« ZurückWeiter »
pounds down. Nothing was paid; but ten years afterwards, when Lord Carlisle pressed for his money, he complains that an attempt was made to construe the offer into a remission of ten thousand pounds:
The only way, in honour, that Lord I. could have accepted my offer, would have been by taking some steps to pay the L.3000. I remained in a state of uncertainty, I think, for nearly three years; but his taking no notice of it during that time convinced me that he had no intention of availing himself of it. Charles Fox was also at a much earlier period clear that he never meant to accept it. There is also great justice in the behaviour of the family in passing by the instantaneous payment of, I believe, five thousand pounds, to Charles, won at the same sitting, without any observations. At one period of the play, I remember, there was a balance in favour of one of those gentlemen, but of which I protest I do not remember, of about fifty thousand.'
At the time in question, Fox was hardly eighteen. The following letter from Lord Carlisle, written in 1771, contains some highly interesting information respecting the youthful habits, and already vast intellectual pre-eminence of this memorable
It gives me great pain to hear that Charles begins to be unreasonably impatient at losing. I fear it is the prologue to much fretfulness of temper; for disappointment in raising money, and any serious reflections upon his situation, will (in spite of his affected spirits and dissipation, which sit very well upon Richard) occasion him many disagreeable moments. They will be the more painful, when he reflects that he is not following the natural bent of his genius; for that would lead him to all serious enquiry and laudable pursuits, which he has in some measure neglected, to hear Lord Bolingbroke's applause, and now is obliged to have recourse to it and play, to hinder him from thinking how he has perverted the ends for which he was born. I believe there never was a person yet created who had the faculty of reasoning like him. His judgments are never wrong; his decision is formed quicker than any man's I ever conversed with; and he never seems to mistake but in his own affairs.'
Lord Carlisle's fears proved groundless in one respect. Fox's sweetness of temper remained with him to the last; but it is most painful to think how much mankind has lost through his recklessness. There is no saying what might not have been effected by such a man, had he simply followed the example of his great rival in one respect. We played a good deal at Goosetree's, (says 'Wilberforce,) and I well remember the intense earnestness 'which Pitt displayed when joining in these games of chance. 'He perceived their increasing fascination, and soon after aban'doned it for ever.'. Wilberforce's own cure is thus recorded by his biographers, on the authority of his private Journal:t
VOL. LXXX. NO. CLXI.
"We can have no play to-night," complained some of the party at the club, "for St Andrew is not here to keep bank." "Wilberforce," said Mr Bankes, who never joined himself, "if you will keep it I will give you a guinea." The playful challenge was accepted, but as the game grew deep, he rose the 'winner of £600. Much of this was lost by those who were only 'heirs to future fortunes, and could not therefore meet such a call without inconvenience. The pain he felt at their annoy'ance cured him of a taste which seemed but too likely to become 'predominant.'
Goose tree's being then almost exclusively composed of incipient orators and embryo statesmen, the call for a gaming-table there may be regarded as a decisive proof of the universal prevalence of the vice. But most of these were the friends and followers of Pitt; and when his star gained the ascendant, idleness was no longer the order of the day among politicians, and rising young men gave up faro and hazard for Blackstone and Adam Smith. We know of no candidate for high office, entering public life after 1784, who did not affect prudence and propriety; and probably we shall never again see a parliamentary leader aspire, like Bolingbroke,
To shine a Tully and a Wilmot too.'
Gaming, however, continued a blot on our manners and morals for many years afterwards; and it may not be uninstructive to trace its progress and decline. During the whole of the last century, gaming of some sort was an ordinary amusement for both sexes in the best society.* Till near the commencement of the present, the favourite game was Faro; and as it was a decided advantage to hold the Bank, masters and mistresses of noble houses, less scrupulous than Wilberforce, frequently volunteered to fleece and amuse their company. But scandal having made busy with the names of some of them, it became usual to hire a professed gamester at five or ten guineas a night to set up a table for the evening, as we should hire Lablache for a concert, or Weippert for a ball. Faro gradually dropped out of fashion; macao took its place; hazard was never wanting, and whist began to be played for stakes which would have satisfied Fox himself; who, though it was calculated that he
* In General Burgoyne's play of The Heiress, Mrs Blandish exclaims— Time thrown away in the country! as if women of fashion left London to turn freckled shepherdesses. No, no; cards, cards and backgammon, are the delights of rural life; and, slightly as you may think of my skill, at the year's end I am no inconsiderable sharer in the pin-money of my society.'
might have netted four or five thousand a-year by games of skill, complained that they afforded no excitement.
Watier's club, in Piccadilly, was the resort of the macao players. It was kept by an old maître d'hotel of George the Fourth, a character in his way, who took a just pride in the cookery and wines of his establishment. All the brilliant stars of fashion,. (and fashion was power then,) frequented it, with Brummell for their sun. 'Poor Brummell dead, in misery and idiotcy, at Caen! and I remember him in all his glory, cutting his jokes 'after the opera at White's, in a black velvet great-coat, and a cocked hat on his well-powdered head.'* Nearly the same turn of reflection is suggested as we run over the names of his associates. Almost all of them were ruined; three out of four, irretrievably. Indeed it was the forced expatriation of its supporters that caused the club to be broken up. During the same period (from 1810 to 1815 or thereabouts) there was a great deal of high play at White's and Brookes's, particularly whist. At Brookes's figured some remarkable characters-as Tippoo Smith, by common consent the best whist-player of his day; and an old gentleman nicknamed Neptune, from his having once flung himself into the sea in a fit of despair at being, as he thought, ruined. He was fished out in time, found he was not ruined, and played on during the remainder of his life.
The most distinguished player at White's was the nobleman who was presented at the Salon in Paris as Le Wellington des Joueurs; and he richly merited the name, if skill, temper, and the most daring courage, are titles to it. The greatest genius, however, is not infallible. He once lost three thousand four hundred pounds at whist by not remembering that the seven of hearts was in. He played at hazard for the highest stakes that any one could be got to play with him, and at one time was supposed to have won nearly a hundred thousand pounds; but it all went, along with a great deal more, at Crockford's.
There was also a great deal of play at Graham's, the Union, the Cocoa-Tree, and other clubs of the second order in point of fashion. Here large sums were hazarded with equal rashness, and remarkable characters started up. Among the most conspicuous was the late Colonel Aubrey, who literally passed his life at play. He did nothing else, morning, noon, and night; and it was computed that he had paid more than sixty thousand pounds for card-money. He was a very fine player at all games, and a shrewd clever man. He had been twice to India, and made two fortunes. It was said that he lost the first on his way
home, transferred himself from one ship to another without landing, went back, and made the second. His life was a continual alternation between poverty and wealth; and he used to say, the greatest pleasure in life is winning at cards-the next greatest, losing.
For several years deep play went on at all these clubs-fluctuating both as to locality and amount-till by degrees it began to flag. It had got to a low ebb when Mr Crockford came to London, and laid the foundation of the most colossal fortune that was ever made by play. He began by taking Watier's old clubhouse, in partnership with a man named Taylor. They set up a Hazard-bank, and won a great deal of money, but quarrelled and separated at the end of the first year. Taylor continued where he was, had a bad year, and broke. Crockford removed to St James's Street, had a good year, and instantly set about building the magnificent club-house which bears his name. It rose like a creation of Aladdin's lamp; and the genii themselves could hardly have surpassed the beauty of the internal decorations, or furnished a more accomplished maître d'hotel than Ude. To make the company as select as possible, the establishment was regularly organized as a club, and the election of members vested in a committee. 'Crockford's' became the rage, and the votaries of fashion, whether they liked play or not, hastened to enrol themselves. The Duke of Wellington was an original member, though (unlike Blucher, who repeatedly lost every thing he had at play) the Great Captain was never known to play deep at any game but war or politics. Card-tables were regularly placed, and whist was played occasionally; but the aim, end, and final cause of the whole was the Hazard-bank, at which the proprietor took his nightly stand, prepared for all comers. There was a recognized limit, at which (after losing a certain sum) he might declare the bank broke for the night; but he knew his business too well to stop.
The speculation, it is hardly necessary to add, was eminently successful. During several years, every thing that any body had to lose and cared to risk, was swallowed up. Le Wellington des Joueurs lost L.23,000 at a sitting, beginning at twelve at night, and ending at seven the following evening. He and three other noblemen could not have lost less, sooner or later, than a hundred thousand pounds a-piece. Others lost in proportion (or out of proportion) to their means; but we leave it to less occupied moralists, and better calculators to say, how many ruined families went to make Mr Crockford a millionaire -for a millionaire he was and is, in the English sense of the term, after making the largest possible allowance for bad debts. A vast sum, perhaps half a million, is due to him; but
as he won all his debtors were able to raise, and easy credit was the most fatal of his lures,* we cannot make up our minds to condole with him on that amount, frightful though it be. He retired, three or four years ago, much as an Indian Chief retires from a hunting-country when there is not game enough left for his tribe; and the club is said to be now tottering to its fall.
Some good was certainly produced by it. In the first place, private gambling (between gentleman and gentleman) with its degrading incidents, illustrated by the foregoing letters, is at an end. In the second place, this very circumstance brings the worst part of the practice within the reach of the law. Public gambling, which only exists by and through what are popularly termed 'hells,' may be easily suppressed. There are at present more than twenty of these establishments in PallMall, Piccadilly, and St James's, called into existence by Mr Crockford's success. Why does not the police interfere? If the police cannot, why does not the legislature? Not an hour
should be lost in putting down this monstrous evil. We claim to be superior in morals and public order to the French; yet all the public gaming-tables of Paris were suppressed four or five years ago, and (what is more) suppressed without difficulty, the moment the police set to work in good earnest.†
Space permitting, we should be glad to make a few extracts from the numerous letters, in this collection, of the Rev. Dr Warner, who has described many objects of interest, and hit off some curious traits of character, in a gay vivacious style, which would be much more pleasing had there been less effort to make it so. He apparently took for his model the well known letter of Madame de Sévigné, announcing the marriage of la grande Mademoiselle,' in which the main object seems to be to keep beating about the bush as long as possible. But the reverend doctor is inexcusably coarse and loose, and has often tempted us to exclaim like Dr Johnson, when some clergymen were endeavouring to show off in his company by assuming the lax jollity
Brookes was equally accommodating:
From liberal Brookes, whose speculative skill
Is hasty credit and a distant bill;
Who, nursed in clubs, disdains a vulgar trade,
Verses, From the Hon. Charles James Fox, partridge-shooting, to the Hon. John Townshend, cruising; by Tickell, whom Mr Jesse praises for his poem of Anticipation.'
Since this was written, a few of the most notorious London establishments have been suppressed.