Page images

dinner parties at Gore House, the wittiest member of the House of Commons, a reputation which he maintains, omnium consensu, to this day, asked the Countess of Blessington, on taking leave, if she had any commands for the emerald west. He was bound for Ireland next morning. The finest salmon, dear B., that swims the Blackwater, when you come back again, if you can think of me,' was the request, made with one of her most winning smiles, by the beautiful hostess. Of course B. O. promised as religiously as a knight of romance; but of course he had a good deal to trouble him in Tipperary and he forgot all about it —forgot it, in fact, till coming into the Euston Square Station on his return to town. He then ordered his coachman to drive to the great fishmonger in Bond Street, to whom he explained in confidence the omission he had made, and asked him to make up for it by sending his noblest salmon to Gore House on the instant. And so he did ; but —as Polonius says to Hamlet, “Do'st know me?” “Excellent well ; thou’rt a fishmonger!" Instead of seeing to the delicate commission himself the fisbmonger left it to his chief shopman. This vicarious functionary attached his master's fish-card to the hamper, and sent it moreover in his master's fish van, which bad other fish orders to attend to in the Kensington direction. The M.P. had left his card, with his compliments to Lady Blessington written on it, to be attached to the consignment; and this was mislaid in the hurry of business. The consequence was a letter to him from the Countess, acknowledging the receipt of the hamper, with many thanks, and an invitation to dine next day on the great fish, which, although it was the noblest she had ever seen, seemed to flavour more of Groves of Bond Street than the Groves of Blarney.'


On some Clubs, and their Ends.

Of all historical parallels, there are few more curious than the one between the first club ever established and any similar association of modern times. We must go as far back as the reign of Philip of Macedon (B.C. 320) for that original club. It consisted of Greek gentlemen, who, from their number, called themselves "The Sixty.' They met once a week, not at a tavern, but in a temple—that of Hercules, at Athens. Their secretary was a sprightly young Achaian, named Callimedes-so sprightly, indeed, that the jolly Sixty nicknamed him the Grasshopper. They must have had the highest opinion of their own wit, for every good thing that was uttered was entered in a book, and any member who had a repartee on the tip of his tongue was obliged to keep it there till what had provoked it had been written down! This book of wit, wisdom, and joking was in such repute, that it was lent out to princes and other potentialities, on depositing a security for its return. Thus Athens furnished not only the first club, but the first idea of a circulating library.

One of the most singular features of some of the social gatherings of Roman gentlemen consists in the fact, that if a member did not consider himself “clubbable,” or was not considered so by his colleagues, he might bring with him some one who was. If he possessed an extremely witty slave, and chose to bring him to the meeting, in such case Libanus was as welcome as Demenætus. There are clubs of the present day where dullness so prevails among the associates, where Sir Rayleigh D’Istressin is such a nonentity, and Mr. Hugh Doane Nohoo is so overflowing with nonsense, that it is a pity they cannot be represented by capable substitutes. The latter might be found among the public-office clerks. How well many of these persons have discovered what they are especially fitted for is to be seen in the little companies that club together and exhibit themselves with alacrity as Nigger Serenaders!

In England here, although the name of Club for a society was not known till the seventeenth century, the thing itself was in active practice three hundred years before. The first English club of which we know anything has a French nameLa Cour de Bonne Compagnie. It was founded in the reign of Henry the Fourth, and we may take it that bonne compagnie was understood to signify, in English, good fellows. They met, like "The Sixty' in Athens, once a week. The club was what would now be called a dining-club--that is, meeting periodically

[ocr errors]

in order to dine together, and to enjoy the "feast of reason and the flow of soul” which come of good cheer, safe digestion, happy humour and undying wit.

We may be very sure that at the meetings which took place at The Mermaid,' and at those where Ben Jonson's sons sat around him in • The Apollo,' the English language ripened into mellowness, beauty, and strength. Shakespeare, Raleigh, and the men whose sympathies were attuned to those of the soldier and the poet, must have done especially good work to that end during their joyous discussions at

The Mermaid.' Politics do not seem to have been touched upon. The first club founded in London, with a political purpose among its other objects, was the Rota Club. More than two centuries have elapsed since the Rota saw its table and coffee-cups surrounded by such men as Milton, Cyriac Skinner (to whom Milton addressed the sonnet which urges play as well as work), Marvel, Harrington, Nevill, and very many others. They advocated a going-out of Members of Parliament by rotation, and used a ballot-box for the settlement of club questions—that is to say, they affirmed or negatived by that means the conclusions arrived at by the lecturer for the evening. They also supported the ballot, as the simplest and truest method of voting, generally To this end we are only on the point of now coming, partially

There were some clubs that, meeting only for recreation, fell into a fixed purpose by accident. Small clubs they were, but they were the beginnings of great consequences. From the meeting together of a fety“ city gentlemen,” members of the Wednesday Club, in the reign of William the Third, arose certain discussions on financial matters which led to the “ Conferences" of 1695, in which William Paterson took a leading part. From this club, its discussions and conferences, sprang a gigantic result—“The Old Lady in Threadneedle Street;" in other words, the Bank of England.

A dozen years later, the first germs of the Royal Society of Antiquaries, now enthroned in Somerset House, were planted in the modest room of The Bear Tavern,' in the Strand. Three individuals, to whom the past was dearer than the present or the future, there met to talk over the condition of the ancient monuments of the kingdom, while they smoked their pipes and sipped their ale. One of them was Humphrey Wanley, the well-known archæologist, and librarian to Harley, Earl of Oxford. They agreed to add to their numbers, meet every Friday night, and confine themselves to the consideration of matters and monuments which illustrated English history not later than the reign of James the First. The weekly business was to begin at six, and every absentee was to be fined sixpence. The club or society migrated from the parlour of one publichouse to another before it found royal patronage, and a home in the palace which occupies the site of the one built by the Protector Somerset. After a brief sojourn of a month at • The Bear,' they went, in 1708, to the Young Devil' tavern close by, and there they seem to have been housed for above a quarter of a century. In 1739 they moved to more commodious apartments in The Mitre,' Fleet Street, and they talked no more of sixpences. They numbered a hundred members. Each of them paid a guinea entrance-fee, and twelve shillings annual subscription. In 1770 they commenced the 'Archæologia'; and in the following year George the Third gave them the abiding-place beneath the roof of Somerset House, where they meet weekly, on Thursdays, during six or seven months of the year, and sometimes, like Gratiano, speak an infinite deal of nothing. At other times the meetings are full of interest, and Emperors themselves have been glad to be enrolled among the Antiquaries, who began their career, as a modest club in a Strand tavern of no great repute.

A more ancient society than the Antiquaries has a home within Somerset House. The Royal Society is of much older date, but it began in a little club-gathering, in 1645, at Dr. Goddard's lodgings in Wood Street, and for some time where it could, in Cheapside. After it rose from a club to an incorporated society, it first met in Gresham College; but it has occupied rooms in Somerset House exactly ninety years. Its first avowed object—the establishing of facts by successive experiments—was highly ridiculed, and that most wittily, by Butler, in 'The Elephant in the Moon.' One of the members is described as one who

“had lately undertook
To prove and publish in a book
That men, whose natural eyes are out,
May, by more pow'rful art, be brought
To see with th' empty holes as plain

As if their eyes were in again.”
Another philosopher is said to be renowned

“for his excellence
In height’ning words and shad’wing sense.”

A third experimentalist and chatterer is transported with the "twang of his own trills.” Collectively they are men who are satisfied;

"As men are wont, o'th' bias'd side.” The society set up a telescope to make discoveries in the moon. They detect armies fighting, and an elephant moving among them. Delighted with what they had discovered, they drew up a narrative, to be published in the Transactions. By the time this had been done, idle explorers have made out that the armies are gnats and flies on the lens, and that the elephant is a mouse that had got imprisoned in the tube. The philosophers are disconcerted, and the satirical poet rides over them roughshod, with a moral which is intended to make them as comfortable as a toad under a harrow. Butler flew at them again, in prose, in 'An Occasional Reflection upon Dr. Charlton's feeling a Dog's Pulse at Gres!:am College.' This is exquisite fooling. The paper is supposed to be written by Robert Boyle, Esq., and never was imitation so hard to be distinguished from an original. It is far superior in this respect to the prose imitations, in Rejected Addresses,' of the styles of Dr. Johnson and of Cobbett. We will not conclude this reference to the Wood-street Club, wbich has grown to such dignity and usefulness as the present Royal Society, without recording that, a little more than a hundred years ago, a Latin paper, on · Volcanoes,' was read before it by a German, one Raspe. Whether it faithfully narrated Raspe's experiences, who can tell ?— for Raspe subsequently wrote that amusingly serious lie called · Baron Munchausen.'

In the early part of the last century, a body of ladies constituted themselves as "The Shakespeare Club.' They met in rooms in Covent Garden, and their object was to raise funds to supply the managers of the two theatres, to enable them to act with appropriate splendour the plays of the national poet strictly according to his text: in other words, the end was to annihilate the adapters of the bard. How even the ladies themselves were divided in opinion and into clubs, is seen in the closing words to Fielding's . Historical Register for 1736. The piece closes with a deprecatory appeal to the fair sex present, to whom an actor says: “And you ladies, whether you be Shakespeare's ladies, or Beaumont and Fletcher's ladies, I hope you will make allowance for a rehearsal.”

There was another club in the last century whose purpose was one which deserves for it everlasting respect and admiration. The excellent object it had in view was the suppression of wearisome preachers, or the putting-down of silly and interminable sermons. Whether the means taken to arrive at the ends aimed at could be equally respected and admired, is a matter on which a certain difference of opinion may be justly allowed. It was the fashion of the time for ladies to carry fans, and for gentlemen to be inseparable from their canes. These weapons were turned to church uses by the ladies and gentlemen who were members of the Rattling Club. They were vagrant Christians, who attended such churches as possessed congregations who sat in need of relief from a great oppression—that of being bored by a preacher who (as Voltaire says of them all) stood five feet above contradiction. The Rattlers were perfectly unobtrusive during service, and indeed they were perfectly decorous during sermon, unless they were provoked by absurdity or tediousness. As soon as any provocation of that sort was felt, a Lady-Rattler began to agitate her fan, or

« PreviousContinue »