Saturday, January 12, 2013

A 1760 Dramatic Comedy Mentioning Hoyle

The essay "Contemporary References to Hoyle" looks at 18th century newspapers and periodicals for mentions of Hoyle. The sample findings let us appreciate the familiarity that contemporary audiences had with Hoyle and get a sense of how different readers (the clergy, society game players, etc.) received his work. In a similar vein are my two essays on the never-performed play The Humours of Whist, one focusing on it as a satire of Hoyle, the other as a satire of piracy. I have found another contemporary comedy, this one written for and performed by legendary actor David Garrick, with a substantial gaming component. And, it includes a mention of Hoyle!

As my work on the Webster piracy is proceeding slowly, I thought I'd give myself a break from research and quote extensively from the play. Written by Arthur Murphy in 1760, the play is The Way to Keep Him, A Comedy in Three Acts: As it is performed at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. At Garrick's request, Murphy expanded the play to five acts in 1761. The printed version of the play apparently sold quite wellsome 19 versions are recorded in ESTC. Murphy dedicates it to Garrick: "...[the author] returns his thanks to Mr. Garrick, for his admirable acting; and to all the performers concerned in the following scenes..."

Garrick plays Lovemore, who's two servants, William and another, open the first scene playing at cards:
Will. A plague on it! I've turn'd out my game. Is forty-seven good?
Serv. Equal.
Will. A plague go with it. Tearse to a queen!
Serv. Equal
Will. I've ruin'd my game, and be hang'd to me. I don't believe there's a footman in England plays with worse luck than myself. Four aces is fourteen!
Serv. That's hard; Cruel, by Jupiter!
Will. Four aces is fourteen. Fifteen (plays).
Serv. There's your equality.
Will. Very well. Sixeen (plays). Seventeen (plays).
                         Enter Muffin [waiting-woman to Mrs. Lovemore]
Muffin. There's a couple of you, indeed! You're so fond of the vices of your betters, that you're scarce out of your beds, when you must pretend to imiate them and their ways, forsooth.
Will. Prithee be quiet, woman, do. Eighteen (plays).
The game is Piquet, the third game treated by Hoyle, and William is calling and reckoning points.

Astonishingly, from this small bit of dialogue, we can determine almost all of the cards in each players' hand! Let's delve a bit into piquet. Piquet is played with a 32-card deck, four suits of ace to 7. Each player is dealt 12 cards and each is permitted to exchange some for the eight leftover cards. Before the play begins (like two-handed bridge without trump), the players try to score points by calling, first the longest and best suit, then the longest and highest sequence, and then best four of a kind or three of a kind.

William's call of 47 is an attempt to score points for a long, strong suit. The ace counts 11, the face cards 10 and the spot cards equal to their number of pips. A call of 47 can be reckoned in only three ways: (a) KQJT7; (b) HHH98; or (c) AHH97.1 Because he later called four aces, he must have (c). A tearse (more  often spelled terce) to a queen shows QJT of the one suit, and is almost2 always the best sequence in the hand, that is the longest one, with ties broken by the highest top card. The QJT cannot be in the long suit, as the long suit contains only two cards counting ten. So William has something like AHH9 AQJT A A for eleven of his twelve cards!3 We don't know the suits, but generally the opponent, looking at his hand, can determine them.

The other servant called "equal" to the calls of 47 and terce to the queen. His 47 cannot be (a) because that includes a sequence of four to the king which would have beat three to the queen. It cannot be (c) because William has all four aces, so he must have (b) with three of the four "ten" cards. Which of the four is he missing? It cannot be the king, since QJT98 is a sequence of five to the queen. It cannot be the queen, since KJT98 leaves a sequence of four to the jack.It cannot be the ten, since KQJ98 leaves him a sequence of three to the king, beating William's three to the queen. So he holds KQT98, and since he called "equal" to the terce to the queen, that must be in another suit. So we know eight of the second servants cards, though again, not the suits: KQT98 and QJT.

Piquet is a game full of such inferences and for my money, the best two-person card game.

The Hoyle reference comes late in the second act (pp31-2), where the widow Bellmour complains to Lovemore about the decline in polite conversation:
Mrs. Bell. And then from this conversation they all run to cards, "Quadrille has murdered wit."
Love. Ay, and beauty too...
Love. ...I have seen an uplifted eye blaspheming providence for the loss of an odd trick; and then at last, when the whole room burst out into one loud universal uproar, "My Lord, you flung away the game. No Ma'am, it was you. Sir George, why did you not ruff the diamond? Captain Hazard, why did not you lead through the honour? Ma'am, it was not the play. Pardon me, Sir, But Ma'am; But Sir, I would not play with you for straws.Don't you know what Hoyle says? If A and B are partners agains C and D, and the game nine-all, A and B have won three tricks, and C and D four tricks; C leads his suit; D puts up the King, then returns the suit, A passes, C puts up the Queen, B ruffs the next;" and so A and B, and C and D are bang'd about; and all is jargon, confusion, uproar, and wrangling, and nonsense, and noise. Ha! ha!
Mrs Bell. Ha! ha! A fine picture of a rout; but one must play sometimes we must let our friends pick our pockets sometimes, or they'll drop our acquainance. Pray my Lord, do you never play?
Love. Play, Ma'am! I must lie to the end of the chapter, (aside) play! Now and then out of necessity; otherwise, I never touch a card.
Here, despite Mrs. Bellmour's mention of Quadrille, the game is Whist and Lovemore mocks Hoyle's "cases stated, to shew what may be effectd by a very good player in critical parts of the game."

How fun it would be to travel back in time and attend one of the performancesto see Garrick perform and to gauge the crowd's reaction to the gaming scenes!


1I use "T" to refer specifically to the ten and "H" for an honor counting ten, the K, Q, J, or T.

2There is in piquet the concept of "sinking," that is not calling the full value of your longest suit or sequence. I have ignored that rare possibility in reconstructing the two servants' hands.   

3In his long suit, the AHH97 will not be AKQ97, as that would give William a terce to the A, higher than his subsequent call.

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