Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Goldsmith's Clubs


However Goldsmith might court the learned circle of the Literary Club, he was ill at ease there; and he had social resorts in which he indemnified himself for this restraint by indulging his humour without control. One of these was a Shilling Whist Club, which met at the Devil Tavern. The company delighted in practical jokes, of which Goldsmith was often the butt. One night, he came to the Club in a hackney-coach, when he gave the driver a guinea instead of a shilling. He set this down as a dead loss; but, on the next club-night, he was told that a person at the street-door wanted to speak to him; he went out, and to his surprise and delight, the coachman had brought him back the guinea! To reward such honesty, he collected a small sum from the Club, and largely increased it from his own purse, and with this reward sent away the coachman. He was still loud in his praise, when one of the Club asked to see the returned guinea. To Goldsmith's confusion it proved to be a counterfeit: the laughter which succeeded, showed him that the whole was a hoax, and the pretended coachman as much a counterfeit as the guinea. He was so disconcerted that he soon beat a retreat for the evening.

Another of these small Clubs met on Wednesday evenings, at the Globe Tavern, in Fleet-street; where songs, jokes, dramatic imitations, burlesque parodies, and broad sallies of humour, were the entertainments. Here a huge ton of a man, named Gordon, used to delight Goldsmith with singing the jovial song of "Nottingham Ale," and looking like a butt of it. Here too, a wealthy pig-butcher aspired to be on the most sociable terms with Oliver; and here was Tom King, the comedian, recently risen to eminence by his performance of Lord Ogleby, in the new comedy of The Clandestine Marriage. A member of note was also one Hugh Kelly, who was a kind of competitor of Goldsmith, but a low one; for Johnson used to speak of him as a man who had written more than he had read. Another noted frequenter of the Globe and Devil taverns was one Glover, who, having failed in the medical profession, took to the stage; but having succeeded in restoring to life a malefactor who had just been executed, he abandoned the stage, and resumed his wig and cane; and came to London to dabble in physic and literature. He used to amuse the company at the Club by his story-telling and mimicry, giving capital imitations of Garrick, Foote, Colman, Sterne, and others. It was through Goldsmith that Glover was admitted to the Wednesday Club; he was, however, greatly shocked by the free-and-easy tone in which Goldsmith was addressed by the pig-butcher; "Come, Noll," he would say as he pledged him, "here's my service to you, old boy."

The evening's amusement at the Wednesday Club was not, however, limited; it had the variety of epigram, and here was first heard the celebrated epitaph, (Goldsmith had been reading Pope and Swift's Miscellanies,) on Edward Purdon:—

"Here lies poor Ned Purdon, from misery freed,

Who long was a bookseller's hack;

He had led such a damnable life in this world,

I don't think he'll wish to come back."

It was in April of the present year that Purdon closed his luckless life by suddenly dropping down dead in Smithfield; and as it was chiefly Goldsmith's pittance that had saved him thus long from starvation, it was well that the same friend should give him his solitary chance of escape from oblivion. "Doctor Goldsmith made this epitaph," says William Ballantyne, "in his way from his chambers in the Temple to the Wednesday evening Club at the Globe. I think he will never come back, I believe he said; I was sitting by him, and he repeated it more than once. I think he will never come back! Ah! and not altogether as a jest, it may be, the second and the third time. There was something in Purdon's fate, from their first meeting in college to that incident in Smithfield, which had no very violent contrast to his own; and remembering what Glover had said of his frequent sudden descents from mirth to melancholy, some such faithful change of temper would here have been natural enough. 'His disappointments at these times,' Glover tells us, 'made him peevish and sullen, and he has often left his party of convivial friends abruptly in the evening, in order to go home and brood over his misfortunes.' But a better medicine for his grief than brooding over it, was a sudden start into the country to forget it; and it was probably with a feeling of this kind he had in the summer revisited Islington; he laboured during the autumn in a room of Canonbury Tower; and often, in the evening, presided at the Crown tavern, in Islington Lower Road, where Goldsmith and his fellow-lodgers had formed a kind of temporary club. At the close of the year he returned to the Temple, and was again pretty constant in his attendance at Gerard-street."[19]

[19] See Forster's Life of Goldsmith, pp. 422-424.

John Timbs
Club Life of London Vol. I
London, 1866