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Mitre, Fleet street : London coffee houses and taverns
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THE MITRE, IN FLEET-STREET.
This was the true Johnsonian Mitre, so often referred to in BosweWs Life ; but
it has earlier fame. Here, in 1640, Lilly met Old Will Poole, the astrologer,
then living in Ram-alley. The Royal Society Club dined at the Mitre from 1743 to
1750, the Society then meeting in Crane-court, nearly opposite. The Society of
Antiquaries met some time at the Mitre. Dr. Macmichael, in The Gold-headed Cane,
makes Dr. Radcliffe say : —
" I never recollect to have spent a more delightful evening than that at the
Mitre Tavern, in Fleet-street, where my good friend Billy Nutly, who was indeed
the better half of me, had been prevailed upon to accept of a small temporary
assistance, and joined our party, the Earl of Denbigh, Lords Colepeper and
Stowel, and Mr. Blackmore."
The house has a token : — william paget at the.
A mitre. — 1£. mitre in fleet street. In the field,
Johnson's Mitre is commonly thought to be the tavern with that sign, which still
exists in Mitre-court, over against Fetter-lane; where is shown a cast of
Nollekens' bust of Johnson, in confirmation of this house being his resort. Such
was not the case ; Boswell distinctly states it to have been the Mitre Tavern in
Fleet-street ; and the records by Lilly and the Royal Society, alike specify "
in Fleet-street," which Mr. Burn, in his excellent account of the Beaufoy
Tokens, explains was the house, No. 39, Fleet-street, that Macklin opened, in
1788, as the Poet's Gallery; and lastly, Saunders's auction-rooms. It was taken
down to enlarge the site for Messrs. Hoares' new banking-house. The now Mitre
Tavern, in Mitre-court, was originally called Joe's Coffee-house; and on the
shutting up of the old Mitre, in Fleet-street, took its name ; this being four
years after Johnson's death.
The Mitre was Dr. Johnson's favourite supper-house, the parties including
Goldsmith, Percy, Hawkesworth, and Boswell ; there was planned the tour to the
Hebrides. Johnson had a strange nervous feeling, which made him uneasy if he had
not touched every post between the Mitre and his own lodgings. Johnson took
Goldsmith to the Mitre, where Boswell and the Doctor had supped together in the
previous month, when Boswell spoke of Goldsmith's u very loose, odd, scrambling
kind of life," and Johnson defended him as one of our first men as an author,
and a very worthy man ; — adding, " he has been loose in his principles, but he
is coming right." Boswell was impatient of Goldsmith from the first hour of
their acquaintance. Chamberlain Clarke, who died in 1831, aged 92, was the last
surviving of Dr. Johnson's Mitre friends. Mr. William Scott, Lord Stowell, also
frequented the Mitre.
Boswell has this remarkable passage respecting the house: — "We had a good
supper, and port-wine, of which he (Johnson) sometimes drank a bottle. The
orthodox high-church sound of The Mitre — the figure and manner of the
celebrated Samuel Johnson — the extraordinary power and precision of his
conversation, and the pride arising from finding myself admitted as his
companion, produced a variety of sensations, and a pleasing elevation of mind,
beyond what I had ever experienced."
Lots of references are made to two sources on the
Edward Callows, Old London Taverns &
John Timbs, Club life of London Volume 2
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