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“I am quite familiar at the Chapter Coffee-house, and know all the geniuses there. A character is now quite unnecessary—an author carries his character in his pen." -Chatterton to his mother, May, 1770.
I do not think many authors of note took their coffee there in my time. They seemed to be busy, bustling pendrivers-possibly, when at home, located in Grub-street, or some congenial region, and chiefly anxious about small bargains with second-rate publishers. The clergy were the chief visitants, and were principally middle-aged or elderly men, in very threadbare black, and not always with the whitest linen. In fact, it was a house of call for poor parsons who were on hire to perform Sunday duty, from a guinea down to five shillings, according to services expected or the character of the parties. Men of damaged repute, to each of whom it might be said without harshness,
“Go, lay thy orders at the bishop's feet;
Send thy dishonoured gown to Monmouth-street”
could be had easily, on the lowest terms; while those of whom no harm was known, save their indigence, obtained the higher fee without much difficulty. A dronish rector, too, could buy a sermon there at almost any price, according to the ability of the composer. Some of the discourses were really written by the vendors, but others were offered for sale by clerical middlemen, furnished with an assortment by purchase from poor brethren, who, from lack of decent dress, were unable to attend the market themselves. A buyer had only to name his subject and doctrine, and would be fitted to a hair in a moment. Charity sermons were quite a drug; there was such a glut of the commodity that a moving appeal for a parish school could be purchased for half-a-crown; while, if a course of sermons on a special subject was needed, the price per discourse varied from 58. to 108. 6d. In this manner the dullest clergyman
could avoid the necessity of study on his own account, and appear wise and eloquent on the easiest terms. The sermons were frequently mere commonplace, but occasionally were the productions of learned, pious, and eloquent men, without patrons or private means, and, by consequence, without livings. We fear such trading in sermons and preachers is still practised. We know that discourses, lithographed to resemble manuscript, may be openly bought at various London shops; and we are assured that persons in orders, and even with University honours, are to be engaged by the day on very moderate terms. We trust so scandalous a practice is on the decline, and that in a more conscientious
age it will be wholly abandoned. The charges at the Chapter were moderate, but then your desires must be moderate too, or you would come to grief. Hungry folks did well to keep away from its precincts, for a hearty meal was out of the question. A cup of coffee, of excellent quality, cost 5d.-6d. rather, for William, the head waiter, had a lien on the penny, and woe to him who sought for change! Four delicate ham sandwiches, with a glass of sherry, were charged 10d.—the eleventh and twelfth penny went to William. The tea deserves special mention. It was served in a red earthenware glazed pot, holding sufficient to fill three small cups, but quite superlative in quality. For this, with six slices of bread and butter, a muffin, or two crumpets, the charge was also 10d., the copper being appropriated as aforesaid. Persons might enter the coffeeroom, turn over the files of papers, and even transact business, without being obliged to call for anything; but if you did it often, a cold reception must be anticipated. Mr. William, who, it was believed, had money in the funds, was quite a character-age forty; height, the average; stout, but not fat; carefully dressed in a better black cloth suit than many of the visitors, wearing knee breeches, black silk hose, and a spotless white cravat; very civil and
attentive, never talking but in answer to questions, and then briefly. His eyes were in every corner of the room : woe to the luckless wight harbouring any design on the spoons! Yet he was capable of kind feeling, for when he suspected a customer was very needy, he would bring him two muffins, and only charge for one; nay, he had been known to avoid receiving payment altogether from a certain needy curate, by asserting, with great gravity, that he got the money when he served the tea. As a rule, he expected his pence with inexorable firmness; and no plea of wanting change, or remembering it next time, would answer with him.
On easy terms with regular visitors, he scanned the strangers and new comers with inquisitive looks, watching all their proceedings like a very Argus. If improper persons, such as mere tradesmen or mechanics, sought admission, he dismissed them coolly but decidedly, by intimating that they must have mistaken the housethe Blue Boar was in Warwick-lane." He must have passed away long years ago, and with him most of his class ; for the waiters in modern places of refreshment, or even in the club-houses, are of a very different grade. Genteel clubs in our day are for the “nobility and gentry,” or certainly for the well-to-do only. Ordinary coffee-houses are chiefly for the busy and the vulgar. There are few or no refuges for poor gentlemen, where, as in the time of Addison and Johnson, a small outlay entitled the visitor to a cordial welcome, and where, in
“ The feast of reason, and the flow of soul,”
carking cares and anxieties were banished.*
* Addison declares in one of his delightful “Spectators” that he knew a gentleman who managed to live very respectably on an annuity of £40. He spent the whole of his time in favourite coffee-houses, where he was always cordially welcomed, because he never failed to give the waith a penny on leaving.
RICHARD RICE, Esq., of the Stock Exchange, Portmansquare, and Consols Villa, Richmond, had, in 1778, been for
, several years the undisputed monarch of Capel-court. All his speculations, wild and rash though they often seemed, had proved fortunate, and whatever he touched appeared to prosper.
Men were content to follow his lead, and every plan sanctioned by his name was sure to be received with favour. This wonderful success was the work of a comparatively short time. Up to his twenty-fourth year he was a desk-clerk at a broker's office at 308. per week; and now that he had attained all that exuberant wealth could bestow, he was scarcely five-and-thirty. Most of our readers recollect Hudson, the ex-railway king, and how people raised a large subscription, in the way of testimonial, to one who was already too rich.
So it was with Rice. Testimonials were not then in vogue, but everybody was eager to compliment and substantially assist the idol of the hour, who had sprung up with the celerity of Jonah's gourd, and was destined to perish as quickly. Rice possessed good natural abilities; he had a strong will,
} and a courage in the midst of the most perilous enterprises which very frequently ensured their success. If his gains were enormous, he never grudged sharing them with his subalterns, and thus he had the good word of all engaged
with him. Perhaps his notions of commercial honour were not the most exalted, but as prosperity made him generous, no occasion arose to impugn his integrity. He was tall and commanding in appearance, with dark eyes and hair. His address was winning, but when circumstances roused him to energy, his tone showed that he would not tolerate the slightest liberty. His ordinary demeanour would have been more gentlemanly had it been less pretentious. His dress was exact and elaborate, but too fine. A single ring, with a costly stone, would have seemed suitable on his hand; but it was bad taste to bedizen every finger. His general habits were simple. He gave grand dinners, but commonly dined from one dish, and but seldom took more than three glasses of wine, though then it was thought manly to be able to swallow as many bottles.
He delighted in display, and valued money only as it gratified his vanity. His town and country houses were filled with rare valuables—bronzes, curious china, pictures from the old masters. His grounds at Richmond were so exquisitely kept as to attract the admiration of the fashionable world, who were not slow to recognize his merits by frequently visiting him. The most precious of all his possessions, however, was his wife, Mary Rice. He had married her when they were both very young, and his weekly salary hardly sufficed to purchase the mere necessaries of life ; but their wedded days had proved singularly happy, and it might well be doubted whether wealth had added to their enjoyments. She was the only daughter of parents whose position may be described as that of genteel poverty; yet she was better educated than most English women of the period, and could actually read, write, and spell, understood a little music, could dance gracefully, and converse in French with a moderately good accent.
Her mental powers were superior to those of her husband; and her manners aiding and increasing her great beauty, made her