In Ward's Secret History, we read of the Golden Fleece Club, a rattle-brained society, originally held at a house in Cornhill, so entitled. They were a merry company of tippling citizens and jocular change-brokers, who every night washed away their consciences with claret, that the mental alienations and fallacious assurances the one had used in their shops, and the deceitful wheedling and stock-jobbing honesty by which the other had outwitted their merchants, might be no impediment to their night's rest; but that they might sleep without repentance, and rise next day with a strong propensity to the same practices. Each member on his admission had a characteristic name assigned to him; as, Sir Timothy Addlepate, Sir Nimmy Sneer, Sir Talkative Do-little, Sir Skinny Fretwell, Sir Rumbus Rattle, Sir Boozy Prate-all, Sir Nicholas Ninny Sipall, Sir Gregory Growler, Sir Pay-little, etc. The Club flourished until the decease of the leading member; when the dull fraternity, for want of a merry leader, and neglecting to be shaved and blooded, fell into the dumps, gave up their nocturnal revels, forsook frenzied claret for sober water-gruel, and a cessation of bumpers was proclaimed, till those who were sick recovered their health, and others their senses; and then, the better to prevent their debasement being known, they adjourned their Society from the Fleece in Cornhill to the Three Tuns in Southwark, that they might be more retired from the bows and compliments of the London apprentices, who used to salute the noble knights by their titles, as they passed to and fro.
Another of Ward's humorous Sketches is that of the Lying Club, at the Bell Tavern, in Westminster, with Sir Harry Blunt for its chairman.
The Clubs were fruitful sources of satire to the Spectator. He is merry on the Mummers, the Twopenny, the Ugly, the Fighting, the Fringe-Glove, the Humdrum, the Doldrum, and the Lovers; on Clubs of Fat Men, Tall Men, and One-Eyed Men, and of Men who lived in the same Street.
The pretentious character of the Clubs of Queen Anne's time, and the historical importance attached to their annals, are humorously satirized in the following sketch of the Everlasting Club, to which, in those days, if a man were an idle, worthless fellow, who neglected his family, and spent most of his time over a bottle, he was, in derision, said to belong.
"The Everlasting Club consists of an hundred members, who divide the whole twenty-four hours among them in such a manner, that the Club sits day and night from one end of the year to another: no party presuming to rise till they are relieved by those who are in course to succeed them. By this means, a member of the Everlasting Club never wants company; for though he is not upon duty himself, he is sure to find some who are; so that if he be disposed to take a whet, a nooning, an evening's draught, or a bottle after midnight, he goes to the Club, and finds a knot of friends to his mind.
"It is a maxim in this Club that the Steward never dies; for as they succeed one another by way of rotation, no man is to quit the great elbow-chair, which stands at the upper end of the table, till his successor is ready to fill it; insomuch that there has not been a sede vacante in their memory.
"This Club was instituted towards the end, or, as some of them say, about the middle of the Civil Wars, and continued with interruption till the time of the Great Fire, which burnt them out and dispersed them for several weeks. The Steward all that time maintained his post till he had like to have been blown up with a neighbouring house, which was demolished in order to stop the fire: and would not leave the chair at last, till he had emptied the bottles upon the table, and received repeated directions from the Club to withdraw himself. This Steward is frequently talked of in the Club, and looked upon by every member of it as a greater man than the famous captain mentioned in my Lord Clarendon, who was burnt in his ship, because he would not quit it without orders. It is said that towards the close of 1700, being the great year of jubilee, the Club had it under consideration whether they should break up or continue their session; but after many speeches and debates, it was at length agreed to sit out the other century. This resolution passed in a general club nemine contradicente.
"It appears, by their books in general, that, since their first institution, they have smoked fifty tons of tobacco, drank thirty thousand butts of ale, one thousand hogsheads of red port, two hundred barrels of brandy, and one kilderkin of small beer. There had been likewise a great consumption of cards. It is also said that they observe the law in Ben Jonson's Club, which orders the fire to be always kept in (focus perennis esto), as well for the convenience of lighting their pipes as to cure the dampness of the club-room. They have an old woman, in the nature of a vestal, whose business is to cherish and perpetuate the fire, which burns from generation to generation, and has seen the glass-house fires in and out above an hundred times.
"The Everlasting Club treats all other clubs with an eye of contempt, and talks even of the Kit-Kat and October as a couple of upstarts. Their ordinary discourse, as much I have been able to learn of it, turns altogether upon such adventures as have passed in their own assembly; of members who have taken the glass in their turns for a week together, without stirring out of the Club; of others who have not missed their morning's draught for twenty years together; sometimes they speak in rapture of a run of ale in King Charles's reign; and sometimes reflect with astonishment upon games at whist, which have been miraculously recovered by members of the Society, when in all human probability the case was desperate.
"They delight in several old catches, which they sing at all hours, to encourage one another to moisten their clay, and grow immortal by drinking, with many other edifying exhortations of the like nature.
"There are four general Clubs held in a year, at which time they fill up vacancies, appoint waiters, confirm the old fire-maker or elect a new one, settle contributions for coals, pipes, tobacco, and other necessaries.
"The senior member has outlived the whole Club twice over, and has been drunk with the grandfathers of some of the sitting members."
The Lawyer's Club is thus described in the Spectator, No. 372:—"This Club consists only of attorneys, and at this meeting every one proposes to the board the cause he has then in hand, upon which each member gives his judgment, according to the experience he has met with. If it happens that any one puts a case of which they have had no precedent, it is noted down by their chief clerk, Will Goosequill (who registers all their proceedings), that one of them may go with it next day to a counsel. This is, indeed, commendable, and ought to be the principal end of their meeting; but had you been there to have heard them relate their methods of managing a cause, their manner of drawing out their bills, and, in short, their arguments upon the several ways of abusing their clients, with the applause that is given to him who has done it most artfully, you would before now have given your remarks.
"They are so conscious that their discourses ought to be kept a secret, that they are very cautious of admitting any person who is not in the profession. When any who are not of the law are let in, the person who introduces him says, he is a very honest gentleman, and he is taken, as their cant is, to pay costs." The writer adds, "that he is admitted upon the recommendation of one of their principals, as a very honest, good-natured fellow, that will never be in a plot, and only desires to drink his bottle and smoke his pipe."
The Little Club, we are told in the Guardian, No. 91, began by sending invitations to those not exceeding five feet in height, to repair to the assembly, but many sent excuses, or pretended a non-application. They proceeded to fit up a room for their accommodation, and in the first place had all the chairs, stools, and tables removed, which had served the more bulky portion of mankind for many years, previous to which they laboured under very great disadvantages. The President's whole person was sunk in the elbow-chair, and when his arms were spread over it, he appeared (to the great lessening of his dignity) like a child in a go-cart. It was also so wide in the seat, as to give a wag occasion of saying, that "notwithstanding the President sat in it, there was a sede vacante." "The table was so high, that one who came by chance to the door, seeing our chins just above the pewter dishes, took us for a circle of men that sat ready to be shaved, and set in half-a-dozen of barbers. Another time, one of the Club spoke contumeliously of the President, imagining he had been absent, when he was only eclipsed by a flask of Florence, which stood on the table, in a parallel line before his face. We therefore new-furnished the room, in all respects proportionably to us, and had the door made lower, so as to admit no man above five feet high, without brushing his foretop; which, whoever does, is utterly unqualified to sit amongst us."
Mr. Daniel, in his Merrie England in the Olden Time, has collected a further list of Clubs existing in London in 1790. He enumerates the following:—The Odd Fellows' Club; the Humbugs (held at the Blue Posts, in Covent-Garden); the Samsonic Society; the Society of Bucks; the Purl Drinkers; the Society of Pilgrims (held at the Woolpack, in the Kingsland-road); the Thespian Club; the Great Bottle Club; the Je ne sçai quoi Club (held at the Star and Garter in Pall-Mall, and of which the Prince of Wales, and the Dukes of York, Clarence, Orleans, Norfolk, Bedford, etc., were members); the Sons of the Thames Society; the Blue Stocking Club; the No Pay No Liquor Club (held at the Queen and Artichoke, in the Hampstead-road, and of which the ceremony, on a new member's introduction, was, after his paying a fee on entrance of one shilling, that he should wear a hat, throughout the first evening, made in the shape of a quart pot, and drink to the health of his brother members in a gilt goblet of ale); the Social Villagers (held at the Bedford Arms, in Camden-town), etc. Of the Villagers of our time, Sheridan Knowles, the dramatist, was a jovial member.
Club Life of London Vol. I