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African, St Michaels alley: London coffee houses and taverns

A historical site about early London coffee houses and taverns and will also link to my current pub history site and also the London street directory


Another of the Cornhill taverns, the African, or Cole's Coffee-house, is memorable as the last place at which Professor Porson appeared. He had, in some measure, recovered from the effects of the fit in which he had fallen on the 19th of September, 1808, when he was brought in a hackney-coach to the London Institution, in the Old Jewry. Next morning he had a long discussion with Dr. Adam Clarke, who took leave of him at its close ; and this was the last conversation Porson was ever capable of holding on any subject.

Porson is thought to have fancied himself under restraint, and to convince himself of the contrary, next morning, the 20th, he walked out, and soon after went to the African, in St. Michael's Alley, which was one of his City resorts. On entering the coffee-room, he was so exhausted that he must have fallen, had he not caught hold of the curtain-rod of one of the boxes, when he was recognized by Mr. J. P. Leigh, a gentleman with whom he had frequently dined at the house. A chair was given him ; he sat down, and stared around, with a vacant and ghastly countenance, and he evidently did not recollect Mr. Leigh. He took a little wine, which revived him, but previously to this his head lay upon his breast, and he was continually muttering something, but in so low and indistinct a tone as scarcely to be audible. He then took a little jelly dissolved in warm brandy-and-water, which considerably roused him. Still he could make no answer to questions addressed to him, except these words, which he repeated, probably, twenty times : "The gentleman said it was a lucrative piece of business, and / think so too," but in a very low tone.
A coach was now brought to take him to the London Institution, and he was helped in, and accompanied by the waiter ; he appeared quite senseless all the way, and did not utter a word ; and in reply to the question where they should stop, he put his head out of the window, and waved his hand when they came opposite the door of the Institution. Upon this Dr. Clarke touchingly observes : " How quick the transition from the highest degree of intellect to the lowest apprehensions of sense ! On what a precarious tenure does frail humanity hold even its choicest and most necessary gifts."

Porson expired on the night of Sunday, September 20, with a deep groan, exactly as the clock struck twelve, in the forty-ninth year of his age.


References :  Lots of references are made to two sources on the internet archive :
Edward Callows, Old London Taverns &
John Timbs, Club life of London Volume 2

And Last updated on: Tuesday, 26-Apr-2022 01:16:14 BST
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