Monday, August 15, 2011

The Predecessors of Hoyle

In 1742 Hoyle published A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist and followed up quickly with books on backgammon, piquet, and quadrille. His writing remained the standard English gaming literature for more than a hundred years. I have looked at the successors to Hoyle (here and here), but what was there before Hoyle? What did his writing displace?

frontispiece from
The Compleat Gamester
In 1674, an anonymous book appeared called The Compleat Gamester whose title continues "Or, Instructions How to Play at Billiards, Trucks, Bowls, and Chess. Together with all manner of usual and most Gentile Games either on Cards or Dice. To which is added, The Arts and Mysteries of Riding, Racing, Archery, and Cock-Fighting." The thirty eight chapters discuss twenty card games, six games of the backgammon family, and, as is evident from the long title, some outdoor recreations. 

The Compleat Gamester neither teaches the rules of the games it discusses, nor treats strategy. An extract from the section on whist is typical:
Ruff and Hounours (alias Slamm) and Whist, are games so commonly known in England in all parts thereof, that every child almost of eight years old has a competent knowledge in that recreation, and therefore I am unwilling to speak any thing more of them than this, that there may be a great deal of art used in Dealing and playing at these games which differ very little one from the other. (page 114)
Much of the book teaches how to detect cheating, here again from the section on whist:
He that can by craft over-look his adversaries game hath a great advantage, for by that means he may partly know what to play securely; or if he can have some petty glimpse of his partner's hand. There is a way by winking, or the fingers to discover to their partners what honours they have, as by the wink of one eye, or putting one finger on the nose or table, it signifies one honour, shutting both eyes, two; placing three fingers or four on the table, three or four honours. (page 117)
Of course such cautions can equally be read as a manual on how to cheat.

The book was reprinted and reissued with regularity over the next 50 years. Julian Marshall (1884) and Thomas Marston (1970) provide starting points for a descriptive bibliography of the Gamesters, though more work is required. The book was reissued in 1676 and further editions appeared in 1680 (reissued in 1687 as Instructions How to Play at Billiards, Trucks, Bowls, and Chess), 1709, and 1710. In 1713 a new edition appeared under the title Games Most in Use in England, France and Spain (reissued as The Compleat Gamester in 1721). Two more editions appeared in 1725 and 1726.

The Court Gamester
In 1719 the notorious bookseller Edmund Curll hired Richard Seymour to produce The Court Gamester, a title which must have been intended to compete and cause confusion with The Compleat Gamester. Further editions appeared in 1720, 1722, 1728, and 1732. The Court Gamester covered three games only--Ombre, Piquet, and Chess. One could certainly learn to play ombre or piquet from the book as the rules are clear, though there is no discussion of strategy. Chess is treated much more briefly.

In 1734, Curll joined with the copyright owner of the Compleat Gamester to bring out a book that combined and expanded both texts under the title The Compleat Gamester in Three Parts. It is from the preface to this book that we learn who wrote the original Gamester in 1674: "The second and third parts of this treatise were originally written by Charles Cotton Esq; some years since, but are now rectified according to the present standard of play." (page viii) Cotton is best know as the author of portions of Isaac Walton's The Compleat Angler.

New editions of the consolidated version of The Compleat Gamester appeared an 1739 and 1750. In 1754 a final edition appeared edited by Charles Johnson. Julian Marshall (1889) dissects the changes made by Johnson and determines that they are thinly disguised plagiarisms of Hoyle and of contemporary French gaming books. So Hoyle's text displaced Cotton's in the final realization of The Compleat Gamester. More importantly, Hoyle's sales displaced the Gamesters to become the standard English work on gaming for more than a century.

  •  Julian Marshall, "Cotton and Seymour's 'Gamesters.'"  Parts 1 and 2, Notes and Queries, 6th ser., 9 (April 26, 1884): 321-3, (May 17, 1884): 381-3. Available for download.
  • Julian Marshall, "Books on Gaming." Part 11, Notes and Queries, 7th ser., 8 (December 21, 1889): 482-3. Available for download
  • Thomas E. Marston, "Introduction" to The Compleat Gametser. Barre: Imprint Society. 1970

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