Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Humours of Whist as a satire of piracy

In my previous essay about The Humours of Whist, I discuss the play as a satire of Hoyle. The writing is witty and demonstrates an intimate familiarity with Hoyle's Short Treatise on Whist. Even more intriguing are the references in Humours to the publication history of Whist—its piracy and the efforts of publisher Cogan and Hoyle to battle the pirates.

I discuss the details of the piracy and the efforts to combat the pirates in my article "Pirates, Autographs, and a Bankruptcy: A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist by Edmond Hoyle, Gentleman." It was originally published in Script & Print, 34 no. 3 (2010): 133-61 and is available for download here. To recap the chronology:
  • November 1742: Hoyle publishes Whist privately, selling it for one guinea (21 shillings).
  • February 1743: Hoyle sells the copyright to Francis Cogan for 100 guineas. Two piracies appear, one selling for 2 shillings, the other for less.
  • March 1743: Cogan publishes an authorized second edition selling it for 2 shillings, rather than the 21 he expected. Hoyle begins to sign all genuine copies.
  • April 1743: Cogan (belatedly) obtains an injunction against the pirates.
  • May 1743: The Humours of Whist is published.
Beginning with the second edition of Whist, Cogan inserts this advertisement:
This Book having been entered at Stationers Hall, according to Act of Parliament, whoever shall presume to print or vend a pirate edition, shall be prosecuted according to law. (p ii)
The Humours of Whist opens with a similar warning, styled "The Author's Protest":
Whereas authors are every day invaded in their properties…be it at the peril of all booksellers, publishers, mercuries, hedge-printers, hawkers, and others, to print or vend any pirated copies, for that they will be prosecuted for the same with the utmost rigour, I having duly entered this my property at Stationer’s Hall and am within an Am’s ace of being honoured with the Royal License. (pp3-4)
To decode some of the unfamiliar terms:
  • An "am's ace" refers to the roll of double-aces at dice. 
  • Registering a book at Stationers Hall is the first step to copyright protection in 18th century England. 
  • A royal license a stronger form of copyright protection in England—a monopoly from the King to print. A royal license was granted for the King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer.
Just as Hoyle autographed authorized copies of Whist, Humours notes "The genuine books published by the author, will be all signed with his name." (p5)

There is also an epilogue, a dialogue in which the author of Humours negotiates with a bookseller (what we would now call a publisher) for the copyright:
Book. The copy is but small, sir. 'Twill make but a shilling thing.
Auth. The treatise on Whist has abundantly less in it, and is sold for two shillings.
Book. That's true, sir—but you see, 'tis pyrated—Truly, it's a shameful thing those pyrates shou'd be suffer'd in a free country. At this rate, no man is safe in his property—It makes very bad, sir, for both author and bookseller...
Auth. ...I suppose if I ask you the third part of what was given for the Professor's book, you will not think it unreasonable?
Book. Alack-a-day, sir, you are greatly out of the way—indeed you are. 
Auth. ... I think the thing is very well deserving of what I ask, and cannot think of taking any less.
Book. Pray, consider, sir, the expense of paper, print, stamps, advertisements, and pyrating as I said before; I shall be a great deal of money out of pocket before a penny comes in. ...
Book. The admirers of the Treatise are a very numerous body, and will scarce read the satire.
Auth. On the contrary—they will read it thro' curiosity; and the enemies to play of course will do it for its utility. (pp 57-9)
In fact the author signs the book over to the bookseller, but the echo of Cogan's plight is clear—Cogan paid too much for the Hoyle copyright and suffered when the pirates forced him to lower the selling price.

I detect one more veiled reference to the Hoyle piracy, though I may be overreaching. By way of background, one of the two printers to pirate Hoyle in 1743 was James Watson. Earlier, Watson had been sued for pirating Alexander Pope’s Dunciad of 1729  and John Gay’s Polly, a sequel to The Beggar’s Opera.  (Sutherland 1936 and 1942) Some copies of both The Beggar’s Opera and Polly include engraved music bound in at the end.

Now, back to Humours. The author says that if the play should ever be performed (as were The Beggar's Opera and Polly), he has a set of music which can be added to the text:
A set of curious songs are ready to be clapt in (little inferior, if not equal to any in the Beggar’s Opera) in case the said representation takes place. ( p5)
It is reasonable to infer that the author of Humours knew that Watson had pirated both Gay and Hoyle. Whether readers would have detected the connection is much more speculative.

Let me mention one final irony about The Humours of Whist. We don't know the author. Contemporary newspaper advertisements give a hint as to the publisher, but that story will wait for another time. What I do know is that is was printed by Thomas Gardner, a prolific London printer of the mid-eighteenth century. Gardner's name appears nowhere in the book but I recognize his woodblock ornaments, such as the ones pictured at left below. The irony?

Gardner headpiece in Humours
(click to enlarge)
Same headpiece in Piquet (1746)
(click to enlarge)

When publisher Thomas Osborne purchased the Hoyle copyright from the near-bankrupt Cogan in 1745, he quickly reprinted all of the Hoyle titles. What printer did he use? Thomas Gardner—the ornaments that appear in Humours also appear in nearly all editions of Hoyle sold from 1745 to 1755.

  • James R. Sutherland, "The Dunciad of 1729" in The Modern Language Review 31:3  (July, 1936) 347-35.
  • James R. Sutherland, "'Polly' among the Pirates" in The Modern Language Review 37:3 (July, 1942) 291-303.

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