The Literary Cranks of London – The Cemented Bricks

I came across this oddly named literary coterie quite recently in a catalogue by the august bookseller and writer John Saumarez Smith in a scholarly note about one of its members - the writer (anthologist) Robert Maynard Leonard (1869 - 1941) who among other things was secretary to the Anti-Bribery League, which sounds like something from a G K Chesterton short story. Members of the 'Cemented Bricks' included Richard le Gallienne, Walter Jerrold, Sir John Parsons, Lord Amulree and Joseph Knight. The web yields very little about them except this page from The Sketch of 13/2/1895 bought for the price of a mocha latte on eBay. It remains unknown to Google books and even Brewster Kahle (praise his name) has not archived it... At the same time we bought another in the series of 'Literary Cranks of London' on 'The Vagabond Club' which will follow later.

The Literary Cranks of London.

The Cemented Bricks.

The Cemented Bricks.! Who or what are they? Is it a new order of Hod-fellows, or is it a building society?

That question, or series of questions, was put to me by a lady three years ago. This article will supply the answer.

About five years ago, four young men in London were drawn together by a certain similarity of journalist-literary tastes and aspirations. They had gravitated together from various places; one from a chemist's shop, via a Hull newspaper; another from a newspaper office in the West of England; the third from a similar centre of 'light and lending' in Lancashire; while the fourth would be penman and present writer was chained, as Lamb puts it, to the "desk's dead wood" in a counting-house near the Strand. We few, "we happy few", met, and that frequently, in the rooms of one of our number in Great Ormond Street, and there, like the walrus and the carpenter in Lewis Caroll's book, "talked of many things"; discussed men and books, politics and social subjects - settled with a wave of the hand matters which a sessions's discussion at St. Stephen' left almost untouched, and made and marred the reputations of books and their writers with an epigram. Man is the only animal - as far as our limited knowledge of natural history goes - who is clubbable, and four set to work to form a society. "The Cemented Bricks" was the title hit upon, in unconscious imitation of a similar coterie which flourished thirty years earlier, and which numbered among its members, to name but two Sir B. W. Richardson and Mr. Joseph Knight. Appropriate mottoes were immediately lighted upon by one of the "foundation Brick", who knew Bartlett's "Familiar Quotations" better than the works quoted. The writers who were thus made to justify the existence of the new structure were Blair and Shakespeare, and their respective contributions find a place as illustrated at the end of this article. The passage from Henry VI proves conclusively that Shakespeare foretold the existence of the coterie of which I am here historiographer; Ben Jonson was a trafficker in bricks: obviously, then Jonson wrote Shakespeare. I offer this suggestion to the belated Baconians ad Co. 

Well the Cemented Bricks were firmly established, and they who formed the "Brick Wall" were brother. But even brothers must be governed by laws, and one of their number in autocratic fashion set out to draw up a code of rules. For months - for years, those rules were most unruly; at every meeting the Brother who had originally drafted them, and who seemed to look upon them as his own especial property (so far as tinkering and enforcing them was concerned), would rise to propose amendments. He was a stickler for exactness, he wanted something besides the amount of the subscription made definite, and he has his rewards, for now each annual programme has the brief rules set forth upon it. 

The early constitution of the Brotherhood provided that each Brick should, in turn, act as host to the rest, that each in turn should read a paper, and that each in turn should preside at the meetings. With the increase of our member, a "revision of the constitution" became necessary. For some months the Bricks went on adding to their number until the full limit to thirteen was reached; and still some friends, like Mr. Kipling's Tomlinson in "another place", "yammered let me in", and, to make room for them, the number of regular Bricks was increased to thirty, and provision made for the election of "Corresponding Bricks", from among whom vacancies on the original roll could be filled. One of the most recently elected of these corresponding members is professor Paolo Bellezza, of Milan, the scholarly Italian critic of the works of Tennyson. During next autumn, Professor Bellezza has promised to address his brother Bricks on "The Literary Intercourse between Italy and England in the fourteenth Century". 

Here, there, and everywhere, as month after month went by, the Bricks foregathered at their various homes; but when one was living at Tooting, another at Isleworth, another at Hampstead, and another at Chiswick, it was felt that a common centre should be decided upon. With the increase of numbers, indeed, this became absolutely necessary, for though wives (to say nothing of sisters, cousins, and aunts) might have no objection to entertaining half-a-dozen, they drew the line at a whole cart-load of Bricks. A vegetarian restaurant near Charing Cross was the first headquarters, but this was given up after a few months, and a move made to Anderton's Hotel in Fleet Street.

One rule of the society, which has been held to firmly from the outset, provides that the Bricks shall have no president (this, no doubt, lays them open to Mr. Herbert Spencer's scorn, as expressed in a recent controversy which that philosopher had with a certain Land Society), but that its interests shall be looked after by a Board of Works, a Clerk of the Works, and Finance Member. Another rule still clung to is that no votes of thanks or other formal compliments shall be proposed at the meetings. Although the society has no head - I pause for the scoffer to make the inevitable and obvious joke - it is found necessary to have someone in authority at each meeting, and the Bricks are places in order in the chair and are dignified for the evening with title of Master Mason. The duties of the Clerk of the Works (abbreviated in C.O.W., and familiarly known as the Cow) are, to apprise Bricks of the meetings, to keep the minutes, to make himself generally useful, and  - to be thoroughly abused for it. The hardest work is done by the Finance Member in gathering in the subscriptions. 

Since the Bricks increased in number they have been addressed by several notable visitors. Mr Sergius Stepniak and Mr. Felix Volkhovsky on our first migration to Anderton's dealt with the subject of "Russian Literature"; Mrs Fawcett on our "ladies night", early last year, spoke of "The Woman's Appeal for Woman Suffrage"; Mr. A.E. Flecter (editor of the Daily Chronicle) has explained to us the relation between "Christian Ethics and Practical Politics"; while Prince Kropotkin has expounded for us "The Philosophy of Anarchism." The Bricks themselves have touched on many and varied themes - George Meredith, Matthew Arnold's poetry, Ruskin, Walt Whitman, Ethics in Music, Waller, Astronomy, Socialism, and Thackeray, have been discussed, to name but a few, and those at random. Richard Le Gallienne has made plain to us "The Religion of Literary Man," and has fancifully spoken of "Poets and Publishers." One one occasion, in their earlier days, the Bricks showed the diversity in their unity by a symposium on "The Pleasures of Life"; one finding his supreme please (with shame be it owned, he is still a Brick) at the dinner-table, another in his profession (medicine), another in fishing, and another in proving, in verse, that pleasure did not exist.

The Cemented Bricks, then, are some fourth-odd men of various ages and of various tastes, bound together by a certain unity of aspiration, one of whom stands up for about an hour on the third Wednesday in the month and enlightens his brethren on a subject chosen by himself. For the next two hours that Brick retains his seat, while the rise rise, one after another, and show that, although they know nothing of the matter in hand, yet the Brother who has dared to address them knows still less. and, as Charles Lamb said of the gatherings at his rooms, "any gentleman that chooses, smokes."

The Bricks have dined twice, and hope to do so again. My questioner of three years ago is answered. 

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