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- Inns and Taverns of Old London - 20/42 -

perpetuates in name at least one of the most remarkable coffee-houses of the seventeenth century.

Evidence is abundant that the early coffee-houses took their colour from the district in which they were established. Thus it would be idle in the main to expect a literary atmosphere among the houses which flourished in the heart of the city. They became the resorts of men of business, and gradually acquired a specific character from the type of business man most frequenting them. In a way Batson's coffee-house was an exception to the rule, inasmuch as doctors and not merchants were most in evidence here. But the fact that it was tacitly accepted as the physicians' resort shows how the principle acted in a general way. One of the most constant visitors at Batson's was Sir Richard Blackmore, that scribbling doctor who was physician to William III and then to Queen Anne. Although his countless books were received either with ridicule or absolute silence, he still persisted in authorship, and finally produced an "Heroick Poem" in twelve books entitled, "Prince Alfred." Lest any should wonder how a doctor could court the muse to that extent without neglecting his proper work, he explained in his preface that he had written the poem "by such catches and starts, and in such occasional uncertain hours as his profession afforded, and for the greater part in coffee-houses, or in passing up and down the streets," an apology which, led to his being accused of writing "to the rumbling of his chariot wheels." But in the main the real literary folk of the day would have none of him. He belonged to the city, and what had a mere city man to do with poetry? Even Dr. Johnson, in taking note of a reply Blackmore made to his critics, chided him with writing "in language such as Cheapside easily furnished."

Other physicians, however, resorted to Batson's coffee-house in a professional and not a poetic way. The character of its frequenters was described in a lively manner in the first number of the Connoisseur, published in January, 1754. Having devoted a few sentences to a neighbouring establishment, the writer noted that it is "but a short step to a gloomy class of mortals, not less intent on gain than the stock-jobbers: I mean the dispensers of life and death, who flock together like birds of prey watching for carcasses at Batson's. I never enter this place, but it serves as a _memento mori_ to me. What a formidable assemblage of sable suits, and tremendous perukes! I have often met here a most intimate acquaintance, whom I have scarce known again; a sprightly young fellow, with whom I have spent many a jolly hour; but being just dubbed a graduate in physic, he has gained such an entire conquest over the risible muscles, that he hardly vouchsafes at any time to smile. I have heard him harangue, with all the oracular importance of a veteran, on the possibility of Canning's subsisting for a whole month on a few bits of bread; and he is now preparing a treatise, in which he will set forth a new and infallible method to prevent the spreading of the plague from France to England. Batson's has been reckoned the seat of solemn stupidity: yet it is not totally devoid of taste and common sense. They have among them physicians, who can cope with the most eminent lawyers or divines; and critics, who can relish the _sal volatile_ of a witty composition, or determine how much fire is requisite to sublimate a tragedy _secundum artem_." The house served a useful purpose at a time when physicians were not in the habit of increasing their knowledge by visiting the wards of the hospitals. Batson's was a consulting-house instead, not alone for patients but for the doctors themselves. In this respect, then, it differed from the generally commercial character of the coffee-houses under the shadow of the Exchange.


But there was no mistaking the commercial character of a place like Garraway's in Change Alley. The essayist just quoted is responsible for a story to the effect that when a celebrated actor was cast for the part of Shylock he made daily visits to the coffee-houses near the Exchange that "by a frequent intercourse and conversation with 'the unforeskin'd race,' he might habituate himself to their air and deportment." And the same chronicler goes on to say that personally he was never more diverted than by a visit to Garraway's a few days before the drawing of a lottery. "I not only could read hope, fear, and all the various passions excited by a love of gain, strongly pictured in the faces of those who came to buy; but I remarked with no less delight, the many little artifices made use of to allure adventurers, as well as the visible alterations in the looks of the sellers, according as the demand for tickets gave occasion to raise or lower their price. So deeply were the countenances of these bubble-brokers impressed with attention to the main chance, and their minds seemed so dead to all other sensations, that one might almost doubt, where money is out of the case, whether a Jew 'has eyes, hands, organs, dimensions, affections, passions.'" But lottery tickets were not the only things offered-for sale at Garraway's. Wine was a common article of sale there in the early days, and in the latter career of the house it became famous as an auction-room for land and house property.

Thomas Garraway was the founder of the house, the same who is credited with having been the first to retail tea in England. On the success of Pasqua Rosee he was not long, apparently, in adding coffee to his stock, and then turning his place of business into a coffee-house. The house survived till 1866, and even to its latest years kept an old-time character. A frequenter of the place says the ground-floor was furnished with cosy mahogany boxes and seats, and that the ancient practice of covering the floor with sand was maintained to the last.

Two other houses, Jonathan's and Sam's, were notorious for their connection with stock-jobbing. The latter, indeed, figured prominently in the gigantic South Sea Bubble fraud. And even when that was exposed Sam's continued to be the headquarters of all the get-rich-quick schemes of the day. Thus in one issue of a newspaper of 1720 there were two announcements specially designed to catch the unwary. One notice told that a book would be opened for entering into a joint-partnership "on a thing that will turn to the advantage of the concerned," and the other was a modest proposal to raise two million pounds for buying and improving the Fens of Lincolnshire.

[Illustration: MAD DOG IN A COFFEE-HOUSE. _(From a Rowlandson Caricature.)_]

Jonathan's is incidentally described by Addison as "the general mart of stock-jobbers," and in that amusing account of himself to which he devoted the first number of the Spectator he explained that he had been taken for a merchant on the exchange, "and sometimes passed for a Jew in the assembly of stock-jobbers at Jonathan's." Half a century later than these allusions the Annual Register recorded a case tried at the Guildhall arising out of an assault at this coffee-house. It seems that the master, Mr. Ferres, pushed the plaintiff, one Isaac Renoux, out of his house, for which he was fined one shilling damages on it being proved at the trial that "the house had been a market, time out of mind, for buying and selling government securities."

Such houses as John's in Birchin Lane and the Jerusalem coffee-house, which was situated in a court off Cornhill, were typical places of resort for merchants trading to distant parts of the world. One of Rowlandson's lively caricatures, that of a "Mad Dog in a Coffee-House," is a faithful representation of the interior of one of those houses. A bill on the wall shows how they were used for the publication of shipping intelligence, that particular placard giving details of the sailing of "The Cerebus" for the Brazils. In a private letter of July 30th, 1715, is an account of an exciting incident which had its origin in the Jerusalem coffee-house. At that time England was in a state of commotion over the Jacobite insurrection and the excitement seems to have turned the head of a Captain Montague, who was reputed to be "a civil sober man," of good principles and in good circumstances. He had entered the Jerusalem coffee-house on the previous day, as the letter relates, and, without any provocation, "of a sudden struck a gentleman who knew him a severe blow on the eye; immediately after; drawing his sword, ran out through the alley cross Cornhill still with it drawn; and at the South entrance of the Exchange uttered words to this effect, that he was come in the face of the Sun to proclaim James the third King of England, and that only he was heir." Whereupon he knocked down another gentleman, who, however, had sense enough to see that the captain was out of his mind and called for assistance to secure him. It took half a dozen men to hold him in the coach which carried him to a magistrate, who promptly committed him to a mad-house.

Tom's coffee-house was situated in the same thoroughfare as John's. This was the resort affected by Garrick on his occasional visits to the city, and is also thought to have been the house frequented by Chatterton. In a letter to his sister that ill-fated poet excused the haphazard nature of his epistle he was writing her from Tom's on the plea that there was "such a noise of business and politics in the room." He explained that his present business--the concocting of squibs, tales and songs on the events of the day--obliged him to frequent places of the best resort.

[Illustration: TOM'S COFFEE-HOUSE.]

In view of its subsequent career no coffee-house of the city proper was of so much importance as that founded by Edward Lloyd. He first appears in the history of old London as the keeper of a coffee-house in Tower Street in 1688, but about four years later' he removed to Lombard Street in close proximity to the Exchange, and his house gradually became the recognized centre of shipbroking and marine insurance business, for which the corporation still bearing the name of Lloyd's is renowned all over the world.

Two pictures of Lloyd's as it was in the first decade of the eighteenth century are to, be found in the gallery of English literature, one from the pen of Steele, the other from that of Addison. The first is in the form of a petition to Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq., from the customers of the house, and begged that he would use his influence to get other coffee-houses to adopt a custom which prevailed at Lloyd's. Great scandal, it seems, had been caused by coffee-house orators of the irresponsible order. Such nuisances were not tolerated at Lloyd's. The petitioners explained--and by inference the explanation preserves a record of the internal economy of the house--that at Lloyd's a servant was deputed to ascend the pulpit in the room and read the news on its arrival, "while the whole audience are sipping their respective liquors." The application of the petition lay in the suggestion that this method should be adopted in all coffee-houses, and that if any, one wished to orate at large on any item of the news of the day he should be obliged to ascend the pulpit and make his comments in a formal manner.

[Illustration: LLOYD'S COFFEE-HOUSE.]

Evidently the pulpit at Lloyd's was a settled institution. It played a conspicuous part in that ludicrous incident which Addison describes at his own expense. It was his habit, he explained, to jot down from time to time brief hints such as could be expanded into Spectator papers, and a sheetful of such hints would naturally look

Inns and Taverns of Old London - 20/42

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