THE Club is a nineteenth-century development of English social-life. It was first planted and raised on English soil. Its origin might be traced to the London coflee-houses which flourished in the reigns of William and Mary, and Queen Anne. Readers of Addison and Macaulay are suffciently familiar with their history. Boswell's "Johnson" has furnished us with a satisfactory definition of the word itself. And later authorities have liberally added to our stock of information regarding the conveniences of club-life; adding thereto not a little entertaining and instructive gossip as to be of the more distinguished of those who, from the latter part of the last century to the present day, have been among the recognised chiefs of London clubland.
In no country, save perhaps in America, does the club flourish as it does in England. There is scarce a town of any importance within its borders that does not include among its more imposing-looking buildings, one or more erected, and dedicated, to club-purposes, political or social. But London itself is the club-capital, possessed of more stately edifices of this kind, affording at a moderate expense to individual members, more commodious, varied, and liberal domestic conveniences than any other city in the world. The curious visitor has but to seek the friendly aid of some hospitable member of the Carlton, the Reform, the Junior Carlton, the Army and Navy in one class; of the Constitutional and the National Liberal clubs in another, to satisfy himself of this: the four first-named located in Pall Mall, the last two in Northumberland Avenue.Clicked Images Enlarge
Men have various purposes to serve in belonging to a club. With some it is political ambition; with others it is social ambition. The commonest and the most reasonable is to have the privilege of mixing in the society of men of one's own status, profession, calling, tastes, or pursuits. There are clubs and clubs. The first are all-right; the second are generally speaking all-wrong. The best, it is needless to remark, are diffcult to enter, for the reason that the number of candidates for election is always greatly in excess of vacancies by death or resignation.
Not many London clubs nowadays, since they are became so numerous, confer any special prestige of membership. Of the few that do, the Athenteum, the Carlton, the Reform, and the Senior United Service might fairly be named. The traditional fame of "White's," Brooks'," and (the ultra-arislocratic clubs, of the wax-candle, Queen Anne plate, and knee-breeches class, in St. James' Street has departed. The many "Junior" clubs - Junior Carlton, Junior Constitutional (a magnificent new building fronting on Piccadilly), the new Travellers' and the many others have helped to break down the old, once well-fenced boundaries of London clubland.
Everybody belongs to a club nowadays. The most of those recently-built are huge palatial structures, serving all the purposes of restauraut and hotel, the guests of which are supposed to be assorted by the operation of the club-ballot. In theory, the little black-ball is supposed to "pill" the undesirable candidate; in practice, at all events in the starting of new clubs, the ballot-box is stowed away in the secretary's room. Then's the time when the talkative-bore, the querulous, dyspeptic diner-about, the "stuffed-clothes-suit," gingerbread gentleman creeps into the club unawares.
There is scarce any Profession, or Pursuit, or any section of English society that has not its representative club-house, or that is not represented in some club, somewhere in London: the Army and Navy, the Universities, the Church, the State, Law, Literature, Art, Science, the British-Indian services, the Aristocracy, Diplomacy, the squires of the Counties, Political parties —Tory, Liberal, "Unionist," Radical, Democratic, the Stage, Journalism, Dilettanteism of various kind and degree. Bachelors, Boxers and Athletes, "Bohemians," Yachtsmen, Betting-men, condisciples of the Public Schools, raisers of the social status of Women (and their admirers), professional gourmets, Sunday-recreationists, and so on, and so on.
No man could give a faithful picture of all the numerous clubs of London of To-Day, major and minor, established and proprietary, political and social. If he were to attempt a true sketch of some of the least-known among the hole-and-corner "social" clubs, he would stand a fair chance of later finding his sketch in possession of the police, or himself with a broken head rolling in the gutter.
In London clubland, which may be taken to mean Pall Mall, and thereabout, St. James' Street, St. James' Square, Piccadilly (here and there), certain streets near Trafalgar Square and the Whitehall district, the most imposing of the clubs are those belonging to political organisations, albeit in the main supported by members who take but little active part in national politics. Every one knows the kind of accommodation most London clubs provide. In some this is more luxurious than in others. In all the better class it is generally more ample and splendid, and the meals supphed are more varied, than the average of men find in hotels or at home. Moreover the annual Subscription is never placed too high; and the general excellence of the food and wine supplied and the civility and attention shown to members by the attendants, are such as even the most fortunate men find it difficult to meet with outside clubland.
After all, clubs are not altogether so bad a thing for family-men. They act as conductors to the storms sometimes 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 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 socialised into decency. There is nothing like the subordination exercised in a community of equals, for reducing a too-aggressive or fiery temper. It is not the influence of the colonel or the major which curbs the violence of the irascible young officer, so much as that of his brother officer, who, having joined six months before him, is already subdued to the discipline of the regiment.
Had any one the right of "administering interrogatories" (as the lawyers have it) to some well-known man-about-town, as to hiS reasons for wishing to join a particular London Club, he might possibly be led to such answers as the following in respect of the club named: The Carlton for the privilege of writing letters on club-paper, the Athenæum for the honour of meeting with Bishops Judges, Authors, Editors, R.A.'s, Deans, etc., etc.; the Senior United Service, because it closely identifies one's rank and profession; the Marlborough, because it is the Prince of Wales' club; White's, for the opportunity of being seen at the club window; the Amphitryon, to have the pleasure of meeting Lord Randolph Churchill at dinner and ordering the duplicate of his menu; the Grillon, for the chance of hearing the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Derby, Colonel Saundorson and Mr, Gladstone converse at table; the Army and Navy, to learn what "the Duke" may have to say; the Reform, to play afternoon whist, and later to play with knife and fork on a good cut of mutton; the East India to taste of a curry; the Union, to sample the contents of its cellars; the Garrick, to enjoy the society of leading actors and their critics, and to add one more to the numbers of those having a "distant connection " with the professions of Literature and Art; the Savage, to have a share in the Saturday night fun; Hurlingham (in the season), to know "what's up" with whom, and how, when and where; the Lyric, to know what to do on Sundays; the Beefsteak, to ascertain what the Beefsteak Club once was; the Pelican (now happily defunct), to meet the admirers of Slavin, Sullivan, Jackson and Jem Smith, and to hear "what's new"; the Salon, to get into the Princes' Hall "swim"; the Constitutional, to save on writing-materials, luncheons, and in the business of dining friends; the National Liberal Club, to hear Lectures for nothing, to study the art of after-dinner speaking, and for the privilege of interminghng with all and sundry occupied in cementing the Brotherhood of Man.
Among all these London clubs, the philosopher would still find some difficulty in tracing the ideal one. In fact the "ideal" club does not exist. When a club reaches more than a hundred members, it ceases to be a club in the true sense of the word. Even a hundred are far too many members; and probably the pleasantest kind of club is that formed for dining-purposes only, in which the members periodically meet, and gossip on topics congenial to the whole, the dinner itself being a mere pretext for meeting. Of such were the clubs of Dr. Johnson and his friends; the occasional gatherings of Charles Lamb and his; and those coteries of literary men and others who, in bygone time found in the old "Bedford," the "Piazza" (both pulled down), and other of the Covent-Garden taverns (then so-called) comfortable places of friendly rendezvous. The formation of the original Garrick Club in the neighbouring King Street, sealed the doom of those pleasant gatherings of clubable men. But there must be many an oldster living who might be inclined to doubt whether some of the old St. James' Street clubs were less inviting within, than their successors of more pretentious bearing; and we doubt not a member of the Savage Club might be brought to testify that a club-list of six hundred members does not of itself constitute a "club."--- The Great World of the London. By Henry Mayhew. 1862.