Western Europe first tasted coffee about the middle of the seventeenth century, and so small a circumstance as the bringing of a moderate quantity of the beans from the East in a few years changed the complexion of houses of entertainment both in England and in France. It is said that the first coffee was brought into England in 1641 by a native of the Isle of Crete. It was even later before tea was introduced by some one who brought some of the leaf from the Netherlands, where it was introduced into Europe. Al-though the English for a century or more have been regarded as a nation of tea drinkers, it was a long time before tea was either cheap enough or plentiful enough to be generally used. On the other hand, coffee made a popular appeal a great deal earlier in England although it was not until later that it was imported into France, where it immediately became the fashion. The Ambassador of the Porte brought it to the Court of Louis XIV; Madame de Sevigne, whom we encountered in the preceding chapter, gave it celebrity, and an Armenian named Pascal, through his stall at the Fair of St. Germain, introduced the beverage to the public. In 1650 a man named Jacobs opened the first coffee house in England, in Oxford, and the vogue for coffee houses spread so rapidly that we find the Rainbow Coffee House in Temple Bar suppressed as a nuisance in 1657, and in 1675 coffee houses throughout England were suppressed by Proclamation. The traders rebelled at this and the order was revoked the following year. It was not until the early years of the eighteenth century that the coffee houses in London exceeded in number and probably in importance the inns and taverns in the English metropolis.
However, we do not find Samuel Pepys, of the “Diary,” frequenting coffee houses. He wanted more solid fare. He was a great eater, sometimes carrying his own meat to his favorite tavern to be cooked; and he was able at times to drink more than was good for him. Liking his wine sweet, we find him occasionally stopping to buy some sugar to carry with him to the tavern. One of his favorite resorts was the Cock and Bottle, in Fleet Street.
Ben Jonson gave the prestige of his presence at a number of taverns in London, and as the head of the Apollo Club, he gained the poetic title of “The boon Delphic god.” This convivial society held its meetings in the Devil Tavern in Fleet Street, near Temple Bar, in later times opposite the Cock and Bottle Tavern, just mentioned. Jonson must have had a warm attachment for the house for we find him, in his play, “Staple of News,” performed in 1625, one of the characters advising:
“Dine in Apollo, with Pecunia at brave Duke Wadloe’s.”
Yet, as no rose is without its thorn, the contemporary of Shakespeare did not always approve of the wines served at “The Devil,” for he afterwards explained that he wrote the play, “The Devil is an Asse,” which was acted in 1616, when he and “his sons” (meaning young poets in whom he took a fatherly interest) “drank bad wine at the Devil.”
There is more to connect Jonson’s name with the Devil tavern than with any other inn or public house in London. The place had such a fascination for him that in the time of King James, Jonson, in order to be near the tavern, lived without Temple Bar, in a combmaker’s shop.
A large room in the tavern was set apart for the Apollo Club, and Timbs believed it to have been built apart from the tavern itself. This apartment, called “The Oracle of Apollo,” was an upper room, above whose door was a bust of Apollo, and over the entrance was “The Welcome,” a poetic invocation, inscribed in gold letters on a black painted board, at the foot of which was the line from Jonson’s grave in Westminster Abbey:
“O Rare Ben Jonson.”
Jonson wrote the “Leges Conviviales,” which several writers have described as having been cut in marble but which Mr. Burn, already quoted, declares was, like “The Welcome,” merely painted in gold letters on a black painted board. He also is authority for the statement that The Welcome was placed in the interior of the room, “so also, above the fireplace, were the Rules of the Club, said by early writers to have been inscribed in marble. These rules were justly admired for the conciseness and elegance of the Latinity.” The translation which has become well known under the title, “Ben Jonson’s Sociable Rules for the Apollo,” appeared in Alexander Brome’s volume of “Poems and Songs,” 1661. In the process of translation, Jonson’s twenty-four lines of Latin became thirty-four in English. The whole of the thirty-four need not be quoted, but the opening lines give the very essence of this company of wits:
“Let none but guests, or clubbers, hither come, Let dunces, fools, sad sordid men keep home. Let learned, civil, merry men b’ invited,
And modest too; nor be choice ladies slighted.”
Which reveals the fact that women might occasionally be found at their dinners. The last rule of the two dozen in Jonson’s original was the warning:
“Whoe’er shall publish what’s here done and said From our society must be banished;
Let none by drinking do or suffer harm,
And, while we stay, let us be always warm.”
But Jonson, and his coterie who flourished under the early Stuart régime, were not the only notables who sought the Devil Tavern for their convivial feasts. A rather notorious pickpocket and fashionable highwayman, John Cottington, known among the light-fingered gentry of his time as Mull Sack, was an occasional visitor. He always dressed as a man of fashion, and his good appearance and gentlemanly gestures permitted him to go after big game, While Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector, he fell victim to Mull Sack, and was relieved of his purse. The genial criminal played no favorites, and, consequently, when Charles II was living in exile in Cologne he, too, was robbed by this enterprising cut purse. Mull Sack did not pick Charles’ pocket, but got into his house and relieved him of silverware valued then at £1,500.
He was a frequent visitor at the Devil, where he mixed freely with its best society. Originally a chimney sweep, Mull Sack acquired the habits of the fast society and showed amazing skill and cleverness in his thievery. His robberies were audacious and ingenious, and although arrested several times he managed to escape punishment for years, even after he had committed murder. But his undoing was the robbery of the exiled King Charles II at Cologne. He boldly returned to England with his booty, notwithstanding he was known to have fatally stabbed a man there. He told Cromwell he had secured royalist papers of great importance, Put to the test, he failed to substantiate his claims; at the same time news of the robbery reached London, and Mull Sack went to Newgate this time. He was tried, convicted and hanged in 1659, when he was fifty-five years of age.
The Devil Tavern, whose sign depicted St. Dunstan, the patron of blacksmiths, tweaking the nose of the Evil One by means of hot tongs, was a very lively resort. Lord Rochester and gay men of his stamp were among its patrons, but its real storied days were those when Ben Jonson sat at the head of the’ table around which were the jovial members of the Apollo. Later on in the seventeenth century we learn from the volume, “Cambridge Merry Jests,” that the Devil Tavern was the resort of London lawyers and physicians.
In the reign of Queen Anne it was the occasional haunt of the essayists and men of letters, for it was almost next to Temple Bar, and in the midst of the publishers of Fleet Street. Steele mentions the resort as the scene of the wed-ding entertainment in honor of Bickerstaff’s sister Jenny’s wedding. This was in October, 1709. A year later Swift wrote to Stella saying he had dined there with Addison and Dr. Garth. Later in the eighteenth century the Royal Society held some of its dinners at the Devil Tavern. Concerts were given in the main apartment about the middle of that century.
Projecting signs in London were forced to be removed by law in 1764, and then the famed sign board which was suspended before the Devil and St. Dunstan was taken from its hinges and nailed against the wall of the tavern, where it remained until the old building was demolished in 1787. Brush Collins, in March, 1775, according to Timbs, de-livered a lecture on Modern Oratory there for several evenings, and the next year an organization which rejoiced in the hilarious name of Pandemonium Club held its meetings in the tavern. Mr. Burn, whom we have freely quoted, is authority for the statement that the “devils” of this club were lawyers who so thoroughly justified the name of the organization by their boisterous conduct that the bon-vivants who were accustomed to drop in at the tavern were thoroughly disgusted. Whether or not the Pandemonium Club was responsible for the decline of the old place cannot be proven now, but it afterward became less and less attractive, and at the time the property was sold, the halls of mirth and jollity, of wit and frolic, had long been silent. The site of the tavern was occupied by buildings called Childs Place, from the new owners of the property, the banking firm of the Messrs. Childs.
When he was poet laureate, Colley Cibber actor, dramatist, poet, pamphleteer and man of fashionis said to have frequented the Devil Tavern, and to have recited his verses there to an admiring coterie. Doctor Johnson, who admired the ease of the eighteenth century tavern, must have dropped in at the Devil once in a while, but there appears to be only one record of his appearance there. This, according to Hugh H. L. Bellot, in his volume, “The Inner and Middle Temple,” was when, at the suggestion of Doctor Johnson, Mrs. Charlotte Lennox was given a supper there by the Literary Club. Unfortunately the year given by Mr. Bellot, 1751, does not agree either with that of the first novel by Mrs. Lennox, “The Female Quixote,” which was published in 1752, and which was said to have been the event honored; nor does it agree with the fact that the Literary Club was not organized until 1764. However, we may safely assume that in the main the statement is correct, and that the Doctor really did sup there with friends to honor Mrs. Lennox.
Perhaps it should be explained, before we forget it, that the “brave Duke Wadloe,” mentioned in Jonson’s play, “Staple of News,” was a reference to one of the early and perhaps best recalled of hosts of the Devil Tavern. His full name was Simon Wadlow, and the burial register of St. Dunstan’s shows a “Symon Wadlowe, vintner,” was “buried out of Fleet Street on St. Thomas’s Day,” March 30, 1627. His widow carried on the business for two years, and a son John evidently succeeded her.
At the beginning of Queen Anne’s reign, 1702, London was filled with coffee houses. It must appear mystifying that a nation so long accustomed to wines and beers should voluntarily take to drinking coffee. As a matter of fact, the coffee house usually sold alcoholic beverages as well as coffee, a circumstance that is illustrated by a letter of Bishop Trelawney to Bishop Sprat, dated July 20, 1702. An extract from this is given by John Ashton in his “Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne.”
“I had a particular obligation to Burnett,” wrote my Lord Trelawney, “and will publicly thank him in print (among other matters I have to say to him, and to his Articles against our religion) for his causing it to be spread by his emissaries that I was drunk, at Salisbury, the 30th of January; whereas the Major General (his brother), Captain Culleford, a very honest Clergyman, and the people of the Inn (which was a coffee house too) can swear I drank nothing but two dishes of Coffee : and, indeed I had not stopped at all, but to enable my children, by a very slender bait, to hold out to Blanford, where I dined at six that night.”
A picture of the interior of a coffee house of the period was given in the “Vulgas Britannicus,” published in 1710, and this shows a boy serving customers who are grouped around long tables, pouring the beverage from a small coffee-pot into a “dish.” This latter article was apparently a little larger than a coffee cup of to-day, but without a handle, and probably would be best described as a small bowl. “M. Misson’s Memoirs and Observations in his Travels over England,” published in translation in England in 1719, refers to coffee houses in this way :
“These Houses, which are very numerous in London, are extremely convenient. You have all Manner of News there : You have a good Fire, which you may sit by as long as you please; you have a Dish of Coffee, you meet your Friends for the Transaction of Business, and all for a Penny, if you don’t Care to spend more.”
Steele, in his “Tatler,” the first of the periodical papers of the times, which subsequently became so numerous (Drake enumerates fifty-six imitators during the first half of the eighteenth century), described some of the expenses of collecting the gossip for his paper. “I once more desire my readers to consider,” he wrote in his first number, “that as I cannot keep an ingenious man to go daily to Will’s under two pence each day, merely for his charges; to White’s under sixpence; nor to the Grecian, without allowing him some plain Spanish (snuff) to be able as others at the learned table.”
Addison, in the first number of ” The Spectator,” which succeeded “The Tatler,” remarks : “There is no place of general resort, wherein I do not often make my appearance; sometimes I am seen thrusting my head into a round of politicians at Will’s, and listening with great attention to the narratives, that are made in those little circular audiences. Sometimes I smoke a pipe at Child’s, and whilst I seem attentive to nothing but the Postman, overhear the conversation of every table in the room. I appear on Sun-day nights at St. James’ coffee-house, and sometimes join the little committee of politics in the inner room, as one who comes there to hear and improve. My face is likewise very well known at the Grecian, the Cocoa-Tree, and in the theatres both of Drury-Lane and Hay-Market.”
Aston traced about 500 of the coffee houses which were in existence in London during the twelve years of the reign of Queen Anne. He gives their names and locations in his volume on the social life under that sovereign. From this list we find that Child’s was in St. Paul’s Churchyard; the Grecian, in Devereux Court, Temple; and no fewer than six coffee houses known as Will’s. There was one at No. 1 Bow Court, whose proprietor was William Unwin; one in Threadneedle Street; one under Scotland Yard Gate; one in Cornhill, by the Exchange; one in Fuller’s Rents, and one in St. Lawrence Lane. The Cocoa Tree, as its name implies, was a chocolate house, and it was in Pall Mall. The St. James mentioned was also a chocolate house, and it was better known as White’s. It was in St. James Street, which probably accounts for the way Addison described it.
Will’s Coffee House may be said to have been first made famous by Dryden, who frequented that place, and, of course, attracted in his wake many youthful poets and others who liked to get into the presence of genius. Other distinguished wits of the time, among them Addison and Pope, were seen there often. This Will’s Coffee House was in Russell Street, Covent Garden, and at the west corner of Bow Street. The place became noted for the theatrical appearance of a Justice of the Peace, Giles Earl, described as “a creature of Sir Robert Walpole,” whose sense of dignity was not acute, since he frequently examined culprits in the public room of the coffee house “for the entertainment of the company.”
Whether this sort of performance had any influence in increasing the business of Will’s cannot be asserted, but it is certain that the business became so extensive that the coffee house could not accommodate all who sought admission. About this time, 1712, Addison, whose Spectator Essays probably had something to do with the increase in the crowds at Will’s, backed Daniel Button in a coffee house venture on the opposite side of Russell Street. Will’s establishment was regarded as a place of distinction, and so jealous was the proprietor of his patronage that Colley Cibber tells us it required an introduction before one was admitted to this unofficial club, in order not to be considered as an impertinent intruder.
Button is said to have been a former servant of the Countess of Warwick, to whose son Addison acted as tutor, and later married the Countess, to his own sorrow, for, as Doctor Johnson rather cleverly and bluntly described the union : “His advances at first were timorous, but grew bolder as his reputation and influence increased; till at last the lady was persuaded to marry him, on terms much like those on which a Turkish princess is espoused; to whom the sultan is reported to pronounce, `Daughter, I give thee this man for thy slave.’ ” It is said that Lady Warwick never forgot that Addison had been tutor to her son, and seemed to have thought that in consequence he was not entitled to be treated with much respect.
Button’s Coffee House became a rival to Will’s as soon as it was opened. Addison, of course, was an almost daily visitor. He had set up there a letter box which became an historic object. It was designed by Hogarth, then a young painter and engraver, after the famed Lion’s Mouth, of Venice. Constructed of wood, it was rather curiously carved, and after Button’s became a memory, the Lion’s Head letter box was removed to the Shakespeare Tavern in Covent Garden. The picture given of the letter box in Samuel Ireland’s “Graphic Illustrations of Hogarth ” is a hideous piece of work, and suggests the scantest knowledge of a lion’s appearance. Letters intended for Addison’s use in “The Guardian” were left in this receptacle.
Among the frequenters of Button’s in its early years was William Hogarth, the great painter, engraver and satirist of the eighteenth century. On occasions he made sketches of some of the celebrities he saw there, and these have been reproduced in Ireland’s book already referred to. We see in one of the sketches, Daniel Button, himself, and an eccentric of the period, whose identity does not appear to have been discovered. Other sketches made by the young Hogarth picture Addison, and Martin Foulkes, a mathematician and antiquary, who was so much distinguished at the age of twenty-four that he was admitted as a member of the Royal Society. In another sketch are shown Doctor Arbuthnot, Count Viviani and two unknown characters. Arbuthnot was said to have had the most prolific wit, and that when he was present Swift had to take second place. Little seems to be known about Count Viviani, whom Horace Walpole identified in Hogarth’s sketch for Samuel Ireland. All Walpole said was that he remembered him well. Alexander Pope, and the celebrated Doctor, afterwards Sir Samuel Garth, whose wit gained him a knighthood, and led to his appointment as physician in ordinary to George I, are shown in another sketch. Garth was an advocate, as early as 1701, of free dispensaries for the sick poor, which proposition was opposed by the apothecaries. He answered his critics in an admirable poetic satire, entitled “Dispensary, a Poem with a Key,” in 1701.
Button’s gained even more favor among the wits than had Will’s, and it remained a centre of men of learning until the death of Addison in 1719 and the retirement of Richard Steele from London. The vogue of the place did not linger long after the two chief attractions were eliminated, and it is said that Button, who in the days of his prosperity paid two guineas for two places in St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, was receiving an allowance from the parish at the time of his death, in 1731.
The Cock Tavern, whose earlier and full name was The Cock and Bottle, has already been mentioned as being a close neighbor of the Devil Tavern in Fleet Street. This place, while not so historic in its story as the Devil, because it was not quite so famed for its visitors in the Jacobean and late Stuart periods, as the home of Ben Jonson’s Club, yet it existed until forty years ago, and consequently is nearer our own times. Writing about it in 1866, Timbs remarked : “It is, perhaps, the most primitive place of its kind in the Metropolis: it still possesses a fragment of decoration of the time of James I, and the writer remembers the tavern half a century ago, with considerably more of its original panelling.” A branch of the Bank of England succeeded to the site in 1886.
The Cock, however, is not without a background of history. It had an ancient atmosphere of tradition, and it dated from the seventeenth century. We know it was there in Jonson’s time, because it probably was built early in the reign of King James I. It was there when the Plague raged in 1665, for we are told that the landlord, very wisely, shut up his house and retired to the country. Pepys, as we have mentioned, occasionally went to the Cock, when he described it as an ale-house, but his “Diary” informs us that there he “drank, and eat a lobster, and sang, and mightily merry.” He was there with Mrs. Pierce and Knipp whose names are known to readers of the “Diary.” The sign of the cock which was over its door was said to have been carved by Grinling Gibbons, who probably did some of the interior carving. Tennyson frequented the Cock when in London, and he has made its head waiter of the time famous, even if anonymous, by the poet laureate’s reference to him as:
“O plump head-waiter of the Cock!”
Thackeray has referred to the Cock, and Dickens frequently strolled in there, while Mark Lemon laid a scene in one of his novels in the ancient tavern.
While the London Tavern, which succeeded the lesser known White Lion, in Bishopsgate Street, London, in the days of George III, might belong to the period covered by this chapter, its real story belongs to a later Hanoverian period, consequently we shall refer to it in a subsequent chapter.
There were several Mitre Taverns, but the one which has been frequently referred to in literary anecdotes and annals was The Mitre in Fleet Street, which was the centre of London’s publishing activities and the rendezvous of her poets and authors from the early seventeenth century almost down to the present day. It still is the centre of newspaper and magazine publishing, but booksellers have now scattered their offices and shops all over the English metropolis.
Among the noted visitors to the Mitre in the seventeenth century was William Lilly, the astrologer, whose prophecies of dire calamities must have sent some of his readers to bed shivering, met that other noted astrologer, Old Will Poole, in The Mitre in 1640. One of Lilly’s most quoted works is “England’s Prophetical Merlin,” which was published in 1644, but he was the author of many, and his “Life and Times,” supposed to have been written by himself, appeared in 1715, long after his death.
The old tavern was rendered more or less of immortal memory, in the Eighteenth Century, from having been one of Doctor Samuel Johnson’s favorite resorts. The Doctor lived in a court off Fleet Street, and of course all the taverns in the vicinity were familiar to him. But he became attached to a few of them, and one of these was The Mitre, in Fleet Street. We are assured by Timbs that, notwithstanding the herculean efforts to authenticate The Mitre in Mitre Court, Fetter Lane, as the Johnsonian Mitre, it was not the simon-pure article Johnsonians should be attracted to.
Boswell tells us of his meeting with the Doctor and Gold-smith at The Mitre, where they supped. As usual, the Doctor acted as oracle, holding forth on the merits of the celebrities mentioned in the conversation, in the course of which the Doctor exclaimed against Churchill, the satirical poet: “No, sir, I called the fellow a blockhead at first, and I will call him a blockhead still.” It was here, after one of the suppers, that the Tour of the Hebrides was planned.
After Johnson’s day, Charles Macklin, who claimed relationship with the actor of that name, took the house, then No. 39 Fleet Street, and reopened it in 1788 as the Poet’s Gallery. Later it became an auction room and finally was removed to accommodate a new bank.
Once in course of conversation Macklin, the actor, then long past his ninetieth birthday, was asked whether Mr. Macklin, the late print-seller in Fleet Street, was any relation of his. To this he answered, rather shortly:
“No, SirI am the first of the namethere was no other Macklin before me, as I invented it merely to get rid of that damned Irish name, McLoughlin.”
Of all the ancient taverns that have been in Fleet Street for centuries, only one remains, the Cheshire Cheese, which is about fifty feet back from the street, snuggled away in Wine Office Court. Certainly “The Cheese,” as it is now briefly and commonly known, is very old, but how old, or what of its ancestry, is hidden away in legend. Several volumes about the picturesque place have been published, a mass of legend, but few facts. Even the date of the establishment of the old place, if known, is not public property. It is even said that Shakespeare has taken his ease at the Cheese; a manuscript play, “of the time of Ben Jonson,” is quoted in ‘which the Cheshire Cheese is mentioned. Pope, Addison, and other worthies of Queen Anne’s time are said to have frequented the tavern. One thing seems to be beyond dispute, and that is the antiquity of its wine cellar, to which only the privileged few are admitted. The tankard of ale which is served has the correct natural temperature and it probably is one of the few places in England where this can be found. Although Boswell never refers to the Cheshire Cheese, the fact that Doctor Johnson’s house in Gough Square lies immediately behind the old tavern and that Wine Office Court opens into Gough Square, makes it extremely probable that the author of the great dictionary really did frequently occupy the seat at the head of the long oaken table, over which his portrait now hangs. Voltaire is another distinguished personage who is said to have enjoyed the fare there, and the favorite seat of Charles Dickens is pointed out to any visitor who seeks the information.