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Ben, seems not to have surpassed that of the Beef-Steaks in degree and quality.
What things have we seen
Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been So nimble and so full of subtle flame,
As if that every one from whence they came
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
And had resolved to live a fool the rest
Of his dull life; then, where there hath been thrown
Wit able enough to justify the town
For three days past; wit that might warrant be
For the whole city to talk foolishly.
Nor is the history of the Beef-Steaks less re
markable than its spirit and character. Henry Rich was the founder. A word or two of this
same Rich. He had the glory of first introducing Harlequin on our stage, and he played the part under the assumed name of Lun. All theatrical tradition bears testimony to his unequalled powers of gesticulation. He was, in one word, a finished mime. As his genius lay chiefly in pantomime, he devoted his time to the perfecting that branch of the drama, first at the little theatre in Lincoln's Inn, afterwards at Covent Garden, of which he became the manager. In the character of Harlequin, his signs and gestures are
said to have been as eloquent as words. Garrick, who attempted, after Rich's death, the Irish experiment of a speaking pantomime, thus alludes to Rich in a prologue :
When Lun appeared, with matchless art and whim,
It was in the year 1735, that Rich was so industriously employed in this motley species of amusement. But he paid particular attention to the promptitude and certainty of the mechanism, on which the delightful vicissitude of the whole world of pantomime mainly depends; and to be quite assured of the effect, he painted on a smaller scale, in pasteboard, the scenes and contrivances afterwards exhibited on the stage. His ingenious models thus became a microcosm of those pleasing spectacles that gave our forefathers that honest John Bull-like delight, which the degeneraté pantomimes of the modern theatre cannot administer. But pantomime then had a truer relish of its Italian origin; and, under Rich's le
gislation, every thing was severely regulated. The clown, or Gracioso, was not permitted to do more than was set down for him. Gratuitous grins, superfluous tumbles, extempore kicks were subject to green-room penalties. Even Harlequin was restricted from those supplementary capers, those appoggiaturas of the feet, which he is too prone to indulge. The poetry of the heels was strictly regulated. Hence, in Rich's time, the perfection of those farces which are said to have breathed a festive atmosphere all around.
How I envy the generation who saw those jubilees of fun! That generation has, indeed, long mouldered in the grave; but fancy cannot help picturing the infantine and chubby faces of our ancestors, mantling with joy and merriment, and my young masters in full-drest suits, shaking their sides in the general diapason of laugh, that ran through the whole play-house, to the no small jeopardy of the unnatural load of peruke, which the tyranny of fashion inflicted on the heads.
Whilst Rich was thus employed, his atelier, a small room in the theatre, was almost as much frequented as Canova's or Thorwaldsen's
in our days. Every one seemed anxious to be admitted, to see him at his interesting labours. Amongst these were several men of rank and wit; for Rich's colloquial oddities were much relished. The celebrated Lord Peterborough, then somewhat advanced in years, Hogarth, Sir James Thornhill, &c. &c. were of the number. At these visits, he never intermitted his labours, nor his strain of facetious remark. Upon one occasion, accident having detained the Earl's coach later than usual, he found Rich's chit-chat so agreeable, that he was quite unconscious that it was two in the afternoon; when he observed the man of pantomime spreading a cloth, then coaxing his fire into a clear culinary flame, and proceeding with great gravity to cook his own beefsteak on his own gridiron. The steak sent up a most inviting incense, and my Lord could not resist Rich's invitation, to partake of it. A further supply was sent for; and a bottle or two of excellent wine from a neighbouring tavern, prolonged their discourse to a late hour. But so delighted was the old peer with his entertainment, that, on going away, he proposed renewing
it at the same place and hour on the Saturday following. He was punctual to his engagement, and brought with him three or four friends, "men of wit and pleasure about town," as Mr. Bayes would call them and so truly festive was the meeting, that it was proposed that a Saturday's club should be held there, whilst the town remained full.
A sumptuary law, even at this early period of the Society, restricted the bill of fare to beefsteaks, and the beverage to port wine and punch.
Thus the corner-stone of the Sublime Society was laid. But the original gridiron upon which Rich had broiled his solitary steak, being insufficient in a short time for the supernumerary worshippers in the temple of Beef and Liberty, the relic was enshrined as one of the tutelary and household divinities of the Club. Fortunately, it escaped the fire which consumed Covent Garden a few years since, and now presents itself, encircled with its motto, and suspended from the ceiling to every eye, which can spare a wandering glance from the beef-steak smoking before it. Nor is there any doubt that the religio loci, the