The Club (dining club)

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Plaque marking the foundation of the Club

The Club or Literary Club[1] was a London dining club founded in February 1764 by the artist Joshua Reynolds and essayist Samuel Johnson.

Description[edit]

Initially, the club would meet one evening per week at seven, at the Turk's Head Inn in Gerrard Street, Soho. Later, meetings were reduced to once per fortnight whilst Parliament was in session, and were held at rooms in St James's Street. Though the initial suggestion was Reynolds', it is Dr Johnson whose name is most closely associated with the Club. John Timbs, in his Club Life in London, gives an account of the Club's centennial dinner in 1864, which was celebrated at the Clarendon hotel. Henry Hart Milman, the English historian, was treasurer. The Club's toast, no doubt employing a bit of wishful thinking, was "Esto perpetua", Latin for "Let it be perpetual".This Latin phrase traces its origin to the last dying declaration of Paolo Sarpi (1552–1623) the Venetian theologian and philosopher and canon law expert who uttered these words towards the Venetian Republic, whose independence he devoutly espoused. The introduction of the phrase to Britain was probably through Sir Joshua Reynolds who went to Italy for his higher training in Renaissance art and painting with the contemporary Italian masters.

Members[edit]

Dr Johnson – Dictionary writer Boswell – Biographer Sir Joshua Reynolds – Host David Garrick – actor Edmund Burke – statesman Pasqual Paoli – Corsican patriot Charles Burney – music historian Thomas Warton – poet laureate Oliver Goldsmith – writer Joshua Reynolds' painting ''The Infant Academy'' (1782) Joshua Reynolds' painting ''Puck'' (1789) An unknown portrait servant – poss. Francis Barber Use button to enlarge or use hyperlinks
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A literary party at Sir Joshua Reynolds's. The 1851 engraving after Doyle shows the friends of Reynolds – many of whom were members of "The Club" – use cursor to identify.

The nine original members were:

Hereafter membership was by unanimous election only. Existing members would submit a black ball if a nominee was disfavored. Shortly following the establishment of the original nine, Samuel Dyer became the first elected member. Hawkins left in 1768, suffering ostracism for his verbal abuse of Burke. Membership was then increased to 12; the new seats were filled by barrister Robert Chambers, and writers Thomas Percy and George Colman. A membership of 12 was deemed optimal to retain a qualitative exclusivity. Of Johnson's goal, Percy claimed:

It was intended the Club should consist of Such men, as that if only Two of them chanced to meet, they should be able to entertain each other without wanting the addition of more Company to pass the Evening agreeably.

Later member Charles Burney wrote that Johnson wanted a group "composed of the heads of every liberal and literary profession" and "have somebody to refer to in our doubts and discussions, by whose Science we might be enlightened."

The Club grew to 16 members in 1773, then to 21 in late 1775. Newly elected were: David Garrick, Adam Smith (economist, philosopher), Sir William Jones (philologist), George Steevens, (Shakespearean commentator), James Boswell (diarist, author), Charles James Fox (M.P.), George Fordyce (physician/chemist), James Caulfeild, 1st Earl of Charlemont, Agmondesham Vesey, Sir Thomas Charles Bunbury, Edward Gibbon (author), and Thomas Barnard.[2]

By 1791, the membership recorded by James Boswell included:

The 19th century[edit]

The historian Henry Reeve recorded details of Club membership in his diaries.

Members in the 1800s included:

By 1881, the members of the club included John Tyndall, Sir Frederic Leighton, and Lord Houghton, with Henry Reeve serving as treasurer. Other prominent 19th century members included Lord Macaulay, Thomas Huxley, Lord Acton, Lord Dufferin, W. H. E. Lecky, and Prime Minister Lord Salisbury.

The 20th century[edit]

Winston Churchill and F. E. Smith had both desired to join The Club but were considered too controversial. In response, in 1911, they founded The Other Club, which continues to maintain itself as a political dining society.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ James Sambrook, ‘Club (act. 1764–1784)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press
  2. ^ Sambrook, ODNB.
  3. ^ Mountstuart Elphinstone, Grant Duff (1904). Notes from a diary, 1892–1895. Dutton. p. i 41. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]