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I REMEMBER to have read in some philosopher (I believe in Tom Brown's works), that, let a man's character, sentiments, or complexion be what they will, he can find company in London to match them. If he be splenetic, he may every day meet companions on the seats in St James's Park, with whose groans he may mix his own, and pathetically talk of the weather. If he be passionate, he may vent his rage among the old orators at Slaughter's Coffee-house, and damn the nation because it keeps him from starving. If he be phlegmatic, he may sit in silence at the humdrum club in Ivy-lane; and, if actually mad, he may find very good company in Moorfields, either at Bedlam or the Foundry, ready to cultivate a nearer acquaintance.
But, although such as have a knowledge of the town may easily class themselves with tempers congenial to their own, a countryman, who comes to live in London, finds nothing more difficult. With regard to myself, none ever tried with more assiduity, or came off with such indifferent I spent a whole season in the search, during
which time my name has been enrolled in societies, lodges, convocations, and meetings, without number. To some I was introduced by a friend, to others invited by an advertisement; to these I introduced myself, and to those I changed my name to gain admittance. In short, no coquette was ever more solicitous to match her ribands to her complexion, than I to suit my club to my temper; for I was too obstinate to bring my temper to conform to it.
The first club I entered upon coming to town was that of the Choice Spirits. The name was entirely suited to my taste; I was a lover of mirth, good-humour, and even sometimes of fun, from my childhood.
As no other passport was requisite but the payment of two shillings at the door, I introduced myself without further ceremony to the members, who were already assembled, and had for some time begun upon business. The Grand, with a mallet in his hand, presided at the head of the table. I could not avoid, upon my entrance, making use of all my skill in physiognomy, in order to discover that superiority of genius in men, who had taken a title so superiour to the rest of mankind. I expected to see the lines of every face marked with strong thinking; but though I had some skill in this science, I could for my life discover nothing but a pert simper, fat or profound stupidity.
My speculations were soon interrupted by the Grand, who had knocked down Mr Spriggins for a song. I was upon this whispered by one of the company who sat next me, that I should now see something touched off to a nicety, for Mr Spriggins was going to give us Mad Tom in all its glory. Mr Spriggins endeavoured to excuse himself; for as he was to act a madman and a king, it was impossible to go through the part properly without a crown and
chains. His excuses were overruled by a great majority, and with much vociferation. The president ordered up the jack-chain, and instead of a crown, our performer covered his brows with an inverted jorden. After he had rattled his chain, and shook his head, to the great delight of the whole company, he began his song. As I have heard few young fellows offer to sing in company, that did not expose themselves, it was no great disappointment to me to find Mr Spriggins among the number; however, not to seem an odd fish, I rose from my seat in rapture, cried out, bravo! encore! and slapped the table as loud as any of the rest.
The gentleman who sat next me seemed highly pleased with my taste and the ardour of my approbation; and whispering told me that I had suffered an immense loss, for had I come a few minutes sooner, I might have heard Gee ho Dobbin sung in a tip-top manner by the pimplenosed spirit at the president's right elbow: but he was evaporated before I came.
As I was expressing my uneasiness at this disappointment, I found the attention of the company employed upon a fat figure, who, with a voice more rough than the Staffordshire giant's, was giving us the Softly Sweet in Lydian Measure of Alexander's Feast. After a short After a short pause of admiration, to this succeeded a Welsh dialogue, with the humours of Teague and Taffy: after that came on Old Jackson, with a story between every stanza: next was sung the Dustcart, and then Solomon's Song. The glass began now to circulate pretty freely; those who were silent when sober, would now be heard in their turn; every man had his song, and he saw no reason why he should not be heard as well as any of the rest: one begged to be heard while he gave Death and the Lady in high taste; another sung to a plate
which he kept trundling on the edges: nothing was now heard but singing; voice rose above voice; and the whole became one universal shout, when the landlord came to acquaint the company that the reckoning was drank out. Rabelais calls the moment in which a reckoning is mentioned the most melancholy of our lives: never was so much noise so quickly quelled as by this short but pathetic oration of our landlord: drank out! was echoed in a tone of discontent round the table: drank out already! that was very odd! that so much punch could be drank out already-impossible! The landlord, however, seeming resolved not to retreat from his first assurances, the company was dissolved, and a president chosen for the night ensuing.
A friend of mine, to whom I was complaining some time after the entertainment I have been describing, proposed to bring me to the club that he frequented, which he fancied would suit the gravity of my temper exactly. «We have at the Muzzy Club,» says he, « no riotous mirth nor awkward ribaldry; no confusion or bawling; all is conducted with wisdom and decency: besides, some of our members are worth forty thousand pounds; men of prudence and foresight every one of them: these are the proper acquaintance, and to such I will to night introduce you." I was charmed at the proposal: to be acquainted with men worth forty thousand pounds, and to talk wisdom the whole night, were offers that threw me into raptures.
At seven o'clock I was accordingly introduced by my friend, not indeed to the company, for, though I made my best bow, they seemed insensible of my approach, but to the table at which they were sitting. Upon my entering the room, I could not avoid feeling a secret veneration
from the solemnity of the scene before me; the members kept a profound silence, each with a pipe in his mouth, and a pewter pot in his hand, and with faces that might easily be construed into absolute wisdom. Happy society, thought I to myself, where the members think before they speak, deliver nothing rashly, but convey their thoughts to each other pregnant with meaning and matured by reflection.
In this pleasing speculation I continued a full half-hour, expecting each moment that somebody would begin to open his mouth: every time the pipe was laid down I expected it was to speak; but it was only to spit. At length resolving to break the charm myself, and overcome their extreme diffidence, for to this I imputed their silence, I rubbed my hands, and, looking as wise as possible, observed that the nights began to grow a little coolish at this time of the year. This, as it was directed to none of the company in particular, none thought himself obliged to answer, wherefore I continued still to rub my hands and look wise. My next effort was addressed to a gentleman who sat next me; to whom I observed, that the beer was extremely good. My neighbour made no reply, but by a large puff of tobacco-smoke.
I now began to be uneasy in this dumb society, till one of them a little relieved me by observing that bread had not risen these three weeks: «Aye,» says another, still keeping the pipe in his mouth, « that puts me in mind of a pleasant story about that—hem-very well; you must know—but, before I begin―sir, my service to you-where was I?»
My next club goes by the name of the Harmonical Society; probably from that love of order and friendship which every person commends in institutions of this nature. The landlord was himself the founder. The money