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Club Bores

The London Club has been sitting in a judicial way on one of its members. This member of the Club seems to have been what Thackeray's waiter called "a harbitrary gent." The servants of the club had to complain that he did not make "their lives so sweet to them that they (the servants) greatly cared to live," if we may parody Arthur's address to his erring queen. The Club has not made a vacancy in its ranks by requesting the arbitrary member to withdraw. But his conduct was deemed, on the report of the Committee, worthy of being considered by the Club. And that is always something. In an age when clubs are really almost universal, most men have had occasion to wish that their society would sit occasionally on some of the members. The member who bullies the servants is a not uncommon specimen of the club-bore. He may be called the bore truculent. He has been excellently caricatured by Thackeray in the "Book of Snobs."

There we have the club-bore who makes such a fuss about his chop, and scolds the waiter so terribly. "Look at it, sir; is it a chop for a gentleman? Smell it, sir; is it fit to put on a club table?" These, or such as these, are the words of the gallant terror of waiters. Now it is clearly unjust to make a waiter responsible for the errors, however grave, of a very different character, the cook. But this mistake the arbitrary gent is continually making. The cook is safe in his inaccessible stronghold, down below. He cannot be paraded for punishment on the quarter-deck, where Captain Bragg, of the Gunboat and Torpedo Club, exercises justice. Therefore the miserable waiter is rebuked in tones of thunder because the Captain's steak is underdone, or because Nature (or the market gardener) has not made the stalks of asparagus so green and succulent as their charming tops. People who do not know the scolding club-bore at home are apt to be thankful that they are not favoured with his intimate acquaintance, and are doubly grateful that they are not members of his family. For if, in a large and quiet room full of strangers, a man can give loose to his temper without provocation, and outroar the thunder, what must this noisy person do at home? "In an English family," says a social critic, "the father is the man who shouts." How the club-bore must shout when he is in his own castle, surrounded only by his trembling kindred and anxious retainers! In his castle there is no one to resist or criticise him--unless indeed his wife happen to be a lady, like Clytemnestra, of masculine resolution. In that case the arbitrary gent may be a father of a family who is not allowed to shout at home, but is obliged to give nature free play by shouting abroad.

There are plenty of other club-bores besides the man who rates these generally affable and well-behaved persons, the club servants. One of the worst is the man whom you never see anywhere except at the club, and whom you never fail to see there. It is bad enough when you have no acquaintance with him. Murders have probably been committed by sensitive persons for no better reason (often for worse reasons) than that they are tired of seeing some one else going about. His voice, his manner, his cough, especially his cough, become unendurable. People who cough in clubs are generally amateurs of the art. They are huskier, more wheezing, more pertinacious in working away at a cough till they have made it a masterpiece than any other mortals. We believe that club Asthmats (it is quite as good a word as "AEsthetes") practise in the Reading Room of the British Museum, where they acquire their extraordinary compass and mastery of various notes. Be this as it may, the cough which drives every one but its owner out of the room (though doubtless an affliction to the proprietor) gives him rank as a club-bore of the finest water. The bore who always enters into conversation, though he has nothing to say, merely because you used to dislike him at school, or college, or elsewhere, is another common annoyance. The man who is engaged, apparently, on a large work, and who rushes about the library hunting for Proclus and Jamblichus when other occupants of the room wish to be quiet, is naturally detested.

Most men are the bores of some other person. People of watchful mind and intelligent habit, who talk in the drawing-room, are regarded as bores by fat old gentlemen who wish to sleep there. And as these gentlemen turn the drawing-room into a dormitory, which resounds with their snoring, they in turn are bores to people who wish to read the papers. But if these students drop the poker with a clang, or dash down small tables in order to waken the sleepers, they, in their turn, give a good deal of annoyance. The man who talks about politics at great length, is only one of the common bores of the world transported into a club. But the man with a voice which in ordinary conversation pierces through all the hum of voices, like a clarion note in battle, would be a bore anywhere. If he were in the wilderness of Sinai, he would annoy the monks in the convent near the top. His voice is one of those terrible, inscrutable scourges of nature, like the earthquake and the mosquito, which tax our poor human wisdom to reconcile with any monistic theory of the benevolent government of the universe. Once admit an evil principle, however, and the thing is clear. The club-bore with the trumpet tones, which he cannot moderate, is possessed, on this theory, by a fiend. As men are talking quietly of turnips in one corner of the room, of rent in another, and of racing in a third, his awful notes blend in from the fourth corner with strident remarks on Bulgarian philology.

The ancient Greeks were well accustomed to club life, for each of their little cities was only a large club. They had, therefore, to deal with the problem of bores. Some of them, consequently, had the institution of annually devoting to the infernal gods the most unpopular citizens. These persons were called catharmata, which may be freely translated "scapegoats." Could not clubs annually devote one or more scapebores to the infernal gods? They might ballot for them, of course, on some merciful and lenient principle. One white ball in ten or twenty-black ones might enable the bore to keep his membership for the next year. The warning, if he only escaped this species of ostracism very narrowly, might do him a great deal of moral good. Of course the process would be unpleasant, but it is seldom agreeable to be done good to. Occasionally even the most good-natured members would stand apart, not voting, or even would place the black ball in the mystic urn. Then the scapebore would have his subscription returned to him, and would be obliged to seek in other haunts servants to swear at, and sofas to snore on. Another suggestion, that members should be balloted for anew every five years, would simply cause clubs to be depopulated. Pall-Mall and St. James's would be desolate, mourning their children, and refusing comfort. The system would act like a proscription. People would give up their friends that they might purchase aid against their enemies. Clubs are more endurable as they are, though members do suffer grievously from the garrulity, the coughs, the slumbrous tendencies, and the temper of their fellow-men.


Andrew Lang