Monday, October 22, 2012

Eighteenth Century Backgammon Literature

As I've discussed many times, in the 1740s, Hoyle wrote short treatises on the games of whist, backgammon, piquet (with a section on chess), and quadrille. To establish context for his work, I surveyed the contemporary literature for some of the games in the essays "Eighteenth Century Whist Literature" and "Piquet and Quadrille Literature." This essay completes the survey by looking at backgammon.

Backgammon is mentioned in The Compleat Gamester (1674), a work I discuss in "The Predecessors of Hoyle," but it is really in the 18th century that we get the first works devoted to the game. Interestingly, the first two are poems.

Pax in Crumena is a series of bawdy poems written in 1713 by Thomas Rands, one of which is "A Game of Back-Gammon, Play'd by My Lord and my Lady." In it, the vocabulary of backgammon is used to create sexual metaphor, as is evident in the second verse:
Cinque Trea, the first Night,
Did yield her Delight,
And she made a Point with the same:
Size-Ace the next Throw, or she's ruined quite,
And in danger of loosing the Game:
See how bad her Case is,
For up came Two Aces,
And she is not pleased atall.
Adieu my Delight;
I'm Gammon'd Out-right;
What no more to Night
For my Merkin, my Jerkin, and my Water Firkin?
My Lord, your Two Aces are small. 
Only the very curious should seek definitions of the unfamiliar terms in the last lines (NSFW).

A more substantial effort is Back-Gammon or the Battle of the Friars by Daniel Bellamy, 1734, reprinted in his collection Miscellanies in Prose and Verse, 1741. The book is known for its charming frontispiece, pictured below. 

Bellamy, Back-Gammon, 1734.
What is more remarkable is that the poem describes the moves in a game of backgammon, certainly constructed for the poem. Nonetheless, it is the first game ever recorded, played between the "dougthy friar" Fabris and his brother friar Vituleo. The description begins:
For the first Onset Fabris did prepare,
And Quator Size began the mighty War.
(This was a Service he perform'd by Rote,
And got the * Point that suited with his Coat)
          [in a footnote * = The Parson's Point]
Vituleo then, two Sixes by his Side,
Came rushing forward with a manly Stride.

Fabris as yet conceal'd his inward Pain,
Duce Ace oppos'd, but Oh! oppos'd in vain:
Homeward three Pace mov'd, he singly stood,
And stopt directly in Vituleo's Road.
This is my Pris'ner, Sir, Vituleo cries,
And if he meets me once again, he dies.
Rick Janowski has recreated the entire game, which, in modern notation, is:
     Fabris            Vituleo
1)   6-4   8/2 6/2     6-6   24/18(2) 13/7(2)
2)   2-1   13/10       2-1   18/15*
3)   6-6   ----        3-3   18/15 8/5(3)
4)   3-1   bar/21      2-1   6/4* 5/4
5)   4-4   ----        3-3   13/10(2) 6/3(2)
6)   5-4   ----        5-2
The play is quite weak by modern standards. Fabris should play 24/22 6/5 for his second move and bar/22 6/5 is somewhat better for his fourth. Vituleo's second move is a blunder (7/5 6/5 is much stronger), as is his third move, which should be 8/5(2) 6/3(2). The position, with Vituleo to play 5-2 is:

Vituleo (white) to play 5-2.
Vituleo will certainly play 13/8 10/8 completing a prime (six points in a row), leaving Fabris with three trapped checkers. Apparently Fabris resigns:
Vituleo presses on with Cinque and Duce,
And made the future Blows of little Use.
This for a Rampart he design'd to keep,
Or'e which the nimblests Warrior could not leap.

In safety now the Olive Squadrons move;
In vain the Ethiopian Pris'ners strove,
In Number Three; they could no farther go,
coop'd up within the Trenches of the Foe.
The Friar almost did his Faith remounce,
And lost a tripple Victory at once. 
All in all, a remarkable bit of backgammon history!

Hoyle's Short Treatises on the Game of Backgammon appears in 1743 and is reprinted throughout the 18th century. I have discussed the publication history throughout the blog and will not repeat it here, other than to show the title page at right. It is the first instructional book on the game of backgammon and the advice, though superficial, has stood the test of time remarkably well.

One other backgammon book appears in the 18th century: Back-Gammon. Rules and Directions for Playing the Game of Back-Gammon, London: printed for H. D. Symonds, and Lee and Hurst, 1798. Symonds was a London bookseller who published hundreds of works from the 1780s into the 19th century. A handful of those books related to games:
  • New Royal Game of Connections, 1794, apparently an original work by an unknown author.
  • Payne, Introduction to the Game of Draughts, a work first published in 1756 and incorporated into the 1779 edition of Hoyle's Games Improved (see "The Most Important Hoyle after Hoyle)".
  • Three editions of Chess Made Easy in the late 1790s, a pastiche of earlier writing on chess, much of which is taken from Hoyle. For example, in Chess Made Easy, we read "In order to begin the game, the pawns must be moved before the pieces, and afterwards the pieces must be brought out to support them." (pp28-9) Hoyle had written in 1744 "You ought to move your pawns before you stir your pieces, and afterwards to bring out your Pieces to support them." (Piquet p55). Hoyle was in the public domain at this point, so there is no suggestion of piracy.
Back-Gammon 1817 reprint

It won't be surprising then, that Symond's backgammon publication was also lifted from Hoyle. There are a couple of pages of on the origins and rules of backgammon, but the rest of the book is a slight rewording of Hoyle. The book was reprinted verbatim in 1817 for J. Harris, as pictured at left.

Reprints of Hoyle such as Chess Made Easy and Back-Gammon present quite a challenge for the Hoyle bibliographer. The works are nowhere identified as his writing, but are clearly derived from it. None of the earlier Hoyle bibliographers {see "Where Can I Learn More about Hoyle's Writing?") have included these works in the Hoyle canon, where clearly they belong. Why didn't Hoyle's name appear on the title page?

Monday, October 1, 2012

An Insomniac's Reward

One night last week, I was having difficulty sleeping. At about 3:30am I began reading a novel on my smartphone in bed. A half hour later, as I was flicking through the virtual pages, the phone notified me of a new email. A British bookseller had just listed a book in an online database that matched one of my registered wants:
A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, containing the Laws of the Game.[With] A Short Treatise on the Game of Quadrille. [With] A Short Treatise on the Game of Piquet, [With] A Short Treatise on the Game of Backgammon., HOYLE (Edmond) London for T. Osborne -46, 1745,  , SPORT, GAMES,, 5 parts in one vol., second to sixth editions, 12mo, contemporary sheep, sides and joints somewhat worn, with a large folding table "Laws of the Game of Whist", torn but intact, contemporary inscription on front fly-leaf, a good copy.
I'm embarrassed to say how many copies of this book I own, but what leaped out at me here was the large folding table, the exceedingly rare Laws of the Game of Whist! There was to be no more sleep that night. I jumped up, ran to the computer, and ordered the book immediately through the database site. Occasionally you get an email back from the listing dealer that the book is no longer available, so I nervously awaited confirmation that the order was processed. At 9:15 that morning, I received an email that the order was processed and the book was on its way to me from Great Britain. Anxiety ended and, indeed, the book is now in hand. 

I have written about the Laws a number of times. In "Pirates, Autographs, and a Bankruptcy" I noted the Francis Cogan first published the laws in 1743 as a way to increase revenue after pirates forced him to lower the price of Hoyle's Whist from a guinea to two shillings. (page 142). In "Chess, Hoyle, and a Bibliographer's Speculation" I wondered if Cogan were inspired to publish the laws by similar laws for chess that had been published 125 years earlier. No copies of the Cogan Laws survive.

When Thomas Osborne took over the copyright from Cogan, he reprinted all of Hoyle's treatises, including the Laws. Osborne sold the treatises and laws both individually, and as a single-volume collection. I showed some examples where the Laws, once bound with Hoyle's treatises, had been removed, presumably to be hung near the whist table. Read "The (missing) Laws of Whist Designed for Framing" and you'll get a sense of what I was expecting when the book arrived. That essay also discusses the rarity of Osborne's Laws, with copies known, until now, only at the Bodleian, UNLV, and perhaps at the United States Playing Card Company.

With that background behind us, let us turn to the book itself.

The end of Whist

The picture at right show the folded sheet bound after the treatise on whist and before the treatise on quadrille.

The beginning of Quadrille

The British bookseller noted that the sheet was "torn but intact" and the tears are plainly visible in the picture at left. I'm not too worried about them, however. They are closed tears and the verso of the sheet is blank, so mending tissue won't obscure any text. They should be quite easy to repair.

Here are the Laws unfolded to their full size:

The Laws of the Game of Whist
(Designed for Framing)
Note that the Laws are the size of six pages of text. The book was printed as a duodecimo (12 leaves to the printed sheet) in sixes (most sheets were gathered into two sections of six leaves each). The Laws are thus a half-sheet.

I have been asked if I have any plans to remove the laws and frame them in my library. As attractive as that would be, I can't imagine ruining the book as issued by Osborne. Indeed the only reason that the laws survive is that they are still part of the book, undisturbed for 266 years. The Cogan version of the laws were not bound into a book and I'm sure that's why no copies are known. Certainly, I won't consider removing them.

The "stub"
It is easy to see how the Laws were bound into the book. The Laws as printed had a large left margin which was wrapped around the first gathering of Quadrille. The stub is visible in the picture at left between the first and second gatherings, between pages 12 and 13. 

In "The Osborne Collections of Hoyle (1745-7),"  an essay that still pleases me, I sort out the permutations of the early Osborne Hoyle's. This new copy fits with the third group as it consists of Whist.6, Quadrille.2, Piquet.2 and BG.2. The treatises appear in their normal order and, like other copies from the third group, each treatise is signed by Hoyle. In all copies I have seen from the group, the Laws are either present, or clearly removed, so this copies is made up exactly as I predicted. It's comforting to have my hypothesis in that essay confirmed by another copy of the book.

In discussing the laws of whist, bibliographer Jessel writes that "Similar sheets of the Laws of Piquet and Backgammon were advertised also." (page 136, item 785). I don't think that is correct. I have seen hundreds of contemporary advertisements for Hoyle, and none mention sheets for Piquet and Backgammon. As the new treatises were introduced, the advertisements typically included the paragraph:
N. B. At the particular desire of several persons of quality, the laws of the game are printed on a fine imperial paper, proper to be framed or made screens of, that the players may have them before them to refer to, if any dispute should arise. Price 2s. 6d. [Old England or The Constitutional Journal, December 17, 1743]
Jessel was perhaps confused because the text does not mention the game who's laws are extracted, but it does appear immediately after the description of the treatise on whist and cannot reasonably be thought to refer to another game. As I discuss in "A Short Treatise on the Game of Brag (1751)," a sheet of laws was advertised for that game, though none are known to survive.

misbound table of contents
Even though I've seen many copies of this book, there are some new things to be learned from this copy. Recall the bibliographer's mantra, which says to examine as many copies as possible. Here, the two-leaf, four-page table of contents for Whist is bound out of order, appearing between pages 76 and 77, rather than at the front of the books, as is typical. What happened?

Here the collation formula for an ideal copy of Whist is helpful: 12o: π1 [A]2 B-G6 H4. Note that most gatherings are six leaves, but gathering A, the table of contents is only two, and H is only four leaves. Looking at pagination, page 76 is H2v and page 77 is H3r. Evidently, the table of contents was printed as part gathering H and the binder was expected to move it to the front of the book. In my copy, the binder failed to do so, and Whist is bound as printed, rather than as it was intended to be issued. The same thing apparently happened with a copy now at the Beinecke Library at Yale, one that I have not seen. 

Similarly, in Piquet, the table of contents appears in a two-leaf gathering at the front of the book. It collates 12o: [A]2 B-F6 G4 and one suspects that [A]2, the table of contents, was originally part of the G gathering. Indeed, my new copy was heavily inked and one can see the offset of G3r on A2v. Note in particular the signature mark G3, circled in red. The G gathering was printed and folded as a six-leaf gathering, ink transferred, and the binder moved the two leaves to the front of the book.

ink offset of G3 on A2r
(click to enlarge)
This is an acquisition exciting both for the rarity of the Laws and quirks in the physical book that reveal details of its manufacture. Never have I been so grateful for a terrible night's sleep. Had I slept through the night, it is easy to imagine that the book would have found its way to a collector in Europe who would have been been notified mid-day, rather than to this sleepless collector eight time zones to the west!