THE ROXBURGHE CLUB DINNERS
The Roxburghe Club claims its foundation from the sale of the library of the late John, Duke of Roxburghe, in 1812, which extended to forty-one days following, with a supplementary catalogue beginning Monday, July 13, with the exception of Sundays. Some few days before the sale, the Rev. Thomas Frognall Dibdin, who claimed the title of founder of the Club, suggested the holding of a convivial meeting at the St. Alban's Tavern after the sale of June 17th, upon which day was to be sold the rarest lot, "Il Decamerone di Boccaccio," which produced £2260. The invitation ran thus:—"The honour of your company is requested, to dine with the Roxburghe dinner, on Wednesday, the 17th instant." At the first dinner the number of members was limited to twenty-four, which at the second dinner was extended to thirty-one. The president of this club was Lord Spencer: among the other celebrated members were the Duke of Devonshire, the Marquis of Blandford, Lord Althorp, Lord Morpeth, Lord Gower, Sir Mark Sykes, Sir Egerton Brydges, Mr. (afterwards) Baron Bolland, Mr. Dent, the Rev. T. C. Heber, Rev. Rob. Holwell Carr, Sir Walter Scott, etc.; Dr. Dibdin, secretary.
The avowed object of the Club was the reprinting of rare and ancient pieces of ancient literature; and, at one of the early meetings, "it was proposed and concluded for each member of the Club to reprint a scarce piece of ancient lore, to be given to the members, one copy being on vellum for the chairman, and only as many copies as members."
It may, however, be questioned whether "the dinners" of the Club were not more important than the literature. They were given at the St. Alban's, at Grillion's, at the Clarendon, and the Albion, taverns; the Amphytrions evincing as recherché taste in the carte, as the Club did in their vellum reprints. Of these entertainments some curious details have been recorded by the late Mr. Joseph Haslewood, one of the members, in a MS. entitled, "Roxburghe Revels; or, an Account of the Annual Display, culinary and festivous, interspersed incidentally with Matters of Moment or Merriment." This MS. was, in 1833, purchased by the Editor of the Athenæum, and a selection from its rarities was subsequently printed in that journal. Among the memoranda, we find it noted that, at the second dinner, a few tarried, with Mr. Heber in the chair, until, "on arriving at home, the click of time bespoke a quarter to four." Among the early members was the Rev. Mr. Dodd, one of the masters of Westminster School, who, until the year 1818 (when he died), enlivened the Club with Robin-Hood ditties and similar productions. The fourth dinner was given at Grillion's, when twenty members assembled, under the chairmanship of Sir Mark Masterman Sykes. The bill on this occasion amounted to £57, or £2. 17s. per man; and the twenty "lions" managed to dispose of drinkables to the extent of about £33. The reckoning, by Grillion's French waiter, is amusing:—
Dinner du 17 Juin 1815.
|Deu sorte de Glasse||1||4||0|
|Glasse pour 6||0||4||0|
|5 Boutelle de Champagne||4||0||0|
|7 Boutelle de harmetage||5||5||0|
|1 Boutelle de Hok||0||15||0|
|4 Boutelle de Port||1||6||0|
|4 Boutelle de Maderre||2||0||0|
|22 Boutelle de Bordeaux||15||8||0|
|2 Boutelle de Bourgogne||1||12||0|
|Biere e Ail||0||6||0|
|Por la Lettre||0||2||0|
|Pour faire un prune||0||6||0|
|Pour un fiacre||0||2||0|
The anniversary of 1818 was celebrated at the Albion, in Aldersgate-street: Mr. Heber was in the chair, and the Rev. Mr. Carr vice, vice Dr. Dibdin. Although only fifteen sat down, they seem to have eaten and drunk for the whole Club: it was, as Wordsworth says, "forty feeding like one;" and the bill, at the conclusion of the night, amounted to £85. 9s. 6d. "Your cits," says Mr. Haslewood, "are the only men for a feast; and, therefore, behold us, like locusts, travelling to devour the good things of the land, eastward ho! At a little after seven, with our fancies much delighted, we fifteen sat down."
The bill of fare was as follows:—
|Turtle Cutlets.||Turtle Fin.|
|Sauté of Haddock.||Chartreuse.|
|Tendrons of Lamb.||Fillets of Whitings.|
|Tongue.||John Dory.||R. Chickens.|
|Turtle Fin.||Fricandeau of Turtle.|
|+++ Cold Roast Beef on Side Tables.|
|Venison (2 Haunches).|
|R. Quails.||R. Leveret.|
|Salade Italienne.||Crême Italienne.|
The bill, as a specimen of the advantages of separate charges, as well as on other accounts, may be worth preserving:—
June 17, 1818.
|Bread and Beer||0||9||0|
|Cheas and Butter||0||9||0|
|Saturne (sic in MS.)||1||4||0|
|Tea and Coffee||1||8||0|
|2 Haunches of Venison||10||10||0|
|Sweet sauce and dressing||1||4||0|
|50 lbs. Turtle||12||10||0|
|Ice for Wine||0||6||0|
|Lemons and Sugar for do.||0||3||0|
"Consider, in the bird's-eye view of the banquet, (says Mr. Haslewood,) the trencher cuts, foh! nankeen displays; as intersticed with many a brilliant drop to friendly beck and clubbish hail, to moisten the viands, or cool the incipient cayenne. No unfamished liveryman would desire better dishes, or high-tasted courtier better wines. With men that meet to commune, that can converse, and each willing to give and receive information, more could not be wanting to promote well-tempered conviviality; a social compound of mirth, wit, and wisdom;—combining all that Anacreon was famed for, tempered with the reason of Demosthenes, and intersected with the archness of Scaliger. It is true we had not any Greek verses in praise of the grape; but we had as a tolerable substitute the ballad of the Bishop of Hereford and Robin Hood, sung by Mr. Dodd; and it was of his own composing. It is true we had not any long oration denouncing the absentees, the Cabinet council, or any other set of men, but there was not a man present that at one hour and seventeen minutes after the cloth was removed but could not have made a Demosthenic speech far superior to any record of antiquity. It is true no trait of wit is going to be here preserved, for the flashes were too general; and what is the critical sagacity of Scaliger, compared to our chairman? Ancients, believe it we were not dead drunk, and therefore lie quiet under the table for once, and let a few moderns be uppermost.
"According to the long-established principles of 'Maysterre Cockerre,' each person had £5. 14s. to pay—a tremendous sum, and much may be said thereon."
Earl Spencer presided at the dinner which followed the sale of the Valdarfer Boccaccio: twenty-one members sat down to table at Jaquière's (the Clarendon), and the bill was comparatively moderate, £55. 13s. Mr. Haslewood says, with characteristic sprightliness: "Twenty-one members met joyfully, dined comfortably, challenged eagerly, tippled prettily, divided regretfully, and paid the bill most cheerfully."
The following is the list of "Tostes," given at the first Dinner, in 1812:—
The Order of ye Tostes.
The Immortal Memory of John Duke of Roxburghe.
Christopher Valdarfer, Printer of the Decameron of 1471.
Gutemberg, Fust, and Schæffher, the Inventors of the Art of Printing. William Caxton, the Father of the British Press. Dame Juliana Barnes, and the St. Alban's Press. Wynkyn de Worde and Richard Pynson, the Illustrious Successors of William Caxton. The Aldine Family, at Venice. The Giunta Family at Florence. The Society of the Bibliophiles at Paris. The Prosperity of the Roxburghe Club. The Cause of Bibliomania all over the World.
To show that the pursuits of the Roxburghe Club have been estimated with a difference, we quote what may be termed "another side of the question":—
"Among other follies of the age of paper, which took place in England at the end of the reign of George III., a set of book-fanciers, who had more money than wit, formed themselves into a club, and appropriately designated themselves the Bibliomaniacs. Dr. Dibdin was their organ; and among the club were several noblemen, who, in other respects, were esteemed men of sense. Their rage was, not to estimate books according to their intrinsic worth, but for their rarity. Hence, any volume of the vilest trash, which was scarce, merely because it never had any sale, fetched fifty or a hundred pounds; but if it were but one of two or three known copies, no limits could be set to the price. Books altered in the title-page, or in a leaf, or any trivial circumstance which varied a few copies, were bought by these soi-disant maniacs, at one, two, or three hundred pounds, though the copies were not really worth more than threepence per pound. A trumpery edition of Boccaccio, said to be one of two known copies, was thus bought by a noble marquis for £1475, though in two or three years afterwards he resold it for £500. First editions of all authors, and editions by the first clumsy printers, were never sold for less than £50, £100, or £200.
"To keep each other in countenance, these persons formed themselves into a club, and, after a Duke, one of their fraternity, called themselves the Roxburghe Club. To gratify them, facsimile copies of clumsy editions of trumpery books were reprinted; and, in some cases, it became worth the while of more ingenious persons to play off forgeries upon them. This mania after awhile abated and, in future ages, it will be ranked with the tulip and the picture mania, during which, estates were given for single flowers and pictures."
The Roxburghe Club still exists; and, with the Dilettanti Society, may justly be said to have suggested the Publishing Societies of the present day, at the head of which is the Camden. The late Duke of Devonshire was a munificent member of the Roxburghe.
 These Tureens were removed for two dishes of White Bait.
Club Life of London Vol. I