An Eighteenth Century Club -- By: R. T. Stevenson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 054:213 (Jan 1897)
Article: An Eighteenth Century Club
Author: R. T. Stevenson

An Eighteenth Century Club

Professor R. T. Stevenson

The eighteenth century was an era of clubs. The essayists of Queen Anne’s reign made them popular. From the founding of the famous Kit-Cat Club of Addison in 1700, there was a remarkable increase in their number till we reach the most renowned of all, “The Club,” of Dr. Johnson, in 1763. The Kit-Cat had among its members Halifax, Somers, Addison, Congreve, Vanbrugh, a double handful of dukes and earls, Sir Robert Walpole, and such like Whig wits and statesmen.

A look at the greater of these two is interesting. After an inexpensive supper at the Turk’s Head, Soho, art, letters, manners, and politics are discussed with freedom. Here sits Johnson the dictator, huge, scholarly, voracious, rough, veracious. Around the circle are Reynolds the painter, Burke the orator, Garrick the actor, Gibbon the historian, Jones the orientalist, Goldsmith the prince of essayists, and Boswell of biographical fame. In merry spirit they pass, with the swiftness of intellectual shuttles, jests, quips, philosophical reflections, satire, and story. In all this, brains as well as banter, distinguish the crowd. The beadroll of last century’s notable names has a peculiar splendor when we reach the list of the members of the immortal Club. The passing years, like the worshiper’s reverent touch, only polish more brightly the shining fame of Johnson and his friends.

Every business, social circle, and profession had its club. Nothing like it has been known in English history.

It would not be strange if Religion shared the spirit of the age. Piety was too inoffensive or too unambitious to give itself a club-life name. It left that to others, the ungodly, and then turned its crown of thorns into an imperishable halo.

In a small room in the second story of Lincoln College, Oxford, we see four young men bending over one book. It is the Greek Testament. The men are Morgan, Kirkham, John Wesley and his brother Charles. This is the “Holy Club.”

These various good fellowships of the eighteenth century had distinct reasons for being. The student of English life in the early years of last century discovers a set purpose on the part of Addison and his friends to bring about a change in thought and manners. Addison’s latest biographer, Coulthorpe, counts him as the “chief architect of public opinion in the eighteenth century.” The facts fall short of this high eulogium, yet point that way. Addison’s work as a reformer is too well known to be detailed. It is enough to show that the rigor of Puritan life and the recklessness of court circles were facing each other, sworn foes. Party violence was abnormally active to...

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