The Gaming Table: Its Votaries and Victims - Volume I (of II)
by Andrew Steinmetz
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In all Times and Countries, especially in England and in France.


By Andrew Steinmetz, Esq.,

Of The Middle Temple, Barrister-At-Law; First-Class Extra Certificate School Of Musketry, Hythe; Late Officer Instructor Musketry, The Queens Own Light Infantry Militia.

Author Of 'The History Of The Jesuits,' 'Japan And Her People,' 'The Romance Of Duelling,' &C., &C.

'The sharp, the blackleg, and the knowing one, Livery or lace, the self-same circle, run; The same the passion, end and means the same—Dick and his Lordship differ but in name.'





To the readers of the present generation much of this book will, doubtless, seem incredible. Still it is a book of facts—a section of our social history, which is, I think, worth writing, and deserving of meditation.

Forty or fifty years ago—that is, within the memory of many a living man—gambling was 'the rage' in England, especially in the metropolis. Streets now meaningless and dull—such as Osendon Street, and streets and squares now inhabited by the most respectable in the land—for instance, St James's Square, THEN opened doors to countless votaries of the fickle and capricious goddess of Fortune; in the rooms of which many a nobleman, many a gentleman, many an officer of the Army and Navy, clergymen, tradesmen, clerks, and apprentices, were 'cleaned out'—ruined, and driven to self-murder, or to crimes that led to the gallows. 'I have myself,' says a writer of the time, 'seen hanging in chains a man whom a short time before I saw at a Hazard table!'

History, as it is commonly written, does not sufficiently take cognizance of the social pursuits and practices that sap the vitality of a nation; and yet these are the leading influences in its destiny—making it what it is and will be, at least through many generations, by example and the inexorable laws that preside over what is called 'hereditary transmission.'

Have not the gambling propensities of our forefathers influenced the present generation?....

No doubt gambling, in the sense treated of in this book, has ceased in England. If there be here and there a Roulette or Rouge et Noir table in operation, its existence is now known only to a few 'sworn-brethren;' if gambling at cards 'prevails' in certain quarters, it is 'kept quiet.' The vice is not barefaced. It slinks and skulks away into corners and holes, like a poisoned rat. Therefore, public morality has triumphed, or, to use the card-phrase, 'trumped' over this dreadful abuse; and the law has done its duty, or has reason to expect congratulation for its success, in 'putting down' gaming houses.

But we gamble still. The gambling on the Turf (now the most uncertain of all 'games of chance') was, lately, something that rang through and startled the entire nation. We gamble in the funds. We gamble in endless companies (limited)—all resulting from the same passion of our nature, which led to the gambling of former times with cards, with dice, at Piquet, Basset, Faro, Hazard, E O, Roulette, and Rouge et Noir. At a recent memorable trial, the Lord Chief Justice of England exclaimed—'There can be no doubt—any one who looks around him cannot fail to perceive—that a spirit of speculation and gambling has taken hold of the minds of large classes of the population. Men who were wont to be satisfied with moderate gain and safe investments seem now to be animated by a spirit of greed after gain, which makes them ready to embark their fortunes, however hardly gained, in the vain hope of realizing immense returns by premiums upon shares, and of making more than safe and reasonable gains. We see that continually.' In fact, we may not be a jot better morally than our forefathers. But that is no reason why we should not frown over the story of their horrid sins, and, 'having a good conscience,' think what sad dogs they were in their generation—knowing, as we do, that none of us at the present day lose FIFTY OR A HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS at play, at a sitting, in one single night—as was certainly no very uncommon 'event' in those palmy days of gaming; and that we could not—as was done in 1820—produce a list of FIVE HUNDRED names (in London alone) of noblemen, gentlemen, officers of the Army and Navy, and clergymen, who were veteran or indefatigable gamesters, besides 'clerks, grocers, horse-dealers, linen-drapers, silk-mercers, masons, builders, timber-merchants, booksellers, &c., &c., and men of the very lowest walks of life,' who frequented the numerous gaming houses throughout the metropolis—to their ruin and that of their families more or less (as deploringly lamented by Captain Gronow), and not a few of them, no doubt, finding themselves in that position in which they could exclaim, at OUR remonstrance, as feelingly as did King Richard—

'Slave! I have set my life upon a CAST, And I will stand the HAZARD OF THE DIE!'

Nor is gaming as yet extinct among us. Every now and then a batch of youngsters is brought before the magistrates charged with vulgar 'tossing' in the streets; and every now and then we hear of some victim of genteel gambling, as recently—in the month of February, 1868—when 'a young member of the aristocracy lost L10,000 at Whist.'

Nay, at the commencement of the present year there appeared in a daily paper the following startling announcement to the editor:—

'Sir,—Allow me, through the columns of your paper, to call the attention of the parents and friends of the young officers in the Channel-fleet to the great extent gambling is carried on at Lisbon. Since the fleet has been there another gambling house has been opened, and is filled every evening with young officers, many of whom are under 18 years of age. On the 1st of January it is computed that upwards of L800 was lost by officers of the fleet in the gambling houses, and if the fleet is to stay there three months there will soon be a great number of the officers involved in debt. I will relate one incident that came under my personal notice. A young midshipman, who had lately joined the Channel fleet from the Bristol, drew a half-year's pay in December, besides his quarterly allowance, and I met him on shore the next evening without money enough to pay a boat to go off to his ship, having lost all at a gambling house.

Hoping that this may be of some use in stopping the gambling among the younger officers, I remain, yours respectfully, AN OFFICER.'(1)

(1) Standard, Jan. 12, 1870.

In conclusion, I have contemplated the passion of gaming in all its bearings, as will be evident from the range of subjects indicated by the table of contents and index. I have ransacked (and sacked) hundreds of volumes for entertaining, amusing, curious, or instructive matter.

Without deprecating criticism on my labours, perhaps I may state that these researches have probably terminated my career as an author. Immediately after the completion of this work I was afflicted with a degree of blindness rendering it impossible for me to read any print whatever, and compelling me to write only by dictation.




















A very apt allegory has been imagined as the origin of Gaming. It is said that the Goddess of Fortune, once sporting near the shady pool of Olympus, was met by the gay and captivating God of War, who soon allured her to his arms. They were united; but the matrimony was not holy, and the result of the union was a misfeatured child named Gaming. From the moment of her birth this wayward thing could only be pleased by cards, dice, or counters.

She was not without fascinations, and many were her admirers. As she grew up she was courted by all the gay and extravagant of both sexes, for she was of neither sex, and yet combining the attractions of each. At length, however, being mostly beset by men of the sword, she formed an unnatural union with one of them, and gave birth to twins—one called DUELLING, and the other a grim and hideous monster named SUICIDE. These became their mother's darlings, nursed by her with constant care and tenderness, and her perpetual companions.

The Goddess Fortune ever had an eye on her promising daughter—Gaming; and endowed her with splendid residences, in the most conspicuous streets, near the palaces of kings. They were magnificently designed and elegantly furnished. Lamps, always burning at the portals, were a sign and a perpetual invitation unto all to enter; and, like the gates of the Inferno, they were ever open to daily and nightly visitants; but, unlike the latter, they permitted EXIT to all who entered—some exulting with golden spoil,—others with their hands in empty pockets,—some led by her half-witted son Duelling,—others escorted by her malignant monster Suicide, and his mate, the demon Despair.

'Religion, morals, virtue, all give way, And conscience dies, the prostitute of play. Eternity ne'er steals one thought between, Till suicide completes the fatal scene.'

Such is the ALLEGORY;(2) and it may serve well enough to represent the thing in accordance with the usages of civilized or modern life; but Gaming is a UNIVERSAL thing—the characteristic of the human biped all the world over.

(2) It appeared originally, I think, in the Harleian Miscellany. I have taken the liberty to re-touch it here and there, with the view to improvement.

The determination of events by 'lot' was a practice frequently resorted to by the Israelites; as, by lot it was determined which of the goats should be offered by Aaron; by lot the land of Canaan was divided; by lot Saul was marked out for the Hebrew kingdom; by lot Jonah was discovered to be the cause of the storm. It was considered an appeal to Heaven to determine the points, and was thought not to depend on blind chance, or that imaginary being called Fortune, who,

'——With malicious joy, Promotes, degrades, delights in strife, And makes a LOTTERY of life.'

The Hindoo Code—a promulgation of very high antiquity—denounces gambling, which proves that there were desperate gamesters among the Hindoos in the earliest times. Men gamed, too, it would appear, after the example set them by the gods, who had gamesters among them. The priests of Egypt assured Herodotus that one of their kings visited alive the lower regions called infernal, and that he there joined a gaming party, at which he both lost and won.(3) Plutarch tells a pretty Egyptian story to the effect, that Mercury having fallen in love with Rhea, or the Earth, and wishing to do her a favour, gambled with the Moon, and won from her every seventieth part of the time she illumined the horizon—all which parts he united together, making up FIVE DAYS, and added them to the Earth's year, which had previously consisted of only 360 days.(4)

(3) Herod. 1. ii.

(4) Plutarch, De Isid. et Osirid.

But not only did the gods play among themselves on Olympus, but they gambled with mortals. According to Plutarch, the priest of the temple of Hercules amused himself with playing at dice with the god, the stake or conditions being that if he won he should obtain some signal favour, but if he lost he would procure a beautiful courtesan for Hercules.(5)

(5) In Vita Romuli.

By the numerous nations of the East dice, and that pugnacious little bird the cock, have been and are the chief instruments employed to produce a sensation—to agitate their minds and to ruin their fortunes. The Chinese have in all times, we suppose, had cards—hence the absurdity of the notion that they were 'invented' for the amusement of Charles VI. of France, in his 'lucid intervals,' as is constantly asserted in every collection of historic facts. The Chinese invented cards, as they invented almost everything else that administers to our social and domestic comfort.(6)

(6) Observations on Cards, by Mr Gough, in Archaeologia, vol. viii. 1787.

The Asiatic gambler is desperate. When all other property is played away, he scruples not to stake his wife, his child, on the cast of a die or on the courage of the martial bird before mentioned. Nay more, if still unsuccessful, the last venture he makes is that of his limbs—his personal liberty—his life—which he hazards on the caprice of chance, and agrees to be at the mercy, or to become the slave, of his fortunate antagonist.

The Malayan, however, does not always tamely submit to this last stroke of fortune. When reduced to a state of desperation by repeated ill-luck, he loosens a certain lock of hair on his head, which, when flowing down, is a sign of war and destruction. He swallows opium or some intoxicating liquor, till he works himself up into a fit of frenzy, and begins to bite and kill everything that comes in his way; whereupon, as the aforesaid lock of hair is seen flowing, it is lawful to fire at and destroy him as quickly as possible—he being considered no better than a mad dog. A very rational conclusion.

Of course the Chinese are most eager gamesters, or they would not have been capable of inventing those dear, precious killers of time—cards, the EVENING solace of so many a household in the most respectable and 'proper' walks of life. Indeed, they play night and day—until they have lost all they are worth, and then they usually go—and hang themselves.

If we turn our course northward, and penetrate the regions of ice perpetual, we find that the driven snow cannot effectually quench the flames of gambling. They glow amid the regions of the frozen pole. The Greenlanders gamble with a board, which has a finger-piece upon it, turning round on an axle; and the person to whom the finger points on the stopping of the board, which is whirled round, 'sweeps' all the 'stakes' that have been deposited.

If we descend thence into the Western hemisphere, we find that the passion for gambling forms a distinguishing feature in the character of all the rude natives of the American continent. Just as in the East, these savages will lose their aims (on which subsistence depends), their apparel, and at length their personal liberty, on games of chance. There is one thing, however, which must be recorded to their credit—and to our shame. When they have lost their 'all,' they do not follow the example of our refined gamesters. They neither murmur nor repine. Not a fretful word escapes them. They bear the frowns of fortune with a philosophic composure.(7)

(7) Carver, Travels.

If we cross the Atlantic and land on the African shore, we find that the 'everlasting Negro' is a gambler—using shells as dice—and following the practice of his 'betters' in every way. He stakes not only his 'fortune,' but also his children and liberty, which he cares very little about, everywhere, until we incite him to do so—as, of course, we ought to do, for every motive 'human and divine.'

There is no doubt, then, that this propensity is part and parcel of 'the unsophisticated savage.' Let us turn to the eminently civilized races of antiquity—the men whose example we have more or less followed in every possible matter, sociality, politics, religion—they were all gamblers, more or less. Take the grand prototypes of Britons, the Romans of old. That gamesters they were! And how gambling recruited the ranks of the desperadoes who gave them insurrectionary trouble! Catiline's 'army of scoundrels,' for instance. 'Every man dishonoured by dissipation,' says Sallust, 'who by his follies or losses at the gaming table had consumed the inheritance of his fathers, and all those who were sufferers by such misery, were the friends of this perverse man.' Horace, Juvenal, Persius, Cicero, and other writers, attest the fact of Roman gambling most eloquently, most indignantly.

The Romans had 'lotteries,' or games of chance, and some of their prizes were of great value, as a good estate and slaves, or rich vases; others of little value, as vases of common earth, but of this more in the sequel.

Among the Gothic kings who, in the fulness of time and accomplishments, 'succeeded' to that empire, we read of a Theodoric, 'a wise and valiant prince,' who was 'great lover of dice;' his solicitude in play was only for victory; and his companions knew how to seize the moment of his success, as consummate courtiers, to put forward their petitions and to make their requests. 'When I have a petition to prefer,' says one of them, 'I am easily beaten in the game that I may win my cause.'(8) What a clever contrivance! But scarcely equal to that of the GREAT (in politeness) Lord Chesterfield, who, to gain a vote for a parliamentary friend, actually submitted to be BLED! It appears that the voter was deemed very difficult, but Chesterfield found out that the man was a doctor, who was a perfect Sangrado, recommending bleeding for every ailment. He went to him, as in consultation, agreed with the man's arguments, and at once bared his arm for the operation. On the point of departure his lordship 'edged' in the question about the vote for his friend, which was, of course, gushingly promised and given.

(8) Sed ego aliquid obsecraturus facile vincor; et mihi tabula perit ut causa salvetur.—Sidonius Apollinaris, Epist.

Although there may not be much Gothic blood among us, it is quite certain that there is plenty of German mixture in our nation—taking the term in its very wide and comprehensive ethnology. Now, Tacitus describes the ancient stout and valiant Germans as 'making gaming with a die a very serious occupation of their sober hours.' Like the 'everlasting Negro,' they, too, made their last throw for personal liberty, the loser going into voluntary slavery, and the winner selling such slaves as soon as possible to strangers, in order not to have to blush for such a victory! If the 'nigger' could blush, he might certainly do so for the white man in such a conjuncture.

At Naples and other places in Italy, at least in former times, the boatmen used thus to stake their liberty for a certain number of years. According to Hyde,(9) the Indians stake their fingers and cut them off themselves to pay the debt of honour. Englishmen have cut off their ears, both as a 'security' for a gambling loan, and as a stake; others have staked their lives by hanging, in like manner! Instances will be given in the sequel.

(9) De Ludis Orient.

But leaving these savages and the semi-savages of the very olden time, let us turn to those nearer to our times, with just as much religious truth and principle among them as among ourselves.

The warmth with which 'dice-playing' is condemned in the writings of the Fathers, the venerable expounders of Christianity, as well as by 'edicts' and 'canons' of the Church, is unquestionably a sufficient proof of its general and excessive prevalence throughout the nations of Europe. When cards were introduced, in the fourteenth century, they only added fuel to the infernal flame of gambling; and it soon became as necessary to restrain their use as it had been that of dice. The two held a joint empire of ruin and desolation over their devoted victims. A king of France set the ruinous example—Henry IV., the roue, the libertine, the duellist, the gambler,—and yet (historically) the Bon Henri, the 'good king,' who wished to order things so that every Frenchman might have a pot-au-feu, or dish of flesh savoury, every Sunday for dinner. The money that Henry IV. lost at play would have covered great public expenses.

There can be no doubt that the spirit of gaming went on acquiring new strength and development throughout every subsequent reign in France; and we shall see that under the Empire the thing was a great national institution, and made to put a great deal of money as 'revenue' into the hands of Fouche.

But the Spaniards have always been, of all nations, the most addicted to gambling. A traveller says:—'I have wandered through all parts of Spain, and though in many places I have scarcely been able to procure a glass of wine, or a bit of bread, or any of the first conveniences of life, yet I never went through a village so mean and out of the way, in which I could not have purchased a pack of cards.' This was in the middle of the seventeenth century, but I have no doubt it is true at the present moment.

If we can believe Voltaire, the Spaniards were formerly very generous in their gaming. 'The grandees of Spain,' he says, 'had a generous ostentation; this was to divide the money won at play among all the bystanders, of whatever condition.

Montrefor relates that when the Duke of Lerma, the Spanish minister, entertained Gaston, brother of Louis XIII., with all his retinue in the Netherlands, he displayed a magnificence of an extraordinary kind. The prime minister, with whom Gaston spent several days, used to put two thousand louis d'ors on a large gaming-table after dinner. With this money Gaston's attendants and even the prince himself sat down to play. It is probable, however, that Voltaire extended a single instance or two into a general habit or custom. That writer always preferred to deal with the splendid and the marvellous rather than with plain matter of fact.

There can be little doubt that the Spaniards pursued gaming in the vulgar fashion, just as other people. At any rate the following anecdote gives us no very favourable idea of Spanish generosity to strangers in the matter of gambling in modern times; and the worst of it is the suitableness of its application to more capitals than one among the kingdoms of Europe. 'After the bull-feast I was invited to pass the evening at the hotel of a lady, who had a public card-assembly.... This vile method of subsisting on the folly of mankind is confined in Spain to the nobility. None but women of quality are permitted to hold banks, and there are many whose faro-banks bring them in a clear income of a thousand guineas a year. The lady to whom I was introduced is an old countess, who has lived nearly thirty years on the profits of the card-tables in her house. They are frequented every day, and though both natives and foreigners are duped of large sums by her, and her cabinet-junto, yet it is the greatest house of resort in all Madrid. She goes to court, visits people of the first fashion, and is received with as much respect and veneration as if she exercised the most sacred functions of a divine profession. Many widows of great men keep gaming-houses and live splendidly on the vices of mankind. If you be not disposed to play, be either a sharper or a dupe, you cannot be admitted a second time to their assemblies. I was no sooner presented to the lady than she offered me cards; and on my excusing myself, because I really could not play, she made a very wry face, turned from me, and said to another lady in my hearing, that she wondered how any foreigner could have the impertinence to come to her house for no other purpose than to make an apology for not playing. My Spanish conductor, unfortunately for himself, had not the same apology. He played and lost his money—two circumstances which constantly follow in these houses. While my friend was thus playing THE FOOL, I attentively watched the countenance and motions of the lady of the house. Her anxiety, address, and assiduity were equal to that of some skilful shopkeeper, who has a certain attraction to engage all to buy, and diligence to take care that none shall escape the net. I found out all her privy-counsellors, by her arrangement of her parties at the different tables; and whenever she showed an extraordinary eagerness to fix one particular person with a stranger, the game was always decided the same way, and her good friend was sure to win the money.

'In short, it is hardly possible to see good company at Madrid unless you resolve to leave a purse of gold at the card-assemblies of their nobility.'(10)

(10) 'Observations in a Tour through Spain.'

We are assured that this state of things is by no means 'obsolete' in Spain, even at the present time. At the time in question, however, the beginning of the present century, there was no European nation among which gaming did not constitute one of its polite and fashionable amusements—with the exception of the Turks, who, to the shame of Christians, strictly obeyed the precepts of Mahomet, and scrupulously avoided the 'gambling itch' of our nature.

In England gambling prevailed during the reign of Henry VIII.; indeed, it seems that the king was himself a gamester of the most unscrupulous sort; and there is ample evidence that the practice flourished during the reign of Elizabeth, James I., and subsequently, especially in the times of Charles II. Writing on the day when James II. was proclaimed king, Evelyn says, 'I can never forget the inexpressible luxury and profaneness, gaming and all dissoluteness, and as it were total forgetfulness of God (it being Sunday evening) which this day se'nnight I was witness of, the king sitting and toying with his concubines, Portsmouth, Cleaveland, and Mazarine, &c., a French boy singing love-songs, in that glorious gallery, whilst about twenty of the great courtiers and other dissolute persons were at Basset round a large table; a bank of at least L2000 in gold before them, upon which two gentlemen who were with me made reflections with astonishment. Six days after all was in the dust!'

The following curious observations on the gaming in vogue during the year 1668 are from the Harleian Miscellany:

'One propounded this question, "Whether men in ships at sea were to be accounted amongst the living or the dead—because there were but few inches betwixt them and drowning?" The same query may be made of gamesters, though their estates be never so considerable—whether they are to be esteemed rich or poor, since there are but a few casts at dice betwixt a person of fortune (in that circumstance) and a beggar.

'Betwixt twelve and one of the clock a good dinner is prepared by way of ordinary, and some gentlemen of civility and condition oftentimes eat there, and play a while for recreation after dinner, both moderately and most commonly without deserving reproof. Towards night, when ravenous beasts usually seek their prey, there come in shoals of hectors, trepanners, gilts, pads, biters, prigs, divers, lifters, kidnappers, vouchers, mill kens, piemen, decoys, shop-lifters, foilers, bulkers, droppers, gamblers, donnakers, crossbiters, &c., under the general appellation of "rooks;" and in this particular it serves as a nursery for Tyburn, for every year some of this gang march thither.

'Would you imagine it to be true—that a grave gentleman, well stricken in years, insomuch as he cannot see the pips of the dice, is so infatuated with this witchery as to play here with others' eyes,—of whom this quibble was raised, "Mr Such a one plays at dice by the ear." Another gentleman, stark blind, I have seen play at Hazard, and surely that must be by the ear too.

'Late at night, when the company grows thin, and your eyes dim with watching, false dice are often put upon the ignorant, or they are otherwise cozened, with topping or slurring, &;c.; and, if you be not vigilant, the box-keeper shall score you up double or treble boxes, and, though you have lost your money, dun you as severely for it as if it were the justest debt in the world.

'There are yet some genteeler and more subtle rooks, whom you shall not distinguish by their outward demeanour from persons of condition; and who will sit by a whole evening, and observe who wins; and then, if the winner be "bubbleable," they will insinuate themselves into his acquaintance, and civilly invite him to drink a glass of wine,—wheedle him into play, and win all his money, either by false dice, as high fulhams,(11) low fulhams, or by palming, topping, &c. Note by the way, that when they have you at the tavern and think you a sure "bubble," they will many times purposely lose some small sum to you the first time, to engage you more freely to BLEED (as they call it) at the second meeting, to which they will be sure to invite you.

(11) It appears that false dice were originally made at Fulham; hence so called, high and low fulhams; the high ones were the numbers 4, 5, 6.

'A gentleman whom ill-fortune had hurried into passion, took a box and dice to a side-table, and then fell to throwing by himself; at length he swears with an emphasis, "D—e, now I throw for nothin;, I can win a thousand pounds; but when I lay for money I lose my all."

'If the house find you free to box, and a constant caster, you shall be treated below with suppers at night, and caudle in the morning, and have the honour to be styled, "a lover of the house," whilst your money lasts, which certainly will not be long.

'Most gamesters begin at small games, and by degrees, if their money or estates hold out, they rise to great sums; some have played first all their money, then their rings, coach and horses, even their wearing clothes and perukes; and then, such a farm; and at last, perhaps a lordship.

'You may read in our histories, how Sir Miles Partridge played at dice with King Henry the Eighth, for Jesus Bells (so called), which were the greatest in England, and hung in a tower of St Paul's church, and won them; whereby he brought them to ring in his pocket; but the ropes afterwards catched about his neck; for, in Edward the Sixth's days, he was hanged for some criminal offences.(12)

(12) The clochier in Paul's Churchyard—a bell-house, four square, builded of stone, with four bells; these were called Jesus Bells. The same had a great spire of timber, covered with lead, with the image of St Paul on the top, but was pulled down by Sir Miles Partridge, Kt, in the reign of Henry VIII. The common speech then was that he did set L100 upon a cast at dice against it, and so won the said clochier and bells of the king. And then causing the bells to be broken as they hung, the rest was pulled down, and broken also. This man was afterwards executed on Tower Hill, for matters concerning the Duke of Somerset, in the year 1551, the 5th of Edward VI.—Stowe, B. iii. 148.

'Sir Arthur Smithhouse is yet fresh in memory. He had a fair estate, which in a few years he so lost at play, that he died in great want and penury. Since that Mr Ba—, who was a clerk in the Six-Clerks Office, and well cliented, fell to play, and won by extraordinary fortune two thousand pieces in ready gold; was not content with that, played on, lost all he had won, and almost all his own estate; sold his place in the office, and at last marched off to a foreign plantation, to begin a new world with the sweat of his brow; for that is commonly the destiny of a decayed gamester—either to go to some foreign plantation, or to be preferred to the dignity of a box-keeper.

'It is not denied but most gamesters have, at one time or other, a considerable run of winning, but such is the infatuation of play, I could never hear of a man that gave over a winner—I mean, to give over so as never to play again. I am sure it is rara avis, for if you once "break bulk," as they phrase it, you are in again for all. Sir Humphry Foster had lost the greatest part of his estate, and then playing, as it is said, FOR A DEAD HORSE, did, by happy fortune, recover it again; then gave over, and wisely too.'(13)

(13) Harleian Misc. ii. 108.

The sequel will show the increase of gambling in our country during the subsequent reigns, up to a recent period.

Thus, then, the passion of gaming is, and has ever been, universal. It is said that two Frenchmen could not exist even in a desert without QUARRELLING; and it is quite certain that no two human beings can be anywhere without ere long offering to 'bet' upon something. Indolence and want of employment—'vacuity,' as Dr Johnson would call it—is the cause of the passion. It arises from a want of habitual employment in some material and regular line of conduct. Your very innocent card-parties at home—merely to kill TIME (what a murder!) explains all the apparent mystery! Something must be substituted to call forth the natural activity of the mind; and this is in no way more effectually accomplished, in all indolent pursuits, than by those EMOTIONS AND AGITATIONS which gambling produces.

Such is the source of the thing in our NATURE; but then comes the furious hankering after wealth—the desire to have it without WORKING for it—which is the wish of so many of us; and THIS is the source of that hideous gambling which has produced the contemptible characters and criminal acts which are the burthen of this volume.

We love play because it satisfies our avarice,—that is to say, our desire of having more; it flatters our vanity by the idea of preference that fortune gives us, and of the attention that others pay to our success; it satisfies our curiosity, giving us a spectacle; in short, it gives us the different pleasures of surprise.

Certain it is that the passion for gambling easily gets deeply rooted, and that it cannot be easily eradicated. The most exquisite melody, if compared with the music of dice, is then but discord; and the finest prospect in nature only a miserable blank when put in competition with the attractions of the 'honours' at a rubber of Whist.

Wealth is the general centre of inclination. Whatever is the ultimate design, the immediate care is to be rich. No desire can be formed which riches do not assist to gratify. They may be considered as the elementary principles of pleasure, which may be combined with endless diversity. There are nearer ways to profit than up the steeps of labour. The prospect of gaining speedily what is ardently desired, has so far prevailed upon the passions of mankind, that the peace of life is destroyed by a general and incessant struggle for riches. It is observed of gold by an old epigrammatist, that to have is to be in fear; and to want it is to be in sorrow. There is no condition which is not disquieted either with the care of gaining or keeping money.

No nation has exceeded ours in the pursuit of gaming. In former times—and yet not more than 30 or 40 years ago—the passion for play was predominant among the highest classes.

Genius and abilities of the highest order became its votaries; and the very framers of the laws against gambling were the first to fall under the temptation of their breach! The spirit of gambling pervaded every inferior order of society. The gentleman was a slave to its indulgence; the merchant and the mechanic were the dupes of its imaginary prospects; it engrossed the citizen and occupied the rustic. Town and country became a prey to its despotism. There was scarcely an obscure village to be found wherein this bewitching basilisk did not exercise its powers of fascination and destruction.

Gaming in England became rather a science than an amusement of social intercourse. The 'doctrine of chances' was studied with an assiduity that would have done honour to better subjects; and calculations were made on arithmetical and geometrical principles, to determine the degrees of probability attendant on games of mixed skill and chance, or even on the fortuitous throws of dice. Of course, in spite of all calculations, there were miserable failures—frightful losses. The polite gamester, like the savage, did not scruple to hazard the dearest interests of his family, or to bring his wife and children to poverty, misery, and ruin. He could not give these over in liquidation of a gambling debt; indeed, nobody would, probably, have them at a gift; and yet there were instances in which the honour of a wife was the stake of the infernal game!.... Well might the Emperor Justinian exclaim,—'Can we call PLAY that which causes crime?'(14)

(14) Quis enim ludos appellet eos, ex quibus crimina oriuntur?—De Concept. Digest. II. lib. iv. Sec. 9.


The recent great contribution to the history of India, published by Mr Wheeler,(15) gives a complete insight into this interesting topic; and this passage of the ancient Sanskrit epic forms one of the most wonderful and thrilling scenes in that most acceptable publication.

(15) The History of India from the Earliest Ages. By J. Talboys Wheeler. Vol. I.—The Vedic Period and the Maha Bharata.

As Mr Wheeler observes, the specialties of Hindoo gambling are worthy of some attention. The passion for play, which has ever been the vice of warriors in times of peace, becomes a madness amidst the lassitude of a tropical climate; and more than one Hindoo legend has been preserved of Rajas playing together for days, until the wretched loser has been deprived of everything he possessed and reduced to the condition of an exile or a slave.

But gambling amongst the Hindoos does not appear to have been altogether dependent upon chance. The ancient Hindoo dice, known by the name of coupun, are almost precisely similar to the modern dice, being thrown out of a box; but the practice of loading is plainly alluded to, and some skill seems to have been occasionally exercised in the rattling of the dice-box. In the more modern game, known by the name of pasha, the dice are not cubic, but oblong; and they are thrown from the hand either direct upon the ground, or against a post or board, which will break the fall, and render the result more a matter of chance.

The great gambling match of the Hindoo epic was the result of a conspiracy to ruin Yudhishthira, a successful warrior, the representative of a mighty family—the Pandavas, who were incessantly pursued by the envy of the Kauravas, their rivals. The fortunes of the Pandavas were at the height of human prosperity; and at this point the universal conception of an avenging Nemesis that humbles the proud and casts down the mighty, finds full expression in the Hindoo epic. The grandeur of the Pandavas excited the jealousy of Duryodhana, and revived the old feud between the Kauravas and the former. Duryodhana plotted with his brother Duhsasana and his uncle Sakuni, how they might dispossess the Pandavas of their newly-acquired territory; and at length they determined to invite their kinsmen to a gambling match, and seek by underhand means to deprive Yudhishthira of his Raj, or kingdom.(16)

(16) The old Sanskrit words Raj, 'kingdom,' and Raja, 'king,' are evidently the origin of the Latin reg-num, reg-o, rex, regula, 'rule,' &c, reproduced in the words of that ancient language, and continued in the derivative vernaculars of modern names—re, rey, roy, roi, regal, royal, rule, &c. &c.

It appears from the poem that Yudhishthira was invited to a game at coupun; and the legend of the great gambling match, which took place at Hastinapur, is related as follows:

'And it came to pass that Duryodhana was very jealous of the Rajasuya or triumph that his cousin Yudhishthira had performed, and he desired in his heart to destroy the Pandavas, and gain possession of their Raj. Now Sakuni was the brother of Gandhari, who was the mother of the Kauravas; and he was very skilful in throwing dice, and in playing with dice that were loaded; insomuch that whenever he played he always won the game. So Duryodhana plotted with his uncle, that Yudhishthira should be invited to a match at gambling, and that Sakuni should challenge him to a game, and win all his wealth and lands.

'After this the wicked Duryodhana proposed to his father the Maharaja, that they should have a great gambling match at Hastinapur, and that Yudhishthira and his brethren should be invited to the festival. And the Maharaja was glad in his heart that his sons should be friendly with the sons of his deceased brother, Pandu; and he sent his younger brother, Vidura, to the city of Indra-prastha to invite the Pandavas to the game. And Vidura went his way to the city of the Pandavas, and was received by them with every sign of attention and respect. And Yudhishthira inquired whether his kinsfolk and friends at Hastinapur were all well in health, and Vidura replied, "They are all well." Then Vidura said to the Pandavas:—"Your uncle, the Maharaja, is about to give a great feast, and he has sent me to invite you and your mother, and your joint wife, to come to his city, and there will be a great match at dice-playing." When Yudhishthira heard these words he was troubled in mind, for he knew that gaming was a frequent cause of strife, and that he was in no way skilful in throwing the dice; and he likewise knew that Sakuni was dwelling at Hastinapur, and that he was a famous gambler. But Yudhishthira remembered that the invitation of the Maharaja was equal to the command of a father, and that no true Kshatriya could refuse a challenge either to war or play. So Yudhishthira accepted the invitation, and gave commandment that on the appointed day his brethren, and their mother, and their joint wife should accompany him to the city of Hastinapur.

'When the day arrived for the departure of the Pandavas they took their mother Kunti, and their joint wife Draupadi, and journeyed from Indra-prastha to the city of Hastinapur. And when they entered the city they first paid a visit of respect to the Maharaja, and they found him sitting amongst his Chieftains; and the ancient Bhishma, and the preceptor Drona, and Karna, who was the friend of Duryodhana, and many others, were sitting there also.

'And when the Pandavas had done reverence to the Maharaja, and respectfully saluted all present, they paid a visit to their aunt Gandhari, and did her reverence likewise.

'And after they had done this, their mother and joint wife entered the presence of Gandhari, and respectfully saluted her; and the wives of the Kauravas came in and were made known to Kunti and Draupadi. And the wives of the Kauravas were much surprised when they beheld the beauty and fine raiment of Draupadi; and they were very jealous of their kinswoman. And when all their visits had been paid, the Pandavas retired with their wife and mother to the quarters which had been prepared for them, and when it was evening they received the visits of all their friends who were dwelling at Hastinapur.

'Now, on the morrow the gambling match was to be played; so when the morning had come, the Pandavas bathed and dressed, and left Draupadi in the lodging which had been prepared for her, and went their way to the palace. And the Pandavas again paid their respects to their uncle the Maharaja, and were then conducted to the pavilion where the play was to be; and Duryodhana went with them, together with all his brethren, and all the chieftains of the royal house. And when the assembly had all taken their seats, Sakuni said to Yudhishthira:—"The ground here has all been prepared, and the dice are all ready: Come now, I pray you, and play a game." But Yudhishthira was disinclined, and replied:—"I will not play excepting upon fair terms; but if you will pledge yourself to throw without artifice or deceit, I will accept your challenge." Sakuni said,—"If you are so fearful of losing, you had better not play at all." At these words Yudhishthira was wroth, and replied:—"I have no fear either in play or war; but let me know with whom I am to play, and who is to pay me if I win." So Duryodhana came forward and said:—"I am the man with whom you are to play, and I shall lay any stakes against your stakes; but my uncle Sakuni will throw the dice for me." Then Yudhishthira said,—"What manner of game is this, where one man throws and another lays the stakes?" Nevertheless he accepted the challenge, and he and Sakuni began to play.

'At this point in the narrative it may be desirable to pause, and endeavour to obtain a picture of the scene. The so-called pavilion was probably a temporary booth constructed of bamboos and interlaced with basket-work; and very likely it was decorated with flowers and leaves after the Hindoo fashion, and hung with fruits, such as cocoa-nuts, mangoes, plantains, and maize. The Chieftains present seem to have sat upon the ground, and watched the game. The stakes may have been pieces of gold or silver, or cattle, or lands; although, according to the legendary account which follows, they included articles of a far more extravagant and imaginative character. With these passing remarks, the tradition of the memorable game may be resumed as follows:—

'So Yudhishthira and Sakuni sat down to play, and whatever Yudhishthira laid as stakes, Duryodhana laid something of equal value; but Yudhishthira lost every game. He first lost a very beautiful pearl; next a thousand bags, each containing a thousand pieces of gold; next a piece of gold so pure that it was as soft as wax; next a chariot set with jewels and hung all round with golden bells; next a thousand war elephants with golden howdahs set with diamonds; next a lakh of slaves all dressed in good garments; next a lakh of beautiful slave girls, adorned from head to foot with golden ornaments; next all the remainder of his goods; next all his cattle; and then the whole of his Raj, excepting only the lands which had been granted to the Brahmans.(17)

(17)'A lakh is a hundred thousand, and a crore is a hundred lakhs, or ten millions. The Hindoo term might therefore have been converted into English numerals, only that it does not seem certain that the bards meant precisely a hundred thousand slaves, but only a very large number. The exceptional clause in favour of the Brahmans is very significant. When the little settlement at Indra-prastha had been swelled by the imagination of the later bards into an extensive Raj, the thought may have entered the minds of the Brahmanical compilers that in losing the Raj, the Brahmans might have lost those free lands, known as inams or jagheers, which are frequently granted by pious Rajas for the subsistence of Brahmans. Hence the insertion of the clause.'

'Now when Yudhishthira had lost his Raj, the Chieftains present in the pavilion were of opinion that he should cease to play, but he would not listen to their words, but persisted in the game. And he staked all the jewels belonging to his brothers, and he lost them; and he staked his two younger brothers, one after the other, and he lost them; and he then staked Arjuna, and Bhima, and finally himself; and he lost every game. Then Sakuni said to him:—"You have done a bad act, Yudhishthira, in gaming away yourself and becoming a slave. But now, stake your wife, Draupadi, and if you win the game you will again be free." And Yudhishthira answered and said:—"I will stake Draupadi!" And all assembled were greatly troubled and thought evil of Yudhishthira; and his uncle Vidura put his hand to his head and fainted away, whilst Bhishma and Drona turned deadly pale, and many of the company were very sorrowful; but Duryodhana and his brother Duhsasana, and some others of the Kauravas, were glad in their hearts, and plainly manifested their joy. Then Sakuni threw the dice, and won Draupadi for Duryodhana.

'Then all in that assembly were in great consternation, and the Chieftains gazed upon one another without speaking a word. And Duryodhana said to his uncle Vidura:—"Go now and bring Draupadi hither, and bid her sweep the rooms." But Vidura cried out against him with a loud voice, and said:—"What wickedness is this? Will you order a woman who is of noble birth, and the wife of your own kinsman, to become a household slave? How can you vex your brethren thus? But Draupadi has not become your slave; for Yudhishthira lost himself before he staked his wife, and having first become a slave, he could no longer have power to stake Draupadi." Vidura then turned to the assembly and said:—"Take no heed to the words of Duryodhana, for he has lost his senses this day." Duryodhana then said:—"A curse be upon this Vidura, who will do nothing that I desire him."

'After this Duryodhana called one of his servants, and desired him to go to the lodgings of the Pandavas, and bring Draupadi into the pavilion. And the man departed out, and went to the lodgings of the Pandavas, and entered the presence of Draupadi, and said to her:—"Raja Yudhishthira has played you away, and you have become the slave of Raja Duryodhana: So come now and do your duty like his other slave girls." And Draupadi was astonished at these words, and exceedingly wroth, and she replied:—"Whose slave was I that I could be gambled away? And who is such a senseless fool as to gamble away his own wife?" The servant said:—"Raja Yudhishthira has lost himself, and his four brothers, and you also, to Raja Duryodhana, and you cannot make any objection: Arise, therefore, and go to the house of the Raja!"

'Then Draupadi cried out:—"Go you now and inquire whether Raja Yudhishthira lost me first or himself first; for if he played away himself first, he could not stake me." So the man returned to the assembly, and put the question to Yudhishthira; but Yudhishthira hung down his head with shame, and answered not a word.

'Then Duryodhana was filled with wrath, and he cried out to his servant:—"What waste of words is this? Go you and bring Draupadi hither, that if she has aught to say, she may say it in the presence of us all." And the man essayed to go, but he beheld the wrathful countenance of Bhima and he was sore afraid, and he refused to go, and remained where he was. Then Duryodhana sent his brother Duhsasana; and Duhsasana went his way to the lodgings of Draupadi and said:—"Raja Yudhishthira has lost you in play to Raja Duryodhana, and he has sent for you: So arise now, and wait upon him according to his commands; and if you have anything to say, you can say it in the presence of the assembly." Draupadi replied:—"The death of the Kauravas is not far distant, since they can do such deeds as these." And she rose up in great trepidation and set out, but when she came near to the palace of the Maharaja, she turned aside from the pavilion where the Chieftains were assembled, and ran away with all speed towards the apartments of the women. And Duhsasana hastened after her, and seized her by her hair, which was very dark and long, and dragged her by main force into the pavilion before all the Chieftains.

'And she cried out:—"Take your hands from off me!" But Duhsasana heeded not her words, and said:—"You are now a slave girl, and slave girls cannot complain of being touched by the hands of men."

'When the Chieftains thus beheld Draupadi, they hung down their heads from shame; and Draupadi called upon the elders amongst them, such as Bhishma and Drona, to acquaint her whether or no Raja Yudhishthira had gamed away himself before he had staked her; but they likewise held down their heads and answered not a word.

'Then she cast her eye upon the Pandavas, and her glance was like the stabbing of a thousand daggers, but they moved not hand or foot to help her; for when Bhima would have stepped forward to deliver her from the hands of Duhsasana, Yudhishthira commanded him to forbear, and both he and the younger Pandavas were obliged to obey the command of their elder brother.

'And when Duhsasana saw that Draupadi looked towards the Pandavas, he took her by the hand, and drew her another way, saying:—"Why, O slave, are you turning your eyes about you?" And when Karna and Sakuni heard Duhsasana calling her a slave, they cried out:—"Well said! well said!"

'Then Draupadi wept very bitterly, and appealed to all the assembly, saying:—"All of you have wives and children of your own, and will you permit me to be treated thus? I ask you one question, and I pray you to answer it." Duhsasana then broke in and spoke foul language to her, and used her rudely, so that her veil came off in his hands. And Bhima could restrain his wrath no longer, and spoke vehemently to Yudhishthira; and Arjuna reproved him for his anger against his elder brother, but Bhima answered:—"I will thrust my hands into the fire before these wretches shall treat my wife in this manner before my eyes."

'Then Duryodhana said to Draupadi:—"Come now, I pray you, and sit upon my thigh!" And Bhima gnashed his teeth, and cried out with a loud voice:—"Hear my vow this day! If for this deed I do not break the thigh of Duryodhana, and drink the blood of Duhsasana, I am not the son of Kunti!"

'Meanwhile the Chieftain Vidura had left the assembly, and told the blind Maharaja Dhritarashtra all that had taken place that day; and the Maharaja ordered his servants to lead him into the pavilion where all the Chieftains were gathered together. And all present were silent when they saw the Maharaja, and the Maharaja said to Draupadi:—"O daughter, my sons have done evil to you this day: But go now, you and your husbands, to your own Raj, and remember not what has occurred, and let the memory of this day be blotted out for ever." So the Pandavas made haste with their wife Draupadi, and departed out of the city of Hastinapur.

'Then Duryodhana was exceedingly wroth, and he said to his father, "O Maharaja, is it not a saying that when your enemy hath fallen down, he should be annihilated without a war? And now that we had thrown the Pandavas to the earth, and had taken possession of all their wealth, you have restored them all their strength, and permitted them to depart with anger in their hearts; and now they will prepare to make war that they may revenge themselves upon us for all that has been done, and they will return within a short while and slay us all: Give us leave then, I pray you, to play another game with these Pandavas, and let the side which loses go into exile for twelve years; for thus and thus only can a war be prevented between ourselves and the Pandavas." And the Maharaja granted the request of his son, and messengers were sent to bring back the brethren; and the Pandavas obeyed the commands of their uncle, and returned to his presence; and it was agreed upon that Yudhishthira should play one game more with Sakuni, and that if Yudhishthira won the Kauravas were to go into exile, and that if Sakuni won, the Pandavas were to go into exile; and the exile was to be for twelve years, and one year more; and during that thirteenth year those who were in exile were to dwell in any city they pleased, but to keep themselves so concealed that the others should never discover them; and if the others did discover them before the thirteenth year was over, then those who were in exile were to continue so for another thirteen years. So they sat down again to play, and Sakuni had a set of cheating dice as before, and with them he won the game.

'When Duhsasana saw that Sakuni had won the game, he danced about for joy; and he cried out:—"Now is established the Raj of Duryodhana." But Bhima said, "Be not elated with joy, but remember my words: The day will come when I will drink your blood, or I am not the son of Kunti." And the Pandavas, seeing that they had lost, threw off their garments and put on deer-skins, and prepared to depart into the forest with their wife and mother, and their priest Dhaumya; but Vidura said to Yudhishthira:—"Your mother is old and unfitted to travel, so leave her under my care;" and the Pandavas did so. And the brethren went out from the assembly hanging down their heads with shame, and covering their faces with their garments; but Bhima threw out his long arms and looked at the Kauravas furiously, and Draupadi spread her long black hair over her face and wept bitterly. And Draupadi vowed a vow, saying:—

'"My hair shall remain dishevelled from this day, until Bhima shall have slain Duhsasana and drank his blood; and then he shall tie up my hair again whilst his hands are dripping with the blood of Duhsasana."'

Such was the great gambling match at Hastinapur in the heroic age of India. It appears there can be little doubt of the truth of the incident, although the verisimilitude would have been more complete without the perpetual winning of the cheat Sakuni—which would be calculated to arouse the suspicion of Yudhishthira, and which could scarcely be indulged in by a professional cheat, mindful of the suspicion it would excite.

Throughout the narrative, however, there is a truthfulness to human nature, and a truthfulness to that particular phase of human nature which is pre-eminently manifested by a high-minded race in its primitive stage of civilization.

To our modern minds the main interest of the story begins from the moment that Draupadi was lost; but it must be remembered that among that ancient people, where women were chiefly prized on sensual grounds, such stakes were evidently recognized.

The conduct of Draupadi herself on the occasion shows that she was by no means unfamiliar with the idea: she protested—not on the ground of sentiment or matrimonial obligation—but solely on what may be called a technical point of law, namely, 'Had Yudhishthira become a slave before he staked his wife upon the last game?' For, of course, having ceased to be a freeman, he had no right to stake her liberty.

The concluding scene of the drama forms an impressive figure in the mind of the Hindoo. The terrible figure of Draupadi, as she dishevels her long black hair, is the very impersonation of revenge; and a Hindoo audience never fails to shudder at her fearful vow—that the straggling tresses shall never again be tied up until the day when Bhima shall have fulfilled his vow, and shall then bind them up whilst his fingers are still dripping with the blood of Duhsasana.

The avenging battle subsequently ensued. Bhima struck down Duhsasana with a terrible blow of his mace, saying,—'This day I fulfil my vow against the man who insulted Draupadi!' Then setting his foot on the breast of Duhsasana, he drew his sword, and cut off the head of his enemy; and holding his two hands to catch the blood, he drank it off, crying out, 'Ho! ho! Never did I taste anything in this world so sweet as this blood.'

This staking of wives by gamblers is a curious subject. The practice may be said to have been universal, having furnished cases among civilized as well as barbarous nations. Of course the Negroes of Africa stake their wives and children; according to Schouten, a Chinese staked his wife and children, and lost them; Paschasius Justus states that a Venetian staked his wife; and not a hundred years ago certain debauchees at Paris played at dice for the possession of a celebrated courtesan. But this is an old thing. Hegesilochus, and other rulers of Rhodes, were accustomed to play at dice for the honour of the most distinguished ladies of that island—the agreement being that the party who lost had to bring to the arms of the winner the lady designated by lot to that indignity.(18)

(18) Athen. lib. XI. cap. xii.

There are traditions of such stakes having been laid and lost by husbands in England; and a remarkable case of the kind will be found related in Ainsworth's 'Old Saint Paul's,' as having occurred during the Plague of London, in the year 1665. There can be little doubt that it is founded on fact; and the conduct of the English wife, curiously enough, bears a striking resemblance to that of Draupadi in the Indian narrative.

A Captain Disbrowe of the king's body-guard lost a large sum of money to a notorious debauchee, a gambler and bully, named Sir Paul Parravicin. The latter had made an offensive allusion to the wife of Captain Disbrowe, after winning his money; and then, picking up the dice-box, and spreading a large heap of gold on the table, he said to the officer who anxiously watched his movements:—'I mentioned your wife, Captain Disbrowe, not with any intention of giving you offence, but to show you that, although you have lost your money, you have still a valuable stake left.'

'I do not understand you, Sir Paul,' returned Disbrowe, with a look of indignant surprise.

'To be plain, then,' replied Parravicin, 'I have won from you two hundred pounds—all you possess. You are a ruined man, and as such, will run any hazard to retrieve your losses. I give you a last chance. I will stake all my winnings—nay, double the amount—against your wife. You have a key of the house you inhabit, by which you admit yourself at all hours; so at least I am informed. If I win, that key shall be mine. I will take my chance of the rest. Do you understand me now?'

'I do,' replied the young man, with concentrated fury. 'I understand that you are a villain. You have robbed me of my money, and would rob me of my honour.'

'These are harsh words, sir,' replied the knight calmly; 'but let them pass. We will play first, and fight afterwards. But you refuse my challenge?'

'It is false!' replied Disbrowe, fiercely, 'I accept it.' And producing a key, he threw it on the table. 'My life is, in truth, set on the die,' he added, with a desperate look; 'for if I lose, I will not survive my shame.'

'You will not forget our terms,' observed Parravicin. 'I am to be your representative to-night. You can return home to-morrow.'

'Throw, sir,—throw,' cried the young man, fiercely.

'Pardon me,' replied the knight; 'the first cast is with you. A single main decides it.'

'Be it so,' returned Disbrowe, seizing the bow. And as he shook the dice with a frenzied air, the bystanders drew near the table to watch the result.

'Twelve!' cried Disbrowe, as he removed the box. 'My honour is saved! My fortune retrieved—Huzza!'

'Not so fast,' returned Parravicin, shaking the box in his turn. 'You were a little hasty,' he added, uncovering the dice. 'I am twelve too. We must throw again.'

'This is to decide,' cried the young officer, rattling the dice,—'Six!'

Parravicin smiled, took the box, and threw TEN.

'Perdition!' ejaculated Disbrowe, striking his brow with his clenched hand. 'What devil tempted me to my undoing?... My wife trusted to this profligate!... Horror! It must not be!'

'It is too late to retract,' replied Parravicin, taking up the key, and turning with a triumphant look to his friends.

Disbrowe noticed the smile, and, stung beyond endurance, drew his sword, and called to the knight to defend himself. In an instant passes were exchanged. But the conflict was brief. Fortune, as before, declared herself in favour of Parravicin. He disarmed his assailant, who rushed out of the room, uttering the wildest ejaculations of rage and despair.

* * * * * * The winner of the key proceeded at once to use. He gained admittance to the captain's house, and found his way to the chamber of his wife, who was then in bed. At first mistaken for her husband Parravicin heard words of tender reproach for his lateness; and then, declaring himself, he belied her husband, stating that he was false to her, and had surrendered her to him.

At this announcement Mrs Disbrowe uttered a loud scream, and fell back in the bed. Parravicin waited for a moment; but not hearing her move, brought the lamp to see what was the matter. She had fainted, and was lying across the pillow, with her night-dress partly open, so as to expose her neck and shoulders. The knight was at first ravished with her beauty; but his countenance suddenly fell, and an expression of horror and alarm took possession of it. He appeared rooted to the spot, and instead of attempting to render her any assistance, remained with his gaze fixed upon her neck. Rousing himself at length, he rushed out of the room, hurried down-stairs, and without pausing for a moment, threw open the street door. As he issued from it his throat was forcibly griped, and the point of a sword was placed at his breast.

It was the desperate husband, who was waiting to avenge his wife's honour.

'You are in my power, villain,' cried Disbrowe, 'and shall not escape my vengeance.'

'You are already avenged,' replied Parravicin, shaking off his assailant—'YOUR WIFE HAS THE PLAGUE.'

The profligate had been scared away by the sight of the 'plague spot' on the neck of the unfortunate lady.

The husband entered and found his way to his wife's chamber. Instantaneous explanations ensued. 'He told me you were false—that you loved another—and had abandoned me,' exclaimed the frantic wife.

'He lied!' shouted Disbrowe, in a voice of uncontrollable fury. 'It is true that, in a moment of frenzy, I was tempted to set you—yes, YOU, Margaret—against all I had lost at play, and was compelled to yield up the key of my house to the winner. But I have never been faithless to you—never.'

'Faithless or not,' replied his wife bitterly, 'it is plain you value me less than play, or you would not have acted thus.'

'Reproach me not, Margaret,' replied Disbrowe. 'I would give worlds to undo what I have done.'

'Who shall guard me against the recurrence of such conduct?' said Mrs Disbrowe, coldly. 'But you have not yet informed me how I was saved!'

Disbrowe averted his head.

'What mean you?' she cried, seizing his arm. 'What has happened? Do not keep me in suspense? Were you my preserver?'

'Your preserver was the plague,' rejoined Disbrowe, mournfully.

The unfortunate lady then, for the first time, perceived that she was attacked by the pestilence, and a long and dreadful pause ensued, broken only by exclamations of anguish from both.

'Disbrowe!' cried Margaret at length, raising herself in bed, 'you have deeply, irrecoverably injured me. But promise me one thing.'

'I swear to do whatever you may desire,' he replied.

'I know not, after what I have heard, whether you have courage for the deed,' she continued. 'But I would have you kill this man.'

'I will do it,' replied Disbrowe.

'Nothing but his blood can wipe out the wrong he has done me,' she rejoined. 'Challenge him to a duel—a mortal duel. If he survives, by my soul, I will give myself to him.'

'Margaret!' exclaimed Disbrowe.

'I swear it,' she rejoined,' and you know my passionate nature too well to doubt I will keep my word.'

'But you have the plague!'

'What does that matter? I may recover.'

'Not so,' muttered Disbrowe. 'If I fall, I will take care you do not recover.... I will fight him to-morrow,' he added aloud.

About noon on the following day Disbrowe proceeded to the Smyrna Coffee-house, where, as he expected, he found Parravicin and his companions. The knight instantly advanced towards him, and laying aside for the moment his reckless air, inquired, with a look of commiseration, after his wife.

'She is better,' replied Disbrowe, fiercely. 'I am come to settle accounts with you.'

'I thought they were settled long ago,' returned Parravicin, instantly resuming his wonted manner. 'But I am glad to find you consider the debt unpaid.'

Disbrowe lifted the cane he held in his hand, and struck the knight with it forcibly on the shoulder. 'Be that my answer,' he said.

'I will have your life first, and your wife afterwards,' replied Parravicin fiercely.

'You shall have her if you slay me, but not otherwise,' retorted Disbrowe. 'It must be a mortal duel.'

'It must,' replied Parravicin. 'I will not spare you this time. I shall instantly proceed to the west side of Hyde Park, beneath the trees. I shall expect you there. On my return I shall call on your wife.'

'I pray you do so, sir,' replied Disbrowe, disdainfully.

Both then quitted the Coffee-house, Parravicin attended by his companions, and Disbrowe accompanied by a military friend, whom he accidentally encountered. Each party taking a coach, they soon reached the ground, a retired spot completely screened from observation by trees. The preliminaries were soon arranged, for neither would admit of delay. The conflict then commenced with great fury on both sides; but Parravicin, in spite of his passion, observed far more caution than his antagonist; and taking advantage of an unguarded movement, occasioned by the other's impetuosity, passed his sword through his body. Disbrowe fell.

'You are again successful,' he groaned, 'but save my wife—save her!'

'What mean you?' cried Parravicin, leaning over him, as he wiped his sword.

But Disbrowe could make no answer. His utterance was choked by a sudden effusion of blood on the lungs, and he instantly expired.

Leaving the body in care of the second, Parravicin and his friends returned to the coach, his friends congratulating him on the issue of the conflict; but the knight looked grave, and pondered upon the words of the dying man. After a time, however, he recovered his spirits, and dined with his friends at the Smyrna; but they observed that he drank more deeply than usual. His excesses did not, however, prevent him from playing with his usual skill, and he won a large sum from one of his companions at Hazard.

Flushed with success, and heated with wine, he walked up to Disbrowe's residence about an hour after midnight. As he approached the house, he observed a strangely-shaped cart at the door, and, halting for a moment, saw a body, wrapped in a shroud, brought out. Could it be Mrs Disbrowe? Rushing forward to one of the assistants in black cloaks, he asked whom he was about to inter.

'It is a Mrs Disbrowe,' replied the coffin-maker. 'She died of grief, because her husband was killed this morning in a duel; but as she had the plague, it must be put down to that. We are not particular in such matters, and shall bury her and her husband together; and as there is no money left to pay for coffins, they must go to the grave without them.'

And as the body of his victim also was brought forth, Parravicin fell against the wall in a state of stupefaction. At this moment, Solomon Eagle, the weird plague-prophet, with his burning brazier on his head, suddenly turned the corner of the street, and, stationing himself before the dead-cart, cried in a voice of thunder—'Woe to the libertine! Woe to the homicide! for he shall perish in everlasting fire! Woe! woe!'

Such is this English legend, as related by Ainsworth, but which I have condensed into its main elements. I think it bids fair to equal in interest that of the Hindoo epic; and if it be not true in every particular, so much the better for the sake of human nature.


Concerning the ancient Egyptians we have no particular facts to detail in the matter of gambling; but it is sufficient to determine the existence of any special vice in a nation to find that there are severe laws prohibiting and punishing its practice. Now, this testimony not only exists, but the penalty is of the utmost severity, from which may be inferred both the horror conceived of the practice by the rulers of the Egyptians, and the strong propensity which required that severity to suppress or hold it in check. In Egypt, 'every man was easily admitted to the accusation of a gamester or dice-player; and if the person was convicted, he was sent to work in the quarries.'(19) Gambling was, therefore, prevalent in Egypt in the earliest times.

(19) Taylor, Ductor Dubitantium, B. iv. c. 1.

That gaming with dice was a usual and fashionable species of diversion at the Persian court in the times of the younger Cyrus (about 400 years before the Christian era), to go no higher, is evident from the anecdote related by some historians of those days concerning Queen Parysatis, the mother of Cyrus, who used all her art and skill in gambling to satiate her revenge, and to accomplish her bloodthirsty projects against the murderers of her favourite son. She played for the life or death of an unfortunate slave, who had only executed the commands of his master. The anecdote is as follows, as related by Plutarch, in the Life of Artaxerxes.

'There only remained for the final execution of Queen Parysatis's projects, and fully to satiate her vengeance, the punishment of the king's slave Mesabetes, who by his master's order had cut off the head and hand of the young Cyrus, who was beloved by Parysatis (their common mother) above Artaxerses, his elder brother and the reigning monarch. But as there was nothing to take hold of in his conduct, the queen laid this snare for him. She was a woman of good address, had abundance of wit, and EXCELLED AT PLAYING A CERTAIN GAME WITH DICE. She had been apparently reconciled to the king after the death of Cyrus, and was present at all his parties of pleasure and gambling. One day, seeing the king totally unemployed, she proposed playing with him for a thousand darics (about L500), to which he readily consented. She suffered him to win, and paid down the money. But, affecting regret and vexation, she pressed him to begin again, and to play with her—FOR A SLAVE. The king, who suspected nothing, complied, and the stipulation was that the winner was to choose the slave.

'The queen was now all attention to the game, and made use of her utmost skill and address, which as easily procured her victory, as her studied neglect before had caused her defeat. She won—and chose Mesabetes—the slayer of her son—who, being delivered into her hands, was put to the most cruel tortures and to death by her command.

'When the king would have interfered, she only replied with a smile of contempt—"Surely you must be a great loser, to be so much out of temper for giving up a decrepit old slave, when I, who lost a thousand good darics, and paid them down on the spot, do not say a word, and am satisfied."'

Thus early were dice made subservient to the purposes of cruelty and murder. The modern Persians, being Mohammedans, are restrained from the open practice of gambling. Yet evasions are contrived in favour of games in the tables, which, as they are only liable to chance on the 'throw of the dice,' but totally dependent on the 'skill' in 'the management of the game,' cannot (they argue) be meant to be prohibited by their prophet any more than chess, which is universally allowed to his followers; and, moreover, to evade the difficulty of being forbidden to play for money, they make an alms of their winnings, distributing them to the poor. This may be done by the more scrupulous; but no doubt there are numbers whose consciences do not prevent the disposal of their gambling profits nearer home. All excess of gaming, however, is absolutely prohibited in Persia; and any place wherein it is much exercised is called 'a habitation of corrupted carcases or carrion house.'(20)

(20) Hyde, De Ludis Oriental.

In ancient Greece gambling prevailed to a vast extent. Of this there can be no doubt whatever; and it is equally certain that it had an influence, together with other modes of dissipation and corruption, towards subjugating its civil liberties to the power of Macedon.

So shamelessly were the Athenians addicted to this vice, that they forgot all public spirit in their continued habits of gaming, and entered into convivial associations, or formed 'clubs,' for the purposes of dicing, at the very time when Philip of Macedon was making one grand 'throw' for their liberties at the Battle of Chaeronea.

This politic monarch well knew the power of depravity in enervating and enslaving the human mind; he therefore encouraged profusion, dissipation, and gambling, as being sure of meeting with little opposition from those who possessed such characters, in his projects of ambition—as Demosthenes declared in one of his orations.(21) Indeed, gambling had arrived at such a height in Greece, that Aristotle scruples not to rank gamblers 'with thieves and plunderers, who for the sake of gain do not scruple to despoil their best friends;'(22) and his pupil Alexander set a fine upon some of his courtiers because he did not perceive they made a sport or pastime of dice, but seemed to be employed as in a most serious business.(23)

(21) First Olynthia. See also Athenaeus, lib. vi. 260.

(22) Ethic. Ad Nicomachum, lib. iv.

(23) Plutarch, in Reg. et Imp. Apothegm

The Greeks gambled not only with dice, and at their equivalent for Cross and Pile, but also at cock-fighting, as will appear in the sequel.

From a remark made by the Athenian orator Callistratus, it is evident that desperate gambling was in vogue; he says that the games in which the losers go on doubling their stakes resemble ever-recurring wars, which terminate only with the extinction of the combatants.(24)

(24) Xenophon, Hist. Graec. lib. VI. c. iii.


In spite of the laws enacted against gaming, the court of the Emperor Augustus was greatly addicted to that vice, and gave it additional stimulus among the nation. Although, however, he was passionately fond of gambling, and made light of the imputation on his character,(25) it appears that in frequenting the gambling table he had other motives besides mere cupidity. Writing to his daughter he said, 'I send you a sum with which I should have gratified my companions, if they had wished to play at dice or odds and evens.' On another occasion he wrote to Tiberius:—'If I had exacted my winnings during the festival of Minerva; if I had not lavished my money on all sides; instead of losing twenty thousand sestercii (about L1000), I should have gained one hundred and fifty thousand (L7500). I prefer it thus, however; for my bounty should win me immense glory.'(26)

(25) Aleae rumorem nullo modo expavit. Suet. in Vita Augusti.

(26) Sed hoc malo: benignitas enim mea me ad coelestem gloriam efferet. Ubi supra.

This gambling propensity subjected Augustus to the lash of popular epigrams; among the rest, the following:

Postquam bis classe victus naves perdidit, Aliquando ut vincat, ludit assidud aleam.

'He lost at sea; was beaten twice, And tries to win at least with dice.'

But although a satirist by profession, the sleek courtier Horace spared the emperor's vice, contenting himself with only declaring that play was forbidden.(27) The two following verses of his, usually applied to the effects of gaming, really refer only to RAILLERY.

(27) Carm. lib. III. Od. xxiv.

Ludus enim genuit trepidum certamen et iram; Ira truces inimicitias et funebre bellum.(28)

(28) Epist. lib. I. xix.

He, however, has recorded the curious fact of an old Roman gambler, who was always attended by a slave, to pick up his dice for him and put them in the box.(29) Doubtless, Horace would have lashed the vice of gambling had it not been the 'habitual sin' of his courtly patrons.

(29) Lib. II. Sat. vii. v. 15.

It seems that Augustus not only gambled to excess, but that he gloried in the character of a gamester. Of himself he says, 'Between meals we played like old crones both yesterday and today.'(30)

(30) Inter coenam lusimus (gr gerontikws) et heri et hodie.

When he had no regular players near him, he would play with children at dice, at nuts, or bones. It has been suggested that this emperor gave in to the indulgence of gambling in order to stifle his remorse. If his object in encouraging this vice was to make people forget his proscriptions and to create a diversion in his favour, the artifice may be considered equal to any of the political ruses of this astute ruler, whose false virtues were for a long time vaunted only through ignorance, or in order to flatter his imitators.

The passion of gambling was transmitted, with the empire, to the family of the Caesars. At the gaming table Caligula stooped even to falsehood and perjury. It was whilst gambling that he conceived his most diabolical projects; when the game was against him he would quit the table abruptly, and then, monster as he was, satiated with rapine, would roam about his palace venting his displeasure.

One day, in such a humour, he caught a glimpse of two Roman knights; he had them arrested and confiscated their property. Then returning to the gaming table, he exultingly exclaimed that he had never made a better throw!(31) On another occasion, after having condemned to death several Gauls of great opulence, he immediately went back to his gambling companions and said:—'I pity you when I see you lose a few sestertii, whilst, with a stroke of the pen, I have just won six hundred millions.'(32)

(31) Exultans rediit, gloriansque se nunquam prosperiore alea usum. Suet. in Vita Calig.

(32) Thirty millions of pounds sterling. The sestertius was worth 1s. 3 3/4d.

The Emperor Claudius played like an imbecile, and Nero like a madman. The former would send for the persons whom he had executed the day before, to play with him; and the latter, lavishing the treasures of the public exchequer, would stake four hundred thousand sestertii (L20,000) on a single throw of the dice.

Claudius played at dice on his journeys, having the interior of his carriage so arranged as to prevent the motion from interfering with the game.

From that period the title of courtier and gambler became synonymous. Gaming was the means of securing preferment; it was by gambling that Vitellius opened to himself so grand a career; gaming made him indispensable to Claudius.(33)

(33) Claudio per aleae studium familiaris. Vita Vitelli.

Seneca, in his Play on the death of Claudius, represents him as in the lower regions condemned to pick up dice for ever, putting them into a box without a bottom!(34)

(34) Nam quotiens missurus erat resonante fritillo, Utraque subducto fugiebat tessera fundo. Lusus de Morte Claud. Caesar.

Caligula was reproached for having played at dice on the day of his sister's funeral; and Domitian was blamed for gaming from morning to night, and without excepting the festivals of the Roman calendar; but it seems ridiculous to note such improprieties in comparison with their habitual and atrocious crimes.

The terrible and inexorable satirist Juvenal was the contemporary of Domitian and ten other emperors; and the following is his description of the vice in the gaming days of Rome:

'When was the madness of games of chance more furious? Now-a-days, not content with carrying his purse to the gaming table, the gamester conveys his iron chest to the play-room. It is there that, as soon as the gaming instruments are distributed, you witness the most terrible contests. Is it not mere madness to lose one hundred thousand sestertii and refuse a garment to a slave perishing with cold?'(35)

(35) Sat. I. 87.

It seems that the Romans played for ready money, and had not invented that multitude of signs by the aid of which, without being retarded by the weight of gold and silver, modern gamblers can ruin themselves secretly and without display.

The rage for gambling spread over the Roman provinces, and among barbarous nations who had never been so much addicted to the vice as after they had the misfortune to mingle with the Romans.

The evil continued to increase, stimulated by imperial example. The day on which Didius Julianus was proclaimed Emperor, he walked over the dead and bloody body of Pertinax, and began to play at dice in the next room.(36)

(36) Dion Cass. Hist. Rom. l. lxxiii.

At the end of the fourth century, the following state of things at Rome is described by Gibbon, quoting from Ammianus Marcellinus:

'Another method of introduction into the houses and society of the "great," is derived from the profession of gaming; or, as it is more politely styled, of play. The confederates are united by a strict and indissoluble bond of friendship, or rather of conspiracy; a superior degree of skill in the "tessarian" art, is a sure road to wealth and reputation. A master of that sublime science who, in a supper or assembly, is placed below a magistrate, displays in his countenance the surprise and indignation which Cato might be supposed to feel when he was refused the praetorship by the votes of a capricious people.'(37)

(37) Amm. Marcellin. lib. XIV. c. vi.

Finally, at the epoch when Constantine abandoned Rome never to return, every inhabitant of that city, down to the populace, was addicted to gambling.


CHARLES VI. and CHARLES VII.—The early French annals record the deeds of haughty and idle lords, whose chief occupations were tormenting their vassals, drinking, fighting, and gaming; for most of them were desperate gamblers, setting at defiance all the laws enacted against the practice, and outraging all the decencies of society. The brother of Saint Louis played at dice in spite of the repeated prohibitions of that virtuous prince. Even the great Duguesclin gamed away all his property in prison.(38) The Duc de Touraine, brother of Charles VI., 'set to work eagerly to win the king's money,' says Froissart; and transported with joy one day at having won five thousand livres, his first cry was—Monseigneur, faites-moi payer, 'Please to pay, Sire.'

(38) Hist. de Dugueselin, par Menard.

Gaming went on in the camp, and even in the presence of the enemy. Generals, after having ruined their own fortunes, compromised the safety of the country. Among the rest, Philibert de Chalon, Prince d'Orange, who was in command at the siege of Florence, under the Emperor Charles the Fifth, gambled away the money which had been confided to him for the pay of the soldiers, and was compelled, after a struggle of eleven months, to capitulate with those whom he might have forced to surrender.(39)

(39) Paul. Jov. Hist. lib. xxix.

In the reign of Charles VI. we read of an Hotel de Nesle which was famous for terrible gaming catastrophes. More than one of its frequenters lost their lives there, and some their honour, dearer than life. This hotel was not accessible to everybody, like more modern gaming salons, called Gesvres and Soissons; its gate was open only to the nobility, or the most opulent gentlemen of the day.

There exists an old poem which describes the doings at this celebrated Hotel de Nesle.(40) The author, after describing the convulsions of the players and recording their blasphemies, says:—

(40) The title of this curious old poem is as follows:—'C'est le dit du Gieu des Dez fait par Eustace, et la maniere et contenance des Joueurs qui etoient a Neele, ou etoient Messeigneurs de Berry, de Bourgogne, et plusieurs autres.'

Que maints Gentils-hommes tres haulx Y ont perdu armes et chevaux, Argent, honour, et Seignourie, Dont c'etoit horrible folie.

'How many very eminent gentlemen have there lost their arms and horses, their money and lordship—a horrible folly.'

In another part of the poem he says:—

Li jeune enfant deviennent Rufien, Joueurs de Dez, gourmands et plains d'yvresse, Hautains de cuer, et ne leur chant en rien D'onneur, &c.

'There young men become ruffians, dice-players, gluttons, and drunkards, haughty of heart, and bereft of honour.'

Still it seems that gaming had not then confounded all conditions, as at a later period. It is evident, from the history and memoirs of the times, that the people were more given to games of skill and exercise than games of chance. Before the introduction of the arquebus and gunpowder, they applied themselves to the practice of archery, and in all times they played at quoits, ninepins, bowls, and other similar games of skill.(41)

(41) Sauval, Antiquites de Paris, ii.

The invention of cards brought about some change in the mode of amusement. The various games of this kind, however, cost more time than money; but still the thing attracted the attention of the magistrates and the clergy. An Augustinian friar, in the reign of Charles VII., effected a wonderful reformation in the matter by his preaching. At his voice the people lit fires in several quarters of the city, and eagerly flung into them their cards and billiard-balls.(42)

(42) Pasquier, Recherche des Recherches.

With the exception of a few transient follies, nothing like a rage for gambling can be detected at that period among the lower ranks and the middle classes. The vice, however, continued to prevail without abatement in the palaces of kings and the mansions of the great.

It is impossible not to remark, in the history of nations, that delicacy and good faith decline in proportion to the spread of gambling. However select may be the society of gamesters, it is seldom that it is exempt from all baseness. We have seen a proof of the practice of cheating among the Hindoos. It existed also among the Romans, as proved by the 'cogged' or loaded dice dug up at Herculaneum. The fact is that cheating is a natural, if not a necessary, incident of gambling. It may be inferred from a passage in the old French poet before quoted, that cheats, during the reign of Charles VI., were punished with 'bonnetting,'(43) but no instance of the kind is on record; on the contrary, it is certain that many of the French kings patronized and applauded well-known cheats at the gaming table.

(43) Se votre ami qui bien vous sert En jouant vous changeoit les Dez, Auroit-il pas Chapeau de vert.

LOUIS XI.—Brantome says that Louis XI., who seems not to have had a special secretary, being one day desirous of getting something written, perceived an ecclesiastic who had an inkstand hanging at his side; and the latter having opened it at the king's request, a set of dice fell out. 'What kind of SUGAR-PLUMS are these?' asked his Majesty. 'Sire,' replied the priest, 'they are a remedy for the Plague.' 'Well said,' exclaimed the king, 'you are a fine Paillard (a word he often used); 'YOU ARE THE MAN FOR ME,' and took him into his service; for this king was fond of bon-mots and sharp wits, and did not even object to thieves, provided they were original and provocative of humour, as the following very funny anecdote will show. 'A certain French baron who had lost everything at play, even to his clothes, happening to be in the king's chamber, quietly laid hands on a small clock, ornamented with massive gold, and concealed it in his sleeve. Very soon after, whilst he was among the troop of lords and gentlemen, the clock began to strike the hour. We can well imagine the consternation of the baron at this contretemps. Of course he blushed red-hot, and tightened his arm to try and stifle the implacable sound of detection manifest—the flagrans delictum—still the clock went on striking the long hour, so that at each stroke the bystanders looked at each other from head to foot in utter bewilderment.

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