Scriblerus Club (1770)

Goldsmith, Oliver
Charles Wild, ‘St James's Palace: The north front‘, Royal Collection, RCIN 922161, 1819.


"But in the connexion of wits, interest has generally very little share; they have only pleasure in view, and can seldom find it but among each other. The Scribblerus club, when the members were in town, were seldom asunder, and they often made excursions together into the country, and generally on foot."


The above-named, together with Swift and Parnell, had sometime before formed themselves into a society, called the Scribblerus Club, and I should suppose they commemorated him thus, as being an absent member.

It is past a doubt that they wrote many things in conjunction, and Gay usually held the pen. And yet I don't remember any pro|ductions which were the joint effort of this society, as doing it honour. There is some|thing feeble and queint in all their attempts, as if company repressed thought, and genius wanted solitude for its boldest and happiest ex|ertions. Of those productions in which Parnell had a principal share, that of the Origin of the Sciences from the Monkies in Ethiopia, is par|ticularly  mentioned by Pope himself, in some manuscript anecdotes which he left behind him. The Life of Homer also, prefixed to the translation of the Iliad, is written by Parnell and corrected by Pope; and as that great poet assures us in the same place, this correction was not effected without great labour. It is still stiff, says he, and was written still stiffer, as it is, I verily think it cost me more pains in the correcting, than the writing it would have done. All this may be easily credited; for every thing of Parnell's, that has appeared in prose, is written in a very aukward inelegant manner. It is true, his productions teem with imagination, and shew great learning, but they want that ease and sweetness for which his poetry is so much admired, and the language is also most shamefully incorrect. Yet, tho' all this must be allowed, Pope should have taken care not to leave his errors upon record against him, or put it in the power of envy to tax his friend with faults that do not appear in what he has left to the world. A poet has a right to expect  the same secrecy in his friend as in his confessor; the sins he discovers are not divulged for punishment but pardon. Indeed Pope is almost inexcusable in this instance, as what he seems to condemn in one place, he very much applauds in another. In one of the let|ters from him to Parnell, abovementioned, he treats the Life of Homer with much greater respect, and seems to say, that the prose is excellent in its kind. It must be confessed however, that he is by no means inconsistent; what he says in both places may very easily be reconciled to truth, but who can defend his candour and his sincerity.

It would be hard, however, to suppose that there was no real friendship between these great men. The benevolence of Parnell's disposition remains unimpeached; and Pope, tho' subject to starts of passion and envy, yet never missed an opportunity of being truly serviceable to him. The commerce between them was carried on to the common interest of both.  When Pope had a miscellany to publish, he ap|plied to Parnell for poetical assistance, and the latter as implicitly submitted to him for correction. Thus they mutually advanced each other's interest or fame, and grew stronger by conjunction. Nor was Pope the only person to whom Parnell had recourse for assistance. We learn from Swift's letters to Stella, that he submitted his pieces to all his friends, and readily adopted their alterations. Swift, among the number, was very useful to him in that particular; and care has been taken that the world should not remain ignorant of the obligation.

But in the connexion of wits, interest has generally very little share; they have only pleasure in view, and can seldom find it but among each other. The Scribblerus club, when the members were in town, were seldom asunder, and they often made excursions together into the country, and generally on foot. Swift was usually the butt of the company, and if a  trick was played, he was always the sufferer. The whole party once agreed to walk down to the house of Lord B—, who is still living, and whose seat is about twelve miles from town. As every one agreed to make the best of his way, Swift, who was remarkable for walking, soon left all the rest behind him, fully resolved, upon his arrival, to chuse the very best bed for himself, for that was his custom. In the mean time Parnell was de|termined to prevent his intentions, and taking horse, arrived at Lord B—'s, by another way, long before him. Having apprized his lordship of Swift's design, it was resolved at any rate to keep him out of the house, but how to effect this was the question. Swift never had the small-pox, and was very much afraid of catching it: as soon therefore as he appear|ed striding along at some distance from the house, one of his lordship's servants was dis|patched, to inform him, that the small-pox was then making great ravages in the family, but that there was a summer-house with a  field-bed at his service, at the end of the gar|den. There the disappointed Dean was obliged to retire, and take a cold supper that was sent out to him, while the rest were feast|ing within. However, at last, they took com|passion on him; and upon his promising never to chuse the best bed again, they permitted him to make one of the company,

There is something satisfactory in these ac|counts of the follies of the wise, they give a natural air to the picture, and reconcile us to our own. There have been few poetical so|cieties, more talked of, or productive of a greater variety of whimsical conceits than this of the Scriblerus club, but how long it lasted I cannot exactly determine.


The life of Thomas Parnell: D.D. Archdeacon of Clogher. Compiled from original papers and memoirs: in which are included several letters of Mr. Pope, Mr. Gay, Dr. Arbuthnot, &c. &c. By Dr. Goldsmith. London: printed for T. Davies, 1770, p. 32-37. Full text from ECCO TCP.