Ever since Dr Samuel Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke and six other friends first gathered one evening in 1764 at the Turk's Head Inn, Gerard Street, for a convivial meal and intelligent conversation, "the Club" which emerged from their fraternal deliberations has included some of the most gifted and entertaining men in English letters.
Though marked by a typically English conviviality, the Club was inspired by the Académie Française, which had also led to the creation of William Shipley's Royal Society of Arts in 1754. It was marked by Burke's taste for lively philosophical and political discussion; this had already spawned the oldest student debating association in the world, 'Edmund Burke's Club', while Burke was still an undergraduate at Trinity College Dublin back in 1747. (That particular club, amalgamated with the College History Society in 1770, still exists today.)
The two main characteristics required of members have always been preeminence and clubability. Bishop Thomas Percy claimed that Johnson had intended the Club "should consist of such men, as that if only two of them chanced to meet, they should be able to entertain each other without wanting the addition of more company to pass the evening agreeably," while a later member, Charles Burney, claimed - rather grandly - that the Club ought to be "composed of the heads of every liberal and literary profession" and "have somebody to refer to in our doubts and discussions, by whose science we might be enlightened."
The original group would meet once a week for supper and debate at the Turk's Head tavern, often discussing and carousing into the early hours. The original nine quickly expanded to a membership of 12, 16 and then 21, much to Johnson's distaste. By 1783 the number had risen again to 35, including several Whig politicians, and Johnson and other older members began to attend dinners less frequently.
Extremely successful and increasingly frequented by politicians through the 18th and 19th centuries, the Club disappeared from public view in the 1970s only to be revived in 1997 on the 200th anniversary of the death of Edmund Burke, and the 250th anniversary of the original 'Edmund Burke's Club' in Dublin. Since then the refounded Club, under the proud banner of Edmund Burke, has been meeting in the Cheshire Cheese public house (which used to serve ales to Dr Johnson) and in various traditional London gentlemen's clubs to which our members also belong.
The private publication in 2014 of tales of "the Club" up to 1984, but quite distinct from our own EBC, goes to show that there are always at least two sides to every story, and in this case, there may be substantially more than two. The Manchester Literary Club was founded on Johnsonian lines in 1862 and met with even more spectacular success than the London branch; in 1879 the Hull Literary Club was founded by men from the Manchester Club. Winston Churchill was turned down for membership of the London Club and so founded "The Other Club" in 1911.... perhaps he started a trend. Johnsonian clubs and Burkean clubs exist, or have existed, in the USA and Australia, often founded by ex-pats who have been members back in the mother country. All we wish to say is that the EBC is the real thing, and that we simply enjoy perpetuating this ancient confraternity and wish all the best to all other men of good will. One can never have too much of a good thing. "Gaudeamus igitur ...!"
Born in Ireland, Edmund Burke rose to prominence as a Whig MP. He championed the idea that politicans ought to govern according to the natural law and not according to their own self interest. He was a critic of the excesses of the French Revolution.
"To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting."
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
In their generation, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr Samuel Johnson held uncontested sway over English Arts and Letters. With their friend Edmund Burke and others they founded "the Club" as a weekly, then fortnightly gathering of men of letters in London.
Johnson, famous for his Dictionary of the English language, was immortalised by the biography written his young friend Boswell, and in several famous paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
"If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself alone. A man should keep his friendships in constant repair. " Dr Samuel Johnson.
Regular dinner meetings in convivial clubs and pubs in central London. Details are circulated to all members. Each meeting usually includes speeches, readings and conversation, as well as real ales or fine wines with hearty English fare.
We facilitate research projects of interest to our members especially in the fields of history, literature, education and politics.
The Club Committee is currently exploring the possibility of securing a modest but central property in London for the creation of a permanent base for the Club and its members to enjoy. In the meantime, we rely on the generous hospitality of other Clubs.
Copyright © 1997-2019, Edmund Burke Club - All Rights Reserved.