Friday, February 1, 2013

The Society of Eccentrics

Heroes of the Regency always belong to clubs--generally to White's or Brooks' or Boodle's. In past blogs, I have mentioned other societies that they might have joined: The Sublime Society of Beef-steaks, The Four in Hand Club, The Outinian Society. I have just discovered a hugely popular club which I think any Regency hero of substance might have joined--The Society of Eccentrics.

The Society of Eccentrics was an offshoot of an 18th century group of Whig debaters called The Brilliants. The Eccentrics were a completely separate group by 1800 and, by 1803, were burgeoning in popularity. They met, at least for part of their tenure, in the Sunderland Arms Inn, in Great May's Building, St. Martin's Lane.
from The English Spy by Bernard Blackmantle 1825
Our usual understanding of the word eccentric is of someone well outside the norms of human conduct, someone influenced by belief, mental instability, or habit into 'unusual' behaviour.
A gentleman of eccentric personal habits
The Society of Eccentrics however was a group of men who simply felt themselves outside the common mold. They were men of intelligence, wit, and standing (whatever class they were deemed to represent). They believed in religious and political impartiality, and were particularly known for charitable works.
A lady of religious eccentricity

In the Covent-Garden Journal, which was published as an account of the price riots or 1809 at the Covent-Garden Theatre, the Society of Eccentrics is listed as pledging 5£ 5s for the assistance of persons unjustly prosecuted by the proprietors of the theatre.

A lady of mental eccentricity (?)
The gentlemen of the Society of Eccentrics were most unlike the eccentrics illustrated here (although Lord Alvanley was probably a member). They were politicians, aristocrats, scientists, dramatists and actors, authors, inventors, merchants and traders; diligent men, and successful.
The Eccentric Club promotes “Good Fellowship” and “True Sociality” – “virtues which are now getting rare and eccentric; but which it is the wish and intent of this Society to cherish within their narrow circle to the utmost of their power... in the occasional enjoyment of ‘The feast of reason and the flow of soul’” (The Eccentric Society Rules and Regulations, 1808)

An author of eccentric work
The Eccentric Club still exists. The Regency club here discussed was dissolved in 1846. There was some activity in the 1850's and 60's but the club was more formally reinstated in 1890 and continued in one form or another for nearly one hundred years. In the 1980s it was liquidated but rose again in 2007. You can visit it at The Eccentric Club -

I can imagine Heyer's Lord Alverstoke, Mr. Beaumaris, and Lord Worth belonging to the Society of Eccentrics. My own heroes--Lord Stadbroke, the Earl of Torgreave and Bennet Kelmarsh among them--would certainly have signed on. Which of your favourite Regency heroes do you think would have joined such an urbane and enigmatic group?

'Til next time,


Anne Gallagher said...

I think my latest hero, the Earl of Bailey, might have belonged, but he was a pompous scholar and may not have appreciated them. Although, he might have found he liked to engage in a lively round of sarcastic repartee. IF anyone could have kept up with him. lol

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

I'll have to check out your Earl; it sounds like he might have fit right in with the Eccentrics!