Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 The Beefsteak Society


In the Spectator, No. 9, March 10, 1710-11, we read: "The Beef-steak and October Clubs are neither of them averse to eating or drinking, if we may form a judgment of them from their respective titles." This passage refers to the Beef-steak Club, founded in the reign of Queen Anne; and, it is believed, the earliest Club with that name. Dr. King, in his Art of Cookery, humbly inscribed to the Beef-steak Club, 1709, has these lines:

"He that of honour, wit, and mirth partakes,

May be a fit companion o'er Beef-steaks:

His name may be to future times enrolled

In Estcourt's book, whose gridiron's framed with gold."

Estcourt, the actor, was made Providore of the Club; and for a mark of distinction wore their badge, which was a small gridiron of gold, hung about his neck with a green silk ribbon. Such is the account given by Chetwood, in his History of the Stage, 1749; to which he adds: "this Club was composed of the chief wits and great men of the nation." The gridiron, it will be seen hereafter, was assumed as its badge, by the "Society of Beef-steaks, established a few years later: they call themselves 'the Steaks,' and abhor the notion of being thought a Club." Though the National Review, heretical as it may appear, cannot consent to dissever the Society from the earlier Beef-steak Club; which, however, would imply that Rich and Lambert were not the founders of the Society, although so circumstantially shown to be. Still, the stubbornness of facts must prevail.

Dick Estcourt was beloved by Steele, who thus introduces him in the Spectator, No. 358: "The best man that I know of for heightening the real gaiety of a company is Estcourt, whose jovial humour diffuses itself from the highest person at an entertainment to the meanest waiter. Merry tales, accompanied with apt gestures and lively representations of circumstances and persons, beguile the gravest mind into a consent to be as humorous as himself. Add to this, that when a man is in his good graces, he has a mimicry that does not debase the person he represents, but which, taken from the gravity of the character, adds to the agreeableness of it."

Then, in the Spectator, No. 264, we find a letter from Sir Roger de Coverley, from Coverley, "To Mr. Estcourt, at his House in Covent Garden," addressing him as "Old Comical One," and acknowledging "the hogsheads of neat port came safe," and hoping next term to help fill Estcourt's Bumper "with our people of the Club." The Bumper was the tavern in Covent Garden, which Estcourt opened about a year before his death. In this quality Parnell speaks of him in the beginning of one of his poems:—

"Gay Bacchus liking Estcourt's wine

A noble meal bespoke us,

And for the guests that were to dine

Brought Comus, Love, and Jocus."

The Spectator delivers this merited eulogy of the player, just prior to his benefit at the theatre: "This pleasant fellow gives one some idea of the ancient Pantomime, who is said to have given the audience in dumb-show, an exact idea of any character or passion, or an intelligible relation of any public occurrence, with no other expression than that of his looks and gestures. If all who have been obliged to these talents in Estcourt will be at Love for Love to-morrow night, they will but pay him what they owe him, at so easy a rate as being present at a play which nobody would omit seeing, that had, or had not, ever seen it before."

Then, in the Spectator, No. 468, August 27, 1712, with what touching pathos does Steele record the last exit of this choice spirit: "I am very sorry that I have at present a circumstance before me which is of very great importance to all who have a relish for gaiety, wit, mirth, or humour: I mean the death of poor Dick Estcourt. I have been obliged to him for so many hours of jollity, that it is but a small recompense, though all I can give him, to pass a moment or two in sadness for the loss of so agreeable a man.... Poor Estcourt! Let the vain and proud be at rest, thou wilt no more disturb their admiration of their dear selves; and thou art no longer to drudge in raising the mirth of stupids, who know nothing of thy merit, for thy maintenance." Having spoken of him "as a companion and a man qualified for conversation,"—his fortune exposing him to an obsequiousness towards the worst sort of company, but his excellent qualities rendering him capable of making the best figure in the most refined, and then having told of his maintaining "his good humour with a countenance or a language so delightful, without offence to any person or thing upon earth, still preserving the distance his circumstances obliged him to,"—Steele concludes with, "I say, I have seen him do all this in such a charming manner, that I am sure none of those I hint at will read this, without giving him some sorrow for their abundant mirth, and one gush of tears for so many bursts of laughter. I wish it were any honour to the pleasant creature's memory, that my eyes are too much suffused to let me go on——" We agree with Leigh Hunt that Steele's "overfineness of nature was never more beautifully evinced in any part of his writings than in this testimony to the merits of poor Dick Estcourt."

Ned Ward, in his Secret History of Clubs, first edition, 1709, describes the Beef-steaks, which he coarsely contrasts with "the refined wits of the Kit-Cat." This new Society griliado'd beef eaters first settled their meeting at the sign of the Imperial Phiz, just opposite to a famous conventicle in the Old Jury, a publick-house that has been long eminent for the true British quintessence of malt and hops, and a broiled sliver off the juicy rump of a fat, well-fed bullock.... This noted boozing ken, above all others in the City, was chosen out by the Rump-steak admirers, as the fittest mansion to entertain the Society, and to gratify their appetites with that particular dainty they desired to be distinguished by. [The Club met at the place appointed, and chose for a Prolocutor, an Irish comedian.] No sooner had they confirmed their Hibernian mimic in his honourable post, but to distinguish him from the rest, they made him a Knight of St. Lawrence, and hung a silver (?) gridiron about his neck, as a badge of the dignity they had conferred upon him, that when he sung Pretty Parrot, he might thrum upon the bars of his new instrument, and mimic a haughty Spaniard serenading his Donna with guitar and madrigal. The Zany, as proud of his new fangle as a German mountebank of a prince's medal, when he was thus dignified and distinguished with his culinary symbol hanging before his breast, took the highest post of honour, as his place at the board, where, as soon as seated, there was not a bar in the silver kitchen-stuff that the Society had presented him with, but was presently handled with a theatrical pun, or an Irish witticism.... Orders were dispatched to the superintendent of the kitchen to provide several nice specimens of their Beef-steak cookery, some with the flavour of a shalot or onion; some broil'd, some fry'd, some stew'd, some toasted, and others roasted, that every judicious member of the new erected Club might appeal to his palate, and from thence determine whether the house they had chosen for their rendezvous truly deserved that public fame for their inimitable management of a bovinary sliver, which the world had given them.... When they had moderately supplied their beef stomachs, they were all highly satisfy'd with the choice they had made, and from that time resolved to repeat their meeting once a week in the same place." At the next meeting the constitution and bye-laws of the new little commonwealth were settled; and for the further encouragement of wit and pleasantry throughout the whole Society, there was provided a very voluminous paper book, "about as thick as a bale of Dutch linen, into which were to be entered every witty saying that should be spoke in the Society:" this nearly proved a failure; but Ward gives a taste of the performances by reciting some that had been stolen out of their Journal by a false Brother; here is one:—


"Most noble creature of the horned race,

Who labours at the plough to earn thy grass,

And yielding to the yoke, shows man the way

To bear his servile chains, and to obey

More haughty tyrants, who usurp the sway.

Thy sturdy sinews till the farmer's grounds,

To thee the grazier owes his hoarded pounds:

'Tis by thy labour, we abound in malt,

Whose powerful juice the meaner slaves exalt;

And when grown fat, and fit to be devour'd,

The pole-ax frees thee from the teazing goard:

Thus cruel man, to recompense thy pains,

First works thee hard, and then beats out thy brains."

Ward is very hard upon the Kit-Cat community, and tells us that the Beef-steaks, "like true Britons, to show their resentment in contempt of Kit-Cat pies, very justly gave the preference to a rump-steak, most wisely agreeing that the venerable word, beef, gave a more masculine grace, and sounded better in the title of a true English Club, than either Pies or Kit-Cat; and that a gridiron, which has the honour to be made the badge of a Saint's martyrdom, was a nobler symbol of their Christian integrity, than two or three stars or garters; who learnedly recollecting how great an affinity the word bull has to beef, they thought it very consistent with the constitution of their Society, instead of a Welsh to have a Hibernian secretary. Being thus fixed to the great honour of a little alehouse, next door to the Church, and opposite to the Meeting, they continued to meet for some time; till their fame spreading over all the town, and reaching the ears of the great boys and little boys, as they came in the evening from Merchant Taylors' School, they could not forbear hollowing as they passed the door; and being acquainted with their nights of meeting, they seldom failed, when the divan was sitting, of complimenting their ears with 'Huzza! Beef-steak!'—that they might know from thence, how much they were reverenced for men of learning by the very school-boys."

"But the modest Club," says Ward, "not affecting popularity, and choosing rather to be deaf to all public flatteries, thought it an act of prudence to adjourn from thence into a place of obscurity, where they might feast knuckle-deep in luscious gravy, and enjoy themselves free from the noisy addresses of the young scholastic rabble; so that now, whether they have healed the breach, and are again returned into the Kit-Cat community, from whence it is believed, upon some disgust, they at first separated, or whether, like the Calves' Head Club they remove from place to place, to prevent discovery, I sha'n't presume to determine; but at the present, like Oates's army of pilgrims, in the time of the plot, though they are much talk'd of they are difficult to be found." The "Secret history" concludes with an address to the Club, from which these are specimen lines:

"Such strenuous lines, so cheering, soft, and sweet,

That daily flow from your conjunctive wit,

Proclaim the power of Beef, that noble meat.

Your tuneful songs such deep impression make,

And of such awful, beauteous strength partake,

Each stanza seems an ox, each line a steak.

As if the rump in slices, broil'd or stew'd

In its own gravy, till divinely good,

Turned all to powerful wit, as soon as chew'd.

To grind thy gravy out their jaws employ,

O'er heaps of reeking steaks express their joy,

And sing of Beef as Homer did of Troy."

We shall now more closely examine the origin and history of the Sublime Society of the Steaks, which has its pedigree, its ancestry, and its title-deeds. The gridiron of 1735 is the real gridiron on which its first steak was broiled. Henry Rich (Lun, the first Harlequin) was the founder, to whom Garrick thus alludes in a prologue to the Irish experiment of a speaking pantomime:

"When Lun appeared, with matchless art and whim,

He gave the power of speech to every limb.

Though masked and mute conveyed his true intent,

And told in frolic gestures what he meant;

But now the motley coat and sword of wood,

Require a tongue to make them understood."

There is a letter extant, written by Nixon, the treasurer, probably to some artist, granting permission by the Beef-steak Society "to copy the original gridiron, and I have wrote on the other side of this sheet a note to Mr. White, at the Bedford, to introduce you to our room for the purpose making your drawing. The first spare moment I can take from my business shall be employed in making a short statement of the rise and establishment of the Beef-steak Society."

Rich, in 1732, left the Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre for Covent Garden, the success of the Beggars' Opera having "made Gay rich and Rich gay." He was accustomed to arrange the comic business and construct the models of tricks for his pantomimes in his private room at Covent Garden. Here resorted men of rank and wit, for Rich's colloquial oddities were much relished. Thither came Mordaunt, Earl of Peterborough, the friend of Pope, and thus commemorated by Swift:

"Mordanto fills the trump of fame;

The Christian world his death proclaim;

And prints are crowded with his name.

In journeys he outrides the post;

Sits up till midnight with his host;

Talks politics, and gives the toast,

A skeleton in outward figure;

His meagre corpse, though full of vigour,

Would halt behind him, were it bigger,

So wonderful his expedition;

When you have not the least suspicion,

He's with you, like an apparition:

Shines in all climates like a star;

In senates bold, and fierce in war;

A land-commandant, and a tar."

He was then advanced in years, and one afternoon stayed, talking with Rich about his tricks and transformations, and listening to his agreeable talk, until Rich's dinner-hour, two o'clock, had arrived. In all these colloquies with his visitors, whatever their rank, Rich never neglected his art. Upon one occasion, accident having detained the Earl's coach later than usual, he found Rich's chat so agreeable, that he was quite unconscious it was two o'clock in the afternoon; when he observed Rich spreading a cloth, then coaxing his fire into a clear cooking flame, and proceeding, with great gravity, to cook his own beef-steak on his own gridiron. The steak sent up a most inviting incense, and my Lord could not resist Rich's invitation to partake of it. A further supply was sent for; and a bottle or two of good wine from a neighbouring tavern prolonged their enjoyment to a late hour. But so delighted was the old Peer with the entertainment, that, on going away, he proposed renewing it at the same place and hour, on the Saturday following. He was punctual to his engagement, and brought with him three or four friends, "men of wit and pleasure about town," as M. Bouges would call them; and so truly festive was the meeting that it was proposed a Saturday's club should be held there, whilst the town remained full. A sumptuary law, even at this early period of the Society, restricted the bill of fare to beef-steaks, and the beverage to port-wine and punch.

However, the origin of the Society is related with a difference. Edwards, in his Anecdotes of Painting, relates that Lambert, many years principal scene-painter at Covent Garden Theatre, received, in his painting-room, persons of rank and talent; where, as he could not leave for dinner, he frequently was content with a steak, which he himself broiled upon the fire in his room. Sometimes the visitors partook of the hasty meal, and out of this practice grew the Beef-steak Society, and the assembling in the painting-room. The members were afterwards accommodated with a room in the playhouse; and when the Theatre was rebuilt, the place of meeting was changed to the Shakespeare Tavern, where was the portrait of Lambert, painted by Hudson, Sir Joshua Reynolds's master.

In the Connoisseur, June 6th, 1754, we read of the Society, "composed of the most ingenious artists in the Kingdom," meeting "every Saturday in a noble room at the top of Covent Garden Theatre," and never suffering "any diet except Beef-steaks to appear. These, indeed, are most glorious examples: but what, alas! are the weak endeavours of a few to oppose the daily inroads of fricassees and soup-maigres?"

However, the apartments in the theatre appropriated to the Society varied. Thus, we read of a painting-room even with the stage over the kitchen, which was under part of the stage nearest Bow-street. At one period, the Society dined in a small room over the passage of the theatre. The steaks were dressed in the same room, and when they found it too hot, a curtain was drawn between the company and the fire.

We shall now glance at the celebrities who came to the painting-room in the Lincoln's Inn Fields theatre, and the later locations of the Club, in Covent Garden. To the former came Hogarth and his father-in-law, Sir James Thornhill, stimulated by their love of the painter's art, and the equally potent charm of conviviality.

Churchill was introduced to the Steaks by his friend Wilkes; but his irregularities were too much for the Society, which was by no means particular; his desertion of his wife brought a hornets' swarm about him, so that he soon resigned, to avoid the disgrace of expulsion. Churchill attributed this flinging of the first stone to Lord Sandwich; he never forgave the peccant Peer, but put him into the pillory of his fierce satire, which has outlived most of his other writings, and here it is:

"From his youth upwards to the present day,

When vices more than years have made him grey;

When riotous excess with wasteful hand

Shakes life's frail glass, and hastes each ebbing sand;

Unmindful from what stock he drew his birth,

Untainted with one deed of real worth—

Lothario, holding honour at no price,

Folly to folly, added vice to vice,

Wrought sin with greediness, and courted shame

With greater zeal than good men seek for fame."

Churchill, in a letter to Wilkes, says, "Your friends at the Beef-steak inquired after you last Saturday with the greatest zeal, and it gave me no small pleasure that I was the person of whom the inquiry was made." Charles Price was allowed to be one of the most witty of the Society, and it is related that he and Churchill kept the table in a roar.

Formerly, the members wore a blue coat, with red cape and cuffs; buttons with the initials B. S.; and behind the President's chair was placed the Society's halbert, which, with the gridiron, was found among the rubbish after the Covent Garden fire.

Mr. Justice Welsh was frequently chairman at the Beef-steak dinner. Mrs. Nollekens, his daughter, acknowledges that she often dressed a hat for the purpose, with ribbons similar to those worn by the yeomen of the guard. The Justice was a loyal man, but discontinued his membership when Wilkes joined the Society; though the latter was the man at the Steaks.

To the Steaks Wilkes sent a copy of his infamous Essay on Women, first printed for private circulation; for which Lord Sandwich—Jemmy Twitcher—himself, as we have seen, a member of the Society—moved in the House of the Lords that Wilkes should be taken into custody; a piece of treason as the act of one brother of the Steaks against another, fouler than even the trick of "dirty Kidgell," the parson, who, as a friend of the author, got a copy of the Essay from the printer, and then felt it his duty to denounce the publication; he had been encouraged to inform against Wilkes's Essay by the Earl of March, afterwards Duke of Queensberry. However, Jemmy Twitcher himself was expelled by the Steaks the same year he assailed Wilkes for the Essay; the grossness and blasphemy of the poem disgusted the Society; and Wilkes never dined there after 1763; yet, when he went to France, they hypocritically made him an honorary member.

Garrick was an honoured member of the Steaks; though he did not affect Clubs. The Society possess a hat and sword which David wore, probably on the night when he stayed so long with the Steaks, and had to play Ranger, at Drury-lane. The pit grew restless, the gallery bawled "Manager, manager!" Garrick had been sent for to Covent Garden, where the Steaks then dined. Carriages blocked up Russell-street, and he had to thread his way between them; as he came panting into the theatre, "I think, David," said Ford, one of the anxious patentees, "considering the stake you and I have in this house, you might pay more attention to the business."—"True, my good friend," returned Garrick, "but I was thinking of my steak in the other house."

Many a reconciliation of parted friends has taken place at this Club. Peake, in his Memoirs of the Colman Family, thus refers to a reconciliation between Garrick and Colman the elder, through the Sublime Society:—

"Whether Mr. Clutterbuck or other friends interfered to reconcile the two dramatists, or whether the considerations of mutual interest may not in a great measure have aided in healing the breach between Colman and Garrick, is not precisely to be determined; but it would appear, from the subjoined short note from Garrick, that Colman must have made some overture to him.

"'My dear Colman,—Becket has been with me, and tells me of your friendly intentions towards me. I should have been beforehand with you, had I not been ill with the beefsteaks and arrack punch last Saturday, and was obliged to leave the play-house.

"'He that parts us shall bring a brand from Heav'n,

And fire us hence.'

"'Ever yours, old and new friend,


The beef-steaks, arrack punch, and Saturday, all savour very strongly of a visit to the Sublime Society held at that period in Covent Garden Theatre, where many a clever fellow has had his diaphragm disordered, before that time and since. Whoever has had the pleasure to join their convivial board; to witness the never-failing good-humour which predominates there; to listen to the merry songs, and to the sparkling repartee; and to experience the hearty welcome and marked attention paid to visitors, could never have cause to lament, as Garrick has done, a trifling illness the following day. There must have been originally a wise and simple code of laws, which could have held together a convivial meeting for so lengthened a period.

Garrick had no slight tincture of vanity, and was fond of accusing himself, in the Chesterfield phrase, of the cardinal virtues. Having remarked at the Steaks that he had so large a mass of manuscript plays submitted to him, that they were constantly liable to be mislaid, he observed that, unpleasant as it was to reject an author's piece, it was an affront to his feelings if it could not be instantly found; and that for this reason he made a point of ticketing and labelling the play that was to be returned, that it might be forthcoming at a moment. "A fig for your hypocrisy," exclaimed Murphy across the table; "you know, Davy, you mislaid my tragedy two months ago, and I make no doubt you have lost it."—"Yes," replied Garrick; "but you forgot, you ungrateful dog, that I offered you more than its value, for you might have had two manuscript farces in its stead." This is the right paternity of an anecdote often told of other parties.

Jack Richards, a well-known presbyter of the Society, unless when the "fell serjeant," the gout, had arrested him, never absented himself from its board. He was recorder, and there is nothing in comedy equal to his passing sentence on those who had offended against the rules and observances of the Society. Having put on Garrick's hat, he proceeded to inflict a long, wordy harangue upon the culprit, who often endeavoured most unavailingly to stop him. Nor was it possible to see when he meant to stop. But the imperturbable gravity with which Jack performed his office, and the fruitless writhings of the luckless being on whom the shower of his rhetoric was discharged, constituted the amusement of the scene. There was no subject upon which Jack's exuberance of talk failed him; yet, in that stream of talk there was never mingled one drop of malignity, nor of unkind censure upon the erring or unhappy. He would as soon adulterate his glass of port-wine with water, as dash that honest though incessant prattle with one malevolent or ungenerous remark.

William Linley, the brother of Mrs. Sheridan, charmed the Society with his pure, simple English song: in a melody of Arne's, or of Jackson's of Exeter, or a simple air of his father's, he excelled to admiration,—faithful to the characteristic chastity of the style of singing peculiar to the Linley family. Linley had not what is called a fine voice, and port-wine and late nights did not improve his organ; but you forgot the deficiencies of his power, in the spirit and taste of his manner. He wrote a novel in three volumes, which was so schooled by the Steaks that he wrote no more: when the agony of wounded authorship was over, he used to exclaim to his tormentors:—

"This is no flattery; these are the counsellors

That feelingly persuade me what I am."

His merciless Zoilus brought a volume of the work in his pocket, and read a passage of it aloud. Yet, Linley never betrayed the irritable sulkiness of a roasted author, but took the pleasantries that played around him with imperturbable good-humour: he laughed heartily at his own platitudes, and thus the very martyr of the joke became its auxiliary. Linley is said to have furnished Moore, for his Life of Sheridan, with the common-place books in which his brother-in-law was wont to deposit his dramatic sketches, and to bottle up the jokes he had collected for future use; but many pleasantries of Sheridan were deeply engraved on his recollection because they had been practised upon himself, or upon his brother Hozy (as Sheridan called him), who was an unfailing butt, when he was disposed to amuse himself with a practical jest.

Another excellent brother was Dick Wilson, whose volcanic complexion had for many years been assuming deeper and deeper tints of carnation over the port-wine of the Society. Dick was a wealthy solicitor, and many years Lord Eldon's "port-wine-loving secretary." His fortunes were very singular. He was first steward and solicitor, and afterwards residuary legatee, of Lord Chedworth. He is said to have owed the favour of this eccentric nobleman to the legal acumen he displayed at a Richmond water-party. A pleasant lawn, under a spreading beech-tree in one of Mr. Cambridge's meadows, was selected for the dinner; but on pulling to the shore, behold a board in the tree proclaiming, "All persons landing and dining here will be prosecuted according to law." Dick Wilson contended that the prohibition clearly applied only to the joint act of "landing and dining" at the particular spot. If the party landed a few yards lower down, and then dined under the tree, only one member of the condition would be broken; which would be no legal infringement, as the prohibition—being of two acts, linked by a copulative—was not severable. This astute argument carried the day. The party dined under Mr. Cambridge's beech-tree, and, it is presumed, were not "prosecuted according to law." At all events, Lord Chedworth, who was one of the diners, was so charmed with Dick's ready application of his law to practice, that he committed to him the management of his large and accumulating property.

Dick stood the fire of the Steaks with good humour; but he was sometimes unmercifully roasted. He had just returned from Paris, when Arnold, with great dexterity, drew him into some Parisian details, with great glee; for Dick was entirely innocent of the French language. Thus, in enumerating the dishes at a French table, he thought the boulevards delicious; when Cobbe called out, "Dick, it was well they did not serve you at the Palais Royal for sauce to your boulevards." The riz de veau he called a rendezvous; and he could not bear partridges served up in shoes; and once, intending to ask for a pheasant, he desired the waiter to bring him a paysanne! Yet, Dick was shrewd: calling one day upon Cobbe at the India House, Dick was left to himself for a few minutes, when he was found by Cobbe, on his return, exploring a map of Asia suspended on the wall: he was measuring the scale of it with compasses, and then applying them to a large tiger, which the artist had introduced as one of the animals of the country. "By heavens, Cobbe," exclaimed Dick, "I should never have believed it! Surely, it must be a mistake. Observe now—here," pointing to the tiger, "here is a tiger that measures two-and-twenty leagues. By heavens, it is scarcely credible."

Another of the noteworthy Steaks was "Old Walsh," commonly called "the Gentle Shepherd:" he began life as a servant of the celebrated Lord Chesterfield, and accompanied his natural son, Philip Stanhope, on the grand tour, as valet: after this he was made a Queen's messenger, and subsequently a Commissioner of Customs; he was a good-natured butt for the Society's jokes. Rowland Stephenson, the banker, was another Beef-Steaker, then respected for his clear head and warm heart, years before he became branded as a forger. At the same table was a capitalist of very high character—William Joseph Denison, who sat many years in Parliament for Surrey, and died a millionnaire: he was a man of cultivated tastes, and long enjoyed the circle of the Steaks.

We have seen how the corner-stone of the sublime Society was laid. The gridiron upon which Rich had broiled his solitary steak, being insufficient in a short time for the supernumerary guests, the gridiron was enshrined as one of the tutelary and household emblems of the Club. Fortunately, it escaped the fire which consumed Covent Garden Theatre in 1808, when the valuable stock of wine of the Club shared the fate of the building; but the gridiron was saved. "In that fire, alas!" says the author of The Clubs of London, "perished the original archives of the Society. The lovers of wit and pleasantry have much to deplore in that loss, inasmuch as not only the names of many of the early members are irretrievably gone, but what is more to be regretted, some of their happiest effusions; for it was then customary to register in the weekly records anything of striking excellence that had been hit off in the course of the evening. This, however, is certain, that the Beaf-steaks, from its foundation to the present hour, has been—

"'native to famous wits

Or hospitable.'

That, as guests or members, persons distinguished for rank, and social and convivial powers, have, through successive generations, been seated at its festive board— Bubb Dodington, Aaron Hill; Hoadley, author of The Suspicious Husband, and Leonidas Glover, are only a few names snatched from its early list. Sir Peere Williams, a gentleman of high birth and fashion, who had already shone in Parliament, was of the Club. Then came the days of Lord Sandwich, Wilkes, Bonnell Thornton, Arthur Murphy, Churchill, and Tickell. This is generally quoted as the golden period of the Society." Then there were the Colmans and Garrick; and John Beard, the singer, was president of the Club in 1784.

The number of the Steaks was increased from twenty-four to twenty-five, in 1785, to admit the Prince of Wales, an event of sufficient moment to find record in the Annual Register of the year: "On Saturday, the 14th of May, the Prince of Wales was admitted a member of the Beaf-steak Club. His Royal Highness having signified his wish of belonging to that Society, and there not being a vacancy, it was proposed to make him an honorary member; but that being declined by His Royal Highness, it was agreed to increase the number from twenty-four to twenty-five, in consequence of which His Royal Highness was unanimously elected. The Beaf-steak Club has been instituted just fifty years, and consists of some of the most classical and sprightly wits in the Kingdom." It is curious to find the Society here termed a Club, contrary to its desire, for it stickled much for the distinction.

Arthur Murphy, the dramatist, John Kemble, the Dukes of Clarence and of Sussex, were also of the Steaks: these princes were both attached to the theatre; the latter to one of its brightest ornaments, Dorothy Jordan.

Charles, Duke of Norfolk, was another celebrity of the Steaks, and frequently met here the Prince of Wales. The Duke was a great gourmand, and, it is said, used to eat his dish of fish at a neighbouring tavern—the Piazza, or the Grand—and then join the Steaks. His fidus Achates was Charles Morris, the laureate-lyrist of the Steaks. Their attachment was unswerving, notwithstanding it has been impeached. The poet kept better hours than his ducal friend: one evening, Morris having left the dinner-table early, a friend gave some significant hints as to the improvement of Morris's fortunes: the Duke grew generous over his wine, and promised; the performance came, and Morris lived to the age of ninety-three, to enjoy the realization.

The Duke took the chair when the cloth was removed. It was a place of dignity, elevated some steps above the table, and decorated with the insignia of the Society, amongst which was suspended Garrick's Ranger hat. As the clock struck five, a curtain drew up, discovering the kitchen, in which the cooks were seen at work, through a sort of grating, with this inscription from Macbeth:—

"If it were done, when 'tis done, then 'twere well

It were done quickly."

The steaks themselves were in the finest order, and in devouring them no one surpassed His Grace of Norfolk: two or three steaks, fragrant from the gridiron, vanished, and when his labours were thought to be over, he might be seen rubbing a clean plate with a shalot for the reception of another. A pause of ten minutes ensued, and His Grace rested upon his knife and fork: he was tarrying for a steak from the middle of the rump of beef, where lurks a fifth essence, the perfect ideal of tenderness and flavour. The Duke was an enormous eater. He would often eat between three and four pounds of beaf-steak; and after that take a Spanish onion and beet-root, chop them together with oil and vinegar, and eat them. After dinner, the Duke was ceremoniously ushered to the chair, and invested with an orange-coloured ribbon, to which a small silver gridiron[12] was appended. In the chair he comported himself with urbanity and good humour. Usually, the President was the target, at which all the jests and witticisms were fired, but moderately; for though a characteristic equality reigned at the Steaks, the influences of rank and station were felt there, and courtesy stole insensibly upon those who at other times were merciless assailants on the chair. The Duke's conversation abounded with anecdote, terseness of phrase, and evidence of extensive reading, which were rarely impaired by the sturdy port-wine of the Society. Charles Morris, the Bard of the Club, sang one or two of his own songs, the quintessence of convivial mirth and fancy; at nine o'clock the Duke quitted the chair, and was succeeded by Sir John Hippisley, who had a terrible time of it: a storm of "arrowy sleet and iron shower" whistled from all points in his ears: all rules of civilized warfare seemed suspended, and even the new members tried their first timid essays upon the Baronet, than whom no man was more prompt to attack others. He quitted the Society in consequence of an odd adventure which really happened to him, and which, being related with malicious fidelity by one of the Steaks, raised such a shout of laughter at the Baronet's expense that he could no longer bear it. Here is the story.

Sir John was an intelligent man; Windham used to say of him that he was very near being a clever man. He was a sort of busy idler; and his ruling passion was that of visiting remarkable criminals in prison, and obtaining their histories from their own lips. A murder had been committed, by one Patch, upon a Mr. Bligh, at Deptford; the evidence was circumstantial, but the inference of his guilt was almost irresistible; still many well-disposed persons doubted the man's guilt, and amongst them was Sir John, who thought the anxiety could only be relieved by Patch's confession. For this end, Sir John importuned the poor wretch incessantly, but in vain. Patch persisted in asserting his innocence, till, wearied with Hippisley's applications, he assured the Baronet that he would reveal to him, on the scaffold, all that he knew of Mr. Bligh's death. Flattered with being made the depository of this mysterious communication, Sir John mounted the scaffold with Patch, and was seen for some minutes in close conference with him. It happened that a simple old woman from the country was in the crowd at the execution. Her eyes, intent upon the awful scene, were fixed, by an accidental misdirection, upon Sir John, whom she mistook for the person who was about to be executed; and not waiting till the criminal was actually turned off, she went away with the wrong impression; the peculiar face, and above all, the peculiar nose (a most miraculous organ), of Hippisley, being indelibly impressed upon her memory. Not many days after, the old lady met Sir John in Cheapside; the certainty that he was Patch, seized her so forcibly that she screamed out to the passing crowd, "It's Patch, it's Patch; I saw him hanged; Heaven deliver me!"—and then fainted. When this incident was first related at the Steaks, a mock inquest was set on foot, to decide whether Sir John was Patch or not, and unanimously decided in the affirmative.

Cobb, Secretary of the East India Company, was another choice spirit at the Steaks: once, when he filled the vice-chair, he so worried the poor president, an Alderman, that he exclaimed, "Would to Heaven, I had another vice-president, so that I had a gentleman opposite to me!"—"Why should you wish any such thing?" rejoined Cobb; "you cannot be more opposite to a gentleman than you are at present."

After the fire at Covent Garden, the Sublime Society were re-established at the Bedford, where they met until Mr. Arnold had fitted up apartments for their reception in the English Opera House. The Steaks continued to meet here until the destruction of the Theatre by fire, in 1830; after which they returned to the Bedford; and, upon the re-building of the Lyceum Theatre, a dining-room was again provided for them. "The room they dine in," says Mr. Cunningham, "a little Escurial in itself, is most appropriately fitted up—the doors, wainscoting, and roof, of good old English oak, ornamented with gridirons as thick as Henry the Seventh's Chapel with the portcullis of the founder. Everything assumes the shape, or is distinguished by the representation, of their emblematic implement, the gridiron. The cook is seen at his office through the bars of a spacious gridiron, and the original gridiron of the Society, (the survivor of two terrific fires) holds a conspicuous position in the centre of the ceiling. Every member has the power of inviting a friend." The portraits of several worthies of the Sublime Society were painted: one brother "hangs in chain," as Arnold remarked in alluding to the civic chain in which he is represented; it was in allusion to the toga in which he is painted, that Brougham, being asked whether he thought it a likeness, remarked that it could not fail of being like him, "there was so much of the fur (thief) about it."

The author of the Clubs of London, who was a member of the Sublime Society, describes a right in favouring them, "a brotherhood, a sentiment of equality. How you would laugh to see the junior member emerging from the cellar, with half-a-dozen bottles in a basket! I have seen Brougham employed in this honourable diplomacy, and executing it with the correctness of a butler. The Duke of Leinster, in his turn, took the same duty.

"With regard to Brougham, at first sight you would not set him down as having a natural and prompt alacrity for the style of humour that prevails amongst us. But Brougham is an excellent member, and is a remarkable instance of the peculiar influences of this peculiar Society on the human character. We took him just as the schools of philosophy, the bar, the senate, had made him. Literary, forensic, and parliamentary habits are most intractable materials, you will say, to make a member of the Steaks, yet no man has imbibed more of its spirit, and he enters its occasional gladiatorship with the greatest glee."

Admirable were the offhand puns and passes, which, though of a legal character, were played off by Bolland, another member of the Society. Brougham was putting hypothetically the case of a man convicted of felony, and duly hanged according to law; but restored to life by medical appliances; and asked what would be the man's defence if again brought to trial. "Why," returned Bolland, "it would be for him to plead a cord and satisfaction." ["Accord and satisfaction" is a common plea in legal practice.] The same evening were talked over Dean Swift's ingenious but grotesque puns upon the names of antiquity, such as Ajax, Archimedes, and others equally well known. Bolland remarked that when Swift was looking out for those humorous quibbles, it was singular that it should never have occurred to him that among the shades that accost Æneas in the sixth book of the Æneid, there was a Scotchman of the name of Hugh Forbes. Those who had read Virgil began to stare. "It is quite plain," said Bolland: "the ghost exclaims, 'Olim Euphorbus eram.'"

The following are the first twenty-four names of the Club, copied from their book:—[13]

  • George Lambert.
  • John Boson.
  • William Hogarth.
  • Henry Smart.
  • John Rich.
  • John Huggins.
  • Lacy Ryan.
  • Hugh Watson.
  • Ebenezer Forrest.
  • William Huggins.
  • Robert Scott.
  • Edmund Tuffnell.
  • Thomas Chapman.
  • Thomas Salway.
  • Dennis Delane.
  • Charles Neale.
  • John Thornhill.
  • Charles Latrobe.
  • Francis Niveton.
  • Alexander Gordon.
  • Sir William Saunderson.
  • William Tathall.
  • Richard Mitchell.
  • Gabriel Hunt.

The following were subsequent members:—

  • Francis Hayman.
  • Mr. Beard.
  • Theo. Cibber.
  • Mr. Wilkes.
  • Mr. Saunders Welsh.
  • Thomas Hudson.
  • John Churchill.
  • Mr. Williamson.
  • Lord Sandwich.
  • Prince of Wales.
  • Mr. Havard.
  • Chas. Price.

In 1805 the members were—

  • Sir J. Boyd.
  • Estcourt.
  • J. Travanion, jun.
  • Earl of Suffolk.
  • Crossdill.
  • J. Kemble, expelled for his mode of conduct.
  • Prince of Wales.
  • Charles Howard, Duke of Norfolk.
  • Mingay.
  • Johnson.
  • Scudamore.
  • Haworth.

November 6th, 1814:—

  • Stephenson.
  • Cobb.
  • Richards.
  • Sir J. Scott, Bart.
  • Foley.
  • Arnold.
  • Braddyll.
  • Nettleshipp.
  • Middleton.
  • Denison.
  • Johnson.
  • Scudamore.
  • Nixon.
  • T. Scott.
  • Wilson.
  • Ellis.
  • Walsh.
  • Linley.
  • Duke of Norfolk.
  • Mayo.
  • Duke of Sussex.
  • Morrice.
  • Bolland.
  • Lord Grantley.
  • Peter Moore.
  • Dunn, Treasurer of Drury Lane Theatre.

When the Club dined at the Shakspeare, in the room with the Lion's head over the mantelpiece, these popular actors were members:—

  • Lewis.
  • Irish Johnson.
  • Munden.
  • Fawcett.
  • Pope.
  • Holman.
  • Simmonds.

Formerly, the table-cloths had gridirons in damask on them; their drinking-glasses bore gridirons; as did the plates also. Among the presents made to the Society are a punch-ladle, from Barrington Bradshaw; Sir John Boyd, six spoons; mustard pot, by John Trevanion, M.P.; two dozen water-plates and eight dishes, given by the Duke of Sussex; cruet-stand, given by W. Bolland; vinegar-glasses, by Thomas Scott. Lord Suffolk gave a silver cheese-toaster; toasted or stewed cheese being the wind-up of the dinner.

Captain Morris, The Bard of the Beef-Steak Society

Hitherto we have mentioned but incidentally Charles Morris, the Nestor and the laureate of the Steaks; but he merits fuller record. "Alas! poor Yorick! we knew him well;" we remember his "political vest," to which he addressed a sweet lyric—"The Old Whig Poet to his Old Buff Waistcoat."[14] Nor can we forget his courteous manner and his gentlemanly pleasantry, and his unflagging cheerfulness, long after he had retired to enjoy the delights of rural life, despite the early prayer of his racy verse:—

"In town let me live then, in town let me die;

For in truth I can't relish the country, not I.

If one must have a villa in summer to dwell,

Oh! give me the sweet shady side of Pall Mall."

This "sweet shady side" has almost disappeared; and of the palace whereat he was wont to shine, not a trace remains, save the name. Charles Morris was born of good family, in 1745, and appears to have inherited a taste for lyric composition; for his father composed the popular song of Kitty Crowder. For half a century, Morris moved in the first circles of rank and gaiety: he was the "Sun of the table," at Carlton House, as well as at Norfolk House; and attaching himself politically as well as convivially to his table companions, he composed the celebrated ballads of "Billy's too young to drive us," and "Billy Pitt and the Farmer," which were clever satires upon the ascendant politics of their day. His humorous ridicule of the Tories was, however, but ill repaid by the Whigs; at least, if we may trust the Ode to the Buff Waistcoat, written in 1815. His 'Songs Political and Convivial,' many of which were sung at the Steaks' board, became very popular. In 1830, we possessed a copy of the 24th edition, with a portrait of the author, half-masked; one of the ditties was described to have been "sung by the Prince of Wales to a certain lady," to the air of "There's a difference between a Beggar and a Queen;" some of the early songs were condemned for their pruriency, and were omitted in subsequent editions. His best Anacreontic is the song Ad Poculum, for which Morris received the Gold Cup from the Harmonic Society:

"Come, thou soul-reviving cup;

Try thy healing art;

Stir the fancy's visions up,

And warm my wasted heart.

Touch with freshening tints of bliss

Memory's fading dream.

Give me, while thy lip I kiss,

The heaven that's in thy stream.

As the witching fires of wine

Pierce through Time's past reign,

Gleams of joy that once were mine,

Glimpse back on life again.

And if boding terrors rise

O'er my melting mind,

Hope still starts to clear my eyes,

And drinks the tear behind.

Then life's wintry shades new drest,

Fair as summer seem;

Flowers I gather from my breast,

And sunshine from the stream.

As the cheering goblets pass,

Memory culls her store;

Scatters sweets around my glass,

And prompts my thirst for more.

Far from toils the great and grave

To proud ambition give,

My little world kind Nature gave,

And simply bade me live.

On me she fix'd an humble art,

To deck the Muse's groves,

And on the nerve that twines my heart

The touch of deathless love.

Then, rosy god, this night let me

Thy cheering magic share;

Again let hope-fed Fancy see

Life's picture bright and fair.

Oh! steal from care my heart away,

To sip thy healing spring;

And let me taste that bliss to-day

To-morrow may not bring."

The friendship of the Duke of Norfolk and Charles Morris extended far beyond the Steaks meetings; and the author of the Clubs of London tells us by what means the Duke's regard took a more permanent form. It appears that John Kemble had sat very late at one of the night potations at Norfolk House. Charles Morris had just retired, and a very small party remained in the dining-room, when His Grace of Norfolk began to deplore, somewhat pathetically, the smallness of the stipend upon which poor Charles was obliged to support his family; observing, that it was a discredit to the age, that a man, who had so long gladdened the lives of so many titled and opulent associates, should be left to struggle with the difficulties of an inadequate income at a time of life when he had no reasonable hope of augmenting it. Kemble listened with great attention to the Duke's jeremiade; but after a slight pause, his feelings getting the better of his deference, he broke out thus, in a tone of peculiar emphasis:—"And does your Grace sincerely lament the destitute condition of your friend, with whom you have passed so many agreeable hours? Your Grace has described that condition most feelingly. But is it possible, that the greatest Peer of the realm, luxuriating amidst the prodigalities of fortune, should lament the distress which he does not relieve? the empty phrase of benevolence—the mere breath and vapour of generous sentiment, become no man; they certainly are unworthy of your Grace. Providence, my Lord Duke, has placed you in a station where the wish to do good and the doing it are the same thing. An annuity from your overflowing coffers, or a small nook of land, clipped from your unbounded domains, would scarcely be felt by your Grace; but you would be repaid, my Lord, with usury;—with tears of grateful joy; with prayers warm from a bosom which your bounty will have rendered happy."

Such was the substance of Kemble's harangue. Jack Bannister used to relate the incident, by ingeniously putting the speech into blank verse, or rather the species of prose into which Kemble's phraseology naturally fell when he was highly animated. But, however expressed, it produced its effect. For though the Duke (the night was pretty far gone, and several bottles had been emptied) said nothing at the time, but stared with some astonishment at so unexpected a lecture; not a month elapsed before Charles Morris was invested with a beautiful retreat at Brockham, in Surrey, upon the bank of the river Mole, and at the foot of the noble range of which Box Hill forms the most picturesque point.

The Duke went to his rest in 1815. Morris continued to be the laureate of the Steaks until the year 1831, when he thus bade adieu to the Society in his eighty-sixth year:—

"Adieu to the world! where I gratefully own,

Few men more delight or more comfort have known:

To an age far beyond mortal lot have I trod

The path of pure health, that best blessing of God;

And so mildly devout Nature temper'd my frame,

Holy patience still sooth'd when Adversity came;

Thus with mind ever cheerful, and tongue never tired,

I sung the gay strains these sweet blessings inspired;

And by blending light mirth with a moral-mix'd stave,

Won the smile of the gay and the nod of the grave.

But at length the dull languor of mortal decay

Throws a weight on its spirit too light for its clay;

And the fancy, subdued, as the body's opprest,

Resigns the faint flights that scarce wake in the breast.

A painful memento that man's not to play

A game of light folly through Life's sober day;

A just admonition, though view'd with regret,

Still blessedly offer'd, though thanklessly met.

Too long, I perhaps, like the many who stray,

Have upheld the gay themes of the Bacchanal's day;

But at length Time has brought, what it ever will bring,

A shade that excites more to sigh than to sing.

In this close of Life's chapter, ye high-favour'd few,

Take my Muse's last tribute—this painful adieu!

Take my wish, that your bright social circle on earth

For ever may flourish in concord and mirth;

For the long years of joy I have shared at your board,

Take the thanks of my heart—where they long have been stored;

And remember, when Time tolls my last passing knell,

The 'old bard' dropp'd a tear, and then bade ye—Farewell!"

In 1835, however, Morris revisited the Society, who then presented him with a large silver bowl, appropriately inscribed, as a testimonial of their affectionate esteem; and the venerable bard thus addressed the brotherhood:—

"Well, I'm come, my dear friends, your kind wish to obey,

And drive, by light mirth, all Life's shadows away;

And turn the heart's sighs to the throbbings of joy,

And a grave aged man to a merry old boy.

'Tis a bold transformation, a daring design,

And not past the power of Friendship and Wine;

And I trust that e'en yet this warm mixture will raise

A brisk spark of light o'er the shade of my days."

Shortly after this effusion, he thus alluded to the treasured gift of the Society:—

"When my spirits are low, for relief and delight,

I still place your splendid Memorial in sight;

And call to my Muse, when care strives to pursue,

'Bring the Steaks to my Memory and the Bowl to my view.'

When brought, at its sight all the blue devils fly,

And a world of gay visions rise bright to my eye;

Cold Fear shuns the cup where warm Memory flows;

And Grief, shamed by Joy, hides his budget of Woes.

'Tis a pure holy fount, where for ever I find

A sure double charm for the Body and Mind;

For I feel while I'm cheer'd by the drop that I lift,

I'm Blest by the Motive that hallows the Gift."

How nicely tempered is this chorus to our Bard's "Life's a Fable:"—

"Then roll along, my lyric song;

It seasons well the table,

And tells a truth to Age and Youth,

That Life's a fleeting fable.

Thus Mirth and Woe the brighter show

From rosy wine's reflection;

From first to last, this truth hath past—

'Twas made for Care's correction.

Now what those think who water drink,

Of these old rules of Horace,

I sha'n't now show; but this I know,

His rules do well for Morris.

Old Horace, when he dipp'd his pen,

'Twas wine he had resort to;

He chose for use Falernian juice,

As I choose old Oporto;

At every bout an ode came out,

Yet Bacchus kept him twinkling;

As well aware more fire was there,

Which wanted but the sprinkling."

At Brockham, Morris "drank the pure pleasures of the rural life" long after many a gay light of his own time had flickered out, and become almost forgotten. At length, his course ebbed away, July 11, 1838, in his ninety-third year; his illness, which was only of four days, was internal inflammation. The attainment of so great an age, and the recollection of Morris's associations, show him to have presented a rare combination of mirth and prudence. He retained his gaîté de cœur to the last; so that with equal truth he remonstrated:

"When Life charms my heart, must I kindly be told,

I'm too gay and too happy for one that's so old?"

The venerable Bard's remains rest near the east end of his parish church of Betchworth, in the burial-ground: the grave is simply marked by a head and foot-stone, with an inscription of three or four lines: he who had sung the praises of so many choice spirits, has not here a stanza to his own memory: such is, to some extent, the natural sequitur with men who outlive their companions. Morris was staid and grave in his general deportment. Moore, in his Diary, has this odd note: "Linley describes Colman at the Beefsteak Club quite drunk, making extraordinary noise while Captain Morris was singing, which disconcerted the latter (who, strange to say, is a very grave, steady person) considerably." Yet, Morris could unbend, with great simplicity and feeling. We have often met him, in his patriarchal "blue and buff" (blue coat and buff waistcoat), in his walks about the lovely country in which he resided. Coming, one day, into the bookseller's shop, at Dorking, there chanced to be deposited a pianoforte; when the old Bard having looked around him, to see there were no strangers present, sat down to the instrument, and played and sang with much spirit the air of "The girl I left behind me:" yet he was then past his eightieth year.

Morris's ancient and rightful office at the Steaks was to make the punch, and it was amusing to see him at his laboratory at the sideboard, stocked with the various products that enter into the composition of that nectareous mixture: then smacking an elementary glass or two, and giving a significant nod, the fiat of its excellence; and what could exceed the ecstasy with which he filled the glasses that thronged around the bowl; joying over its mantling beauties, and distributing the fascinating draught

"That flames and dances in its crystal bound"?

"Well has our laureate earned his wreath," (says the author of The Clubs of London, who was often a participator in these delights). "At that table his best songs have been sung; for that table his best songs were written. His allegiance has been undivided. Neither hail, nor shower, nor snowstorm have kept him away: no engagement, no invitation seduced him from it. I have seen him there, 'outwatching the bear,' in his seventy-eighth year; for as yet nature had given no signal of decay in frame or faculty; but you saw him in a green and vigorous old age, tripping mirthfully along the downhill of existence, without languor, or gout, or any of the privileges exacted by time for the mournful privilege of living. His face is still resplendent with cheerfulness. 'Die when you will, Charles,' said Curran to him, 'you will die in your youth.'"

[12] At the sale of the curiosities belonging to Mr. Harley, the comedian, at Gower-street, in November, 1858, a silver gridiron, worn by a member of the Steaks, was sold for 1l. 3s.

[13] This and the subsequent lists have been printed by Mr. John Green.

[14] See Century of Anecdote, vol. i. p. 321.

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


We find in Smith's Book for a Rainy Day the following record respecting the Beefsteak Society, or, as he calls it, in an unorthodox way, Club:—

"Mr. John Nixon, of Basinghall-street, gave me the following information. Mr. Nixon, as Secretary, had possession of the original book. Lambert's Club was first held in Covent Garden theatre [other accounts state, in the Lincoln's-Inn-Fields theatre,] in the upper room called the 'Thunder and Lightning;' then in one even with the two-shilling gallery; next in an apartment even with the boxes; and afterwards in a lower room, where they remained until the fire. After that time, Mr. Harris insisted upon it, as the playhouse was a new building, that the Club should not be held there. They then went to the Bedford Coffee-house, next-door. Upon the ceiling of the dining-room they placed Lambert's original gridiron, which had been saved from the fire. They had a kitchen, a cook, a wine-cellar, etc., entirely independent of the Bedford Hotel.

"There was also a Society held at Robins's room, called 'The Ad Libitum,' of which Mr. Nixon had the books; but it was a totally different Society, quite unconnected with the Beefsteak Club."

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