THE ESSEX HEAD CLUB
In the year before he died, at the Essex Head, now No. 40, in Essex-street, Strand, Dr. Johnson established a little evening Club, under circumstances peculiarly interesting, as described by Boswell. He tells us that "notwithstanding the complication of disorders under which Johnson now laboured, he did not resign himself to despondency and discontent, but with wisdom and spirit endeavoured to console and amuse his mind with as many innocent enjoyments as he could procure." Sir John Hawkins has mentioned the cordiality with which he insisted that such of the members of the old Club in Ivy-lane as survived, should meet again and dine together, which they did, twice at a tavern, and once at his house; and in order to ensure himself in the evening for three days in the week, Johnson instituted a Club at the Essex Head, in Essex-street, then kept by Samuel Greaves, an old servant of Mr. Thrale's: it was called "Sam's."
On Dec. 4, 1783, Johnson wrote to Sir Joshua Reynolds, giving an account of this Club, of which Reynolds had desired to be one; "the company," Dr. J. says, "is numerous, and, as you will see by the list, miscellaneous. The terms are lax, and the expenses light. Mr. Barry was adopted by Dr. Brocklesby, who joined with me in forming the plan. We meet twice a week, and he who misses forfeits twopence." It did not suit Sir Joshua to be one of this Club; "but," says Boswell, "when I mention only Mr. Daines Barrington, Dr. Brocklesby, Mr. Murphy, Mr. John Nichols, Mr. Cooke, Mr. Joddrel, Mr. Paradise, Dr. Horsley, Mr. Windham, I shall sufficiently obviate the misrepresentation of it by Sir John Hawkins, as if it had been a low ale-house association, by which Johnson was degraded." The Doctor himself, like his namesake, Old Ben, composed the Rules of his Club. Boswell was, at this time, in Scotland, and during all the winter. Johnson, however, declared that he should be a member, and invented a word upon the occasion: "Boswell," said he, "is a very clubbable man;" and he was subsequently chosen of the Club.
Johnson headed the Rules with these lines:—
"To-day deep thoughts with me resolve to drench
In mirth, which after no repenting draws."—Milton.
Johnson's attention to the Club was unceasing, as appears by a letter to Alderman Clark, (afterwards Lord Mayor and Chamberlain,) who was elected into the Club: the postscript is: "You ought to be informed that the forfeits began with the year, and that every night of non-attendance incurs the mulct of three pence; that is, ninepence a week." Johnson himself was so anxious in his attendance, that going to meet the Club when he was not strong enough, he was seized with a spasmodic asthma, so violent, that he could scarcely return home, and he was confined to his house eight or nine weeks. He recovered by May 15, when he was in fine spirits at the Club.
Boswell writes of the Essex: "I believe there are few Societies where there is better conversation, or more decorum. Several of us resolved to continue it after our great founder was removed by death. Other members were added; and now, above eight years since that loss, we go on happily."
Club Life of London Vol. I