After dinner we retired to another room to take tea and coffee, where we were re-enforced by a cloud of inferior guests. Authors of small volumes in boards, and pamphlets stitched in blue paper. These had not as yet arrived to the importance of a dinner invitation, but were invited occasionally to pass the evening “in a friendly way.” They were very respectful to the partners, and indeed seemed to stand a little in awe of them; but they paid very devoted court to the lady of the house, and were extravagantly fond of the children. I looked round for the poor devil author in the rusty black coat and magnificent frill, but he had disappeared immediately after leaving the table; having a dread, no doubt, of the glaring light of a drawing-room. Finding nothing farther to interest my attention, I took my departure as soon as coffee had been served, leaving the port and the thin, genteel, hot-pressed, octavo gentlemen, masters of the field.
I think it was but the very next evening that in coming out of Covent Garden Theatre with my eccentric friend Buckthorne, he proposed to give me another peep at life and character. Finding me willing for any research of the kind, he took me through a variety of the narrow courts and lanes about Covent Garden, until we stopped before a tavern from which we heard the bursts of merriment of a jovial party. There would be a loud peal of laughter, then an interval, then another peal; as if a prime wag were telling a story. After a little while there was a song, and at the close of each stanza a hearty roar and a vehement thumping on the table.
“This is the place,” whispered Buckthorne. “It is the ’Club of Queer Fellows.’ A great resort of the small wits, third-rate actors, and newspaper critics of the theatres. Any one can go in on paying a shilling at the bar for the use of the club.”
We entered, therefore, without ceremony, and took our seats at a lone table in a dusky corner of the room. The club was assembled round a table, on which stood beverages of various kinds, according to the taste of the individual. The members were a set of queer fellows indeed; but what was my surprise on recognizing in the prime wit of the meeting the poor devil author whom I had remarked at the booksellers’ dinner for his promising face and his complete taciturnity. Matters, however, were entirely changed with him. There he was a mere cypher: here he was lord of the ascendant; the choice spirit, the dominant genius. He sat at the head of the table with his hat on, and an eye beaming even more luminously than his nose. He had a quiz and a fillip for every one, and a good thing on every occasion. Nothing could be said or done without eliciting a spark from him; and I solemnly declare I have heard much worse wit even from noblemen. His jokes, it must be confessed, were rather wet, but they suited the circle in which he presided. The company were in that maudlin mood when a little wit goes a great way. Every time he opened his lips there was sure to be a roar, and sometimes before he had time to speak.