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Club




CLUB. The records of all nations agree in attributing the institution of clubs and private companies to the earliest, or one of the earliest, rulers or legislators of whom they have retained any memory. Indeed such associations seem, as Addison has said, "to be a natural and necessary offshoot of men’s gregarious and social nature." In the infancy of national existences, they are almost essential for purposes of mutual support and protection, and to supply the short-comings of a weak Government. But over and above those fellowships which spring from the inalienable right of self-preservation, and which are founded either in the ties of kindred or community of material interests, there are commonly found, even in matured and well-organized states,a number of secondary or accidental societies, established for the promotion of some common object; and a wise and strong Government usuall protects and encourages them as a most important condition of human progress. They may be roughly divided into four different classes, according to their several objects ; they may be either religious, political, commercial, or merely social ; and an attempt has been sometimes made to assign these to different periods of national development. Such a distinction, however, cannot be successfully maintained, since the various elements were often most closely united in the same clubs, almost (or quite) from their very foundation. Thus, the corporations in Rome whose foundation was attributed to Numa would seem at first sight to have been merely for convenience of trade. But we are told that they had also a social or poli-tical purpose, viz., to break down the barriers which sepa-rated Romans from Sabines in the infant state. Moreover, Plutarch introduces a religious element into them also, saying that Numa "fixed certain times of meeting for these companies, and certain honours to the gods, assigning to each what was suitable for them." So again in Greece we have the testimony of Aristotle that members of the same tribe or borough used to club together, men follow-ing the same occupations, as soldiers or sailors, and others again for mere social amusement; yet he immediately add—"these meet together for the sake of one another’s company, and to offer sacrifices; when they meet they both pay cortain honours to the gods, and at the same time take pleasurable relaxation among themselves." It is clear, then, that whatever may have been the precise object with which each private club or association was originally formed in pagan times, these distinctive marks were very soon blurred, and finally, in the lapse of time, altogether obliterated.

We need not say anything of the religious sodalities which were appointed in a regular way both in Greece and Rome for the worship of the gods recognized by the state. It is the history of secret confraternities for the exercise of foreign religious rites unknown to the state and strictly forbidden that is more curious and attractive. In Athens the penalty of death stood enacted in the statute book against those who should introduce the worship of strange gods; but it is only on very rare and scandalous occasions that we hear of this statute in real life. There was a great invasion of foreign gods into Attica after the Persian war, and they were not so easily driven out as were the hosts of Xerxes who had imported them. Moreover, inde-pendently of foreign armies, the mere commercial activity of Athens herself did much to promote the same evil. Her sailors and soldiers, colonists and merchants, had explored the coasts of the AegeanSea, and had brought home from Thrace, from Phrygia, from Cyprus, and elsewhere, a whole host of deities, not more false indeed, but certainly more dangerous, than those whom they had been -wont to worship at home. These gods and goddesses soon found little knots of devotees, who were led to form a kind of confraternity among themselves, for the support of the forbidden worship. Fragments both of tragic and comic poets have preserved to us some notice of the kind of worship that was offered, and it was obviously in every way less respectable than the worship sanctioned by the state. In the state temples the priests and other officers were obliged to be freemen, citizens, and the sons of citizens; any taint of servile or foreign blood was a fatal disquali-fication. But here slaves, foreigners, and women were admitted indiscriminately. Indeed, if we may judge from monuments that have recently come to light, these secret confraternities found their principal support among these classes. At Rhodes there was one consisting exclusively of the lowest class of slaves, -- the public slaves of the town; at Salamis, one exclusively of women; in that of Cnidus eleven members out of twelve were foreigners. All these monuments come from islands; and of course it was there, and in the seaport towns of the peninsula, that such illicit corporations were likely to be first introduced and to take deepest root. By-and-by it became necessary even to give an official recognition to some of them, e.g., in the Piraeus, for the convenience of foreigners who were either detained there for a considerable time by business, or perhaps had even taken up their permanent abode there. Excavations made within the last twenty years in the Piraeus, and still more recently in the neighbourhood of the silver mines of Laurium, enable us to assist at the birth and early growth of some of these illicit clubs, but there is nothing in the history specially inviting. In Rome the general policy of the state towards foreign religions was more tolerant than in Greece. Nevertheless here also the practice of certain religions was forbidden, and the prohibition naturally produced certain secret societies amongst those who were attached to them. The -law indeed forbade the worship of any deity that had not been approved by the senate, but then the senate was by no means illiberal in granting its diploma of approbation, and as often as a new deity was introduced, or even a new temple built to an old deity, a new sodality seems to have sprung up, or to have been officially appointed, to look after its interests. It is disputed whether the prohibition of the worship of unknown, unrecognized gods, applied only to acts of public worship, or extended even to the innermost secrecy of private life. Cicero may be quoted in defence of the latter view, Livy of the former. Probably the letter of the law favoured the stricter side and spoke universally, but traditional practice ruled differently. Certainly the Romans had a scruple about interfering with anything which even pretended to lay claim to a religious character. Even when they repressed with such severity the secret meetings of the Bacchanalians, this was done not so much in the interest of the other gods, as of public order and morality and the security of the state. They even continued to tolerate such foul associations as these, only they imposed the condition that not more than five worshippers should meet together at once; and undercover of this permission the number of thiasi was much multiplied in the city, and these exercised a powerful attraction over women by the promise which they made of effecting a real purification of the soul. At a later period, when Augustus destroyed all the temples of Serapis which had been erected in Rome during a his absence, he was careful to assign a politi-cal motive for this unusual interference with religious liberty.





If we turn from these religious associations to consider the craft-gilds in ancient Rome, the first thing that strikes us is their extraordinary number. In the days of Numa we are told that there were only eight ; but as time went on they so multiplied that in the imperial period we count more than fourscore of them, including almost every profession and handicraft one can think of, from bankers and doctors down to donkey-drivers and muleteers. Nor does the mere enumeration of the different trades and professions give us at all an adequate idea of their number; for when a club became very large, it was first subdivided into centuries, and then these again broke off into separate clubs. Again, there was one club or company of the watermen who plied their trade on the Saone, and another of the watermen on the Rhone, though both these companies had their headquarters at Lyons. The other navigable rivers, too, each had its own company Thus, the most ancient notice we have of Paris is derived from a monument which has come down to us of the water-men on the Seine. We find mention, also, of more craft-gilds than one even in a single street of Rome; nay, further still, within the limits of a single house, e.g., of the imperial palace, and probably of other princely establishments, which counted their hundreds or thousands of dependants. Each class of slaves engaged in different domestic occupations had their own clubs. Thus the chef de cuisine (magister, coquorum) of Augustus bequeathed a sum of money to the collegium, or club, of cooks, in his imperial majesty’s household, and there is evidence that there were five or six other clubs in the palace at the same time. We do not know how large each club may have been; an old inscription tells us of forty seats reserved for a particular club in the amphi-theatre at Nimes, but these belonged probably to the officers of the club, not to the ordinary members indis-criminately. Sometimes the numberof members was limited, either by the original constitution of the body, or by condi-tions subsequently imposed by benefactors who did not wish their donations to be frittered away and rendered useless by too minute subdivisions. As to the internal organiza-tion of the clubs, the general laws and principles which governed their constitution, both in Athens and in Rome, they were moulded, as was only natural, very much after the pattern of the civil institutions of the country. They were republican therefore in spirit, the administration of affairs being wholly in the hands of the members them-selves, all of whom had equal rights; their watchful control was incessant, and their authority absolute; their officers were elected by universal suffrage, sometimes by acclamation; they were called by the same names as were home by the magistrates of the state, ____, quaestores, magistri quinquennales, curatores, &c. ; they were elected annually, and on entering into office they took an oath that they would observe the constitution and laws of the corporation ; and on retiring from office they gave an account of their stewardship to the assembled members, who exercised a right of judgment over them. This judgment seems to have been almost uniformly favourable; a commendatory decree was voted almost as much a matter of course as a vote of thanks to the chairman of our own public meetings. In Greece this vote was accompanied by the offering of a crown of leaves, of olive, ivy, or poplar, according to the supposed , choice of the god or goddess to whom the club was dedicated. In the East, e.g., Bitbynia, we find crowns of ribands and flowers ; in Rhodes, Delos, and the adjacent islands, it was not uncommonly of gold,—of very little intrinsic worth, however, and provided by special contributions at each monthly meeting. But the most valued part of the reward to these retiring officers (in Greece) seems to have been the proclamation of the honour obtained, which proclama-tion took place either after the ceremonies of the chief annual festival, or sometimes on every occasion of meeting. It was also engraved on a column which was set up in some conspicuous spot in or near their place of meeting. When any special services seemed to call for special recognition, the title of benefactor or benefactress was awarded, and this, too, was of course added to the inscription. A still higher and rarer bonour was to offer the retiring officer a statue or portrait of himself, either full length or half figure only or sometimes both together, and even more than one of each. But only once among Greek inscriptions belonging to these clubs do we find any mention of a salary awarded to the secretary, in consideration of the zeal and justice with which be had attended to the general interests of the community, the exactness with which he had rendered his own reports and accounts, as well as audited those of others who from time to time had been specially deputed to do anything for the club, and his constant devotion to the interests of all the members both collectively and individually. Even in this instance, however, the zealous and disinterested secretary or treasurer declined the proffered salary, where upon the club voted him a golden crown, which again he gave up for the decoration of the temple in which they met. And this, indeed, was the usual fate of these complimentary offerings. The officers fulfilled the duties of their post gratuitously, and often at great expense to themselves, just as the civil magistrates were obliged to do ; and it seems to have been pretty generally understood, that any extraordinary compliments, such as the offer of a statue or portrait, should, if accepted, be carried out at the expense, not of the donor, but of the receiver. In Rome, also, whenever an inscription states that the members of a collegium decree that a statue shall be erected in honour of some patron or benefactor, it is generally added that he undertook to pay for the statue himself (honore contentus, impensam remisit). Besides the acting officials of these clubs, there were also certain honorary patrons, whose connection with them was probably much the same as that of most patrons of benevolent societies in our own day. It was a compliment to invite them to become patrons, and they were expected to contribute to the funds in return.

It only remains that we should say a few words about the merely social clubs of pagan times, -- those clubs which had no other bond of union, either commercial, political, or religious, but which aimed only at the amusement or private advantage of their members. There was nothing in the functions of these clubs to obtain for them a place in the page of history. The evidence, therefore, of their existence and constitution is but scanty. Monumental inscriptions, however, tell us of clubs of Roman citizens in some of the cities of Spain, of a club of strangers from Asia resident in Malaga, of Phoenician residents at Pozzuoli, and of other strangers elsewhere. These all were probably devised as remedies against that sense of ennui and isolation which is apt to come over a number of foreigners residing at a distance from their native country. Something of the same kind of feeling may have led to the toleration of a club consisting of old soldiers who had been in the armies of Augustus ; these were allowed to meet and fight their battles over again, spite of the legal prohibition of military clubs. Another military club of a different kind existed among the officers of a regiment engaged in foreign service in Africa. Its existence can have been no secret, for its rules were engraved on pillars which were set up near the headquarters of the general, where they have lately been found in the ruins of the camp. The contribu-tion of each member on admission scarcely fell short of £25, and two-thirds of this sum were to be paid to his heir or representative on the occasion of his death, or he might himself recover this proportion of his original sut-scription on retirement from military service. The peculiarity, however, of this aristocratic collegium was this, that it provided that a portion of the funds might also be spent for other useful purposes, e.g., for foreign travelling. It is to be presumed that a member who bad availed him-self of this privilege thereby forfeited all claim to be buried at the expense of his club.

Clubs were by no means the exclusive privilege of the male sex in ancient days. Women also were united in similar associations. Their religious sodalities, indeed, were not generally edifying; but they combined together also for social and political purposes. The most remarkableof these was the great assembly of matrons, called at one time, in a mock-heroic way, "the minor senate." This ladies’ club received its title from imperial authority, which also legislated as to the needful qualifications of its members, the times of its meeting, and the subjects of its debates. These concerned the gravest questions of etiquette, such as what dress ladies should wear according to their social rank ; who was to take precedence one of another on publie occasions of state, in processions, or other ceremonies; who might ride in a carriage drawn by horses; who must be content to sit behind mules ; whose sedan-chair might have fittings of ivory, whose of silver, &c. Not all ladies could attain to a seat in this little senate, which dealt with such delicate questions of etiquette ; but we find them forming other clubs of their own which occasionally meddled with questions of municipal, if not of general, interest. They deliberated on the rewards to be given to this or that magistrate, and voted funds for monuments and statues in honour of those who had earned their approbation. The names of women are not unfre-quently set down as patrouesses of certain craft-gilds, of which they can hardly have been ordinary members; and in one instance at least in Africa, and in another in Majorca, inscriptions distinctly mention that certain ladies had filled all the official posts in a collegium. (J. S. N.)

Modern Clubs.—The word club, denoting the promotion of intercommunity and good fellowship, is not very old, and only became common in the time of the Tatler and Spectator; it claims a descent, however, from the Angio-Saxon, being derived from cleofan, to divide, because the expenses are divided into shares. Thomas Occleve (temp. Henry IV.) mentions a club designated La Court de Bone Compaignie of which he was a member. Aubrey (1659) speaks thus of the word : "We now use the word clubbe for a sodality in a taverne." He also mentions the ballot box, that potential instrument too often used in modern days for the indulgence of secret spleen : "Here we had (very formally) a ballotting box, and ballotted how things should be carried." Dr Johnson, according to Boswell, defines a club to be an "assembly of good fellows meeting under certain conditions." And to the same authority may be traced the words "clubable" and "unclubable."





The numerous London clubs which sprang into existence in the last and previous century had their place and origin almost entirely in the coffee-houses and taverns then so much in vogue. Of these the earliest known was the Bread Street or Friday Street Club originated by Sir Walter Raleigh, and meeting at the Mermaid Tavern. Shakespeare, Beaumont, Fletcher, Selden, Donne, and others were members of this club. Other clubs were subsequently formed, such as that meeting at the Devil Tavern near Temple Bar, of which Ben Jonson was supposed to be the founder; and later on (in 1764) we find the Literary Club was established chiefly at the instance of Sir Joshua Reynolds, which soon acquired a renown no more than proportionate to its merits—a renown maintained and brought down to the present day.

Addison, in the Spectator, has a paper on the clubs of his day (No. 9, vol. i. 1710). Of the description of club there sketched many exist at the present time, having no object but that of good fellowship and dining. In this category may be included the Royal Society Club, the history of which has been written by the late Admiral Wm. Henry Smyth, F.R.S., in the privately printed Sketch of the Rise and Progress of the Royal Society Club, published in 1860.

Of the more notable of the clubs of the past and the early part of the present century but few resembled the club of the Victorian era. Of those which survive may be mentioned White’s, originally established in 1698. This club was formerly of a high Tory character, and though no longer political is still somewhat conservative and undoubt-edly aristocratic. Brooks’s club, similar to White’s in the character of its members, and nearly coeval in date, has continued to maintain a political aspect, and is considered to be identified with Whig principles. Boodle’s, of later date, has always been deemed the resort of country gentle-men, and especially of masters of fox-hounds. Arthur’s, in some respects an offshoot of White’s, was established fully a century ago, and continues to this day a club of gentle-men associated for no special purpose, but united enly by congeniality of tastes and ideas.

The number of regularly established clubs in London is upwards of fifty, divided into political, literary and scien-tific, university, naval and military, and general clubs. Of the political clubs the principal are the Carlton, the Conserva-tive, the Junior Carlton, and the St Stephen’s, the Reform, and the Devonshire (a kind of junior Reform club), the conditions of admission into which are of a political nature. Of the literary and scientific, the Athenaeum was "insti-tuted for the association of individuals known for their scientific or literary attainments, artists of eminence in any class of the fine arts, and noblemen and gentlemen distinguished as liberal patrons of science, literature, or the arts," and has long enjoyed a high reputation, rendering admission to its ranks both tedious as regards the lenath of time a candidate has to wait before being put up for ballot, and difficult when he is subjected to that crucial test. Of university clubs the United University is the oldest, the others being the Oxford and Cambridge, the New University, and others, the qualification for mem-bership of which would be that of connection with the chief universities. The naval and military clubs include the United Service, the Junior United Service, the Army and Navy, with numerous others intended for military and naval officers, and in some instances for officers of militia. The general clubs include the Travellers’, to be deemed eligible for which a candidate must have "travelled out of the British Islands to a distance of at least 500 miles from London in a direct line" (not a very onerous condition in the present day, but one of some weight in 1815 when the club was founded), and the Oriental and East India United Service clubs, intended more especially for members of Her Majesty’s Indian services both civil and military. Besides these there are numerous clubs of a special character, such as the Windham, whose object is stated to be "to secure a convenient and agreeable place of meeting for a society of gentlemen all connected with each other by a common bond of literary or personal acquaintance;" the National club, consisting of "members who hold the doctrines and principles of the Reformed faith, as revealed in Holy Scripture, asserted at the Reformation, and generally embodied in the articles of the Church of England;" or the Garrick, which was instituted in 1831 for "the general patronage of the drama, for bringing together the supporters of the drama, and for the formation of a theatrical library with works on costume."

This list might be extended, but the general aims of the modern style of club are sufficiently indicated in this reference to the salient features of the clubs named.

The architectural elevations of the London club-houses are such as have lent dignity and character to the parts of London in which they are situated. Pall Mall notably is thus now a street of palaces. Nor should the contents of these handsome and convenient mansions pass unnoticed. The Athenaeum has probably the choicest library of its kind, consisting mainly of books of reference, and including 45,000 volumes. The Garrick club has an exceedingly valuable collection of oil and water-colour painting, chiefly, as might be expected, relating to dramatic episodes. The United Service, the Reform, the Oriental, and some other clubs have an assemblage of portraits of members who have won fame, or of paintings of celebrated battles and public events. The furniture and arrangements of the different apartments correspond to the exteriors, every convenience and luxury being placed at the disposal of the members.

The mode of election of members varies. In some clubs the committee alone have the power of choosing new members. In others the election is by ballot of the whole club, one black ball in ten ordinarily excluding. In the Athenaeum, whilst the principle of election by ballot of the whole club obtains, the duty is also cast upon the committee of annually selecting nine members who are to be "of distinguished eminence in science, literature, or the arts, or for public services," and the rule makes stringent provision for the conduct of these elections. On the com-mittee of the same club is likewise conferred power to elect without ballot princes of the blood royal, Cabinet ministers, bishops, speaker of the House of Commons, judges, &c.

The general concerns of clubs are managed by committees constituted of the trustees, who are usually permanent mem-bers thereof, and of ordinarily twenty-four other members, chosen by the club at large, one-third of whom go out of office annually. These committees have plenary powers to deal with the affairs of the club committed to their charge, assembling weekly to transact current business and audit the accounts. Once a year a meeting of the whole club is held, before which a report is laid, and any action taken thereupon which may be necessary.

The entrance fee varies from £40 at the United Service and Army and Navy clubs to 20 guineas at the Carlton club. The annual subscription in like manner ranges from 10 guineas in the Carlton, Reform, and several others, to 7 guineas in the United Service club. The largest income derived from these and all other sources may be stated to be that of the Army and Navy club, which in the year 1875 amounted to £30,813, of which £19,383 was raised by entrance fees and subscriptions alone. The expenditure is, however, most. commonly of nearly equal amount, and of few of the clubs can it be said that they are entirely free from debt. The number of members included in a London club varies from 2200 in the Army and Navy to 475 in the St James’s club.

Numerous provincial clubs are established throughout the country. In both Edinburgh and Dublin are clubs fully coming up to the metropolitan societies. Nor is this great public convenience lacking in the cities and towns of Europe, the United States, and the British colonies.

Of a different nature and with widely different objects are the learned bodies designated publishing clubs, of which the Abbotsford, the Bannatyne, the Roxburghe, and others are examples. These societies devoted themselves solely to the editing of unpublished MSS., or the reprint of rare and valuable works. (J.C.W.)

Arnold (Walter), Life and Death of the Sublime Society of Beef-steaks, 1871; Aubrey (John), Letters of Eminent Persons, 2 vols.; Marsh (G.), Clubs of London, with Anecdotes of their Members, Sketches of Character and Conversation, 1832, 2 vols.; Notes and Queries, 3rd series, vols. 1, 9, 10; Pyne (W. H.), Wine and Walnuts, 1823, 2 vols.; Smyth (Admiral), Sketch of the Use and Progress of the Royal Society Club, 1860; Timbs (John), Club Life of London, with Anecdotes of Clubs, Coffee-Houses and Taverns, 1866, 2 vols., and History of Chibs and Club Life, 1872; Walker (Th.), The Original, fifth edition, by W. A. Guy, 1875; The Secret History of Clubs of all Descriptions [by Ned Ward], 3709; Complete and Humourous Account of all the Remarkable Clubs and Societies in the Cities of London and Westminster [by Ned Ward], seventh edition, 1756; The London Clubs: their Anecdotes, History, Private Rules, and Regulations, 1853, 12mo; Hume (Rev. A.), Learned Societies and Printing Clubs, 1847.



The first part of this article (on clubs in the ancient world) was written by Rev. James Spencer Northcote, D.D.; author of The Faith of the Ancient English Church concerning the Holy Eucharist and The Fourfold Difficulty of Anglicanism.

The second part of this article (on modern clubs) was written by James Claude Webster, Barrister of the Middle Temple, London.




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