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This text was copied from Wikipedia on 24 November 2019 at 6:02AM.

Will's Coffee House was one of the foremost coffeehouses in England in the decades after the Restoration. It was situated in Russell Street in London, at the northwest corner of Bow Street, between the City and Westminster. According to the Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre, it was also known as the Rose Tavern, the Russell Street Coffee House, and the Wits' Coffee House. It was founded by Will Unwin.

Patrons

Will's Coffee House was the home of the Wits,[1] centring on the figure of John Dryden.[2] With the departure of John Dennis, William Wycherley complained in a well-known letter, "nor is Wills the Wits Coffee-House any more, since you left it, whose Society for want of yours is grown as Melancholly, that is as dull as when you left 'em a Nights, to their own Mother-Wit, their Puns, Couplets, or Quibbles...."[3] "This place is much altered since Mr Dryden frequented it," recalled Richard Steele in The Tatler afterwards; "where you used to see songs, epigrams, and satires in the hands of every man you met, you have now only a pack of cards."[4]

Will's is mentioned repeatedly in the diary of Samuel Pepys, who first dropped in on the evening of 3 February 1663/4:

"where Dryden the poet, I knew at Cambridge, and all the wits of the town, and Harris the player and Mr. Hoole of our College. And, had I time then, or could at other times, it will be good coming thither, for there, I perceive, is very witty and pleasant discourse".

Jonathan Swift, for his part, did not recall it so positively: "And indeed the worst conversation I ever remember to have heard in my life was that at Will's coffee-house, where the wits (as they were called) used formerly to assemble."[5]

From their first appearance in London,[6] coffeehouses were centers of sociability, each one frequented by certain professions, a centre of communication for news and information. At Will's gathered those gentlemen of no profession at all and circulated their scurrilous epigrams and satires, and criticized the latest productions on stage or in print.

Decline

After Dryden's death (May 1700), the reputation of Will's declined rapidly, though it is noted in Daniel Defoe's Journey Through England. Though in the first number of The Tatler, poetry was promised under the heading Will's Coffee-house,[7] it was severely reviewed by Richard Steele in The Tatler, 8 April 1709, and fashion soon passed to Button's across the way, where Joseph Addison established Daniel Button in business, about 1712.[8]

References

  1. ^ A Ellis, The Penny Universities: A history of the coffee-houses, 1956; Steve Pincus, "'Coffee Politicians Does Create': Coffeehouses and Restoration Political Culture" The Journal of Modern History, 67 (December 1995:807-34); Brian Cowan, The Social Life of Coffee: the emergence of the British coffeehouse, 2005;
  2. ^ 'Bow Street and Russell Street Area: Bow Street', Survey of London: volume 36: Covent Garden (1970), pp. 185-192. Date accessed: 8 July 2009; this gives the history of the site.
  3. ^ Wycherley to Dennis, Letter lxxix in A select Collection of Original Letters, written by the Most Eminent Persons... (London, 1760) vol. ii:118f.
  4. ^ Steele, The Tatler, no. 1, 12 April 1709 from "Will's Coffee-house",
  5. ^ Quoted in Raymond F. Howes, "Jonathan Swift and the conversation of the coffee-house", Quarterly Journal of Speech, 17.1 (February 1931:14-24).
  6. ^ Pasqua Rosée, a native of Ragusa, opened a coffee-house in St. Michael's Alley, Cornhill, in 1652
  7. ^ "All accounts of Gallantry, Pleasure, and Entertainment shall be under the Article of White's Chocolate-house; Poetry, under that of Will's Coffee-house; Learning, under the title of Graecian; Foreign and Domestick News, you will have from St. James' Coffee-house."
  8. ^ William Harrison Ukers, All about Coffee, 1922:574-76.

Coordinates: 51°30′46″N 0°07′17″W / 51.51280°N 0.12133°W / 51.51280; -0.12133

5 Annotations

Emilio  •  Link

Here is a link to Macaulay's description of the coffee house as a London institution. He's writing about 1685, but what he says should apply equally to 25 years before, and besides it's a fabulous piece of writing.

http://www.strecorsoc.org/macaulay/m03e.html#3e2

The most interesting bit is what he has to say about the importance of the coffee house amid the political uncertainty of the 17th century:

"The coffee house must not be dismissed with a cursory mention. It might indeed at that time have been not improperly called a most important political institution. No Parliament had sat for years. The municipal council of the City had ceased to speak the sense of the citizens. Public meetings, harangues, resolutions, and the rest of the modern machinery of agitation had not yet come into fashion. Nothing resembling the modern newspaper existed. In such circumstances the coffee houses were the chief organs through which the public opinion of the metropolis vented itself.

The first of these establishments had been set up by a Turkey merchant, who had acquired among the Mahometans a taste for their favourite beverage. The convenience of being able to make appointments in any part of the town, and of being able to pass evenings socially at a very small charge, was so great that the fashion spread fast. Every man of the upper or middle class went daily to his coffee house to learn the news and to discuss it. Every coffee house had one or more orators to whose eloquence the crowd listened with admiration, and who soon became, what the journalists of our time have been called, a fourth Estate of the realm. The Court had long seen with uneasiness the growth of this new power in the state. An attempt had been made, during Danby's administration, to close the coffee houses. But men of all parties missed their usual places of resort so much that there was an universal outcry. The government did not venture, in opposition to a feeling so strong and general, to enforce a regulation of which the legality might well be questioned."

Michael Robinson  •  Link

'The Rose'

"This was the Rose, afterwards known as Will's Coffee-House, after William Urwin, the landlord, where Dryden had a chair reserved for him near the fire-place in winter, which was carried into the balcony for him in the summer. It was on the west side of Bow Street, and at the corner of Russell Street. In earlier passages of the diary Pepys speaks of going to Will's , but as he says that he went to this coffee house for the first time [Feb. 3rd. 1663/4], that must have been at some other place."

Note in Wheatley edn.

Bill  •  Link

And, indeed, the worst conversation I ever remember to have heard in my life, was that at Will's coffee-house, where the wits (as they were called) used formerly to assemble; that is to say, five or six men, who had writ plays, or at least prologues, or had share in a miscellany, came thither, and entertained one another with their trifling composures, in so important an air, as if they had been the noblest efforts of human nature, or that the fate of kingdoms depended on them; and they were usually attended with an humble audience of young students from the inns of courts, or the universities, who, at due distance, listened to these oracles, and returned home with great contempt for their law and philosophy, their heads filled with trash, under the name of politeness, criticism, and belles lettres.
---The London Chronicle. Jonathan Swift, 1762

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Will's Coffee House was one of the foremost coffeehouses in England in the decades after the Restoration.
It was in Russell Street, Covent Garden, at the northwest corner of Bow Street, in London between the City and Westminster. According to the Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre, it was also known as the Rose Tavern, the Russell Street Coffee House, and the Wits' Coffee House. It was founded by Will Unwin.
Will's Coffee House was the home of the Wits, centring on the figure of John Dryden. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will's_Coffee_House

See Russell Street, Covent Garden, at the northwest corner of Bow Street here:
http://www.motco.com/Map/81002/SeriesSearchPlates…

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References

Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.

1664

1668