Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Monday, 2 May 2011

In Da Clubb

In my last few posts, I've talked a lot about eating.  But as the four day weekend of revelry in the UK comes to an end, and the denizens of London wearily carry out their armfuls of empty champagne and Pimm's bottles (knowing the next wedding/bank holiday isn't coming for a while) I realized that I've been neglecting a very critical component of the meal.  How did the members of the Thursday's club (as well as other clubs) drink?  

18th century paintings, novels, newspapers and artifacts often give us the impression that when fashionable men of letters got together for a meal, they certainly didn't go light on the booze. 
The Jerningham Wine Cooler (1734)

For example, check out the Jerningham Wine Cooler to the right, which was made in 1734.  (I saw a replica in the V&A last week.)  It's hard to get a good sense of proportion from this picture, but this thing was bigger than a luxury sized bathtub. 

And Ned Ward (the wry chronicler of the "Vertuoso's Club" from the last post) pretty much thought that all club life was just an excuse to turn a group of otherwise respectable men into a "gang of swill belly'd wine porters" eager to succumb to "the temptations of the petticoat."   

But how do we know what is really going on?  

The Thursday's Club's official rule book stated that the price for dinner (1 shilling and 6 pence) included a "pint of wine."  But that was just the amount of wine included in the club's fund.  Members were certainly welcome to bring more.  And let's not forget about the many additional "healths drank in claret" enjoyed by the company whenever the club received a gift of venison, turtle or beef.  

 William Hogarth's A Midnight Modern Conversation (1732) 
gives a whole new meaning to the idea of "late night"

The club expense reports also contain occasional references to broken plates and glasses, which might well suggest that the Thursday’s Club liked to get an early start on the weekend.  After all, they were entertaining some of the 18th century's high rollers –– Russian aristocrats, French scientists, Laurence Sterne, Benjamin Franklin –– and they wanted to give their foreign guests a healthy dose of English hospitality.

In the past few days, however, I've been looking at the records for a very different London club that existed at the same time as the Thursday's Club.  Historians know little about it; the name of the club is actually unknown.  But for now, in honor of its regular meeting day, I'll just call it "The Wednesday's Club."

Imagine the graduate student's delight, dear readers, upon opening this book, hoping to be the very first to tread on all this virgin historical territory!  But when I started reading all the club rules, I gasped in horror.  Could measures be any more draconian?  Could there be any club that was less fun?  
For I saw that strict fines were imposed for:

-- interrupting during roll-call
-- swearing
-- using “reflecting” language
-- calling the Steward anything other than ‘Mr. Steward’  
-- sneaking in extra booze
-- initiating unapproved toasts
-- drinking toasts to anyone besides the King, the established church, and fellow members.

What kind of club was this??!