Inns and Taverns of Old London by Henry C. Shelley

Preface and contents

Part III: Clubs of Old London

Chapter 1: Literary

Pending the advent of a philosophical historian who will explain the psychological reason why the eighteenth century was distinguished above all others in the matter of clubs, the fact is to be noted in all its baldness that the majority of those institutions which are famous in the annals of old London had their origin during that hundred years. One or two were of earlier date, but those which made a noise in the world and which for the most part survive to the present time were founded at the opening of the eighteenth century or later in its course.

Although the exact date of the establishment of the Kit-Cat club has never been decided, the consensus of opinion fixes the year somewhere about 1700. More debatable, however, is the question of its peculiar title. The most recent efforts to solve that riddle leave it where the contemporary epigram left it:

Whence deathless Kit-Cat took his name,
Few critics can unriddle;
Some say from pastry-cook it came,
And some from Cat and Fiddle.
From no trim beaus its name it boasts,
Gray statesmen or green wits;
But from this pell-mell pack of toasts
Of old Cats and young Kits.

Equally undecided is the cause of its origin. Ned Ward, however, had no doubts on that score. That exceedingly frank and coarse historian of the clubs of London attributed the origin of the club to the astuteness of Jacob Tonson the publisher. That amphibious mortal, according to Ward, having a sharp eye to his own interests, wriggled himself into the company of a parcel of poetical young sprigs, who had just weaned themselves of their mother university and, having more wit, than experience, put but a slender value, as yet, upon their maiden performances. Paced with this golden opportunity to attach a company of authors to his establishment, the alert Tonson baited his trap with mutton pies. In other words, according to Ward, he invited the poetical young sprigs to a collation of oven-trumpery at the establishment of one named Christopher, for brevity called Kit, who was an expert in pastry delicacies. The ruse succeeded; the poetical young sprigs came in a band; they enjoyed their pies; and when Tonson proposed a weekly meeting of a similar kind, on the understanding that the poetical young sprigs would do him the honour to let him have the refusal of all their juvenile products, there was no dissentient voice. And thus the Kit-Cat club came into life.

Some grains of truth may be embedded in this fanciful narrative. Perhaps the inception of the club may have been due to Tonson's astuteness from a business point of view; but at an early stage of the history of the club it became a more formidable institution. Its membership quickly comprised nearly fifty nobles and gentlemen and authors, all of whom found a bond of interest in their profession of Whig principles and devotion to the House of Hanover, shortly to be established on the throne of England in the person of George I. Indeed, one poetical epigram on the institution specifically entitles it the Hanover Club.

It seems that the earliest meetings of the club were held at an obscure tavern in Shire Lane, which no longer exists, but ran parallel with Chancery Lane near Temple-bar. This was the tavern kept by Christopher Cat, and when he removed to the Fountain tavern in the Strand the club accompanied. Its principle place of meeting, however, was at the mansion of Tonson at Barn Elms, where a room was specially built for its accommodation. The dimensions of this room were responsible for the application of the term Kit-Cat to portraits of a definite size. Thus, on the suggestion of Tonson the portraits of the members were painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller for the bookseller, but as the walls of the room at Barn Elms were not lofty enough to accommodate full-lengths, the painter reverted to a canvas measuring thirty-six by twenty-eight inches, a size of portrait which preserves the name of Kit-Cat to this day.

Apart from its influence on the nomenclature of art, the club is memorable for the additions it caused to be made to the poetic literature of England. One of the customs of the club was to toast the reigning beauties of the day regularly after dinner, and the various poets among its members were called upon to cast those toasts in the form of verse, which were afterwards engraved on the toasting-glasses of the club. Addison was responsible for one of those tributes, his theme being the Lady Manchester:

While haughty Gallia's dames, that spread
O'er their pale cheeks an artful red,
Beheld this beauteous stranger there,
In native charms divinely fair;
Confusion in their looks they show'd;
And with unborrow'd blushes glow'd.

But the Earl of Halifax and Sir Samuel Garth were the most prolific contributors to Kit-Cat literature, the former being responsible for six and the latter for seven poetical toasts. For the Duchess of St. Albans, Halifax wrote this tribute:

The line of Vere, so long renown'd in arms,
Concludes with lustre in St. Albans charms.
Her conquering eyes have made their race complete;
They rose in valour, and in beauty set.

To the Duchess of Beaufort these lines were addressed:

Offspring of a tuneful sire,
Blest with more than mortal fire;
Likeness of a mother's face,
Blest with more than mortal grace;
You with double charms surprise,
With his wit, and with her eyes.

Next came the turn of Lady Mary Churchill:

Fairest and latest of the beauteous race,
Blest with your parent's wit, and her first blooming face;
Born with our liberties in William's reign,
Your eyes alone that liberty restrain.

Other ladies celebrated by Halifax included the Duchess of Richmond, Lady Sutherland, and Mademoiselle Spanheime. To Garth fell the task of singing the attractions of Lady Carlisle, Lady Essex, Lady Hyde, and Lady Wharton, the first three have two toasts each. Perhaps the most successful of his efforts was the toast to Lady Hyde.

The god of wine grows jealous of his art,
He only fires the head, but Hyde the heart.
The queen of love looks on, and smiles to see
A nymph more mighty than a deity.

Whether the businesslike Tonson derived much profit from his contract with the poetical young sprigs does not transpire; it is of moment, however, to recall that the members of the club did something to encourage literature. They raised a sum of four hundred guineas to be offered as prizes for the best comedies. It may be surmised that Thomas D'Urfey stood no chance of winning any of those prizes, for he was too much of a Tory to please the Kit-Cat members. Hence the story which tells how the members requested Mr. Cat to bake some of his pies with D'Urfey's works under them. And when they complained that the pies were not baked enough, the pastrycook made the retort that D'Urfey's works were so cold that the dough could not bake for them.

For all their devotion to literature, the Kit-Cats did not forget to eat, drink, and be merry. That their gatherings were convivial enough is illustrated by the anecdote of Sir Samuel Garth, physician to George I as well as poet. He protested at one meeting that he would have to leave early to visit his patients. But the evening wore on and still he stayed, until at length Steele reminded him of his engagements. Whereupon Garth pulled out a list of fifteen patients, and remarked, It matters little whether I see them or not to-night. Nine or ten are so bad that all the doctors in the world could not save them, and the remainder have such tough constitutions that no doctors are needed by them. It is to be hoped that the bottle had not circulated so freely on that evening when the little girl who afterwards became Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was ushered into the presence of the members. Her proud father, Lord Kingston, nominated her as a toast, but as the members protested that they did not know her, the child was sent for on the spot. On her arrival the little beauty was elected by acclamation. That triumph, she afterwards declared, was the happiest hour of her life.

Despite the fact that it had no formal constitution, and that membership therein depended upon a lady's favour, the Blue-Stocking Club was too important a factor in the literary life of old London to be overlooked. It owed its existence to Elizabeth Robinson, who as the wife of Edward Montagu found herself in the possession of the worldly means essential to the establishment of a literary salon. It had its origin in a series of afflictions. Mrs. Montagu first lost her only child, and shortly after her mother and favourite brother. These bereavements put her on the track of distractions, and a visit to Bath, where she made the acquaintance of the poet Young, appears to have suggested that she would find relief from her sorrows in making her house in London a meeting-place for the intellectual spirits of the capital. At first she confined her enterprise to the giving of literary breakfasts, but these were soon followed by evening assemblies of a more pretentious nature, known as conversation parties. The lady was particular to whom she sent her invitations. In a letter to Garrick, inviting him to give a recital, she wrote: You will find here some friends, and all you meet must be your admirers, for I never invite Idiots to my house. Unless when Garrick or some famous French actor was invited to give a recital, no diversion of any kind was allowed at these gatherings; card-playing was not tolerated, and the guests were supposed to find ample enjoyment in the discussion of bookish topics.

Why Mrs. Montagu's assemblies were dubbed the Blue-Stocking Club has never been definitely decided. On the one hand the term is supposed to have originated from the fact that Benjamin Stillingfleet, taking advantage of the rule which stipulated that full dress was optional, always attended in blue worsted instead of black silk stockings. But the other theory derives the name from the fact that the ladies who frequented the gatherings wore blue stockings as a distinction in imitation of a fashionable French visitor of the time.

Plenty of ridicule was bestowed upon Mrs. Montagu and her conversation parties, but there seems some truth in the contention of Hannah More that those blue-stocking meetings did much to rescue fashionable life from the tyranny of whist and quadrille. Whether Mrs. Montagu really possessed any literary ability is a matter which does not call for discussion at this late hour, but it is something to her credit that she was able to attract under her roof such men as Horace Walpole, Dr. Johnson, Burke, Garrick, Reynolds, and many other conspicuous figures of the late eighteenth century. The hostess may have wished her guests to credit her with greater knowledge than she really had; Johnson said she did not know Greek, and had but a slight knowledge of Latin, though she was willing her friends should imagine she was acquainted with both; but the same authority was willing to admit that she was a very extraordinary woman, and that her conversation always had meaning. But, as usual, we must turn to a member of her own sex for the last word in the matter. Fanny Burney met her frequently, and made several recording entries in her diary. Here is the first vignette:

She is middle-sized, very thin, and looks infirm; she has a sensible and penetrating countenance, and the air and manner of a woman accustomed to being distinguished, and of great parts. Dr. Johnson, who agrees in this, told us that a Mrs. Hervey, of his acquaintance, says she can remember Mrs. Montagu trying for this same air and manner. Mr. Crisp has said the same: however, nobody can now impartially see her, and not confess that she has extremely well succeeded.

And later there is this entry:

We went to dinner, my father and I, and met Mrs. Montagu, in good spirits, and very unaffectedly agreeable. No one was there to awaken ostentation, no new acquaintance to require any surprise from her powers; she was therefore natural and easy, as well as informing and entertaining.

Almost to the end of her long life Mrs. Montagu maintained her Blue-Stocking Club. So late as 1791, when she had reached her seventy-first year, she gave a breakfast of which Fanny Burney wrote: The crowd of company was such that we could only slowly make our way in any part. There could not be fewer than four or five hundred people. It was like a full Ranelagh by daylight. That other breakfast-giver, Samuel Rogers, who only knew Mrs. Montagu towards the close of her life, described her as a composition of art and as one long attached to the trick and show of life. But the most diverting picture of the Queen of the Blue-Stockings was given by Richard Cumberland in a paper of the Observer. In answer to one of her invitation cards he arrived at her salon before the rest of the company, and had opportunity to observe that several new publications, stitched in blue paper, were lying on the table, with scraps of paper stuck between the leaves, as if to mark where the hostess had left off reading. Vanessa, for under that title did Cumberland present Mrs. Montagu, entered the room shortly afterwards, dressed in a petticoat embroidered with the ruins of Palmyra. The lady is made to mistake the author for the inventor of a diving-bell, and to address him accordingly, with delightful results. The various visitors are described in the same humourous manner, and then comes the climax.

Vanessa now came up, and desiring leave to introduce a young muse to Melpomene, presented a girl in a white frock with a fillet of flowers twined round her hair, which hung down her back in flowing curls; the young muse made a low obeisance in the style of an oriental Salaam, and with the most unembarrassed voice and countenance, while the poor actress was covered with blushes, and suffering torture from the eyes of all the room, broke forth as follows.

But the recorder of that particular meeting of the Blue-Stocking Club could endure no more. He fled the house as hastily as though he had just learnt it was infected with the plague.

Although several lists are printed which profess to give the names of the principal clubs of London, they may be searched in vain for that one which can rightly claim to be The Club. Nevertheless, ignorance of its existence can hardly be reckoned a reproach in view of the confession of Tennyson. When asked by a member, the Duke of Argyll, to allow him to place his name in nomination, Tennyson rejoined, Before answering definitely, I should like to know something about expenses. The Club? It is either my fault or my misfortune that I have never heard of it. When the poet made that confession he was in his fifty-sixth year, and up to that time, apparently, had not read his Boswell. Or if he had, he was not aware that the club Reynolds had founded in 1764 under the name of The Club, of which the title had subsequently been changed to the Literary Club, still existed under its original designation.

Another fact is likely to confuse the historian of this club unless he is careful. Owing to the fact that Dr. Johnson was one of the original members, and dominated its policy after his usual autocratic manner, it is sometimes known as Dr. Johnson's Club. However, there is no disputing the fact that the credit of its origin belongs to the dear knight of Plympton, as the great painter was called by one of his friends. The idea of its establishment at once won the approval of Johnson, and it started on its illustrious career having as its members those two and Edmund Burke, Dr. Nugent, Topham Beauclerk, Bennet Langton, Oliver Goldsmith, Anthony Chamier and Sir John Hawkins. Soon after its foundation, the number of members was increased to twelve, then it was enlarged to twenty, and subsequently to twenty-six, then to thirty, and finally to thirty-five with a proviso that the total should never exceed forty.

To set forth a list of the members of The Club from 1764 to the present year would be to write down the names of many of the men most eminent in English history. In Boswell's time those who had been admitted to its select circle included David Garrick, Adam Smith, Edward Gibbon, Sir William Jones, Sir William Hamilton, Charles James Fox, Bishop Percy, Dr. Joseph Warton, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. In more modern days the members have included Tennyson, Macaulay, Huxley, Gladstone, Lord Acton, Lord Dufferin, W. H. E. Lecky and Lord Salisbury. The limit of membership is still maintained; it is yet the rule that one black ball will exclude; and the election of a member is still announced in the stilted form which Gibbon drafted by way of a joke: Sir, I have the pleasure to inform you that you had last night the honour to be elected as a member of The Club.

As The Club had no formal constitution it was an easy matter to regulate its gatherings by the convenience of the members. Thus, at first the meetings were held at seven on Monday evenings, then the day was changed to Friday, and afterwards it was resolved to come together once a fortnight during the sitting of Parliament. Although admission was so strictly guarded that its membership was accounted a rare honour, The Club does not appear to have been in a flourishing condition in its second decade. Otherwise Beauclerk would hardly have written, Our club has dwindled away to nothing; nobody attends but Mr. Chamier, and he is going to the East Indies. Sir Joshua and Goldsmith have got into such a round of pleasures that they have no time. Two or three years later Edmund Malone, the literary critic and Shakesperian scholar, was moving heaven and earth to secure his own election. I have lately, he wrote to a member, made two or three attempts to get into your club, but have not yet been able to succeed - though I have some friends there - Johnson, Burke, Steevens, Sir J. Reynolds and Marlay - which in so small a society is a good number. At first they said, I think, they thought it a respect to Garrick's memory not to elect one for some time in his room--which (in any one's case but my own I should say) was a strange kind of motive - for the more agreeable he was, the more need there is of supplying the want, by some substitute or other. But as I have no pretensions to ground even a hope upon, of being a succedaneum to such a man - the argument was decisive and I could say nothing to it. 'Anticipation' Tickell and J. Townshend are candidates as well as myself - and they have some thoughts of enlarging their numbers; so perhaps we may be all elected together. I am not quite so anxious as Agmondisham Vesey was, who, I am told, had couriers stationed to bring him the quickest intelligence of his success.

Malone appears to have thought that it was a mere subterfuge to instance the death of Garrick as a reason for not electing him. But it was nothing of the kind. The Club did actually impose upon itself a year's widowhood, so to speak, when Garrick died. And yet his election had not been an easy matter. That was largely his own fault. When Reynolds first mentioned The Club to him, he ejaculated in his airy manner, I like it much; I think I shall be of you. Of course Reynolds reported the remark to Johnson, with a result that might have been anticipated. He'll be of us, Johnson repeated, and then added, How does he know we will permit him? The first duke in England has no right to hold such language. Other recorders of Johnson's conversation credit him with threatening to black-ball the actor, and with the expression of the wish that he might have one place of resort where he would be free of the company of the player. Whatever Johnson's attitude was, the fact remains that Garrick's election was opposed for a considerable time, though when he was made a member he approved himself a welcome addition to the circle.

Unconsciously amusing is the account Boswell gives of his own election. The Club had been in existence some nine years when the fatal night of the balloting arrived. Beauclerk had a dinner party at his house before the club-meeting, and when he and the other members left for the ceremony the anxious Boswell was committed to the hospitality of Lady Di, whose charming conversation was not entirely adequate to keep up his spirits. In a short time, however, the glad tidings of his election came, and the fussy little Scotsman hurried off to the place of meeting to be formally received. It is impossible to read without a smile the swelling sentences with which he closes his narrative. He was introduced

to such a society as can seldom be found. Mr. Edmund Burke, whom I then saw for the first time, and whose splendid talents had long made me ardently wish for his acquaintance; Dr. Nugent, Mr. Garrick, Dr. Goldsmith, Mr. (afterwards Sir William) Jones, and the company with whom I had dined. Upon my entrance, Johnson placed himself behind a chair, on which he leaned as on a desk or pulpit, and with humourous formality gave me a charge, pointing out the conduct expected from me as a good member of this club.

There was probably more than humourous formality at the back of Johnson's mind that night. He was responsible for Boswell's election, and may well have had a doubt or two as to how that inconsequential person would behave in such a circle.

As Johnson had had his way in the case of Boswell, he could not very well object when some were proposed as members with whom, from the political and religious point of view, he had little sympathy. But he had the grace to regard the matter with philosophy. When its numbers were increased to thirty, he declared he was glad of it, for as there were several with whom he did not like to consort, something would be gained by making it a mere miscellaneous collection of conspicuous men, without any determinate character. The political difficulty was felt by other members. That fact is oppressively illustrated by an account of a meeting recorded by Dr. Burney, the father of the talented Fanny, in a letter to his daughter, dated January 3lst, 1793, at a time, consequently, when excitement still ran high at the execution of Louis XVI of France:

At the Club on Tuesday, the fullest I ever knew, consisting of fifteen members, fourteen all seemed of one mind, and full of reflections on the late transaction in France; but, when about half the company was assembled, who should come in but Charles Fox! There were already three or four bishops arrived, hardly one of whom could look at him, I believe, without horror. After the first bow and cold salutation, the conversation stood still for several minutes. During dinner Mr. Windham, and Burke, jun., came in, who were obliged to sit at a side table. All were boutonnés, and not a word of the martyred king or politics of any kind was mentioned; and though the company was chiefly composed of the most eloquent and loquacious men in the kingdom, the conversation was the dullest and most uninteresting I ever remember at this or any such large meeting.

There were evidently serious disadvantages then in the mixed nature of the club, as there have been since. For example, how did Gladstone meet Huxley after his Gadarene swine had been so unmercifully treated by the man of science?

When Johnson reached his seventy-fourth year, and found himself the victim of infirmities which prompted him to seek his social intercourse near at hand, he conceived the idea of founding what was known as his Essex Street Club. One of his first invitations was sent to Reynolds, but the painter did not see his way to join. The members included the inevitable Boswell, the Hon. Daines Barrington, famous for his association with Gilbert White, and others whom Boswell noted as men of distinction, but whose names are no more than names at this distance. Johnson drew up the rules of the club, which restricted its membership to two dozen, appointed the meetings on Monday, Thursday and Saturday of each week, allowed a member to introduce a friend once a week, insisted that each member should spend at least sixpence at each gathering, enforced a fine of threepence for absence, and laid down the regulation that every individual should defray his own expense. And a final rule stipulated a penny tip for the waiter. The meeting-place was a tavern in Essex Street, known as the Essex Head, of which the host was an old servant of Mr. Thrale's. Boswell, as in duty bound, seeing he was a member, declared there were few societies where there was better conversation or more decorum. And he added that eight years after the loss of its "great founder" the members were still holding happily together. But it was founded too late in the day to gather around it many notable Johnsonian associations, and after his death it was, on Boswell's showing, too happy to have any history.

Among the informal clubs of old London, a distinguished place belongs to that assemblage of variously-talented men, who, under the title of the Wittenagemot abrogated to themselves the exclusive use of a box in the north-east corner of the Chapter coffee-house. It found a capable if terse historian in one of its members, who explains that the club had two sections. The one took possession of the box at the earliest hour of the morning, and from their habit of taking the papers fresh from the news-men were called the Wet Paper Club. In the afternoon the other section took possession, and were as keen to scan the wet evening papers as their colleagues to peruse those of the forenoon. Among the members of the Wittenagemot were Dr. Buchan, the author of a standard treatise on medicine, who although a Tory was so tolerant of all views that he was elected moderator of the meetings; a Mr. Hammond, a manufacturer, who had not been absent for nearly forty-five years; a Mr. Murray, a Scottish Episcopal minister, who every day accomplished the feat of reading through at least once all the London papers; a growling person of the name of Dobson, who, when his asthma permitted, vented his spleen upon both sides of politics; and Mr. Robison the publisher, and Richard, afterwards Sir Richard, Phillips, so keenly alert in recruiting for his Monthly Magazine that he used to attend with a waistcoat pocket full of guineas as an earnest of his good intentions and financial solvency.

Perhaps, however, the most original member of the Wittenagemot was a young man of the name of Wilson, to whom the epithet of Long-Bow was soon applied on account of the extraordinary stories he retailed concerning the secrets of the upper ten. Just as he appeared to be established in the unique circle at the Chapter he disappeared, the cause being that he had run up a bill of between thirty and forty pounds. The strange thing was, however, that the keeper of the coffee-house, a Miss Bran, begged that if any one met Mr. Wilson they would express to him her willingness to give a full discharge for the past and future credit to any amount, for, she said, if he never paid us, he was one of the best customers we ever had, contriving, by his stories and conversation, to keep a couple of boxes crowded the whole night, by which we made more punch, and brandy and water, than from any other single customer. But the useful Long-Bow Wilson was never seen again, and several years later the Wittenagemot itself died of disintegration. It was more fortunate, however, than scores of similar clubs in old London, of which the history is entirely wanting.

Chapter 2: Social and Gaming

Neither of the literary societies described in the previous chapter could claim to be a club in the present accepted meaning of that term. Even Dr. Johnson's famous definition, An assembly of good fellows, meeting under certain conditions, needs amplification. Perhaps the most satisfactory exposition is that given in The Original which was applied in the first instance to the Athenæum. The building, said Walker,

is a sort of palace, and is kept with the same exactness and comfort as a private dwelling. Every member is a master without any of the trouble 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 house. 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.

This is somewhat copious for a definition, but it would be difficult to put into smaller compass the various traits which marked the social and gaming clubs of old London.

St James's Street, showing White's on the left and Brooks's on the right All those qualities, however, were not in evidence from the first. They were a matter of growth, of adaptation to needs as those needs were realized. The evolution of the club in that sense is nowhere better illustrated than in the case of White's, which can claim the proud honour of being the oldest among London clubs. It was established as a Chocolate-house about 1698, and as such was a resort open to all. Even in those days it was notorious for the high play which went on within its walls. Swift has recorded that the Earl of Oxford never passed the building in St. James's Street without bestowing a curse upon it as the bane of half the English nobility. And a little later it was frankly described as a Den of Thieves.

Fire destroyed the first White's a little more than a generation after it was opened. Its owner at that time was one named Arthur, and the account of the conflagration tells how his wife leaped out of a window two stories high onto a feather bed and thus escaped without injury. George II went to see the fire, accompanied by the Prince of Wales, both of whom encouraged the firemen with liberal offers of money. But royal exhortations did not avail to save the building; it was utterly consumed, with a valuable collection of paintings.

Two or three years after the opening of the new building White's ceased to be a public resort as a Chocolate-house and became a club in the strict meaning of the word. It remained under the direction of Mr. Arthur till his death in 1761, and then passed into the control of Robert Mackreth, who had begun his career as a billiard-marker in the establishment. Mackreth married Arthur's only daughter a few months after her father's death, and thus gained an assured hold on the property, which he seems to have retained till his death, although managing the club through an agent. This agent was known as the Cherubim, and figures in the note Mackreth addressed to George Selwyn when he retired from the active oversight of the club. Sir, he wrote, Having quitted business entirely and let my house to the Cherubim, who is my near relation, I humbly beg leave, after returning you my most grateful thanks for all favours, to recommend him to your patronage, not doubting by the long experience I have had of his fidelity but that he will strenuously endeavour to oblige. Before this change took place the club had removed to its present premises, which, however, have been considerably altered both inside and out. The freehold of the house realized forty-six thousand pounds when offered for sale a generation ago.

From a study of the club records, which extend back to 1736, it is possible to trace its evolution to the close corporation it has become. Rules of a more and more stringent nature were gradually adopted, but at the same time its reputation for gambling was on the increase. There was hardly any probability upon which the members did not stake large sums of money. The marriage of a young lady of rank led to a bet of one hundred guineas that she would give birth to a child before a certain countess who had been married several months earlier; another wager was laid that a member of infamous character would be the first baronet hung; and when a man dropped dead at the door of the club and was carried into the building, the members promptly began betting whether he was dead or not, and protested against the bleeding of the body on the plea that it would affect the fairness of the wagers. Well might Young write in one of his epistles to Pope:

Clodio dress'd, danc'd, drank, visited, (the whole
And great concern of an immortal soul!)
Oft have I said, 'Awake! exist! and strive
For birth! nor think to loiter is to live!'
As oft I overheard the demon say,
Who daily met the loiterer in his way,
I'll meet thee, youth, at White's: the youth replies,
I'll meet thee there, and falls his sacrifice;
His fortune squander'd, leaves his virtue bare
To every bribe, and blind to every snare.

Another witness to the prevalent spirit of White's at this time is supplied by Lord Lyttelton in a private letter, wherein he wrote that he had fears, should his son become a member of that club, the rattling of a dice-box would shake down all the fine oaks of his estate.

Mackreth manifested great worldly wisdom in addressing himself to George Selwyn when he retired from the active management of the club, for he knew that no other member had so much influence in the smart set of the day. Selwyn was a member of Brooks's as well, and for a time divided his favours pretty equally between the two houses, but in his latter years seems to have felt a preference for White's. The incidental history of the club for many years finds more lively chronicle in his letters than anywhere else, for he was constant in his attendance and was the best-known of its members. Through those letters we catch many glimpses of Charles James Fox at all stages of his strange career. We see him, for example, loitering at the club drinking hard till three o'clock in the morning, and find him there sitting up the entire night preceding his mother's death, planning a kind of "itinerant trade, which was of going from horse-race to horse-race, and so, by knowing the value and speed of all the horses in England, to acquire a certain fortune." Later, we see the brilliant statesman flitting about the club rooms, as much the minister in all his deportment, as if he had been in office forty years.

Among the countless vignettes of club life at White's as they crop up in Selwyn's letters it is difficult to pick and choose, but a few taken almost at random will revive scenes of a long-past time. Here is one of a supper-party in 1781:

We had a pretty group of Papists - Lord Petres at the head of them - some Papists reformed, and one Jew. A club that used to be quite intolerable is now becoming tolerating and agreeable, and Scotchmen are naturalized and received with great good humour. The people are civil, not one word of party, no personal reflections.

A few days later Selwyn tells this story against himself.

On my return home I called in at White's, and in a minute or two afterwards Lord Loughborough came with the Duke of Dorset, I believe the first time since his admittance. I would be extraordinarily civil, and so immediately told him that I hoped Lady Loughborough was well. I do really hope so, now that I know that she is dead. But the devil a word did I hear of her since he was at your house in St. James's Street. He stared at me, as a child would have done at an Iroquois, and the Duke of Dorset seemed tout confus. I felt as if I looked like an oaf, but how I appeared God knows. I turned the discourse, as you may suppose.

And here is a peep of a gambling party at faro.

I went last night to White's, and stayed there till two. The Pharo party was amusing. Five such beggars could not have met; four lean crows feeding on a dead horse. Poor Parsons held the bank. The punters were Lord Carmarthen, Lord Essex, and one of the Fauquiers; and Denbigh sat at the table, with what hopes I know not, for he did not punt. Essex's supply is from his son, which is more than he deserves, but Malden, I suppose, gives him a little of his milk, like the Roman lady to her father.

The Brilliants: A Rowlandson caricature of London club life in the 18th centuryOther glimpses might be taken such as would give point to Rowlandson's caricature of a later day in which he depicted a scene in The Brilliants club-room. The rules to be observed in this convivial society set forth that each member should fill a bumper to the first toast, that after twenty-four bumper toasts every member might fill as he pleased, and that any member refusing to comply with the foregoing was to be fined by being compelled to swallow a copious draught of salt and water. Rowlandson did not overlook the gambling propensities of such clubs, as may be seen by his picture of E O, or the Fashionable Vowels. By 1781 there were swarms of these E O tables in different parts of London, where any one with a shilling might try his luck. They had survived numerous attempts at their suppression, some of which dated as far back as 1731.

All the characteristic features of White's were to be found at Brooks's club on the opposite side of St. James's Street, the chief difference between the two being that the former was the recognized haunt of the Tories and the latter of the Whigs. This political distinction is underlined in Gillray's amusing caricature of 1796, in which he depicted the Promised Horrors of the French Invasion. The drawing was an ironical treatment of the evil effects Burke foretold of the Regicide Peace, and takes for granted the landing of the French, the burning of St. James's Palace and other disasters. According to the artist, the invaders have reached the vicinity of the great clubs, and are wreaking vengeance on that special Tory club - White's - while Brooks's over the way is a scene of rejoicing. The figures hanging from the lamp-post are those of Canning and Jackson, while Pitt, firmly lashed to the Tree of Liberty, is being vigorously flogged by Fox.

During the earlier years of its history Brooks's was known as Almack's, its founder having been that William Almack who also established the famous assembly-rooms known by his name. The club was opened in Pall Mall as a gaming-salon in 1763, and it speedily acquired a reputation which even White's would have been proud to claim. Walpole relates that in 1770 the young men of that time lost five, ten, fifteen thousand pounds in an evening's play. The two sons of Lord Holland lost thirty-two thousand pounds in two nights, greatly, no doubt, to the satisfaction of the Hebrew money-lenders who awaited gamblers in the outer room, which Charles Fox accordingly christened the Jerusalem Chamber. While it still retained its original name, Gibbon became a member of the club, and Reynolds wished to be. Would you imagine, wrote Topham Beauclerk, that Sir J. Reynolds is extremely anxious to be a member of Almack's? You see what noble ambition will make men attempt. Gibbon found the place to his liking. Town grows empty, he wrote in June, 1776, and this house, where I have passed very agreeable hours, is the only place which still invites the flower of English youth. The style of living, though somewhat expensive, is exceedingly pleasant; and, notwithstanding the rage of play, I have found more entertainment and even rational society here than in any other club to which I belong.

Two years later Almack's became Brooks's. Why the original proprietor parted with so valuable a property is not clear, but the fact is indisputable that in 1778 the club passed into the possession of a wine merchant and moneylender of the name of Brooks, whose fame was celebrated a few years later by the poet Tickell.

Liberal Brooks, whose speculative skill
Is hasty credit, and a distant bill;
Who, nursed in clubs, disdains a vulgar trade,
Exults to trust, and blushes to be paid.

It was the new owner who built the premises in which the club still meets, but that particular speculation does not appear to have prospered, for the story is that he died in poverty. Under the new regime the house kept up its reputation for high play. But there was a time soon after the change when its future did not look promising. Thus in 1781 Selwyn wrote:

No event at Brooks's, but the general opinion is that it is en decadence. Blue has been obliged to give a bond with interest for what he has eat there for some time. This satisfies both him and Brooks; he was then, by provision, to sup or dine there no more without paying. Jack Townshend told me that the other night the room next to the supper room was full of the insolvents or freebooters, and no supper served up; at last the Duke of Bolton walked in, ordered supper; a hot one was served up, and then the others all rushed in through the gap, after him, and eat and drank in spite of Brooks's teeth.

A state of affairs which goes far to explain why the club was in a precarious condition.

Gambling Saloon at Brooks's ClubCharles Fox was of course as much at home at Brooks's as White's. It was, naturally, more of a political home for him than the Tory resort. This receives many illustrations in the letters of Selwyn, especially at the time when he formed his coalition with Lord North. Even then he managed to mingle playing and politics.

I own, wrote Selwyn, that to see Charles closeted every instant at Brooks's by one or other, that he can neither punt or deal for a quarter of an hour but he is obliged to give an audience, while Hare is whispering and standing behind him, like Jack Robinson, with a pencil and paper for mems., is to me a scene la plus parfaitement que l'on puisse imaginer, and to nobody it seems more risible than to Charles himself. The farce was being continued a few days later. I stayed at Brooks's this morning till between two and three, and then Charles was giving audiences in every corner of the room, and that idiot Lord D. telling aloud whom he should turn out, how civil he intended to be to the Prince, and how rude to the King.

Notwithstanding his preference for White's, Selwyn exercised his voting power at Brooks's in a rigid manner. For some reason, probably because he could not boast a long descent, Sheridan's nomination as a member provoked his opposition. Fox, who had been enamoured of Sheridan's witty society, proposed him on numerous occasions and all the members were earnestly canvassed for their votes, but the result of the poll always showed one black ball. When this had gone on for several months, it was resolved to unearth the black-baller, and the marking of the balls discovered Selwyn to be the culprit. Armed with this knowledge, Sheridan requested his friends to put his name up again and leave the rest to him. On the night of the voting, - and some ten minutes before the urn was produced, Sheridan arrived at the club in the company of the Prince of Wales, and on the two being shown into the candidates' waiting-room a message was sent upstairs to Selwyn to the effect that the Prince wished to speak to him below. The unsuspecting Selwyn hurried downstairs, and in a few minutes Sheridan had him absorbed in a diverting political story, which he spun out for a full halfhour. Ere the narrative was at an end, a waiter entered the room and by a pre-arranged signal conveyed the news that Sheridan had been elected. Excusing himself for a few minutes, Sheridan remarked as he left to go upstairs that the Prince would finish the story. But of course the Prince was not equal to the occasion, and when he got hopelessly stuck he proposed an adjournment upstairs where Sheridan would be able to complete his own yarn. It was then Selwyn realized that he had been fooled, for the first to greet him upstairs was Sheridan himself, now a full member of the club, with profuse bows and thanks for Selwyn's friendly suffrage. Happily Selwyn had too keen a sense of humour not to make the best of the situation, and ere the evening was over he shook hands with the new member and bade him heartily welcome.

Far less hilarious was that evening when the notorious George Robert Fitzgerald forced his way into the club. As this bravo had survived numerous duels--owing to the fact, as was stated after his death, that he wore a steel cuirass under his coat--and was of a generally quarrelsome disposition, he was not regarded as a desirable member by any of the London clubs. But he had a special desire to belong to Brooks's, and requested Admiral Keith Stewart to propose him as a candidate. As the only alternative would have been to fight a duel, the admiral complied with the request, and on the night of the voting Fitzgerald waited downstairs till the result was declared. When the votes were examined it was discovered that every member had cast in a black ball. But who was to beard the lion in his den below? The members agreed that the admiral should discharge that unpleasant duty, and on his protesting that he had fulfilled his promise by proposing him, it was pointed out, that as there was no white ball in the box, Fitzgerald would know that even he had not voted for his admission. Posed for a moment the admiral at length suggested that one of the waiters should be sent to say that there was one black ball, and that the election would have to be postponed for another month. But Fitzgerald would not credit that message, nor a second which told him a recount had shown two black balls, nor a third which said that he had been black balled all over. He was sure the first message implied a single mistake, that the second had been the result of two mistakes instead of one, and the third convinced him that he had better go upstairs and investigate on his own account. This he did in spite of all remonstrance, and when he had gained the room where the members were assembled he reduced the whole company to perplexity by asking each in turn whether he had cast a black ball. Of course the answer was in the negative in every case, and the triumphant bully naturally claimed that he had consequently been elected unanimously. Proceeding to make himself at home, and to order numerous bottles of champagne, which the waiters were too frightened to refuse, he soon found himself sent to Coventry and eventually retired. As a precaution against a repetition of that night it was resolved to have half a dozen sturdy constables in waiting on the following evening. But their services were not required. Fighting Fitzgerald never showed himself at the club again, though he boasted everywhere that he had been elected unanimously.

Perhaps it is hardly surprising that the national dish of England was laid under contribution for the name of a club, but it is somewhat confusing to find that in addition to the Beef Steak Club founded in the reign of Queen Anne there was a Beef Steak Society of which the origin is somewhat hazy. The former society is described with great gusto by Ned Ward, who had for it many more pleasant adjectives than he could find for the Kit-Cat Club. The other society appears to have owed its existence to John Rich, of Covent Garden theatre, and the scene-painter, George Lambert. For some unexplained reason, but probably because of its bohemian character, the club quickly gained many distinguished adherents, and could number royal scions as well as plebeians in its circle. According to Henry B. Wheatley, the "room the society dined in, a little Escurial in itself, was most appropriately fitted up: the doors, wainscoting, and roof of good old English oak, ornamented with gridirons as thick as Henry VII's Chapel with the portcullis of the founder. The society's badge was a gridiron, which was engraved upon the rings, glass, and the forks and spoons. At the end of the dining-room was an enormous grating in the form of a gridiron, through which the fire was seen and the steaks handed from the kitchen. Over this were the appropriate lines:-

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly.

Saturday was from time immemorial the day of dining, and of late years the season commenced in November and ended in June. The last elected member of the fraternity was known as Boots, and, no matter how high his social rank, there were certain lowly duties he had to discharge until set free by another newcomer. There was another officer known as the Bishop, whose duty it was to sing the grace, and to read to each new member, who was brought in blindfolded, the following oath of allegiance: "You shall attend duly, vote impartially, and conform to our laws and orders obediently. You shall support our dignity, promote our welfare, and at all times behave as a worthy member of this sublime society. So Beef and Liberty be your reward." Although there is a Beef Steak Club in existence to-day, it must not be identified with either of the two described above.

Another St. James's Street club which can date back to the middle of the eighteenth century is that known as Boodle's. The building was erected somewhere about 1765, but has been materially improved in more recent years. Presumably it takes its singular and not euphonious name from its founder, but on that point no definite information is forthcoming. Practically its only claim to distinction resides in the fact that Gibbon, who was almost as fond of clubs as Pepys was of taverns, was a member, as readers of his correspondence will recollect. In 1773 and the following year the great historian appears to have used the club as his writing-room, for many of his letters of those years are on Boodle's note-paper. One of the epistles recalls the fact that the clubs of London were wont to hold their great functions, such as balls or masquerades, at the Pantheon in Oxford Street, erected as a kind of in-town rival to Ranelagh. It was opened in 1772, and on the fourth of May two years later Gibbon wrote:

Last night was the triumph of Boodle's. Our masquerade cost two thousand guineas; a sum that might have fertilized a province, vanished in a few hours, but not without leaving behind it the fame of the most splendid and elegant _fête_ that was perhaps ever given in a seat of the arts and opulence. It would be as difficult to describe the magnificence of the scene, as it would be easy to record the humour of the night. The one was above, the other below, all relation. I left the Pantheon about five this morning.

Gibbon does not note that two gentlemen, coming from that masquerade dressed in their costumes, used a woman very indecently, and were so mauled by some spectators that they had difficulty in escaping with their lives. It is to be hoped they were not members of Boodle's, who, on the whole, appear to have been somewhat inoffensive persons. At any rate they allowed Gibbon ample quietude for his letter-writing.

Two other clubs of some note in their day are now nothing but a memory. The first of these, the Dover House, was formed by George IV when Prince of Wales in opposition to Brooks's, where two of his friends had been black-balled. He placed it in the care of one Weltzie, who had been his house steward, and for a time it threatened to become a serious rival to the other establishments in St. James's Street. There is Selwyn's confession that the club began to alarm the devotees of Brooks's, for it lived well, increased in numbers, and was chary in the choice of members. That, surely, was the club of which Selwyn tells this vivid story.

The Duke of Cumberland holds a Pharaoh Bank, deals standing the whole night; and last week, when the Duke of Devonshire sat down to play, he told him there were two rules; one was, not to let you punt more than ten guineas; and the other, no tick. Did you ever hear a more princely declaration? Derby lost the gold in his pocket, and the Prince of Wales lent him fifty guineas; on which the Duke of Cumberland expressed some surprise, and said he had never lent fifty pounds in his whole life. Then, says the Prince of Wales, it is high time for you to begin.

Notwithstanding the promise it gave, Weltzie's club does not seem to have had a protracted history. Nor did the Alfred Club survive a half century. It was one of the earliest clubs to cater for a distinct class, and may have failed because it was born out of due time. This resort for men of letters, and members of kindred taste, does not appear to have been a lively place in its first years, for at that time Lord Dudley described it as the dullest place in the world, full of bores, an "asylum of doting Tories and drivelling quidnuncs." Nor was Byron, another member, much more complimentary. His most favourable verdict pronounced the place a little too sober and literary, while later he thought it the most tiresome of London clubs. Then there is the testimony of another member who said he stood it as long as he could, but gave in when the seventeenth bishop was proposed, for it was impossible to enter the place without being reminded of the catechism.

Because Arthur's Club is described as having been founded in 1811 that is no reason for overlooking the fact that its age is much more venerable than that date would imply. The word founded is indeed misleading; a more suitable term would be reconstructed. For that is what happened in 1811. The club can really trace an ancestry back to 1756, when it was the Young Club at Arthur's, the freedom of which Selwyn desired to present in a dice box to William Pitt. That the club has maintained the old-time spirit to a remarkable degree may be inferred from the fact that no foreigners are admitted as members, and from the further regulation which does not allow a member to entertain a friend at the club. There is a Strangers' room in which visitors may wait for members, and where they may be served with light refreshments as a matter of courtesy, but none save members are allowed in the public rooms of the building. This rigid exclusiveness has not militated against the prosperity of the club. Despite a high entrance fee and a considerable annual subscription, candidates have to wait an average of three years for election to its limited circle of six hundred. Which goes to show that the old type of London club is in no danger of extinction just yet.

Part IV: Pleasure gardens of old London