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OF CERTAIN CLUBS AND CLUB-WITS UNDER ANNE.
I SUPPOSE that, long before the building of Babel, man discovered that he was an associative animal, with the universal motto, “L’union c'est la force ;” and that association, to be of any use, requires talk. A history of celebrated associations, from the building society just mentioned down to the thousands which are represented by an office, a secretary, and a brass plate, in the present day, would give a curious scheme of the natural tendencies of man; while the story of their failures- --and how many have not failed, sooner or later !-would be a pretty moral lesson to your anthropolaters who Babelize nowadays, and believe there is nothing which a company with capital can not achieve. I wonder what object there is, that two men can possibly agree in desiring, and which it takes more than one to attain, for which an association of some kind has not been formed at some time or other, since first the swarthy savage learned that it was necessary to unite to kill the lion which infested the neighborhood! Alack for human nature! I fear by far the larger proportion of the objects of associations would be found rather evil than good, and, certes, nearly all of them might be ranged under two heads, according as the passions of hate or desire found a common object in several hearts. Gain on the one hand—destruction on the other—have been the chief motives of clubbing in all time.
A delightful exception is to be found, though-to wit, in associations for the purpose of talking. I do not refer to parliaments and philosophical academies, but to those companies which have been formed for the sole purpose of mutual entertainment by interchange of thought.
Now, will any kind reader oblige me with a derivation of the word “Club?” I doubt if it is easy to discover. But one thing is certain, whatever its origin, it is, in its present sense, purely English in idea and in existence. Dean Trench points this out, and, noting the fact that no other nation (he might have excepted the Chinese) has any word to express this kind of association, he has, with very pardonable national pride, but unpardonably bad logic, inferred that the English are the most sociable people in the world. The contrary is true; nay, was true, even in the days of Addison, Swift, Steele--even in the
THE ORIGIN OF CLUBS.COFFEE-HOUSES.
days of Johnson, Walpole, Selwyn; ay, at all time since we have been a nation. The fact is, we are not the most sociable, but the most associative race; and the establishment of clubs is a proof of it. We can not, and never could, talk freely, comfortably, and generally, without a company for talking. Conversation has always been with us as much a business as railroad-making, or what not. It has always demanded certain accessories, certain condiments, certain stimulants to work it up to the proper pitch. “We all know” we are the cleverest and wittiest people under the sun; but then our wit has been stereotyped. France has no “ Joe Miller;" for a bonmot there, however good, is only appreciated historically. Our wit is printed, not spoken: our best wits behind an inkhorn have sometimes been the veriest logs in society. On the Continent clubs were not called for, because society itself was the arena of conversation. In this country, on the other hand, a man could only chat when at his ease; could only be at his ease among those who agreed with him on the main points of religion and politics, and even then wanted the aid of a bottle to make him comfortable. Our want of sociability was the cause of our clubbing, and therefore the word “club” is purely English.
This was never so much the case as after the Restoration. Religion and politics never ran higher than when a monarch, who
is said to have died a papist because he had no religion at all during his life, was brought back to supplant a furious puritanical Protectorate. Then, indeed, it was difficult for men of opposite parties to meet without bickering; and society demanded separate meeting-places for those who differed. The origin of clubs in this country is to be traced to two causes-the vehemence of religion and political partisanship, and the establishment of coffee-houses. These certainly gave the first idea of clubbery. The taverns which preceded them had given the English a zest for public life in a small way. “ The Mermaid” was, virtually, a club of wits long before the first real club was opened, and, like the clubs of the eighteenth century, it had its presiding geniuses in Shakspeare and Rare Ben.
The coffee-houses introduced somewhat more refinement and less exclusiveness. The oldest of these was the “Grecian.” “One Constantine, a Grecian," advertised in “The Intelligencer” of January 23d, 1664-5, “that the right coffee bery or chocolate” might be had of him “as cheap and as good as is any where to be had for money,” and soon after began to sell the said “ coffee bery” in small cups at his own establishment in Devereux Court, Strand. Some two years later we have
THE OCTOBER CLUB.
news of “Will's,” the most famous, perhaps, of the coffeehouses. Here Dryden held forth with pedantic vanity; and here was laid the first germ of that critical acumen which has since become a distinguishing feature in English literature. Then, in the City, one Garraway, of Exchange Alley, first sold “tea in leaf and drink, made according to the directions of the most knowing, and travelers into those eastern countries ; and thus established the well-known Garraway's, whither, in Defoe's day, " foreign banquiers" and even ministers resorted, to drink the said beverage. “Robin's," "Jonathan's," and
” many another, were all opened about this time, and the rage for coffee-house life became general throughout the country.
In these places the company was of course of all classes and colors; but, as the conversation was general, there was naturally at first a good deal of squabbling, till, for the sake of peace and comfort, a man chose his place of resort according to his political principles; and a little later there were regular Whig and Tory coffee-houses. Thus, in Anne's day, “The Cocoanut,” in St. James's Street, was reserved for Jacobites, while none but Whigs frequented “The St. James's." Still there was not sufficient exclusiveness; and as early as in Charles II.'s reign, men of peculiar opinions began to appropriate certain coffee-houses at certain hours, and to exclude from them all but approved members. Hence the origin of clubs.
The October Club was one of the earliest, being composed of some hundred and fifty rank Tories, chiefly country members of Parliament. They met at the “Bell,” in King Street, Westminster, that street in which Spenser starved, and Dryden's brother kept a grocer's shop. A portrait of Queen Anne, by Dahl, hung in the club-room. This and the Kit-kat, the great Whig club, were chiefly reserved for politics; but the fashion of clubbing having once come in, it was soon followed by people of all fancies. No reader of the “Spectator” can 'fail to remember the ridicule to which this was turned by descriptions of imaginary clubs for which the qualifications were absurd, and of which the business, on meeting, was preposterous nonsense of some kind. The idea of such fraternities, as the Club of Fat Men, the Ugly Club, the Sheromp Club, the Everlasting Club, the Sighing Club, the Amorous Club, and others, could only have been suggested by real clubs almost as ridiculous. The names, too, were almost as fantastical as those of the taverns in the previous century, which counted “The Devil,” and “The Heaven and Hell,” among their numbers. Many derived their titles from the standing dishes preferred at supper, the Beefsteak and the Kit-kat (a sort of mutton-pie) for instance.
THE BEEFSTEAK CLUB.
The Beefsteak Club, still in existence, was one of the most famous established in Anne's reign. It had at that time less of a political than a jovial character. Nothing but that excellent British fare, from which it took its name, was, at first, served at the supper-table. It was an assemblage of wits of every station, and very jovial were they supposed to be when the juicy dish had been discussed. Early in the century, Estcourt, the actor, was made providore to this club, and wore a golden gridiron as a badge of office, and is thus alluded to in Dr. King's “Art of Cookery" (1709)
“He that of honor, wit, and mirth partakes,
In Estcourt's book, whose gridiron's framed of gold." Estcourt was one of the best mimics of the day, and a keen satirist to boot: in fact he seems to have owed much of his success on the stage to his power of imitation, for while his own manner was inferior, he could at pleasure copy exactly that of any celebrated actor. He would be a player. At fifteen he ran away from home, and joining a strolling company, acted Roxana in woman's clothes ; his friends pursued him, and, changing his dress for that of a girl of the time, he tried to escape them, but in vain. The histrionic youth was captured, and bound apprentice in London town; the “seven long
years' of which did not cure him of the itch for acting. But he was too good a wit for the stage, and amused himself, though not always his audience, by interspersing his part with his own remarks. The great took him by the hand, and old Marlborough especially patronized him: he wrote a burlesque of the Italian operas then beginning to be in vogue; and died in 1712–13. Estcourt was not the only actor belonging to the Beefsteak, nor even the only one who had concealed his sex under emergency; Peg Woffington, who had made as good a boy as he had done a girl, was afterward a member of this club.
In later years the beefsteak was cooked in a room at the top of Covent Garden Theatre, and counted many a celebrated wit among those who sat around its cheery dish. Wilkes the blasphemer, Churchill, and Lord Sandwich, were all members of it at the same time. Of the last, Walpole gives us information in 1763 at the time of Wilkes' duel with Martin in Hyde Park. He tells us that at the Beefsteak Club Lord Sandwich talked so profusely, “ that he drove harlequins out of the company.” To the honor of the club be it added, that his lordship was driven out after the harlequins, and finally expelled: it is sincerely to be hoped that Wilkes was sent after his lordship. This club is now represented by one held behind the
Lyceum, with the thoroughly British motto, “Beef and Liberty:" the name was happily chosen, and therefore imitated. In the reign of George II. we meet with a “Rump-steak, or Liberty Club;" and somehow steaks and liberty seem to be the two ideas most intimately associated in the Britannic mind. Can any one explain it ?
Other clubs there were under Anne-political, critical, and hilarious—but the palm is undoubtedly carried off by the glorious Kit-kat.
It is not every eating-house that is immortalized by a Pope, though Tennyson has sung “The Cock” with its "plump head
“ waiter," who, by the way, was mightily offended by the Laureate's verses- or pretended to be so- and thought it “a great liberty of Mr. Mr. what is his name? to put respectable private characters into his books.” Pope, or some say Arbuthnot, explained the etymology of this club's extraordinary title:
“Whence deathless Kit-kat took its name,
Few critics can unriddle;
And some from Cat and Fiddle.
Gray statesmen or green wits ;
Of old cats and young kits.” Probably enough the title was hit on at hap-hazard, and retained because it was singular, but as it has given a poet a theme, and a painter a name for pictures of a peculiar size, its etymology has become important. Some say that the pastry
; cook in Shire Lane, at whose house it was held, was named Christopher Katt. Some one or other was certainly celebrated for the manufacture of that forgotten delicacy, a muttonpie, which acquired the name of a Kit-kat.
"A Kit-kat is a supper for a lord,” says a comedy of 1700, and certes it afforded at this club evening nourishment for many a celebrated noble profligate of the day. The supposed sign of the Cat and Fiddle (Kitt), gave another solution, but after all, Pope's may be satisfactorily received.
The Kit-kat was, par excellence, the Whig Club of Queen Anne's time: it was established at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and was then composed of thirty-nine members, among whom were the Dukes of Marlborough, Devonshire, Grafton, Richmond, and Somerset. In later days, it numbered the greatest wits of the age,
of whom anon. This club was celebrated more than any for its toasts.