Inns and Taverns of Old London by Henry C. Shelley
Part II: Coffee-houses of old London.
Chapter 1: Coffee-houses on 'Change and near-by
Coffee-Houses still exist in London, but it would be difficult to find one answering to the type which was so common during the last forty years of the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth. The establishment of to-day is nothing more than an eating-house of modest pretensions, frequented mostly by the labouring classes. In many cases its internal arrangements follow the old-time model, and the imitation extends to the provision of a daily newspaper or two from which customers may glean the news of the day without extra charge. Here and there, too, the coffee-house of the present perpetuates the convenience of its prototype by allowing customers' letters to be sent to its address. But the more exalted type of coffee-house has lost its identity in the club.
It is generally agreed that 1652 was the date of the opening
of the first coffee-house in London. There are, however, still earlier
the drink itself. For example, Sir Henry Blount wrote from Turkey in
1634 to the effect that the natives of that country had a
called cauphe ...in taste a little bitterish,
and that they daily entertained themselves
two or three hours
in cauphe-houses, which, in Turkey, abound more
than inns and alehouses with us. Also it will be remembered
that Evelyn, under date 1637, recorded how a Greek came to Oxford and
the first I ever saw drink coffee.
Whether the distinction of opening the first coffee-house in
London belongs to
a Mr. Bowman or to a Pasqua Rosee cannot be decided. But all
authorities are as one in locating that establishment in St. Michael's
Alley, Cornhill, and that the date was 1652. The weight of evidence
seems to be in favour of Rosee, who was servant to a Turkey merchant
named Edwards. Having acquired the coffee-drinking habit in Turkey, Mr.
Edwards was accustomed to having his servant prepare the beverage for
him in his London house, and the new drink speedily attracted a levee
of curious onlookers and tasters. Evidently the company grew too large
to be convenient, and at this juncture Mr. Edwards suggested that Rosee
should set up as a vendor of the drink. He did so, and a copy of the
prospectus he issued on the occasion still exists. It set forth at
the virtue of the Coffee Drink First publiquely
made and sold in England by Pasqua Rosee, the berry of which
was described as
a simple innocent thing but
yielding a liquor of countless merits. But Rosee was frank as to its
it will prevent drowsiness, he
and make one fit for business, if one have
occasion to watch; and therefore you are not to drink it after supper,
unless you intend to be watchful, for it will hinder sleep for three or
That Pasqua Rosee prospered amazingly in St. Michael's Alley,
the Signe of his own
Head, is the only conclusion possible from the numerous rival
establishments which were quickly set up in different parts of London.
By the end of the century it was computed that the coffee-houses of
London numbered nearly three thousand.
But there were days of tribulation to be passed through before
that measure of
success was attained. In eight years after Rosee had opened his
establishment the consumption of coffee in England had evidently
increased to a notable extent, for in 1660 the House of Commons is
found granting to Charles II for life the excise duty on coffee
other outlandish drinks. But it is a curious fact that while
the introduction of tea was accepted with equanimity by the community,
the introduction of coffee was strenuously opposed for more than a
decade. Poets and pamphleteers combined to decry the new beverage. The
rhyming author of A Cup of Coffee, or Coffee in its Colours,
published in 1663, voiced his indignation thus:
For men and Christians to turn Turks and think
To excuse the crime, because 'tis in their drink!
Pure English apes! ye might, for aught I know,
Would it but mode learn to eat spiders too.
Should any of your grandsires' ghosts appear
In your wax-candle circles, and but hear
The name of coffee so much called upon,
Then see it drank like scalding Phlegethon;
Would they not startle, think ye, all agreed
'Twas conjuration both in word and deed?
By way of climax this opponent of the new drink appealed to
the shades of Ben
Jonson and other libation-loving poets, and recalled how they, as
source of inspiration,
drank pure nectar as the Gods drink
Three years later a dramatist seems to have tried his hand at
depicting the new resort on the stage,
for Pepys tells how in October, 1666, he saw a play called The
Coffee-House. It was not a success;
ridiculous, insipid play that ever I saw in my life, was
Pepys' verdict. But there was nothing insipid about the pamphlet which,
under the title of The Character of a Coffee-House,
issued from the press seven years later. The author withheld his name,
and was wise in so doing, for his cuts and thrusts with his pen would
have brought down upon him as numerous cuts and thrusts with a more
dangerous weapon had his identity been known.
is a lay-conventicle, good-fellowship turned puritan, ill-husbandry in masquerade; whither people come, after toping all day, to purchase, at the expense of their last penny, the repute of sober companions: a rota-room, that, like Noah's ark, receives animals of every sort, from the precise diminutive band, to the hectoring cravat and cuffs in folio; a nursery for training up the smaller fry of virtuosi in confident tattling, or a cabal of kittling critics that have only learned to spit and mew; a mint of intelligence, that, to make each man his penny-worth, draws out into petty parcels what the merchant receives in bullion. He, that comes often, saves two-pence a week in Gazettes, and has his news and his coffee for the same charge, as at a three-penny ordinary they give in broth to your chop of mutton; it is an exchange where haberdashers of political smallwares meet, and mutually abuse each other, and the public, with bottomless stories, and headless notions; the rendezvous of idle pamphlets, and persons more idly employed to read them; a high court of justice, where every little fellow in a camlet cloke takes upon him to transpose affairs both in church and state, to shew reasons against acts of parliament, and condemn the decrees of general councils.
Having indulged in that trenchant generalization, this
assailant proceeded to describe a coffee-house in detail. The room
of tobacco worse than hell of brimstone; the coffee itself
had the appearance of
Pluto's diet-drink, that witches tipple
out of dead men's skulls; and the company included
silly fop and a worshipful justice, a griping rook and a grave citizen,
a worthy lawyer and an errant pickpocket, a reverend non-conformist and
a canting mountebank, all blended together to compose an oglio of
impertinence. There is a delightful sketch of one named
All-man-sir, as big a boaster as Falstaff, and a more
delicately etched portrait of the Town Wit, who is summed up as the
of society in the judgment of all wise men, but an
incomparable wit in his own. The peroration of this pamphlet, devoted
to a wholesale condemnation of the coffee-house, indulges in too frank
and unsavoury metaphors for modern re-publication.
Of course there was an answer. Pamphleteering was one of the
diversions of the age. Coffee-Houses Vindicated
was the title of the reply. The second pamphlet was not the equal of
the first in terseness or wit, but it had the advantage in argument.
The writer did not find it difficult to make out a good case for the
coffee-house. It was economical, conduced to sobriety, and provided
innocent diversion. When one had to meet a friend, a tavern was an
in an ale-house you must gorge yourself with
pot after pot, sit dully alone, or be drawn in to club for others'
reckonings. Not so at the coffee-house:
Here, for a
penny or two, you may spend two or three hours, have the shelter of a
house, the warmth of a fire, the diversion of company; and conveniency,
if you please, of taking a pipe of tobacco; and all this without any
grumbling or repining. On the score of sobriety the writer
was equally cogent. It was stupid custom which insisted that any and
every transaction should be carried out at a tavern, where continual
sipping made men unfit for business. Coffee, on the contrary, was a
drink. And the company of the coffee-house enabled its frequenter to
follow the proper study of man, mankind. The triumphant conclusion was
that a well-regulated coffee-house was
the sanctuary of
health, the nursery of temperance, the delight of frugality, an academy
of civility, and free-school of ingenuity.
But a still more serious-minded person took part in the
assault upon the
coffee-house. He was one of those amateur statesmen, who usually, as in
this case, abrogate to themselves the title of
Lover of his
Country, who have a remedy for every disease of the body
politic. In a series of proposals offered for the consideration of
Parliament, this patriot pleaded for the suppression of coffee-houses
on the ground that if less coffee were drunk there would be a larger
demand for beer, and a larger demand for beer meant the growing of more
English grain. Apart from economics, however, there were adequate
reasons for suppression. These coffee-houses have
done great mischiefs to the nation, and undone many of the King's subjects: for they, being great enemies to diligence and industry, have been the ruin of many serious and hopeful young gentlemen and tradesmen, who, before frequenting these places, were diligent students or shopkeepers, extraordinary husbands of their time as well as money; but since these houses have been set up, under pretence of good husbandry, to avoid spending above one penny or two-pence at a time, have gone to these coffee-houses; where, meeting friends, they have sat talking three or four hours; after which, a fresh acquaintance appearing, and so one after another all day long, hath begotten fresh discourse, so that frequently they have staid five or six hours together,
to the neglect of shops and studies, etc., etc.
Even yet, however, the worst had not been said. The wives of
England had to
be heard from. Hence the Women's Petition against Coffee,
which enlivens the annals of the year of grace 1674. The pernicious
drink was indicted on three counts:
It made men as unfruitful
as the deserts whence that unhappy berry is said to be brought;
its use would cause the offspring of their
dwindle into a succession of apes and pigmies;
and when a husband went out on a domestic errand he
stop by the way to drink a couple of cups of coffee.
These assaults - or, what is more probable, the abuse of the
political purposes - had an effect, for a time. The king, although
enjoying the excise from that
outlandish drink, did
issue a proclamation for the suppression of the coffee-houses, only to
cancel it almost ere the ink was dry. But later, to put a stop to that
public discussion of state affairs which was deemed sacrilege in the
seventeenth century, an order was issued forbidding coffee-houses to
keep any written or other news save such as appeared in the Gazette.
But the coffee-house as an institution was not to be put down.
pamphlets nor poems, nor petitions nor proclamations, had any effect.
It met a
felt want apparently, or made so effective
an appeal to the social spirit of seventeenth century Londoners that
its success was assured from the start. Consequently Pasqua Rosee soon
had opposition in his own immediate neighbourhood. It may be that the
Rainbow of Fleet Street was the second coffee-house to be opened in
London, or that the honour belonged elsewhere; what is to be noted is
that the establishments multiplied fast and nowhere more than in the
vicinity of the Royal Exchange. Several were to be found in Change
Alley, while in the Royal Exchange of to-day, the third building of
that name, are the headquarters of Lloyd's, which perpetuates in name
at least one of the most remarkable coffee-houses of the seventeenth
Evidence is abundant that the early coffee-houses took their
colour from the
district in which they were established. Thus it would be idle in the
main to expect a literary atmosphere among the houses which flourished
in the heart of the city. They became the resorts of men of business,
and gradually acquired a specific character from the type of business
man most frequenting them. In a way Batson's coffee-house was an
exception to the rule, inasmuch as doctors and not merchants were most
in evidence here. But the fact that it was tacitly accepted as the
physicians' resort shows how the principle acted in a general way. One
of the most constant visitors at Batson's was Sir Richard Blackmore,
that scribbling doctor who was physician to William III and then to
Queen Anne. Although his countless books were received either with
ridicule or absolute silence, he still persisted in authorship, and
finally produced an
Heroick Poem in twelve books
entitled, Prince Alfred. Lest any should
wonder how a doctor could court the muse to that extent without
neglecting his proper work, he explained in his preface that he had
written the poem
by such catches and starts, and in such
occasional uncertain hours as his profession afforded, and for the
greater part in coffee-houses, or in passing up and down the streets,
an apology which, led to his being accused of writing
rumbling of his chariot wheels. But in the main the real
literary folk of the day would have none of him. He belonged to the
city, and what had a mere city man to do with poetry? Even Dr. Johnson,
in taking note of a reply Blackmore made to his critics, chided him
in language such as Cheapside easily furnished.
Other physicians, however, resorted to Batson's coffee-house in a professional and not a poetic way. The character of its frequenters was described in a lively manner in the first number of the Connoisseur, published in January, 1754. Having devoted a few sentences to a neighbouring establishment, the writer noted that it is
but a short step to a gloomy class of mortals, not less intent on gain than the stock-jobbers: I mean the dispensers of life and death, who flock together like birds of prey watching for carcasses at Batson's. I never enter this place, but it serves as a memento mori to me. What a formidable assemblage of sable suits, and tremendous perukes! I have often met here a most intimate acquaintance, whom I have scarce known again; a sprightly young fellow, with whom I have spent many a jolly hour; but being just dubbed a graduate in physic, he has gained such an entire conquest over the risible muscles, that he hardly vouchsafes at any time to smile. I have heard him harangue, with all the oracular importance of a veteran, on the possibility of Canning's subsisting for a whole month on a few bits of bread; and he is now preparing a treatise, in which he will set forth a new and infallible method to prevent the spreading of the plague from France to England. Batson's has been reckoned the seat of solemn stupidity: yet it is not totally devoid of taste and common sense. They have among them physicians, who can cope with the most eminent lawyers or divines; and critics, who can relish the sal volatile of a witty composition, or determine how much fire is requisite to sublimate a tragedy secundum artem.
The house served a useful purpose at a time when physicians were not in the habit of increasing their knowledge by visiting the wards of the hospitals. Batson's was a consulting-house instead, not alone for patients but for the doctors themselves. In this respect, then, it differed from the generally commercial character of the coffee-houses under the shadow of the Exchange.
there was no mistaking the commercial character of a place like
Garraway's in Change Alley. The essayist just quoted is responsible for
a story to the effect that when a celebrated actor was cast for the
part of Shylock he made daily visits to the coffee-houses near the
by a frequent intercourse and conversation with
the unforeskin'd race, he might habituate himself to
their air and deportment. And the same chronicler goes on to
say that personally he was never more diverted than by a visit to
Garraway's a few days before the drawing of a lottery.
I not only could read hope, fear, and all the various passions excited by a love of gain, strongly pictured in the faces of those who came to buy; but I remarked with no less delight, the many little artifices made use of to allure adventurers, as well as the visible alterations in the looks of the sellers, according as the demand for tickets gave occasion to raise or lower their price. So deeply were the countenances of these bubble-brokers impressed with attention to the main chance, and their minds seemed so dead to all other sensations, that one might almost doubt, where money is out of the case, whether a Jewhas eyes, hands, organs, dimensions, affections, passions.
But lottery tickets were not the only things offered-for sale at Garraway's. Wine was a common article of sale there in the early days, and in the latter career of the house it became famous as an auction-room for land and house property.
Thomas Garraway was the founder of the house, the same who is credited with having been the first to retail tea in England. On the success of Pasqua Rosee he was not long, apparently, in adding coffee to his stock, and then turning his place of business into a coffee-house. The house survived till 1866, and even to its latest years kept an old-time character. A frequenter of the place says the ground-floor was furnished with cosy mahogany boxes and seats, and that the ancient practice of covering the floor with sand was maintained to the last.
Two other houses, Jonathan's and Sam's, were notorious for
with stock-jobbing. The latter, indeed, figured prominently in the
gigantic South Sea Bubble fraud. And even when that was exposed Sam's
continued to be the headquarters of all the get-rich-quick schemes of
the day. Thus in one issue of a newspaper of 1720 there were two
announcements specially designed to catch the unwary. One notice told
that a book would be opened for entering into a joint-partnership
a thing that will turn to the advantage of the concerned, and
the other was a modest proposal to raise two million pounds for buying
and improving the Fens of Lincolnshire.
Jonathan's is incidentally
described by Addison as
the general mart of stock-jobbers,
and in that amusing account of himself to which he devoted the first
number of the Spectator he explained that he
had been taken for a merchant on the exchange,
passed for a Jew in the assembly of stock-jobbers at Jonathan's.
Half a century later than these allusions the Annual
Register recorded a case tried at the Guildhall arising
out of an assault at this coffee-house. It seems that the master, Mr.
Ferres, pushed the plaintiff, one Isaac Renoux, out of his house, for
which he was fined one shilling damages on it being proved at the trial
the house had been a market, time out of mind, for
buying and selling government securities.
Such houses as John's in Birchin Lane and the Jerusalem
was situated in a court off Cornhill, were typical places of resort for
merchants trading to distant parts of the world. One of Rowlandson's
lively caricatures, that of a
Mad Dog in a Coffee-House,
is a faithful representation of the interior of one of those houses. A
bill on the wall shows how they were used for the publication of
shipping intelligence, that particular placard giving details of the
sailing of "The Cerebus" for the Brazils. In a private letter of July
30th, 1715, is an account of an exciting incident which had its origin
in the Jerusalem coffee-house. At that time England was in a state of
commotion over the Jacobite insurrection and the excitement seems to
have turned the head of a Captain Montague, who was reputed to be
civil sober man, of good principles and in good
circumstances. He had entered the Jerusalem coffee-house on the
previous day, as the letter relates, and, without any provocation,
of a sudden struck a gentleman who knew him a severe blow on the eye; immediately after; drawing his sword, ran out through the alley cross Cornhill still with it drawn; and at the South entrance of the Exchange uttered words to this effect, that he was come in the face of the Sun to proclaim James the third King of England, and that only he was heir.
Whereupon he knocked down another gentleman, who, however, had sense enough to see that the captain was out of his mind and called for assistance to secure him. It took half a dozen men to hold him in the coach which carried him to a magistrate, who promptly committed him to a mad-house.
coffee-house was situated in the same thoroughfare as John's. This was
the resort affected by Garrick on his occasional visits to the city,
and is also thought to have been the house frequented by Chatterton. In
a letter to his sister that ill-fated poet excused the haphazard nature
of his epistle he was writing her from Tom's on the plea that there was
such a noise of business and politics in the room.
He explained that his present business - the concocting of squibs,
tales and songs on the events of the day - obliged him to frequent
places of the best resort.
In view of its subsequent career no coffee-house of the city proper was of so much importance as that founded by Edward Lloyd. He first appears in the history of old London as the keeper of a coffee-house in Tower Street in 1688, but about four years later' he removed to Lombard Street in close proximity to the Exchange, and his house gradually became the recognized centre of shipbroking and marine insurance business, for which the corporation still bearing the name of Lloyd's is renowned all over the world.
Two pictures of Lloyd's as it was in the first decade of the
century are to be found in the gallery of English literature, one from
the pen of Steele, the other from that of Addison. The first is in the
form of a petition to Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq., from the customers of
the house, and begged that he would use his influence to get other
coffee-houses to adopt a custom which prevailed at Lloyd's. Great
scandal, it seems, had been caused by coffee-house orators of the
irresponsible order. Such nuisances were not tolerated at Lloyd's. The
petitioners explained - and by inference the explanation preserves a
record of the internal economy of the house - that at Lloyd's a servant
was deputed to ascend the pulpit in the room and read the news on its
while the whole audience are sipping their
respective liquors. The application of the petition lay in
the suggestion that this method should be adopted in all coffee-houses,
and that if any, one wished to orate at large on any item of the news
of the day he should be obliged to ascend the pulpit and make his
comments in a formal manner.
the pulpit at Lloyd's was a settled institution. It played a
conspicuous part in that ludicrous incident which Addison describes at
his own expense. It was his habit, he explained, to jot down from time
to time brief hints such as could be expanded into Spectator
papers, and a sheetful of such hints would naturally look like a
of nonsense to any one save the writer himself. Such a sheet
he accidentally dropped in Lloyd's one day, and before he missed it the
boy of the house had it in his hand and was carrying it around in
search of its owner. But Addison did not know that until it was too
late. Many of the customers had glanced at its contents, which had
caused them so much merriment that the boy was ordered to ascend the
pulpit and read the paper for the amusement of the company at large.
reading of this paper, continues Addison,
made the whole coffee-house very merry; some of them concluded that it was written by a madman, and others by somebody that had been taking notes out of the Spectator. One who had the appearance of a very substantial citizen told us, with several political winks and nods, that he wished there was no more in the paper than what was expressed in it: that for his part, he looked upon the dromedary, the gridiron, and the barber's pole, to signify something more than what was usually meant by those words: and that he thought the coffee-man could not do better than to carry the paper to one of the secretaries of state.
In the midst of the numerous other comments, wise and otherwise, Addison reached for the paper, pretended to look it over, shook his head twice or thrice, and then twisted it into a match and lit his pipe with it. The ruse diverted suspicion, especially as Addison applied himself to his pipe and the paper he was reading with seeming unconcern. And he consoled the readers of the Spectator with the reflection that he had already used more than half the hints on that unfortunate sheet of notes.
Since those almost idyllic days, Lloyd's has played a notable part in the life of the nation. At its headquarters in the Royal Exchange building are preserved many interesting relics of the history of the institution. From a simple coffee-house open to all and sundry, it has developed into the shipping-exchange of the world, employing 1,500 agents in all parts of the globe.
If there was a certain incongruity in the physicians having
coffee-house in the heart of the city, there was none in clerics
affecting the St. Paul's coffee-house under the shadow of the cathedral
of that name. This being the chief church of the metropolis,
notwithstanding the greater historic importance of Westminster Abbey,
it naturally became the religious centre of London so far as clergymen
were concerned. But the frequenters of this house were of a mixed type.
That historian of Batson's who was quoted in the previous chapter,
related that after leaving its dismal vicinity he was glad to
the pure air in St. Paul's coffee-house, but he was obliged
to add that as he entertained the highest veneration for the clergy he
contemplate the magnificence of the cathedral
without reflecting on the abject condition of those Somewhat late in the eighteenth
century St. Paul's coffee-house had a distinguished visitor in the
person of Benjamin Franklin, who here made the acquaintance of Richard
Price, that philosophical dissenting divine whose pamphlet on American
affairs is said to have had no inconsiderable part in determining
Americans to declare their independence. The fact that Dr. Price
frequented the St. Paul's coffee-house is sufficient proof that its
clients were not restricted to clergymen of the established church.
crapes, who are said to ply here for an occasional burial or
sermon, with the same regularity as the happier drudges who salute us
with the cry of
coach, sir, or
More miscellaneous was the patronage of Child's, another
resort in St. Paul's Church-yard. It is sometimes described as having
been a clerical house like the St. Paul's, and one reference in the
Spectator gives some support to that view. The writer told how a friend
of his from the country had expressed astonishment at seeing London so
crowded with doctors of divinity, necessitating the explanation that
not all the persons in scarfs were of that dignity, for, this authority
on London life continued,
a young divine, after his first
degree in the university, usually comes hither only to show himself;
and on that occasion, is apt to think he is but half equipped with a
gown and cassock for his public appearance, if he hath not the
additional ornament of a scarf of the first magnitude to entitle him to
the appellation of Doctor from his landlady and the boy at Child's.
There is another allusion to the house in the Spectator.
I - the writer is Addison -
smoke a pipe at
Child's, and while I seem attentive to nothing but the Postman,
overhear the conversation of every table in the room. Apart
from such decided lay patrons as Addison, Child's could also claim a
large constituency among the medical and learned men of the day.
Notwithstanding its ecclesiastical name, the Chapter
coffee-house in Paul's Alley was not a clerical resort. By the middle
of the eighteenth century it had come to be recognized as the
rendezvous of publishers and booksellers.
here, to appeal to the Connoisseur once more,
naturally turns upon the newest publications; but their criticisms are somewhat singular. When they say a good book, they do not mean to praise the style or sentiment, but the quick and extensive sale of it. That book in the phrase of the Conger is best, which sells most; and if the demand for Quarles should be greater than for Pope, he would have the highest place on the rubric-post. There are also many parts of every work liable to their remarks, which fall not within the notice of less accurate observers. A few nights ago I saw one of these gentlemen take up a sermon, and after seeming to peruse it for some time with great attention, he declared that 'it was very good English.' The reader will judge whether I was most surprised or diverted, when I discovered that he was not commending the purity and elegance of the diction, but the beauty of the type; which, it seems, is known among printers by that appellation. We must not, however, think the members of the Conger strangers to the deeper parts of literature; for as carpenters, smiths, masons, and all mechanics, smell of the trade they labour at, booksellers take a peculiar turn from their connexions with books and authors.
Could the writer of that gentle satire have looked forward about a quarter of a century he would have had knowledge on which to have based a greater eulogy of the Congers. It should be explained perhaps that Conger was the name of a club of booksellers founded in 1715 for co-operation in the issuing of expensive works. Booklovers of the present generation may often wonder at the portly folios of bygone generations, and marvel especially that they could have been produced at a profit when readers were so comparatively few. Many of those folios owed their existence to the scheme adopted by the members of the Conger, a scheme whereby several publishers shared in the production of a costly work.
a sharing of expense and profit was entered into at that meeting at the
Chapter coffee-house which led to Dr. Johnson's Lives of
the English Poets. The London booksellers of that time
were alarmed at the invasion of what they called their literary
property by a Scottish publisher who had presumed to bring out an
edition of the English poets. To counteract this move from Edinburgh
the decision was reached to print
an elegant and accurate
edition of ail the English poets of reputation, from Chaucer down to
the present time. The details were thoroughly debated at the
Chapter coffee-house, and a deputation was appointed to wait upon Dr.
Johnson, to secure his services in editing the series. Johnson accepted
seemed exceedingly pleased that it had
been offered him, and agreed to carry it through for a fee of two
hundred pounds. His moderation astonished Malone;
asked one thousand, or even fifteen hundred guineas, the booksellers,
who knew the value of his name, would doubtless have readily given it.
But writers of books as well as makers and sellers of books could be found on occasion within the portals of the Chapter coffee-house. Two memories of Goldsmith, neither of them pleasant, are associated with the house. One is concerned with his acceptance of an invitation to dinner here with Charles Lloyd, who, at the end of the meal, walked off and left his guest to pay the bill. The other incident introduces the vicious William Kenrick, that hack-writer who slandered Goldsmith without cause on so many occasions, Shortly after the publication of one of his libels in the press, Kenrick was met by Goldsmith accidentally in the Chapter and made to admit that he had lied. But no sooner had the poet left the house than the cowardly retractor began his abuse again to the company at large.
too, frequented the house in his brief days of London life.
am quite familiar at the Chapter Coffee-House, he wrote his
and know all the geniuses there. And five
years later there is this picture of the democratic character of the
resort from the shocked pen of one who had been attracted thither by
the report of its large library and select company:
Here I saw a specimen of English freedom. A whitesmith in his apron and some of his saws under his arm came in, sat down, and called for his glass of punch and the paper, both which he used with as much ease as a lord. Such a man in Ireland and, I suppose, in France too, and almost any other country, would, not have shown himself with his hat on, nor any way, unless sent for by some gentleman.
Perhaps the most interesting association of the Chapter coffee-house was that destined to come to it when its race was nearly run. On a July evening in 1548 the waiter was somewhat startled at the appearance of two simply-dressed, slight and timid-looking ladies seeking accommodation. Women guests were not common at the Chapter. But these two were strangers to London; they had never before visited the great city; and the only hostelry they knew was the Chapter they had heard their father speak about. So it was to the Chapter that Charlotte and Anne Bronté went when they visited London to clear up a difficulty with their publishers, Smith and Elder. Mrs. Gaskell describes the house as it was in those July days.
It had the appearance of a dwelling-house two hundred years old or so, such as one sometimes sees in ancient country towns; the ceilings of the small rooms were low, and had heavy beams running across them; the walls were wainscoted breast-high; the stairs were shallow, broad, and dark, taking up much space in the centre of the house. The gray-haired elderly man who officiated as waiter seems to have been touched from the very first by the quiet simplicity of the two ladies, and he tried to make them feel comfortable and at home in the long, low, dingy room upstairs. The high, narrow windows looked into the gloomy Row; the sisters, clinging together in the most remote window-seat (as Mr. Smith tells me he found them when he came that Saturday evening), could see nothing of motion or of change in the grim, dark houses opposite, so near and close, although the whole breadth of the Row was between.
If it were only for the sake of those startled sisters from the desolate Yorkshire moors one could wish that the Chapter coffee-house were still standing. But it is not. Nor are there any vestiges remaining of the St. Paul's or Child's.
the pilgrim fare better in the adjacent thoroughfare of Ludgate Hill.
Not far down that highway could once be found the London coffee-house,
which Benjamin Franklin frequented, and where that informal club for
philosophical discussions of which Dr. Priestly was the chairman held
its social meetings. The London continued in repute among American
visitors for many years. When Charles Robert Leslie, the artist,
reached London in 1811 intent on prosecuting his art studies, he tells
how he stopped for a few days
at the London Coffee-house on
Ludgate Hill, with Mr. Inskeep and other Americans.
Further west, in the yard of that Belle Sauvage inn described
in an earlier chapter, there existed in 1730 a coffee-house known as
Wills', but of which nothing gave one somewhat pathetic incident is on
record. The memory of this incident is preserved among the manuscripts
of the Duke of Portland in the form of two letters to the Earl of
Oxford. The first letter is anonymous. It was written to the earl on
February 8th, 1730, in the interests of William Oldisworth, that
unfortunate miscellaneous writer whose adherence to the Stuart cause
helped, along with a liking for tavern-life, to mar his career. This
anonymous correspondent had learnt that Oldisworth was in a starving
condition, out of clothes likewise, and labouring under many
Though no man has deserved better of his
country, yet is none more forgot. The letter also hinted at
the fact that Oldisworth would not complain, nor suffer any one to do
that office for him. But the writer was wise enough to enclose the
address of the man in whose behalf he made so adroit an appeal, that
address being Wills' coffee-house in the Belle Sauvage yard.
Edward Harley, that Earl of Oxford who preferred above all
things to surround himself with poets and men of letters, and whose
generosity helped to bring about his financial ruin, was not the man to
ignore a letter of that kind. Some assistance was speedily on its way
to Will's coffee-house, for on February 2lst Oldisworth was penning an
epistle which was to
wait in all humility on your Lordship to
return you my best thanks for the late kind and generous favour you
conferred on me. He sent the earl an ancient manuscript as
token of his gratitude, explained that he was ignorant of the one who
had written in his behalf, and for the rest was determined to keep his
present station, low as it was, with content and resignation. The
inference is that Will's coffee-house was but a lowly and inexpensive
abode and hence it is not surprising that it makes so small a showing
in the annals of old London.
At the western end
of Fleet Street the passer-by cannot fail to be attracted by the
picturesque, timbered house which faces Chancery Lane. This unique
survival of the past, which has been carefully restored within recent
years, has often been described as
Formerly the Palace of
Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey. Another legend is that the
room on the first floor was the council-chamber of the Duchy of
Cornwall under Henry, the eldest son of James I. More credible is the
statement that Nando's coffee-house was once kept under this roof. In
the days when he was a briefless barrister, Thurlow was a frequent
visitor here, attracted, it is said, as were so many more of the legal
fraternity, by the dual merits of the punch and the physical charms of
the landlady's daughter. Miss Humphries was, as a punster put it,
admired at the bar by the bar. The future Lord Chancellor had
no cause to regret his patronage of Nando's. So convincingly did he one
day prove his skill in argument that a stranger present bestirred
himself, and successfully, to have the young advocate retained in a
famous law case of the time, an apppointment which led to Thurlow's
becoming acquainted with the Duchess of Queensbury, with after
During those stirring days
Wilkes and Liberty riots caused such
intense excitement in London, one worthy merchant of the city found
Nando's a valuable place of refuge. Arrangements had been made for a
body of merchants and tradesmen of the city to wait on George III at
St. James's with a loyal address and as token of their sympathy with
the position assumed by that obstinate monarch. But on the night before
handbills had been scattered broadcast desiring all true and loyal
subjects to meet on the following day and form a procession towards the
city, taking particular care
not to interfere with the
Merchants going to St. James's The handbill had the desired
effect. The cavalcade of merchants was scattered in confusion long
before it reached Temple-bar, and isolated members of the party, few in
number, did their best to reach the royal palace' by roundabout ways.
Even so they were a sorry spectacle. For the other loyal subjects of
the king had liberally bespattered them with mud. Nor was this the most
disconcerting feature of their situation. Having reached the presence
of their sovereign it was certainly annoying that they could not
present the address which had brought them into all this trouble. But
the fact was the address was missing. It had been committed to the care
of a Mr. Boehm, and he was not present. As a matter of fact Mr. Boehm
had fled for refuge to Nando's coffee-house, leaving the precious
address under the seat of his coach. The rioters were not aware of that
fact, and it seems that the document was eventually recovered, after
his Majesty had been
kept waiting till past five.
There is a fitness in the fact that as Thurlow's name is
linked with Nando's coffee-house so Cowper's memory is associated with
the adjacent establishment known as Dick's. The poet and the lawyer had
been fellow clerks in a solicitor's office, had spent their time in
and making giggle with the daughters of Cowper's uncle, and
been boon friends in many ways. The future poet foretold the fame of
his friend, and extorted a playful promise that when he was Lord
Chancellor he would provide for his fellow clerk. The prophecy came
true, but the promise was forgotten. Thurlow did not even deign to
notice the poetical address of his old companion, nor did he
acknowledge the receipt of his first volume of verse.
great, the indignant poet wrote--
Be great, be fear'd, be envied, be admired;
To fame as lasting as the earth pretend,
But not hereafter to the name of friend!
For Thurlow the ungrateful, Nando's was associated with his first step up the ladder of success; for Cowper, Dick's was the scene of an agony that he remembered to his dying day. For it was while he was at breakfast in this coffee-house that he was seized with one of his painful delusions. A letter he read in a paper he interpreted as a satire on himself, and he threw the paper down and rushed from the room with a resolve either to find some house in which to die or some ditch where he could poison himself unseen.
has already been made to the Rainbow as one of the famous taverns of
Fleet Street, and also to the fact that it was a coffee-house ere it
became a tavern. But somehow it was as a coffee-house that it was
usually regarded. It is so described in 1679, in 1708, in 1710, and in
1736. Under the earliest date it appears as playing a part in the
astounding story of Titus Gates. One of the victims of that unrivalled
perjurer was Sir Philip Lloyd, whom Oates declared had
sort of bravery presented himself in the Rainbow coffee-house, and
declared he did not believe any kind of plot against the King's person,
notwithstanding what any had said to the contrary. This was
sufficient to arouse the enmity of the wily Oates, who had the knight
haled before the council and closely examined. Sir Philip explained
that he had only said he knew of no other than a fantastic plot, but,
as a contemporary letter puts it,
Oates had got ready four
shrewd coffee-drinkers, then present, who swore the matter point blank.
So the perjurer won again, and Sir Philip was suspended during the
king's pleasure as the outcome of his Rainbow coffee-house speech.
But there is a pleasanter memory with which to bid this famous resort farewell. It is enshrined in a letter of the early eighteenth century, wishing that the recipient might, if he could find a leisure evening, drop into the Rainbow, where he would meet several friends of the writer in the habit of frequenting that house, gentlemen of great worth and whom it would be a pleasure to know.
How markedly the coffee-houses of London were differentiated
from each other by the opening of the eighteenth century is nowhere
more clearly demonstrated than in Steele's first issue of the Tatler.
After hoodwinking his readers into thinking he had a correspondent
all parts of the known and knowing world, he informed them
that it was his intention to print his news under
of places as would provide a key to the matter they were to
all accounts of gallantry, pleasure, and
entertainment, shall be under the article of White's Chocolate-house;
poetry, under that of Will's Coffee-house; learning, under the title of
the Grecian; foreign and domestic news, you shall have from Saint
James's Coffee-house, and what else I have to offer on any other
subject shall be dated from my own apartment.
days elapsed ere there was anything to report from the Grecian
coffee-house, which was situated in Devereux Court, Strand, and derived
its name from the fact that it was kept by a Greek named Constantine.
When it does make its appearance, however, the information given under
its name is strictly in keeping with the character Steele gave the
While other parts of the town are amused with the
present actions, we generally spend the evening at this table in
inquiries into antiquity, and think anything news which gives us new
knowledge. And then follow particulars of how the learned
Grecians had been amusing themselves by trying to arrange the actions
of the Iliad in chronological order. This task seems to have been
accomplished in a friendly manner, but there was an occasion when a
point of scholarship had a less placid ending. Two gentlemen, so the
story goes, who were constant companions, drifted into a dispute at the
Grecian one evening over the accent of a Greek word. The argument was
protracted and at length grew angry. As neither could convince the
other by mere words, the resolve was taken to decide the matter by
swords. So the erstwhile friends stepped out into the court, and, after
a few passes, one of them was run through the body, and died on the
That the Grecian maintained its character as the resort of
learned disputants may be inferred from the heated discussions which
took place within its walls when Burke confused the public with his
imitation of the style and language of Bolinbroke in his Vindication
of Natural Society. All the critics were completely
deceived. And Charles Macklin in particular distinguished himself by
rushing into the Grecian one evening, flourishing a copy of the
pamphlet, and declaring,
Sir, this must be Harry Bolinbroke;
I know him by his cloven foot!
Even if it were not for that fatal duel between the two Greek scholars, there are anecdotes to show that some frequenters of the house were of an aggressive nature. There is the story, for example, of the bully who insisted upon a particular seat, but came in one evening and found it occupied by another.
Who is that in my seat?
I don't know, sir,replied the waiter.
Where is the hat I left on it?
He put it in the fire.
Did he? damnation! but a fellow who would do that would not mind flinging me after it!and with that he disappeared.
Men of science as well as scholars gave liberal patronage to the Grecian. It was a common thing for meetings of the Royal Society to be continued in a social way at this coffee-house, the president, Sir Isaac Newton, being frequently of the parties. Hither, too, came Professor Halley, the great astronomer, to meet his friends on his weekly visit to London from Oxford, and Sir Hans Sloane, that zealous collector of curiosities, was often to be met at the Grecian. Nor did the house wholly lack patrons of the pen, for Goldsmith, among others, used the resort quite frequently.
Goldsmith was also a faithful customer of George's
coffee-house which was situated close to the Grecian. This was one of
the places to which he had his letters addressed, and the house figures
in one of his essays as the resort of a certain young fellow who,
whenever he had occasion to
ask his friend for a guinea, used
to prelude his request as if he wanted two hundred, and talked so
familiarly of large sums that no one would have imagined him
ever to be in need of small ones. It was the same young fellow at
George's who, whenever he wanted credit for a new suit from his tailor,
used to dress himself in laced clothes in which to give the order, for
he had found that to appear shabby on such occasions defeated the
purpose he had in view.
Most likely Goldsmith sketched his certain young fellow from life. There was another frequenter of the place who would have provided an original for another character study. This was that Sir James Lowther, afterwards Earl of Lonsdale, of whom the story is told that having one day changed a piece of silver in the coffee-house, and paid twopence for his cup of coffee, he was helped into his carriage and driven home, only to return a little later to call attention to the fact that he had been given a bad halfpenny in his change and demand another in exchange. All this was in keeping with the character of the man, for despite the fact that he had an income of forty thousand pounds a year, he was notorious for his miserly conduct, and would not pay even his just debts.
There was another legend connected with George's which Horace
Walpole ought not to have destroyed. In telling a correspondent of the
amusement with which he had been reading Shenstone's letters, he took
occasion to characterize as vulgar and devoid of truth an anecdote told
of his father, Lord Orford. This was the story that his father,
in George's, was asked to contribute to a figure of himself that was to
be beheaded by the mob. I do remember something like it,
but it happened to myself. I met a mob,
just after my father was put out, in Hanover-square, and drove up to it
to know what was the matter. They were carrying about a figure of my
sister. Walpole traded so largely in traditional stories
himself that it was ungrateful of him to spoil so good a one.
On the way to Bedford Street, where Wildman's coffee-house was situated, the pilgrim will pass the site of the Somerset coffee-house, which was notable in its day from the fact that some of the letters of Junius were left here, the waiters being paid tips for taking them in. Wildman's was notorious as being the favourite headquarters of the supporters of John Wilkes, and hence the lines of Churchill:
Each dish at Wildman's of sedition smacks;
Blasphemy may be Gospel at Almacks.
Peace, good Discretion, peace, - thy fears are vain;
Ne'er will I herd with Wildman's factious train.
Among the notable coffee-houses of Covent Garden were the Bedford, King's, Rawthmell's and Tom's. The first was situated under the Piazza, and could count among its patrons Fielding, Pope, Sheridan, Churchill, Garrick, Foote, Quinn, Collins, Horace Walpole and others. Its characters, according to the Connoisseur, 'afforded a greater variety of nearly the same type as those to be found at George's. It was, this authority asserts, crowded every night with men of parts. Almost every one to be met there was a polite scholar and a wit.
Jokes and bon mots are echoed from box to box; every branch of literature is critically examined, and the merit of every production of the press, or performance at the theatres, weighed and determined. This school (to which. I am myself indebted for a great part of my education, and in which, though unworthy, I am now arrived at the honour of being a public lecturer) has bred up many authors, to the amazing entertainment and instruction of their readers.
But the Bedford coffee-house has a more sensational association. It was here, according to Horace Walpole, that James Hackman spent his last few hours of freedom ere he murdered Martha Ray as she was leaving Covent Garden theatre on the night of April 17th, 1779. No tragedy of that period caused so great a sensation. Miss Ray had for some years been the mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, at whose house Hackman first met and fell in love with her. There are good reasons for believing that his love was returned for a time, but that afterwards Miss Ray determined to continue in her irregular relation with the nobleman. On learning that his suit was wholly hopeless, Hackman conceived the plan which had so fatal an ending. The question as to whether the fact that he provided himself with two pistols was proof that he intended to take his own life as well as that of Miss Ray was the theme of a warm discussion between Dr. Johnson and his friend Beauclerk, the latter 'arguing that it was not, and the former maintaining with equal confidence that it was.
King's coffee-house was nothing more than a humble shed, an
early representative of the peripatetic coffee-stall which is still a
common sight of London streets in the early morning. Kept by a Thomas
King who absconded from Eton because he feared that his fellowship
would be denied him, it was the resort of every rake according to
Fielding, and, in the phrase of another, was
well known to
all gentlemen to whom beds are unknown. On the other hand
Rawthmell's was an exceedingly fashionable house, and witnessed the
founding of the Society of Arts in 1754. It had another claim to slight
distinction as being the resort of Dr. John Armstrong, the poet of the Art
of Preserving Health, and a man so generally unsociable
that one acquaintance described him as having a rooted aversion against
the whole human race, except a few friends, and they were dead!
Judging from a poetical allusion of 1703, Tom's coffee-house
was at that time a political resort. A little later it was
distinguished for its fashionable gatherings after the theatre. A
traveller through England in 1722 records that at Tom's there was
at Picket, and the best of conversation till midnight. Here you will
see blue and green ribbons and Stars sitting familiarly, and talking
with the same freedom as if they had left their quality and degrees of
distance at home. But the most interesting picture of this
house is given by William Till. He writes:
The house in which I reside was the famous Tom's Coffee-House, memorable in the reign of Queen Anne; and for more than half a century afterwards: the room in which I conduct my business as a coin dealer is that which, in 1764, by a guinea subscription among nearly seven hundred of the nobility, foreign ministers, gentry, and geniuses of the age, was made the card-room, and place of meeting for many of the now illustrious dead, and remained so till 1768, when a voluntary subscription among its members induced Mr. Haines, the then proprietor, to take in the next door westward, as a coffee-room; and the whole floor en suite was constructed into card and conversation rooms.
It seems that the house took its name originally from the first landlord, a Captain Thomas West, who, driven distracted by the agony of gout, committed suicide by throwing himself from his own windows.
Interesting, as has been seen, as are the associations which cluster round the coffee-houses of this district already mentioned, their fame is slight compared with the glory of the houses known as Will's and Button's.
Macaulay has given us a glowing picture of the wits' room on the first floor at Will's. Through the haze of tobacco smoke with which he filled the apartment we can see earls, and clergymen, and Templars, and university lads, and hack-workers. We can hear, too, the animated tones in which discussions are being carried on, discussions as to whether Paradise Lost should have been written in rhyme, and many another literary question of little interest in these modern days. But, after all, the eye does not seek out earls, or clergy, or the rest; nor does the ear wish to fill itself with the sound of their voices. There is but one face, but one voice at Will's in which the interest of this time is as keen as the interest of the seventeenth century. That face and voice were the face and voice of John Dryden.
Exactly in what year Dryden first chose this coffee-house as
his favourite resort is unknown. He graduated at Cambridge in 1654, and
is next found in London lodging with a bookseller for whom he worked as
a hack-writer. By 1662 he had become a figure of some consequence in
London life, and a year later his first play was acted at the King's
theatre. Then, in the pages of Pepys, he is seen as the centre of that
group of the wits which he was to dominate for a generation.
Covent Garden to-night, wrote Pepys under the date February
going to fetch home my wife, I stopped at the
great Coffee-house there, where I never was before; where Dryden, the
poet, I knew at Cambridge, and all the wits of the town, and Harris the
player, and Mr. Hoole, of our college. And, had I had time then, or
could at other times, it will be good coming hither, for there, I
perceive, is very witty and pleasant discourse.
With what persistence this tradition survived, the tradition of Dryden as the arbiter of literary criticism at Will's is illustrated by the story told by Dr. Johnson. When he was a young man he had a desire to write the life of Dryden, and as a first step in the gathering of his materials he applied to the only two persons then alive who had known him, Swinney and Cibber. But all the assistance the former could give him was to the effect that at Will's Coffee-house Dryden had a particular chair for himself, which was set by the fire in winter, and removed to the balcony in summer; and the extent of Cibber's information was that he remembered the poet as a decent old man, judge of critical disputes at Will's. But happily a more detailed picture of Dryden as the centre of the wits at Will's has survived. On his first trip to London as a youth of seventeen, Francis Lockier, the future dean of Peterborough, although an odd-looking boy of awkward manners, thrust himself into the coffee-house that he might gaze on the celebrated men of the day.
The second time that ever I was there [Lockier said] Mr. Dryden was speaking of his own things, as he frequently did, especially of such as had been lately published.If anything of mine is good,says he,'tis Mac Flecknoe; and I value myself the more upon it, because it is the first piece of ridicule written in Heroics.On hearing this, I plucked up my spirit to say, in a voice just loud enough to be heard, thatMac Flecknoe was a very fine poem; but that I had not imagined it to be the first that ever was writ that way.On this, Dryden turned short upon me, as surprised at my interposing; asked how long I had been a dabbler in poetry; and added, with a smile,Pray, sir, what is it that you did imagine to have been writ so before?I named Boileau's Lutrin, and Tassoni's Secchia Rapita, which I had read, and knew Dryden had borrowed some strokes from each.'Tis true,said Dryden,I had forgot them.A little after Dryden went out, and in going spoke to me again, and desired me to come and see him next day. I was highly delighted with the invitation; went to see him accordingly, and was well acquainted with him after, as long as he lived.
As a companion to this picture in prose there is the poetic vignette which Prior and Montague inserted in their Country Mouse and the City Mouse, written in burlesque of Dryden's Hind and Panther.
Then on they jogg'd; and since an hour of talk
Might cut a banter on the tedious walk,
As I remember, said the sober mouse,
I've heard much talk of the Wits' Coffee-house;
Thither, says Brindle, thou shalt go and see
Priests supping coffee, sparks and poets tea;
Here rugged frieze, there quality well drest,
These baffling the grand Senior, those the Test,
And there shrewd guesses made, and reasons given,
That human laws were never made in heaven;
But, above all, what shall oblige thy sight,
And fill thy eyeballs with a vast delight,
Is the poetic judge of sacred wit,
Who does i' th' darkness of his glory sit;
And as the moon who first receives the light,
With which she makes these nether regions bright,
So does he shine, reflecting from afar
The rays he borrowed from a better star;
For rules, which from Corneille and Rapin flow,
Admired by all the scribbling herd below,
From French tradition while he does dispense
Unerring truths, 'tis schism, a damned offence,
To question his, or trust your private sense.
Dryden appears to have visited Will's every day. His rule of life was to devote his mornings to writing at home, where he also dined, and then to spend the remainder of the day at the coffee-house, which he did not leave till late. There came a night for the poet when this regularity of habit had unpleasant consequences. A Newsletter of December 23rd, 1679, tells the story:
On Thursday night last Mr. Dryden, the poet, comeing from the coffee-house in Covent Garden, was set upon by three or four fellows, and very soarly beaten, but likewise very much cutt and wounded with a sword. It is imagined that this has happened to him because of a late satyr that is laid at his door, though he positively disowned it.
The compiler of that paragraph was correct in his surmise. The
hired ruffians who assaulted the solitary poet on that December night
were in the pay of Lord Rochester, who had taken umbrage at a
publication which, although not written by Dryden, had been printed
with such a title-page as suggested that it was his work. A reward of
fifty pounds was offered for the discovery of the perpetrators of this
outrage, but to no effect. Still it is some consolation to know that
the cowardly Rochester immediately fell under suspicion as the author
of the attack. Less reprehensible is the story told of a Mr. Finch,
ingenious young gentleman, who, nearly a decade later,
with Mr. Dryden in a coffee-house in London, publickly before all the
company wished him joy of his new religion.
you are very much mistaken; my religion is the
Nay, replied the other,
it be in itself I am sure 'tis new to you, for within these three days
you had no religion at all.
Dryden died in 1700 and for a time Will's maintained its position as the resort of the poets. Did not Steele say that all his accounts of poetry in the Tatler would appear under the name of that house? But the supremacy of Will's was slowly undermined, so that even in the Tatler the confession had soon to be made that the place was very much altered since Dryden's time. The change had been for the worse.
Where you used to see songs, epigrams, and satires in the hands of every man you met, you now have only a pack of cards; and instead of the cavils about the turn of the expression, the elegance of the style, and the like, the learned now dispute only about the truth of the game.
This is all confirmed by that traveller who took notes in London in 1722, and found there was playing at Picket at Will's after the theatre.
Addison was the chief cause of this transformation. And Steele helped him. The fact is that about 1713 Addison set up coffee-house keeper himself. That is to say, he was the means of getting one Daniel Button, once servant with the Countess of Warwick, to open such an establishment in close proximity to Will's. For Addison to remove his patronage from Will's to Button's meant the transference of the allegiance of the wits of the town also, consequently it soon became known that the wits were gone from the haunt of Dryden to the new resort affected by Addison. And a close scrutiny of the pages of the Guardian will reveal how adroitly Steele aided Addison's plan. Thus, the issue of the Guardian for June 17th, 1713, was devoted to the habits of coffee-house orators, and especially to the objectionable practice so many had of seizing a button on a listener's coat and twisting it off in the course of argument. This habit, however, was more common in the city than in the West-end coffee-houses; indeed, Steele added, the company at Will's was so refined that one might argue and be argued with and not be a button the poorer. All that delightful nonsense paved the way for a letter in the next number of the Guardian, a letter purporting to come from Daniel Button of Button's coffee-house.
I have observed, so ran the epistle,
this day you made mention of Will's Coffee-house, as a place where
people are too polite to hold a man in discourse by the button.
Everybody knows your honour frequents this house; therefore they will
taken an advantage against me, and say, if my company was as civil as
that at Will's, you would say so: therefore pray your honour do not be
afraid of doing me justice, because people would think it may be a
conceit below you on this occasion to name the name of Your humble
servant, Daniel Button. And then there is this naïve
The young poets are in the back room, and take
their places as you directed.
Nor did that end the plot. A few days later Steele found another occasion to mention Button's. His plan this time was to concoct a letter from one Hercules Crabtree, who offered his services as lion-catcher to the Guardian, and incidentally mentioned that he already possessed a few trophies which, he wished to present to Button's coffee-house. This lion business paved the way for Addison's interference in the clever scheme to divert the wits from Will's. Hence that paper of the Guardian which he wound up by announcing that it was his intention to erect, as a letter-box for the receipt of contributions, a lion's head in imitation of those he had described in Venice, through which all the private intelligence of that commonwealth was said to pass.
This head, [he explained], is to open a most wide and voracious mouth, which shall take in such letters and papers as are conveyed to me by my correspondents, it being my resolution to have a particular regard to all such matters as come to my hands through the mouth of the lion. There will be under it a box, of which the key will be kept in my own custody, to receive such papers as are dropped into it. Whatever the lion swallows I shall digest for the use of the public. This head requires some time to finish, the workman being resolved to give it several masterly touches, and to represent it as ravenous as possible. It will be set up in Button's coffee-house in Covent-garden, who is directed to shew the way to the lion's head, and to instruct young authors how to convey his works into the mouth of it with safety and secrecy.
That lion's head was no myth. A
fortnight later the leonine letter-box was actually placed in position
at Button's, and, after doing service there for some years, was used by
Dr. Hill when editing the Inspector. It was sold in 1804, the notice of
the sale in the Annual Register stating that
gilt lion's head letter-box, which was formerly at Button's
coffee-house, and in which the valuable original copy of the Guardian
was received, was yesterday knocked down at the Shakespeare-tavern,
Covent Garden, to Mr. Richardson, for seventeen pounds ten shillings.
It changed hands again in more recent times, and is now the property of
the Duke of Bedford, who preserves it at Woburn.
For some months after the installation of the lion's head at
Button's, constant references are made in the Guardian to that unique
letter-box, Addison being mainly responsible for the quaint conceits
which helped to keep attention on the house where it was placed. In the
final number of the Guardian there is a lively letter in response to an
attack on masquerading which had reached the public via the lion's
My present business, the epistle ran,
with the lion; and since this savage has behaved himself so rudely, I
do by these presents challenge him to meet me at the next masquerade,
and desire you will give orders to Mr. Button to bring him thither, in
all his terrors, where, in defenee of the innocence of these midnight
amusements, I intend to appear against him, in the habit of Signior
Nicolimi, to try the merits of this cause by single combat.
But Addison and his lion's head and Steele were not the only notable figures to be seen at Button's. Pope was a constant visitor there, as he was reminded by Cibber in his famous letter. Those were the days when, in Cibber's phrase, the author of the Dunciad was remarkable for his satirical itch of provocation, when there were few upon whom he did not fall in some biting epigram. He so fell upon Ambrose Philips, who forthwith hung a rod up in Button's, and let Pope know that he would use it on him should he ever catch him under that roof. The poet took a more than ample revenge in many a stinging line of satire afterwards.
Pope was cut adrift from Button's through the controversy as to which was the better version of the Iliad, his or Tickell's. As the latter belonged to the Addisonian circle, the opinion at Button's turned in favour of his version, especially as Addison himself thought Tickell had more of Homer than Pope. This ended Pope's patronage of Button's, and, indeed, it was not long ere the glory it had known began to wane. Various causes combined to take away one and another of its leading spirits, and when the much-talked-of Daniel Button passed away in 1730 it was to a pauper's grave. Yet farewell of so famous a house should not be made with so melancholy a story. There is a brighter page in its history, which dates three years earlier. Aaron Hill had been so moved by the misfortunes of his brother poet, Richard Savage, that he had penned an appeal on his behalf and arranged for subscriptions for a volume of his poems. The subscriptions were to be left at Button's, and when Savage called there a few days later he found a sum of seventy guineas awaiting him. Hill may, as has been asserted, have been a bore of the first water, but that kindly deed may stand him in stead of genius.
Several favourite coffee-houses might once have been found in
the neighbourhood of
Charing Cross. One of these bore the name of the Cannon and was much
frequented by John Philpot Curran, of whom it was said
so honest an Irishman, and Sir Jonas Barrington, that other
judge who was at first intended for the army, but who, on learning that
the regiment to which he might be appointed was likely to be sent to
America for active service, declined the commission, and requested that
it might be bestowed on
some hardier soldier.
Evidently Sir Jonas
desired no further acquaintance with cannon than was involved in
visiting the coffee-house of that name. The legend is that he and
Curran affected one particular box at the end of the room, where they
might be seen almost any day.
In the same vicinity, but close to the Thames-side, was the
coffee-house kept by
Alexander Man, and known as Man's. The proprietor had the distinction
of being appointed
coffee, tea, and chocolate-maker
to William III,
which gave him a place in the vast army of "By Appointment" tradesmen,
and resulted further in his establishment being sometimes described as
the Royal Coffee-house. This resort had a third title, Old Man's
Coffee-house, to distinguish it from the Young Man's, which was
situated on the other side of the street.
greater note than any of these was the British coffee-house which stood
in Cockspur Street. There is a record of its existence in 1722, and in
1759 it was presided over by the sister of Bishop Douglas, who was
a person of excellent manners and abilities.
succeeded by a Mrs. Anderson, on whom the enoomium was passed that she
a woman of uncommon talents and the most agreeable
As the names of these ladies suggest, they were of Scottish birth, and
hence it is not surprising to learn that their house was greatly in
favour among visitors from north of the Tweed. That the Scottish peers
were sometimes to be found here in great numbers is the only conclusion
to be drawn from an incident recorded by Horace Walpole. There was a
motion before the House of Lords for which the support of the Scots was
required, and the Duke of Bedford wrote to sixteen of their number to
solicit their votes, enclosing all the letters under one cover directed
to the British coffee-house. It was under this roof, too, that the
Scottish club called The Beeswing used to meet, one of whose members
was Lord Campbell, that legal biographer who shared with most of his
countrymen the ability of
getting on. The club in
of about ten members, and the agreement was to meet once a month at the
British coffee-house to dine and drink port wine. The other members
included Spankie, Dr. Haslam, author of several works on insanity,
Andrew Grant, a merchant of considerable literary acquirements, and
George Gordon, known about town as
the man of wit.
is described as being as good as any to be enjoyed anywhere in the
London of that day, and the drinking was voted
last-named fact is one illustration out of many that during the latter
years of their existence the coffee-houses of London did not by any
means confine their liquors to the harmless beverage from which they
took their name.
the earliest coffee-houses to be established in the West-end of London
was that opened by Thomas Slaughter in St. Martin's Lane in 1692 and
known as Slaughter's. It remained under the oversight of Mr. Slaughter
until his death in 1740, and continued to enjoy a prosperous career for
nearly a century longer, when the house was torn down. The bulk of its
customers were artists, and the famous men numbered among them included
Wilkie, Wilson, and Roubiliac. But the most pathetic figure associated
with its history is that of Abraham De Moivre, that French
mathematician who became the friend of Newton and Leibnitz.
Notwithstanding his wonderful abilities he was driven to support
himself by the meagre pittances earned by teaching and by solving
problems in chess at Slaughter's. In his last days sight and hearing
both failed, and he finally died of somnolence, twenty hours' sleep
becoming habitual with him. By the time of De Moivre's death, or
shortly after, the character of the frequenters of Slaughter's
underwent a change, for when Goldsmith alluded to the house in 1758 it
was to make the remark that if a man were passionate
rage among the old orators at Slaughter's Coffee-house, and damn the
nation, because it keeps him from starving.
Politics and literature were the topics most under discussion
at the Smyrna
coffee-house which had its location on the north side of Pall Mall. It
makes its appearance in an early number of the Tatler, where reference
is made to
that cluster of wise heads that might be
every evening from the left hand side of the fire, at the Smyrna, to
the door. Five months later Steele entered into fuller
This is to give notice, he wrote,
to all ingenious gentlemen in and about the cities of London and Westminster, who have a mind to be instructed in the noble sciences of music, poetry, and politics, that they repair to the Smyrna coffee-house in Pall-mall, betwixt the hours of eight and ten at night, where they may be instructed gratis, with elaborate essays, by word of mouth on all or any of the above-mentioned arts. The disciples are to prepare their bodies with three dishes of bohea, and purge their brains with two pinches of snuff. If any young student gives indication of parts, by listening attentively, or asking a pertinent question, one of the professors shall distinguish him, by taking snuff out of his box in the presence of the whole audience.
And the further direction is given that
the seat of learning is now removed from the corner of the chimney on the left towards the window, to the round table in the middle of the floor over against the fire; a revolution much lamented by the porters and chairmen, who were much edified through a pane of glass that remained broken all last summer.
That Steele and Addison knew their Smyrna well may be inferred
familiar references to the house, and there are equal proofs that Swift
and Prior were often within its doors. The Journal to Stella has many
references to visits from the poet and the satirist, such as,
evening was fair, and I walked a little in the Park till Prior made me
go with him to the Smyrna Coffee-house, where I sat a while, and saw
four or five Irish persons, who are very handsome, genteel fellows, but
I know not their names. From Prior's pen there is an allusion
found in the manuscripts of the Marquis of Bath in a letter the poet
addressed to Lord Harley from London in the winter of 1719. Prior was
lying low on that visit to town, for the main purpose of his presence
was medicinal. "I have only seen Brown, the surgeon," he writes,
to whom, I have made an auricular confession, and from him have received extreme unction, and applied it, which may soften the obduracy of my ear, and make it capable of receiving the impression of ten thousand lies which will be poured into it as soon as I shall take my seat at the Smyrna.
Two other figures not unknown to fame haunt the shades of the
Smyrna, Beau Nash and Thomson of the
Seasons. It is
tells of the first that he used to idle for a day at a time in the
window of the Smyrna to receive a bow from the Prince of Wales or the
Duchess of Marlborough as they drove by; and of the second is it not on
record that he in person took subscriptions at the Smyrna for the
In the Cocoa-Tree Club of to-day may be found the direct representative of the most famous Tory chocolate-house of the reign of Queen Anne. It had its headquarters first in Pall Mall, but removed not long after to St. James's Street, the Mecca of clubland at the present time. Perhaps the best picture of the house and its ways is that given by Gibbon, who in his journal for November 24th, 1762, wrote:
I dined at the Cocoa-Tree with ------, who, under a great appearance of oddity, conceals more real humour, good sense, and even knowledge, than half those who laugh at him. We went thence to the play, theSpanish Friar,and when it was over, retired to the Cocoa-Tree. That respectable body, of which I have the honour of being a member, affords every evening a sight truly English; twenty, or perhaps thirty, of the first men in the kingdom in point of fashion and fortune, supping at little tables covered with a napkin in the middle of a coffee room, upon a bit of cold meat or a sandwich, and drinking a glass of punch. At present we are full of King's Councillors and Lords of the Bedchamber, who, having jumped into the ministry, make a very singular medley of their old principles and language with their modern one.
It is easy to infer from Gibbon's account, what was a fact, that by his time the house had been turned into a club, the use of which was restricted to members, as at the present time. The change was made before 1746, when the Cocoa-Tree was the rendezvous of the Jacobites. One of the most curious features of the present premises is a carved palm-tree which is thrust up through the centre of the front rooms on the first and second floors. What its age is no one knows, nor who was responsible for the freak of botanical knowledge implied by utilizing a palm-tree as symbolical of cocoa.
Soon after the transformation of the house into a club it
became notorious for the
high play which went on under the shadow of the palm-tree. Walpole, for
example, tells the story of a gamble between an Irish gamester named
O'Birne and a young midshipman named Harvey who had just fallen heir to
a large estate by his brother's death. The stake was for one hundred
thousand pounds, and when O'Birne won he said,
You can never
But the youth replied, "I can, my estate will sell for the debt."
O'Birne, however, had some scruples left, so said he would be content
with ten thousand pounds, and suggested another throw for the balance.
This time Harvey won, and it would be interesting to know that the
lesson had not been lost. But Walpole does not throw any light on that
Another lively scene took place under the
palm-tree of the Cocoa-Tree late in the eighteenth century. The
principal figure on that occasion was Henry Bate, that militant editor
of the Morning Post whose duel at the Adelphi has already been
recorded. It seems that Mr. Bate, who, by the way, held holy orders,
and eventually became a baronet under the name of Dudley, was at
Vauxhall one evening with a party of ladies, when Fighting Fitzgerald
and several companions met them and indulged in insults. An exchange of
cards followed, and a meeting was arranged for the following morning at
the Cocoa-Tree to settle details of the inevitable duel. Fitzgerald,
however, was late, and by the time he arrived apologies had been
tendered and accepted by Mr. Bate. When Fitzgerald arrived on the scene
with a Captain Miles he insisted on a boxing-match with the supposed
captain, who, he affirmed, had been among the assailants of the
previous night. Mr. Bate objected, inasmuch as he did not recognize Mr.
Miles, and moreover scouted the indignity of settling such a matter
with fists. He was willing to decide the dispute with sword or pistol.
Fitzgerald, however, roused Bate's ire by dubbing him a coward. After
that it did not take many minutes to form a ring under the shade of the
palm-tree, and in less than a quarter of an hour the
pulverized Captain Miles in an eminently satisfactory manner.
Earlier and more sedate references to the Cocoa-Tree are in
existence, There is, for example, a letter from General William
Stewart, of October 27th, 1716, addressed to the father of William
Pitt, placing this incident on record:
The other night, at
the Cocoa-Tree, I saw Colonel Pitt and your brother-in-law Chomeley.
former made me a grave bow without speaking, which example I followed.
I suppose he is directed to take no notice of me. Nor should
the lively episode placed to the credit of a spark of the town in 1726
The last masquerade, says a letter of
fruitful of quarrels. Young Webb had quarrelled at the Cocoa-Tree with
Oglethorp, and struck him with his cane; they say the quarrel was made
Young Webb was evidently spoiling
that night for more
adventures, for while still in his cups he went to the masquerade and,
meeting a German who had a mask with a great nose, he asked him what he
did with such an ornament, pulled it off and slapped his face.
was carried out by six grenadiers, is the terse climax of the
Florio was, of course, a frequenter of the Cocoa-Tree. And
that his manners there as elsewhere must have been familiar is
illustrated by the fact that one of the waiters addressed an epistle to
him in the following terms:
Sam, the waiter at the
Cocoa-Tree, presents his compliments to the Prince of Wales.
You see, Sam, this may be very well
you and me, but it would never do with the Norfolks and Arundels!
Of course the house has its George Selwyn story. An American
it by asserting that in his country hot and cold springs were often
found side by side, which was convenient, for fish could be caught in
the one and boiled in the other in a few minutes. The story was
received as belonging to the
tall order, until
accepted it as true, because at Auvergne he had met a similar
experience, with the addition that there was a third spring which
supplied parsley and butter for the sauce.
Just as the Tories were faithful to the Cocoa-Tree, so the Whigs were stout in their loyalty to the St. James's coffee-house nearby. This was the resort named by Steele as the origin of the political news served up in the Tatler, and it was favoured with many references in the Spectator of Addison, The latter gives an amusing account of a general shiftround of the servants of the house owing to the resignation of one of their number, and in a later paper, devoted to coffee-house speculations on the death of the King of France, he gives the place of honour to the Whig resort as providing the most reliable information.
That I might be as near the fountain-head as possible, I first of all called at 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 very much improved by a knot of theorists, who sat in the inner room, within the steams of the coffee-pot, that I there heard the whole Spanish monarchy disposed of, and all the line of Bourbon provided for in less than a quarter of an hour.
Politics, however, did not claim all the interest of the
frequenters of the St. James's.
Verdicts were passed upon the literary products of the day in much the
same manner as at Button's, and it should not be forgotten that
Retaliation had its origin at a meeting
at this house.
To judge from their present-day
dignified appearance, no one would imagine that the Old Palace and the
New Palace Yards at Westminster ever tolerated such mundane things as
coffee-houses and taverns within their precincts. The evidence of
history, however, shows that at one time there were numerous
establishments of both kinds situated under the shadow of Westminster
Hall and the Abbey. A drawing not more than a century old shows several
such buildings, and the records of the city enumerate public houses of
the sign of the Coach and Horses, and the Royal Oak, and the White Rose
as being situated in the Old Palace Yard, while the coffee-houses there
included Waghorne's and Oliver's. Nor was it different with New Palace
Yard. In the latter were to be found Miles's coffee-house and the
Turk's Head, both associated with James Harrington, that early
Oceana got him into so much
trouble. One story
credits Cromwell with having seized the manuscript of that work, and
with its restoration having been effected by Elizabeth Clay-pole, the
favourite daughter of the Protector, whom Harrington is said to have
playfully threatened with the theft of her child if her father did not
restore his. The author of "Oceana" seems to have thought the occasion
of Cromwell's death a favourable one for the discussion of his
political theories, and hence the Rota club he founded, which used to
meet at Miles's. Aubrey gives a vivid account of the room at the
coffee-house where the club met, with its
large oval-table, with a passage in the middle for Miles to deliver his coffee. About it sat his disciples and the virtuosi. Here we had (very formally) a ballotting box, and ballotted how things should be carried by way of Tentamens. The room was every evening full as it could be crammed.
But when it became obvious that the Restoration would soon be an accomplished fact the meetings at Miles's came to a sudden end. And shortly after, Harrington was committed to the Tower to meditate upon ideal commonwealths amid less congenial surroundings.
Westminster Hall itself had a coffee-house at the beginning of
the last century. It
was named Alice's, presumably after the proprietor, and was on one
occasion the scene of a neat version of the confidence trick. The
coffee-house was used almost entirely by barristers engaged in the
different courts of law then held in Westminster Hall, and they availed
themselves of the house for robing before going to the courts, and as
the storeroom of their wigs and gowns when the business of the day was
ended. Armed with this knowledge, a needy individual by the name of
William Lill applied to the waiter at Alice's, and made a request for a
Mr. Clarke's gown and wig, saying that he had been sent by a well-known
lawyers' wig-maker and dresser. It happened, however, that Mr. Clarke's
clerk had a little before fetched away the wig and gown Mr. Lill was so
anxious to receive. But when the waiter imparted that information he
did not lose his self-possession. He also wanted, he said, Mr.
Ellison's wig and gown. Taken with the man's knowledge of the
barrister's names, the waiter not only handed over the wig and gown,
but also informed the obliging Mr. Lill that when Mr. Ellison was last
in court he had left his professional coat and waistcoat at the
coffee-house; perhaps Mr. Lill would take those too. Mr. Lill readily
obliged, and disappeared. Later in the day the waiter's wits began to
work. Being, too, in the neighbourhood of the wig-maker's shop, it
occurred to him to drop in. There he learnt that no Mr. Lill had been
sent for any wigs or gowns. The alarmed waiter next proceeded to Mr.
Ellison's office, to learn there that no messenger had been sent to
Alice's. At this stage the waiter, as he subsequently confessed, had no
doubt but that Mr. Lill was
an impostor. Mr. Lill
was more. He was
courageous. Having secured his prey so simply on the one day, he came
back on another, trusting, no doubt, that his waiter friend would be as
obliging as before. But it was not to be; a few questions confirmed the
waiter's suspicions that Mr. Lill really was
police-officer finished the story. One feels rather sorry for Mr. Lill.
Of course it was wrong of him to annex those wigs and gowns, and sell
them for theatrical
properties, but it is
impossible not to admire
the pluck of a man who stole from a lawyer in the precincts of a
lawcourt. Alice's deserves immortality if only for having been the
scene of that unique exploit.
By far the most curious of the coffee-houses of old London was that known as Don Saltero's at Chelsea. There was nothing of the don really about the proprietor, whose unadorned name was James Salter. The prefix and the affix were bestowed by one of his customers, Vice-Admiral Munden, who, having cruised much upon the coast of Spain, acquired a weakness for Spanish titles, and bestowed a variant of one on the Chelsea coffee-house keeper.
That same Mr. Salter was an odd character. Not content with serving dishes of coffee, nor with drawing people's teeth and cutting their hair, he indulged in attempts at fiddle-playing and set up a museum in his house.
Steele's description of a visit to this manysided resort is by
far the best picture of its owner
and its contents.
When I came into the coffee-house,
I had not time to salute the company, before my eye was diverted by ten thousand gimcracks round the room, and on the ceiling. When my first astonishment was over, comes to me a sage of thin and meagre countenance; which, aspect made me doubt, whether reading or fretting had made it so philosophic: but I very soon perceived him to be of that sect which the ancients call Gingivistæ; in our language, tooth-drawers. I immediately had a respect for the man; for these practical philosophers go upon a very rational hypothesis, not to cure, but to take away the part affected.
And then follows that delightful dissertation which linked Mr. Salter in the line of succession with the barber of Don Quixote. But Steele could not forgive the Chelsea barber and coffee-house keeper one thing.
I cannot allow the liberty he takes of imposing several names (without my license) on the collections he has made, to the abuse of the good people of England; one of which is particularly calculated to deceive religious persons, to the great scandal of the well-disposed, and may introduce heterodox opinions. He shews you a straw hat, which I know to be made by Madge Peskad, within three miles of Bedford; and tells you,It is Pontius Pilate's wife's chambermaid's sister's hat.To my knowledge of this very hat it may be added, that the covering of straw was never used among the Jews, since it was demanded of them to make bricks without it.
Don Saltero had a poetic catalogue of his curiosities, of which one verse ran:
Monsters of all sorts here are seen,
Strange things in nature as they grew so;
Some relics of the Sheba Queen,
And fragments of the famed Bob Crusoe.
These treasures, however, could not avert the fate which was due to befall the house on January 8th, 1799, when the lease of the building and all within were disposed of by public sale. A philosophic journalist, not possessing Steele's sense of humour, gravely remarked of the Don's gimcracks that they, with kindred collections, helped to cherish the infancy of science, and deserved to be appreciated as the playthings of a boy after he is arrived at maturity. Happily the Don himself did not survive to see his precious treasures fetch less than ten shillings a-piece.