Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Macklin's Coffee House Oratory


After Macklin had retired from the stage, in 1754, he opened that portion of the Piazza-houses, in Covent Garden, which is now the Tavistock Hotel. Here he fitted up a large coffee-room, a theatre for oratory, and other apartments. To a three-shilling ordinary he added a shilling lecture, or "School of Oratory and Criticism;" he presided at the dinner-table, and carved for the company; after which he played a sort of "Oracle of Eloquence." Fielding has happily sketched him in his Voyage to Lisbon: "Unfortunately for the fishmongers of London, the Dory only resides in the Devonshire seas; for could any of this company only convey one to the Temple of luxury under the Piazza, where Macklin, the high priest, daily serves up his rich offerings, great would be the reward of that fishmonger."

In the Lecture, Macklin undertook to make each of his audience an orator, by teaching him how to speak. He invited hints and discussions; the novelty of the scheme attracted the curiosity of numbers; and this curiosity he still further excited by a very uncommon controversy, which now subsisted either in imagination or reality, between him and Foote, who abused one another very openly—"Squire Sammy" having for his purpose engaged the Little Theatre in the Haymarket.

Besides this personal attack, various subjects were debated here in the manner of the Robin Hood Society, which filled the orator's pocket, and proved his rhetoric of some value.

Here is one of his combats with Foote. The subject was Duelling in Ireland, which Macklin had illustrated as far as the reign of Elizabeth. Foote cried "Order;" he had a question to put. "Well, Sir," said Macklin, "what have you to say upon this subject?" "I think, Sir," said Foote, "this matter might be settled in a few words. What o'clock is it, Sir?" Macklin could not possibly see what the clock had to do with a dissertation upon Duelling, but gruffly reported the hour to be half-past nine. "Very well," said Foote, "about this time of the night every gentleman in Ireland that can possibly afford it is in his third bottle of claret, and therefore in a fair way of getting drunk; and from drunkenness proceeds quarrelling, and from quarrelling, duelling, and so there's an end of the chapter." The company were much obliged to Foote for his interference, the hour being considered; though Macklin did not relish the abridgment.

The success of Foote's fun upon Macklin's Lectures, led him to establish a summer entertainment of his own at the Haymarket. He took up Macklin's notion of applying Greek Tragedy to modern subjects, and the squib was so successful that Foote cleared by it 500l., in five nights, while the great Piazza Coffee-room in Covent Garden was shut up, and Macklin in the Gazette as a bankrupt.

But when the great plan of Mr. Macklin proved abortive, when as he said in a former prologue, upon a nearly similar occasion—

"From scheming, fretting, famine, and despair,

We saw to grace restor'd an exiled player;"

when the town was sated with the seemingly-concocted quarrel between the two theatrical geniuses, Macklin locked up his doors, all animosity was laid aside, and they came and shook hands at the Bedford; the group resumed their appearance, and, with a new master, a new set of customers was seen.

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