Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London Up to Date, by George Augustus Sala, 1895 - Five P.M. : A Ballot at a Pall Mall Club 

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FIVE P.M.: A BALLOT AT A PALL MALL CLUB

    To obviate the possibility of any doubts touching the exact locality of the Senior Jupiter Club, Pall Mall, you will allow me, perhaps, to set down at the beginning of this brief descriptive essay a few topographical particulars. The Senior Jupiter is on the south-west by north-east side of the handsomest street in London, on the same side with the War Office, the Travellers', the Junior Spiders' Club, the branch offices of the Babylon, Chicago, and Calcutta Banking Company, Limited, and the shop of my esteemed purveyor of Havana cigars, Mr. Henry Wilson. Now you will have the clearest of ideas touching the precise locality of the typical Pall Mall Club, a few phases of which I am about to sketch. The Senior Jupiter is a palatial mansion, four storeys high, designed by the late Sir Palladio Vitruvius Smiff, RA.: the architect, you will remember, to whom we owe the Theatre Royal, Hatton Garden, and the cavalry barracks at Mile End ; Lord Fortinbras's sumptuous mansion, in Piccadilly, and the South Lambeth Union Workhouse. If Sir Palladio had a fault, it lay in a little too much redundance of decoration and in occasional incongruity of style. Thus, the basement of the Senior Jupiter is [-60-] austere Doric; the mezzanine is Ionic; the first floor Byzantine; the second Gothic-Renaissance; the third Tudor; and the attic Early English. The general effect of the façade is pleasing although some what perplexing to the eye; and, albeit there is a sense of rich colour in the bright yellow curtains to the stained glass windows of the morning-room facing Pall Mall, objections have been raised by purists to the lancet windows, or rather slits in the Ionic portion of the front.
    The internal arrangement of this grand structure will be dwelt upon presently; let it suffice, for the nonce, to hint that, like the architectural scheme of the exterior, they are, perhaps, although consistently splendid, a little mixed. The Senior Jupiter, or - as its older members proudly call it, The Jupiter - taking no account of a proprietary club, the Jupiter Junior, in St. James s Square hard by, was originally started, on quite a humble scale, in Cannon Row, Westminster, in the reign of George IV.; and as I find, on consulting the original list of members, that the club, in its infancy, was joined by, among others, Viscount Castlereagh, William Cobbett, Sir Francis Burdett, Lord Liverpool, "Orator" Hunt, Lord Byron, the Earl of Eldon, Bishop Blomfield, William Hone, Dr. Parr, the Duke of Bedford, and Benjamin Disraeli the Younger, you will at once see that the Jupiter was not, in its origin, a political institution. What the opinion on public affairs of the majority of its members at present may be, I am sure I do not know.
    The club numbers a thousand members; the entrance [-61-] fee being fifty guineas, and the annual subscription twelve. Elections take place by general ballot of the members; and, on the whole, the Senior Jupiter is a club rather difficult to get into. For example, certain prejudices exist in certain cliques among the members, against stockbrokers, solicitors, wine-merchants, Turks, Armenians, educated Baboos studying at the Inns of Court, paragraphists of society papers, retired majors of the 96th Lancers, and Chinese "bucket-shop" keepers, who are too accomplished proficients at fan-tan, euchre, and poker. Proprietors of quack medicines are also looked upon askance; and a lion comique, or the landlord of an East-End gin-palace, would have but a very faint chance of election in this equally select and sumptuous place of resort for the aristocratic, the cultured, and the wealthy. As for artists, men of letters, and journalists, the sky would rain blackballs if such "poor white trash" dared to come up for ballot.
    The candidate who may be considered as the likeliest to obtain admission to these somewhat fastidious groves of familiar intercourse is he about whom the very least is known, but who is supported by a highly respectable and affluent proposer and seconder. The protégé of a member of the Episcopal Bench, a Lombard Street banker, a County Member, or a Fellow of the Royal Society, need trouble himself very little about the contingencies of being defeated at the ballot. The odds might be stated as about seventy-five to one that he will not be "pilled." At the same time, I should respectfully advise him not to part his hair down the middle; not [-62-] to be in the habit of perambulating Pall Mall in a suit of "dittoes" and a pot-hat; and not to wear fancy shirts, nor a horse-shoe pin in his cravat. A diamond ring may often mean destruction to his hopes; and it may be hinted that it will be much better for the gentleman who seeks the suffrages of the members of the Senior Jupiter, if he have some other patronymic than Smith. Should he belong to that numerous and historic family he will, if he be wise, when his name is put down in the parchment folio appointed for the purpose, suggest to his proposer to enter him as "Smyth," "Smythe," "Smijth," or even "Smith-Smith." If he be put up as "Smith" pure and simple, the day will not pass without at least half a score of elderly gentlemen, bearing the same appellation, vengefully growling to one another in the coffee-room or the smoking-room - "Another confounded fellow called Smith put up"; or "I am not going to have my letters opened by the wrong man-we have too many Smiths already. Let him try the proprietary place over the way. This is a members' club; hay?" The odds are a great many to one that the latest outsider with the name of Smith will come to grief at the ballot- boxes.
    By the way, this being a Thursday afternoon, during the Parliamentary Session, there is a ballot on, between 2 and 6 P.M., at the Senior Jupiter. Let me see; where is the list of gentlemen whose names are to be submitted to the fearsome arbitrament of a number of favourable, or adverse, balls of pith; all of one hue, but technically classed as "black balls," if they are popped into the [-63-] division of the ballot-box labelled "No." About a dozen candidates are up for election, and with divining-rod finger one runs down the list in order to ascertain whether the catalogue contains any people whom you like or would like to know, and for whom you propose to vote; as against others whom you don't know, and consequently hate, or whom you do know, and logically detest, even more bitterly. Aha! Here is old Bilberry, the millionaire manufacturer of vegetable-ivory button-shanks, at Fogley-in-Furnace. For a long time you have been aware of Bilberry; for is he not one of your fellow-members at the United Fogies', in King Street, St. James's? Bilberry is the man who goes to sleep during his dinner, and wakes up with a snort between the entrée and the roast. He has a habit, too, of snoring in the library; of monopolising as many of the evening papers as he can sit upon, or tuck under his arms, while he is reading his Globe, as a whet or relish to the others; and sometimes he takes off his shoes in the reading-room, and examines his socks, curiously. Away with Bilberry! so far as your individual negative is concerned.
    "Sir Hubert Stanley. No occupation, Guards', Beefsteak, Garrick, Bachelors', Polyanthus, White Kid- Glove clubs. Proposed by Sir Roger de Coverley, Bart.; seconded by Lord Nozoo." Why, of course! A more eligible young fellow of seven-and-forty, with a delightful house in Park Lane, and who is noted for his snug little dinners, and his sprightly little whist parties afterwards, it is difficult to imagine. You will vote for Stanley without hesitation; but, ha I whom have [-64-] we here! "Admiral Grumps, K.C.B." No; Admiral Grumps, this is no place for you - your repute has spread through Club-land. You were a very valiant sea-captain no doubt, in the days of Blake, Sir Cloudesley Shovel, Boscawen, Rodney, and the like. But that was so very long ago. Commander Grumps, although a strict disciplinarian, was the most courageous and smartest of captains. Admiral Grumps, K.C.B., is about as peppery, cantankerous, quarrelsome, and generally disagreeable an old gentleman as can well be met with on a foggy day in Long Acre. He belongs to about half a dozen clubs, apparently for the purpose of making himself and other people uncomfortable at the institutions in question. The Admiral is continually bullying the waiters; harrying the steward; making the butler's life a torment to him; and bombarding the Committee with letters of complaint. The club stationery, the newspapers and magazines subscribed for, the books added to the library, please him no more than the tomato soup, the fried soles, the pickles, and the claret-cups. He is altogether the kind of Admiral to write a nice complimentary little obituary about when he departs this life, but to give a very wide berth to when you meet him in club circles.
    But attention! It is five o'clock, at the height of the season; the candidates' list, from which I have only extracted two or three names, is a somewhat heavy one. There are some gentlemen from the Emerald Isle to whom it is shrewdly conjectured violent opposition will be offered by other gentlemen, also from Ireland.
   
[-65-] Pressing "whips" have been sent round by the proposers and seconders to all their friends and acquaintances who are members of the Senior Jupiter, and altogether a very stirring conflict may be anticipated. Members are coming down in animated groups from the two Houses of Parliament, on foot, in broughams, and in hansoms. Some arrive in elegant open landaus and barouches, accompanied by the ladies of their families, who, after kindly, but strongly, admonishing them to vote for or against such candidates as they may desire to be elected, or the contrary, drop the gentlemen and drive off for a placid round in the Park. They will return when the ballot is over, at six, and pick up the gentlemen again. Woe betide the latter if they have not "voted straight," as they were bidden to do! The ballot was never yet an impenetrable veil at any election; and in the case of married members of clubs, the gentlemen either make confession as to the compartment of the ballot-box into which they have placed their little spheres of pith, or else their looks betray them; and they are at once dragged to the bar of domestic justice - a tribunal which usually holds nocturnal sittings, and the judicial bench of which is curtained with cretonne.
    Rid your mind at once of the wholly erroneous idea, should you ever have entertained it, that ladies have no influence in controlling the course of club ballots. Many years ago, I was proposed by a well-known dealer in marine-stores as a candidate for membership of the Hot Potato Club, Great St. Andrew's Street, Seven Dials.
    [-66-] It was a most select cénacle; and I had some difficulty in finding a seconder, whom I at last discovered in a highly respected "translator" of boots and shoes in Dudley Street. There was a heavy current of opposition to my return; and at the election I had no less than seventeen black balls; but the aggregate vote was a very heavy one, and I got in by the skin of my teeth. Years after this, supping at a fashionable fried-fish shop in Blackmore Street, Drury Lane, I found myself in the company of perhaps one of the most prominent operators in the hot eel-soup trade in the whole parish of St. Clement Danes. He, like myself, was a member of the Roast Potatoes, and, when his tongue was loosened by the genial repast, and something warm and comfortable afterwards, he frankly admitted that he had been one of my opponents at my election, and that one of the black balls placed in the ballot-box, on that momentous occasion, was dropped by his hand. "I am sorry I did it now," he was kind enough to say; "for you are not half a bad sort. You sing 'Hot Codlins' capitally, and are always on hand for a game of Bumblepuppy. Why did I pill you? I was bound to do it, sir; my wife ordered me to blackball you, simply because you wrote the atrociously unsatisfactory denoomong to that three-volume novel of yours, The Fifty Daughters of the Horse Leech."
    They have been voting from soon after lunch; and they are voting now, at half-past five, fast and furiously. The Central Hall of the club-a magnificent vestibule in the Graeco-Mauresque style, with horseshoe arches [-67-] supported by Corinthian columns, a Renaissance loggia above, Gothic clerestories, and a dome of plate glass, painted in stripes of yellow and black-interspersed with emblems of the Rose, Shamrock and Thistle-is crowded with pushing, babbling, laughing, chatting, story-telling, button-holing, rib-nudging gentlemen, old and young, slim and corpulent, bearded, moustachioed, or clean-shaven; but all with the unmistakable cachet of Club-land about them. The proposers and seconders of the various candidates have warily ranged themselves on guard, some at the top of the stairs leading into the hall, and the others at the doors of the room in which the ballot-boxes are placed, and remain there hour after hour, skilfully "nobbling" members as they enter. "You will be sure to vote for Simpkins." "There isn't a word of truth in the story about Junker having made all his money by black-birding in Polynesia." "You know that you promised to back Bluppy the day we had that capital dinner at the Star and Garter at Richmond. Bluppy was there, you will remember; and how, to be sure, he made the fellows roar with that story of Lord Thurlow putting on his Chancellor's wig and gown one night after dinner, and dancing a Scotch reel, while he flourished the Great Seal in a bag, just as George Grossmith used to do afterwards." "Come along, old man, and vote for Tibby. You have just bought, you know, a little place in Hampshire; they swear by Tibby there. All the county families are fond of him he goes regularly to the Duchess's, and you will be asked there."
    [-68-] Thus, in fragmentary conversation always, cajoling, entreating, but never threatening, do the skilful proposers and seconders do their spiriting. Experienced practitioners in this peculiar and somewhat difficult branch of diplomacy are generally pretty easy in their minds when they can induce the members whom they wish to " nobble" to talk. We are not all Machiavellis, or Talleyrands; or gifted with the capacity of using speech only as a means to conceal our thoughts. Persuade a man to talk, and you will usually find out, in popular parlance, "what he is made of." The Silent Member on a ballot day, at a London club, is to be suspected, mistrusted, and dreaded. Beware of him! If he maintain absolute taciturnity, or responds to your eloquent appeals either with a dry, husky cough, or a brief "Just so," or "Ah! indeed," your case, or rather that of your candidate friend, is well-nigh hopeless. If the Silent Member puts his hands in his trousers pockets, you are a lost man. He will "pill" your friend to a certainty.
    In the balloting-room itself the boxes are ranged on a long row of tables, at the upper extremity of which sits, at his own particular bureau, the indefatigable secretary of the club, who has a bland smile for every member who passes him, and whose name he inscribes in a book; and who, I should say, from lengthened experience, can form a practically accurate opinion as to how many candidates will be elected that day and how many will be "pilled "- and by whom, too. The members pass before each ballot-box in succession. [-69-] Some saunter; some stalk solemnly; some come up to the scratch briskly and cheerfully; some walk delicately, like Agag, and seem to cogitate long and anxiously ere they drop the ball of fate into its chosen receptacle while others almost fling the ball into the box, and rush away as though they had just done some guilty thing.
    Perhaps they have. There are experts in club elections who hover about the other side of the ballot-box tables, and who are said to be able to discern which way a man has voted from the hue assumed by his complexion; by the trembling or the steadiness of his hand; by the expression of his eyes and his lips, and even from the manner in which he wears his hat. Be it as it may, six o'clock arrives, and the secretary or the librarian opens the drawers of the ballot-boxes, and reveals the state of the poll. Sir Hubert Stanley, elected not one black ball. Admiral Grumps, K.C.B., nowhere. Lord Brian de Bois-Guilbert, Plantagenet de Montmorency Guineapig, not elected. His lordship, as a matter of fact, has thirty-seven black balls. Why? He is undeniably handsome, clever, and well connected. Unfortunately, the world has heard too much lately of him, as a member of divers boards of directors, of more than shady companies, with limited liability, but seemingly with an unlimited ability to gull the public and absorb their money. The Jack-in-the -Box of Originalbonesland, South Africa; the Money-or-Your-Life Gingerbread Manufacturing Company; the Universal Pianoforte-Tuning Company; the Syndicate of  [-70-] Shell-fish Dealers, and the Telephonic Doll's House and Phonographic Punch-and-Judy Show Companies are among the latest of the financial undertakings with which the noble Guineapig has been associated. Never mind ; there are plenty of proprietary clubs which will hail him as a member of their committees.

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