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BACKGAMMON versus CHESS.
I am just come away from a terrible dispute with my
cousin Kate on the relative merits of backgammon and chess. Kate patronises chess; I stick up for backgammon; and to hear us at our argument you would think Bedlam was broke loose outright. I say our argument, because I am a gallant fellow; though, to put modesty on the shelf for once, the ratiocination is pretty nearly all on one side-mine, of course. Yet, I don't know how it is, I can never bring Kate to my way of thinking—nay, she has not unfrequently the assurance to say that I am the vanquished party. Women are certainly the worst of arguers in the world; they never know when they are beaten. You may assail them with logic, you may batter them with syllogisms—what care they? You think
you have got them fairly into a reductio ad absurdum-you have driven them to Point Nonplus—you have left them with not so much as a leg to stand upon--and straightway they take up their old position just as if nothing had happened. That's always the way with Kate, at least. When I have outwrangled her till I am nearly black in the face, and she is reduced to a positive nonentity, calmly she spreads out her wings, like a regenerated phoenix (excuse the staleness of the simile!) and from those cinders of argumentation, rises up in all the pride of unruffled plumage. This puts me in a pet-well it may, indeed !-and then we get to “high words;" and then Kate laughs; and then I bounce out of the room ; and, running to this little den of mine, set-to to vindicate myself in an essay.
That's the best way of disputing, after all --the pleasantest, at any rate. You can then give your arguments fair play. If there is a weak point in your adversary's reasoning, what five tearing work you can make of it! And if a tough objection comes in your way, how easy to misunderstand it, or skip it over altogether ! Commend me to your penargument, there is none can compare with it. It is like a grand fieldday and review, where the troops are all on one side: or, if you are obliged, for candour's sake, to give yourself a few heavy lunges, no fear but you will find means to parry them-like the cat in the kitchen, you need not care being tossed head over heels a little, for there is no danger but you will come down on your legs again.
How any one can like chess moves my especial wonder. It is the dullest, the puzzlingest, and the tediousest game under the sun. There they sit, Kate and James, posing and prosing over those horses’-heads and fools-caps hour after hour, night after night. They speak but once or twice in an evening, and then only monosyllabically, “Check!" --and it seems as if a chair or a table had been suddenly endowed with speech. They can't talk themselves, and they can't be talked to. You cannot ask the civilest question but they give you a sulky answer—if, indeed, they condescend to give you an answer at all.
They call it playing at chess : monstrous perversion !—to me it seems harder work than algebra. It is the most lacklustrous of all games--it is no game at all, in fact-it is a labour, and a labour, too, the most irksome that can well be imagined. It is like those “instructive games
» invented for children, where they are required to twirl the tee-totum and ascertain
the height of John Chinaman in a breath; where the drawing of a card or the throwing of a die leads you to the depth of the Mediterranean or the longitude of Pernambuco. Poor dear children! who could have so miserably mistaken the nature of play—who could have forged such fetters for their souls? But, bless them! they despised the cheat—they spurned the starved snake-they tore the false sheet into ten thousand tatters—they shivered the tee-totum into ten thousand fragments! But look at the chess-players, motionless as a brace of mummies ! And yet they describe their game as “very exciting.” Ha! ha! only observe their faces—not a curl of the lip, not a twinkle of the eye—they have not mustered so much as a smile betwixt'em this half hour! Once or twice, indeed, they have been “excited” to a most portentous frown; and something very like a half-suppressed“ damn it” has every now and then been heard on James's side of the board. They tell you it is the game
of kings—war in miniature. If kings like it, well and good ; one seldom hears of them playing at it. I have been a constant reader of the daily papers this—no matter how many years ; I have read of his Majesty taking an airing in the Park, playing a quiet rubber at whist, sailing on Virginia Water, and going to look at the harriers at the Devil's Dyke; but I never heard of the king playing at chess. As for its being an image of war (no great credit, by-the-bye), so is backgammon-so is cribbage--so is fox-and-goose. Query :-do kings ever play at fox-and
I have mentioned backgammon. Yes, backgammon is a game. What life—what spirit—what merriment—what variety! Rattle, rattle, rattle, go the dice—bang-sixes ! Bravo! take you up-cover my own blot-take you up again, and complete the last point in my own table. Ha, ha! if that is not enough to make any one die with laughing, what is ? Throw again-six and three-obliged to leave a blot-fours—by Jove, you take me
-there again—up I go, two men mast-headed in a moment, and my adversary grinning from ear to ear. Ha, ha, ha!
That's what I like in backgammon. The reverses are so suddenthe ups and downs are as quick as in running hand. You have not time to brood over your ill luck, and your enjoyment is the keener for the shortness of your triumph. It is like a game at fisticuffs, where you shake hands with your antagonist before you set-to, and pledge his health in a bumper when all is over. The other one is far more vicious -downright French and English-war to the knife-thorough “good hating.” In backgammon, you have not time to be angry; in chess, ill-blood must needs grow from so long brooding. I would not willingly walk out in the dark with a man whom I had beaten at chess. You may believe it or not, as you like; but I once knew a young fellow who lost his mistress and forty thousand pounds by indiscreetly taking her queen with one of his pawns; and my uncle, who is as fond of backgammon as I am, assures me that he has heard of a person who, having been stale-mated when on the point of winning a long-contested game, took it so much to heart that he cut his carotid artery three weeks after. For my part, I never could properly understand chess-it is such in-and-out, three-cornered work. The rooks, bishops, and pawns I could manage well enough; but those horrid horses' heads, they always perplexed me. And then that castling the king, I never could remember, from one time to another, how it was to be done; and never
Jan.-VOL. XL. NO. CLVII.
saw the use of it when it was done. Most people, I believe, play at chess because they think it fine to do so ; young ladies, because they fancy it argues a masculine mind-young men, because it hides their stupidity-retired tallow-chandlers, because they consider it genteel. I was once fool enough to be dazzled by the glitter of the red and white, studied Phillidor, and went to see the automaton. But the fit was not of long duration-I soon cut my wisdom-teeth—I soon returned to dear old backgammon; and I wish, reader, you and I could have a hit together at this moment. I can never tire of backgammon. It is like Sweet Home,” (the song, I mean,) you cannot have too much of it; the appetite here “grows by what it feeds on,” (really our quotations and similes are shockingly antique); it is like bread-and-cheese, of which it is said, the more you eat the hungrier you get. It unwearies the mind, and rectifies the spirits. It turns a Nero into an Augustus, and a Cymon into a Cæsar. The very sight of a backgammon-board is enough to put me into a good humour. Those stripes of crimson and grey, how pleasant they be, like the glowing clouds of a summer sunset, or the brilliant coruscations of the Aurora Borealis! How different the arena of the chess war! It always puts me in mind of the symbol on an alehouse window. It deserves no better than to be played on a shutter.
Backgammon is essentially a gay game. It is not to be played with solemn thoughts and sour faces. You ought to laugh every time you throw, and if you have not a jest ready for every “doublets,” you don't deserve to throw doublets again as long as you live. As backgammon is a game almost entirely of chance, it will scarcely be in good taste to make much stand upon your skill. Less is it to be endured that you should be constantly referring to Hoyle, for the maintenance of some vexatious rule or foolish courtesy. If a man stand shilly-shallying over a blot, or hesitates to take one of your men, for fear of the consequences, beware how you lend him your money, or entrust him with the title-deeds of your house! If a man insults you by pedantically quoting and resolutely maintaining antiquated laws, such as, “ If you touch a man you must move it, and if you relinquish it you cannot recall it,” shut the board in his face, ring for your slippers, and go to bed. I was once called in to bail a fellow with whom I had long been on terms of intimacy. We played a game or two at backgammon in the spunginghouse. I threw sixes, one on one side the board, one on the other. He protested it was against the rules of the game, and insisted on my throwing again. I took up my hat, left the room, and suffered my friend to go to prison. Did I not serve him rightly ?
The only objection I ever heard against backgammon was its want of sociality,--only two can play at it. This is the objection of my very good friends, the whist players. But I don't consider it an objection : far from it-it is an advantage. There is seldom more than one person in company
that you care to concern yourself about ;-a friend, perhaps, or a sweetheart. If a friend, how delightful an opportunity it affords you for a tête-à-tête! You go on playing and joking, rattling the dice and squibbing off puns, as pleasantly as sunshine in a hay-field. The game no more interrupts your thoughts than a gale disturbs the serenity of the deeps. It is to your discourse what the accompaniment is to a song: it is as animating as a trumpet to a war-horse, or a view-hollo to a fox-hunter, or a pair of bagpipes to a Scotchman. In the case of a
sweetheart, the game is positively invaluable. To the lady herself what opportunities it affords for the display of a well-turned arm; how daintily her little fingers curvet about amongst the men; how brilliantly glance her bright eyes, smiling over some lucky throw! And to you, a fête-champêtre, or a fancy ball, gives not half the facilities. I never was in love but once in my life, and then I always used to pay my addresses through the medium of the backgammon board. 'Oh! Mary Rose W! (Mrs. Jacob Jenkinson now,) Oh! Mary Rose! (Rose-mary I used to call you in our more playful moments,) what billings and cooings have we had over that mock“ History of England” of your old aunt's! What tender things have we said under cover of the dice-box! what sighs have we mingled with the rattling of the men ! how
very close have we brought our lips (all but kissing) under pretence of disputing a throw, or ascertaining the length of a six-and-five! How often, too, when your poor aunt has looked up from her“ Whole Duty of Man," and seen us leaving blot after blot, and throwing helterskelter, and playing into the wrong table, and taking up our own. men instead of our adversary's;—how often has she startled us with her old favourite exclamation, “ Heyday! how now p” and how have you blushed, Mary, at being convicted of a sigh or an ogle! and how have I stammered out an excuse for my fingers, which were haply caught playing themselves amongst your jetty ringlets, or for my toe, which was making love to your toe under the little rosewood table! Oh! Mary, Mary! those were happy days !--my heart and your heart, Mary But, as I said before, you are Mrs. Jacob Jenkinson now, and I mustn't say a word of tenderness in your matronly ear, lest that old stockbrokering husband of your's should take it into his head to sue for damages. Oh! Mary, Mary, how could you think of marrying into the 3 per cent. Consols,-to be dinned to death with the slang of Capel-court, -to give birth to nothing but bulls and bears ?
I have known a game of chess to last two, three, or even four évenings. That seems bad enough; but what must one think when it comes to be spun out for as many months,- to be played through the medium of the General Post-office, and hundreds of miles intervene betwixt each move? Madness, madness! I was once challenged to play a game through the Twopenny, but I declined with indignation. The challenger showed me a letter he had that morning received from an adversary in Edinburgh, and he expected another, he said, by the next vessel from India. The Edinburgh letter ran thus :-“Dear Phil.-By moving pawn No. 4 one square forward, you will very much oblige, --Dear Phil, your's very sincerely,--John Johnstone." This fact alone is, in my mind, enough to damn chess. What affectation! what folly! Did any one ever hear of a game of backgammon being played after such a foolish fashion ? Never, I'll be bound for it. Then, the airs of superiority the chessites assume over us poor backgammonists, and the utter contempt they profess for our game! Why, the fact is, that our game is as superior to their's as silver to sawdust. In chess, two players must either be equal or unequal. If equal, they see through each other's manoeuvres in a minute; and the game (if not prolonged till both parties are heartily sick of each other, and so dropped from mere weariness) is lost at last by an oversight,—the loser not considering himself beaten. If unequal, a certain number of moves places the weaker party hors de combat, and that as often as the game may happen to be renewed.
In backgammon nothing of this sort takes place. The most practised player may be beaten by the veriest tyro. Old grandpapa may be gammoned by his little curly-headed granddaughter. Luck's all. Fortune governs throughout: conjecture is positively dumbfounded. A chancery suit or an action for libel can scarcely be more uncertain in its results. At backgammon all men are fatalists. Many fine moral lessons are contained in its leafless book. The “ Talmud” and the “ Koran” are not more full of ethical instruction than those two volumes of anti-types. They teach us how vain are all our calculations of the future,-how foolish it is for man to trust to his own predictions in matters over which himself has no control. They counsel us to look with suspicion on present good fortune, yet never to despair in the midst of adversity. Let no man be puffed up with pride; his pride may have a fall: let no man despond at the presence of poverty; he may throw sixes! Backgammon instils into our minds the rudiments of honourable competition; of course, it is no game for the St. Simonians: it teaches us that all mankind are equal,- black and white. It is a microcosm, in which the men represent the brute matter, and the dice the informing principle. If chess is a game for kings, backgammon is a recreation fit for the immortal gods themselves.
A noble game is backgammon,—as I think cousin Kate will acknowledge when she comes to cast her fine black eyes over this most veritable and unsophisticated essay.
Incendiarism-The late Trial for Murder-Sir Peter Laurie- The new Fiddle
player-The Pantheon, Balloons, Bazaars, &c.—Emigration : Tax on Absentees-
INCENDIARISM.-We regret to find that this crime is still on the increase; and what renders it more interesting to the Londoners (whose feelings upon most public questions are regulated by the consideration of how far they may themselves be affected by the results) is the fact, that conflagrations are beginning to be common on the skirts of the town. A farm at Camberwell-we scarcely flattered ourselves that Camberwell remained so rural-has been fired, another near Staines, another (the celebrated Oxgate Farm) at Willesden, and another near Acton. One of the miscreants, who was convicted of setting fire to various stacks and ricks, and out-buildings, and who has expiated his crime on the gallows, admitted his inducement to have been the reward of six shillings and sixpence, which he got for giving the alarm and fetching the engines. For the sake of this moderate premium he had been the means of destroying upwards of twenty thousand pounds worth of property. In the annals of selfishness this worthy ought to hold a very distinguished place.