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Foreign Clubs
by [?]

How is it, will any one tell me, that all foreign Clubs are so ineffably stupid? I do not suspect that we English are pre-eminent for social gifts; and yet we are the only nation that furnishes clubable men. Frenchmen are wittier, Germans profounder, Russians–externally at least–more courteous and accommodating; and yet their Clubs are mere tripots–gambling establishments; and, except play, no other feature of Club-life is to be found in them.

To give a Club its peculiar “cachet”–its, so to say, trade-mark–you require a class of men who make the Club their home, and whose interest it is that all the internal arrangements should be as perfect, as well ordered, and frictionless as may be. Good furniture, good servants, good lighting, good cookery, well-adjusted temperature, and a well-chosen cellar, are all essentials. In a word, the Club is to be the realisation of what we all think so much of–comfort. Now, how very few foreigners either understand or care for this! Every one who has travelled abroad has seen the “Cercle,” or “L’Union,” or whatever its name be, where men of the highest station–ministers, ambassadors, generals, and suchlike–met to smoke and play whist, with a sanded floor, a dirty attendance, and yet no one ever complained. They drank detestable beer, and inhaled a pestilent atmosphere, and sat in draughts, without a thought that there was anything to be remedied, or that human skill could or need contrive anything better for their accommodation.

When these establishments were succeeded by the modern Club, with its carpeted floor, silk hangings, ormolu lamps, and velvet couches, the change was made in a pure spirit of Anglomanie; somebody had been over to London, and come back full of the splendours of Pall-Mall. The work of imitation, so far as decoration went, was not difficult. Indeed, in some respects, in this they went beyond us, but there ended the success. The Club abroad is a room where men gamble and talk of gambling, but no more; it is not a Club.

For the working of the Club, as for that of constitutional government, a special class are required. It, is the great masses of the middle ranks in England, varied enough in fortune, education, habits, and tastes, but still one in some great condition of a status, that supply the materials for the work of a parliamentary government; and it is through the supply of a large community of similar people that Clubs are maintained in their excellence with us.

For the success of a Club you need a number of men perfectly incapable of all life save such as the Club supplies; who repair to the Club, not alone to dine and smoke and sup, and read their paper, but to interchange thought in that blended half-confidence that the Club imparts; to hear the gossip of the day told in the spirit of men of their own leanings; to ascertain what judgments are passed on public events and public characters by the people they like to agree with;–in fact, to give a sort of familiar domestic tone to intercourse, suggesting the notion that the Club is a species of sanctuary where men can talk at their ease. The men who furnish this category with us are neither young nor old, they are the middle-aged, retaining some of the spring and elasticity of youth, but far more inclining to the solidity of riper years. If they frequent the Opera, it is to a stall, not to the coulisses, they go. They are more critical than they used to be about their dinners, and they have a tendency to mix seltzer with their champagne. They have reached that bourne in which egotism has become an institution; and by the transference of its working to the Club, they accomplish that marvellous creation by which each man sees himself and his ways and his wants and his instincts reflected in a thousand varied shapes.