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Ivy Lane Club [Rambler Club] (act. 1748/9–1753x6) was the earliest recorded of several clubs centred upon Samuel Johnson. It was founded in the winter of 1748–9 when he and nine friends began to meet regularly every Tuesday evening for supper, conversation, and wine, or in Johnson's case lemonade, at the King's Head, a beefsteak house kept by one Horseman in Ivy Lane, between Paternoster Row and Newgate Street. The members of what came to be called the Ivy Lane Club, or the Rambler Club, were Edmund Barker, Richard Bathurst, William McGhie (d. 1756), Samuel Dyer, John Hawkesworth, John Hawkins, John Payne, John Ryland, and the Revd Dr Samuel Salter. Barker, Bathurst, and McGhie were young impecunious physicians with literary ambitions; Dyer, another youngster, possessed an erudition that even Johnson respected highly but was idle; Payne, a bookseller, Ryland, a merchant, and Hawkins, an attorney, were minor writers; Hawkesworth was an established journalist who had succeeded Johnson as Edward Cave's chief assistant on the Gentleman's Magazine; Salter was archdeacon of Norfolk, though a family quarrel had compelled him to move from Norwich to London. All were in their twenties or thirties except Salter who was seventy. All were professional men with a common interest in literature, science, and learning, and most were writers of some kind or other. None was wealthy (until Hawkins married advantageously in 1753) or eminent; only Johnson and, to a lesser degree, Hawkesworth, and Hawkins would achieve anything of note; the others are remembered only as friends or acquaintances of Johnson.

In 1749 even Johnson was not well known; his evenings as a drawing-room literary lion lay in the future. According to Arthur Murphy, the Ivy Lane Club was ‘the first scene of social life to which Johnson can be traced out of his own house’ (Hill, 388–9), though perhaps this takes no account of the informal socializing in taverns and coffee houses of which most eighteenth-century clubs were a natural outgrowth. At this time Johnson's wife was frequently ill or recuperating in the country; his club provided relaxation, a relief from the fatigue of compiling his Dictionary, and a cure for his melancholy. ‘Thither he constantly resorted, and, with a disposition to please and be pleased, would pass those hours in a free and unrestrained interchange of sentiments, which otherwise had been spent at home in painful reflection’ (Hawkins, 219–20); ‘… his habitual melancholy and lassitude of spirit gave way; his countenance brightened; his mind was made to expand, and his wit to sparkle: he told excellent stories; and in his didactic stile of conversation, both instructed and delighted us’ (ibid., 250). A contemporary wrote that Hawkesworth ‘generally attended the Rambler's weekly club, from which if any man departed without being wiser and better it certainly must have been his own fault’ (Clifford, 43–4). ‘Rambler's’ club recognizes Johnson's primacy as well as the circumstance that his The Rambler (1750–52), published by Payne, was written during the lifetime of the club. Its sequel, The Adventurer (1752–4), edited by Hawkesworth, with contributions from Johnson and also published by Payne, was conceived at the club.

The club's rules, if any, are untraced. Most of what little is known comes from Hawkins, who provides some general sense of the variety and vigour of their talk, dominated as it was by the learning, wit, and intellectual dexterity of Johnson; but, writing nearly forty years after the event, Hawkins does not detail the topics of their conversation. He records specifically only two meetings. One was in December 1749 when members inspected proof sheets of William Lauder's Essay on Milton's Use and Imitation of the Moderns, a work soon exposed as a forgery to the embarrassment of Payne, its publisher, and Johnson, initially its sponsor, who thereupon enforced and penned Lauder's confession. The other meeting was in the following year when, at Johnson's bidding, the club celebrated the completion of Charlotte Lennox's first novel, The Life of Harriet Stuart, published by Payne in December 1750. Members gathered at the Devil tavern with the Lennoxes and other guests; there was an elegant supper which included a magnificent hot apple pie stuck with bay leaves; Johnson placed a crown of laurel on Mrs Lennox's head; and conversation and mirth continued until dawn. There is no other record of women guests at any of Johnson's clubs.

Hawkins states that the club broke up about 1756, by which time McGhie and Salter were dead, Barker had left London, Hawkesworth was forming new connections, and Hawkins, now married, was disinclined to spend evenings from home (Hawkins, 360), but Johnson implies that its dissolution was as early as 1753 (Letters of Samuel Johnson, 4.259). Hawkins and Dyer later joined the more famous and successful Club or Literary Club and, later still, Ryland joined Johnson's Essex Head Club. In December 1783 the surviving former Ivy Lane Club members, Hawkins, Payne, and Ryland, attended a nostalgic dinner arranged by Johnson. ‘At ten, we broke up, much to the regret of Johnson, who proposed staying; but finding us inclined to separate, he left us, with a sigh that seemed to come from his heart’ (Hawkins, 562).

Oddly enough, when Oliver Goldsmith in 1759 published ‘A description of various clubs’ in The Busy Body (13 Oct 1759), he made Ivy Lane the current location of the Hum-Drum Club, conceived by Joseph Addison in The Spectator (no. 9, 10 March 1711), whose members remained silent all evening. If Goldsmith had heard about Johnson's Ivy Lane Club this could have been a joke at the expense of the celebrated conversationalist soon to be his friend.

James Sambrook


J. Hawkins, The life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1787) · The letters of Samuel Johnson, ed. B. Redford, 5 vols. (1992–4), vol. 4 · J. L. Clifford, Dictionary Johnson: Samuel Johnson's middle years (1979), 29–44 · L. M. Knapp, Tobias Smollett: doctor of men and manners (1949), 80–82 · ‘Memoirs of the life of Dr John Hawkesworth’, Universal Magazine, 111 (1802), 234 · Nichols, Lit. anecdotes, 9.500–502 · G. B. Hill, Johnsonian miscellanies (1897), 388–90, 394 · ‘The pre-publication history of William Lauder's Essay on Milton's use and imitation of the moderns’, Papers of the Bibliographic Society of America, 72 (1978), 56 · Collected works of Oliver Goldsmith, ed. A. Friedman, 5 vols. (1966), vol. 3, p. 6