Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 The Saturday and Brothers Clubs


Few men appear to have so well studied the social and political objects of Club-life as Dean Swift. One of his resorts was the old Saturday Club. He tells Stella (to whom he specially reported most of his club arrangements), in 1711, there were "Lord Keeper, Lord Rivers, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Harley, and I." Of the same Club he writes, in 1713: "I dined with Lord Treasurer, and shall again to-morrow, which is his day, when all the ministers dine with him. He calls it whipping-day. It is always on Saturday; and we do, indeed, rally him about his faults on that day. I was of the original Club, when only poor Lord Rivers, Lord Keeper, and Lord Bolingbroke came; but now Ormond, Anglesey, Lord Stewart, Dartmouth, and other rabble intrude, and I scold at it; but now they pretend as good a title as I; and, indeed, many Saturdays I am not there. The company being too many, I don't love it."

In the same year Swift framed the rules of the Brothers Club, which met every Thursday. "The end of our Club," he says, "is to advance conversation and friendship, and to reward learning without interest or recommendation. We take in none but men of wit, or men of interest; and if we go on as we began, no other Club in this town will be worth talking of."

The Journal about this time is very full of Brothers Arran and Dupplin, Masham and Ormond, Bathurst and Harcourt, Orrery and Jack Hill, and other Tory magnates of the Club, or Society as Swift preferred to call it. We find him entertaining his "Brothers" at the Thatched House Tavern, in St. James's Street, at the cost of seven good guineas. He must have been an influential member; he writes: "We are now, in all, nine lords and ten commoners. The Duke of Beaufort had the confidence to propose his brother-in-law, the Earl of Danby, to be a member; but I opposed it so warmly, that it was waived. Danby is not above twenty, and we will have no more boys; and we want but two to make up our number. I staid till eight, and then we all went away soberly. The Duke of Ormond's treat last week cost £20, though it was only four dishes and four without a dessert; and I bespoke it in order to be cheap. Yet I could not prevail to change the house. Lord Treasurer is in a rage with us for being so extravagant; and the wine was not reckoned neither, for that is always brought in by him that is president."

Not long after this, Swift writes: "Our Society does not meet now as usual; for which I am blamed; but till Treasurer will agree to give us money and employments to bestow, I am averse to it, and he gives us nothing but promises. We now resolve to meet but once a fortnight, and have a committee every other week of six or seven, to consult about doing some good. I proposed another message to Lord Treasurer by three principal members, to give a hundred guineas to a certain person, and they are to urge it as well as they can."

One day, President Arbuthnot gives the Society a dinner, dressed in the Queen's kitchen: "we eat it in Ozinda's Coffee-house just by St. James's. We were never merrier or better company, and did not part till after eleven." In May, we hear how "fifteen of our Society dined together under a canopy in an arbour at Parson's Green last Thursday. I never saw anything so fine and romantic."

Latterly, the Club removed to the Star and Garter, in Pall Mall, owing to the dearness of the Thatched House; after this, the expense was wofully complained of. At these meetings, we may suppose, the literature of politics formed the staple of the conversation. The last epigram, the last pamphlet, the last Examiner, would be discussed with keen relish; and Swift mentions one occasion on which an impromptu subscription was got up for a poet, who had lampooned Marlborough; on which occasion all the company subscribed two guineas each, except Swift himself, Arbuthnot, and Friend, who only gave one. Bolingbroke, who was an active member, and Swift, were on a footing of great familiarity. St. John used to give capital dinners and plenty of champagne and burgundy to his literary coadjutor, who never ceased to wonder at the ease with which our Secretary got through his labours, and who worked for him in turn with the sincerest devotion, though always asserting his equality in the sturdiest manner.

Many pleasant glimpses of convivial meetings are afforded in the Journal to Stella, when there was "much drinking, little thinking," and the business which they had met to consider was deferred to a more convenient season. Whether (observes a contemporary) the power of conversation has declined or not, we certainly fear that the power of drinking has; and the imagination dwells with melancholy fondness on that state of society in which great men were not forbidden to be good fellows, which we fancy, whether rightly or wrongly, must have been so superior to ours, in which wit and eloquence succumb to statistics, and claret has given place to coffee.

The Journal to Stella reveals Swift's sympathy for poor starving authors, and how he carried out the objects of the Society, in this respect. Thus, he goes to see "a poor poet, one Mr. Diaper, in a nasty garret, very sick," described in the Journal as "the author of the Sea Eclogues, poems of Mermen, resembling pastorals and shepherds; and they are very pretty, and the thought is new." Then Swift tells us he thinks to recommend Diaper to the Society; he adds, "I must do something for him, and get him out of the way. I hate to have any new wits rise; but when they do rise, I would encourage them; but they tread on our heels, and thrust us off the stage." Only a few days before, Swift had given Diaper twenty guineas from Lord Bolingbroke.

Then we get at the business of "the Brothers," when we learn that the printer attended the dinners; and the Journal tells us: "There was printed a Grub-street speech of Lord Nottingham, and he was such an owl to complain of it in the House of Lords, who have taken up the printer for it. I heard at Court that Walpole, (a great Whig member,) said that I and my whimsical Club writ it at one of our meetings, and that I should pay for it. He will find he lies; and I shall let him know by a third hand my thoughts of him." ... "To-day I published The Fable of Midas, a poem printed on a loose half-sheet of paper. I know not how it will take; but it passed wonderfully at our Society to-night." At one dinner, the printer's news is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had sent Mr. Adisworth, the author of the Examiner, twenty guineas.

There were gay sparks among "the Brothers," as Colonel or "Duke" Disney, "a fellow of abundance of humour, an old battered rake, but very honest; not an old man, but an old rake. It was he that said of Jenny Kingdown, the maid of honour, who is a little old, 'that since she could not get a husband, the Queen should give her a brevet to act as a married woman.'"—Journal to Stella.

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