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THE MERMAID TAVERN, BREAD-STREET,
DEVIL TAVERN, FLEET-STREET
THESE remarkable places of entertainment are noticed in conjunction because they both are chiefly celebrated as the haunts of one of our greatest dramatists--Ben Jonson. When his chequered life was most prosperous, he spent many hours daily at the Mermaid, where, in his time, a famous club was held, said to have been founded by Raleigh, and immortalized by Beaumont and Jonson himself in some memorable lines :
“At Bread-street's Mermaid having dined, and merry,
A pure cup of rich Canary wine,
Gifford's “ Jonson.”
“What things have we seen
Of his dull life; then, when there hath been throwo
Francis Beaumont to Ben Jonson.
Shakspeare, before he retired to Stratford—and often afterwards on his visits to town—Donne, Selden, Chapman, and Fletcher, assembled at the Mermaid, where took place those “ wit combats" between Jonson and Shakspeare, in which Fuller compares the first to a great Spanish galleon “built far higher in beaming" than his opponent, and "solid but slow in his performance," and the latter to an English man-of-war, “lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, turning with all tides, tacking about, and taking advantage of all winds by the quickness of his wit and invention.” “Gentle Shakspeare," as Jonson called him, is described by Aubrey as a handsome, well-shaped man, graceful and light of limb, careful in his dress, which harmonized with the expression of his fine tranquil face, intellectual forehead, and thoughtful eyes; "while,” says the same author, “Rare Ben sits over his beloved liquor, Canary, a man of enormous girth and colossal height, weighing close upon twenty stone, and stormy head looking as solid and wild as a sea-rock, and rugged face knotted and seamed by jovial excesses acting on a scorbutic habit, and his brawny person enveloped in a great slovenly wrapper, like a coachman's great-coat, with slits under the arms." How pleasant to notice the abiding friendship of these wonderful beings; for Jonson says of Shakspeare, “I loved the man, and do honour his memory on this side idolatry as much as any can.'
The Mermaid seems to have been a favourite sign in
old London, for at the Mermaid in Cheapside lived John Rastell, the brother-in-law of Sir Thomas More; and in a book called “Coffee-house Tests,” 1688, there is the following passage, slightly altered for the sake of good
“When Dun, that kept the Mermaid Tavern in Cornhill, being in a room with some worthy gallants, one of them cry'd out in a fantastic humour, 'I'll lay five pounds there's a fool in this company.' “'Tis Dun, says another.”
The Mermaid of Bread-street was consumed in the great fire, and does not seem to have been rebuilt. While it flourished, there is evidence that courtiers, as well as wits and authors, were in the constant habit of sharing in its merry pastimes. The City in those days was by no means wholly dedicated to commerce; literature and fashion were as interesting as trade, and the masques at Guildhall were as attractive as those at Westminster; indeed kings, queens, and maids of honour, with knights and barons, rusfling in satin and brocade, often turned their faces eastward to avail themselves of the hospitalities of my Lord Mayor. Merchant palaces were mixed with those of the nobility. Brabant Court and Aldersgate did not shrink from comparison with the splendours of Whitehall.
The Old Devil Tavern, so named to distinguish it from a house close adjoining, called the Young Devil Tavern, stood on a spot close to Temple Bar, now occupied by Child's Bank. At the Young or Little Devil Tavern, Wanley and Le Neve first originated the present Society of Antiquaries. An old dramatist writes :
“ As you come by Temple Bar, make a step to the Devil.” “ To the devil, father?”
“My master means the sign of the Devil, and he cannot hurt you; there's a saint* holds him by the nose.”
* St. Dunstan.
And Sedley, in one of liis Bacchanalian songs, says
“ All in that very house, where saint
Holds Devil by the nose,
But quarrelled in the close.”
In Jonson's time, the landlord was Simon Wadloe, the original of “Old Sir Simon, the King,” the favourite air of “Squire Western,” in “Tom Jones.'
This Wadloe, after the great fire, built the Sun Tavern, behind the Royal Exchange. In Pepy's “ Journal ” we read :
“28th June, 1667.-Mr. Lowther tells me that the Duke of Buckingham do dine publicly at Wadloe's, at the Sun.”
In “Wit and Drollery,” 1682, is a poem upon “Mr. Wadloe's New Tavern and Sign, behind the Royal Exchange.” Isaac Fuller painted the sign. Among the “Suttrell Broadsides” was a poem entitled “The Glory of the Sun Tavern, behind the Exchange,” 1672. It was built with great magnificence, and the poet denominates Wadloe the Wolsey of tavern grandeur.
wag, wishing to sell a lame horse, has rode him from the Sun, at the Exchange, to the Sunne in Holborn. Why looks he so lean ?' said a lounger, “Marry, no marvel,' was the answer; 'I rid him from Sun to Sun, and never drew bit.”-A Banquet of Jests, 1639.
“The Glory of the Sun” confirms Solomon's declaration that there is nothing new under that luminary, for thus we find our modern gin-palaces anticipated by more than a century; and probably with less demoralizing effects, since the fire-water of our day was then hardly known.
The great room at the Old Devil was called the Apollo, and appears to have been used for dancing. Here Jonson
reigned supreme, his authority being greater than Dryden possessed at Wills's, or Addison at Button's. The rules of the club, as drawn up by him in classical Latin, were placed over the chimney, engraven on marble, the “Tatier” says, “ in letters of gold.” The Messrs. Child preserve these rules, but they are now in gilt letters on a board, as also a bust of Apollo, under which originally the following lines were placed, they are Jonson’s :
« Welcome all who lead or follow
“0, rare Ben Jonson!"
Prior thus speaks of the tavern :
“ Thence to the Devil-
In a chamber adjoining the tavern the jewels of La Belle Stuart, the beautiful Duchess of Richmond, were sold, March 18th, 1703; and in the Apollo, fitted up as a