Monday, September 5, 2011

Contemporary References to Hoyle

In the course of my research I have collected many contemporary references to Hoyle in newspapers and literature. Some of these have been frequently and dubiously cited as biographical evidence about Hoyle. Most are clearly fictional, satiric writing and are evidence of Hoyle’s notoriety more than of specific facts.

I begin with one unfortunate reference, clearly factual, but not relevant:
The Primate of Ireland has appointed Edmund Hoyle, Esq; Register of the Prerogative Court, a place of 600 £ a year profit. (The Daily Advertiser, December 28, 1742)
The date is just weeks after Hoyle first published his treatise on whist. This announcement is the source of the claim that Hoyle was educated at the bar, a claim made credible by the fact that his whist treatise is organized into “cases,” much like a legal textbook. The announcement, however, must refer to another Hoyle—the name is not uncommon and our Hoyle was living in London and tutoring whist at the time. There is no documented connection between Hoyle and Ireland. Yet Hoyle’s biography, at least beyond his writing, is so thin that much is made of little. For another example, see my essay “Was Hoyle a Careless Editor?”

The following verse is typical of a “church versus gaming” dichotomy that frequently appears in contemporary literature:
On Modern Reading

Laymen of late with bookish churchmen vie;
No books, but bibles, unmolested lie:
Virtue declines, religion loses ground,
Whilst authors, readers, critics, wits, abound.
With one consent we into reading give
And yet with one consent without book live:
For pure diversion volumes we peruse;
We read, not to amend, but to amuse.
Only of gamesters, who with pleasing toil
Study the Pentateuch of sapient Hoyle,
(Hoyle’s winning system!) with great truth ‘tis said,
They read to learn, and practice what they read.

(General Evening Post of March 19, 1748)
A 1750 letter, frequently cited in histories of whist, has many satirical elements, so it is difficult to know how much to trust the specifics. Fictional or not, the letter confirms what we know from his own writing, that Hoyle was a whist tutor:
“Papa made me drudge at whist ‘till I was tired of it; and far from wanting a head, Mr. Hoyle, when he had not given me above forty lessons, said, I was one of his best scholars.” (The Rambler, May 8, 1750)
In a more obviously satiric letter to another journal, we find further confirmation:
“Be sure, Sir, to insist particularly on my skill at whist: I have had the honour to be taught that noble game by Mr. Hoyle himself, and not even Lady Lurchwell knows how many cards are out, so well as I do.” (London Daily Advertiser and Literary Gazette, September 16, 1751)
A 1753 article satirizes ladies memorandum books. The author claims to get a peek at a friend’s book in which she records engagements, expenses, and occasional notes. She writes, “Miss Sharp is a greater cheat than her mamma. Company went before five. Stupid creature Mrs. Downright! never to have read Hoyle!”

Her planned schedule for one Sunday shows where she stands on the church versus gaming: “If I rise soon enough, St. James’s Church. In the afternoon, to write a defence of Hoyle to Miss Petulant at Bath, who has controverted some of his principles. Lady Brag’s in the evening” And her expenses for the same Sunday, “Lost at card, at Lady Brag’s—47 £ 5 s.” (Adventurer, number 23, January 23, 1753)

“A letter from a lady to Mr. Hoyle, partly complimentary, and partly objugatory,” appearing in the Public Advertiser of April 4, 1763, begins as follows:
“Mr. Hoyle, Permit me, sir, to address you with that reverence and obsequious deportment, which is due to the author of a book more read and studied than the Bible. Permit me to add my congratulations to those of the public on your useful and important treatise, concerning the game of whist. Every little helps (as the old woman said when she did something in the sea) my applause, therefore, will be some little adjunct to your universal fame, that name whose hundred throats are hoarse with your praises, yet who still despairs of doing justice to you merit. For my part, I think it would be no more than your due, to erect a statute to you in every town in this kingdom, because nothing on earth redounds so much to the honour, interest, and happiness of a nation, as its being distinguished for a spirit of gaming; which glorious spirit has been greatly supported and increased by your means. It is very much to be lamented, that gaming is not reckoned one of the cardinal virtues, as it is attended with such admirable consequences. By gaming a man acquires a noble contempt of money, the soul is enlarged, and totally disentangled from the weakness of humanity, and that pusillanimous concern and tenderness which some people are apt to entertain for their wives, children, and friends.
This is of course the “compliementary” part of the letter, which later goes on to criticize Hoyle for not writing about other popular games.

Inevitably Hoyle was the subject of sermon as well as satire:
“Let every mother who is blessed with children, make it an indispensable point of infusing the most virtuous sentiments, and chaste ideas into them, from their tenderest infancy…How much better, how more commendable, how more consistent would it appear, in Lady this, or Lady that, to instruct her daughters in such important articles as these instead of introducing them into dissolute company, at twelve or thirteen years of age, with Hoyle’s treatise on Whist in their hands, and suffering them to contract at routs, assemblies, and drums, what it is a crime in themselves to practice. (The Occasionalist, Number 13, November 4, 1768).
These snippets are a small portion of mentions of Hoyle during his lifetime; perhaps I shall fill another essay with others. Hoyle is a frequent focus for satire, beginning with The Humors of Whist, discussed here and here. Darker is the suggestion that his whist treatise competes with the Bible for public attention—that Hoyle competes with the church. Of course the suggestion is serious only from the religious, and satiric from the gamesters!

The conclusion is that Hoyle’s writing was extraordinarily popular and these references would have resonated with the contemporary London literary audience.

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