« VorigeDoorgaan »
Man is essentially a gregarious and sociable being, which may account for his natural tendency to join his fellows in forming institutions having mutual interests and advantages as a common basis.
Hence we find Clubs to have a considerable antiquity. The Greeks and Romans had such societies governed by laws not differing greatly from those of modern times.
In England Clubs came greatly into vogue during the reign of Elizabeth, when amongst others was established the celebrated Bread-Street Club, one of the founders of which was Sir Walter Raleigh. Fifty years later came the immortal Mermaid Club, comprising amongst its members, Shakespeare, Selden, Beaumont, Fletcher, and other famous literary men ;—the celebrated Apollo" of Ben. Jonson followed : and that in later days by the Kit-Cat, Royal Society, Cocoa Tree, Beefsteak, Literary, Garrick, and a host of others of lesser note.
The Club about which I desire to chat for a little while was not as one of these. There are Clubs and Clubs Clubs aristocratic; clubs plebeian; clubs political ; clubs ecclesiastical ; clubs exclusive ; clubs inclusive; clubs military and naval; clubs piscatorial; clubs for gambling; and clubs eccentric—such as the Blue stocking, and One o'clock Clubs; the Everlasting Club, whose members sat day and night all the year round, no Chairman being permitted to vacate his seat until another had arrived to take his place; or the Wet Paper Club who met to read the early papers as soon as brought damp from the press—a dry paper being considered as stale and its news to be old.
But not to these, neither to the modern London Clubs, housed in princely edifices, replete with every luxury mortals can require, we would refer. Let us dismiss from our thoughts these “ Tritons" and turn to the consideration of a mere “Minnow " institution—“Our Crust Club"
Yet in one respect its members enjoyed advantages shared by few other societies. We had six Club-houses and no bills to pay, for each meeting was in turn held at the homes of the members,
There were consequently neither rent or taxes to be provided for.
The rules and regulations of the club were conspicuous only by their absence, for beyond the arrangement that we had each to speak, if present, at the weekly debates, and to furnish in turn a slight repast, a crust of bread and cheese (whence our name), our code of laws was simplicity itself.
The objects of the Club were two-fold; to debate some previously chosen topic for an hour or two previous to supper and afterwards to play a few rubbers of whist.
No ladies were admitted during the debates unless something specially interesting to the softer sex was to be discussed. They were permitted to be present at supper by general consent, in order to attend to the bodily wants of their lords and masters, who were frequently too exhausted by their previous mighty intellectual battles to do so themselves.
The goods and chattels of our Club were singular, for they consisted of but one object-a president's hammer—this was presented by a chance visitor, who was thereupon unanimously and enthusiastically elected an honorary life member of the society. Our Club could never be deemed dry for however prosy the subject we always moistened it. At a fitting moment, during a lull in the evenings proceedings, a damsel would appear on the scene bearing a jug" of mighty ale, a large quarte", so were our “joly whistles wel ywette” and the debates were carried on with a fervour and vigour which would put to shame even an orator of the C. L. A., aud cause him soon to pale his ineffectual fire !
I wish the committee of the C. L. A. would have the courage to suggest a debate-say once during the session—the chief condition of which should be that every member wishing to be present should bring his pipe—whether of meerschaum or humble clay; in fashion a cutty, or a churchwarden. The effect would be marvellous; modest members who like myself require some potent stimulus to bring out their latent brilliant ideas would under the composing and confidence-giving influence of tobacco launch out as brilliant orators: maiden speeches would be made by the score, and the secretary would be gratified to know that in future, debates could always be organised without lack of speakers.
To return to our Club; the number of Crustonians never exceeded six. Let me introduce them after the fashion of Mr. Fenwick his spelling book, as-Smith, Brown, Jones, Robinson,-plus Johnson and Jackson. Five of us were married and the sixth was a lonely bachelor.
Smith was our first and last President; a right worthy soul, a real, jolly good fellow overflowing with genial kindly humonr. To him belongs the chief honour of originating the Crust Club, and sustaining it during its all too brief career. If he did not shine as an orator at least his remarks were generally pertinent which is more than can be said for several of us. Most people have a pet phrase which recurs constantly in their talk. I well remember his to have been “Gentlemen, I cannot for the life of me see &c.;"—somehow no one ever does see any good in his opponent's arguments.
Brown was a wielder of the birch-a schoolmaster by profession--and the “Rupert” of our debates. Although his views were rather narrow and his opinions somewhat bigoted, he was on the whole certainly our foremost speaker. Jones was a large man who had lived the greater part of his life in America and had therefore become imbued with republican ideas; he was a poor speaker and as a rule it was difficult to know on which side he was debating; slow to grasp a joke, but when once seized thoroughly enjoyed.
Robinson was a gentleman with decided literary tastes. A clear and fluent speaker but with a special weakness for very dry and deep matters; he knew a deal about the 'ologies and 'isms, and was an admirer of Herbert Spencer and his school. Robinson's favourite expression, "in whatever shape or form you may regard this subject &c.," used to occur as often as our esteemed President's own figure of speech did in the course of a debate. Johnson was rather a diffident retiring gentleman, consequently he was always provided with copious notes which, owing to nervousness, sometimes got mixed in a ludicrous fashion, with the natural result of utter collapse and confusion of his ideas.
Observations of dubious propriety sometimes were heard to emanate from this usually modest man, and on one occasion he became so muddled that in despair he consigned his misleading notes to a personage not usually named to ears polite. This was all the more shocking as the debate was of a religious character. There only remains Jackson to be mentioned. As he was a short man, lengthy remarks about him are needless. He was the humourist of the Club; a privileged jester from whom nothing serious was to be expected. If he had any griefs he hid them beneath a smiling face, and was always ready to join in a laugh although maybe it was against himself, for
“ All be that he was a philosophre,
Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre." So much for the personnel of our society
Our meetings were held weekly and we had an elaborate programme or “rota” as we preferred to call it, which was printed for the use of the members. Why the rota was printed it is impossible to say, unless to gratify the innocent vanity of the Crustonians to appear in type, or to be enabled to circulate surplus copies amongst admiring friends.
The subjects of our debates were numerous and diverse in character. We had no such hair-splitting arguments as are mentioned in Hudibras yet we plunged boldly into a sea of knotty problems, whether religious or political ; social or historical. No problem was too abstruse for our gigantic intellects. It has been said that the world knows nothing of its greatest men, but at any rate the fame of our Crust Club spread throughout the parish : visitors, some of a distinguished character, dropped in not unfrequently at our meetings. Amongst them were ministers of religion, both of the established church and dissent. A Town Councillor too once or twice condescended to grace us with his presence, and, doffing his municipal state, partook of the frugal Club fare with the proud humility of one who was conscious of knowing more of gas and water questions than his fellow townsmen.
Our greatest acquisition as a visitor, and afterwards honorary member, was Mac Intosh, the young press writer who had presented us with a chairman's hammer. The general public probably will never know how much that knight-of-the-pen's smart articles were indebted to his occasional presence at our Club to listen to the dry humour of Smith, the brilliant periods of Brown, the biting sarcasms of Robinson, the drolleries of Jackson, or the thundering phillipics of Jones--and it is possible Mac Intosh may never know himself. The local newspaper he contributed so ably to is as dead as Queen Anne, or the Crust Club itself; but he happily survives, and in a wider field than we remember him in, gives to the world the fruits of his ripened and maturer judgment.
That wicked wag Jackson chose on one occasion as his subject for debate “ The superiority of the single state over that of the married It was a cruel dilemma for the wedded Crustonians. How could they debate such a proposition ? and so, as each was in duty bound to speak if present, several with one consent began to make excuse for nonattendance. Letters of apology from divers benedicts were until recently in the possession of the said Jackson.
The influence of petticoat government was too potent for timid husbands, so they absented themselves. But the redoutable Smith and one other valiant member of the Club, braved the feminine wrath, and saved the debate from utter collapse. The amusing part of the affair was that the sequel showed the voting to be two to one in favour of single blessedness. The subjects discussed occasionally were rather beyond the grasp of the majority of us. Such was a remarkable debate held at the house of Robinson--The proposition was as follows "That assuming the soul of man to be immortal, there is great reason to believe that birds, beasts, and fishes will have a future existence.”
We entered the room of debate that night with feelings almost amounting to despair. On either side of Robinson were arranged piles of books, each with its ominous slips of paper projecting, and when he arose to open the discussion, armed with a plethoric M S., the faces of the Crustonians lengthened perceptibly, and we settled down with the stolid air of men prepared to bear the worst. He began with the quite unnecessary remark that the subject " in whatever shape or form it was approached "required a constant reference to books bearing on the important question before us." And he did refer. For two mortal hours we had to listen to the horrid stuff with the forced endurance of condemned criminals listening to the personalities of a prison chaplain's sermon. length the words so oft repeated “in every shape or form " came with a mesmerical effect upon us; our wearied brains became “fluffy," and one or two lucky ones fell asleep. About two o'clock in the morning, when it almost might be said that “Night's candles were burnt out and jocund day stood tiptoe on the misty mountain top," some member more wakeful than the rest moved the adjournment of the debate, which must have been sine die, for it has never been resumed; then we all walked home sadder if not wiser men.
There is not much to be said about our whist, which amusement usually terminated our meetings; it was not of a kind to have pleased good old Sarah Battle, who loved, “a clear fire, a clean hearth, and the rigour of the game. We played what is best described as a friendly game. If one of us occasionally revoked, played out of turn, or exposed a card, it was passed over in the most good humoured way. If the shade of the venerable Hoyle ever hovered unseen about us, his respectable ghost would, if it were possible, have been seized with an apoplectic fit brought on by rage and disgust combined, in fact we were more after the fashion of those people who "do not play, at cards, but only play at playing them."
I could enlarge considerably on this brief sketch of the chief features of our Club if a remorseless editor did not object, and if the readers did not get weary of my reminiscences; so must proceed to the saddest portion of my task—the description of our decline and fall."
Ifa Crustonian orator had to do this he would proceed in grandiloquent phrase to draw attention to the transitory and ephemeral character of all sublunary institutions—thus the brilliant Brown would have described our decadence—"Gentlemen, if we consider that the might and pomp of imperial Rome has shrunk into nothingness and become a dream ; that the grand old Greeks have departed , and left as degenerate descendants a cheating and bug-bitten race; that the glories and magnificence of a Babylon, or a Nineveh have faded and crumbled into dust; that Pompeii has been buried beneath a flood of lava from an angry Vesuvius; how shall a Crust Club however eminent its members, however important its achievements, dare hope to survive ?"
Yes, our modest club is numbered with the institutions of the past.
Our revels all are ended. And these our actors have melted not into thin air exactly, but are scattered far and wide.
The Crust Club commenced brightly and hopefully enough to flitter and dance through a brief but merry existence; yet the seeds of decay were sown from the first—the ladies never liked it—and so apart from other sources which contributed to the end, our club fell beneath the feminine frown, and like Lucifer never to rise again.
One of their objections was the late hours, to which, following the example of Imperial Parliament, we prolonged our meetings.
Sometimes I have seen Crustonians considerably disconcerted in the midst of an eloquent peroration by a solemn mysterious knocking overhead: and the thoughts of us all would revert with melancholy to the lamented Mrs. Caudle, and to what was waiting for more than one of us in the coming night watches. Then, most ladies, however meek and dove-like their nature, will rouse and rebel at the overpowering odour of tobacco prevailing throughout a house for days together. Be it as it may, time only can unravel the mystery of our dissolution which occured in the spring of 187–. Brown and Johnson have left the town, and in a northern country pour, may be, the flood of their eloquence upon other friends. Jones has taken to a rural life, and as a gentleman farmer leads a peaceful bucolic existence. He is great now upon roots and crops and no doubt holds