The Daily Graphic, Thursday 15th December 1892, devoted its front page to the Johnson Club’s commemorative supper at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese tavern off Fleet Street.
Tuesday 13 December was the 108th anniversary of Dr Johnson’s death. A brief text relates, ‘The rules of the club do not admit of any reporter being present at their meetings, but our artist was permitted to record as much as he could see through the smoke over the punch bowl.’
The presiding Prior claimed there was no record of Dr Johnson visiting the Cheshire Cheese, ‘but an eloquent gentleman present, an Irish ex-M.P., pointed out that when Dr. Johnson acted on his famous suggestion, “Let us take a walk down Fleet Street”, the Cheshire Cheese must of necessity have been included among his places of call.’
The detailed illustration depicts a candle-lit, smoke-filled room. A portrait of Dr Johnson on the far wall, the steak pudding encased in a huge basin, the claret punch bowl with its long-tailed silver spoon and the steaming thick glasses enhance the mood. Some of the Brethren, a band of brothers, are smoking the traditional eighteenth century churchwarden long clay pipes.
There were thirty-one members in the club. Just fifteen have been sketched and named. Mr Augustine Birrell, Ireland’s Chief Secretary (1907-1916), and Mr John O’Connor (Long John six foot six of treason felony), a leading member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, are flanking and almost aligned with a grey-haired, bearded man who has his back to the artist. He is smoking a cigar, left hand to his brow, a thinker.* Towards the centre of the web, he remains anonymous.
The Johnsonians were in particularly good spirits. The Liberal party was back in government and Gladstone was poised to introduce the Second Home Rule Bill 13 February 1893, O’Connor Power’s forty-seventh birthday.
See That Irishman, Part Three, At Large. See also Post, Selected Writings, FEBRUARY 13TH 1893, pp. 167-169. Available to download.
*”The traveller at once raised his left hand to his left eyebrow.’ Arthur Conan Doyle, The Valley of Fear, Part Two. A Fenian salute, an inversion of the military salute. John McMurdo/ Birdie Edwards/Jack Douglas was a cigar smoker.
The artist was F Carruthers Gould, Prior of the Johnson Club in 1890, ‘He has also sometimes used a pencil for our amusement and gratification.’
The image is available to view at Post February 6, 2017, ‘The Johnson Club, December 13, 1892.’