THE ALFRED CLUB
In the comparatively quiet Albemarle-street was instituted, in 1808, the Alfred Club, which has, ab initio, been remarkable for the number of travellers and men of letters, who form a considerable proportion of its members. Science is handsomely housed at the Royal Institution, on the east side of the street; and literature nobly represented by the large publishing-house of Mr. Murray, on the west; both circumstances tributary to the otium enjoyed in a Club. Yet, strangely enough, its position has been a frequent source of banter to the Alfred. First it was known by its cockney appellation of Half-read. Lord Byron was a member, and he tells us that "it was pleasant, a little too sober and literary, and bored with Sotheby and Francis D'Ivernois; but one met Rich, and Ward, and Valentia, and many other pleasant or known people; and it was, in the whole, a decent resource in a rainy day, in a dearth of parties, or Parliament, or in an empty season."
Lord Dudley, writing to the Bishop of Llandaff, says: "I am glad you mean to come into the Alfred this time. We are the most abused, and most envied, and most canvassed, Society that I know of, and we deserve neither the one nor the other distinction. The Club is not so good a resource as many respectable persons would believe, nor are we by any means such quizzes or such bores as the wags pretend. A duller place than the Alfred there does not exist. I should not choose to be quoted for saying so, but the bores prevail there to the exclusion of every other interest. You hear nothing but idle reports and twaddling opinions. They read the Morning Post and the British Critic. It is the asylum of doting Tories and drivelling quidnuncs. But they are civil and quiet. You belong to a much better Club already. The eagerness to get into it is prodigious."
Then, we have the Quarterly Review, with confirmation strong of the two Lords:—"The Alfred received its coup-de-grâce from a well-known story, (rather an indication than a cause of its decline,) to the effect that Mr. Canning, whilst in the zenith of his fame, dropped in accidentally at a house dinner of twelve or fourteen, stayed out the evening, and made himself remarkably agreeable, without any one of the party suspecting who he was."
The dignified clergy, who, with the higher class of lawyers, have long ago emigrated to the Athenæum and University Clubs, formerly mustered in such great force at the Alfred, that Lord Alvanley, on being asked in the bow-window at White's, whether he was still a member, somewhat irreverently replied: "Not exactly: I stood it as long as I could, but when the seventeenth bishop was proposed I gave in. I really could not enter the place without being put in mind of my catechism." "Sober-minded people," says the Quarterly Review, "may be apt to think this formed the best possible reason for his lordship's remaining where he was. It is hardly necessary to say that the presence of the bishops and judges is universally regarded as an unerring test of the high character of a Club."
Club Life of London Vol. I