Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 The Apollo Club


The noted tavern, with the sign of St. Dunstan pulling the Devil by the nose, stood between Temple Bar and the Middle Temple gate. It was a house of great resort in the reign of James I., and then kept by Simon Wadloe.

In Ben Jonson's Staple of News, played in 1625, Pennyboy Canter advises, to

"Dine in Apollo, with Pecunia

At brave Duke Wadloe's."

Pennyboy junior replies—

"Content, i' th' faith;

Our meal shall be brought thither; Simon the King

Will bid us welcome."

At what period Ben Jonson began to frequent this tavern is not certain; but we have his record that he wrote The Devil is an Asse, played in 1616, when he and his boys (adopted sons) "drank bad wine at the Devil." The principal room was called "the Oracle of Apollo," a large room evidently built apart from the tavern; and from Prior's and Charles Montagu's Hind and Panther Transversed, it is shown to have been an upper apartment, or on the first story:—

"Hence to the Devil—

Thus to the place where Jonson sat, we climb,

Leaning on the same rail that guided him."

Above the door was the bust of Apollo; and the following verses, "the Welcome," were inscribed in gold letters upon a black board, and "placed over the door at the entrance into the Apollo:

"Welcome all, who lead or follow,

To the Oracle of Apollo

Here he speaks out of his pottle,

Or the tripos, his Tower bottle;

All his answers are divine,

Truth itself doth flow in wine.

Hang up all the poor hop-drinkers,

Cries old Sim the king of skinkers;

He that half of life abuses,

That sits watering with the Muses.

Those dull girls no good can mean us;

Wine it is the milk of Venus,

And the Poet's horse accounted:

Ply it, and you all are mounted.

'Tis the true Phœbeian liquor,

Cheers the brain, makes wit the quicker,

Pays all debts, cures all diseases,

And at once three senses pleases.

Welcome all, who lead or follow,

To the Oracle of Apollo."

Beneath these verses was the name of the author, thus inscribed—"O Rare Ben Jonson," a posthumous tribute from his grave in Westminster Abbey. The bust appears modelled from the Apollo Belvedere, by some skillful person of the olden day, but has been several times painted. "The Welcome," originally inscribed in gold letters, on a thick black-painted board, has since been wholly repainted and gilded; but the old thickly-lettered inscription of Ben's day may be seen as an embossment upon the modern painted background. These poetic memorials are both preserved in the banking-house of the Messrs. Child.

"The Welcome," says Mr. Burn, "it may be inferred, was placed in the interior of the room; so also, above the fireplace, were the Rules of the Club, said by early writers to have been inscribed in marble, but were in truth gilded letters upon a black-painted board, similar to the verses of the Welcome. These Rules are justly admired for the conciseness and elegance of the Latinity." They have been felicitously translated by Alexander Broome, one of the wits who frequented the Devil, and who was one of Ben Jonson's twelve adopted poetical sons. Latin inscriptions were also placed in other directions, to adorn the house. Over the clock in the kitchen, in 1731, there remained "Si nocturna tibi noceat potatio vini, hoc in mane bibes iterum, et fuerit medicina." Aubrey reports his uncle Danvers to have said that "Ben Jonson, to be near the Devil tavern, in King James's time, lived without Temple-barre, at a combemaker's shop, about the Elephant and Castle;" and James, Lord Scudamore has, in his Homer à la Mode, a travesty, said—

"Apollo had a flamen,

Who in's temple did say Amen."

This personage certainly Ben Jonson represented in the great room of the Devil tavern. Hither came all who desired to be "sealed of the tribe of Ben." "The Leges Conviviales," says Leigh Hunt, "which Jonson wrote for his Club, and which are to be found in his works, are composed in his usual style of elaborate and compiled learning, not without a taste of that dictatorial self-sufficiency, which, notwithstanding all that has been said by his advocates, and the good qualities he undoubtedly possessed, forms an indelible part of his character. 'Insipida poemata,' says he, 'nulla recitantur' (Let nobody repeat to us insipid poetry); as if all that he should read of his own must infallibly be otherwise. The Club at the Devil does not appear to have resembled the higher one at the Mermaid, where Shakspeare and Beaumont used to meet him. He most probably had it all to himself."

In the Rules of the Apollo Club, women of character were not excluded from attending the meetings—Probæ feminæ non repudiantur. Marmion, one of Jonson's contemporary dramatists, describes him in his presidential chair, as "the boon Delphic god:"—

"Careless.I am full

Of Oracles. I am come from Apollo.

Emilia. From Apollo!

Careless.From the heaven

Of my delight, where the boon Delphic god

Drinks sack, and keeps his bacchanalia,

And has his incense and his altars smoaking,

And speaks in sparkling prophecies; thence I come,

My brains perfumed with the rich Indian vapour,

And heightened with conceits. From tempting beauties,

From dainty music and poetic strains,

From bowls of nectar and ambrosial dishes,

From witty varlets, fine companions,

And from a mighty continent of pleasure,

Sails thy brave Careless."

Randolph was by Ben Jonson, adopted for his son, and that upon the following occasion. "Mr. Randolph having been at London so long as that he might truly have had a parley with his Empty Purse, was resolved to see Ben Jonson, with his associates, which, as he heard, at a set time kept a Club together at the Devil Tavern, neere Temple Bar: accordingly, at the time appointed, he went thither, but being unknown to them, and wanting money, which to an ingenious spirit is the most daunting thing in the world, he peeped in the room where they were, which being espied by Ben Jonson, and seeing him in a scholar's threadbare habit, 'John Bo-peep,' says he, 'come in,' which accordingly he did; when immediately they began to rhyme upon the meanness of his clothes, asking him if he could not make a verse? and without to call for a quart of sack: there being four of them, he immediately thus replied,

"I, John Bo-peep, to you four sheep,—

With each one his good fleece;

If that you are willing to give me five shilling,

'Tis fifteen-pence a-piece."

"By Jesus!" quoth Ben Jonson (his usual oath), "I believe this is my son Randolph;" which being made known to them, he was kindly entertained into their company, and Ben Jonson ever after called him son. He wrote The Muses' Looking-glass, Cambridge Duns, Parley with his Empty Purse, and other poems.

We shall have more to say of the Devil Tavern, which has other celebrities besides Jonson.

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