Daniel Defoe was best known as a writer and his primary social networks grew out of his intense engagement with the print trade. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Defoe’s sociability relied much less on interpersonal ties of family, friendship, religion or civic obligation.
A well-travelled man, Francis Dashwood, 11th Baron le Despencer, was a founding member of the Dilettanti and the Divan Club, and a vital contributor to the proliferation of neo-classicism in eighteenth-century London. He is best known for inciting the lurid imagination of Grub Street through the creation of the Brotherhood of St. Francis, a secret society which has since come to be known as the Hell-fire Club.
The eighteenth century saw a proliferation of so-called Hell-fire Clubs, the members of which were invariably accused by society of promoting heavy drinking, sexual license, blasphemy, and Satanism, even if reality differed considerably from club to club.
John Thelwall was an orator, journalist, poet, and elocutionist, who remains best-known for being the subject of a Treason Trial in 1794, and for his involvement in radical groups such as the London Corresponding Society in which he helped to forge a new model of political sociability.
The Kit-Cat Club (c.1690s-c.1720) was one of the earliest and most influential London gentlemen’s dining clubs. It kickstarted the English craze for eighteenth century clubbing and was the first to turn membership into a social credential. With members drawn exclusively from one Whig faction, yet with foundations in the literary world, it became a hub of patronage along lines of intellectual friendship rather than kinship, an informal venue of political opposition, and a prototype for Dr Johnson’s Club, among many others.
Laclos embodied all forms of eighteenth-century sociability. He was a Freemason and regular visitor to the clubs and salons of the revolutionary period. Finding his military career unrewarding, he became politically active alongside Philippe d’Orléans and participated in the debates of his time through his writing. His epistolary Les liaisons dangereuses, which was based on Richardson’s Clarissa, was his ‘unique book’. More radical than its English model, it called into question a whole sociability that had descended into libertinism. The work simultaneously marked the pinnacle and dissolution of the epistolary novel, the symbol of sociable exchange.