Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Who is "Bob Short"? (part 1)

In this essay, I return to Hoyle Abridged: or Short Rules for Short Memories at the Game of Whist. I find the chapbook annoying (see the discussion here) because there are so many editions and because they survive in such small numbers. The whist book and a similar title on quadrille (never reprinted) were written under the pseudonym Bob Short. The purpose of this essay is to resolve a lingering question—who is behind the pseudonym?

The whist book has been attributed to two different writers, Anna Letitia Barbauld (née Aikin) and Robert Withy. I had never investigated the case for Barbauld and thought the case for Withy convincing. Yet a recent discovery forced me to investigate further.

The earliest attirubtion to Barbauld is likely The Whist Table, A Treasury of Notes on the Royal Game, edited by "Portland" (London: James Hogg). Oh dear, another pseudonym! And an undated work! Not wishing to multiply my researches indefinitely, I am going to accept the assurance of a secondary source, Jessel (from whom more below), that "Portland" is a pseudonym for the publisher James Hogg and that the book was published in 1894. Hogg reprints most of Bob Short's rules, noting first in square brackets (suggesting an editorial voice):
It is an interesting fact, and one but little known, that these celebrated Rules were actually written by a distinguished lady—the authoress of the famous "Evenings at Home" and "early Lessons for Children," &c.
Anne (sic) Laetitia Aikin, afterwards Mrs. Barbauld, was a versatile and high-toned writer..."Bob Short" appeared about 1792, and enjoyed immediately great popularity, many editions being rapidly disposed of. The rules are substantially based upon "Hoyle": indeed, "Bob Short" only professed to be "Hoyle Abridged." (p212)
Hogg provides no evidence for the attribution. William Mill Butler repeats it, including the misspelling of Barbauld's forename, in the article "Books on Whist" in The Whist Reference Book (Philadelphia: John C. Yorston, 1899):
"Hoyle Abridged: or Short Rules for Short memories at Whist," by "Bob Short" (Anne Laetitia Aikin). Bath, 1792. Many editions. Over 7000 copies sold during the first year. (pp57-58)
The argument in favor of Robert Withy was made by William Prideaux Courtney in English Whist and English Whist Players (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1894):
At the beginning of 1793, there came out a little tract called 'Short Rules for Whist, by Bob Short,' which was so popular among card-players that 7,000 copies were sold in twelve months. (p361)
This was likely Butler's source for the sales figure in The Whist Reference Book, but Butler did not go on to read the next page:
A satirical poem by John Gale Jones, the democratic orator, bearing the fantastic title of 'An Invocation to Edward Quin, as delivered at a Society called the Eccentrics,' and discussing the peculiarities of a social set at a tavern near Charing Cross, discloses the author's name. It was written by Robert Withy, a respectable stockbroker, and 'a facetious and pleasant companion, but very irascible,' the last years of whose life were harassed by pecuniary troubles. This statement finds corroboration in an advertisement of Robert Withy, stockbroker, which is appended to the brochure on quadrille, when his house is given as 13, George Street, York Buildings, and he is said to frequent Baker's Coffee-house. He died at West Square, Surrey, on September 19, 1803, aged seventy-two. Before trying his fortune on the Exchange, he had been for many years a book and print seller1 in Cornhill. (p362).
I would have thought this evidence dispositive. The citation from Invocation (London: printed for the author, 1803) includes two lines of verse:
Did W*thy tell the with his parting breath,
That all must share the fatal stroke of death?
with commentary below:
The late Robert W*thy, a respectable stock-broker, and an honorary member of this society. This gentleman was author of a little tract well known among card players, intituled, "Ten Minutes Advice to those who play at Whist," signed "Bob Short." (pp37-8)
Jones gives a title that does not match any surviving copies, but Hoyle Abridged is the only possible candidate. Courtney notes the advertisement of Robert Withy, stockbroker, in Hoyle Abridged, part II. Or, Short Rules for Playing the Game of Quadrille by Bob Short (pictured below). Similar advertisements appear in the 1791 and 1792 editions of Bob Short's Whist, editions not known to Courtney.
1793 Quadrille
Withy advertisement

To this, I would add that a Robert Withy trade card survives in the John Johnson Collection of printed ephemera at the Bodleian Library and, on the back of the card, are twelve short rules for whist by "Bob Short".

Given Courtney's research, I always accepted the conclusion of Frederic Jessel in his Bibliography of Works in English on Playing Cards and Gaming (London: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1905):
Mr W. P. Courtney has proved conclusively that Robert Withy was the author of the above treatises. (page 303)
He comments elsewhere about a related later work:
These rules, evidently an imitation of the better-known 'Bob Short's' rules by Robert Withy, have been attributed to Mrs. Barbauld, apparently because she adopted the pseudonym for a tract unconnected with cards. (p265)
Jessel must be referring to Barbauld's Religion of Nature, With a Short Address to the Jurymen of Great Britain. By Bob Short. There is a note on the ESTC record that "Bob Short = Anna Letitia Barbauld".

Two recent happenings caused me to reassess the evidence. First, I read the charming new book by Julian Laderman, Bumblepuppy Days, The Evolution from Whist to Bridge (Toronto: Master Point Press 2014) which repeats the Barbauld (Aikin) attribution. Second, I began to work on the "Bob Short" items for my online bibliography of Hoyle. I reviewed all my notes on copies I have seen, copies in my collection, and contemporary newspaper advertisements. One advertisement leapt out at me:

1794-01-03 London Morning Post
Here was an advertisement for The Religion of Nature, attributed to Anna Letitia Barbauld AND for Bob Short's Short Rules for Whist and Quadrille!  Could Barbauld be the author of the gaming books all along?

I then began to find more similarities among the three titles. The imprints all show a connection to Baker's Coffee-House and involved many of the same booksellers:
  • Whist: Printed for the benefit of families, to prevent scolding: and sold by the author, at Baker’s Coffee-House, Exchange Alley; Nicol, St. Paul’s Church Yard; Ryall, Lombard Street; Bell, Strand; Fourdrinier, Charing Cross; and Debrett, Piccadilly, [1791]
  • Quadrille: Printed for, and sold by the author, at Baker’s Coffee-House, Exchange Alley ; Ryall, Lombard Street ; Newbery, St. Paul’s Church Yard ; Bell, in the Strand ; Fourdrinier, Charing Cross ; and Debrett, Piccadilly, [1793]
  • Religion of Nature: Printed for the benefit of the distressed spital-field-weavers, and sold at Baker’s Coffee-house, and by Richardson, Cornhill; Ryal, Lombard-street; Newberry, St. Paul’s Church-Yard; Bell, in the Strand; Foundrinier, Charing-Cross; and Debrett, Piccadilly, [1793]
The common language "printed for the benefit of..." is suggestive, as is the pricing "3d. or 2s. a dozen to give away". The same prices appeared in early advertisements for Whist. It felt to me that all three books might be written by the same person—would that be Robert Withy or Anna Letitia Barbaud?

My next step was to investigate the attribution of Religion to Anna Letitia Barbauld.

To be continued...


1Withy left the print- and book-selling trade in 1766. He auctioned off some of his stock on August 10, 1766 (see ESTC T150858, available on ECCO) and the remainder plus his copyrights at a trade sale on May 21, 1767 (see ESTC T130031).

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