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.

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