[-back to menu for this book-]
[-200-] FIVE O'CLOCK P.M.-THE FASHIONABLE CLUB, AND THE PRISONERS' VAN.
THE English are the only "Clubable" people on the face of the
earth. Considering the vast number of clubs which are more or less
understood to flourish all over the Continent, and in the other hemisphere, it is within possibility that I shall be accused of having uttered
something like a paradox; but I adhere to my dictum, and will
approve it Truth. Not but that, concerning paradoxes themselves, I
may be of the opinion of Don Basilio in the "Barber of Seville,"
expressed with regard to calumny. "Calumniate, calumniate," says
that learned casuist; "calumniate, and still calumniate, something will always
come of it." So, in a long course of paradoxes, it is hard but
that you shall find a refreshing admixture of veracity.
Do you think you can call the French a "clubable nation," because in their revolutions of '89 and '48 they burst into a mushroom crop of clubs? Do you think that the gentleman whom a late complication of political events brought into connection with a committee of Taste, consisting of twelve honest men assembled in a jury-box, [-201-] and whom, the penny-a-liners were kind enough to inform us, was in his own country known as "Bernard le Clubbiste," could be by any means considered as what we called a "club-man?" Could he be compared with Jawkins or Borekins, Sir Thomas de Boots, Major Pendennis, or any of the Pall Mall and St. James's Street bow-window loungers, whom the great master of club life has so inimitably delineated? No more than we could parallelise the dingy, garlic- reeking, revolutionary club-room on a three-pair back at the bottom of a Paris court-yard, with its "tribune," and its quarrelsome patriots, to the palatial Polyanthus, the Podasokus or the Poluphlosboion. French clubs ever have been - and will be again, I suppose, when the next political smash affords an opportunity for the re-establishment of such institutions - mere screeching, yelling, vapouring "pig-and-whistle" symposia; full of rodomontading stump orators, splitting the silly groundlings' ears with denunciations of the infamous oppressors of society - the society that wears pantaloons without patches, and has one-and-ninepence in its pockets; yelping for communism, equal division of property, and toothpicks, solidarity, nationalities, and similar moonshine-and-water ices ; "demanding heads," with fierce imprecations about universal fraternity, till their own troublesome bodies - for society's mere peace and quietness' sake - are securely shackled and straight-waiscoated up, and carted away in police-vans to deep-holded ships, whence, after much salutary seasickness, they are shot out on the shores of conveniently pestilential Cayennes and Nouka-Hivas. A plague on such clubs and clubbists, say I, with their long hair, flapped waistcoats, and coffee-shop treasonable practices. They have done more harm to the cause of Liberty than all the wicked kings and kaisers, from Dionysius to the late Bomba - now gone to his reward, and who is enjoying it, I should say, hot and hot by this time - have done to the true and heaven-ordained principle of royalty.
In Imperial Paris there are yet clubs of another sort existing, though jealously watched by a police that would be Argus-eyed if its members were not endowed with a centuple power of squinting. There are clubs - the "Jockey," the "Chemin de Fer," and establishments with great gilded saloons, and many servitors in plush and silk stockings; but they are no more like our frank English clubs than I am like Antinous. Mere gambling shops and arenas for foolish wagers; mere lounging-places for spendthrifts, sham gentlemen, gilt-fustian senators, and Imperialist patricians, with dubious titles, who [-202-] haunt club-rooms, sit up late, and intoxicate themselves with alcoholic mixtures -so aping the hardy sons of Britain, when they would be ten times more at home in their own pleasant, frivolous Boulevard cafés, with a box of dominoes, a glass of sugar-and-water, and Alphonso the garçon to bring it to them. Such pseudo-aristocratic clubs you may find, too, at Berlin and Vienna, scattered up and down north Italy, and in Russia, even, at Petersburg and Moscow, where they have "English" clubs, into which Englishmen are seldom, if ever, admitted. Some English secretaries of legation and long-legged attachés, have indeed an ex-officio entry to these continental clubs, or "cercles," where they come to lounge and yawn in the true Pall Mall fashion; but they soon grow tired of the hybrid places; and the foreigners who come to stare and wonder at them, go away more tired still, and, with droll shrugs, say, "Que c'est triste!." The proper club for a Frenchman in his café; for, without a woman to admire him or to admire, your Monsieur cannot exist; and in the slowest provincial town in France there is a dame de comptoir to ogle or be ogled. The Russian has more of the clubable element in him; but clubs will never flourish in Muscovy till a man can be morally certain that the anecdote he is telling his neighbour will not be carried, with notes and emendations, in half an hour, to the Grand Master of Police. As for the German, put him in a beer-shop, and give him a long pipe with his mawkish draught, and - be he prince, professor, or peasant - he will desire no better club; save, indeed, on high convivial occasions, when you had best prepare him a cellar, where he and his blond-bearded, spectacled fellows may sit round a wine-cask, and play cards on the top thereof.
I don't exactly know how far the English club-shoot has been grafted on the trunk of American society, but I can't believe that the club-proper flourishes there to any great extent. I like the Americans much, recognising in them many noble, generous, upright, manly qualities; but I am afraid they are too fond of asking questions - too ignorant or unmindful of the great art of sitting half an hour in the company of a man whom you know intimately, without saying a word to him, to be completely clubable. Moreover, they are a people who drink standing, delighting much to "liquor up" in crowded barrooms, and seldom sitting down to their potations - a most unclubable characteristic. All sorts of convivial and political reunions exist, I am aware, in the United States, to a high degree of organisation; and I have heard glowing accounts of the comfortable, club-[-203-]like guard-rooms and stations of the New York volunteers and firemen; but I can't exactly consider these in the light of clubs. They are not exclusive enough - not concrete enough-not subject to the rigid but salutary discipline of that Imperium in Imperio, or rather, Rempublicam in Republica, the committee of a club.
In England, the Ancient Order of Druids were undeniably the first clubmen, keeping things remarkably snug, and delighting much in house-dinners at the sign of the Misletoe, where a roasted Ancient Briton was no rare dish. It might aid, too, to clear up the puzzling enigma of Stonehenge - who built it, and how, and why ? - if we were to look upon Druidism in a purely club-light. I should like to know whence the money came which the Megatherium or the Mastodon Clubs in Pall Mall cost to build. We know that Captain Threadbare, late of the Rifles, that the Hon. Jemmy O'Nuffin, respectively members of those grand cénacles, didn't find the money ; that they never paid anything towards their clubs, save the entrance fee and the subscription; and that they dine there, nine months out of the year, for eighteen-pence. Other members did, do, will do the same; yet there the club stands, stately and superb, with its columns of multi-coloured marbles, its stately halls, its sumptuous furniture, its army of liveried lacqueys. A belted earl might ruin himself in building such a mansion; yet Captain Threadbare and Jemmy O'Nuffin call it their club, and it is theirs to all intents and purposes. Cunning men, when you express excusable wonder at the thing, whisper, "Debentures!" and debentures seem in truth to have been the seven hundred times seven gifted servants, who have hoisted this Fortunio of a place to its proud position. Why should not Stonehenge have been built by debentures?
The old Saxon Wittenagemotte must have been strongly impregnated with the club element; and the resemblance of clubs to parliaments has come down to this day. What, after all, is our much-vaunted British House of Commons but a club of the first water, somewhat more exclusive than its brethren of St. James's, and black-balling its scores of candidates every general election? It has its reading-rooms, coffee-rooms, and smoking-rooms; the members lounge in and out, and loll on forms and benches, just as they would do in Pall Mall; and while some five hundred members indulge in the real dolce far niente of club life, smoking, and reading, and dawdling, and dozing, and refreshing themselves, and never troubling themselves about club matters, save when they are called upon to vote, the affairs [-204-] of the club (and of the nation too, by the way) are managed by a snug little committee, who do all the work and all the talking, and are continually popping themselves into snug little berths connected with the management of that other great club which lies beyond the walls of St. Stephen's, and is called the Country.
And the middle ages, sunk as the unthinking believe them to have been in barbarism, had their clubs, and brave ones too. Thorough clubmen were the old Freemasons; secret and sturdy, and swift in action; amid it's O! to see the club-houses they erected in the fanes that are yet the pride and glory of our cathedral towns. When you look at their crenelated towers, and at the strange sculptures in the rich spandrils of their arches, in their groins and corbels, in their buttresses and great rose windows, and cunningly-traced roodscreens and carved bench-ends, you shall find copious store of club-marks, and secret signs, and passes only known to themselves, and, grotesque and frivolous as to the uninitiated they seem, truly drawn from the innermost arcana of the great mystery of masonry. The old Vehmgericht, too, with its grim symbols, and warnings of the cord and dagger - may not that be considered as a club? The Flagellants and the Rosicrucians, were not those queer sects clubs ? and what were the Council of Trent, and the Diet of Worms, but select clubs, frequented by ecclesiastical and political "swells?"
I am not about to confound the convivial club - with its one room and its quaint rules, ancient or modern - with its latest perfection, all Portland stone amid plate-glass, gas chandeliers, and luxurious ottomans. Before, however, I come to the fashionable club of 1859, I may be permitted, I hope, to discourse for awhile on the jovial clubs, high, low, and middle class, which have made this metropolis cosy and picturesque for at least two centuries.
There can be little doubt that the Restoration gave a marvellous incentive to club-life in London. On the one hand, the sour Puritans and fierce Independents, driven into holes and corners by the advent of Charles II., had other places of meeting than the conventicles where they offered their surreptitious worship ; and at these stray places of re-union, they comforted and refected themselves in their own grim, uncomfortable fashion. On the other hand, the Cavaliers had their riotous assemblages, where they met to sing "Down among the dead men," and drink their king's health on their knees ; the revival of humorous and theatrical literature filled the taverns and coffee-houses with wits and dramatists, instead of pedants and theolo-[-205-]gians; table companions formed into knots, and knots into throngs, and these at length formed themselves into clubs, where they could jest and criticise, argue and carouse, at their ease, without the fear of interlopers; and though, so late as the days of Foote and Chatterton, a stranger of good address and brilliant conversation could form a rallying coffee-house acquaintance with the most famous wits of the town, it was difficult for him to be admitted into their inner circle; even as, in our own time, a man may find plenty of conversation in a railway carriage or an hotel coffee-room, at a German Spa or a charity dinner, but must not feel surprised if his voluble acquaintance of the previous evening cut him dead the next time he meets him. The change of succession at the Revolution gave an impetus both to the establishment and to the exclusiveness of the clubs. While William, the Dutchman, held his uneasy, hooked-nose pre-eminence in this country, innumerable were the dim taverns in whose securest rooms stealthy clubs, with cabalistic names, were held; where, when the club-room doors were tightly closed, Captain Henchman, late of Roper's horse, turned out to be Father Slyboots, high up in the order of Jesus, where sympathy was openly avowed for Sir John Fenwick, and the exiles of St. Germains were yet spoken of as the possessors of the Crown; and where, after William's death, the health of "the little gentleman in black velvet," meaning the molehill over which, according to the Jacobites, the king's horse had stumbled, when William fell and dislocated his collar-bone, was enthusiastically drunk. It would have been hard, too, if the days of Queen Anne - the Augustan era in which Swift, Gay, Pope, Addison, Prior, Boling broke, Somers, and Dorset, held their glorious sway of intellect - had not been fruitful in the production of clubs; and it is to the first quarter of the eighteenth century that we may trace the birth of our most famous clubs. The accession of George the First, embittering as it did a new question of the succession to the throne, gave a fresh lease of popularity to the Jacobite clubs, which had languished somewhat during the reign of Anne, for sheer want of something to conspire about. They were held all over London: in taverns and mug-houses, in the purlieus of Westminster and the Mint in Southwark, and in the multitudinous courts and alleys about Cornhill and the Exchange. How I should like to have seen one of these old honest, wrong-headed Jacobite club meetings! There was our old friend Captain Henchman, alias Father Slyboots, grown gray in conspiring; always in active correspondence with Rome and St. Germains, Douai [-206-] and St. Omer, and, as of yore, fiercely hunted by Mr. Secretary's messengers, from his Majesty's Cockpit, at Whitehall. There were old Roman Catholic baronets and squires, from Lancashire and Cheshire, who would as soon have thought of surrendering their ancestral faith in the false and fickle Stuarts, as of abandoning their old shields of arms and trees of descent; there were hot-headed young counsellers from the Temple; and otherwise steady-going Jacobite mercers, and goldsmiths, and vintners, whose loyalty to the dethroned house had somewhat of a commercial tinge in it, as you see now radical hatters and grocers proud to blazon the Royal arms above their doors, and the Lord Chamberlain's warrant in their windows, as "purveyors, by appointment, to her most Gracious Majesty." The landlord was a staunch Jacobite, of course; how, indeed, should he be otherwise? His grandfather had fought at Naseby field; and his father had furnished one of King Charles the Second's madams with clove-gillyflower water, and had never been paid for it. The drawer was Jacobite to the backbone (he turned traitor afterwards, it is true; was the means of hanging half the club, and retired with a handsome competence to the plantations, where he was exceedingly prosperous in the export of tobacco and the import of kidnapped children, and died elder and deacon) - but who but he brought in the great China bowl filled with a clear fluid, across which the company drank, with clasped hands, the toast of "The king over the water." Ah, days of furious party and faction differences, but of self-sacrificing honour and loyalty, ye shall return no more ! It was lucky for the Jacobite club-men when their convivialities were not interrupted by the irruption through the window of a party of the Foot Guards, who had climbed over the adjoining tiles. Traitors were always in their camp : spies always watching them. The English ambassador in Paris knew of their goings on, and revealed their bacchanalian machinations to wary Mr. Secretary at the Cockpit ; and every now and then would come a tide of evil days, and the venue of the club would be changed; Father Slyboots would go into closer hiding, baffling pursuit as a verger of Westminster Abbey, compounding with skippers of smuggling luggers for conveyance to Dunkirk or Fecamp, crouching in the " priest's hole of some old Roman Catholic mansion of the North country, or indeed, good man, as the times were very bad, purchasing a stout horse and betaking himself to the road with Captain Macheath and Cornet O'Gibbet, and Duvalising travellers, - of course confining himself to those who were of the Hanoverian way of thinking. Not the first [-207-] honest man who has turned highwayman: besides, was it not for the greater glory of Church and King? When the club had its next meeting, it might be in '16 or in '46 (for the century was quite gray-headed before the Jacobite clubs quite died out), there would be a lamentable hiatus here and there in the list of members. Where was Sir William Flowerdeluce? - Shot at Sheriffmuir. Where Colonel Belmain ?- Hanged at Carlisle. Where young Christopher Layer, the barrister, gallant, devoted, enthusiastic ?- His head was rotting on a spike, over Temple Bar, within sight of his old chambers. Where Jemmy Dawson, the pride, the pet, the pearl of the Jacobites, the dashing swordsman of Townley's ill-fated Manchester Regiment ?- Go ask the judge and jury, go ask the hangman, go ask the veiled lady in the black coach, who follows the fatal hurdle to Kennington Common, and sits out the hideous drama, and when she sees the heart of him she loves cast into the flames, and his fair limbs dismembered by the executioner, swoons and dies.
I have been reading a little old book, bearing the date of 1725, which professes to give a "Complete Account" of the principal clubs of London and Westminster. Its authorship is anonymous; yet I think I can discern traces of a certain fine Roman hand, well-known to me, in its composition, and I don't think I am in error in ascribing it to Mr. Ned Ward, the scurrilous though amusing author of the "London Spy." Its contents must be taken, of course, cum grano salis, with the other lucubrations of that diverting vagabond; yet I am ready to believe that many of his clubs were then existent. Some of them, indeed, have come down to our own times. According to the writer of the "Complete Account," there was the "Virtuous Club," established as a succursal to the Royal Society (which, indeed, was little more than a club at its commencement), at the Golden Fleece, a tavern in Cornhill, whence they moved to the Three Tuns, in Southwark: a queer locality, indeed, for the white-neckclothed savants, who now have their habitat in Burlington House. The chronicler treats them somewhat contemptuously, as collectors of "pickled maggot and mummies' toenails," and seems considerably to prefer the "Surly Club," held at some out-of-the-way place near Billingsgate Dock, whose members had "a stoker to attend their fire" - I did not know the appellation "stoker" was so old - a skinker to ignify their pipes, and a chalk accountant to keep a trencher register of the club reckoning, lest the landlord below should be tempted to augment the scot by means of a double-notched chalk. The principal feature of the [-208-] "Surly Club" appeared to lie in the members being all surly, ill-tempered, wrangling chuffs, who were bound to abuse each other and the world generally, at their every time of meeting. I believe that there arc London clubs, not yet extinct, which carry out the principles of the "Surly Club" in a remarkably undeviating manner. Then there was the " Split-Farthing Club," instituted by a society of usurers and money-spinners, who met together in the dark, in order to avoid the expense of candle or lamp-light, and of which the Hopkins immortalised by Pope was a distinguished member. The "Ugly Club" (which yet flourishes, I believe,) owed its foundation to a superlatively ugly fellow by the name of Hatchet (whence the term " hatchet-faced"), who had a nose of such immense size, that he was one day in the street charged by a butcher-boy with overturning a tray full of meat, when his head was at least a foot distant therefrom. A violent attempt was made to break up the "Ugly Club" by a committee of spinsters, who made unheard-of attempts to marry the members en masse, but in vain. Jack Wilkes was elected perpetual president of the "Ugly Club," early in the reign of George III., and Honorè Gabriel Riquetti, Count de Mirabeau, who had some slight connection with the first French Revolution, was unanimously chosen an honorary member on his visit to England. I must not forget to mention the "Unfortunate Club," held at the sign of the "Tumble-down Dick," in the Mint. To have been at least once bankrupt (a fraudulent failure was preferred), or to have come in some way in collision with the laws of the country, was a sine qua non in the qualification for a member of the "Unfortunates." The Market Women's, or "Flatcap Club," was at one time quite a fashionable place of meeting, being frequented by many of the wild gallants from the Rose, and Tom King's coffee-house, who treated the lady company to burnt brandy and flowing "Winchesters" (i.e., Winchester measures) of "powerful three thread "- our modern porter. Then there was the Lying Club, among whose voluminous rules were these, that the chairman was to wear a blue cap and a red feather, and that if any member, in the course of an evening, told a lie more impudent and egregious than he, the chairman, could manage to cap, he was at once to vacate the chair in favour of the superior Mendax. There was a very stringent rule, inflicting a severe fine upon any member who should presume, between the hours of nine and eleven of the clock, to tell one word of truth, unless, indeed, he prefaced it with the rider of "By your leave, Sir Harry"- Sir Harry Gulliver being the name of [-209-] the original chairman of the club. There was the "No-Nose Club," the "Beggars' Club," the "Thieves' Club," and the "Northern or Yorkshire Tyke's Club;" and, to sum up, there was a horrific assembly, founded in the reign of Charles II., and called the "Man-killing Club." The members of this savage corporation were debased Life-guardsmen, broken-down bullies, and old scarified prize-fighters. The prime qualification for membership was the commission of homicide. "The "Mohocks," Scourers, and "Sweaters" of Queen Anne's time, were, as may readily be imagined, highly prominent members of this murderous fraternity, which might have flourished much longer but for the interference of the Sheriff's hangman in ordinary, who disposed of the members with such amazing despatch and persistence, that the club could not at last form a quorum, and was so dissolved.
The "Irish Fortune-hunters' Club" I am somewhat chary of recognising, for I am afraid that it existed only in the lively fancy of Mr. Ned Ward or his imitator. There is, indeed, a copy of some resolutions of the club appended to the "Complete Account," but I am inclined to consider them apocryphal. Leave, by these resolutions, is given to Captain Donahoo to change his name to Talbot Howard Somerset; Captain Macgarret is empowered to change the place of his nativity from Connemara to Cornwall; and Lieutenant Dunshunner is presented with a suit of laced camlet at the club expense, in order to his successfully prosecuting his suit with Miss Bridget Tallbovs, "with ten thousand pounds fortune; in the event of which happy consummation, he is to repay the price of the suit with interest, and moreover to release from his captivity at the Gate-house the club secretary, therein confined on suspicion of debt."
Very different is the bran-new modern club whose interior my faithful artist has depicted, and whose appearance at five o'clock in the afternoon I am now called upon to describe. Gentlemen members of clubs, these gorgeous palaces are but the growth of one generation. Your fathers had, it is true, their Wattier's, the Cocoa-Tree, White's, and Boodle's, but those were considerably more like gambling-houses than clubs. To obtain admission was exceedingly difficult, and to remain a member was, save to men of immense fortune, absolutely ruinous. Hundreds of the superior middle-classes, nay, even of the aristocracy, who would consider themselves social Pariahs now-a-days, if they did not belong to one or more clubs, were perfectly content, a score of years since, to frequent the coffee-rooms of hotels and taverns. [-210-] A modern London club is the very looking-glass of the time; of the gay, glittering, polished, improved utilitarian, material age. Nothing more can be done for a palace than the fitters-up of a modern club have done for it. The march of upholstering intellect is there in its entirety. It must be almost bewildering to the modest half-pay captain or the raw young ensign, to the country gentleman, the bookworm fellow of his college, or the son of the country squire, fresh from dog-breaking and superintending the drains on his father's estate, to find themselves suddenly transferred from the quiet lodgings in St. Alban's Place, the white-washed barrack-room, the ivy-grown parsonage, the tranquil oak-sporting rooms of "Keys" or "Maudlin," the dull comfort of the country mansion-house, to this great hectoring palace, of which lie is the twelve-hundreth part proprietor, and where he may live on the fatness of the land, and like a lord of the creation, for twenty guineas entrance fee, and a subscription of ten guineas a year. He has a joint-stock proprietorship in all this splendour; in the lofty halls and vestibules; in the library, coffee-rooms, newspaper and card-rooms; in the secretary's office in the basement, and in the urbane secretary himself; in the kitchen, fitted with every means and appliance, every refinement of culinary splendour, and from whence are supplied to him at cost prices dishes that would make Lucullus wild with envy, and that are cooked for him, besides, by the great chef from Paris, Monsieur Nini Casserole, who has a piano and a picture-gallery in the kitchen - belongs, himself, to a club, little less aristocratic than his masters', and writes his bills of fare upon laced-edged note-paper. From the gorgeous footmen in plush and silk-covered calves, which the flunkeys of duchesses could scarcely rival, to the little foot-page in buttons; from the letter-racks to the French-polished peg on which lie hangs his hat in the hall; from the books in the library to the silver spoons in the plate- basket; from the encaustic mosaic on the pavement of the hall to the topmost turreted chimney-pot - he has a vested interest in all. He cannot waste, he cannot alienate, it is true; he can but enjoy. Debentures have taken care of that; yet the fee-simple is in part his; he is the possessor of an entailed estate; yet, for all purposes of present enjoyment, he sits under his own roof on his own ground, and eats his own mutton off his own plate, with his own knife and fork. Oh! the wonderful workings of debentures, and the inestimable benefits they confer on genteel persons with expensive tastes and small incomes! Do you know that a man may drink wines at his [-211-] club, such as, were he to order them at an hotel, the head waiter would hold up his hands at the extravagance of the order, or else imagine that he had Rothschild or Mr. Roupell dining in No. 4 box; nay, might perchance run round to the chambermaid to ask how much luggage the gentleman had. Rare ports, "worn-out ports," grown colourless from age and strength, that cannot be looked at without winking-wondrous bitter Sherries - strange yellow Rhine wines, that gurgle in the glass when poured out - Claret that has made bankrupt the proprietors of the vignobles who grew them, or else sent them mad to think their stock was out - indescribable Cognacs - Maraschinos and Curaçoas that filtrate like rich oil: all these are stored by special wine-merchants in the cellars of the club. The chief butler himself, a prince among the winepots, goes forth jauntily to crack sales, and purchases, standing, the collections of cunning amateurs in wines. You shall smoke such cigars at a club as would make Senor Cabana himself wonder where they were purchased. Everything is of the best, and everything is cheap; only the terms are, as the cheap tailors say, "for ready money." Tick is the exception, not the rule, at a club; though there have been Irish members who have run goodly scores in their time with the cook and the waiter.
A man may, if he be so minded, make his club his home; living and lounging luxuriously, amid grazing to his heart's content on the abundant club-house literature, and enjoying the conversation of club friends. Soap and towels, combs and hair-brushes, are provided in the lavatories; and there are even some clubs that have bed-rooms in their upper storeys, for the use of members. In those that are deficient in such sleeping accommodation, it is only necessary to have a tooth-brush and an attic in an adjacent bye-street; all the rest can be provided at the club. Thus it is that, in the present generation, has been created a type peculiar thereunto - the club-man. He is all of the club, and clubby. He is full of club matters, club gossip. He dabbles in club intrigues, belongs to certain club cliques, and takes part in club quarrels. No dinners are so good to him as the club dinners; he can read no journals but those he fines in the club newspaper-room; he writes his letters on the club paper, pops them into club envelopes, seals them with the club seal, and despatches them, if they are not intended for postage, by the club messengers. He is rather sorry that there is no club uniform. He would like, when he dies, to be buried in a club coffin, in the club cemetery, and to be followed to the grave by the club, with members of the committee as [-212-]
FIVE O'CLOCK P.M. : THE FASHIONABLE CLUB
[-213-] pall-bearers. As it is, when he has shuffled off this mortal coil, his
name appears on a board among the list of "members deceased."
That is his epitaph, his hatchment. his oraison funêbre.
The great complaint against clubs is, that they tend towards the germination of selfishness, exclusiveness, and isolation; that they are productive of neglect of home duties in married men, and of irrevocable celibacy in bachelors. Reserving my own private opinion on this knotty point, I may say that it is a subject for sincere congratulation that there are no ladies' clubs. We have been threatened with them sometimes, but they have always been nipped in the bud. It is curious to see how fiercely this tolerant, liberal, large-headed creature, Man, has waged war against the slightest attempt to establish a club on the part of the gentler sex. From the Parisian malecontents of the first revolution, who broke into the lady assemblies of the Jacobines and Tricoteuses, and broke up the clubs in question by the very expeditious process of turning the fair members into the street, after subjecting them to a castigation whose use is ordinarily confined to the nursery; from those ungallant anti-clubbists (they all belonged to clubs themselves, you may be sure) to Mr. Mark Lemon, who, in a petite comedie, brought the guns of satire to bear with terrible effect on an incipient agitation for lady clubbism, such institutions, on the part of the ladies, have always been put down, either by violence or by ridicule. The Tyrant Man is even, I am informed, disposed to look with jealousy on the "committees of ladies" which exist in connection with some deserving charities, and on the "Dorcas societies" and "sewing circles" of provincial towns ; and all meetings to advocate the rights of woman, he utterly abhors.
I daresay that you would very much like to know the name of the particular club, the tableau of which adorns this sheet, and would feel obliged if I would point out the portraits of individual members you would be very much pleased to be told whether it is the Carlton, the Reform, the Travellers', the Athenaeum, the Union, the United Service Senior or Junior, the Guards, the Oriental, the Oxford and Cambridge, the Parthenon, the Erectheum, the Wyndham, Whyte's, Boodle's, or the Army and Navy. No, Fatima; no, Sister Anne. You shall not be told. Clubbism is a great mystery, and its adepts must be cautious how they explain its shibboleth to the outer barbarians. Men have been expelled from clubs ere now for talking or writing about another member's whiskers, about the cut of his coat, and the manner in which he eats asparagus. I have no desire for [-214-] such club-ostracism; for though, Heaven help me, I am not of Pall Mall or St. James's, I, too, have a club whose institutes I revere. "Non me tua fercida terrent, dicta, Ferox :" I fear not Jawkins, nor all the Borekins in Borekindom; but "Dii me terrent, et Jupiter hostis:" I fear the awful committee that, with a dread complacency, can unclub a man for a few idle words inadvertently spoken, and blast his social position for an act of harmless indiscretion.
Clubs, after all, are rather pleasant institutions than otherwise, yet they have not escaped the lash of the moralist. Turning over, as I dismiss the subject, the leaves of my little old book, I come on the following passage: "Though the Promotion of Trade, and the Benefits that arise from Conversation, are the Specious Pretences that every Club or Society are apt to assign as a Reasonable Plea for their Unprofitable Meetings, yet more Considerate Men have found by Experience that the End thereof is a Promiscuous Encouragement of Vice, Faction, and Folly, and the Unnecessary Expense of that Time and Money which might much better be Employed in their own Business, or spent with much more Comfort in their Several Families." I don't say what the ladies' verdict will be on this opinion, though I can divine it; but I take off my hat to the moralist, capital letters and all, and, leaving him to grumble, will be off to the club.
Stay, stay, siste viator: I have an appointment. When have I not? I begin to think that I am the Wandering Jew, and there is decidedly no rest for the soles of my feet. Still the cry is "onward." Wherever that club of mine may be situated, it is clear that I must bend my course towards Bow Street, Covent Garden.
And why to Bow Street, an't please you? To gaze upon the resuscitated glories of the Royal Italian Opera? To dine at Nokes's succulent restaurant, where erst was the "Garrick's Head?" To obtain an order for admission to the workhouse from the relieving officer of the Strand Union Office? To hire theatrical costumes at Mr. May's? or to bail a friend out of the station-house? Not so. And yet my business has something to do with the metropolitan police. I wish to witness the departure of the PRISONERS' VAN.
About five p.m. the ladies and gentlemen who, through the arbitration of Mr. Hall, Mr. Jardine, or Mr. Henry, stipendiary magistrates, have settled their little differences with Justice, are conveyed to those suburban residences, in which, for the benefit of their health, and in the interests of society, it is judged necessary, par qui de droit, they shall for a stated term abide. The vehicle which bears them to their [-215-] temporary seclusion enjoys different names ; some technical, others simply humorous. By some it is called "Her Majesty's Carriage," from the fact that the crown and the initials "V. R." are painted on the panels. More far-fetched wags call it "Long Tom's Coffin". The police and the reporters, for shortness, call it "The Van." In this vehicle the malefactors who have in the course of the day been arraigned before the tribunal of the Bow Street Police-court, are conveyed to the various jails and houses of correction in and about the metropolis, there to undergo the several terms of imprisonment and hard labour, as the case may be, to which they have been sentenced. Sometimes the court sits late, and the van does not take its departure before half-past five; but five is the ordinary time when the great black, shining, cellular omnibus, drawn by two strong horses, with its policeman driver, and policeman conductor in a snug little watch-box, rolls away from Bow Street. It is a prison on wheels, a peripatetic penitentiary, a locomotive hulk. Criminals both in amid out of prison regard it with a species of terror, not unmixed with admiration, and, as is their wont, they have celebrated it in that peculiar strain of ballad poetry for which London roguery has been so long distinguished. In that celebrated collection of dishonest epics, the "Drury Lane Garland," in fit companionship with "Sam Hall," "County Jail, "Seven years I got for priggin'," and the "Leary Man," I find a ballad on the subject of the Bow Street chariot of disgrace, of which the refrain is-
"Sing Wentilator, separate cell,
Its long, and dark, and hot as well.
Sing locked-up doors-git out if you can,
There's a crusher outside the prisoners' wan!"
A "crusher," or policeman, there is indeed, not only in the little watch-box on the exterior, to which I have alluded, but in the narrow corridor between the cells into which the carriage is divided in the interior. It is the former functionary's duty to keep the outer door securely locked; the latter to take care that no communication takes place between the passengers confined in this penal omnibus, either through the ventilators on the roof, or by talismanic tappings at the panels which divide them.
When the hour of departure arrives, you see the pavement and carriage-way of Bow Street studded with a choice assemblage of the raggedry, ruffianry, felonry, misery, drunkardry, and drabbery, whom the infamous hundred of Drury, and the scarcely less infamous tithing [-216-]
FIVE O'CLOCK P.M. : THE PRISONERS' VAN
[-217-] of Covent, have cast out into a thoroughfare which, two hours hence,
will be re-echoing to the wheels of carriages bearing noble lords and
ladies to listen to the delicious Bosio (alas!) in the " Traviata,'' or the
enchanting notes of Tamberlik in "Otello." London is full of violent
contrasts; but this is the grimmest in the whole strange catalogue. See, the warder in the watch-box has descended from his perch, and
with a patent key opened the portal of the van, revealing a second janitor inside. And now the passengers destined for the lugubrious
journey come tumbling out of the court door, and down the steps
towards the van. Some handcuffed, some with their arms folded, or
their hands thrust in their pockets in sullen defiance; some hiding
their faces in their grimy palms for very shame. There are women as
well as men, starved sempstresses, and brazen courtezans in tawdry finery. There are wicked graybeards, and children on whose angel
faces the devil has already set his indelible brand. There are ragged
losels rejoicing to go to jail as to a place where they shall at least have
bread to eat and a bed to lie on; there are dashing pickpockets in
shiny hats and pegtop trousers braided down the seams. There are
some going to prison for the first, and some for the fiftieth time. One by one they are thrust rather than handed into the van. The shabby
crowd gives a faint, derisive cheer, the door bangs, the policeman-conductor ensconces himself in his watch-box, and the Prisoners' Van drives off.
The Pharisee thanked Heaven that lie was not "as that Publican." Down on your knees, well-nurtured, well-instructed youth, and thank Heaven for the parents and friends, for the pastors and masters, to whose unremitting care and tenderness, from your cradle upwards, you owe it that you are not like one of these miserable Publicans just gone away in the prisoners' van. But thank Heaven humbly, not pharisaically. A change at nurse, the death of a parent - one out of the fifty thousand accidents that beset life - might have thrown you into the sink of misery and want, foulness and crime, in which these creatures were reared, and you might have been here to-day, not gazing on the spectacle with a complacent pity, but trundled with manacles on your wrists into this moving pest-house, whose half-way house is the jail, and whose bourne is the gallows.
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]