Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/The London clubs
THE LONDON CLUBS.
At Number Blank, Baker Street—I would not for worlds disclose the number lest I might carry desolation into the breasts of a most respectable family—there was a dinner-party one day last week. Nor will I tell you the precise day, because, starting from that as an ascertained point, you might by a series of jesuitical inquiries prosecuted at the establishment of Capillaire and Sweetbread, pastrycooks and confectioners, ascertain where that banquet was held, and so all my precautions to insure the repose of the family in question would be entirely frustrated, and of no effect.
The Bakers of Baker Street—I say—were minded to give a dinner-party. They gave four every season, and by these four instalments of hospitality duly paid up, discharged their obligations in this kind to the human race in general, and to their friends and acquaintances in particular.
The Bakers pre-eminently constituted a type of English respectability. Mr. John Baker, of Baker Street—the second son of Mr. John Baker, also at Baker Street, but long since deceased—had been twice married. In the first instance he had intermarried with the Welbecks. By Miss Jane Welbeck, his first wife, he had issue now surviving: Margaret, married to Mr. Thomas Stubbs, solicitor, of Shrewsbury, in the county of Salop; John, now doing a very fair commission business in the city of London; Matthew, a surveyor, established at Newcastle-under-Lyne, Staffordshire; and Sophia, yet a spinster. By his second marriage with Mrs. Wimpole, the relict of Mr. Thomas Wimpole, late of Wimpole Street, he had issue four daughters: Martha, married to Mr. Tucker Eaton, junior partner in the firm of “Swill and Eaton,” wine-merchants, of Abchurch Lane—private residence at Stamford Hill; Mary Jane, married to Mr. Frederick Snowball, notary and conveyancer, of Tokenhouse Yard, Lothbury; and Lucy and Anna Maria, who were as yet unappropriated blessings. Of the little Bakers—the issue of both marriages, whom the gods peculiarly loved, and who were therefore taken early from this wicked world, I will say nothing. They were numerous, for the Bakers are an abounding and prolific race. Let us hope that they passed without much ado to an Upper Baker Street of their own.
The second Mrs. Baker had somewhat lost the exquisite perfection of form which in days long since gone by had attracted the attention, and fixed the affections, of Mr. Thomas Wimpole, when, as Miss Martha Wigmore, she used to attend service at the Church of St. Mary-le-bone; and still more when he followed the young lady to Broadstairs, and took note of the impression of her then little feet upon the yellow sands which extend in front of that celebrated watering-place. The once fawn-like Martha Wigmore, since Mrs. Thomas Wimpole, and actually Mrs. John Baker, was, I fear, somewhat stout at the date of the dinner-party last week. Upon that memorable occasion she wore a green satin dress, made rather low, with a toque adorned with a bird of Paradise, and a large yellow topaz brooch. Golden bracelets of considerable value set off the rich proportions of her matronly arms; and altogether there was a Sultana-like idea prevailing throughout her costume. This lady, it would only be right to remark, had projects connected with her dinner-parties of somewhat graver moment even than a due celebration of the return-rites of hospitality. The Misses Lucy and Anna Maria Baker were, in her maternal opinion, somewhat long in “going off.” She was in the habit of attributing this result to the altered tone amongst the young men of the present day—and this alteration of tone, in last resort, she referred to the growth and progress of the London Clubs.
“What in the world,” so this lady was frequently in the habit of observing, “was the use of these establishments?” The chief result of them—as far as she saw—was that they furnished young men with standards of luxury which they would never be able to realise in after-life. The comforts of a home were essentially different from the comforts of a club; but in our time young men arrived at a combination of the two systems, which if they could not realise they for the most part gave up the Home, and adhered to the Club. She (Mrs. B.) trembled to think of what the results must be. As to marriages, there was no use thinking anything more about them. Of course they were at an end. It was not however so much the fate of the women she deplored, as that of the poor, lost, misguided men, who, with no loving eye to watch over them and restrain them in the path of duty, would gradually become worse and worse, and sink into a condition from which it would be impossible to extricate them, even if at the twelfth hour they should awake to a dim consciousness of their forlorn state. What had a parcel of boys to do with velvet sofas, and golden mirrors, and French cookery in place of honest English fare, consumed at the eating-houses which had been good enough for their fathers? She only hoped the sons would turn out half as well; but upon this matter she entertained the most serious doubts.
This was a very favourite theme with Mrs. John Baker; and although I do not affect to give her precise words, she used to handle it much in the way indicated above. An event which seemed to have aggravated her pre-conceived ideas up to a high point of aggravation, was the occurrence in “The Times” of the recent correspondence with regard to Middle-Class Dinners.
“There they are again!” the lady would remark. “My worst anticipations are realised. What! pretend that anything in the world can surpass a saddle, or it may be a haunch, of roasted mutton, and a pair of boiled chickens with a nice delicate tongue! Are we all to be turned into a set of nasty Frenchmen? A judgment will fall upon the country—I say—a judgment! The experience of ages has fixed the character of the entertainments which respectable English families should interchange; and are we to be deprived of our traditions by these silly young men, and reduced to the level of the railway-stage at Bullone? No, we prefer our good old English fare to bullied beef; and I, for one, decline to eat frogs, even although a penny bunch of violets should be put by the side of my plate to give them a flavour.”
Thus the lady would rail on, much in the style of the famous Lord Eldon of dilatory memory, in whose eyes “the sun of England was setting for ever,” and the Throne and the Altar “were ever in danger,” whenever a proposition was made for disfranchising a horse-trough in the Romney Marshes, and transferring the two members which represented it in Parliament to an upstart town in the manufacturing districts, containing half a million of inhabitants, or thereabouts. Better, however, than all argument, to convince the world that Mrs. John Baker was in the right, and these rash innovators of “The Times” in the wrong, will be a simple recital of the Baker ménu on the night in question.
Third form of enchantment:
With slight variations according to the season, this ménu was produced and reproduced by the Bakers and the friends of the Bakers—one noticeable point being that at corresponding periods all the circle gave corresponding dinners. Thus, if in spring you had a decided taste for fore-quarter of lamb and green peas, or in winter for roast turkey and Cambridge sausages, it was sure to be gratified. In order to give a complete idea of a Baker banquet—and thus, as it were, to exhaust this important subject—it may be proper to add that the wine produced by Mr. John Baker at dinner to exhilarate the spirits of his guests, consisted of sherry and three “servings” of champagne. Now the champagne was served in tall glasses such as those which the stork in the fable would have produced when supping en partie fine with the fox, and I have always suspected that there was a certain degree of slyness on the part of the attendants; for although—true it was that your tall glass was for a moment full, or at least appeared to be so—in a very few seconds it was all but empty, without any exertions on your own part. After dinner liquid ruby was produced in the shape of fine old English port, and when the ladies had disappeared, a claret jug was the poor substitute for their amiable and enchanting presence. I do not think that the Baker idea either of the vintage of Champagne or Bordeaux would have satisfied the exigencies of a critical French palate. Upon the occasions to which I allude, the made dishes were for the most part supplied by the firm of Capillaire and Sweetbread, and an attendant from that establishment, habited in a grave and decorous suit of black, was present in aid of the footman with the yellow plush breeches and light green coat—the Baker livery. Additional assistance was given by the green-grocer in Crawford Street, a person quite irreproachable in his ministrations, save that he had an unfortunate habit of breathing hard down your neck when “offering” the stewed pigeons, pink cream, &c, &c. Could human ingenuity go farther in the way of luxury rightly understood than this! But the emissaries of the London Clubs had glided like serpents into the Baker Paradise, and had suggested that the chefs at their respective establishments could produce something in the form of a dinner more gratifying to the palate, and less injurious to the health, than a Baker banquet. Here, then, was an additional reason why Mrs. John Baker detested these institutions. In her opinion they had interfered with the marriage of her daughters, and they certainly had sneered at the constitution of her dinners.
More than this, the young men who frequented these miserable clubs were in the habit of asserting that they did not derive much amusement, nor instruction either, from the conversation of the guests round the hospitable board of the Bakers, and the Baker-friends; in short, that these affairs were exceedingly dull.
The British matron had been touched in her two tenderest points.
During the progress of the banquet now under consideration, Mrs. J. B., supported by an awful bevy of British matrons, who represented public opinion in its most anti-club form in a very vigorous way, expressed the most decided opinions upon this painful subject. This she did in a more pointed manner, inasmuch as there was present at the banquet a youthful barrister, who was known to have been a member of The Brutus for some years, and who did not appear to be devoting any considerable portion of his attention either to his professional studies, or to his establishment in the world in a respectable way.
This young gentleman, however, was not deficient in a certain kind of ability; and from the line of argument he adopted on the evening in question, I should be inclined to augur not unfavourably of his chance of forensic success when he has spent every shilling he possesses in the world, and has involved himself in liabilities to the money-lenders to a considerable amount. It may be superfluous to add, that Mr. Horace Tickler—such was the name of that blooming jurisconsult—did not deliver his address at length as here represented. I only profess to give the substance of his remarks, which were offered in the notice of the company in a pleasant and conversational way.
“You are wrong, my dear Mrs. Baker, for once in your life you are wrong. I feel well assured, from your well-known candour, that you will be the first to admit, and to rejoice in, the discovery of your error. You have, indeed, argued correctly from imperfect, or rather from imaginary premisses. The fact really is—paradoxical as such a conclusion may appear—that the London Clubs are pre-eminently institutions for the promotion of matrimony. When ladies discuss this subject, they appear invariably to lose sight of the story of the Grocer’s Apprentices. What happens when a lad is first introduced into an establishment for the retailing of raisins, figs, candied sugar, and sweeties of various descriptions? Is the lad debarred from the privilege of tasting the luxuries which it will henceforth be his duty to dispense to his employer’s customers? No; he is not only permitted, but rather encouraged, to take his fill; for it is certain that in a very short time he will be so disgusted with the lusciousness of those delicacies which had appeared to be so exquisite to his virgin palate, that he would prefer a hunch of bread and cheese to any of them. The same thing happens with the young men at the London Clubs. I will venture to say, that after his first six months of membership have expired, not one in a hundred cares one straw about the velvet sofas and upholsteries which have excited your indignation. It may indeed be that they permanently prefer the simpler repast which they find at their club to all the luxuries of your hospitable board. But surely this is not an evil of an anti-matrimonial tendency. Now, what happened to young men in London before the club system of this great capital had attained its present development? For their dinners they were bound to dive into some fetid holes redolent of the fumes of hot joints, and wet sawdust. The tablecloths were filthy—spotted with mustard-spots and blotches of gravy—the cutlery was not overclean; the glasses not uncommonly adorned with the marks of the waiter’s thumb. Let us, for argument’s sake, admit that the meat, when you got it, was fair enough in quality, but you bolted it in silence, or amused yourself during your repast with poring over yesterday’s newspaper, for the papers of the day were always ‘in hand.’ The whole affair was abominable; and nothing but the nerves and digestive powers of youth in its vigorous prime could have gone through with it.”
Mrs. John Baker here interrupted the speaker, and intimated, that even admitting Mr. Tickler’s facts as true, she was entitled to the triumph of the argument—as in very truth by force of the very discomforts and privations which Mr. H. T. had so eloquently described, the young men were forced into submission, and driven nolentes volentes into the arms of a loving wife, and the comforts of a respectable home.
“Not so, Mrs. Baker; not so. The process I describe was not at all calculated to promote an admiration for the ‘respectable’ in the youthful breast. Amusement after their day’s work the young men in London would have in one form or another, and I fear, in the majority of cases, that as you lowered the standard of comfort the amusement was taken in a more and more questionable form, and possibly the matrimonial fervour diminished. The young man about town in London of the present day is a great improvement, in my humble opinion, upon the Tom and Jerry type which found favour in the eyes of our fathers. At least in a London club a young gentleman associates with young gentlemen of his own class—his dinner is put before him with an attention to cleanliness and propriety of which, if English homes, almost of the humblest kind, are destitute, all I can say is, the English homes ought to be very much ashamed of themselves. It may probably surprise you to hear—but it is, notwithstanding, the truth—that 80 per cent.—I might even say more—of the dinners furnished every day to the members of the London Clubs collectively, are served at rates varying from 2s. 9d. to 3s. 6d.,—surely a charge which does not imply any very wild degree of luxury or extravagance. The older members will then retire to the news-room or the library, and doze in comfort over their paper, or their novel; and what would the poor old gentlemen do but for the resource of their club? The younger ones disappear in the smoking-room, where at least they meet with gentlemen like themselves, who—astounding as such an assertion may appear—would not, with rare exceptions indeed, tolerate any other subjects or forms of conversation than such as would be employed at your own dinner-table. Let us follow them up-stairs to the billiard-room. The time has happily gone by when it was supposed that a youth who would play a game at billiards was in a fair way to perdition—but even the bitterest opponents of that amusement can scarcely deny that it may be more safely indulged in amongst friends and gentlemen, members of the same club, than amongst the black-legs and sham-captains of the public billiard-tables. Of course there is a sprinkling of men whose acquaintance one would rather avoid in every club; but on the whole, as might have been expected from the constitution of the clubs, and the use of the ballot upon entry, the percentage of such is considerably smaller in the club than in general society.”
These doctrines were very heretical, and in violent contradiction of the Baker theory: they were warmly contested by Mrs. J. Baker and by the ladies present at every point; and at length Mrs. J. B. got so heated with the argument, that she lost sight of her own position as the mother of two nubile and unmarried daughters, and appealed triumphantly to the existence of so many unmarried young ladies of the greatest loveliness—of the highest education—of the tenderest feelings—who were now wasting their youth and early womanhood in cheerless celibacy, as a proof that the desire for marriage amongst men had decreased—which decrease she still attributed to the anti-matrimonial action of the London Clubs.
“In the first place, my dear Mrs. Baker,”—how saccharine in his contradictions was this insinuating lawyer!—“in the first place, I suspect that the extent of this most crying evil has been very much exaggerated. There are more unmarried young ladies and young men, no doubt, than there were twenty years ago; but also there is a greater number of married couples. I do not observe in the Returns of the Registrar-General that there is any falling off in the rate of increase of the population of Great Britain—even passing over the point of how far emigration may affect the returns. But let us admit, for argument’s sake, that the returns are maintained at their present amount by the marriages of the working classes, and that in our own peculiar class, what we may call the upper-middle class of English society, there is a falling off in this respect, is this to be attributed to the actions of the London Clubs? It may well be true that the habits of English gentlemen are more expensive and luxurious than they were thirty years ago; but I would ask in all humility, has not the desire for social distinction increased in a corresponding way amongst English ladies? If Romeo longs for a cotelette à la Soubise tossed off in a fashion somewhat superior to the usual style of English domestic cookery, does not Juliet insist upon her brougham and her little house in Tyburnia, as indispensable conditions before she endows her lover with all the rich treasures of her virgin heart? Are not both too eager to begin life at the very point which their parents had attained just when they were on the eve of quitting it? How often do you meet with a young lady in society who is honestly ready to accept the risks of human life with a husband who has little to recommend his suit in the way of worldly endowments? And is it much to be wondered at, if men who have been left to bear the heat and burden of the day alone, should, when the struggle has been decided in their favour, be somewhat of opinion that they can manage without assistance to spend the produce of their labour in their own way?”
This heresy was not received very favourably amongst the ladies. Of course a woman was always not only ready but eager to make all possible sacrifices for the man of her heart; it was only the men themselves who were cold, worldly, and selfish. I am writing about London Clubs, and not, save by implication, about dinner-parties in Baker Street; and therefore I will say at once that the result of the conversation, not only at dinner, but subsequently in the drawing-room, was that on the next day Mr. Tickler should escort the Baker family over The Brutus—the club to which he belonged himself; and he felt quite sure that a mere glance at the style of accommodation provided for the members would entirely remove from Mrs. J. B.’s mind the false impressions under which she was then evidently labouring. The Brutus was a club which bore somewhat of a political character; and Mr. T. intimated that it was a pleasant and an encouraging sight to watch the young men who were destined at no distant date to be the foremost gladiators in the political arena, in training for the conflict. What midnight oil they consumed! How they scorned delights! How laborious were their days! How they pored over the Reports and Blue Books in order to prepare themselves for the coming strife! Mr. Tickler indeed admitted that there were certain odd characters and eccentric persons who adhered to The Brutus, as barnacles will adhere to the bottom of a gallant ship; but these were not to be taken as fair samples and specimens of the club.
Next day Mr. T. did effectually escort his friends over this famous club, and we have endeavoured, by calling in the aid of art, to give an idea of what the ladies saw on passing into the vestibule of the club. There was something almost painful in the spectacle of that young over-wrought politician, whose intellectual struggles had been of so vehement a kind that he lay exhausted on a sofa in the hall. Nay! it was just as though Mr. T. had prepared the sight as a kind of clap-trap; but I ask the ladies frankly to give me their opinion upon the old member who has just taken the three-cornered note from the hands of the page. Is that note evidence that the members—even the senior members of The Brutus—are insensible to female beauty, and to the invitations of the fair? I would add, as the party were conducted over the house, and shown into the news-room, the coffee-room, where the members take their little portions of black broth, and the library, what proof did they find of the wicked proceedings ordinarily attributed to the members of London Clubs? The place was comfortable enough—it was no more. Of course there was a considerable number of easy-chairs in the library, but there was also a considerable number of members to sit in them. By the easy process of considering the comforts provided for 1200 or 1400 persons to be provided solely for the comfort of the one, no doubt it would be easy enough to get up a case against any individual clubbist; but then there were 1199 or 1399 facts in strong opposition to this theory. I wish that space permitted me to indulge in sketches of the few odd members of London Clubs. The Brutus was certainly not deficient in this respect—but I forbear. The quid-nuncs; and “old boys”; and loud speakers; and after-dinner snorers; and the sharp, active members who are always in a state of permanent opposition to the committee, and in a condition of terrible excitement about the great “mutton-chop question;” and the fussy, vulgar men who are ever endeavouring to thrust their acquaintance upon quiet members who do not appreciate the privilege; and the old members who sit upon the newspapers in the news-rooms, may all stand aside for the moment. Justice may, perhaps, be done to them another day, but not now. I am quite sure that Mrs. J. B.—and still more the Misses Anna Maria and Lucy Baker—had no right to complain of want of deference and attention as they were conducted through the club. Could those two young spinster sylphs have understood the amount of excitement they created in many a manly breast, as they glided like sunbeams through the rooms of that desolate establishment, I am sure they would not have considered a London Club as an institution very violently opposed to their interests.
Under two peculiar heads I trust that Mrs. J. B. will never forget the lesson she received upon the afternoon in question. The club kitchen, and the little arrangements then in course of preparation for the comfort and refreshment of the members a few hours later, should have been pregnant with suggestions for the improvement of the culinary department at Number Blank, Baker Street. Mrs. J. B. might there have seen upon how little men are content to dine, and yet consider that they have dined well. The kitchen of The Brutus was a practical protest against the waste, the extravagance, and the discomfort of the Baker banquets. Nor was it an answer to say that these things can only be done on a large scale. The same results can be produced for two persons as for 1400, almost under the most contracted conditions of space. It is merely a question of parading a corporal’s guard instead of a regiment.
The smoking-room may be considered the sanctum sanctorum of a London club. Here it is that according to feminine opinion the foulest orgies take place! Here are the head-quarters of the great Anti-Matrimonial Conspiracy! Ladies, credite experto, this is an entire delusion! In that exceedingly simple room, with its oil-clothed floor, or possibly with its well-scrubbed boards, and leather-covered sofas, you see an apartment where a certain number of gentlemen meet after dinner to smoke their cigars, and take their coffee, and where they chat over the occurrences of the day, much in the same way that they would do in your presence. The conversation is for the most part carried on amongst knots of friends who have either dined together, or who are personally known to each other. Every London Club has of course its special “Smoking-Room Bores,” who are the greatest and most preposterous bores in the club. There is the Bore who will let nobody talk but himself; the Awful Bore, who uses the smoking-room to the annoyance of everybody present as a practising-room for the House of Commons; the Argumentative Bore; the Dictatorial Bore; the Prosy Bore; and many others of similar descriptions; but who, after all, just do in the smoking-room of a club what they would do in general society. General society should, I think, be duly grateful to the London Clubs for absorbing even for a time so many of these social nuisances.
As Mrs. J. B. and the young ladies are conducted into this room, two gentlemen, even at that early hour, were partaking of the fragrant weed within its mysterious precincts—how odd! They were friends of Mr. Tickler’s, and were presented by that gentleman to the two ladies with all due solemnity. Mr. Addison Capes, the junior partner in a well-established solicitor’s firm in Lothbury; the other, a fervid young Irish member, full of ardour and lofty aspirations. Mrs. J. B. was perfectly overpowered when Mr. Timothy O’Garry, the Honourable Member for Kilbadger, was presented to her; and although her vehement denunciations against smoking and smokers had obtained for her great notoriety amongst her own circle, within five minutes she was converted into a proselyte of the weed by that energetic Irish statesman. The happiness of a home had been denied to him;—how was he to recruit his wearied brain when wasted by the political discussions of the previous night, otherwise than by seeking relief from the fragrant weed? Had Mrs. John Baker ever made trial of the remedy herself when her susceptibilities had been shocked by contact with the world, and the world’s worldliness? Would she permit him to offer her a cigar—a Queen’s?—and the young ladies? Ah! if Mrs. Baker did but know the amount of suffering endured by men in the gloomy dens—such as the one which they now graced by their presence—she would never blame them for attempting at least to snatch from fate the boon of momentary forgetfulness. There was nothing after all in the practice to which any lady should object if only precaution was taken not to annoy her by smoking in her sacred presence, nor to offend her delicate organ of smell by the next day’s remains of the fragrant feast. Yes, London Clubs had their advantages, just like Harbours of Refuge, or Hospitals, but well did the members know that there was a Paradise—a Better Land—from which they were excluded. Ah! if amiable families would but invite him, Mr. O’Garry, to tea, and to sun himself in the fair presence of beings whom he would forbear more particularly to name!
The immediate results of this conversation were—
1st. That Messrs. Timothy O’Garry and Mr. Addison Capes were invited to accompany Mr. Horace Tickler to Number Blank, Baker Street, on a day named.
2ndly. That Mrs. J. Baker confessed on the spot that her opinions, with regard to smoking, had undergone considerable modifications.
The intermediate results were—
3rdly. That Mr. O’Garry confessed to Mr. Capes very shortly after, that his life hitherto had been conducted on mistaken principles, and that the hour had now arrived when he longed for sympathy, adding: “Ah! to think as I led her from the church-door that she was mine—mine—for life—— by George!” Whereupon Mr. Capes laughed, and jeered his friend most consumedly.
4thly. That the next evening two Hansom cabs drove up to the door of Number Blank, Baker Street, and out of the one stepped Mr. O’Garry with a bouquet, and out of the other Mr. Capes with another bouquet, and that Mr. O’G. offered his bouquet to Miss Anna Maria Baker; and Mr. Addison Capes his bouquet to Miss Lucy Baker.
5thly. That Mrs. John Baker, in the course of a conversation with Mr. John Baker, which occurred in the seclusion of the nuptial couch, vehemently rebuked that gentleman for being so far behind the age as never to have made a fair trial of a cigar. Mr. O’Garry had assured her that at the London Clubs the cigar had driven out the bottle, and she (Mrs. J. B.) would no longer tolerate the inebriety of Mr. John Baker and his associates.
The remote results were:
6thly. That Mr. Addison Capes, who was in a thriving way of business, readily obtained the hand of Miss Lucy Baker;—that Mr. Timothy O’Garry made similar proposals with reference to Miss Anna Maria; but as, upon inquiry, it proved that his worldly possessions were of a negative kind, consisting, for the most part, of liabilities incurred in the form of renewed bills, his proposals were rejected;—that poor little Anna Maria took it so dreadfully to heart that some time after Mr. O’Garry was sent for, lectured, blessed, and his liabilities placed in Mr. A. Capes’s hands with a view to his extrication;—that Mr. A. Capes did prevail upon the Jews to accept settlement for 25 per cent, on the amount of the nominal liabilities, and that then the Jewish gentlemen were over-paid;—that Anna Maria Baker became Mrs. Timothy O’Garry, and that in consequence of the grandeur of the connection, her aunt, Miss Smith, of Devonshire Place, settled upon her 400l. per annum for her own exclusive use;—that Mrs. T. O’Garry was presented at the Drawing-Room upon “her marriage” by the consort of “The O’Garry,” and that Mrs. John Baker was so deeply impressed with the fact that a child of her own should have had a personal interview with the Gracious Sovereign, that she remained throughout the day in a state of mild hysterics, rejoicing in the discomfiture of the Baker friends who had been invited to see Mrs. O’Garry dressed for the Drawing-Room;—that, in consequence of the support afforded by the Member for Kilbadger to the Government at a time of political crisis, he was rewarded with the Governorship of one of the Windward Isles, and with the honour of knighthood; and that, consequently, Miss Anna Maria Baker is now Lady O’Garry;—finally, that Mrs. John Baker blesses the London Clubs.
As common-sense will sometimes find admission in the garb of nonsense when in its own pepper and salt clothing it would be sternly excluded from all hearing or sympathy, an attempt has been made in this little sketch to place in the mouths of fictitious speakers the arguments for and against the London Clubs. As an old clubbist I venture to think that the opinion which mainly prevails amongst ladies with regard to London Clubs, and their operations upon the minds and habits of London men, is substantially incorrect. The modern club is a purely modern institution—the growth of the last twenty years. The first London club was founded by Sir W. Raleigh in Friday Street at The Mermaid, and here Shakespeare, if he would, might have blackballed Ben Jonson; and Beaumont and Fletcher were on the committee.
What things have we seen
Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been
So nimble and so full of subtle flame,
As if that every one from whom they came
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest!
Then there was Ben Jonson’s own club at the Devil Tavern, by Temple Bar, where Childs’ banking-house now stands. These were associations of literary men; and I do not think that during the reign of Elizabeth, or the first two Stuarts, the club system of London received any further development. The Commonwealth, of course, killed the clubs. A conventicle was the nearest approach to an association of this kind which would have been tolerated in those grim days. The Restoration brought back to town a more “clubbable” set of men; and we find during the reign of Charles II.—The Club of Kings, and The Club of Ugly Faces, and The King’s Head Club—the latter a political True-Blue Protestant Association set on foot by Shaftesbury for his own purposes. It held its meetings at one of the Fleet Street corners of Chancery Lane. James II. did not help forward club life—the agitation of men’s minds during his short reign was too painful to admit of regular meetings for the purposes of social intercourse. White’s and Brooke’s came in with William III.—White’s being somewhat the older of the two. I cannot find the exact date of the foundation of Boodle’s, but it was probably not much later than that of its two fellows in St. James’s Street. These three clubs grew out of the Coffee Houses celebrated by Addison and Steele, and bore the names, probably, of the owners of the establishments when a set of gentlemen resolved to hire them for their own exclusive use, and for the use of any person whom they might afterwards elect into their society. The White’s and Brooke’s of to-day are very different from the White’s and Brooke’s of one hundred and fifty, or even fifty years ago. In their former condition, when frequented by the great statesmen, and persons of chief social distinction of the day, they had but little indeed in common with modern club life. The Breakfast Club, now sadly degenerated from its ancient glories, is about a century old;—then there was the famous Literary Club of Goldsmith, Burke, Johnson, Garrick, Beauclerk, &c. Those, with the King of Clubs, founded by the late Bobus Smith, in concert with Sir James Mackintosh and the present Marquis of Lansdowne, fills up the interval between the former and present generation of clubs. The really Modern Club dates from the Reform Bill agitation, and the club as it stands is the Modern Club minus the political agitation of that stormy time. The following is the best list I could procure of institutions of this kind actually existing in London.
|Army and Navy||Oriental|
|Arthur’s||Oxford and Cambridge|
|Carlton||Royal London Yacht|
|Cavendish||Royal Thames Yacht|
|City of London||St. George’s Chess|
|Cocoa Tree||St. James|
|East India U. Service||Union|
|Gresham||United Service (Junior)|
These forty-one clubs contain probably from thirty thousand to forty thousand members, and are much frequented; so that, for good or for evil, they constitute an important element in the social constitution of the country.
With rare exceptions, they are but large hotels or coffee-houses. They are undoubtedly very comfortable; but it only depends upon private families to make their Homes so pleasant that they may run the Clubs off the road. A Baker Banquet—take it how you will—is not a pleasant ceremony. Young men and young women will take pleasure in each other’s society if they are allowed to meet in a natural way. I have the highest respect for my dear old friend, Josiah Copperdam, of The Brutus, who tells me long stories about things as they were in the year of Grace 1822; but I fear that that most respectable clubbist would stand a poor chance in my regard against sweet Bessie Primrose of Almond Villa, if that old snap-dragon of an Aunt Jane would only allow me to offer to the young lady the assurances of my respectful homage.Let English mothers and English wives condescend to take a few lessons from these much-abused institutions, and make the Home more pleasant than the Club, a result easily in their power,—and I should be sorry for poor old Copperdam. How he would talk to the waiters! Never mind, Bessie dear; we’ll ask poor C. up occasionally to Almond Villa, and give him something much nicer and less extravagant than a Baker Banquet; and—who knows?—Aunt Jane might “go off” yet.