The Reform Club

The Reform Club by F. Hopkinson Smith. 1913. Photographic reproduction of charcoal on paper from In Thackeray's London, p. 83. Scanned image, formatting and text by George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you credit and link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

MR. THEODORE TAYLOR'S delightful volume, "Thackeray the Humourist and the Man of Letters," published in 1864 — a year after the great novelist's death — gives Thackeray's clubs as the Reform, the Athenaeum, and the Garrick, adding that the afternoons of the last week of his life were almost entirely passed at the Reform, and that during all of that time he had never been more genial or in such apparently happy moods. Many of his brother members have, since his death, recalled to each other one of the tenderest passages among his early sketches —"Brown the younger at a Club"—in which the old uncle, while showing his nephew the various rooms of the club, is represented as recalling memories of men — whose names now appeared at the end of the club list under the dismal category of "Members Deceased," in which (added Thackeray), "You and I shall rank some day."

Mr. Taylor quotes also from Mr. Shirley Brooks, in his account of the last occasion on which the latter saw Mr. Thackeray at the Garrick Club, only eight days before his death. "On that evening, he enjoyed himself much, in his own quiet way, and contributed genially to the enjoyment of those who were something less quiet; and, a question arising about a subscription in aid of a disabled artist, he instantly offered to increase, if necessary, a sum he had previously promised. The writer's very last recollection of the 'cynic,' therefore, is in connexion with an unasked act of Christian kindness. On the following Monday he attended the funeral of a lady who was interred in Kensal Green Cemetery. On the Tuesday evening he came to his favourite club—the Garrick—and asked a seat at the table of two friends, who, of course, welcomed him as all welcomed Thackeray. It will not be deemed too minute a record by any of the hundreds who personally loved him to note where he sat for the last time in that club. There is in the dining-room on the first floor a nook near the reading room. The principal picture hanging in that nook, and fronting you as you approach it, is the celebrated one from 'The Clandestine Marriage,' with Lord Ogleby, Canton, and Brush. Opposite to that Thackeray took his seat and dined with his friends. He was afterward in the smoking room, a place in which he delighted. The Garrick Club will remove in a few months, and all these details will be nothing to its new members, but much to many of its old ones. His place there will know him and them no more. On the Wednesday he was out several times, and was seen in Palace Gardens 'reading a book.' Before the dawn on Thursday, he was where there is no night."

Dickens had a still later glimpse of him at the Athenaeum. "I saw him . . ." he says, "shortly before Christmas at the Athenaeum, when he told me that he had been in bed three days, that after those attacks he was troubled with cold shiverings which quite took the power of work out of him, and that he had it in his mind to try a new remedy, which he laughingly described. He was very cheerful and looked very bright."

These three clubs—the Reform, the Garrick, and the ' Athenaeum — were the ones he loved best. There were other resorts that welcomed him — the Cock, in Fleet Street, and the London Tavern, within whose hospitable oak-panelled walls he and his friends and admirers enjoyed a memorable dinner.

"Covers were laid for sixty" (I still quote from Mr. Taylor's book), '»sasl sixty and no more sat down precisely at the minute named to do honour to the great novelist. Sixty very hearty shakes of the hand did Thackeray receive from sixty friends on that occasion; and hearty cheers from sixty vociferous and friendly tongues followed the chairman's, Mr. Charles Dickens, proposal of his health, and of wishes for his speedy and successful return among us. Dickens — the best after-dinner speaker now alive [in 1864] — was never happier. He spoke as if he was fully conscious that it was a great occasion, and that the absence of even one reporter was a matter of congratulation, affording ampler room to unbend. The table was in the shape of a horseshoe having two vice-chairmen; and this circumstance was wrought up and played with by Dickens in the true Sam Weller and Charles Dickens manner. Thackeray, who is far from what is called a good speaker, outdid himself. There was his usual hesitation; but this hesitation becomes his manner of speaking and his matter, and is never unpleasant to his hearers, though it is, we are assured, most irksome to himself. This speech was full of pathos, and humour, and oddity, with bits of prepared parts imperfectly recollected, but most happily made good by the felicities of the passing moment. It was a speech to remember for its earnestness of purpose and its undoubted originality." . . .

It was the Reform Club which he had gladdened by his presence the week of his death that now loomed up before me out of the fog and smoke — a great, square, sullen mass of granite divided from the Carleton Club by a narrow alley as is seen in my sketch.

It looks forbidding enough outside, frowning at you from under its heavy browed windows — an aloof, stately, cold and unwelcome sort of place. Inside, it may be more cheerful and more friendly; a London coal fire, an English easy chair — and there are none better, or more comfortable — and a low reading lamp, may take some of the chill off. Then again, one may be spoken to now and then by some other lost soul, hungry for companionship, but I doubt it. I am not going to scold. It is racial, perhaps, and the island is so small that it is dangerous to rub elbows against every- body, but I cannot, all the same, quite smother my feelings. My own clubs are scattered from Boston to Washington, with a few out West, and often as I prowl about London alone, and look up into the faces of the windows of these mausoleums, wondering what sort of men are behind them, I cannot help recalling the cozy corners of mine at home, into which are welcomed hundreds of strangers from all over the globe, and with a heartiness and sincerity that sets them to thinking. Some of them pinch themselves in amazement, wondering whether they are really awake. Yes, it must be racial; or, perhaps, the chill of countless fogs has gotten into their bones.

And with this came the thought: What a godsend Mr. Thackeray must have been to many within its walls, and how the warmth of his geniality must have helped to thaw out that peculiar chilly reserve which in many really fine, hearty, and ready-to-be-kind Englishmen, is due neither to rudeness nor to class distinction, but simply, strange as it may appear, to innate shyness. [121-27]

Related Material


Smith, F. Hopkinson. & In Thackeray's London. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1916.

Last modified 11 July 2012