Thursday, June 23, 2011

Was Hoyle a "careless editor"?

Researching the biography, rather than the bibliography of Hoyle is quite a challenge. I have located virtually no primary material and nearly all of the secondary material is flawed.

Sometimes secondary sources just invent facts. For example the Chambers Book of Days (1832, Vol. II p282) says that Hoyle sold his copyright to A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist for 1000 pounds. In fact primary evidence (see p136 of the article "Pirates, Autographs, and a Bankruptcy") shows the price was 100 guineas (105 pounds), still an enormous sum for the day.

Other times secondary sources take good research out of context to make an unwarranted generalization. William Mill Butler wrote a generally outstanding encyclopedia on the game of whist, The Whist Reference Book.  The article on Edmond Hoyle (p209) states "He was a careless editor, but possessed a vigorous style of writing and much originality." The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography  says virtually the same thing: "He was a careless editor, but possessed a vigorous and original writing style." The same charge appears in dozens of other sources.

Where did that idea come from? Was Hoyle a careless editor?

The reference comes from Julian Marshall, the first Hoyle bibliographer, in his series "Books on Gaming" published in Notes and Queries in 1889-90. First some background.

The first edition of Hoyle's first work, A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist (1742), makes it clear that Hoyle had previously circulated portions of the work in manuscript form:
The author of this treatise did promise, if it met with approbation, to make an addition to it by way of appendix, which has has done accordingly. (p1)

What follows in this treatise is the addition promised. (p46)

Some purchasers of the treatise in manuscript, disposed of the last winter, having desired a further explanation concerning the playing of sequences, they are explained in the following manner. (p74)
"Last winter" must refer to the winter of 1741-2. Marshall notes that the phrase appears in subsequent editions of Hoyle through the "thirteenth" edition of 1763. In the "fourteenth" edition of 1767, the last published in Hoyle's lifetime, the text was changed to "disposed of some time since."

Marshall notes "It may be well to remark here that Hoyle, with all his original genius and accuracy, which are undoubted, was yet a rather careless editor." (p4) The charge of carelessness is based solely on the failure to update the two words "last winter" in later editions of his book! Marshall comments on a minor error and is cited by secondary sources for more than a century. Such a cathedral deserves a more solid foundation. 

I would hope we could overlook the minor error and rid Hoyle once and for all of the label "careless editor."

  • William Mill Butler, The Whist Reference Book, (Philadelphia: John C. Yorston. 1899).
  • H. R. Tedder, "Hoyle, Edmond (1671/2–1769)", rev. Heather Shore, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 23 June 2011], subscription required.
  • Marshall, Julian, "Books on Gaming", Notes and Queries, 7th S. VIII. July 6, 1889, p4.

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