Advice for Establishing a Gentleman’s Society
When forming a gentleman’s society, the first and crucial step is to convince the membership of the club’s vast importance. When members feel their association carries urgent consequence, clubs succeed; lacking such pomposity, they languish and surely die. There are many ways to tackle the problem of fabricating importance, and the skilled clubman will pursue all methods simultaneously. This essay offers the hard-won wisdom of my life among gentlemen’s clubs.
One takes his initial measure at first hearing a club’s name—proudly judging the book by its cover—and only the foolhardy society man neglects this fact. Naming a club is a tender task. A name should stir the blue blood, yet must not overshoot and risk that a spirited fellowship be taken for some quiescent bridge foursome. We need only mention that famously ridiculed group, The Grottington Peers of August Evening, to place the point beyond refute. (Editor’s note: The Grottington Peers of August Evening, a rugby club, was repeatedly mistakenly for a retirement society. On one difficult afternoon in summer ’22, the match was three times interrupted by arrival of emeritus professors from a local university. The Peers afterwards disbanded.)
Thank goodness, there are guideposts through this wilderness. The successful society name depends upon length, consonants, and phrases. Length yields gravitas, and words are added to attain a proud, lumbering, nearly elephantine ponderosity. Second, abundant consonants yield titles that are hard-edged and abrupt. Properly loaded with consonants, a spoken name sounds like chiseling granite. Finally, we append modifying phrases to cultivate opaque exclusivity.
Thus it was, in the spring of ’29, when six friends and I formed a hunt club. We earnestly intended taking up the sport, and three of the boys had even purchased rifles. “The Huntsman” was first suggested, but was discarded as too brief. We next proposed “The Stag and Owl,” it being lengthier and somewhat oblique. Realizing the flaw of the prominent “o” sound in “owl,” we discarded that animal in favor of the consonant-heavy “buck,” which we next amended, in similiar spirit, with “thicket.” We poured brandy and sat a moment, relishing “The Stag, Buck, and Thicket.” Then someone fetched a dictionary and learned that “stag” and “buck” described the same beast. “Stump” was suggested to replace “buck,” but we passed, fearing it carried overtones of idiocy. Instead, we modified “stag” with “rocky cliff” and improved “thicket” with the phrase “of bramble thorns.” Note the spectacular population of hard consonants. Our toils yielded a name that stands among my life’s finest efforts: “The Rocky Cliff Stag and Thicket of Bramble Thorns.”
Selecting a name is the first step toward cultivating importance. Equally vital is the construction of a network of responsibilities for the club population. The goal is to encourage healthy arrogance. It’s fine for a fellow to say, “Yes, I’m a member of The Kettle and Crow,” but any man would rather boast, “Sure, I’m in Kettle and Crow; I’m Secretary of Winter Funds and Chairman of the Maps Committee.”
Only the novice society man permits the volume of club business to dictate creation of positions. An experienced hand follows two axioms: rule of pi and rule of conundrum. The first dictum generates positions by factors of pi. Thus, in a nine-member club, one begins with twenty-eight leadership positions: 9 members x 3.1415 = 28.2725; always round down. If this proves insufficient, apply pi again, yielding sixty positions. Continue until each member possesses ample titles, ranks, and chairmanships to banish all doubt of his vital contributions. By example, I recall my association with Dumpley Hall at Strathmoore-of-the-Bend, a club of hedge maze enthusiasts, with almost six hundred commissions among nineteen of us. My own charges included Director of the Vernal Equinox, Chairman of Fire-Stoking, Secretary of Tides, Register of Hats, Assistant Sharpener of Darts, and Ambassador to the Swiss Au Pair.
This brings us to the second principle in creating positions: the rule of conundrum. Titles are generated with an eye toward baffling every attempt of spouses and in-laws to comprehend what, in the name of holy mercy, transpires during meetings until two AM. I refer to the experience of Edgar von Gulick, a friend whom I sponsored for membership in a billiards fellowship, Dogberry at Tassel Gate. Following his induction, Fritz received (Edgar had been called “Fritz” since birth, honoring a deceased uncle) Fritz received several duties: Head of Raffles, Assistant Scorekeeper, Director of Literary Allusions, and Principal of Bank Holidays. Even with this comparatively mild burden, Fritz easily eluded his prying inquisitors:
Wife, as dessert dishes are cleared from table: Off to the club tonight?
Fritz: Tonight, love, and every Thursday. Won’t be home early, I’m afraid.
Wife: Oh, what’s the agenda?
Fritz: Damned receipts to tally… A bloody mess.
Wife: How’s that?
Fritz: Well, it’s the Chairman of Weights and Measures. The Librarian’s pestering him for recommendations on the Election Board proposal, and, well, that drops it into my lap. Hoped for some calm after finishing with the Foliage Committee, but the Exports Minister had other plans!
Wife refills her coffee cup.
Fritz: Well, I’m off; promised to meet the Herbs Secretary by nine!
Fritz has mystified and silenced his wife of twenty years. When all members cooperate thus to thwart inquests, confusion abounds. If the charade is vigorously maintained, outsiders and members alike will be so baffled by the complexity of club transactions, that no sane person will dare question the topic. The club has created a wonderful illusion of relevance of which all members can be proud.
Selecting a club name and proliferating titles are vital in inculcating self-importance. The final strategy seems obvious yet—to the detriment of many an unhappy society—remains frequently overlooked. I mean, of course, the establishment of clubhouse rules. The reader will please indulge my reminiscences once more:
It was the spring of ’33, I was living in Hamptonwade, and five Oxford chums and I founded The Friar’s Anvil und Eine Grosse Weltkinderkultur, a newspaper reading club. At the first meeting, we created a Ministry of Regulations, and next nominated and elected ourselves as officers of said Ministry. Following adjournment, the Officers remained after-hours, gavelled the Ministry into special session, and began creating rules. We tackled four necessities: club fees, dress code, late arrivals, and coatroom procedures. I quote from the Book of Rules:
Fees: Club fees shall be paid to the Vault Warden on the first Wednesday of the month. Payment shall be made in francs. The Vault Warden shall convert the sum to rubles. The following Tuesday, club fees shall be refunded in full.
Dress Code: When attiring for club dinners, members are reminded that the weather in these low counties can change rapidly. Members are particularly warned against northwesterly gusts which, in fall, often herald an evening rain.
Late Arrivals: Anyone appearing over twenty minutes late should enter through the side hall and tread lightly, to avoid awakening less-tardy members.
Coatroom Procedures: The coatroom contains three sections, painted grey, burgundy, and terra-cotta. In the fall, coats should be hung in the grey section. In winter, members will hang coats in the burgundy and place newspapers below to catch melted snow. In spring, coats are left in the terra-cotta section, and in summer, use either burgundy or grey. Umbrellas should be placed in the brass umbrella stand. To remember these guidelines, recall the following rhyme:
Grey section as maple leaves turn red;
To the burgundy, Old Winter rears his head;
Amid bloom of spring, to terra-cotta we turn;
Then in summer, use burgundy or grey.
Successful club rules codify the commonsensical and complicate the insignificant. Here one follows that sage maxim of the ages, “That which is hard-won is dearly prized.” Encumbering regulations act as a security blanket, and stir feelings of worthiness and value throughout the club.
The problem of manufacturing importance for a new-founded club is a tight knot. By following the steps outlined above, society men can safeguard their associations through the first months. Having thus “put the ball in motion” (to apply the vulgar expression), a clubman would do well to consult my forth-coming monograph, Finding Things to Do in A Gentleman’s Club: Concocting a Predicament and Contriving a Denouement.