This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.
The passing in 1881 of the Sunday Closing Act, which required public houses to remain closed on Sundays, had led to an increase in the number of licensed private clubs in Cardiff from 31 to 141 over the following five years.
The word 'clubbable' evokes Samuel Johnson’s remark about [put link here] Boswell, as Boswell himself proudly records it in his [put link here]The Life of Samuel Johnson, Ll.D: 'Johnson, however, declared I should be a member, and invented a word upon the occasion: "Boswell (said he) is a very club-able man".' (1783 II, 475). According to OED, the form of the word was 'clubable' before 1800 and 'clubbable' thereafter. —— David Skilton
am specially refraining in this article, sir, from referring in any way whatever to the question as to whether clubs are or are not desirable institutions so far as their influence upon men who belonged [sic] to them are concerned – they are certainly very convenient places of resort, and it strikes me that not a few of the heinous faults laid to their charge by the wives of our bosoms are the direct outcome of members who reel home at two a.m., falsely saying, when reminded of the hour and their chewed-string-like condition, 'Norra bit intosh-cated; be’n havin’ meeting of’sh club committee; sh’kuseme, m’dear, forshed to be there.' Very possibly indeed that individual has never been near the club at all, but the latter has to bear all the blame nevertheless. And I have no doubt whatever that many a good lady regards clubs with a feeling of antipathy consequent on her husband, when he is in any degree reminded of his ties of omission or commission saying, 'Very well, madam (why do men always, I wonder, address a woman as 'madam' when they wish to be peculiarly dignified and yet irritating?) if I can’t be allowed a quiet home, I shall go to the club.'
But, as I said, it is no business of mine to defend or attack clubs – it was merely my intention, when I sat down to pen this article, to speak of the well-defined characters who are always represented at clubs, be the latter of what grade soev[e]r. For instance, there is always the intensely selfish man to be found there – the man who monopolises the best seat in the smoking-room, snatches and holds for an inordinate period the newspaper which happens on any given day to be most in request, so up his position so near the fire on a cold day as to almost totally to obscure it, and expects the waiter to attend to him sooner that anybody else. And there is invariably to be found the would-be funny man, whom I ought possibly to have included in the list of club bores. This mightily facetious man either takes possession of one when he is absorbed in thought, and with frightful circumlocution spins his pointless yarn, or, when the conversation is general, endeavours to be more than ordinarily funny at some other member’s expense. This latter little attribute naturally gets him 'disliked' though perhaps somewhat feared, this latter fact being accounted for by the feeling that one is sometimes out of the vein and almost too inert to reply to his sallies. And then again this highly unpleasant person has an abnormally developed memory for ludicrous little mistakes a fellow member may have inadvertently made, and the record of these he most industriously, and with no little secret malice, trots out whenever the member who may have been the victim of the incident is most distinguishing himself, and can least afford to be, what the comic man would term, 'taken down.' Has a member indulged rather too freely some night in strong waters, the funny man is on his track next day, and at exactly the time, probably, when the erratic person of the night before least cares to be reminded of his delinquency, he begins with some such remark as, 'Well, what about last night; you don’t remember what you said, eh?' and then he proceeds by the exercise of considerable imagination to conjure up all manner of impossible offences committed by the restive gentleman of the night before. He is great at puns of an obvious and childish order, and when any paragraph of what he considers a humorous order catches his eye in the paper, he always asks some unfortunate fellow member whether he (the fellow-member) has read it, and on being told 'No,' describes its purport at maddening length, and with incredible iteration.
There is always a conspicuous member of the choleric type at every club – generally a stout fussy man, who gets very much excited and red in the face when any real or fancy grievance bothers him. He is fond of using strong language regarding the waiters and the management, the latter seldom seeming to suit him in any one particular. The committee too, come in for a great share of his splenetic criticism, and whenever he catches sight of the notice board he draws you up to it, and pointing to some item which has created in him indignant feelings blurts out, 'What d’ye think of that, sir – abominable, isn’t it? But everything is grossly mismanaged here, shamefully mismanaged,' and so on till he apparently works himself into a perfect fever. He is very frequently not at all a bad fellow at heart, but bursts of indignation are his specially.
I never knew a club yet where there was not some member known commonly as 'Mystery,' and being an individual who, though originally proposed and seconded by persons of irreproachably clubbable [sic ?character] (an almost indefinable expression that, but still one that carries with it considerable force and meaning), had yet, so far as his usual habits and precise social position and means, always been an inscrutable problem to the majority of fellow-members. Sometimes, in the case of clubs which have existed for many years, he is a very old member indeed, and has an air of melancholy about him in his contact with the present order of members which seems to suggest that he has outlived all his old fellow club-men, and does not care to form new ties. He frequently forms the subject of quiet discussion between the younger members, who evolve most romantic and wholly impossible theories as to his position in life and career, and should he approach this band when his name is just upon their lips, they all relapse into one of those awkward silences which always rouses suspicion of a man who is being discussed and unexpectedly appears on the scene. In relation to another class of club-men, I am sorry to record the fact that such members are there as never appear at the club during the evening without they are what the Scotch call 'fou,' and a little bit far gone at that. It is only in their unsteady periods that these gentlemen seek the shelter of the club, and it is precisely this class which most, in domestic circles, bring[s] the club into disfavour. Sometimes they are ridiculously hilarious and provide fun for the company, and at other seasons they are noisily quarrelsome, as is the habit of men in their cups, with some fellow member who has previously provoked their ire and whom they treat with a certain degree of caution in their sober moments. When a club smoking concert is in the programme they are ridiculously enthusiastic over every item, and go round during the interval shaking hands with everybody.
Well acquainted am I with the schemer whose ambition is to be a prominent man in the club for the gratification of some personal ulterior motive. He, perhaps, does more to create petty strife and spleen amongst the club-men than do all the merely ridiculous persons put together. He 'whispers' to one and another, and is generally instrumental at the finish in getting himself made a prominent member of the executive, from which post it takes not a little cunning and address to dislodge him. Men’s characters come into focus finely, I do assure ye, sir, in the narrow space of a club. The blustering, pompous man, who loves to hear the sound of his own voice and endeavours to shout down all his fellow-members in argument; the wily man who plays billiards with an eve to profit; the gluttonous member who eats fearful and wonderful meals and then retires to snore sonorously in the smokeroom; the sneering man who sits with an aggravating smirk listening to other people’s arguments and never ventures an opinion of anything like a definite character himself; the man who is generally short of cash and borrow a trifle 'just for a day or two, you know'; the uncomfortable and discomforting man, who always seems to be in a desperate hurry, and writing letters or sending telegrams in feverish haste and who, when he walks into the reading-room, turns over every disengaged paper with a noisy crackling sound and yet never seems to get what he wants – all these persons come prominently in the range of vision and afford food for study and observation.
Links to Related Material
- Private Clubs and Clubland
- Exclusion in Theory: Ideal Society, Ideal Clubmen
- The Extinction of a Name (a cartoon from Judy set in a club)
Last modified 16 May 2022