a waxworks sculpture of The Literary Club

Here we are at the former site of Turk’s Head, the meeting place of the famous, though blandly named, Literary Club! There were many locations associated with the Turk’s Head, including the original Change Alley building, but the most famous was here, on Gerrard Street in Soho. In 1783, that location closed, having been the home of several literary clubs, including the Turk’s Head Society.1 But by far the most famous of the literary clubs which met in Turk’s Head, as well as the most famous of the many literary clubs Johnson established, was The Literary Club.

The Literary Club, also known simply as “The Club,” was founded by Samuel Johnson and Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1764. For years, they met on Tuesday’s at seven in the Turk’s Head. After eight years, they changed the day to Friday and soon after that altered the weekly supper to a biweekly dinner during the sitting of Parliament. After the Turk’s Head closed, they moved the location frequently, from Prince’s to Baxter’s and so on. The Club began with twelve members (listed at the right) but by 1780 they made a rule that their current number, forty, could not be exceeded.2 By then, they had acquired James Boswell, David Garrick and other literary Londoners. Admittance into the club, even when it became very large, was difficult, and Boswell, with typical

Original Members of the Literary Club
Dr Samuel Johnson
Sir Joshua Reynolds
Mr Edmund Burke
Dr Christopher Nugent
Mr Topham Beauclerk
Mr Bennet Langton
Dr Oliver Goldsmith
Mr Anthony Chamier
Sir John Hawkins

nervousness, relates his agonies of waiting for his fate to be decided.3 Garrick was admitted with difficulty, as Johnson was initially opposed to him. Garrick had spoken too casually of joining The Club, a comment Sir Joshua related to Johnson, who was insulted by Garrick’s insolence, though they were later reconciled.4

If membership was difficult to obtain, respect once a member was not guaranteed. The purpose of the club was for an open display of wit, and Johnson in particular had no scruples in demonstrating his verbal dexterity at the sake of someone else. When Goldsmith, the butt of everyone’s joke, suggested expanding the club’s membership, as they all talked together so much “there can now be nothing new among us: we have traveled over one another’s minds. Johnson seemed a little angry, and said, ‘Sir, you have not traveled over my mind, I promise you.’”.5