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"A lady, who is disgusted with the world, desires half an hour's conversation with Mr. Wildgoose, as soon as he is at leisure.'
There are few customs generally prevailing in the world, how absurd soever they may appear, which had not some real propriety or convenience for their origioal; but when the fashion is once established among the polite, it descends of course among the vulgar, who blindly imitate it, as such, without any regard to its primitive institution. Thus, for instance, the conveying messages by a card, was introduced into the fashionable world, as the readiest expedient against the blunders and stupidity of ignorant servants; and it must be confessed, that in some characters, and on some occasions, this practice has not only no impropriety, but carries with it a genteel air of ease and negligence; and really saves a great deal of unnecessary trouble, both to the person that sends, and him that receives the message.
The man of pleasure, who transacts his most important concerns in a coffee-house or a tavern ; or a modern lady, the whole sphere of whose existence is at a drawing-room, can never be supposed without a card in readiness on every emergency; and therefore, parties at whist can no way be more aptly formed, nor messages of compli. ment more elegantly conveyed, than by these diminutive tablets, which are generally suited to the subject, to the genius, and laconic style of the parties concerned.
But, on the other hand, what can be more absurd than this practice in more serious characters, and on occasions of more solemnity ? How remote from probability is it, that a grave divine, who is continually in veighing against the vices and follies of the age, should have a pack of soiled cards in his pocket, ready for his engagements of business or pleasure ? or, that a venerable counsellor, who is continually surrounded with briefs, leases, or acts of parliament, should prefer a trifling card in transacting business with his clent, before a shred of parchment, or even a scrap of common paper ; and I should have kicked my tailor, the other day, for minuting down the dimen. sions of my sleeves and pocket holes upon a card—if I had not luckily recollected that his last bill was unpaid.
Neither are message cards proper on all occasions, any more than in persons of all characters or professions. It is a known impropriety in a French marquis, who, coming to pay his devotions at the shrine of a saint, whilst his image was gone to the silver-smith to be repaired, left a card for his godship, to acquaint him with his intended visit ; and though a certain lady, near St. James's, very innocently invited a woman of quality to her rout, by a whisper at the communion table; yet, in my humble opinion, she could not so decently have slipped a card into her ladyship's hand at so sacred a place as the altar.
Granting, however, the general and unlimited use of this pasteboard correspondence, there is yet a propriety to be observed, a nil many absurdities to be avoided, in the choice of the cards, according to the persons addressed, or the occasions on which we address them.
It is too obvious a hint, and I suppose too trite a piece of adulation to a fine woman, to convey our compliments to her on the queen of hearts; as, on the contrary, it would have been an affront to a late East
India governor, though he laboured under so groundless a slander, to have inquired after his health by sending him the knave of diamonds. The deuce, or two of clubs, I think, should be appropriated to chal. lenges and duels ; and the black aces hould be entirely discarded in our correspondence with ladies of character ; as the nines and tens are at ombre or quadrille.f
Whitaker in his Soidis and Elmete, writes: “In the possession of the Rev. Mr. Adamson, who is related to the Arthington family, is a box of ancient cards, if so they may be called, which by tradition are said to have belonged to the Nuns of Arthington. They consist of thin circular pieces of beech, about four inches in diameter, painted with various devices, and each inscribed in old English characters with some moral sentence. Out of these, played in the manner of cards, it is supposed that the nuns of Arthington extracted at once edification and amusement. Of these there have, according to tradition, been twelve, which is the number that the box that held them will contain. They are neatly painted and gilt, and within a roundel on the centre of each are severally painted (the initials of the London rubrics) the following distichs :
• Thy love that thou to one hast lent,
Butt lett thye ende be in thye sighte.' Cards with colored backs, as red, green, blue, pink, olive and buff, were invented about 1810, in England, and sold for forty-five shillings per dozen. The plain backed Fine Highlanders were thirty-nine shillings per dozen ; the superfine Harrys forty-two shillings per dozen; and the extra superfine Moguls forty-four shillings per dozen.
Warren Hastings. + A set of blank cards has since been invented, by which the above absurdities may be avoided.
About the beginning of the present century, cards were made of cotton; they cost less, but were unpleasant to the touch and soiled soon, and when the novelty ceased the article was thought a bad one, and in 1819, “Thomas Creswick, from making bis own paper for his playing cards is the only person who can warrant these articles without cotton."
Southey has, in one of his Common Place Books, the following curious passage:
“ Aug. 10th, 1814. Last night, in bed, before I could fall asleep my head ran upon cards, at which I had been compelled to play in the evening, and I thought of thus making a new pack.
“Leave out the eights, nines, and tens, as at quadrille.
“In their place substitute another suit, ten in number, like the rest, blue in color, and in name Balls. The pack then consists of fifty. Add two figured personages to make up the number, the Emperor and the Pope.
“ Play as at whist. Balls take all other suits except trumps, which take Balls. The Emperor and Pope are superior to all other cards, and may either be made equal, and so capable of tyeing each other, and so neutralizing the trick, or to preponderate according to the color of the trump, the Emperor if red, the Pope if black; and belonging to no suit, they may be played upon any. If either be turned up, the dealer counts one, and Balls remain the only trumps.
"The Emperor and Pope, being led command trumps, but not each other. Trumps also, in default of trumps, command Balls. If the Emperor and Pope tie each other, the tier has the lead."
To the reader who remembers that Southey was a close student, and admirer of Rabelais, the above extract will doubtless prove interesting, more especially when he remembers that Gargantua is amused with tricks upon the cards, founded upon calculations in which he is made to excel Cuthbert Tunstal, Bishop of Durham, who had published a book entitled De Arte Supputandi.
Next to chess, whist is perhaps the most scientific and most universally played of all games of chance; and yet, as b's been well observed, we know almost as little of the origin of whist as of chess. Doubtless it was played in England more than two hundred years ago, and it is more
than probable that England may claim the honor of its invention. Cotton, writing about 1679, states: "Ruff and Honours are games so commonly known in England, in all parts thereof, that every child of eight years old hath a competent knowledge of that recreation."
We have a reference to whist in The Beaux Stratagem; this was so early as 1707, where Mrs. Sullen exclaims :“ Country pleasures ! racks and torments! Dost think, child, that my limbs were made for leaping of ditches, and clambering over styles ? Or that my parents, wisely foreseeing my future happiness in country pleasures, had early instructed me in the rural accomplishment of drinking fat ale, playing at whist, and smoking tobacco with my husband ?"
Swift states that whist was a game in vogue with the clergy; he tells us :-"The clergymen used to play at whist and swabbers." We all know that it was the custom of Sir Roger de Coverley, to send, at Christmas, a string of black puddings and a pack of cards to every poor family in his parish.
Thompson and Pope have referred to whist. Thompson names it in the Seasons, as the Squire's refuge against the tedium of autumn, thus :
“To cheat the thirsty moments, whist awhile
Wreathed, fragrant, from the pipe."
“Some squire, perhaps, you take delight to rack,
is whist; whose drink, a toast in sack :
Who loves you best of all things—but his horse."* From a recent work upon cards we learn that the first edition of Hoyle was published in 1743. At that period he gave instructions in whist at a guinea a lesson, and most probably it then began to be a scientific game, and has gone on advancing to its present perfection. There are many authorities existing for the opinion that it was not till the latter part of the eighteenth century, that whist, as
Nothing new under the sun : compare Locksley Hall :“ He will hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force,
Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse."
it is now played, was known among us. According to Daines Barrington, who had his information from a player much advanced in years, it was not played upon recognised principles till about 1730, "when it was much studied by a party that frequented the Crown Coffee-House,in Bedfordrow," of whom the first Lord Folkstone was one. Even then, it should seem that merely the skeleton of the game was in existence; there were but few rules, and its theory was undefined.
Early in the present century Mathews published at Bath his Advice to the Young Whist Players. It ran through many editions, and in a great measure superseded Hoyle. The fifth edition appeared in 1811, but this, and all other treatises upon whist, have been rendered useless by Mr. Bohn's admirable Hand Book of Games.
Reader, we have written for you a sketch of the history of cards; but, if you will know the poetry of cards, read Charles Lamb's Captain Jackson, or his essence of wit and humour, Mrs. Battle's Opinions on Whist. In the latter he writes, as only he could write :
“To those puny objectors against cards, as nurturing the bad passions, she would retort --that man is a gaming animal. He must be always trying to get the better in something or other: that this passion can scarcely be more safely expended than upon a game at cards : that cards are a temporory illusion--in truth, a mere drama ; for we do but play at being mightily concerned as those whose stake is crowns and kingdoms. They are a sort of dreamfighting, much ado, great battling and little bloodshed, mighty means for disproportioned ends, quite as diverting and a great deal more innoxious than many of those more serious games of life which men play, without esteeming them to be such.
“With great deference to the old lady's judgment on these matters, I think I have experienced some moments in my life when playing a cards for nothing has even been agreeable. When I am in sickness, or not in the best spirits, I sometimes call for the cards and play a game at piquet, for love, with my cousin Bridget - Bridget Elia.
“I grant there is something sneaking in it; but with a tooth-ache, or a sprained ankle—when you are subdued and humble-you are glad to put up with an inferior spring of action.