THE MITRE IN FLEET-STREET
This was the true Johnsonian Mitre, so often referred to in Boswell's Life; but it has earlier fame. Here, in 1640, Lilly met Old Will Poole, the astrologer, then living in Ram-alley. The Royal Society Club dined at the Mitre from 1743 to 1750, the Society then meeting in Crane-court, nearly opposite. The Society of Antiquaries met some time at the Mitre. Dr. Macmichael, in The Gold-headed Cane, makes Dr. Radcliffe say:—"I never recollect to have spent a more delightful evening than that at the Mitre Tavern, in Fleet-street, where my good friend Billy Nutly, who was indeed the better half of me, had been prevailed upon to accept of a small temporary assistance, and joined our party, the Earl of Denbigh, Lords Colepeper and Stowel, and Mr. Blackmore."
The house has a token:—WILLIAM PAGET AT THE. A mitre.—℞. MITRE IN FLEET STREET. In the field, W. E. P.
Johnson's Mitre is commonly thought to be the tavern with that sign, which still exists in Mitre-court, over against Fetter-lane; where is shown a cast of Nollekens' bust of Johnson, in confirmation of this house being his resort. Such was not the case; Boswell distinctly states it to have been the Mitre Tavern in Fleet-street; and the records by Lilly and the Royal Society, alike specify "in Fleet-street," which Mr. Burn, in his excellent account of the Beaufoy Tokens, explains was the house, No. 39, Fleet-street, that Macklin opened, in 1788, as the Poet's Gallery; and lastly, Saunders's auction-rooms. It was taken down to enlarge the site for Messrs. Hoares' new banking-house. The now Mitre Tavern, in Mitre-court, was originally called Joe's Coffee-house; and on the shutting up of the old Mitre, in Fleet-street, took its name; this being four years after Johnson's death.
The Mitre was Dr. Johnson's favourite supper-house, the parties including Goldsmith, Percy, Hawkesworth, and Boswell; there was planned the tour to the Hebrides. Johnson had a strange nervous feeling, which made him uneasy if he had not touched every post between the Mitre and his own lodgings. Johnson took Goldsmith to the Mitre, where Boswell and the Doctor had supped together in the previous month, when Boswell spoke of Goldsmith's "very loose, odd, scrambling kind of life," and Johnson defended him as one of our first men as an author, and a very worthy man;—adding, "he has been loose in his principles, but he is coming right." Boswell was impatient of Goldsmith from the first hour of their acquaintance. Chamberlain Clarke, who died in 1831, aged 92, was the last surviving of Dr. Johnson's Mitre friends. Mr. William Scott, Lord Stowell, also frequented the Mitre.
Boswell has this remarkable passage respecting the house:—"We had a good supper, and port-wine, of which he (Johnson) sometimes drank a bottle. The orthodox high-church sound of The Mitre—the figure and manner of the celebrated Samuel Johnson—the extraordinary power and precision of his conversation, and the pride arising from finding myself admitted as his companion, produced a variety of sensations, and a pleasing elevation of mind, beyond what I had ever experienced."
Club Life of London Vol. II