Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 The King of Clubs


This ambitious title was given to a Club set on foot about the year 1801. Its founder was Bobus Smith, the brother of the great Sydney Smith. The Club at first consisted of a small knot of lawyers, a few literary characters, and visitors generally introduced by those who took the chief part in the conversation, and seemingly selected for the faculty of being good listeners.

The King of Clubs sat on Saturday of each month, at the Crown and Anchor Tavern, in the Strand, which, at that time, was a nest of boxes, each containing its Club, and affording excellent cheer, though latterly desecrated by indifferent dinners and very questionable wine. The Club was a grand talk, the prevalent topics being books and authors; politics quite excluded. Bobus Smith was a convivial member in every respect but that of wine; he was but a frigid worshipper of Bacchus, but he had great humour and a species of wit, that revelled amidst the strangest and most grotesque combinations. His manner was somewhat of the bow-wow kind; and when he pounced upon a disputatious and dull blockhead, he made sad work of him.

Then there was Richard Sharp, a partner of Boddington's West India house, who subsequently sat in Parliament for Port Arlington, in Ireland. He was a thinker and a reasoner, and occasionally controversial, but overflowed with useful and agreeable knowledge, and an unfailing stream of delightful information. He was celebrated for his conversational talents, and hence called "Conversation Sharp;" and he often had for his guest Sir James Mackintosh, with whom he lived in habits of intimacy. Mr. Sharp published a volume of Letters and Essays in Prose and Verse, of which a third edition appeared in 1834. Sharp was confessedly the first of the King of Clubs. He indulged but rarely in pleasantry; but when anything of the kind escaped him, it was sure to tell. One evening, at the Club, there was a talk about Tweddel, then a student in the Temple, who had greatly distinguished himself at Cambridge, and was the Senior Wrangler and medallist of his year. Tweddel was not a little intoxicated with his University triumphs; which led Sharp to remark, "Poor fellow! he will soon find that his Cambridge medal will not pass as current coin in London." Other frequent attendants were Scarlett (afterwards Lord Abinger); Rogers, the poet; honest John Allen, brother of the bluest of the blues, Lady Mackintosh; M. Dumont, the French emigrant, who would sometimes recite his friend the Abbé de Lisle's verses, with interminable perseverance, in spite of yawns and other symptoms of dislike, which his own politeness (for he was a highly-bred man) forbade him to interpret into the absence of it in others.

In this respect, however, he was outdone by Wishart, who was nothing but quotations, and whose prosing, when he did converse, was like the torpedo's touch to all pleasing and lively converse. Charles Butler, too, in his long life, had treasured up a considerable assortment of reminiscences, which, when once set going, came out like a torrent upon you; it was a sort of shower-bath, that inundated you the moment you pulled the string.

Curran, the boast of the Irish bar, came to the King of Clubs, during a short visit to London; there he met Erskine, but the meeting was not congenial. Curran gave some odd sketches of a Serjeant Kelly, at the Irish bar, whose whimsical peculiarity was an inveterate habit of drawing conclusions directly at variance with his premises. He had acquired the name of Counsellor Therefore. Curran said he was a perfect human personification of a non sequitur. For instance, meeting Curran, on Sunday, near St. Patrick's, he said to him, "The Archbishop gave us an excellent discourse this morning. It was well written and well delivered; therefore, I shall make a point of being at the Four Courts to-morrow at ten." At another time, observing to a person whom he met in the street, "What a delightful morning this is for walking!" he finished his remark on the weather by saying, "Therefore I will go home as soon as I can, and stir out no more the whole day." His speeches in Court were interminable, and his therefore kept him going on, though every one thought he had done. "This is so clear a point, gentlemen," he would tell the jury, "that I am convinced you felt it to be so the very moment I stated it. I should pay your understandings but a poor compliment to dwell on it for a minute; therefore, I will now proceed to explain it to you as minutely as possible."

Curran seemed to have no very profound respect for the character and talents of Lord Norbury. Curran went down to Carlow on a special retainer; it was in a case of ejectment. A new Court-house had been recently erected, and it was found extremely inconvenient, from the echo, which reverberated the mingled voices of judge, counsel, crier, to such a degree, as to produce constant confusion, and great interruption of business. Lord Norbury had been, if possible, more noisy that morning than ever. Whilst he was arguing a point with the counsel, and talking very loudly, an ass brayed vehemently from the street, adjoining the Court-house, to the instant interruption of the Chief-Justice. "What noise is that?" exclaimed his Lordship. "Oh, my Lord," retorted Curran, "it is merely the echo of the Court."

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