The Kit-Cat Club: Friends Who Imagined a Nation
Ophelia Field

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The Kit-Cat Club: Friends Who Imagined a Nation
Ophelia Field

The fascinating history of the male-only members of the Kit-Cat Club, the unofficial centre of Whig power in 17th century Britain, and home to the greatest political and artistic thinkers of a generation.The Kit-Cat Club was founded in the late 1690s when London bookseller Jacob Tonson forged a partnership with pie-maker Christopher (Kit) Cat. What began as an eccentric publishing rights deal – Tonson paying to feed talented young writers and receiving first option on their works – developed into a unique gathering of intellects and interests, then into an unofficial centre of Whig power during the reigns of William & Mary, Anne and George I.With consummate skill, Ophelia Field portrays this formative period in British history through the club's intimate lens. She describes the vicious Tory-Whig 'paper wars' and the mechanics of aristocratic patronage, the London theatre world and its battles over sexual morality, England's Union with Scotland and the hurly-burly of Westminster politics.Among the club's most prominent members were William Congreve, one of Britain's greatest playwrights; Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, authors of the Tatler and Spectator, who raised English prose to new heights; and John Vanbrugh, a versatile genius whose architecture remains some of the most ambitious in Britain.Field expertly unravels the rivalry, friendships and fortunes lost and found through the club, interspersed with vivid descriptions of its alcohol-fuelled, all-male meetings. Tracing the Kit-Cat Club's far-reaching influence for the first time, this group biography illuminates a period when the British were searching for, and just beginning to find, a new national identity.


The Kit-Cat Club

To Paul, and the other members of the Second Hungarian Literary Society

All the good talk over the pies and wine, Congreve's wit, Wharton's fascinating impudence, and Addison's quiet humour, is lost forever without record. The Kit-Cat had no Boswell.

G. M. TREVELYAN, The Times, 10 March 1945

Persons in great Station have seldom their true Characters drawn till several Years after their Deaths. Their personal Friendships and Enmities must cease, and the Parties they were engaged in be at an end…[I]f an English Man considers the great Ferment into which our Political World is thrown at present, and how intensively it is heated in all its parts, he cannot suppose that it will cool again in less than three hundred Years.

JOSEPH ADDISON, The Spectator, no. 101, 25 June 1711

Remember that a free State is only a more numerous and more powerful Club…

SIR WILLIAM JONES, The Principles of Government, in a Dialogue between a Scholar and a Peasant, 1783

Table of Contents

Epigraph (#u1d173610-7048-5038-b0c4-8800a09ea27e)

Preface (#ue961accc-97c8-56bf-8757-144574ba0a2e)

Prologue - Dryden's Funeral, May 1700 (#ub88131e2-b7d8-5adf-8293-97738bfcf442)

Chapter I - Self-Made Men (#u0c719119-c3ec-54ea-9806-87708c5f6383)

Chapter II - Friendships Formed (#u7873827c-11b7-5ea9-99f0-1b5a36e16013)

Chapter III - The Scent of the Pie-Oven (#u75c4bec1-3df0-54c6-a12e-640e88ec3275)

Chapter IV - The Toast of the Town: A Kit-Cat Meeting, 1697 (#u5eca19a5-d35a-5131-9d39-6a7d3ec40fde)

Chapter V - Culture Wars (#ue58d7cd6-7a82-5d77-a43b-28c3cd77ffc6)

Chapter VI - The Europeans (#ufa6afd2e-4970-5d66-b9fd-0c8475569d36)

Chapter VII - The Whigs Go to War (#ue72bfe04-519a-5a18-8ee8-55b5e33b3fbc)

Chapter VIII - Kit-Cat Connoisseurs (#ub5008ff2-4a46-5495-838a-f5c76e6d7c13)

Chapter IX - By Several Hands (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter X - The Comeback Kits (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter XI - Uneasy Unions: 1707 (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter XII - Beset (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter XIII - Ireland: Kit-Cat Colony (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter XIV - The Monopoly Broken: Whig Downfall (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter XV - In Their Own Image (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter XVI - The Crisis (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter XVII - Big Whigs: The First Georgians (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter XVIII - Paradise Lost (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter XIX - The End of the Club (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter XX - Later Clubs and Kit-Cats (#litres_trial_promo)

Epilogue - Legacies (#litres_trial_promo)

Notes (#litres_trial_promo)

Bibliography (#litres_trial_promo)

List of Members (#litres_trial_promo)

Index (#litres_trial_promo)

Acknowledgements (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

From the reviews of The Kit-Cat Club (#litres_trial_promo)

By the Same Author (#litres_trial_promo)

Copyright (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)

A detailed chronology and other additional material may be found at

PREFACE (#u5ac7c94c-4115-5756-8b1e-ab78272cabba)

THE KIT-CAT CLUB existed at a pivotal point in British history, and its members participated prominently in the cultural, constitutional and social revolutions of their times. The Kit-Cat Club's story can therefore be read as a study of how the political stability Britain experienced after 1720 was constructed and defended from the 1690s onwards. For over twenty years—from the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution in 1688, through two long and expensive wars against Catholic France, into the reign of George I after 1714—nearly all roads in British politics and culture led through the Kit-Cat Club, or took their direction in opposition to it.

That is the most objective explanation of why I wanted to write the first full biography of the Kit-Cat Club, but there were other reasons. This is, above all, a book about friendship. Having previously written on a female friendship in the early eighteenth century—the relationship between Queen Anne and her favourite, Sarah Churchill—I wanted to examine the more reticent but equally powerful male friendships of the same period. I was also interested in universal questions of how much we should be in business for ourselves, or how far we should be prepared to broker favours for friends, and nothing could better dramatize these dilemmas than the Kit-Cats' relationships with one another.
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