This afternoon we have been thinking how pleasant it would be to sit at one of those cool tables up at McSorley’s and write our copy there. We have always been greatly allured by Dick Steele’s habit of writing his Tatler at his favourite tavern. You remember his announcement, dated April 12, 1709:
All accounts of gallantry, pleasure, and entertainment, shall be under the article of White’s Chocolate-house; poetry, under that of Will’s Coffee-house; learning, under the title of The Grecian; foreign and domestic news, you will have from Saint James’s Coffee-house; and what else I have to offer on any other subject shall be dated from my own apartment.
Sir Dick—would one speak of him as the first colyumist?—continued by making what is, we suppose, one of the earliest references in literature to the newspaper man’s “expense account.” But the expenses of the reporter two centuries ago seem rather modest. Steele said:
I once more desire my reader to consider that as I cannot keep an ingenious man to go daily to Will’s under twopence each day, merely for his charges; to White’s under sixpence; nor to The Grecian, without allowing him some plain Spanish, to be as able as others at the learned table; and that a good observer cannot speak with even Kidney[*] at Saint James’s without clean linen: I say, these considerations will, I hope, make all persons willing to comply with my humble request of a penny-a-piece.
[* Evidently the bus boy.]
But what we started to say was that if, like Dick Steele, we were in the habit of dating our stuff from various inns around the town, our choice for a quiet place in which to compose items of “gallantry, pleasure, and entertainment” would be McSorley’s—“The Old House at Home”—up on Seventh Street. We had feared that this famous old cabin of cheer might have gone west in the recent evaporation; but rambling round in the neighbourhood of the Cooper Union we saw its familiar doorway with a shock of glad surprise. After all, there is no reason why the old-established houses should not go on doing a good business on a Volstead basis. It has never been so much a question of what a man drinks as the atmosphere in which he drinks it. Atrocious cleanliness and glitter and raw naked marble make the soda fountains a disheartening place to the average male. He likes a dark, low-ceilinged, and not too obtrusively sanitary place to take his ease. At McSorley’s is everything that the innocent fugitive from the world requires. The great amiable cats that purr in the back room. The old pictures and playbills on the walls. The ancient clocks that hoarsely twang the hours. We cannot imagine a happier place to sit down with a pad of paper and a well-sharpened pencil than at that table in the corner by the window. Or the table just under that really lovely little