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- Inns and Taverns of Old London - 30/42 -

His fortune squander'd, leaves his virtue bare To every bribe, and blind to every snare."

Another witness to the prevalent spirit of White's at this time is supplied by Lord Lyttelton in a private letter, wherein he wrote that he had fears, should his son become a member of that club, the rattling of a dice-box would shake down all the fine oaks of his estate.

Mackreth manifested great worldly wisdom in addressing himself to George Selwyn when he retired from the active management of the club, for he knew that no other member had so much influence in the smart set of the day. Selwyn was a member of Brooks's as well, and for a time divided his favours pretty equally between the two houses, but in his latter years seems to have felt a preference for White's. The incidental history of the club for many years finds more lively chronicle in his letters than anywhere else, for he was constant in his attendance and was the best-known of its members. Through those letters we catch many glimpses of Charles James Fox at all stages of his strange career. We see him, for example, loitering at the club drinking hard till three o'clock in the morning, and find him there sitting up the entire night preceding his mother's death, planning a kind of "itinerant trade, which was of going from horse-race to horse-race, and so, by knowing the value and speed of all the horses in England, to acquire a certain fortune." Later, we see the brilliant statesman flitting about the club rooms, "as much the minister in all his deportment, as if he had been in office forty years."

Among the countless vignettes of club life at White's as they crop up in Selwyn's letters it is difficult to pick and choose, but a few taken almost at random will revive scenes of a long-past time. Here is one of a supper-party in 1781: "We had a pretty group of Papists--Lord Petres at the head of them--some Papists reformed, and one Jew. A club that used to be quite intolerable is now becoming tolerating and agreeable, and Scotchmen are naturalized and received with great good humour. The people are civil, not one word of party, no personal reflections." A few days later Selwyn tells this story against himself. "On my return home I called in at White's, and in a minute or two afterwards Lord Loughborough came with the Duke of Dorset, I believe the first time since his admittance. I would be extraordinarily civil, and so immediately told him that I hoped Lady Loughborough was well. I do really hope so, now that I know that she is dead. But the devil a word did I hear of her since he was at your house in St. James's Street. He stared at me, as a child would have done at an Iroquois, and the Duke of Dorset seemed _tout confus_. I felt as if I looked like an oaf, but how I appeared God knows. I turned the discourse, as you may suppose." And here is a peep of a gambling party at faro. "I went last night to White's, and stayed there till two. The Pharo party was amusing. Five such beggars could not have met; four lean crows feeding on a dead horse. Poor Parsons held the bank. The punters were Lord Carmarthen, Lord Essex, and one of the Fauquiers; and Denbigh sat at the table, with what hopes I know not, for he did not punt. Essex's supply is from his son, which is more than he deserves, but Malden, I suppose, gives him a little of his milk, like the Roman lady to her father."

Other glimpses might be taken such as would give point to Rowlandson's caricature of a later day in which he depicted a scene in "The Brilliants" club-room. The rules to be observed in this convivial society set forth that each member should fill a bumper to the first toast, that after twenty-four bumper toasts every member might fill as he pleased, and that any member refusing to comply with the foregoing was to be fined by being compelled to swallow a copious draught of salt and water. Rowlandson did not overlook the gambling propensities of such clubs, as may be seen by his picture of "E O, or the Fashionable Vowels." By 1781 there were swarms of these E O tables in different parts of London, where any one with a shilling might try his luck. They had survived numerous attempts at their suppression, some of which dated as far back as 1731.

[Illustration: THE BRILLIANTS. _(A Rowlandson Caricature of London Club Life in the 18th Century.)_]

All the characteristic features of White's were to be found at Brooks's club on the opposite side of St. James's Street, the chief difference between the two being that the former was the recognized haunt of the Tories and the latter of the Whigs. This political distinction is underlined in Gillray's amusing caricature of 1796, in which he depicted the "Promised Horrors of the French Invasion." The drawing was an ironical treatment of the evil effects Burke foretold of the "Regicide Peace," and takes for granted the landing of the French, the burning of St. James's Palace and other disasters. According to the artist, the invaders have reached the vicinity of the great clubs, and are wreaking vengeance on that special Tory club--White's--while Brooks's over the way is a scene of rejoicing. The figures hanging from the lamp-post are those of Canning and Jackson, while Pitt, firmly lashed to the Tree of Liberty, is being vigorously flogged by Fox.

During the earlier years of its history Brooks's was known as Almack's, its founder having been that William Almack who also established the famous assembly-rooms known by his name. The club was opened in Pall Mall as a gaming-salon in 1763, and it speedily acquired a reputation which even White's would have been proud to claim. Walpole relates that in 1770 the young men of that time lost five, ten, fifteen thousand pounds in an evening's play. The two sons of Lord Holland lost thirty-two thousand pounds in two nights, greatly, no doubt, to the satisfaction of the Hebrew money-lenders who awaited gamblers in the outer room, which Charles Fox accordingly christened the Jerusalem Chamber. While it still retained its original name, Gibbon became a member of the club, and Reynolds wished to be. "Would you imagine," wrote Topham Beauclerk, "that Sir J. Reynolds is extremely anxious to be a member of Almack's? You see what noble ambition will make men attempt." Gibbon found the place to his liking. "Town grows empty," he wrote in June, 1776, "and this house, where I have passed very agreeable hours, is the only place which still invites the flower of English youth. The style of living, though somewhat expensive, is exceedingly pleasant; and, notwithstanding the rage of play, I have found more entertainment and even rational society here than in any other club to which I belong."

[Illustration: PROMISED HORRORS OF THE FRENCH INVASION. _(From a Caricature by Gillray.)_]

Two years later Almack's became Brooks's. Why the original proprietor parted with so valuable a property is not clear, but the fact is indisputable that in 1778 the club passed into the possession of a wine merchant and moneylender of the name of Brooks, whose fame was celebrated a few years later by the poet Tickell.

"Liberal Brooks, whose speculative skill Is hasty credit, and a distant bill; Who, nursed in clubs, disdains a vulgar trade, Exults to trust, and blushes to be paid."

It was the new owner who built the premises in which the club still meets, but that particular speculation does not appear to have prospered, for the story is that he died in poverty. Under the new regime the house kept up its reputation for high play. But there was a time soon after the change when its future did not look promising. Thus in 1781 Selwyn wrote: "No event at Brooks's, but the general opinion is that it is _en decadence_. Blue has been obliged to give a bond with interest for what he has eat there for some time. This satisfies both him and Brooks; he was then, by provision, to sup or dine there no more without paying. Jack Townshend told me that the other night the room next to the supper room was full of the insolvents or freebooters, and no supper served up; at last the Duke of Bolton walked in, ordered supper; a hot one was served up, and then the others all rushed in through the gap, after him, and eat and drank in spite of Brooks's teeth." A state of affairs which goes far to explain why the club was in a precarious condition.

Charles Fox was of course as much at home at Brooks's as White's. It was, naturally, more of a political home for him than the Tory resort. This receives many illustrations in the letters of Selwyn, especially at the time when he formed his coalition with Lord North. Even then he managed to mingle playing and politics. "I own," wrote Selwyn, "that to see Charles closeted every instant at Brooks's by one or other, that he can neither punt or deal for a quarter of an hour but he is obliged to give an audience, while Hare is whispering and standing behind him, like Jack Robinson, with a pencil and paper for mems., is to me a scene la plus _parfaitement que l'on puisse imaginer_, and to nobody it seems more risible than to Charles himself." The farce was being continued a few days later. "I stayed at Brooks's this morning till between two and three, and then Charles was giving audiences in every corner of the room, and that idiot Lord D. telling aloud whom he should turn out, how civil he intended to be to the Prince, and how rude to the King."


Notwithstanding his preference for White's, Selwyn exercised his voting power at Brooks's in a rigid manner. For some reason, probably because he could not boast a long descent, Sheridan's nomination as a member provoked his opposition. Fox, who had been enamoured of Sheridan's witty society, proposed him on numerous occasions and all the members were earnestly canvassed for their votes, but the result of the poll always showed one black ball. When this had gone on for several months, it was resolved to unearth the black-baller, and the marking of the balls discovered Selwyn to be the culprit. Armed with this knowledge, Sheridan requested his friends to put his name up again and leave the rest to him. On the night of the voting,--and some ten minutes before the urn was produced, Sheridan arrived at the club in the company of the Prince of Wales, and on the two being shown into the candidates' waiting-room a message was sent upstairs to Selwyn to the effect that the Prince wished to speak to him below. The unsuspecting Selwyn hurried downstairs, and in a few minutes Sheridan had him absorbed in a diverting political story, which he spun out for a full halfhour. Ere the narrative was at an end, a waiter entered the room and by a pre-arranged signal conveyed the news that Sheridan had been elected. Excusing himself for a few minutes, Sheridan remarked as he left to go upstairs that the Prince would finish the story. But of course the Prince was not equal to the occasion, and when he got hopelessly stuck he proposed an adjournment upstairs where Sheridan would be able to complete his own yarn. It was then Selwyn realized that he had been fooled, for the first to greet him upstairs was Sheridan himself, now a full member of the club, with profuse bows and thanks for Selwyn's "friendly suffrage." Happily Selwyn had too keen a sense of humour not to make the best of the situation, and ere the evening was over he shook hands with the new member and bade him heartily welcome.

Far less hilarious was that evening when the notorious George Robert Fitzgerald forced his way into the club. As this bravo had survived numerous duels--owing to the fact, as was stated after his death, that he wore a steel cuirass under his coat--and was of a generally quarrelsome disposition, he was not regarded as a desirable member

Inns and Taverns of Old London - 30/42

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