Amongst the famous Kit-Cat members were playwright Congreve, playwright turned self-made architect John Vanbrugh, Addison and Steele of Tatler and Spectator fame and, later, Robert Walpole. These people wrote and schemed for the continuance of the Whig revolution, keeping William and Mary, and later William, and then Anne, and finally George I on the throne. They experienced and contrived momentous events from the November 5th landing of William in Torbay to the 1708 and 1715 Jacobite rebellions, the formation of the Bank of England, the War of Spanish Succession with Marlborough's victories (Vanbrugh built Blenheim Palace as well as Castle Howard), the Peace of Utrecht, the Act of Union with Scotland, and the French Mississippi Bubble and the British South Sea Bubble (both of which Tonson invested in and got out of before the end becoming incredibly wealthy).
Non-club members including Dryden, Robert Harley and Bolingbroke (crypto-Jacobites), Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift all have parts in this drama.
I learnt that the Tatler started as a weekly broadsheet (double printed and folded in half) which provided a weekly essay for 1d, written anonymously by Richard Steele (later joined by Addison) and purporting to be written by Isaac Bickerstaff. When that came to an end Steele founded (with Addison) The Spectator, in the same format, for the same price but tri-weekly, "written" by Mr Spectator and his mate Sir Roger de Coverley. both these papers were tremendous successes (though Steele could never live within his means and was hounded for debt (including imprisonment) throughout his life.
Addison and Steele were a wonderful contrasting pair. Addison, who wrote slowly alone, academic, dry and thoughtful, very moderate; Steele who wrote at speed in coffee houses surrounded by noise, a drinker, a husband, a father, always in debt. I like Steele best! Together they founded modern journalism.
Points I picked up on:
- Stanhope, club member and later Secretary of State, was MP for Cockermouth.
- Tonson bought a house in Barn Elms near Putney which later became the venue for the Ranelagh Club. Tonson later retired to The Hazels in Ledbury.
- Dr Arbuthnot (a Scot) published The History of John Bull as a Tory answer to the Whig Spectator.
- Steele bought a home in Hampton Wick; he called it The Hovel; the site is now occupied by The Grove, 24 Lower Teddington Road.