhood of St. James's have been for a century the headquarters of those London clubs which have succeeded to the fashionable coffee-houses, and are frequented by the upper ranks of society, a few remarks on Club-land and Club-life will not be out of place here.
As Walker observes in his "Original," the system of clubs is one of the greatest and most important changes in the society of the present age from that of our grandfathers, when coffee-houses were in fashion. "The facilities of life have been wonderfully increased by them, whilst the expense has been greatly diminished. For a few pounds a year, advantages are to be enjoyed which no fortunes, except the most ample, can procure. … For six guineas a year, every member has the command of an excellent library, with maps; of the daily papers, London and foreign, the principal periodicals, and every material for writing, with attendance for whatever is wanted. The building is a sort of palace, and is kept with the same exactness and comfort as a private dwelling. Every member is a master without the troubles of a master. He can come when he pleases, and stay away as long as he pleases, without anything going wrong. He has the command of regular servants, without having to pay or to manage them. He can have whatever meal or refreshment he wants at all hours, and served up with the cleanliness and comfort of his own home. He orders just what he pleases, having no interest to think of but his own. In short, it is impossible to suppose a greater degree of liberty in living. To men who reside in the country and come occasionally to town, a club is particularly advantageous. They have only to take a bed-room, and they have everything else they want, in a more convenient way than by any other plan. Married men whose families are absent find in the arrangements of a club the nearest resemblance to the facilities of home; and bachelors of moderate incomes and simple habits are gainers by such institutions in a degree beyond calculation. They live much cheaper, with more ease and freedom, in far better style, and with much greater advantages as to society, than formerly. Before the establishment of clubs, no money could procure many of the enjoyments which are now within the reach of an income of three hundred a year. … Neither could the same facilities of living, nor the same opportunities of cultivating society, have been commanded twenty years since" [he wrote this in 1835] "on any terms. … In my opinion, a well-constituted club is an institution affording advantages unmixed with alloy."
In these remarks Mr. Walker draws for his experience on the club to which he belonged, the "Senior Athenæum;" and he enters into some interesting calculations as to the cost of living, if a man makes such a club his head-quarters. From the accounts of his club in 1832, it appeared that the daily average of dinners was forty-seven and a fraction, and that the dinners for the year, a little over 17,000 in number, cost on an average two shillings and ninepence three farthings, and that the average quantity of wine drunk by each diner was a small fraction over half a pint! It is to be feared that all the clubs in the West-end could not show an equally abstemious set of diners; but still, it may fearlessly be said that the majority of them exhibit a simplicity which contrasts very favourably with the old taverns and coffee-houses of fifty or sixty years ago, and the excesses to which they too often ministered occasion. And although the ladies, as a body, do not like "those clubs," because they are more or less antagonistic to early marriages, yet Mr. Walker defends them on even what may be called the matrimonial ground, asserting that "their ultimate tendency is to encourage marriage, by creating habits in accordance with those of the married state;" and he adds emphatically: "In opposition to the ladies' objections to clubs, I would suggest . . . . that they are a preparation, and not a substitute, for domestic life. Compared with the previous system of living, clubs induce habits of economy, temperance, refinement, regularity, and good order; and as men are in general not content with their condition as long as it can be improved, it is a natural step from the comforts of a club to those of matrimony, and . . . there cannot be better security for the good behaviour of a husband than that he should have been trained in one of these institutions. When ladies suppose that the luxuries and comforts of a club are likely to make men discontented with the enjoyments of domestic life, I think they wrong themselves. One of the chief attractions of a club is, that it offers an imitation of the comforts of home, but only an imitation, and one which will never supersede the reality."
The London system of clubs, grouping, as it does, around Pall Mall and St. James's, finds its outward expression in buildings that give dignity and beauty to the thoroughfare in which they stand by their architectural splendour. They afford advantages and facilities of living which no fortunes, except the most ample, could procure, to thousands of persons most eminent in the land, in every path of life, civil and military, ecclesiastical, peers spiritual and temporal, commoners, men of the learned professions, those connected with literature, science, the arts, and commerce, in all its principal branches, as well as to those who do not belong to any particular class. These are represented by the "Carlton," the "Reform," the "University," the "Athenæum," the "Union," the "United Service," the "Army and Navy," the "Travellers'," and a host of others.
The opinion of Dr. Johnson on the subject of clubs and club-life is well known to every reader of Boswell. A gentleman venturing one day to say to the learned doctor that he sometimes wondered at his condescending to attend a club, the latter replied, "Sir, the great chair of a full and pleasant town club is, perhaps, the throne of human felicity." Again, the learned doctor touches on this phase of life in the great metropolis, in the following conversation, also related by Boswell:—"Talking of a London life," he said, "the happiness of London is not to be conceived but by those who have been in it. I will venture to say, there is more learning and science within the circumference of ten miles from where we now sit, than in all the rest of the kingdom." Boswell: "The only disadvantage is the great distance at which people live from one another." Johnson: "Yes, sir; but that is occasioned by the largeness of it, which is the cause of all the other advantages." Boswell: "Sometimes I have been in the humour of wishing to retire to a desert." Johnson: "Sir, you have desert enough in Scotland."
Addison, who knew something about the coffeehouse, and what we may call the "club-life" of his day, has given us, in his own graphic style, a sketch of St. James's Coffee-house, which stood near the western end of Pall Mall. We have already spoken of him as a frequenter of "Button's" (fn. 1) in Covent Garden, and as a member of the celebrated Kit-cat Club, (fn. 2) in Shire Lane; indeed, he modestly surmised that his detractors had some colour for calling him the King of Clubs, and oracularly said that "all celebrated clubs were founded on eating and drinking, which are points where most men agree, and in which the learned and the illiterate, the dull and the airy, the philosopher and the buffoon, can all of them bear a part." But it is not every club that has avowed itself by its name or title as formed on this basis. "The Kit-Kat itself," says Addison, in illustration of the proposition quoted from him above, "is said to have taken its original from a Mutton-Pye. The Beef-Steak and October Clubs are neither of them averse to eating and drinking, if we may form a judgment of them from their respective titles."
The truth is, that two centuries ago clubs were the natural resorts of men who, though socially inclined, did not enjoy the social position, and could not, therefore, command the introductions into high circles which were accorded to Pepys or Evelyn in the seventeenth, and to Horace Walpole in the eighteenth century.
Pall Mall, if we may trust John Timbs, was noted for its tavern clubs more than two centuries since. "The first time that Pepys mentions it," writes Peter Cunningham, "is under date 26th July, 1660, where he says, 'We went to Wood's, our old house for clubbing, and there we spent till ten at night.'" The passage is curious, not only as showing how, even at that time, Pall Mall was famous for houses of entertainment, but also as the earliest instance of the use of the verb "to club" in the sense in which we now commonly use it.
Thackeray describes the club-life at the Westend, in Queen Anne's day, with his usual felicity: "It was too hard, too coarse a life, for the sensitive and sickly Pope. He was the only wit of the day . . . . who was not fat. Swift was fat; Addison was fat; Steele was fat; Gay and Thomson were preposterously fat. All that fuddling and punchdrinking, that club and coffee-house boozing, shortened the lives and enlarged the waistcoats of the men of that age." "The chief of the wits of his time, with the exception of Congreve," he writes again, "were what we should now call 'men's men.' They spent many hours of the four and-twenty, nearly a fourth part of each day, in clubs and coffee-houses, where they dined, drank, and smoked. Wit and news went by word of mouth: a journal of 1710 contained the very smallest portion of either the one or the other. The chiefs spoke; the faithful habitués sat around; strangers came to wonder and to listen. . . . The male society passed over their punch-bowls and tobacco-pipes almost as much time as ladies of that age spent over spadille and manille."
We see no trace of club-life in the gossiping writings of Horace Walpole, though so many of his personal friends—George Selwyn, for example—were devoted to its pleasures. For himself, it is scarcely uncharitable to add that he was scarcely robust enough to live in such an element.
The clubs in London in the days of the Regency belonged exclusively to the aristocratic world. In the words of Captain Gronow: "My tradesmen," as King Allen used to call the bankers and the merchants, had not then invaded White's, Boodle's, Brookes's, or Wattier's, in Bolton Street, Piccadilly; which, with the Guards', Arthur's, and Graham's, were the only clubs at the West-end of the town. "White's" was decidedly the most difficult of entry; its list of members comprised nearly all the noble names of Great Britain. Its politics were decidedly Tory. Here play was carried on to an extent which made many ravages in large fortunes, the traces of which have not disappeared at the present day. General Scott, the father-in-law of George Canning and the Duke of Portland, was known to have won at "White's" a large fortune; thanks to his notorious sobriety and knowledge of the game of whist. The general possessed a great advantage over his companions by avoiding those indulgences at the table which used to muddle other men's brains. He confined himself to dining off something like a boiled chicken, with toast and water; by such a regimen he came to the whisttable with a clear head, and possessing as he did a remarkable memory, with great coolness and judgment, he was able to boast that he had won honestly no less than £200,000.
It is traditionally said that the first modern mansion in Pall Mall which was used as a club in the present sense of the word was No. 86, now part of the War Office, and originally built for Edward Duke of York, brother of George III. It was opened as a "subscription house," and called the "Albion Hotel." This must have been towards the end of the last century.
Cyrus Redding tells us that in 1806, when he first came up from Cornwall to London, single men, of ail classes, including the best, still passed a good part of their time in coffee-houses; the great objection to which plan, he seems to think, was the bad ventilation of these places, and fatal to young men fresh from their country hills. They used to be crowded, especially in the evening, and the conversation in them was general. "The sullen club-house, united with the rus in urbe dwelling, and the out-of-town life, not further off than the suburbs, have diminished sociality, and changed the aspect of town intercourse."He means to add, no doubt, "for the worse;" and possibly the accusation may be true.
Spence tells us in his "Anecdotes" that there
was a club held at the "King's Head" in Pall
Mall, which arrogantly styled itself "The World."
Among its members was Lord Stanhope, afterwards Earl of Chesterfield. "Epigrams were proposed to be written on the glasses by each member
after dinner: once, when Dr. Young was invited
thither, the Doctor would have declined writing
because he had no diamond. Lord Stanhope lent
him his own diamond, and the Doctor at once
improvised the following:—
"Accept a miracle instead of wit:
See two dull lines with Stanhoep's pencil writ."
Dr. Johnson, as we have already seen, considered that "the full tide of human life could be seen nowhere save in the Strand;" but in fifty years after his death the centre of social London had moved somewhat further west, and Theodore Hook, in the reign of William IV., maintained that "the real London is the space between Pall Mall on the south, and Piccadilly on the north, St. James's Street on the west, and the Opera House to the east." At this period, it is to be observed that he himself lived just outside that world which he defined with such geographical precision, being then tenant of a house in Cleveland Row.
Many of the old clubs have passed away, for though some of them, or similar societies, may still exist, they live behind the scenes, instead of figuring conspicuously upon the stage of London life. Quite a new order of things has come up: from small social meetings held periodically, the clubs have become permanent establishments, luxurious in all their appointments—some of them indeed occupy buildings which are quite palatial. No longer limited to a few acquaintances familiarly known to each other, they count their numbers by hundreds, and, sleeping accommodation excepted, provide for them abundantly all the comforts and luxuries of an aristocratic home and admirably-regulated ménage, without any of the trouble inseparable from a private household, unless it be one whose management is, as in a clubhouse, confided to responsible superintendents. Each member of a club is expected to leave his private address with the secretary; but this, of course, remains unknown to the outside world, and considerable advantage frequently results from the arrangement, inasmuch as it was some years ago determined by a County Court judge, who before his elevation to the bench had been sadly annoyed by such visitants, that the interior of a club was inviolable by the bearers of writs, summonses, orders, executions, and the like. Besides those staple features, news-room and coffee-room, the usual accommodation of a club-house comprises library and writing-room, evening or drawing-room, and card-room, billiard and smoking rooms, and even baths and dressing-rooms; also a "house dining-room," committee-room, and other apartments, all appropriately fitted up according to their respective purposes, and supplied with almost every imaginable convenience. In addition to the provision thus amply made for both intellectual and other recreation, there is another important and tasteful department of the establishment—namely, the cuisine.
As to the management of a club household, nothing can be more complete or more economical, because all its details are conducted systematically, and therefore without the slightest confusion or bustle. Every one has his proper post and definite duties, and what contributes to his discharging them as he ought is that he has no time to be idle. The following is the scheme of government adopted:—At the head of affairs is the committee of management, who are generally appointed from among the members, and hold office for a certain time, during which they constitute a board of control, from whom all orders emanate, and to whom all complaints are made and irregularities reported. They superintend all matters of expenditure and the accounts, which latter are duly audited every year by others, who officiate as auditors. The committee further appoint the several officers and servants, also the several tradespeople. The full complement of a club-house establishment consists of secretary and librarian, steward, and housekeeper; to these principal officials succeed hall-porter, groom of the chambers, outler, under butler; then, in the kitchen department, clerk of the kitchen, chef, cooks, kitchenmaids, &c.; lastly, attendants, or footmen, and female servants, of both which classes the number is greater or less, according to the scale of the household. It may be added that most of the clubs distribute their broken viands to the poor of the surrounding parishes.
So far as the general arrangement of the clubhouses is concerned, one description may serve for the whole, as there is little difference between the majority of them. The kitchen, cellars, storerooms, servants' hall, &c, are situated in the basement of the building. On the ground floor the principal hall is usually entered immediately from the street; in other instances it is preceded by an outer vestibule of smaller dimensions and far more simple architectural character. At a desk near the entrance is stationed the hall-porter, whose office it is to receive and keep an account of all messages, cards, letters, &c., and to take charge of the box into which the members put letters to be delivered to the postman. The two chief apartments on this floor usually are the morningroom and coffee-room, the first of which is the place of general rendezvous in the early part of the day, and for reading the newspapers. In some club-houses there is also what is called the "strangers' coffee-room," into which members can introduce their friends as occasional visitors. The "house dining-room" is generally on this floor. Here, although the habitués of the club take their meals in the coffee-room, some of the members occasionally—perhaps about once a month—make up a set dinner-party, for which they previously put down their names, the day and number of guests being fixed: these, in club parlance, are styled "house dinners." Ascending to the upper or principal floor, we find there the evening or drawing room, and card-room; the library, the writing-room. So far as embellishment or architectural effect is concerned, the first mentioned of these rooms is generally the principal apartment in the building. The writing-room is a very great accommodation to members, for many gentlemen write their letters at, and date them from, their club. Upon this floor is generally the committee-room, and likewise the secretary's office. The next, or uppermost floor—which, however, in most cases does not show itself externally, it being concealed in the roof—is appropriated partly to the billiard and smoking rooms, and partly to servants' dormitories, the divisions being kept distinct from each other. Being quite apart from the other public rooms, those for billiards, &c., make no pretensions to outward appearance.
The Guards' Club, which is restricted to the officers of Her Majesty's Household Troops, is the oldest club now extant, having been established in 1813. It was formerly housed in St. James's Street, next to "Crockford's." The present clubhouse, however, was erected only as far back as 1848; it was built from the designs of Mr. Henry Harrison, and is said to be "remarkable for its compactness and convenience, although its size and external appearance indicate no more than a private house. As Captain Gronow tells us in his "Anecdotes and Reminiscences," it was established for the three regiments of Foot Guards, and was conducted on a military system. Billiards and low whist were the only games indulged in. The dinner was, perhaps, better than at most clubs, and considerably cheaper.
Close by the Guards' Club, and adjoining the grounds of Marlborough House, is the new building belonging to the Junior Naval and Military Club, which was erected in 1875. The edifice is six storeys high. It is built of Portland stone; the base and columns of the entrance are of polished Aberdeen granite, and over the doorway at each side are two life-sized recumbent female figures supporting shields bearing medallions of Nelson and Wellington; whilst over the centre of the doorway is a huge lion's head with the head of a child betwixt its jaws. On the right side of the entrance hall, which is paved with encaustic tiles, is the smoking-room, and in the rear is a noble dining-room. The entire frontage of the first floor is occupied by the morning-room; in the rear is the billiard-room. The second floor consists of billiard and card rooms, and five bed-rooms for members, others being also on the third and fourth floors. In the rear of the fourth floor a large roof or flat has been carried out, overlooking the grounds of Marlborough House; this is paved with encaustic tiles, and during the summer it can be converted into a covered lounge for smokers.
The Army and Navy Club—or rather a part of it—covers the site of what was once Nell Gwynne's house. Pennant thus describes it: "As to Nell Gwynne, not having the honour to be on the Queen's establishment, she was obliged to keep her distance (from the Court) at her house in Pall Mall. It is the first good one on the left hand of St. James's Square, as we enter from Pall Mall. The back room on the ground floor was within memory (he wrote in 1790), entirely of looking-glass, as was said to have been the ceiling also. Over the chimney was her picture, and that of her sister was in a third room. At the period I mention this house was the property of Thomas Brand, Esq., of the Hoo, in Hertfordshire"—an ancestor, we may add, of the Lords Dacre.
This club—which bears the colloquial nickname of the "Rag and Famish," arising out of a joke in Punch—was originally held at a private mansion in St. James's Square, and the present club-house was finished in 1850, at the cost of nearly £100,000. The house is luxuriously furnished, and the smokingroom has the reputation of being one of the best in London.
The "United Service," which was established as far back as the end of the war in 1815, stands at the corner of Pall Mall and the opening into St. James's Park. This club took its rise, says the author of "London Clubs," when so many of the officers of the army and navy were thrown out of commission. Their habits, from old mess-room associations, being gregarious, and their reduced incomes no longer affording the luxuries of the camp or barrack-room on full pay, the late Lord Lynedoch, on their position being represented to him, was led to propose some such institution as a mess-room, in peace, for the benefit of his old companions in arms. A few other officers of influence in both branches of the service concurred, and the United Service Club was the result. It was first established at the corner of Charles Street, Waterloo Place, where the junior establishment of the same name now stands; but the funds soon becoming large, and the number of candidates for admission rapidly increasing, the present large and classic edifice was erected. The building, which is devoid of much architectural embellishment—the decorations being simple almost to severity—was erected from the designs of Mr. John Nash.
This is considered to be one of the most commodious, economical, and best managed of all the London club-houses. Among the pictures that adorn the walls of the principal rooms are Clarkson Stanfield's "Battle of Trafalgar," and the "Battle of Waterloo," by George Jones, R.A. There are also several portraits of the sovereigns of England, of the Stuart and Brunswick lines. Among them are James I., James II., Charles II., William III., and Queen Mary, original picture, by Sir Godfrey Kneller; Queen Anne, the four Georges, William IV., and Queen Victoria, by Sir Francis Grant; and an original portrait of the late Prince Consort, by J. Lucas. The members of this club consist of princes of the blood royal, and officers of the army, navy, marines, regular, militia, and Her Majesty's Indian Forces, of the rank of commander in the navy, or major in the army, in active service or retired; the lords lieutenants of counties in Great Britain and Ireland, &c., are also eligible.
The "Junior United Service," although perhaps not quite within the limits of "Club-land," standing as it does at the corner of Charles Street and Waterloo Place—may be introduced here. It was established in 1827, to provide for officers not of field rank, and also for those general officers whom the Senior Club was unable to receive. The house was rebuilt and enlarged in 1857, from the designs of Messrs. Nelson and Innes. The club accommodates fully as many members as the old club, as well as four or five hundred additional, or "supernumeraries." Many of the senior members of each club now belong to both, it having been considered a high honour, when the Junior was established, for the more distinguished individuals in the ranks of the Senior Club to be elected as honorary members, although those belonging to the new institution could not, of course, attain a similar distinction, unless of the requisite grade.
The Travellers' Club dates its existence from the year 1819. Sir Charles Barry was the architect of the club-house, which was built in the year 1831. In 1850 it had a narrow escape from destruction by fire; the damage, however, was principally confined to the billiard-room, in which it originated. This club is exceedingly select, numbering among its members the highest branches of the peerage, and the most distinguished of the lower House of Parliament. It consists of only about 700 members, but they are amongst the élite of the land; and Talleyrand, with some of the most eminent representatives of foreign powers, have been enrolled in the list of its honorary members. When ambassador to this country from the French Court, the veteran diplomatist was wont to pass his leisure hours at this favourite retreat in Pall Mall, and, we are told, "steered his way as triumphantly through all the mazes of whist and écarté, as he had done amid the intricacies of the thirteen different forms of government, each of which he had sworn to observe."
The "Oxford and Cambridge," in Pall Mall, midway on the "sweet shady side," and the "United University," at the corner of Suffolk Street, in Pall Mall East, may both be mentioned together as being restricted to University men, and, indeed, to such only as are members of Oxford or Cambridge. The former is a handsome structure, and was built from the joint designs of Mr. Sidney Smirke and his brother, Sir Robert. In panels over the upper windows, seven in number, are a series of bas-reliefs, executed by Mr. Nicholl, who was also employed on those of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. The subject of that at the east end of the building is Homer; then follow Bacon and Shakespeare. The centre panel contains a group of Apollo and the Muses, with Minerva on his right hand, and a female, personifying the fountain Hippocrene, on his left. The three remaining panels represent Milton, Newton, and Virgil. The "Oxford and Cambridge," which is the more recent of the two in its origin—having been established in 1830, whereas the "University" dates from 1822—consists chiefly of the younger spirits of the universities, and is less "donnish." The other is, for the most part, composed of the old and graver members. The serious members of Parliament who have received university education are almost invariably to be found in the latter. It also contains a considerable number of the judges, and no small portion of the beneficed and dignified clergy.
The "Union," at the corner of Trafalgar Square and Cockspur Street, is one of the oldest of the clubs, and for many years enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most recherché of all. It was founded in 1822, and consists of politicians, and the higher order of professional and commercial men, without reference to party opinions. The club-house itself was built in 1824, from the designs of the late Sir Robert Smirke, R.A.
The "Athenæum" was established in 1824, and the club-house, built by Mr. Decimus Burton, was opened about two years later. The building showed considerable progress with regard to ornateness and finish, for it presented the then somewhat extravagant novelty of a sculptured frieze. It is surmounted by an imposing statue of Minerva, by Baily, R.A. In the interior the chief feature is the staircase. The library, as perhaps may be expected, is very extensive, consisting of several thousand volumes. A sum of £500 a year from the funds of the club was, several years ago, voted to be set apart for the purchase of new works of merit in literature and art. Above the mantelpiece is a portrait of George IV., painted by Lawrence, upon which he was engaged but a few hours previous to his decease, the last bit of colour this celebrated artist ever put upon canvas being that of the hilt and sword-knot of the girdle; thus it remains, unfinished.
The expense of building the club-house, we are told, was £35,000, and £5,000 for furnishing; the plate, linen, and glass cost £2,500; library, £4,000; and the stock of wine in the cellar is usually worth £4,000. The yearly revenue is about £9,000. It does not admit strangers to its dining-room under any circumstances. The economical management of the club has not, however, been effected without a few sallies of humour from various quarters. In 1834 we read, "The mixture of Whigs and Radicals, savants, foreigners, dandies, authors, soldiers, sailors, lawyers, artists, doctors, and members of both Houses of Parliament, together with an exceedingly good average supply of bishops, render the mélange very agreeable, despite some two or three bores, who 'continually do dine,' and who, not satisfied with getting a 6s. dinner for 3s. 6d., 'continually do complain.'"
The "Athenæum" was founded by a number of gentlemen connected with the learned professions and higher order of the fine arts and literature; and, with the exception, perhaps, of the "United Service," it is the most select establishment of the kind in London. Previous to the year 1824, if we except the occasional festive gatherings of the Royal Society, there was no place in London where those gentlemen who were more interested in art and literature than in politics could meet together for social intercourse. To remedy this acknowledged want, a preliminary meeting was held in the February of that year, at the rooms of the Royal Society, at Somerset House, at which it was resolved to institute a literary club. Among those present were Sir Walter Scott, Sir Francis Chantrey, Richard Heber, Thomas Moore, Davis Gilbert, Mr. J. W. Croker, Sir Humphry Davy, Lord Dover, Sir Henry Halford, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Joseph Jekyll, and other well-known celebrities. It was at first called "The Society," but the name was subsequently changed to its present. Its members made their rendezvous at the Clarence Club until 1830.
For many years after its establishment, smoking was not permitted within the walls of this club. At last, however, about 1860, a concession was made, and a smoking-room added—apart, however, from the rest of the house, a part of the garden on the south front being sacrificed.
The number of ordinary members is fixed at twelve hundred. Samuel Rogers and Thomas Campbell, the poets, were among its earliest members, and Theodore Hook, too, was also one of its most popular members. Almost all the judges, bishops, and members of the Cabinet belong to it; and the committee have the privilege of electing annually, without ballot, nine persons, eminent in art, science, or literature. It is said that at the "Athenæum" the dinners fell off in number by upwards of 300 yearly after Theodore Hook disappeared from his favourite corner near the door of its coffee-room. "That is to say," observes one of his biographers, "there must have been some dozens of gentlemen who chose to dine there once or twice every week of the season, merely for the chance of his being there, and allowing them to draw their chairs to his little table in the course of the evening. … The corner alluded to will, we suppose, long retain the name which it derived from him, "Temperance Corner.'" It may be added, by way of explanation, that when Hook wanted brandy or whisky, he asked for it under the name of tea or lemonade, in order not to shock the grave and dignified persons who were members of the "Athenæum" in his day.
A falling-off in the number of its members being at one time anticipated, says the writer of an able article in the New Quarterly Review, a report was foolishly set abroad that "the finest thing in the world was to belong to the 'Athenæum,' and that an opportunity offered for hobnobbing with archbishops, and hearing Theodore Hook's jokes. Consequently, all the little crawlers and parasites, and gentility-hunters, from all corners of London, set out upon the creep; and they crept in at the windows, and they crept down the area steps, and they crept in, unseen, at the doors, and they crept in under bishops' sleeves, and they crept in in peers' pockets, and they were blown in by the winds of chance. The consequence has been that ninety-nine hundredths of this club are people who rather seek to obtain a sort of standing by belonging to the 'Athenæum,' than to give it lustre by the talents of its members. Nine-tenths of the intellectual writers of the age would be certainly black-balled by the dunces. Notwithstanding all this, and partly on account of this, the 'Athenæum' is a capital club. The library is certainly the best club library in London, and is a great advantage to a man who writes."
As may well be supposed from its literary constituency, no modern club in London, except the Garrick, is richer than the Athenæum in anecdotes and bons mots. In the library of this club loungingchairs, writing-tables, and like conveniences are abundantly provided; and it was in some such apartment as this, probably in this identical room, where creditors pressed him, that, as we are told, "the unhappy, the defiant, the scorning, but eventually scorned and neglected Theodore Hook wrote the greater part of his novels, undisturbed by all the buzz and hum of the more fortunate butterflies around."
Mr. E. Jesse used to tell a story to the effect that Thomas Campbell, the poet, was led home one evening from the Athenæum Club by a friend. There had been a heavy storm of rain, and the kennels were full of water. Campbell fell into one of them at the steps of the club, and pulled his friend after him, who exclaimed, in allusion to a well-known line of the poet's, "It is not Iser rolling rapidly, but Weser."
The "Athenæum" has reckoned among its members at least half of the illustrious names of the last half century; among others, Mr. D'Israeli, Lord Granville, Lord Coleridge, Thackeray, Sir John Bowring, Sir Roderick Murchison, Sir Benjamin Brodie, Sir Charles Wheatstone, Dr. Hooker, Sir Henry Holland, George Grote; Professors Sedgwick, Darwin, Tyndal, Huxley, Willis, Owen, Phillips, Maurice, and Conington; Lord Lytton, Macaulay, Bishop Thirlwall, Charles Dickens, Dean Stanley, Lord Shaftesbury, Bishop Wilberforce, Lord Romilly, Ruskin, Maclise, Serjeant Kinglake, Dean Milman, Lord Mayo, and Sir Edwin Landseer. The first secretary was no less eminent a person than Professor Faraday, but he retained the post only for a year.
In 1832—during the exciting era which culminated in the passing of the First Reform Bill—the friends of the Constitution, somewhat alarmed perhaps at the "sweeping measures" which were supposed to be about to follow, founded the "Carlton," bestowing upon it this name from the terrace where the club was originally held. In the April of the above year we find the following entry in Mr. Raikes's "Journal:"—"A new Tory club has just been formed, for which Lord Kensington's house in Carlton Gardens has been taken. … The object is to have a counterbalancing meeting to 'Brooks's,' which is purely a Whig réunion; 'White's,' which was formerly devoted to the other side, being now of no colour, and frequented indiscriminately by all (parties)."
The club-house, built from the designs of Mr. Sydney Smirke and his brother, Sir Robert, was finished about 1856. It bears upon its exterior a degree of richness almost unprecedented in the metropolitan architecture. The façade in Pall Mall is upwards of 130 feet in length, with nine windows on a floor; between each of the windows are columns of highly polished red Peterhead granite. The design is said to be founded on the east front of the Library of St. Mark's at Venice.
The Carlton is the head-quarters of Conservative, as the Reform Club is of Liberal politics. The Conservative Club in St. James's Street was started for the reception of the Tory rank and file, but in Pall Mall congregate the leading men of the party. Here are concerted the great political "moves" which are to upset a Whig or Liberal Administration; here the grand mysterious tactics of a general election are determined upon, and here are the vast sums subscribed which are to put the whole forces of the party in motion in the country boroughs. This club still retains its original name, though removed from the lordly terrace which gave rise to it, to the "shady side of Pall Mall." Passing to what may be called the "inner life" of the club, we may state that the first head of its cuisine was a French "artist" who had lived with the Duc d'Escars, chief maître d'hôtel to Louis XVIII., and who is said to have made that famous pâté which killed his master.
The "Reform," which is situated between the "Carlton" and the "Athenæum," was built from the designs of the late Sir Charles Barry, R.A., and was for a long time considered one of the "lions" of the metropolis. The style is purely Italian, and partakes largely of the character of many of the celebrated palaces in Italy. The building is chiefly remarkable for simplicity of design, combined with grandeur of effect, as well as for the convenience and elegance of its internal arrangements. It differs from most of the other club-houses, in having two ranges of windows above the ground floor instead of a single range. The latter feature has been regarded as rendering the metropolitan club-houses eminently characteristic of their purpose, and highly favourable to architectural dignity.
On the first establishment of the "Reform" by the Liberal party, Gwydyr House, in Whitehall, was hired, and in that mansion the club was located until the present club-house was erected. This, although of severe simplicity, by the utter absence of exterior ornament, is nevertheless an imposing structure. Some critics, indeed, have compared it to an inverted chest of drawers; but the chief beauty of the Reform Club is ab intra. On entering the vestibule one is immediately struck by the splendid proportions of the hall and the elegance of the staircase, reminding one of the magnificent salles of Versailles and of the glories of the Louvre. In the upper part of the building are a certain number of "dormitories" set apart for those who pass their whole existence amid club gossip and politics—one of the peculiarities of the establishment.
The author of "The London Clubs" writes—"It is in the lower regions, where Soyer reigns supreme, that the true glories of the Reform Club consist; and here the divine art of cookery—or, as he himself styles it, gastronomy—is to be seen in all its splendour. Heliogabalus himself never gloated over such a kitchen; for steam is here introduced and made to supply the part of man. In state the great dignitary sits, and issues his inspiring orders to a body of lieutenants, each of whom has pretensions to be considered a chef in himself. 'Gardez les rôtis, les entremets sont perdus,' was never more impressively uttered by Cambacères, when tormented by Napoleon detaining him from dinner, than are the orders issued by Soyer for preparing the refection of some modern attorney; and all the energies of the vast establishment are at once called into action to obey them—steam eventually conducting the triumphs of the cook's art from the scene of its production to a recess adjoining the dining-room, where all is to disappear.
"Soyer is, indeed, the glory of the edifice—the genus loci. Peers and plebeian gourmands alike penetrate into the recesses of the kitchen to render him homage; and, conscious of his dignity,—or, at least, of his power—he receives them with all the calm assurance of the Grand Monarque himself. Louis XIV., in the plenitude of his glory, was never more impressive; and yet there is an aspect—we shall not say assumption—of modesty about the great chef, as he loved to be designated, which is positively wondrous, when we reflect that we stand in the presence of the great 'Gastronomic Regenerator'—the last of his titles, and that by which, we presume, he would wish by posterity to be known. Soyer, indeed, is a man of discrimination, and taste, and genius. He was led to conceive the idea of his immortal work, he tells us, by observing in the elegant library of an accomplished nobleman the works of Shakespeare, Milton, and Johnson, in gorgeous bindings, but wholly dust-clad and overlooked, while a book on cookery bore every indication of being daily consulted and revered. 'This is fame,' exclaimed Soyer, seizing the happy inference; and forthwith betaking himself to his chambers and to meditation, his divine work on Gastronomic Regeneration was the result."
The breakfast given by the Reform Club on the
occasion of the Queen's coronation obtained for
Soyer high commendation; and in his O'Connell
dinner, the "soufflés à la Clontarf" were considered
by gastronomes to be a rich bit of satire. The
banquet to Ibrahim Pacha, in 1846, was another
of Soyer's great successes, when "Merlans à
l'Égyptienne," "La Crême d'Égypte," and "à
l'Ibrahim Pacha," mingled with "Le Gâteau Britannique à l'Admiral (Napier)." Another famous
banquet was that given to Admiral Sir Charles
Napier, in March, 1854, as Commander of the
Baltic Fleet; and the banquet given in July, 1850,
to Viscount Palmerston, who was a popular leader
of the Reform, was, gastronomically as well as politically, a brilliant triumph. It was upon this occasion that Mr. Bernal Osborne characterised the
Palmerston policy in this quotation:—
"Warmed by the instincts of a knightly heart,
That roused at once if insult touched the realm,
He spurned each state-craft, each deceiving art,
And met his foes no visor to his helm.
This proved his worth, hereafter be our boast—
Who hated Britons, hated him the most."
The following description of the kitchen of the Reform Club is from the pen of Viscountess de Malleville, and appeared originally in the Courier de l'Europe:—"It is spacious as a ball-room, kept in the finest order, and white as a young bird. All-powerful steam, the noise of which salutes your ear as you enter, here performs a variety of offices. It diffuses an uniform heat to large rows of dishes, warms the metal plates upon which are disposed the dishes that have been called for, and that are in waiting to be sent above; it turns the spit, draws the water, carries up the coal, and moves the plate like an intelligent and indefatigable servant. Stay awhile before this octagonal apparatus, which occupies the centre of the place. Around you the water boils and the stew-pans bubble, and a little further on is a movable furnace, before which pieces of meat are converted into savoury rôtis: here are sauces and gravies, stews, broths, soups, &c. In the distance are Dutch ovens, marble mortars, lighted stoves, iced plates of metal for fish, and various compartments for vegetables, fruits, roots, and spices. After this inadequate, though prodigious, nomenclature, the reader may perhaps picture to himself a state of general confusion—a disordered assemblage, resembling that of a heap of oyster-shells. If so, he is mistaken; for, in fact, you see very little or scarcely anything of all the objects above described. The order of their arrangement is so perfect, their distribution as a whole, and in their relative bearings to one another, all are so intelligently considered, that you require the aid of a guide to direct you in exploring them, and a good deal of time to classify in your mind all your discoveries. Let all strangers who come to London for business, or pleasure, or curiosity, or for whatever cause, not fail to visit the Reform Club. In an age of utilitarianism and of the search for the comfortable like ours, there is more to be learned here than in the ruins of the Coliseum, of the Parthenon, or of Memphis."
Thackeray was a member of the Reform, the Athenæum, and Garrick Clubs—perhaps of others, but it was in those here named that his leisure was usually spent. "The afternoons of the last week of his life," writes one of his biographers, "were almost entirely passed at the Reform Club, and never had he been more genial or in such apparently happy moods. Many men sitting in the libraries and dining-rooms of these clubs have thought this week of one of the tenderest passages in his early sketches—'Brown the Younger at a Club'—in which the old uncle is represented as telling his nephew, while showing him the various rooms in the club, of those who had dropped off—whose names had appeared at the end of the club list, under the dismal head of 'members deceased,' in which (added Thackeray) 'you and I shall rank some day.'"
Among the latest additions to the batch of clubs that line Pall Mall are the "Junior Carlton" and the "Marlborough." The former, which was established in 1864, numbers about 1,500 members. It is a political club, in strict connection with the Conservative party, and designed to promote its objects; and the only persons eligible for admission are those who profess Conservative principles, and acknowledge the recognised leaders of the Conservative party. The "Marlborough"—so named in honour of the Prince of Wales—was started about 1868, and numbers among its members the Prince of Wales and several of the aristocratic patrons of the turf.
Whatever may have been the "rules and regulations" of the now defunct species of club of the last century—such as the "Essex Street," the "Literary," and others of which we have spoken in the previous volume—a wide difference exists between them and those of the present day in the matter of bacchanalian festivities. It may with truth be said that high play and high feeding are no longer the rules; in fact, clubs are to many persons even dull and unsociable. In most of the clubs of the Johnsonian period, the flow of wine or other liquor was far more abundant than that of mind, and the conversation was generally more easy and hilarious than intellectual and refined. The bottle, or else the punch-bowl, played by far too prominent a part, and sociality too frequently took the form of revelry—or, at least, what would be considered such according to our more temperate habits. Though in general the elder clubs encouraged habits of free indulgence as indispensable to good fellowship and sociality, the modern clubs, on the contrary, have done much to discourage them, as low and ungentlemanly. "Reeling home from a club" used formerly to be a common expression, whereas now inebriety, or the symptom of it, in a club-house, would bring down disgrace upon him who should be guilty of such an indiscretion.
The pleasures and comforts of clubs and clublife to the bachelor whose means and position allow of such luxuries have been often graphically and humorously described in serious and ephemeral publications for the past century and a half, but nowhere in a more amusing manner than in the "New Monthly Magazine," in 1842; and it has been wittily observed by Mrs. Gore in one of her novels that, "after all, clubs are not altogether so bad a thing for family-men; they act as conductors to the storms usually hovering in the air. There is nothing like the subordination exercised in a community of equals for reducing a fiery temper."
ST. JAMES'S STREET.—CLUB-LAND (continued).
Origin of "Brooks's Club"—Hazard-playing—St. James's Coffee-house—The "Thatched House" Tavern—An Amusing Story about Burke and Dr. Johnson—Origin of Goldsmith's Poem, "Retaliation"—The "Neapolitan Club"—The Dilettanti Society—The "Civil Service," now the "Thatched House" Club—The "Conservative"—"Arthur's"—The "Old and Young Club"—The "Cocoa Tree"—Dr. Garth and Rowe, the Poet—Familiarity of Menials—"Brooks's"—How Sheridan was elected a Member—The "Fox Club"—The "New University"—The "Junior St. James's"—The "Devonshire"—"Crockford's"—"White's"—The Proud Countess of Northumberland—Lord Montford's "important Business" with his Lawyer—Colley Cibber at "White's Club"—Lord Alvanley—A Waiter at "White's" elected M.P.—"Boodle's"—Michael Angelo Taylor and the Earl of Westmorland.
The spread and increase of our clubs are remarkable signs of the times; their uses and advantages are such as to make one wonder not only why such things were not established very much earlier than they were, but how "men about town" existed without them. "White's," "Brooks's," and "Boodle's" were the clubs of London for many years; "White's" being the oldest, and famous as a "chocolate-house" in the time of Hogarth. The origin of "Brooks's" was the "blackballing" of Messrs. Boothby and James, at "White's;" they established it as a rival, and it was at first held at "Almack's." Sir Willoughby Aston subsequently originated "Boodle's;" but these clubs were clubs of amusement, politics, and play, not the matter-offact meeting-places of general society, nor did they offer the extensive and economical advantages of breakfast, dinner, and supper, now afforded by the present race of establishments. And, connected with this subject in some degree, what a wonderful change in the state of affairs has taken place since it was the custom of the king to play "hazard" publicly at St. James's Palace, on Twelfth Night! In the Gentleman's Magazine for 1753 is the following account of the result of this annual performance for that year:—
"Saturday, Jan. 6.—In the evening his Majesty played at hazard for the benefit of the groomporter; all the Royal Family who played were winners—particularly the duke, £3,000. The most considerable losers were the Duke of Grafton, the Earl of Huntingdon, the Earls of Holderness, Ashburnham, and Hertford. Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and Prince Edward, and a select company, danced in the little drawingroom till eleven o'clock, when the Royal Family withdrew."
The custom of hazard-playing was discontinued after the accession of George III.; but it is odd, looking back scarcely a century, to find the sovereign, after attending divine service with the most solemn ceremony in the morning, doing that in the evening which, in these days, subjects men to all sorts of pains and penalties, and for the prohibition and detection of which a bill has been passed through Parliament, arming the police with the power of breaking into the houses of Her Majesty's lieges at all hours of the day and night.
It is obvious that the gradual improvement of the club-houses, together with the changes which passed over West-end society, would almost of its own accord develop the club system out of that which preceded it. There is, therefore, little need for dwelling on the subject, in the way of explanation, and so we will at once pass on up St. James's Street.
At the south-west corner of St. James's Street, next door to the corner house, and commanding the view up Pall Mall, was the "St. James's Coffeehouse," the great rendezvous of the Whig party for nearly a hundred years, beginning with the reign of Queen Anne. Its very name has become classical, and indeed immortal, by being so repeatedly mentioned in the pages of the Spectator, Tatler, &c. Thus we find, in a passage already quoted by us from the first number of the Tatler—"Foreign and domestic news you will have from the St. James's Coffee-house;" and thus Addison, in one of his papers in the Spectator (No. 403), remarks—'That I might begin as near the fountain-head [of information] as possible, I first of all called in at the St. James's, where I found the whole outward room in a buzz of politics. The speculations were but very indifferent towards the door, but grew finer as you advanced to the upper end of the room; and were so much improved by a knot of theorists who sat in the inner rooms, within the steams of the coffeepot, that I heard there the whole Spanish monarchy disposed of, and all the line of the Bourbons provided for, in less than a quarter of an hour." This house was much frequented by Swift, who here used to receive his letters from "Stella," and who tells us in his "Journal to Stella," how in 1710 he christened the infant of its keepers, a Mr. and Mrs. Elliot, and afterwards sat down to a bowl of punch along with the happy parents. Being so close to the palace it was also frequented by the officers of the household troops, who, it is said, would lounge in to listen to the learned Dr. Joseph Warton, as he sat at breakfast in one of the windows. Mr. John Timbs reminds us that, "in the first advertisement of the 'Town Eclogues' of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, they were stated to have been read over at the St. James's Coffeehouse, where they were considered by the general voice to be the productions of a lady of quality."
In 1665 there appeared a poem with the title of
"The Character of a Coffee House, wherein is
contained a description of the persons usually
frequenting it, with their discourse and humours,
as also the admirable virtues of coffee; by an Ear
and Eye Witness." It begins thus:—
"A coffee-house the learned hold,
It is a place where coffee's sold;
This derivation cannot fail us,
For where ale's vended, that's an alehouse."
It is evident from what follows that these coffeehouses soon became places of general resort—
"——of some and all conditions,
E'en vintners, surgeons, and physicians,
The blind, the deaf, the aged cripple,
Do here resort, and coffee tipple."
At the door of the St. James's Coffee-house, a globular oil-lamp, then described as "a new kind of light," was first exhibited in 1709, by its inventor, Michael Cole. To this house, in early life, the elder D'Israeli, as his son tells us, would repair to read the newspapers of the day, returning to his home at Enfield in the evening, sometimes "laden with journals."
The St. James's Coffee House continued to exist for some few years into the present century, when, its Whig friends having deserted its doors, it passed quietly away, superseded, no doubt, in a great degree, by Brooks's Club.
The "Thatched House Tavern," the name of which implies a very humble and rural origin, was probably an inn which had existed in the days when St. James's was a veritable hospital and not a palace. It stood near the bottom, on the western side of the street. When the Court settled at St. James's, it was frequented by persons of fashion, and grew gradually in importance, as did the suburb of which it formed part. We should like to have seen it in the days when the frolicsome maids of honour of the Tudor and Stuart days ran across thither from the Court to drink syllabub and carry on sly flirtations. In the absence of documents, it is impossible to trace its growth down to the days of Swift, who speaks in his "Journal to Stella," in 1711, of "having entertained our society at dinner at the Thatched House Tavern;" it was, however, a small hotel at that date, for the party were obliged to "send out for wine, the house affording none." It was possibly on account of this and other proofs of its earlier stage of existence, that even when the "Thatched House" had grown into a recognized rendezvous of wits, politicians, and men of fashion, Lord Thurlow alluded to it during one of the debates on the Regency Bill as the "ale-house." By the time of Lord Shelburne, or at all events in the days of Pitt and Fox, it had become one of the chief taverns at the West-end, and had added to its premises a large room for public meetings.
Here the Earl of Sunderland, the great Duke of Marlborough's son-in-law, having shaken off the cares of state, would dine off a chop or steak, in a quiet way, along with Lord Townshend, or his constant companion, Dr. Monsey. The tavern was for many years the head-quarters of the annual dinners or other convivial meetings of the leading clubs and literary and scientific associations. Mr. Timbs gives the following as the list of such gatherings in 1860, on the authority of the late Admiral W. H. Smyth—The Institute of Actuaries, the Catch Club, the Johnson Club, the Dilettanti Society, the Farmers', the Geographical and the Geological, the Linnæan and Literary Societies, the Navy Club, the Philosophical Club, the Club of the Royal College of Physicians, the Political Economy Club, the Royal Academy Club, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Institution Club, the Royal London Yacht Club, the Royal Naval Club, the Royal Society Club, the St. Alban's Medical Club, the St. Bartholomew's Cotemporaries, the Star Club, the Statistical Club, the Sussex Club, and the Union Society of St. James's.
The Literary Society (or Club) was limited to forty members, and its meetings in 1820 were held here. At that time Canning was a member of it; so were Sir William Scott (Lord Stowell), Sir William Grant, and Mr. J. H. Frere.
Mr. Cradock tells us in his "Memoir," that one evening he dined with the club, being introduced by Dr. Percy, and met, inter alios, Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith. "The table that day was crowded, and I sat next Mr. Burke; but as the great orator said very little, and as Mr. Richard Burke talked much, I was not aware at first who my neighbour was." He adds an amusing story which brings in both Burke and Johnson, and may therefore well bear telling here:—"One of the party near me remarked that there was an offensive smell in the room, and thought it must proceed from some dog that was under the table; but Burke, with a smile, turned to me and said, 'I rather fear it is from the beef-steak pie that is opposite us, the crust of which is made of some very bad butter which comes from my country. Just at that moment Dr. Johnson sent his plate for some of it; Burke helped him to very little, which he soon dispatched, and returned his plate for more; Burke, without thought, exclaimed, 'I am glad that you are able so well to relish this beef-steak pie.' Johnson, not at all pleased that what he ate should ever be noticed, immediately retorted, 'There is a time of life, sir, when a man requires the repairs of a table.'
"Before dinner was finished, Mr. Garrick came in, full-dressed, made many apologies for being so much later than he intended, but he had been unexpectedly detained at the House of Lords; and Lord Camden had absolutely insisted upon setting him down at the door of the hotel in his own carriage. Johnson said nothing, but looked a volume.
"During the afternoon some literary dispute arose; but Johnson sat silent, till the Dean of Derry very respectfully said, 'We all wish, sir, for your opinion on the subject.' Johnson inclined his head, and never shone more in his life than at that period. He replied, without any pomp; he was perfectly clear and explicit, full of the subject, and left nothing undetermined. There was a pause; and he was then hailed with astonishment by all the company. The evening in general passed off very pleasantly. Some talked perhaps for amusement, and others for victory. We sat very late; and the conversation that at last ensued was the direct cause of my friend Goldsmith's poem, called 'Retaliation.'"
Here, in the beginning of the present century, the "Neapolitan Club" used to dine, the Prince of Wales or the Duke of Sussex taking the chair. Beckford was frequently a guest, and so were "Beau" Brummell, Sir Sidney Smith, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and Tommy Moore, then quite a young man. Here, too, the members of the Old Royal Naval Club—not a club in the modern Westend sense, but a charitable institution for the dispensing of charity among old "salts" and their families—used to dine on the anniversary of the battle of the Nile.
At the "Thatched House Tavern" were formerly held, on Sunday evenings during the London season, the dinners of the Dilettanti Society, the portraits of whose members—many of them painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds—adorned the walls of a room which was devoted exclusively to their accommodation.
This society, composed of lovers of the fine arts,
was founded in 1734 by some gentlemen who had
travelled in Italy, and who thought that that fact,
coupled with a taste for the beautiful and for the
remains of antiquity, was a sufficient bond of union.
The members, though they have enjoyed a "name"
for a century and a half, have never had a "local
habitation." They met originally at Parsloe's, in
St. James's Street, but removed to the "Thatched
House Tavern" in 1799. By the time that the
society was thirty years old, its finances were found
to be so prosperous, that its members resolved to
send out properly-qualified persons to the East, in
order to collect information as to such antiquities
as the hands of time and of man had spared, and
to bring back their measurements, and correct
drawings and elevations. The first persons so
sent abroad were Mr. Chandler, a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, an architectural draughtsman
named Rivett, and Mr. J. Stuart, whose name will
long be remembered as the author of "The Antiquities of Athens." This noble work, published
under the auspices of the Dilettanti Society, in
instalments, had the effect of rescuing Grecian
architecture and art from the contempt into which
it had fallen, and to revive a taste for the majestic
and beautiful. This book was followed, at distant
intervals; by similar works, magnificently illustrated; among these were "Specimens of Sculpture,
Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, and Roman," published
in 1809; "The Unedited Antiquities of Attica,"
in 1817; a large treatise on "Ancient Sculpture,"
in 1835; and Professor Cockerell's elaborate work
on "The Temples of Jupiter in Ægina, and of
Bacchus at Phigaleia," published in 1860. It
was, no doubt, the interest excited by the early
meetings of the Dilettanti Society which first woke
up the Earl of Aberdeen, or, to give him Lord
"The travell'd Thane, Athenian Aberdeen,"
to write and publish his "Enquiry as to the Principles of Beauty in Grecian Architecture;" Sir William Gell to explain the Troad, Argolis, and Ithaca; whilst the Earl of Elgin, our ambassador at Constantinople, rescued from destruction and sent over to England that collection of Athenian sculpture which is known to every visitor to the British Museum as the Elgin Marbles. Among the best-known members of the Dilettanti Society, besides those above-mentioned, were Sir William Chambers, Mr. John Towneley, the Marquises of Northampton and Lansdowne, Sir Richard Westmacott, Henry Hallam, the Duke of Bedford, Mr. H. T. Hope, Sir Martin Archer Shee, Mr. Richard Payne Knight, the Earl of Holderness, Sir Bourchier Wrey, Sir Henry Englefield, and Lord Le Despencer (better known by his former name of Sir Francis Dashwood), Lord Northwick, George Selwyn, Charles James Fox, Garrick, Colman, Lord Holland, Lord Fitzwilliam, Sir William Hamilton, and the Duke of Dorset.
Mr. Peter Cunningham says that the original "Thatched House Tavern" stood on the site of the present Conservative Club, to build which it was pulled down in 1843, when it was moved to another house a few doors nearer to the gate of the palace. When he wrote, in 1850, the Dilettanti still numbered fifty members, and continued to hold their Sunday evening meetings. Horace Walpole, in 1743, had described it in one of his letters to Sir H. Mann, as "a club for which the nominal qualification is having been in Italy, and the real one, being drunk; the two chiefs," he adds, "are Lord Middlesex and Sir Francis Dashwood, who were seldom sober the whole time they were in Italy." Mr. Cunningham, however, assures us, that in the middle of the present century "the character of the club was considerably altered"—it may be hoped and believed for the better. If Horace Walpole's words are true, it could not well be for the worse.
An interesting account of the Dilettanti Society will be found in the Edinburgh Review, vol. 107. Since the demolition of their old house, the Dilettanti have held their weekly festive gatherings at Willis's Rooms, where the pictures belonging to the society now grace the walls. Their publications, however, are no longer such as those which were produced under their auspices in the last century.
The original "Thatched House Tavern" was taken down in 1814. "Beneath its front," says Mr. John Timbs, "was a range of low-built shops, including that of Rowland, the fashionable coiffeur of 'Macassar fame.' Through the tavern was a passage to the rear, where, in Catharine Wheel Alley, in the last century, lived the widow Delaney, some of whose fashionable friends then resided in Dean Street, Soho.
On the site of the new "Thatched House Tavern" was built, in 1865, the "Civil Service Club," which was modified in 1873, and changed its name to the "Thatched House Club." It is still, however, mainly recruited from the Civil Service of the Crown, including county magistrates, ex-high sheriffs, and deputy-lieutenants.
Higher up, at the corner of Little St. James's Street, stands the "Conservative Club." This was established in 1840, in order to supply accommodation for those who could not procure admission into the "Carlton." The building was erected from the designs of Messrs. Basevi and Sydney Smirke. It is at once ornate and stately in its external appearance, and the interior is well arranged, but the club is not rich in anecdote or in incident.
On the same side of the street, only two or three houses intervening, is "Arthur's Club House." This club was so named after its founder, who was also, at one time, the keeper of "White's." Dr. King, in his "Anecdotes of his Own Times," alludes to these two clubs in the following terms, which imply that they were both addicted to high play:—"If I were to write a satire against gaming, and in the middle of my work insert a panegyric on the clubs at 'Arthur's,' who would not question the good intention of the author, and who would not condemn the absurdity of such a motley piece?" Here used to meet an inner club—an imperium in imperio—called "the Old and Young Club." Lady Lepel Hervey gives a clue to its name when she laments, in a letter dated 1756, that "luxury increases. All public places are full, and 'Arthur's' is the resort of old and young, courtiers and anti-courtiers—nay, even of ministers." By way of a sneer at the wide-spread habit of presenting civic freedoms to Mr. Pitt and his colleagues in office, this same Lady Hervey writes, under date 1757, "I hear Mr. George Selwyn has proposed to the old and new clubs at 'Arthur's' to depute him to present the freedom of each club in a dice-box to the Right Hon. William Pitt, and the Right Hon. Henry Bilson Legge. I think it ought to be inserted in the newspapers."
Some of Horace Walpole's dilettante friends at Strawberry Hill once beguiled a dull and wet day by devising for this club a satirical coat of arms. The shield was devised by Walpole, Sir C. H. Williams, George Selwyn, and the Hon. R. Edgecumbe, and drawn by the last. The drawing formed a lot in the Strawberry Hall sale; and a copy of it, with an explanation of its punning or "canting" allusions to card-playing, the great end and object of the club, will be found in Chambers' "Book of Days."
"Arthur's Club" has always embraced a goodly list of members of the titled classes and the heads of the chief county families, though less aristocratic than "White's" or "Brooks's." A most painful circumstance, however, took place within it in the year 1836. To use the words of Captain Gronow's "Reminiscences," "A nobleman of the highest position and influence in society was detected in cheating at cards, and after a trial, which did not terminate in his favour, died of a broken heart."
At No. 64, on this side of the street, is the "Cocoa Tree Club." In the reign of Queen Anne there was a famous chocolate-house known as the "Cocoa Tree," a favourite sign to mark that new and fashionable beverage. Its frequenters were Tories of the strictest school. De Foe tells us in his "Journey through England," that "a Whig will no more go to the 'Cocoa Tree' . . . . than a Tory will be seen at the Coffee House of St. James's." In course of time, the "Cocoa Tree" developed into a gaming-house and a club. In its former capacity, Horace Walpole, writing in 1780, mentions an amusing anecdote connected with it:—"Within this week there has been a cast at hazard at the 'Cocoa Tree,' the difference of which amounted to an hundred and fourscore thousand pounds. Mr. O'Birne, an Irish gamester, had won £100,000 of a young Mr. Harvey, of Chigwell, just started from a midshipman into an estate by his elder brother's death. O'Birne said, 'You can never pay me.' 'I can,' said the youth; 'my estate will sell for the debt.' 'No,' said O'Birne, 'I will win ten thousand, and you shall throw for the odd ninety thousand.' They did, and Harvey won." It is to be hoped that he left the gaminghouse a wiser man thenceforth.
The anecdotes connected with the "Cocoa Tree" when it was really "the Wits' Coffee House," would fill a volume. One of them may be quoted here. Dr. Garth, who used often to appear there, was sitting one morning in the coffee-room conversing with two persons of "quality," when the poet Rowe, who was seldom very attentive to his dress and appearance, though fond of being noticed by great people, entered the door. Placing himself in a box nearly opposite to that in which the doctor sat, Rowe looked constantly round with a view to catch his eye, but not succeeding, he desired the waiter to ask him for the loan of his snuff-box, which he knew to be a very valuable one, set with diamonds, and the gift of royalty. After taking a pinch he returned it, but again asked for it so repeatedly that Garth, who knew him well, and saw through his purpose, took out a pencil and wrote on the lid two Greek characters, Φ and P, "Fie! Rowe." The poet's vanity was mortified, and he left the house.
As an instance of the familiarity that would sometimes show itself between the menials and the aristocratic visitors at these fashionable rendezvous, this anecdote may be given. A waiter named Samuel Spring having on one occasion to write to George IV., when Prince of Wales, commenced his letter as follows:—"Sam, the waiter at the Cocoa Tree, presents his compliments to the Prince of Wales," &c. His Royal Highness next day saw Sam, and after noticing the receiving of his note, and the freedom of the style, said, "Sam, this may be very well between you and me, but it will not do with the Norfolks and Arundels."
As a club, the "Cocoa Tree" did not cease to keep up its reputation for high play. Although the present establishment bearing the name dates its existence only from the year 1853, the old chocolatehouse was probably converted into a club as far back as the middle of the last century. Lord Byron was a member of this club; and so was Gibbon, the historian.
"Brooks's," pre-eminently the club-house of the Whig aristocracy, occupies No. 60 on the west side of the street. It was originally established at "Almack's," in Pall Mall, in 1764, by the Duke of Portland, Charles James Fox, and others. They afterwards removed it to St. James's Street, and the club-house, designed by Holland, was opened in 1778. The early history of this club, so long the head-quarters of the leaders of the old Whig party, is thus told in the "Percy Anecdotes:"—"When the Whigs, with Mr. Fox for their leader, commenced their long opposition to the Tory party under Pitt, they formed themselves into a club at 'Almack's,' for the joint purpose of private conference on public measures, and of social intercourse. In 1777, a Mr. Brooks built, in St. James's Street, a house for the accommodation of the club, and had the honour of conferring on it the name by which it has ever since been known. The number of members is limited to four hundred and fifty. . . . . A single black ball is sufficient to exclude. The members of the club are permitted by courtesy to belong to the club at Bath, and also to 'Miles's' and other respectable clubs, without being balloted for. The subscription is eleven guineas a year. Although, strictly speaking, an association of noblemen and gentlemen for political objects, gaming is allowed. … It was in the bosom of this club that Fox may be said to have spent the happiest hours of his life. Here, when the storm of public contention was over, would the banished spirit of true kind-heartedness return to its own home. Here, with Sheridan, Barré, Fitzpatrick, Wilkes, and other men of the same stamp, did his spirit luxuriate in its natural simplicity; and hence, after a night of revelry, he would hasten off to the shades of St. Anne's Hill, near Chertsey, and with a pocket Horace—his favourite companion—bring back his mind to contemplative tranquillity."
If we may trust Captain Gronow's "Anecdotes and Reminiscences," at "Brooks's," for nearly half a century, the play was of a more gambling character than at "White's." Faro and macao were indulged in to an extent which enabled a man to win or to lose a considerable fortune in one night. It was here that Charles James Fox, Selwyn, Lord Carlisle, Lord Robert Spencer, General Fitzpatrick, and other great Whigs won and lost hundreds of thousands, frequently remaining at the table for many hours without rising. On one occasion Lord Robert Spencer contrived to lose the last shilling of his considerable fortune given him by his brother, the Duke of Marlborough. General Fitzpatrick being much in the same condition, they agreed to raise a sum of money, in order that they might keep a faro bank. The members of the club made no objection, and ere long they carried out their design. As is generally the case, the bank was a winner, and Lord Robert bagged, as his share of the proceeds, one hundred thousand pounds. He retired, strange to say, from the fetid atmosphere of play, with the money in his pocket, and never again gambled. George Harley Drummond, of the famous banking-house at Charing Cross, played once only in his whole life at "White's" at whist, on which occasion he lost twenty thousand pounds to Brummell. This event caused him to retire from the banking-house of which he was a partner. Lord Carlisle was one of the most remarkable victims amongst the players at "Brooks's," and Charles Fox was not more fortunate, being subsequently always in pecuniary difficulties.
The membership of "Brooks's Club," in the days of Pitt and Fox, was a sort of crucial test by which the members of the Whig party of the time were distinguished. It was a passport to Holland and Devonshire House, and also to Carlton House, while the Prince of Wales was at war with his father and his ministers. Hence, on Sheridan's entrance into the House of Commons, in 1789, one of the first objects of Fox and his friends was to procure his admission inside the doors of "Brooks's." But he was, personally, most unpopular with two of the leaders of the Whig coterie, George Selwyn and Lord Bessborough, who were resolved to keep him out. As one black ball at that time excluded a candidate, the Foxites resolved to get him in by a ruse. Aided by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, the presiding genius of the Whig party, when the time for the ballot came on, they sent false messages, conveying alarming news of the illness of near relatives, to both of the dissentients. The bait took in both cases, each no doubt supposing that the other would be in his place to give the black ball; and the result was the election of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, wit, dramatist, orator, and statesman in one.
Even after he had published the first volume of his "History," Gibbon observes that his forced residence in London was sad and solitary. "The many forgot my existence when they saw me no longer at 'Brooks's,' and the few who sometimes had a thought on their friend were detained by business or pleasure; and I was proud if I could prevail on my bookseller, Elmsley, to enliven the dulness of the evening."
Unlike his proud and haughty rival Pitt, it was in the nature of Fox to unbend in social intercourse. The latter, when away from London or from his club, found his home at St. Anne's Hill, at Chertsey, where he derived amusement from his library, from his garden, from conversation, and from a variety of domestic and literary avocations.
Here, William, the fifth Duke of Devonshire, would spend his evenings, at whist or faro, whilst his Duchess, the beautiful Georgiana, was laying down the law to her political allies in the saloons of Devonshire House. At one time O'Connell was a member; but he was not at all a man after the hearts of the old English Whigs, who on one occasion, if we may believe Mr. Raikes' "Journal," had serious thoughts of expelling him.
Mr. Raikes, under date of 1832, recording the defeat of the Reform Bill in the House of Lords, and the refusal of the king to create fresh peers, writes: "'Brooks's' is full of weeping and of gnashing of teeth, so little was the Whig party prepared for this sudden catastrophe." "In the evening," he adds, "there was a most violent meeting of Whigs at 'Brooks's,' where the virulence of the speeches, and especially that of Mr. Stanley, the Irish secretary, who got on the table, showed the exasperated feelings of the party." This Mr. Stanley, it may be added, is the same individual who became afterwards the Tory premier, as the Earl of Derby.
Like "Arthur's Club," of which we have spoken above, "Brooks's" contains a sort of imperium in imperio in the "Fox Club," an association of the admirers of the statesman whose name it perpetuates. The members of the Fox Club dine together constantly during the London season. Though nearly seventy years have passed away since the death of Charles James Fox, in the upper room at Chiswick House, yet his name and memory are fresh among the sons and grandsons of his old personal and political friends. It may be asked why there is not still equally green and fresh amongst us a "Pitt Club," as once there was? Englishmen as a rule are "conservative" as well as "progressive" in their tastes and likings; but, as a matter of fact, the "Pitt Club" is particularly extinct, while that named after the great Premier's rival, Fox, still exists. Can the reason be after all that while Pitt was stern and haughty, Fox was pleasant and genial, and made friends instead of repelling them? If so, it is good to know that amiable traits of character are not soon forgotten.
A little below Bennett Street is the "New University Club," founded in 1864. The house, which is semi-Gothic in its style of architecture, reaches back into Arlington Street. It consists mainly of the younger members of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
At the corner of Bennett Street, the house No. 54 has been, since 1871, the home of the "Junior St. James's Club;" and next door, occupying part of the extensive building formerly known as "Crockford's," is the "Devonshire Club." Like its neighbour, this club is of quite recent origin (1874), but it nevertheless numbers among its members most of the élite of the Liberal party. It was at one time proposed that its name should be altered to the "Liberal," so as to place it in direct antagonism to the "Conservative," but this proposal was ultimately negatived. Whenever the club begins to build, it will probably take the site hitherto occupied by the late Duke of Buckingham's house on the south side of Pall Mall adjoining to the War Office, and at present used for some of the clerks of that department.
Lord Hartington was chosen as the first chairman of the "Devonshire Club," so called after his father. Among its trustees and members of its committee appeared the names of the Duke of Westminster, Lords Huntly, Cork, Wolverton, Kensington, and Lansdowne; Mr. Gladstone and Mr. John Bright; the Right Hons. W. F. Cogan, H. C. E. Childers, and W. P. Adam; Sir Henry James, Q.C., Mr. A. D. Hayter, Sir William Drake, and several leading members of Parliament.
"Crockford's Club-house," at which we have now arrived, was built for its founder, the late Mr. John Crockford, in 1827, by Wyatt. It was erected at a vast cost, and in the grand proportions and palatial decorations of the principal floors, "had not been surpassed in any similar building in the metropolis." On the ground floor are the entrance-hall and inner-hall opening into a grand suite of rooms of noble proportions; on the principal floor are a suite of very lofty and splendid reception-rooms, gorgeously decorated à la Grand Monarque, approached from a superb staircase, itself an architectural triumph, and a great feature of the building.
This club was founded by Mr. John Crockford, of whom we have already made mention in speaking of the shop just outside Temple Bar, where his money was made; and during the last twenty years of his life-time it was frequented by wealthy and aristocratic gentlemen. It lost its character at his death in 1844, and soon afterwards was closed. It was re-opened, after a few years' interval, as the "Naval, Military, and Civil Service Club;" it then was converted into a dining-room, called the "Wellington;" and, lastly, it was taken by a Joint-Stock Company as an auction-room.
The death of Mr. Crockford, in May, 1844, is thus mentioned in the "Journal" of Mr. T. Raikes:—"That arch-gambler Crockford is dead, and has left an immense fortune. He was originally a low fishmonger in Fish Street Hill, near the Monument, then a 'leg' at Newmarket, and keeper of 'hells' in London. He finally set up the club in St. James's Street, opposite to 'White's,' with a hazard bank, by which he won all the disposable money of the men of fashion in London, which was supposed to be near two millions."
At the time of his decease Mr. Crockford was worth £700,000, if we may trust the abovementioned authority, though he had lost as much more in mining and other speculations. His death was accelerated by anxiety about his bets on the Derby; a proof of the inconsistency of human nature, which seeks the acquisition of wealth at the risk even of life and health, without which all is valueless.
In a work entitled "Doings in London," with illustrations by Cruikshank, it is not obscurely hinted that Mr. Crockford made his fortune by keeping a "hell" in King Street, St. James's, and that the fashionable club called after his name was in reality little or no better. No doubt very high play was carried on there, and the exact limits of a house so called have never, that we know of, been strictly defined.
Many stories are told about "Crockford's," and most of them certainly not to the credit of its owner. For instance, Mr. B. Jerrold tells us that in 1847 the proprietor of "Crockford's" "was compelled to return to Prince Louis Napoleon £2,000, which a cheat had endeavoured to extort from him inside his walls." It is almost a satisfaction to read the fact which has been stated, that this same proprietor of "Crockford's" became afterwards so reduced in circumstances that in 1865 he begged money of the emperor, at whose "fleecing" he had at all events connived.
Mr. Raikes writes in his "Journal" from Paris, in 1835—"Had a letter from G——, with a detail of what is going on in London society, where the gaming at 'Crockford's,' is unparalleled. Alea quando hos animos?"
"White's Club," near the top of the street, on the east side, occupies the site of the town-house of Elizabeth, Countess of Northumberland, daughter of Theophilus, Earl of Suffolk. Here she lived in her widowhood, if we may trust Horace Walpole, whose information came from the lady's niece by marriage. She was "the last lady who kept up the ceremonious state of the old peerage. When she went out to pay visits, a footman, bareheaded, walked on each side of her coach, and a second coach with her women attended her. I think," adds Horace Walpole, "Lady Suffolk told me that her daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Somerset, never sat down before her without her leave to do so. I suppose old Duke Charles, the 'proud' Duke of Somerset, had imbibed a good quantity of his stately pride in such a school."
"White's" originally stood at the bottom of St.
James's Street, on the eastern side, nearly opposite
to where are now the Conservative and Thatched
House Clubs. Gay, in his "Trivia," thus brings
to the mind's eye the scene which in former times
might here be witnessed—in the winter, of course:—
"At 'White's' the harness'd chairman idly stands,
And swings around his waist his tingling hands."
The history of the establishment of this club is related as follows in the "Percy Anecdotes:"—"When 'Brooks's' became the head-quarters of the Foxite party, their opponents formed on the other side of the street a club which, from the name of its first steward, took the name of 'White's.' Here those measures which were to agitate Europe were submitted to the country gentlemen, whilst the spirit of resistance to the minister's power and ambition was cherished and fed at the other club. In the morning they met to organise and train their opposing forces; at night, when debate was over, each party retired, the one to 'White's,' and the other to 'Brooks's,' to talk over triumphs achieved, or to sustain disappointed hopes by new resolves and new projects."
"White's" was the great Tory club, and in the days of the Regency, when Whig and Liberal peers could almost be counted on the fingers, it embraced two-thirds, if not three-fourths, of the "upper ten thousand" among its members. Being so fashionable, it is not a matter of wonder that it should have been extremely difficult to gain entrance to it. Its doors were shut against anybody, however rich, who had made his money by mercantile industry. Its large bow window, looking down into St. James's Street, during the season, was very frequently filled by the leading dandies and beaux, who preferred lounging to politics: such as the Marquis of Worcester, the Duke of Argyll, Lord Alvanley, Lord Foley, Mr. G. Dawson Damer, Hervey Aston, "Rufus" Lloyd, &c.
Mr. Rush, the American ambassador, speaks of "White's" as the Tory Club established in the reign of Charles II., and consisting of five hundred members. He adds that it was generally so full that there was great difficulty in gaining admission; and that the place of head-waiter was said to be worth five hundred pounds a year. The club was a great place of resort among the "upper ten thousand." "Whenever I lose a friend," said George Selwyn, "I go to 'White's,' and pick up another."
This club was originally one of the head-quarters of the Tories of the old school, who here, in 1832, discussed the advisability of throwing out the first Reform Bill. But from and after that day it adopted a neutral tint, being frequented by members of both sides of the house.
The records of "White's" are said to be perfect from 1736. It may be questioned whether any entry on the books of "this famous academy" (as Swift once described it) has more interest than that which records an event in the year 1854—viz., when the leading members of the club gave a complimentary dinner to their fellow-member, the Duke of Cambridge, on his departure to take a command in the military expedition about to proceed to the East.
To this club belonged Sir Everard Fawkner, an official high in the Post Office department, who was celebrated for playing cards for high stakes, and very badly too. In allusion to his office, George Selwyn used to say, that some one who played with him was "robbing the mail."
At this club, on the last night of the year 1754, the first Lord Montfort supped and played at cards, as usual, and on leaving told the waiter to send his lawyer to wait on him the next day at eleven, as he had important business to transact. The important business was simply the work of blowing out his brains with a horse-pistol. Lady Hervey says that the sole cause of this rash act was a tœdium vitœ, quite unaccountable in a man who had enjoyed all the success of public life.
Colley Cibber, "player, poet, and manager," not only an excellent actor, but the author of a treatise on the stage, which Horace Walpole terms "inimitable," was a member of "White's Club." Davies, in his "Life of Garrick," tells us the following story about him:—"Colley, we are told, had the honour to be a member of the great club at 'White's;' and so, I suppose, might any other man who wore good clothes, and paid his money when he lost it. But on what terms did Cibber live with this society? Why, he feasted most sumptuously, as I have heard his friend Victor say, with an air of triumphant exultation, with Mr. Arthur and his wife, and gave a trifle for his dinner. After he had dined, when the club-room door was opened and the laureate was introduced, he was saluted with a loud and joyous acclamation of 'O, King Coll!' 'Come in, King Coll!' and 'Welcome, welcome, King Colley!' And this kind of gratulation Mr. Victor thought was very gracious and very honourable."
"White's Club" is more than once alluded to by Pope, as a place where high play and loose morality prevailed in his day. In one of Walpole's letters occurs the following rich bit of satire on the folly of betting, which we may imagine was here indulged in to a very large extent:—"Sept. 1st, 1750.—They have put in the papers a good story made at 'White's.' A man dropped down dead at the door, and was carried in; the club immediately made bets whether he was dead or not; and when they were going to bleed him, the wagerers for his death interposed, and said it would affect the fairness of the bet."
By common consent, as it would appear from Captain Gronow, the late Lord Alvanley was regarded as the author of the chief witticisms in the clubs after the abdication of the throne of dandyism by Brummell, who, before that time, was always quoted as the sayer of good things, as Sheridan had been some time before. Lord Alvanley had the talk of the day completely under his control, and was the arbiter of the "school for scandal" in St. James's. A bon mot attributed to him gave rise to the belief that Solomon caused the downfall and disappearance of Brummell; for on some friends of the prince of dandies observing that if he had remained in London something might have been done for him by his old associates, Alvanley replied, "He has done quite right to be off: it was Solomon's judgment."
Of "White's Club," Lord Russell tells in his "Recollections" an amusing story. "A noble lord, who owned several 'pocket boroughs' in the good old days of Eldon and Perceval, was asked by the returning officer whom he meant to nominate. Having no 'eligible' candidate at hand, he named a waiter at 'White's,' one Robert Mackreth; but as he did not happen to be sure of the Christian name of his nominee, the election was declared void. Nothing daunted, his lordship persisted in his nomination. A fresh election was therefore held, when the name of the gentleman having been ascertained, he was returned as a matter of course, and took his seat in St. Stephen's." In order to do this, he must at that time have been qualified by his patron with freehold land to the value of £300 a year! Such was the representation of England in the good old days before the first Reform Bill!
About the year 1870 this club was offered for auction, and changed hands, becoming the property of Mr. T. Percivall, of Wansford, in Northamptonshire. Since this period there has been, it is stated, a great falling off in the number of members proposed for election; and after being so many years the great resort of the dandies, it is rapidly becoming the stronghold of what may be called "fogeydom." This is supposed to be the result of the establishment of the Marlborough Club, which has special attractions for the rising young men of the day. The club nevertheless still counts a goodly number of the wealthy portion of the aristocracy among its members, including the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh.
"Boodle's" is the last of the three surviving clubs which have been identified with the names of individuals; it was so called after its first founder, of whom, however, little or nothing is known. It is still the property of his representatives, though governed by a committee. Like "White's," it has a very modest and unpretending aspect when compared with some of the lordly edifices in its neighbourhood; but it is said to be marked by most agreeable and comfortable arrangements within. It is frequented mainly by elderly country gentlemen, chosen indifferently from both of the two great political parties. Hence this club has never been identified with politics. It has been sarcastically said to be sacred to Bœotian tastes, but it has had distinguished persons on its list of members—Edward Gibbon, for instance, whose waddling gait and ugly visage convulsed with laughter not merely such fast friends as Lord and Lady Sheffield, but many of his literary friends and compeers.
Among the eccentric members of this club were the late Mr. Michael Angelo Taylor, M.P., and John, tenth Earl of Westmorland. The former was a notorious gossip and retailer of news and small talk; in fact, quite a "Paul Pry" in his way: the latter was as thin as a lath. Coming in one day, Taylor found Lord Westmorland, who had just dined off a roast fowl and a leg of mutton. "Well, my lord," said Taylor, "I can't make out where you have stowed away your dinner, for I can see no trace of your ever having dined in your lean body." "Upon my word," replied Lord Westmorland, "I have finished both, and could now go in for another helping." His lordship, slim as was his figure, was remarkable for a prodigious appetite: in fact, it is said that he thought nothing of eating up a respectable joint or a couple of fowls at a single meal.
The original name of this club was the "Savoir
vivre," and along with "Brooks's" and "White's,"
it formed a trio of nearly coeval date. In its early
years it was noted for its costly gaieties, and its
epicurism is thus commemorated in the "Heroic
Epistle to Sir William Chambers:"—
"For what is Nature? Ring her changes round,
Her three flat notes are water, plants, and ground;
Prolong the peal, yet, spite of all your chatter,
The tedious chime is still ground, plants, and water.
So, when some John his dull invention racks,
To rival Boodle's dinners, or Almack's,
Three uncouth legs of mutton shock our eyes,
Three roasted geese, three buttered apple-pies."
A variety of clubs, past and present, have not been mentioned in this or the previous chapter: these, however, will be dealt with as we come to them in our future account of St. James's Square, Piccadilly, and other parts of the West-end of "Modern Babylon."
It may be remarked, by way of a conclusion to the present chapter, that there were from the first too many aristocratic clubs and private mansions in St. James's Street to leave much room for plebeian inns and hostelries on either side of so highly respectable a thoroughfare. Still, Mr. Jacob Larwood is at the pains of reminding us, in his very amusing and entertaining "History of Signboards," that, in the seventeenth century, there was in this street an inn known as "The Poet's Head." He adds, however, "Who the poet was, it is impossible to say now; perhaps it was Dryden, since the trade's tokens represent a head crowned with bays." The "poet," as such, has not been a favourite as the sign of an inn, though we fail to see why such should be the case if there be truth in the old saying of Horace, that "no poems will last or live that proceed from the pens of waterdrinkers."