Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Whist on Stage

Having seen poems and songs dedicated to whist, we now look at another art form—theater. In the late 19th century, a peculiar art form was known as "living whist." William Butler describes it in The Whist Reference Book (Philadelphia: Yorston, 1899, available for download here) as follows:
An elaborate form of stage performance that has become popular of late years. It is also called "Spielkartenfest," or festival of playing cards. It is said that Mrs. George B. McLaughlin, of Philadelphia, noted its success abroad, and introduced it to the Quaker City in 1891...The amusement seems to have been suggested by living chess which was very popular as early as 1879.
In "living whist," as we have seen it played, the curtain rises, and a garden fĂȘte is seen in progress at the royal palace. One of the guests proposes that a game of whist be played, in which the officers and court ladies shall act the part of of hearts, clubs diamonds and spades, each being appropriately costumed...[W]hen the curtain rises again a tableau is presented of the entire complement of fifty-two cards. Then comes the game, and the cards are duly shuffled and dealt (by marching and countermarching)...(page 252)
The most important book about a living whist performance is Musical Whist with Living Cards by Henry Jones ("Cavendish") (London: De La Rue and Dublin: William McGee, 1892). The book describes the centenary celebration of the Masonic Female Orphan School of Ireland, a week-long charitable event including stagings of living whist hands. Seven famous whist hands were acted out, including a hand from Thomson's Whist a Poem in Twelve Cantos (discussed here) and the play The Humours of Whist (discussed here and here). For each hand, Cavendish provides its history, describes the conduct of play (including the accompanying music and dance) and an analysis of the play.

Below are Cavendish's description of the conduct of a hand of living whist (left) and the hand from Thomson (right). Click to enlarge.

Musical Whist
Musical Whist
Thomson hand

Butler is certainly correct that living whist events were popular in the last decade of the 19th century. These were society events with lovely programs and much acknowledgement of the well-to-do participants. I have managed to collect several programs from living whist events (indeed these non-Hoyle essays are primarily a chance for my to show off unusual items in my collection), the earliest of which took place in San Francisco on November 12, 1892. The cover of the 56 page program is pictured below.

Living Whist (San Francisco)

The program explains the conduct of living whist much as does Cavendish:
The four players will take their respective positions as shown on the diagram [pictured below]. While the opening MARCH is being played, the cards appear in suits, and pass up and down the stage. At a certain signal, designated by the music, the SHUFFLE takes place, and at once the cards change from an orderly procession to an intricate confusion. The DEAL the follows, and the living characters, by a series of dextrous evolutions, are seen to arrange themselves towards the four parts of the state. The play...now opens. In playing a trick, the cards are led into the center and there execute a dance, varied according to the dignity of the Kings and Queens, the vivacity of Jacks or the cheerfulness of lesser cards. Every trick has its own figure, with music continually changing from minuet to waltz or quickstep. As the tracks are taken they range themselves near the winners. Each person bears upon his costume the respective card which he represents. This makes it easy for the audience to follow the tricks as they are played. (page 23)
Living Whist (San Francisco)
The Players
Living whist was not confined to the major cities. Below are programs from Bethel, Maine in 1893 and Ayer, Massachusetts in (I believe) 1897. The first is a single folded card with a program of 14 numbers produced by the Norway Living Whist Club under the direction of S. N. Buck and J. H. Haselton. The second is a large folded sheet with a single whist had described card by card inside.

Living Whist
Living Whist

I will concede that these items seem rather silly to modern sensibilities, but they show the central role of whist in late 19th century society.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Whist in Song

In my last essay, I discussed a substantial poem extolling the virtues of whist. It is not surprising that whist found its way into other arts. Here, I look at two examples of songs about whist and in the next essay—whist on stage!

The first example, pictured below, is a single folded sheet with two engraved pages of music. It is called The Odd Trick or Imperial Game at Whist. A favorite song sung at the Corporation Feast, Sheffield. The music was written by Luke Proctor and the lyrics by W. Battie and was sold by Joseph Dale at his Music and Instrument Warehouses. Dale was a printer, bookseller, publisher, and also made and sold musical instruments. The song was entered at Stationers Hall, so with some work I can establish a publication date, but the text dates it to the time of the Napoleonic Wars.

The Odd Trick
The song uses many whist terms metaphorically, including the phrase in the title "odd trick." Each whist deal consists of thirteen tricks and the side winning the most tricks scores a point for each trick in excess of six. The seventh trick, then, is the most valuable. It is in effect worth two points as it changes the score from minus one to plus one. In whist, the seventh trick is known as the "odd trick," giving title to the song. Other whist terms abound: game, dealing, trumps, honours, etc.

The ODD TRICK, or Imperial Game at WHIST.

While others on taxes and politics prate,
Neglecting their own affairs of the state,
Such folly I wish to avoid in my rhymes,
I only intend a slight hint on the times.

The French against Europe have play'd a hard game,
Tho' odds went against them at dealing the same;
So strong in their trumps, and they play 'em so quick,
The game had been theirs, had they got the Odd Trick.

To gain this odd trick the french gamesters alert,
By fraud, force, or cunning, their skill do exert;
Her partners have yielded, yet Britain no doubt
Will try single-handed to see the game out.

They boast they can beat us, but numbers made bold,
Tho' stronger in trumps, yet more honours we hold;
Vain all their attempts British Isles to enslave,
We have Ace, King and Queen, they only the Knave.

The game of invasion they yet may revoke,
For  who can depend on such whimsical folk,
Republicans once, now for monarchy sing,
And are busy transforming their knave to a king.

Kings, laws, and religion, like madmen enrag'd,
To abolish throughout the whole world they engag'd;
And threaten'd all kingdoms should be overthrown
Now submit to a non-freeman king of their own.

For Boney, who thirsts after blood like a shark,
Was illegally bound, and now strikes a false mark;
By help of some new fangled patterns he made,
Got his masters old shop, and began the same trade.

Half Europe he governs with absolute sway,
And threatens Old England shall soon be his prey;
But should he attempt i, with blows hard and thick,
Ev'ry Briton, I hope, will defend the odd trick.

Whist is the Only Game
Jumping ahead more than a century, we turn from politics to the battle of the sexes. The song is Whist is the Only Game by Weston P. Truesdell, San Leandro: California Music Press, 1911. Truesdell (1860-1914) was a San Francisco journalist and the author of the book Whist Don'ts, 1914. The sheet music cover at left, shows a home whist game, with some tension between one of the couples.

Notice that a deal at whist is displayed in the border, with the caption:
Hand at the top was my partner's. Hand at the bottom was mine. Hearts were Trump. Ace of Diamonds Led. We should have made eleven tricks. We made seven. I couldn't find a policeman to tell my troubles to, so I wrote this song.
I transcribe the hand below. Evidently North was the dealer and turned a heart for trump, placing East on lead. As Truesdell notes, eleven tricks are available on a cross-ruff (Hoyle would have called it a "see-saw") with North trumping spades and South diamonds. Even if East leads a heart, restricting NS to ten trump tricks, South can trump four diamonds, setting up the last as a winner for the eleventh trick.

        S -
        H - A K Q J T 3
        D - 8 5 4 3 2
        C - 9 6

S - A K 4            S - Q T 5 2
H - 4                H - 9
D - Q J 9 7          D - A K T 6
C - K T 8 3 2        C - A Q 7 4

        S - J 9 8 7 6 3
        H - 8 7 6 5 2
        D -
        C - J 5

As we follow the lyrics, we see that Mrs. Truesdell had other ideas for playing the hand:

When lights shine bright, at fall of night,
A quarter I'll put in my clo'es,
I'll chase a-way to the place they play
That swell game that ev'ry one knows.

A partner I had one fateful night,
Her pink waist was glad but she played like a fright!
She'd lead a sneak and she'd trump my ace,
If I dared to speak she'd slap my face.

Oh! whist is the only game.

Whist is the Only Game

Whist, whist, whist,
Oh! whist is the only game.
I never win, I lose my tin,
But I love it just the same.
Long suit, short suit,
Not a trump in my fist,
I throw my money to the birds
When I play whist.

I had five trumps, and six had she,
No diamond in that hand of mine,
I laugh with glee as I said to me,
Oh! Here is the place that I shine.

A diamond they led, a fierce big ace,
I killed it quite dead, tho' it was a disgrace.
A little spade then I led my pard,
And the trick we made, she trumped the card.

Oh! Whist is the only game.

[repeat chorus]

What do you think that girl in pink
Returned when she led out again?
She led her trumps, her ace, her king,
Her queen and her jack and her ten.

'Tis seven years since that dreadful game,
The girl who wore pink is now wearing my name,
Six little trumps in our cottage play,
That's the winning score we count today.

Oh! Whist is the only game.

[repeat chorus]

This was not very clever play on the part of Mrs. Truesdell, but at least her partnership still made the odd trick! I wonder if the descendents of the Truesdells and their "six little trumps" know of this song today.

Enough of whist in song—do give some thought to the challenge of choreographing a game of whist for the stage!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Eighteenth Century Whist Literature

Hoyle's 1742 Short Treatise on the Game of Whist was the first book devoted exclusively to the game. I have discussed it extensively throughout this blog, including in this essay. The text was expanded and edited by Hoyle and others well into the 19th century. The second important book on whist was Payne's Maxims, discussed here, with a specimen in fine binding from the library of Henry Hucks Gibb pictured here. In that essay, I mention the third important book, Advice to the Young Whist Player by Thomas Matthews, 1804.

Here I look at three other 18th century books on whist that do not derive quite so directly from Hoyle. The first is Hints to Whist Players by Percival Haslam. It was privately printed in Canterbury. No copies of the first edition are known to survive; below is pictured one of two known copies of the second edition. Haslam died in 1800 and the best guess for the date of publication is about 1790. It is a true miniature book, much smaller than the miniature Scottish Hoyle I have discussed previously. As you can see below, a bookworm has feasted on the adhesive under the gilding. Perhaps I should get it restored.

Haslam cover
Haslam title

In 1791, the minor Scottish poet Alexander Thomson wrote Whist, a Poem in Twelve Cantos with a second edition appearing in 1792. This is quite a common book—I suspect that as a poem it was deemed literature rather than a gaming manual, and thus more attractive to academic libraries. The first copy below bears an ownership inscription of J. W. Rimington-Wilson (for another example of a book from his collection see here) and another from A. B. Ferguson, a collector whom I mention here.

Thomson 1791

Thomson 1791 provenance

My copy of the second edition, pictured at right, is in a fine binding from the library of Henry Hucks Gibbs and also comes from the Ferguson collection, but lacks any evidence of Ferguson's ownership.

I'll leave it to others to assess the merits of the poem, and offer but a single quatrain:
What game indeed, of all the num'rous list,
In point of beauty, can compare to Whist?
Or which, of all where gold was ever lost,
So rich a catalogue of charms can boast?
(Canto V lines 27-30)
Okay, a bit more—I cannot resist:
Let all the games that ask but little skill,
Loo, Commerce, Comet, Basset, and Quadrille,
Like twinkling stars that dimly gild the night,
Shrink from the blaze of Whist's refulgent light:
(Canto VI lines 1-4)
The final book derives from Hoyle and from Payne's Maxims and is called The Beauties of Hoyle and Paine; or, A Compendium of Easy Rules Necessary to be Known by Every Whist-Player; with Maxims, By General Scott. London, 1792. The lovely copy below is in its original paper wrappers, and is quite similar to the early 19th century copy of Bob Short on whist, pictured here. The contrast between the fine bespoke binding on the 1792 Thomson and the trade binding of Scott is striking. I appreciate them both, but the bibliographer in me prefers the trade binding.

1792 Scott wrappers
1792 Scott title
ESTC does not record my edition, but lists a third edition of 1792, a fourth edition of 1796 printed in Barbados of all places, and a fifth edition of 1799, showing only a single copy of each book.

Jessel notes a sixth edition of 1810 and a tenth edition of 1814. My copy of the tenths illustrates another style of trade binding—drab binder's boards with a printed label. The title has changed to Easy Rules of Whist... and there is a lovely hand-colored frontispiece.
1814 Scott

1814 Scott

I believe that the success of Hoyle intimidated other would-be writers about whist. Though Hoyle was issued some 75 times in the British Isles in the 18th century, only Payne, Haslam, Thomson, and Scott managed new titles. It was not until the 1860s that Henry Jones, writing as "Cavendish" (discussed here) emerged as a true successor to Hoyle.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hoyle's Scoring Method and Whist Counters

In Hoyle's day, whist was a game played to ten points and it would take several deals to reach that score. At that time, paper was dear, and it is not surprising that methods evolved to keep score without it. One method used four counters for each partnership to record progress towards ten points. It came to be known as Hoyle's Scoring Method, but like so many things that bear Hoyle's name, Hoyle never had anything to do with it!

Whist scoring tokens, obverse.
(click to enlarge)

I've become interested in these counters because of a recent acquisition, somewhat outside my usual sphere. Pictured at left are three scoring counters (originally from a set of four) bearing the bust of an English gentleman under the word "Hoyle". The counters are dated 1740.

Whist scoring tokens, reverse
(click to enlarge)

The reverses, numbered 1 to 3, are pictured on the right. The set would have been completed with another counter numbered 4. The tokens are quite small, 17 mm in diameter, weighing 1.3 grams.

The counters are charming, but are they credible? Certainly, the date cannot be right. Hoyle's first book was published in November 1742 and there is no record of him prior to that time.

Is the portrait of Hoyle authentic? For well over a century, people have been searching for such a portrait. In a piece in Notes and Queries titled "Edmond Hoyle," "Xylographer" asked "Do there exist any engraved or other portraits of the author of the treatise on Whist?" (10th Ser. ii 409. November 19, 1904) Bibliographer Frederic Jessel (I discuss Jessel and Marshall here, and Cavendish here) replied:
Exhaustive inquiries were made by "Cavendish" and by Mr. Julian Marshall, but they both failed to discover any portrait of Hoyle (see 7th S. vii. 482). Since then I have examined a large number of catalogues of portraits without any result. I possess, however, a bronze medalet, rather smaller than a sixpence, bearing, on the obverse, a bust to the left, with the inscription "Edmund Hoyle"; on the reverse, the figure 4. It has been pierced, and was probably intended either for a whist marker or for the badge of membership of a whist club. The bust is very clearly cut, and the features are of a strongly marked classical type. The medalet appears to be of eighteenth-century workmanship, and gives me the impression that it represents a likeness, not a fancy head." (10th Ser. ii 536. December 31, 1904)
It sounds as though Jessel may have the counter missing from my set! But his is inscribed "Edmund Hoyle" and mine "Hoyle." It is clearly a different counter.

Mitchiner 5644
(click to enlarge)
Indeed three distinct varieties of early Hoyle counters are known and described in Michael Mitchiner, Jetons, Medalets and Tokens, volume three, British Isles circa 1558 to 1830, London: Hawkins 1998. My tokens are identified as number 5645, while both 5644 (at right, containing symbols for the suits in lieu of a date) and 5646 (below, dated 1747) are inscribed "Edmund Hoyle" and pictured below.

Mitchiner 5646
(click to enlarge)

Mitchiner writes:
The date when these counters were made and their place of origin, must remain uncertain. They appear to be the earliest counter made specifically for the Game of Whist. One can suggest that manufacture was in the late eighteenth century. (p1858)

As I look at the three portraits, they do not appear to be of the same person, so I reject Jessel's suggestion that this is an actual likeness of Hoyle.

Withy, Hoyle abridged
(click to enlarge)
How were these tokens used and when was the scoring method introduced? The earliest mention I have found to using counters for scoring at whist is from Robert Withy's Hoyle Abridged: Or Short Rules for Short Memories at the Game of Whist, dated 1791. I discuss this work here. No earlier edition Hoyle, or other work on whist appears to show such scoring counters. Pictured at right is an early 19th century copy, but the text of the 1791 edition is identical.

Jones 1796, page 3
(click to enlarge)
After Hoyle's death in 1769 and the end of perpetual copyright in 1774, the dominant edition of Hoyle was that edited by Charles Jones, a book I discuss frequently. The use of whist counters is not mentioned in the 1790 edition, but did appear in the next edition of 1796, likely in response to Withy's Hoyle Abridged. It is amusing to note the slightly mangled typography on page 3 (pictured at left), necessitating an erratum in the preliminaries. 

Jones 1796, page viii
(click to enlarge)
Note that none of these references attribute the scoring method to Hoyle. That happened later, as you can see in this nineteenth century set of counters, clearly called Hoyle's Scoring Method. More evidence that what passes for Hoyle biography is actually someone's use of his name as a marketing brand.

One last thought. The four-token system for scoring at whist was likely introduced not long before it's first appearance in print in 1791 and that seems like a reasonable date for the tokens with the left-facing bust. If Hoyle had died some twenty years earlier and no portraits of Hoyle exist, could that possibly be Hoyle's likeness on the tokens?