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that most clubs are scarcely susceptible of improvement in details. They mainly differ in the prestige of the members, and their excellence of kitchen and cellar.
But clubs are not the clubable places which they used to be. They are now too vast to be social. You may be almost lost in the splendid solitude of the library and drawing-room. Unless you belong to a set, it is not your club that will bring you into
Moreover, in the extension of the club system is included the fact that many men have a passion for clubs, and get themselves enrolled members of an absurd number. We can quite understand a man belonging to an old club-Brooks's, White's, or Boodle's—and having his political club, Carlton or Reform, with a social club like the Marlborough, if he be a friend of the Prince's; but what is the use of a man having seven or eight clubs? He will say
a that he likes one for its dinners, another for its cards, a third for its library, a fourth for its billiards, a fifth for its supper, a sixth for its society, and so on; but a man of many clubs really loses, instead of gaining, the peculiar benefit of each. Still the old social element is not vanished. It is most complete at the Marlborough, the peculiar domain of the most social of princes.
There is one club in particular where I often have the privilege of being a guest. It would be called a
small club by outsiders, but it has so many names famous in literature and art that I can hardly regard this as a correct assignation. Now, at this club we are particularly social and clubable—something in the old eighteenth-century style of the Turk’s Head. Every member, by the fact of membership, is supposed to be the friend and acquaintance of every other member. There never is a time when there is not pleasant talk and genial companionship. There is a club-dinner at seven; no man is expected to dine in solitary state if he can possibly help it. Towards midnight there is a supper-table spread, whereat men, who have dropped in perchance from theatres and newspaper offices, sit down and partake of cheering viands. They are most seductive fellows, the youngsters at that club. You hear much in their flying talk which you afterwards recognise in the daily press and the comic papers. In the midst of the roaring fun you suspect that they are mutually employed in picking each other's brains. get home the doubtful stars may be struggling with the grey dawn. You are not quite the same as you were in the days when Plancus was Consul. You confess you have enjoyed yourself, but it is a pleasure to be partaken of sparingly and at distant intervals.
There have been more new clubs within the last few years than within a long period preceding. It is not only that there are new clubs, but that the clubs
themselves develop. A club begins a modest existence in a quiet street. Then it builds itself a mansion, or finds some institution or public building on a large scale which is opportunely put up for sale. By and by it is battering away at the neighbouring buildings to enlarge itself. Then the entrance-fee is raised again, and the subscription; and if the club has turned out a popular one, the entrance fee will be raised again,. but otherwise 'you may speculate for a fall.' The fact that all the best clubs are overcrowded always presents an opening for a crop of new
The majority of them are proprietary clubs, the proprietor being virtually the landlord of great hotels. He gets some good name as a secretary, and it is the secretary who mainly brings together a good committee or set of committees. You certainly have not the liabilities of a speculation, but then you pay hotel prices, and not club prices. You have simply to compare the wine-lists, supposing that the wine committees are equally good, and you see the differ
One great cause of the extension of clubs is this proprietary system, in which nevertheless, if the proprietor is wise, he keeps out of sight as much as possible.
It is remarkable to see also how the club system has spread into the Provinces. Manchester and Leeds have several clubs. The club at Bradford is one of the best clubs in the Kingdom. But a few miles off,
at Halifax, the local club, considered as a club, is but of little importance. Bath and Clifton have their clubs, something of the Rag and Famish order, but with the incurable weakness of running away much into gossip, the unavoidable defect of all wateringplace clubs.
There is no club pleasanter in its way, and no nobler place, than the Royal Western Yacht Club at Plymouth. All yacht clubs are immensely pleasant; but the situation of this club on the Hoe, with that wonderful Sound in front, and the Mount Edgcumbe grounds on the west, is uniquely superb. You may see also in this club how admirably cheapness and goodness may be combined.
The ladies are now in real earnest setting up clubs of their own. There are several of them in the Provinces. At Exeter there is a particularly good one, appropriately enough, next door to the gentlemen's club.
So much, then, for the marvellous extension of the club system. There is some reason to suppose, however, that this system has well-nigh reached the highest point of development. It has never been a favourite institution with the British matron, and that idea of hers in getting up a club of her own is mainly a spiteful one after all. It is to show her lord that she can do without him, and can do as he does. But it is a wholesoine kind of competition to make home so pleasant that the club is uncomfortable in the
comparison. It is not so much that a man cares for liveried servants, spacious rooms, and multiplied luxuries. A club is useful in so many ways—for meeting people, for letter-writing, for asking a man to dinner.
A man may work away at a subject for many hours, and pick up more about it by a few hours in a club than by all the books and newspapers. But a man can have all the new books left at his house from the libraries, and he is obliged to take in some of the best periodicals, and expenditure for entertainment is much better laid out when for the common benefit of the home circle, and he can get repose and ease at home; and so, when he can with pleasure accept the conditions of home-life, he will be won from wild gregarious instincts, and take his place with Mr. Darwin's Animals and Plants under Domestication. The rapid increase of clubs is not quite a healthy symptom, and we should not be altogether sorry to witness an abatement.