Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

MRS. BATTLE'S OPINIONS ON WHIST.

“ A CLEAR fire, a clean hearth, and the rigour of the game." This was the celebrated wish of old Sarah Batlle, (now with God,) who, next to her devotions, loved a good game at whist. She was none of your lukewarm gamesters, your half and half players, who have no objection to take a hand, if you want one to make up a rubber ; who affirm that they have no pleasure in winning ; that they like to win one game, and lose another ; that they can while away an hour very agreeably at a card table, but are indifferent whether they play or no; and will desire an adversary, who has slipped a wrong card, to take it up and play another. These insufferable triflers are the curse of a table. One of these flies will spoil a whole pot. Of such it may be said, that they do not play at cards, but only play at playing at them.

Sarah Battle was none of that breed. She detested them, as I do, from her heart and soul ; and would not, save upon a striking emergency, willingly seat herself at the same table with them. She loved a thorough-paced partner, a determined enemy. She took, and gave, no concessions. She hated favours. She never made a revoke, nor ever passed it over in her adversary without exacting the utmost forfeiture. She fought a good fight cut and thrust. She held not her good sword (her cards) " like a dancer.” She sat bolt upright; and neither showed you her cards, nor desired to see yours. All people have their blind side—their superstitions ; and J have heard her declare, under the rose, that hearts was her favourite suit.

I never in my life—and I knew Sarah Battle many of the best years of it-saw her take out her snuffbox when it was her turn to play ; or snuff a candle in the middle of a game; or ring for a servant, till it was fairly over. She never introJuced, or connived at, miscellaneous conversation during its process. As she emphatically observed, cards were cards ; and if I ever saw unmingled distaste in her fine laşt-century countenance, it was at the airs of a young gentleman of a literary turn, who had been with difficulty persuaded to take a hand ; and who, in his excess of candour, declared, that he thought there was no harm in unbending the mind now and then, after serious studies, in recreations of that kind! Sho could not beal to have her noble occupation, to which she

sons.

wound up her faculties, considered in that light. It was her business, her duty, the thing she came into the world to doand she did it. She unbent her mind afterward-over a book.

Pope was her favourite author : his Rape of the Lock, her favourite work. She once did me the favour to play over with me (with the cards) his celebrated game of Ombre in that poem ; and to explain to me how far it agreed with, and in what points it would be found to differ from, tradrille. Her illustrations were apposite and poignant; and I had the pleasure of sending the substance of them to Mr. Bowles : but I suppose they came too late to be inserted among his ingenious notes upon that author.

Quadrille, she has often told me, was her first love ; but whist had engaged her maturer esteem. The former, she said, was showy and specious, and likely to allure young per

The uncertainty and quick shifting of partners—a thing which the constancy of whist abhors; the dazzling supremacy and regal investiture.of Spadille--absurd, as she justly observed, in the pure aristocracy of whist, where his crown and garter give him no proper power above his brother nobility of the Aces; the giddy vanity, so taking to the inexperienced, of playing alone; above all, the overpowering attractions of a Sans Prendre Vole—to the triumph of which there is certainly nothing parallel or approaching, in the contingencies of whist: all these, she would say, make quadrille a game of captivation to the young and enthusiastic. But whist was the solider game : that was her word. It was a long meal; not, like quadrille, a feast of snatches. One or two ruhlers might co-extend in duration with an evening. They gave time to form rooted friendships, to cultivate steady enmities. She despised the chance-started, capricious, and ever-fluctuating alliances of the other. The skirmishes of quadrille, she woull say, reminded her of the petty ephemeral embroilments of the little Italian states, depicted by Machiavel; perpetually changing postures and connections; bitter foes to-day, sugared darlings to-morrow; kissing and scratching in a breath ; but the wars of whist were comparable to the long, steady, deep-rooted, rational antipathies of the great French and English nations.

A grave simplicity was what she chiefly admired in her favourite game.

There was nothing silly in it, like the nob in cribbage-nothing superfluous. No flushes—that most irrational of all pleas that a reasonable being can set up; thai any one should claim four by virtue of holding cards of the wine mark and colour, without reference to the playing of the game, or the individual worth or pretensions of the cards themselves! She held this to be a solecism; as pitiful an ambition at cards as alliteration is in authorship. She despised superficiality, and looked deeper than the colours of things. Suits were soldiers, she would say, and must have a uniformity of array to distinguish them: but what should we say to a foolish squire, who should claim a merit from dressing up his tenantry in red jackets, that never were to be marshalled-never to take the field ? She even wished that whist were more simple than it is; and, in my mind, would have stripped it of some appendages, which, in the state of human frailty, may be venially, and even commendably al lowed of. She saw no reason for the deciding of the trump by the turn of the card. Why not ne suit always trumps ? Why two colours, when the mark of the suits would have sufficiently distinguished them without it?

“ But the eye, my dear madam, is agreeably refreshed with the variety. Man is not a creature of pure reason-he must have his senses delightfully appealed to. We see in it Roman Catholic countries, where the music and the paintings draw in many to worship, whom your Quaker spirit of unsensualizing would have kept out. You yourself have a pretty collection of paintings—but confess to me, whether, walking in your gallery at Sandham, among those clear Vandykes, or among the Paul Potters in the anteroom, you ever felt your bosom glow with an elegant delight, at all comparable to that you have it in your power to experience most evenings over a well-arranged assortment of the court cards ?-the pretty antic habits, like heralds in a procession-the gay, triumphassuring scarlets—the contrasting, deadly-killing sables--the hoary majesty of spades'-Pam in all his glory!

“ All these might be dispensed with ; and, with their naked names upon the drab pasteboard, the game might go on very well, pictureless. But the beauty of cards would be extinguished for ever. Stripped of all that is imaginative in them, they must degenerate into mere gambling. Imagine a dull deal board, or drumhead, to spread them on, instead of that nice verdant carpet, (next to nature's,) fittest arena for those courtly combatants to play their gallant jousts and tourneys in! Exchange those delicately turned, ivory markers-(work of Chinese artist, unconscious of their symbol-or as profanely slighting their true application as the arrantest Ephesian journeyman that turned out those little shrines for the goddess) exchange them for little bits of leather (our ancestors' money) or chalk and a slate !"

The old lady, with a smile, confessed the soundness of mv

6

logic ; and to her approbation of my arguments on her fa vourite topic that evening, I have always fancied myself indebted for the legacy of a curious cribbage board, made of the finest Sienna marble, which her maternal uncle (old Walter Plumer, whom I have elsewhere celebrated) brought with him from Florence : this, and a trifle of five hundred pounds, came to me at her death.

The former bequest (which I do not least value) I have kept with religious care ; though she herself, to confess a truth, was never greatly taken with cribbage. It was an essentially vulgar game, I heard her say-disputing with her uncle, who was very partial to it. She could never heartily bring her mouth to pronounce "go"—or “ that's a go." She called it an ungrammatical game. The pegging teased her. I once knew her to forfeit a rubber, (a five-dollar stake,) because she would not take advantage of the turn-up knave, which would have given it her, but which she must have claimed by the disgraceful tenure of declaring “ two for hi. heels.There is something extremely genteel in this sort of self-denial. Sarah Battle was a gentlewoman born.

Piquet she held the best game at cards for two persons, though she would ridicule the pedantry of the terms-such as pique-repique-the capot—they savoured (she thought) of affectation. But games for two, or even three, she never greatly cared for. She loved the quadrate, or square. She would argue thus : Cards are warfare; the ends are gain, with glory. But cards are war, in disguise of a sport: when single adversaries encounter, the ends proposed are too palpable. By themselves, it is too close a fight; with spectators, it is not much bettered. No looker-on can be interested, except for a bet, and then it is a mere affair of money; he cares

ot for your luck sympathetically, or for your play. Three are still worse ; a mere naked war of every man against every man, as in cribbage, without league or alliance; or a rotation of petty and contradictory interests, a succession of heartless leagues, and not much more hearty infractions of them, as in tradrille. But in square games (she meant whist) all that is possible to be attained in cardplaying is accomplished. There are the incentives of profit with honour, common to every species—though the latter can be but very imperfectly enjoyed in those other games, where the spectator is only feebly a participator. But the parties in whist are spectators and principals too. They are a theatre to themselves, and a looker-on is not wanted. He is rather worse than nothing, and an impertinence. Whist abhors neutrality, or interests beyond its sphere. You glory in some surprising stroke of skill or fortune, nut because a cold or even an interested bystander witnesses it, but because your

partner sympathizes in the contingency. You win for two. You triumph for two. Two are exalted.

Two again are mortified ; which divides their disgrace, as the conjunction doubles (by taking off the invidiousness) your glories. Two losing to two are better reconciled than one to one in that close butchery. The hostile feeling is weakened by multiplying the channels. War becomes a civil game. By such reasonings as these the old lady was accustomed to defend her favourite pastime.

No inducement could ever prevail upon her to play at any game, where chance entered into the composition, for nothing. Chance, she would argue--and here, again, admire the subtlety of her conclusion !-chance is nothing, but where something else depends upon it. It is obvious, that cannot be glory. What rational cause of exultation could it give to a man to turn up size ace a hundred times together by himself, or before spectators, where no stake was depending ? Make a lottery of a hundred thousand tickets with but one fortunate number—and what possible principle of our nature, except stupid wonderment, could it gratily to gain that number as many times suc

uccessively, without a prize ?—therefore she disliked the mixture of chance in backgammon, where it was not played for money. She called it foolish, and those people idiots, who were taken with a lucky hit under such circum

Games of pure skill were as little to her fancy. Played for a stake, they were a mere system of overreaching. Played for glory, they were a mere setting of one man's wit -his memory, or combination faculty rather-against another's; like a mock engagement at a review, bloodless and profitless. She could not conceive a game wanting the sprightly infusion of chance—the handsome excuses of good fortune. Two people playing at chess in a corner of a room, while whist was stirring in the centre, would irispire her with insufferable horror and ennui. Those well-cut similitudes of castles and knights, the imagery of the board, she would argue, (and I think in this case justly,) were entirely misplaced and senseless. 'Those hard-headed contests can in no instance ally with the fancy. They reject form and colour. A pencil and dry slate (she used to say) were the proper arena for such combatants.

To those puny objectors against cards, as nurturing the bad passions, she would retort, that men is a gaming animal. He must be always trying to get the better in something or other that this passion can scarcely be more safely expended than upon a game at cards : that cards are a temporarv

starices.

« НазадПродовжити »