Steele's description of a visit to this manysided resort is by far the best picture of its owner and its contents. "When I came into the coffee-house," he wrote, "I had not time to salute the company, before my eye was diverted by ten thousand gimcracks round the room, and on the ceiling. When my first astonishment was over, comes to me a sage of thin and meagre countenance; which, aspect made me doubt, whether reading or fretting had made it so philosophic: but I very soon perceived him to be of that sect which the ancients call Gingivist; in our language, tooth-drawers. I immediately had a respect for the man; for these practical philosophers go upon a very rational hypothesis, not to cure, but to take away the part affected." And then follows that delightful dissertation which linked Mr. Salter in the line of succession with the barber of Don Quixote. But Steele could not forgive the Chelsea barber and coffee-house keeper one thing. "I cannot allow the liberty he takes of imposing several names (without my license) on the collections he has made, to the abuse of the good people of England; one of which is particularly calculated to deceive religious persons, to the great scandal of the well-disposed, and may introduce heterodox opinions. He shews you a straw hat, which I know to be made by Madge Peskad, within three miles of Bedford; and tells you, 'It is Pontius Pilate's wife's chambermaid's sister's hat.' To my knowledge of this very hat it may be added, that the covering of straw was never used among the Jews, since it was demanded of them to make bricks without it."
Don Saltero had a poetic catalogue of his curiosities, of which one verse ran:
"Monsters of all sorts here are seen, Strange things in nature as they grew so; Some relics of the Sheba Queen, And fragments of the famed Bob Crusoe."
These treasures, however, could not avert the fate which was due to befall the house on January 8th, 1799, when the lease of the building and all within were disposed of by public sale. A philosophic journalist, not possessing Steele's sense of humour, gravely remarked of the Don's gimcracks that they, with kindred collections, helped to cherish the infancy of science, and deserved to be appreciated as the playthings of a boy after he is arrived at maturity. Happily the Don himself did not survive to see his precious treasures fetch less than ten shillings a-piece.
THE CLUBS OF OLD LONDON.
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 boutonns, 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.
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 Athenum. "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.
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."
Other 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.
Charles 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 fte 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.
PLEASURE GARDENS OF OLD LONDON.
Numerous and diversified as were the outdoor resorts of old London, no one of them ever enjoyed the patronage of the gardens at Vauxhall. Nor can any pleasure resort of the English capital boast so long a history. For nearly two centuries, that is, from about 1661 to 1859, it ministered to the amusement of the citizens.
At the outset of its career it was known as New Spring Gardens, and it continued to be described as Spring Gardens in the official announcements, till 1786, although for many years previously the popular designation was Vauxhall. The origin of that name is involved in obscurity, but it is supposed to have been derived from a family of the name of Faux who once held the manor.
For the earliest pictures of the resort we must turn to the pages of Pepys, whose first visit to the gardens was paid in May, 1662. On this occasion he was accompanied by his wife, the two maids, and the boy, the latter distinguishing himself by creeping through the hedges and gathering roses. Three years later Pepys went to the gardens on several occasions within a few weeks of each other, the first visit being made in the company of several Admiralty friends, who, with himself, were ill at ease as to what had been the result of the meeting between the English and Dutch fleets. Still, on this, the "hottest day that ever I felt in my life," Pepys did not fail to find enjoyment in walking about the garden, and stayed there till nine o'clock for a moderate expenditure of sixpence. Not many days later he was back again, this time alone and in a philosophic mood. The English fleet had been victorious, and the day was one of thanksgiving. So the diarist strolled an hour in the garden observing the behaviour of the citizens, "pulling of cherries, and God knows what." Quite a different scene met his gaze on his third visit that year; the place was almost deserted, for the dreaded plague had broken out and London was empty. Then came the year of the Great Fire, and Pepys was in too serious a mood to wend his way to Vauxhall. But he had recovered his spirits by the May of 1667, and gives us this record of a visit of that month: "A great deal of company, and the weather and garden pleasant: and it is very pleasant and cheap going thither, for a man may go to spend what he will, or nothing, all as one. But to hear the nightingale and other birds, and hear fiddles, and there a harp, and here a Jew's trump, and here laughing, and there fine people walking, is mighty divertising. Among others, there were two pretty women alone, that walked a great while, which being discovered by some idle gentlemen, they would needs take them up; but to see the poor ladies how they were put to it to run from them, and they after them, and sometimes the ladies put themselves along with other company, then the other drew back; at last, the last did get off out of the house, and took boat and away. I was troubled to see them abused so; and could have found in my heart, as little desire of fighting as I have, to have protected the ladies." But a time was to come, on a later visit, when Pepys found himself in the company of a couple who were just as rude as the gentlemen he had a mind to fight. For on a May evening the next year he fell in with Harry Killigrew and young Newport, as "very rogues as any in the town," who were "ready to take hold of every woman that comes by them." Yet Pepys did not shake their company; instead he went with the rogues to supper in an arbour, though it made his heart "ake" to listen to their mad talk. When sitting down to his diary that night he reflected on the loose company he had been in, but came to the conclusion that it was not wholly unprofitable to have such experience of the lives of others. Perhaps he really enjoyed the experience; at any rate, he was back again the following evening, and saw the young Newport at his tricks again. Nor was that rogue singular in his behaviour. Pepys had other illustrations on subsequent visits of the rudeness which had become a habit with the gallants of the town.
By the numerous references which may be found in the comedies of the Restoration period it is too obvious that Vauxhall fully sustained its reputation as a resort for the "rogues" of the town. But, happily, there are not lacking many proofs that the resort was also largely affected by more serious-minded and respectable members of the community. It is true they were never free from the danger of coming in contact with the seamy side of London life, but that fact did not deter them from seeking relaxation in so desirable a spot. There is a characteristic illustration of this blending of amusement and annoyance in that classical number of the Spectator wherein Addison described his visit to the garden with his famous friend Sir Roger de Coverley. As was usual in the early days of the eighteenth century, and for some years later, the two approached the garden by water. They took boat on the Thames, at Temple-stairs, and soon arrived at the landing-place. It was in the awakening month of May, when the garden was in the first blush of its springtime beauty. "When I considered," Addison wrote, "the fragrancy of the walks and bowers, with the choirs of birds that sung upon the trees, and the loose tribe of people that walked under their shades, I could not but look upon the place as a kind of Mahometan paradise. Sir Roger told me it put him in mind of a little coppice by his house in the country, which his chaplain used to call an aviary of nightingales. 'You must understand,' said the knight, 'there is nothing in the world that pleases a man in love so much as your nightingale. Ah, Mr. Spectator, the many moon-light nights that I have walked by myself, and thought on the widow by the music of the nightingale!' He here fetched a deep sigh." But the worthy old man's fit of musing was abruptly broken by too tangible a reminder that this was indeed a kind of Mahometan paradise.
Up to 1732 Vauxhall appears to have been conducted in a haphazard way. That is, no settled policy had been followed in its management or the provision of set attractions. The owner seems to have depended too much on the nightingales, and the natural beauties of the place. From the date mentioned, however, a new regime began. At that time the garden passed into the control of Jonathan Tyers, who introduced many alterations and improvements. A regular charge was now made for admission, and season tickets in the shape of silver medals were instituted. Several of these were designed by Hogarth, in recognition of whose services in that and other ways Mr. Tyers presented him with a gold ticket entitling him to admission for ever. Among the improvements dating from this new ownership was adequate provision of music. An orchestra was erected, and in addition to instrumental music many of the most famous singers of the day were engaged. The innovations of Mr. Tyers have left their impress on the literature of the place in prose and verse. A somewhat cloying example of the latter is found in an effusion describing the visit of Farmer Colin in 1741:
"Oh, Mary! soft in feature, I've been at dear Vauxhall; No paradise is sweeter, Not that they Eden call.
"Methought, when first I entered, Such splendours round me shone, Into a world I ventured, Where rose another sun:
"While music, never cloying, As skylarks sweet, I hear: The sounds I'm still enjoying, They'll always soothe my ear."
Ten years later Mr. Tyers was paid a more eloquent tribute by the pen of Fielding. Perhaps he took his beloved Amelia to Vauxhall for the purpose of heightening his readers' impression of her beauty, for it will be remembered that she was greatly distressed by the admiration of some of the "rogues" of the place; but incidentally he has a word of high praise for the owner of the garden. "To delineate the particular beauties of these gardens would, indeed," the novelist writes, "require as much pains, and as much paper too, as to rehearse all the good actions of their master, whose life proves the truth of an observation which I have read in some ethic writer, that a truly elegant taste is generally accompanied with an excellency of heart." But Fielding does not quite dodge his responsibility to say something of the place itself, only he is adroit enough to accentuate his words by placing them in the mouth of the fair Amelia. "The delicious sweetness of the place," was her verdict, "the enchanting charms of the music, and the satisfaction which appears on every one's countenance, carried my soul almost to heaven in its ideas." That her rapture should have been spoilt by the impertinents who forced themselves on the little party later, is a proof that the evils which Pepys lamented were still in evidence at the middle of the eighteenth century.
And another proof may be cited to show that Vauxhall was at the time in high favour with the smart set. It occurs in a letter to Lord Carlisle of July, 1745. The correspondent of the peer thinks he will be interested in a piece of news from Vauxhall. One of the boxes in the garden was, he said, painted with a scene depicting a gentleman far gone in his cups, in the company of two ladies of pleasure, and his hat lying on the ground beside him. This appealed so strongly to a certain marquis as typical of his own tastes that he appropriated the box for his own use, stipulating, however, that a marquis's coronet be painted over the hat. Notwithstanding the high character attributed to him by Fielding, Mr. Tyers agreed to the proposal, and the waiters were given authority to instruct any company that might enter that box that it belonged to the marquis in question, and must be vacated if he came on the scene.
Although changes were made from time to time, the general arrangement of Vauxhall remained as it existed at the height of Mr. Tyers' tenancy. The place extended to about twelve acres, laid out in formal walks but richly wooded. The principal entrance led into what was known as the Grand Walk, a tree-lined promenade some three hundred yards in length, and having the South Walk parallel. The latter, however, was distinguished by its three triumphal arches and its terminal painting of the ruins of Palmyra. Intersecting these avenues was the Grand Cross Walk, which traversed the garden from north to south. In addition there were those numerous "Dark Walks" which make so frequent an appearance in the literature of the place. Other parts of the garden were known as the Rural Downs, the Musical Bushes, and the Wilderness. In the farthest removed of these the nightingales and other birds for which Vauxhall was famous contributed their quota to the attractions of the place.
In addition to the supper-boxes and pavilions, which were arranged in long rows or in curving fashion, the buildings consisted of the orchestra and the Rotunda, the latter being a circular building seventy feet in diameter. It was fitted up in a style thought attractive in those days, was provided with an orchestra where the band played on wet evenings, and was connected with a long gallery known as the Picture Room. The amusements provided by the management varied considerably. Even at their best, however, they would be voted tame by amusement-seekers of the twentieth century. Fireworks took their place on the programme in 1798, and nearly twenty years later what was deemed a phenomenal attraction was introduced in the person of Mme. Saqui of Paris, who used to climb a long rope leading to the firework platform, whence she descended to the accompaniment of a "tempest of fireworks." One of the earliest and most popular attractions was that known as the Cascade, which was disclosed to view about nine o'clock in the evening. It was a landscape scene illuminated by hidden lights, the central feature of which was a miller's house and waterfall having the "exact appearance of water." More daring efforts were to come later, such as the allegorical transparency of the Prince of Wales leaning against a horse held by Britannia, a Submarine Cavern, a Hermit's Cottage, and balloon ascents. The most glorious of these attractions presented a sordid sight by daylight, but in the dim light of the countless lamps hung in the trees at night passed muster with the most critical.
Enough evidence has been produced to show how the "rogues" amused themselves at Vauxhall, but the milder pleasures of sober citizens have not been so fully illustrated. Yet there is no lack of information on that score. There is, for example, that lively paper in the Connoisseur which gives an eavesdropping report of the behaviour and conversation of a London merchant and his wife and two daughters. The Connoisseur took notes from the adjoining box.
"After some talk, 'Come, come,' said the old don, 'it is high time, I think, to go to supper.'
"To this the ladies readily assented; and one of the misses said, 'Do let us have a chick, papa.'
"'Zounds!' said the father, 'they are half-a-crown a-piece, and no bigger than a sparrow.'
"Here the old lady took him up, 'You are so stingy, Mr. Rose, there is no bearing with you. When one is out upon pleasure, I love to appear like somebody: and what signifies a few shillings once and away, when a body is about it?'
"This reproof so effectually silenced the old gentleman, that the youngest miss had the courage to put in a word for some ham likewise: accordingly the waiter was called, and dispatched by the old lady with an order for a chicken and a plate of ham. When it was brought, our honest cit twirled the dish about three or four times, and surveyed it with a very settled countenance; then taking up the slice of ham, and dangling it to and fro on the end of his fork, asked the waiter how much there was of it.
"'A shilling's worth, Sir,' said the fellow.
"'Prithee,' said the don, 'how much dost think it weighs? An ounce? A shilling an ounce! that is sixteen shillings per pound! A reasonable profit truly! Let me see, suppose now the whole ham weighs thirty pounds; at a shilling per ounce, that is, sixteen shillings per pound, why! your master makes exactly twenty-four pounds of every ham; and if he buys them at the best hand, and salts and cures them himself, they don't stand him in ten shillings a-piece.'
"The old lady bade him hold his nonsense, declared herself ashamed for him, and asked him if people must not live: then taking a coloured handkerchief from her own neck, she tucked it into his shirt-collar (whence it hung like a bib), and helped him to a leg of the chicken. The old gentleman, at every bit he put into his mouth, amused himself with saying, 'There goes two-pence, there goes three-pence, there goes a groat. Zounds, a man at these places should not have a swallow as wide as a torn-tit.'"
But having been launched on a career of temporary extravagance, the honest citizen grew reckless. So he called for a bottle of port, and enjoyed it so much as to call for a second. But the bill brought him to his senses again, and he left Vauxhall with the conviction that one visit was enough for a lifetime.
So long as Vauxhall existed the thinness and dearness of its plates of ham were proverbial. There is a legend to the effect that a man secured the position of carver on the understanding that he was able to cut a ham so thin that the slices would cover the entire garden. Writer after writer taxed his ingenuity to find metaphors applicable to those shadowy slices. One scribe in 1762 declared that a newspaper could be read through them; Pierce Egan decided that they were not cut with a knife but shaved off with a plane; and a third averred that they tasted more of the knife than anything else.
Of course Goldsmith made his philosophical Chinaman visit Vauxhall, the other members of the party consisting of the man in black, a pawnbroker's widow, and Mr. Tibbs, the second-rate beau, and his wife. The Chinaman was delighted, and, by a strange coincidence, Addison's metaphor crops up once more in his rapturous description. "The illuminations began before we arrived, and I must confess that, upon entering the gardens, I found every sense overpaid with more than expected pleasure; the lights everywhere glimmering through the scarcely moving trees; the full-bodied concert bursting on the stillness of the night; the natural concert of the birds, in the more retired part of the grove, vying with that which was formed by art; the company gaily-dressed looking satisfaction, and the tables spread with various delicacies, all conspired to fill my imagination with the visionary happiness of the Arabian lawgiver, and lifted me into an ecstasy of admiration. 'Head of Confucius, cried I to my friend, 'this is fine! this unites rural beauty with courtly magnificence: if we except the virgins of immortality that hang on every tree, and may be plucked at every desire, I do 'not see how this falls short of Mahomet's paradise!'"
But the Celestial rhapsody was interrupted by Mr. Tibbs, who wanted to know the plan of campaign for the evening. This was a matter on which Mrs. Tibbs and the widow could not agree, but an adjournment to a box in the meantime was accepted as a compromise. Even there, however, the feminine warfare was continued, to the final triumph of Mrs. Tibbs, who, being prevailed upon to sing, not only distracted the nerves of her listeners, but prolonged her melody to such an extent that the widow was robbed of a sight of the water-works.
No account of Vauxhall however brief should overlook the attractions the place had to the sentimental young lady of the late eighteenth century. From the character of the songs which the vocalists affected it might be inferred that love-lorn misses were expected to form the bulk of their audience. Perhaps that was so; for the Dark Walks were ideal places in which to indulge the tender sentiment. The elder daughter of the Connoisseur's citizen confessed a preference for those walks because "they were so solentary," and Tom Brown noted that the ladies who had an inclination to be private took delight in those retired and shady avenues, and in the windings and turnings of the little Wilderness, where both sexes met and were of mutual assistance in losing their way.
Smollett, however, made his impressionable Lydia Melford sum up the attractions of Vauxhall for the young lady of the period. It is a tender picture she draws, with the wherry in which she made her journey, "so light and slender that we looked like so many fairies sailing in a nutshell." There was a rude awakening at the landing-place, where the rough and ready hangers-on of the place rushed into the water to drag the boat ashore; but that momentary disturbance was forgotten when Miss Lydia entered the resort.
"Imagine to yourself, my dear Letty," she wrote, "a spacious garden, part laid out in delightful walks, bounded with high hedges and trees, and paved with gravel; part exhibiting a wonderful assemblage of the most picturesque and striking objects, pavilions, lodges, groves, grottos, lawns, temples, and cascades; porticos, colonnades, and rotundas; adorned with pillars, statues, and paintings; the whole illuminated with an infinite number of lamps, disposed in different figures of suns, stars, and constellations; the place crowded with the gayest company, ranging through those blissful shades, or supping in different lodges, on cold collations, enlivened with mirth, freedom, and good humour." Lydia has a word, too, for the musical charms of the place, and seems pleased to have heard a celebrated vocalist despite the fact that her singing made her head ache through excess of pleasure. All this was enhanced, no doubt, by the presence of that Mr. Barton, the country gentleman of good fortune, who was so "particular" in his attentions,
Perhaps the best proof of the place Vauxhall occupied in popular esteem is afforded by the number of occasions on which the garden was chosen as the scene of a national event. This was notably the case in 1813, when a pretentious festival took place in the grounds in celebration of the victory achieved at Vittoria by the Allies under Wellington. An elaborate scheme of decoration, both interior and exterior, was a striking feature of the occasion, while to accommodate the numerous dinner guests a large temporary saloon became necessary. This was constructed among the trees, the trunks of which were adorned with the flags of the Allies and other trophies. The Duke of York presided over the banquet, and the company included, in addition to Wellington, most of the royal and other notables of the day. Dinner, whereat the inevitable ham appeared but probably not so finely cut, lasted from five to nearly nine o'clock, at which hour the ladies and general guests of the evening began to arrive. Vauxhall outdid itself in illuminations that night. And the extra attractions included a transparency of the King, a mammoth picture of Wellington, a supply of rockets that rose to a "superior height," and innumerable bands, some of which discoursed music from the forest part of the garden, presenting some idea of "soldiers in a campaign regaling and reposing themselves under the shade." In fact, the whole occasion was so unusual that the electrified reporter of the Annual Register was at his wit's end to know what to praise most. For a moment he was overpowered by the exalted rank of the leading personages, and then fascinated by the charms and costumes of the ladies, only to find fresh subjects for further adjectives in the fineness of the weather, the blaze of lights that seemed to create an artificial day, and the unity of sentiment and disposition that pervaded all alike.
At this date, of course, the Tyers of Fielding's eulogy had been dead some years. He was succeeded by his two sons, one of whom, Tom, was a favourite with Dr. Johnson. At the Vittoria fete the resort was still controlled by the Tyers family, but it passed out of their possession in 1821, and had many owners before the end came in 1859.
Another Amelia, however, was to visit Vauxhall before its gates were closed for the last time,—the Amelia beloved of all readers of "Vanity Fair." Naturally, she does not go alone. Thackeray had too much affection for that gentle creature to make her face such an ordeal. No, there was the careless, high-spirited George Osborne, and the ever-faithful Dobbin, and the slow-witted Jos Sedley, and the scheming Rebecca Sharp. That Vauxhall episode was to play a pregnant part in the destiny of Becky. Such an auspicious occasion would surely lead to a proposal from the nearly-captured Jos. For a time it seemed as though such might be the case. Becky and her corpulent knight lost themselves in one of those famous Dark Walks, and the situation began to develop in tenderness and sentiment. Jos was so elated that he told Becky his favourite Indian stories for the sixth time, giving an opening for the lady's "Horn I should like to see India!" But at that critical moment the bell rang for the fireworks, and at the same time tolled the knell of Becky's chances of becoming Mrs. Jos Sedley. For the fireworks somehow created a thirst, and the bowl of rack punch for which Jos called, and which he was left to consume, as the young ladies did not drink it and Osborne did not like it, speedily worked its disastrous effects. In short, as we all know, Jos made a fool of himself, and when he came to himself the following morning and saw himself as Osborne wished he should, all his tender passion for Becky evaporated once and for all.
Perhaps these visitors to Vauxhall who never had an existence are more real to us to-day than all the countless thousands of men and women who really trod its gravel walks. But the real and the unreal alike are of the past, a memory for the fancy to play with as is that of Vauxhall itself.
During the latter half of the eighteenth century Vauxhall had a serious rival in Ranelagh. No doubt the success of the former was the cause of the latter. It may have been, too, that as the gardens at Vauxhall became more and more a popular resort without distinction of class, the need was felt of a rendezvous which should be a little more select.
No doubt exists as to how Ranelagh came by its name. Toward the end of the seventeenth century the Earl of Ranelagh built himself a house at Chelsea, and surrounded it with gardens which were voted the best in England for their size. This peer, who was Paymaster-General of the Forces, seems to have taken keen pleasure in house-planning and the laying out of grounds. Among the manuscripts of the Marquis of Ormonde are many letters written by him to the bearer of that title in the early eighteenth century, which show that he assumed the oversight of building operations at Ormonde's London house at that time. The minute attention he gave to all kinds of detail's proves that he had gained experience by the building of his own house not many years before.
But Ranelagh house and gardens had a short history as the residence and pleasance of a nobleman. The earl died in 1712, and in 1730 it became necessary to secure an act of Parliament to vest his property at Chelsea in trustees. Three years later a sale took place, and the house and larger portion of the grounds were purchased by persons named Swift and Timbrell. It was at this stage the project of establishing a rival to Vauxhall first took shape. The idea seems to have originated with James Lacy, that patriotic patentee of Drury Lane theatre who raised a band of two hundred men at the time of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. He it was, also, who afterwards became a partner with David Garrick. But, however successful he was to prove as an organizer of volunteers, Lacy was not to shine as the founder of a rival to Vauxhall. For some unexplained reason he abandoned his share in the Ranelagh project, and eventually the matter was taken in hand by Sir Thomas Robinson, who soon secured sufficient financial support to carry the plan to a successful issue. Sir Thomas provided a considerable share of the capital of sixteen thousand pounds himself, and took a leading part in the management of Ranelagh till his death in 1777. His gigantic figure and cheery manners earned for him the titles of Ranelagh's Maypole and Gardand of Delights.
As the gardens were already laid out in a handsome manner, the chief matter requiring attention was the planning and erection of a suitable main building. Hence the erection of the famous Rotunda, the architectural credit of which is given to one William Jones. But that honour is disputed. It is claimed that no less a person than Henry VIII was responsible for the idea on which the Rotunda was based. That king, according to one historian, caused a great banqueting-house to be erected, eight hundred feet in compass, after the manner of a theatre. "And in the midst of the same banqueting-house," continued the historian, "was set up a great pillar of timber, made of eight great masts, bound together with iron bands for to hold them together: for it was a hundred and thirty-four feet in length, and cost six pounds thirteen shillings and fourpence to set it upright. The banqueting-house was covered over with canvas, fastened with ropes and iron as fast as might be devised; and within the said house was painted the heavens, with stars, sun, moon, and clouds, with divers other things made above men's heads. And above the high pillar of timber that stood upright in the midst, was made stages of timber for organs and other instruments to stand upon, and men to play on them." Such, it is asserted, was the model the architect of the Rotunda at Ranelagh had in view.
And really there appears to be good ground for laying this charge of constructive plagiarism against the memory of William Jones. It is true the building was on a scale somewhat smaller than that erected at the order of Henry VIII, for its circumference was limited to four hundred and fifty feet, while its greatest diameter was but one hundred and eighty-five feet. But the planning of the interior of the Rotunda bore a suspicious likeness to the royal banqueting-house. The central portion of the building was a square erection consisting of pillars and arches, and seems to have been a direct copy of those eight great masts. Nor did the parallel end there. In the Rotunda at Ranelagh as in the king's banqueting-house, this central construction was designed as the place for the musicians. And even the ceiling was something of a copy, for that of the Rotunda was divided into panels, in each of which was painted a celestial figure on a sky-blue ground.
On the general idea of the banqueting-house, however, Mr. Jones made a number of improvements. The entrances to the Rotunda were four in number, corresponding with the points of the compass, each consisting of a portico designed after the manner of a triumphal arch. The interior of the building presented, save for its central erection, the aspect of a modern opera-house. Around the entire wall was a circle of boxes, divided by wainscoting, and each decorated with a "droll painting" and hung with a candle-lamp. Above these was another tier of boxes, similarly fitted, each of them, fifty-two in number, having accommodation for seven or eight persons. Higher up was a circle of sixty windows. Although the building itself was constructed of wood, it could boast of a plaster floor, which was covered with matting. Scattered over that floor were numerous tables covered with red baize whereon refreshments were served. Such was the general arrangement of the Rotunda, but one alteration had speedily to be made. It was quickly discovered that the central erection was ill adapted for the use of the orchestra, and consequently it was transformed into four fireplaces, which were desirable locations in the cold months of the year.
Perhaps no surprise need be felt that Ranelagh was not ready when it was opened. What public resort ever has been? The consequence was that there were at least two opening ceremonies. The first took the form of a public breakfast on April 5th, 1742, and was followed by other early repasts of a like nature. One of these, seventeen days later, provided Horace Walpole with the subject of the first of his many descriptions of the place. "I have been breakfasting this morning at Ranelagh Gardens;" he wrote, "they have built an immense amphitheatre, with balconies full of little ale houses; it is in rivalry to Vauxhall, and costs above twelve thousand pounds. The building is not finished, but they get great sums by people going to see it and breakfasting in the house: there were yesterday no less than three hundred and eighty persons, at eighteen pence a piece." About a month later another inaugural ceremony took place, which Walpole duly reported. "Two nights ago Ranelagh Gardens were opened at Chelsea; the prince, princess, duke, much nobility, and much mob besides were there. There is a vast amphitheatre, finely gilt, painted, and illuminated; into which everybody that loves eating, drinking, staring, or crowding is admitted for twelve pence. The building and disposition of the gardens cost sixteen thousand pounds. Twice a week there are to be ridottos at guinea tickets, for which you are to have a supper and music. I was there last night, but did not feel the joy of it. Vauxhall is a little better, for the garden is pleasanter, and one goes by water." In time, however, Walpole was converted to the superior attractions of the new resort. Two years later he confessed that he went every night to Ranelagh, that it had totally beaten Vauxhall, and that it had the patronage of everybody who was anybody. Lord Chesterfield bad fallen so much in love with the place that he had ordered all his letters to be directed thither.
Many red-letter days are set down in the history of Ranelagh during the sixty years of its existence, but its historians are agreed that the most famous of the entertainments given there was the Venetian Masquerade in honour of the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle on April 26th, 1749. For the most spirited narrative of that festival, recourse must—be had to the letters of Walpole. Peace was proclaimed on the 25th, and the next day, Walpole wrote, "was what was called a Jubilee Masquerade in the Venetian manner, at Ranelagh; it had nothing Venetian in it, but was by far the best understood and prettiest spectacle I ever saw; nothing in a fairy tale even surpassed it. One of the proprietors, who is a German, and belongs to the Court, had got my Lady Yarmouth to persuade the King to order it. It began at three o'clock, and about five people of fashion began to go. When you entered you found the whole garden filled with masks and spread with tents, which remained all night very commodely. In one quarter was a Maypole dressed with garlands and people dancing round it to a tabor and pipes and rustic music, all masqued, as were all the various bands of music that were dispersed in different parts of the garden; some like huntsmen with French horns, some like peasants, and a troop of harlequins and scaramouches in the little open temple on the mount. On the Canal was a sort of gondola adorned with flags and streamers, and filled with music, rowing about. All round the outside of the amphitheatre were shops filled with Dresden china, Japan, etc., and all the shopkeepers in mask. The amphitheatre was illuminated, and in the middle was a circular bower, composed of all kinds of firs in tubs, from twenty to thirty feet high; under them orange trees with small lamps in each orange, and below them all sorts of the finest auriculas in pots; and festoons of natural flowers hanging from tree to tree. Between the arches, too, were firs, and smaller ones in the balconies above. There were booths for tea and wine, gaming tables and dancing, and about two thousand persons. In short it pleased me more than anything I ever saw."
But there was another side to all this. Vauxhall evidently looked on with envious eyes, and those who were interested in the welfare of that resort managed to engineer opposition to the Venetian fete in the form of satirical prints and letterpress. Perhaps they did more. At any rate it is a significant fact that shortly afterwards the justices of Middlesex were somehow put in motion, and made such representations to the authorities at Ranelagh that they were obliged to give an undertaking not to indulge in any more public masques. This, however, did not prevent the subscription carnival in celebration of a royal birthday in May, 1750, when there was "much good company but more bad company," the members of which were "dressed or undress'd" as they thought fit.
Ranelagh was evidently an acquired taste. It has been seen that Walpole did not take to the place at first, but afterwards became one of its most enthusiastic admirers. And there was a famous friend of Walpole who passed through the same experience. This was the poet Gray, who, three years after the resort was opened declared that he had no intention of following the crowd to Ranelagh.
"I have never been at Ranelagh Gardens since they were opened," is his confession to a friend. "They do not succeed: people see it once, or twice, and so they go to Vauxhall."
"Well, but is it not a very great design, very new, finely lighted?"
"Well, yes, aye, very fine truly, so they yawn and go to Vauxhall, and then it's too hot, and then it's too cold, and here's a wind and there's a damp."
Perhaps it is something of a surprise to find the author of the "Elegy" interested in public gardens at all, but given such an interest it would have been thought that Ranelagh was more to his taste than Vauxhall. And so it proved in the end. Like his Eton friend Walpole, he became a convert and so hearty an admirer of the Chelsea resort that he spent many evenings there in the August of 1746.
Other notable visitors to Ranelagh included Goldsmith and Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Dr. Johnson and Tobias Smollett. It seems more than likely that Ranelagh with the first couple figured largely in that round of pleasures which kept them from the meetings of The Club to 'the disgust of Beauclerk, but Goldsmith might have justified his visits on the plea that he was gathering "local colour" for that letter by Belinda which he introduced into the "Citizen of the World." No doubt he saw many a colonel there answering to that ft irresistible fellow "who made such an impression on Belinda's heart." So well-dressed, so neat, so sprightly, and plays about one so agreeably, that I vow he has as much spirits as the Marquis of Monkeyman's Italian greyhound. I first saw him at Ranelagh: he shines there: he is nothing without Ranelagh, and Ranelagh nothing without him. "Perhaps Sir Joshua would have excused his idling at Ranelagh on the ground of looking for models, or the hints it afforded for future pictures."
With Dr. Johnson it was different. Ranelagh was to him a "place of innocent recreation" and nothing more. The "COUP d'ceil was the finest thing he had ever seen," Boswell reports, and then makes his own comparison between that place and the Pantheon. "The truth is, Ranelagh is of a more beautiful form; more of it, or rather, indeed, the whole Rotunda, appears at once, and it is better lighted. However, as Johnson observed, we saw the Pantheon in time of mourning, when there was a dull uniformity; whereas we had seen Ranelagh, when the view was enlivened with a gay profusion of colours." No small part of Johnson's pleasure during his visits to Ranelagh was derived from uncomplimentary reflections on the mental conditions of its frequenters. Boswell had been talking one day in the vein of his hero's poem on the "Vanity of Human Wishes," and commented on the persistence with which things were done upon the supposition of happiness, as witness the splendid places of public amusement, crowded with company.