Monday, August 8, 2011

The Successors to Hoyle (part 1)

With the publication of A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist (1742), Edmond Hoyle (1672-1769) was instantly a best-selling author. He went on to write books on other popular games: backgammon, piquet, chess, quadrille, and brag and, as embodied in the phrase "according to Hoyle", quickly became the recognized authority on the laws and strategy of popular games.

How long did Hoyle's preeminence last? Who succeeded him as both best-selling author and gaming authority? While others may disagree, I discuss my four candidates in this and the next essay, limiting myself to those who wrote in English. They provide continuity from 1742 until the last quarter of the 20th century--I would view the role as empty now.

Henry Jones ("Cavendish")
Butler, The Whist Reference Book

I've always felt that Hoyle was such a presence that he discouraged other English authors from writing about whist. After significant works by William Payne (1773) and Thomas Matthews (1804), the next important book did not appear until 1862--The Principles of Whist Stated and Explained, and its Practice Illustrated on an Original System, by Means of Hands Played Completely Through. Its author, Henry Jones (1831-99), wrote under the pseudonym "Cavendish" and the book was an instant success, running through four editions in a year and remaining in print throughout his lifetime. In 1864, he became card editor of The Field, the leading sportsman's magazine in England. He wrote additional popular books on whist and other games including bézique, piquet, écarté, patience, calabrasella, euchre, backgammon, and cribbage. Bibliographer Frederic Jessel lists more than 70 books under his name.

Robert Foster
Butler, The Whist Reference Book

The successor to Cavendish is Robert Frederick Foster (1853-1945). He was born in Edinburgh and moved to New York in 1872. In 1888 he began to teach and write about whist, beginning with the Whist Manual of 1889. Interestingly, his views on whist strategy were opposed to those of Cavendish, and much of the whist literature of the 1890s century echoes their differences. As whist gave way to bridge-whist 1890s, Foster became one if its first authorities with his Bridge Manual (1900). He wrote separate works about hearts, cinch, dice, dominoes, poker, euchre, and chess, and his triumph was Foster's Complete Hoyle (1897), about which Jessel remarked "This is indubitably the most complete book of its kind that has been produced". Jessel lists 39 works for Foster through 1905. Foster continued to write into the early 1930s as bridge-whist gave way to auction and then contract bridge. Bourke and Sugden list two dozen later titles, most of which went through several editions.

Inscription in a copy of Cavendish
from Jessel to Foster.
(click to enlarge)
To bring together three of the names mentioned in this article, see the inscription at left from a 7th edition of Cavendish's first book, retitled The Laws and Principles of Whist...(1864). It is a lovely link between two successors to Hoyle forged by a great collector and bibliographer.

  • Tim Bourke and John Sugden, An Annotated Bibliography of Bridge Books in English. 1886-2010. Cheltenham: Bridge Book Buffs. 2010
  • William Butler Mill,  The Whist Reference Book. Philadelphia: John C. Yorston. 1899.
  • Frederic Jessel,  A Bibliography of Works in English on Playing Cards and Gaming. London: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1905. Available for download 

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