Monday, April 1, 2013

The Hoyle Manuscript

Updated: April 2, 2013. Well, I got a few of you with this April Fool's Day post. Everything up to and including the two letters from the 1750s is accurate (though I believe the letters to be satiric) and everything after is the product of my imagination. I'm still looking for a copy of the Hoyle manuscript. There's no fool like an April fool!

I had always thought that the essay "An Insomniac's Reward" would be the most dramatic story of an addition to my collection, the rare Laws of Whist Designed for Framing. I think you will find this story of the Hoyle manuscript even more astonishing!

I have discussed the first edition of Hoyle's first book, A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, many times on these pages. See, for example, the essay "A Discovery at the Morgan Library." Internal evidence in Whist makes it is clear that Hoyle circulated a earlier manuscript version of that work among his whist students. The awkward title to Chapter XIV is:
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. (page 74)
Hoyle goes on to give 13 pages of explanation of sequences and other miscellaneous topics. The first edition was published in November 1742, so "last winter" must refer to the winter of 1741-2.

The book opens with another hint about what must have been the contents of the manuscript:
The author of this treatise did promise, if it met with approbation, to make an addition to it by way of appendix, which he has done accordingly. (page 1)
At the bottom of page 46 is the comment "What follows in this treatise is the addition promised." The inference is that the manuscript consisted of roughly the first 46 pages of the 86 page first edition.

No copies of the manuscript are known to survive. I've been looking without success for a copy for decades in institutional collections, in private collections, and in dealer catalogues. Several years ago I began to undertake a different approach. There are two letters published in contemporary periodicals from students of Hoyle. Perhaps they had copies that could be tracked down?

An anonymous letter published in The Rambler of May 8, 1750 reads:
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.
Alas, the anonymity makes it impossible to track down the author.

More promising is The London Daily Advertiser and Literary Gazette of September 16, 1751, where "Draperia" writes:
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.
Updated April 2, 2013. Everything above is factual. Everything below is fanciful.

I had thought the pseudonym Draperia to be a dead end until I discovered an unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Key to the Literary Gazette (Amherst: University of Massachusetts 1992), which relied on archival records of the publisher N. Jackson to identify many of the otherwise-unknown authors.

It turns out that Draperia is one Alice Browne. That name started me on a long course of research, which I present here in much abbreviated form. Browne, the daughter of prosperous London draper George Browne, must have fashioned her pseudonym from her father's profession. George Browne took on Daniel Mead (sometimes spelled Meade) as an apprentice in the early 1740s, and, as happens not infrequently, Mead married his master's daughter in the early 1750s. Mead carried on as a successful merchant, as did Alice and Daniel's son (also Daniel) and grandson (Henry Meade). Henry left London with his merchant profits to start a textile factory in Lancashire in the 1790s, one of the earliest to bring steam power (a modified Newcomen engine) to textile manufacturing.

Henry Meade and his sons were hugely successful, first with wool and later cotton. They were major employers near the town of Preston, and eventually built a country home, Meade Manor, to the north. The genealogical and probate records become a bit unclear from the turn of the 19th century and I haven't had a chance to research the land records. From what I can gather, it appears that Meade Manor and the surrounding lands stayed in the family until the 20th century. Before World War I, the family was forced to sell parcel after parcel of the surrounding land to keep up the home. The last of the Meades apparently died in the war and the property was boarded up and abandoned.

Somehow, the property managed to avoid demolition and in 2007, a developer gained approval from the county and from taxing authorities to turn the home into privates flats. I was hopeful that the property would then be opened and the contents could be checked for a Hoyle manuscript that Alice Browne might have owned. Alas, the credit crisis delayed the project for years and only in 2012 was the developer to obtain financing.

I contacted the developer to learn that there was a large volume of "not particularly interesting" furniture and family possessions in the home. The developer engaged a Lancashire auction house to sell the contents. Their plan was to hold a series of auctions, first the furniture, then the books, and then the rest of the contents. The furniture sale was in January, followed by a poorly catalogued book and art sale in February. Unable to determine from the descriptions (such as "lot of 19th century literature") whether a Hoyle manuscript might be present, I engaged Paul, a student at nearby Lancaster University to attend the pre-sale. Alas, no Hoyle, and indeed, no gaming books whatsoever turned up.

The third sale of "household" contents was scheduled for March and even more poorly catalogued, really little more than a series of cartons. But some lots were apparently writings ("carton of gamekeeper journals" or "carton of household records"). With the barest possibility of locating a manuscript, I asked Paul to return to the pre-sale and, gulp, look through the 150 odd cartons.

And, THERE IT WAS, in carton 47 ("carton of 19th century correspondence") was a copy of the Hoyle manuscript. The auction was not until the next day and frankly, I was a wreck. Paul was able to represent me at the auction and I gave him a huge bidding limit, the promise of a major bonus if successful, and swore him to silence until the auction was over.

The auction itself was a non-event. We were successful at £37.50!!!! The manuscript is on its way to California. I guess I'll remain a wreck until it arrives.

Paul says that judging from Hoyle autographs I shared with him, the manuscript is not in Hoyle's hand--Hoyle must have hired a scrivener. There is an intriguing inscription, however, that does appear to be in Hoyle's hand: "To Alice, my finest and fairest pupil, Edmond." Rather forward for the mid-18th century, don't you think?

More when this treasure arrives safely!

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