Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Invasion, Beheadings and Jacobite Toasts: Not Your Grandmother's Newspaper Clippings

My last post suggested how an unlikely source –– a list of wagers made among friends –– may provide a glimpse into what went on behind the doors of the 18th century tavern.  But not every eating club doubled as a gambling club, and I have had to resign myself to the fact that the material for this project, no matter how hard I look, will most likely not come served on a magnificent platter, but rather will be gleaned from a haphazard potpourri of scraps.  So be it, I say.
"The Loyal Packet" records international
politics and the Jacobite Uprising at home
(Check out the note at the bottom)

If any wagers were made among members of the Wednesday's Club, which in terms of its middling, upwardly mobile social composition was very similar to the Centenary Club, they weren't recorded ... save for a failed lottery ticket.  But in 1715, I did find three newspaper clippings glued into the pages of its large leather-bound record book.

This finding got me wondering: what can these scraps of paper reveal about the inner lives of the club members?  Why do we hold onto newspaper clippings?  Or if not newspaper clippings –– only my grandmother does that –– what about links?

News didn't come cheap in those days, so papers were often left behind in eating and drinking establishments such as taverns and coffeehouses, where they then could be picked up, re-used and read aloud to groups of friends.  On the bottom of one clipping is a handwritten note: "presented to the Clubb by Mr Bate."   But who is this guy?  I couldn't find record or mention of him anywhere else, which suggests that Mr Bate showed up as the guest of someone else.

More importantly, why are these documents presented to the club?  Two of the papers are separate issues of "The Norwich Gazette, or, The Loyal Packet" both of which discuss the 1715 Jacobite Uprising led by "The Old Pretender," the son of the deposed King James II.  Specifically, the rather triumphalist tone of the "Loyal Packet" papers, which are published before the actual invasion took place, proclaim the ensuing defeat of the Pretender, whilst fully explicating the consequences of treasonous behavior, ie.

James Stuart, the Old Pretender
Invaded England in 1715
"They have actually begun to build a Scaffold in Westminster Hall for the Trial of the Earl of Oxford..."

Guess the Jacobite Rising of 1715 was no laughing matter for members of the Wednesday's Club, who quickly scribbled a new rule into their already seven-page long list of club rules.

17th August 1715
It is this day ordered by this society (nem con) that for the future no health shall bee begun by any member of this society on this club night besides the King's, to the Church as by Law established, the absent Members, and healths of the persons present, upon the forfeiture of halfe a crowne to the use of this Society.

The men of the Fountain Tavern apparently had the little tolerance for any Jacobite funny business.  (The third newspaper, in case you were wondering, is an issue of the London Gazette from shortly before the Glorious Revolution of 1688.  Obviously some kind of conversation about political loyalty was going on.) 

What does this tell us?  Because these clubs met so regularly, it is all too easy to forget that living in the 18th century was fraught with threats of invasion (in 1715, and again in 1745) and war being waged overseas on an almost constant basis.  In various places and in various ways, I've tried to suggest that the performance of taste within the communal meal had significant social stakes.  Who is to say that it didn't have political stakes as well?