Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 The Economy of Clubs


Thirty years ago, Mr. Walker took some pains to disabuse the public mind of a false notion that female society was much affected by the multiplication of Clubs. He remarks that in those hours of the evening, which are peculiarly dedicated to society, he could scarcely count twenty members in the suite of rooms upstairs at the Athenæum Club. If female society be neglected, he contended that it was not owing to the institution of Clubs, but more probably to the long sittings of the House of Commons, and to the want of easy access to family circles. At the Athenæum he never heard it even hinted, that married men frequented it to the prejudice of their domestic habits, or that bachelors were kept from general society. Indeed, Mr. Walker maintains, that Clubs are a preparation and not a substitute for domestic life. Compared with the previous system of living, they induce habits of economy, temperance, refinement, regularity, and good order. Still, a Club only offers an imitation of the comforts of home, but only an imitation, and one which will never supersede the reality.

However, the question became a subject for pleasant satire. Mrs. Gore, in one of her clever novels, has these shrewd remarks:—"London Clubs, after all, are not bad things for family men. They act as conductors to the storms usually hovering in the air. The man forced to remain at home and vent his crossness on his wife and children, is a much worse animal to bear with, than the man who grumbles his way to Pall Mall, and not daring to swear at the Club-servants, or knock about the club-furniture, becomes socialized into decency. Nothing like the subordination exercised in a community of equals for reducing a fiery temper."

Mr. Hood, in his Comic Annual for 1838, took up the topic in his rich vein of comic humour, and here is the amusing result:—



"Of all the modern schemes of Man

That time has brought to bear,

A plague upon the wicked plan

That parts the wedded pair!

My female friends they all agree

They hardly know their hubs;

And heart and voice unite with me,

'We hate the name of Clubs!'

"One selfish course the Wretches keep;

They come at morning chimes;

To snatch a few short hours of sleep—

Rise—breakfast—read the Times—

Then take their hats, and post away,

Like Clerks or City scrubs,

And no one sees them all the day,—

They live, eat, drink, at Clubs!

"With Rundell, Dr. K., or Glasse,

And such Domestic books,

They once put up, but now, alas!

It's hey! for foreign cooks.

'When will you dine at home, my dove?'

I say to Mr. Stubbs.

'When Cook can make an omelette, love—

An omelette like the Clubs!'

"Time was, their hearts were only placed

On snug domestic schemes,

The book for two—united taste,—

And such connubial dreams,—

Friends, dropping in at close of day,

To singles, doubles, rubs,—

A little music,—then the tray,—

And not a word of Clubs!

"But former comforts they condemn;

French kickshaws they discuss,

And take their wine, the wine takes them,

And then they favour us;—

From some offence they can't digest,

As cross as bears with cubs,

Or sleepy, dull, and queer, at best—

That's how they come from Clubs!

"It's very fine to say, 'Subscribe

To Andrews'—can't you read?

When Wives, the poor neglected tribe,

Complain how they proceed!

They'd better recommend at once

Philosophy and tubs,—

A woman need not be a dunce,

To feel the wrong of Clubs.

"A set of savage Goths and Picts

Would seek us now and then,—

They're pretty pattern-Benedicts

To guide our single men!

Indeed, my daughters both declare

'Their Beaux shall not be subs

To White's, or Black's, or anywhere,—

They've seen enough of Clubs!'

"They say, without the marriage ties,

They can devote their hours

To catechize, or botanize—

Shells, Sunday Schools, and flow'rs—

Or teach a Pretty Poll new words,

Tend Covent Garden shrubs,

Nurse dogs and chirp to little birds—

As Wives do since the Clubs.

"Alas! for those departed days

Of social wedded life,

When married folks had married ways,

And liv'd like Man and Wife!

Oh! Wedlock then was pick'd by none—

As safe a lock as Chubb's!

But couples, that should be as one,

Are now the Two of Clubs!

"Of all the modern schemes of Man

That time has brought to bear,

A plague upon the wicked plan,

That parts the wedded pair!

My wedded friends they all allow

They meet with slights and snubs,

And say, 'They have no husbands now,—

They're married to the Clubs!'"

The satire soon reached the stage. About five-and-twenty years since there was produced at the old wooden Olympic Theatre, Mr. Mark Lemon's farce, The Ladies' Club, which proved one of the most striking pieces of the time. "Though in 1840 Clubs, in the modern sense of the word, had been for some years established, they were not quite recognized as social necessities, and the complaints of married ladies and of dowagers with marriageable daughters, to the effect that these institutions caused husbands to desert the domestic hearth and encouraged bachelors to remain single, expressed something of a general feeling. Public opinion was ostentatiously on the side of the ladies and against the Clubs, and to this opinion Mr. Mark Lemon responded when he wrote his most successful farce."[23]

Here are a few experiences of Club-life. "There are many British lions in the coffee-room who have dined off a joint and beer, and have drunk a pint of port-wine afterwards, and whose bill is but 4s. 3d. One great luxury in a modern Club is that there is no temptation to ostentatious expense. At an hotel there is an inclination in some natures to be 'a good customer.' At a Club the best men are generally the most frugal—they are afraid of being thought like that little snob, Calicot, who is always surrounded by fine dishes and expensive wines (even when alone), and is always in loud talk with the butler, and in correspondence with the committee about the cook. Calicot is a rich man, with a large bottle-nose, and people black-ball his friends.

"For a home, a man must have a large Club, where the members are recruited from a large class, where the funds are in a good state, where a large number every day breakfast and dine, and where a goodly number think it necessary to be on the books and pay their subscriptions, although they do not use the Club. Above all, your home Club should be a large Club, because, even if a Club be ever so select, the highest birth and most unexceptionable fashion do not prevent a man from being a bore. Every Club must have its bores; but in a large Club you can get out of their way."[24]

"It is a vulgar error to regard a Club as the rich man's public-house: it bears no analogy to a public-house: it is as much the private property of its members as any ordinary dwelling-house is the property of the man who built it.

"Our Clubs are thoroughly characteristic of us. We are a proud people,—it is of no use denying it,—and have a horror of indiscriminate association; hence the exclusiveness of our Clubs.

"We are an economical people, and love to obtain the greatest possible amount of luxury at the least possible expense: hence, at our Clubs we dine at prime cost, and drink the finest wines at a price which we should have to pay for slow poison at a third-rate inn.

"We are a domestic people, and hence our Clubs afford us all the comforts of home, when we are away from home, or when we have none. Finally, we are a quarrelsome people, and the Clubs are eminently adapted for the indulgence of that amiable taste. A book is kept constantly open to receive the outpourings of our ill-humour against all persons and things. The smokers quarrel with the non-smokers: the billiard-players wage war against those who don't play; and, in fact, an internecine war is constantly going on upon every conceivable trifle; and when we retire exhausted from the fray, sofas and chaises longues are everywhere at hand, whereon to repose in extenso. The London Clubs are certainly the abodes of earthly bliss, yet the ladies won't think so."[25]

[23] Times journal.

[24] New Quarterly Review.

[25] The Builder.

John Timbs
Club Life of London Vol. I
London, 1866