The Club of Queer Trades HTML version

The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown
Rabelais, or his wild illustrator Gustave Dore, must have had something to do
with the designing of the things called flats in England and America. There is
something entirely Gargantuan in the idea of economising space by piling houses
on top of each other, front doors and all. And in the chaos and complexity of
those perpendicular streets anything may dwell or happen, and it is in one of
them, I believe, that the inquirer may find the offices of the Club of Queer Trades.
It may be thought at the first glance that the name would attract and startle the
passer-by, but nothing attracts or startles in these dim immense hives. The
passer-by is only looking for his own melancholy destination, the Montenegro
Shipping Agency or the London office of the Rutland Sentinel, and passes
through the twilight passages as one passes through the twilight corridors of a
dream. If the Thugs set up a Strangers' Assassination Company in one of the
great buildings in Norfolk Street, and sent in a mild man in spectacles to answer
inquiries, no inquiries would be made. And the Club of Queer Trades reigns in a
great edifice hidden like a fossil in a mighty cliff of fossils.
The nature of this society, such as we afterwards discovered it to be, is soon and
simply told. It is an eccentric and Bohemian Club, of which the absolute condition
of membership lies in this, that the candidate must have invented the method by
which he earns his living. It must be an entirely new trade. The exact definition of
this requirement is given in the two principal rules. First, it must not be a mere
application or variation of an existing trade. Thus, for instance, the Club would
not admit an insurance agent simply because instead of insuring men's furniture
against being burnt in a fire, he insured, let us say, their trousers against being
torn by a mad dog. The principle (as Sir Bradcock Burnaby-Bradcock, in the
extraordinarily eloquent and soaring speech to the club on the occasion of the
question being raised in the Stormby Smith affair, said wittily and keenly) is the
same. Secondly, the trade must be a genuine commercial source of income, the
support of its inventor. Thus the Club would not receive a man simply because
he chose to pass his days collecting broken sardine tins, unless he could drive a
roaring trade in them. Professor Chick made that quite clear. And when one
remembers what Professor Chick's own new trade was, one doesn't know
whether to laugh or cry.
The discovery of this strange society was a curiously refreshing thing; to realize
that there were ten new trades in the world was like looking at the first ship or the
first plough. It made a man feel what he should feel, that he was still in the
childhood of the world. That I should have come at last upon so singular a body
was, I may say without vanity, not altogether singular, for I have a mania for
belonging to as many societies as possible: I may be said to collect clubs, and I
have accumulated a vast and fantastic variety of specimens ever since, in my
audacious youth, I collected the Athenaeum. At some future day, perhaps, I may
tell tales of some of the other bodies to which I have belonged. I will recount the