"There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere."
– The Greek Interpreter
Mycroft Holmes was the perfect misanthrope. Another generation would probably have called him a geek. That Sherlock's elder, and even more brilliant, but highly sedentary, brother should have founded the Diogenes Club was one of Arthur Conan Doyle's finest jokes. A club for the unclubbable. In late Victorian Britain virtually every gentleman belonged to a club. They were as much a part of the cultural ether as a shopping mall is today. The reactionary, among whom we count many of our readers, will mark this as further evidence of the decline of civilization.
If the behaviour of Bertie Wooster at the Drones was perhaps not much better than that of modern teenagers at the cineplex, at least the former was better dressed and had instinctive respect for authority. Aunt Agatha would probably have gotten a cap popped into her by a modern day Bertie. "You want me to marry who? Take that biach." A club was where gentlemen, raised in the all male world of the boarding school and university college, "hung out." At White's the Tories were Tory together. At Brook's the Whigs complained to each that whatever was, was wrong and needed to be changed. The Athenaeum Club had Darwin and Dickens on their waiting list, until financial necessity forced their admittance. There was a club for every type of gentlemen. The thing was that one had to be a gentleman. A man of some substance, manners and property. More than the merely rich, one had to have the bearing and grace. That some fell short, and earned the mockery of writers from Wodehouse onward, doesn't detract from an ideal they tried to uphold.
By way of a reader - some time back I should add - I have come across this press release from Melbourne's Kelvin Club. By all accounts this is a respectable gentleman's club of the old school. The press release, as such, was just a little jarring:
“In contrast to the now defunct Naval and Military Club, or the privatised hotel approach of the RACV, the Kelvin Club at Melbourne Place is embracing the modern club model. We are already attracting city residents and workers who are looking for a sanctuary in an increasingly crowded and noisy Melbourne city.”
“As well as martinis and cigars the Club holds fashion shows, trivia nights, regular Salons to discuss politics, the arts and business. There are jazz nights, poker games, opera and music recitals, international cuisine dinners and much more.”
Trivia nights. Surely. The toffs at White's and Brook's did decadence properly. Vast sums wagered on which rain drop would fall first, that sort of thing. What sort of trivia? Rather unlikely will one of the questions be Nelson's last words, or Beau Brummell's famous put down of the Prince Regent - "Alvanley, who's your fat friend?" Reviewing the Kelvin Club's website, there is certain respect for tradition. Service staff are referred to by their first names, members by their surnames. The building seems to have a Georgian facade. It also hosts weddings and receptions.
I'm trying to imagine David Niven hosting his wedding reception at a gentlemen's club. The poker is probably Texas Hold 'em. The opera would seem to be a traditional touch. Not quite. Far too serious for a club. Operetta, perhaps. Some G & S on the piano over port. Later in the evening. Words out of order when doing Three Little Maids. Lastly, a club is for gentlemen. No girls. It's useless to say that's discriminatory, the very nature of clubs is discriminatory. It's to keep other people out. Recognizing that there should be a place for gentlemen to be men is simple, it comes from understanding that the genders are different. Turning a club into a co-ed place to hang out, and have a good meal, defeats the point. A club is not simply for the merely rich, it's about a code. It's about preference and taste. It does not try to be all things to all people, or even all those of a certain demographic. A high-end convention center it is not. As for me, I'll be with Mycroft in the library. Unless he starts coughing again, then I'll have him escorted out.