Sunday, January 9, 2022

2021: The Year in Collecting (part 3) Who is William H?

In part 2, I said that I wasn't ready to write about the bundle of books I bought at a mid-December auction. This essay will discuss just one of them, an extraordinary manuscript on the game of whist. First, the description from the auction catalogue:

Manuscript. Rules for the game of whist, circa 1820s, 196 leaves, written throughout in a neat legible hand in sepia and red ink, Contents at front with step index, some marginal toning, marbled endpapers, hinges splitting, armorial bookplate of Joseph Tasker, Middleton Hall, Essex, all edges gilt, contemporary straight-grained red morocco by Frank Murray of Derby, Leicester & Nottingham, with his label to front pastedown, flat spine ruled and lettered in gilt ‘Game of Whist’, spine rubbed and darkened, upper cover re-jointed, gilt single fillet on covers and edges, gilt roll on turn-ins, 8vo
Bearing the bookplate of Joseph Tasker whose library was sold at auction in 1862 and 1868.

A beautifully-written manuscript comprising rules for the game of whist, containing references throughout to Hoyle and Payne, and with a list of contents included at the front.

The manuscript consists primary of excerpts from Hoyle. It is peculiarly numbered--it is the openings that are numbered, rather than the pages or the leaves. Here is opening 11, which will give you a sense of the manuscript:

opening 11

 The paragraph in the upper right is one such Hoyle excerpt:

A and B are Partners against C and D; A leads a Club, his Partner B plays before the Adversary C; in this case D has a right to play before his Partner C, because B played out of his Turn.

Hoyle  50-9.                 
Payne  8-3.

This is what Hoyle and contemporaries called a "law" of whist. It was not a rule telling how to play the game, but a remedy to redress an irregularity that can occur at that table, here a play out of turn. 

It took some work to decipher the references to Hoyle and Payne. P refers to a page number and C a "case," as Hoyle frequently designated sections of his text. The hunt was on to find this text on page 50 of an edition of Hoyle.  It turns out that the Hoyle references are to the 1796 edition of Hoyle's Games Improved, revised and corrected by Charles Jones (Jones.5). Here is page 50, case IX of that book, matching the text of the manuscript:

Hoyle's Games Improved (1796)

The reference to Payne was more difficult. Payne wrote the second book on whist after Hoyle, Maxims for Playing the Game of Whist (1773), discussed here. In no edition of Payne did the laws appear as early as page 8. Finally I found the reference, not in Payne, but in the Charles Pigott's New Hoyle (Pigott.1.1). There were three issues of the first edition of that book, all with the same setting of type. Here is a photo from the third issue, again matching the text of the manuscript:

Pigott's New Hoyle (1796)

This oddity persists throughout the book. All of the hundreds of manuscript references to Payne are actually to this early edition of Pigott!

It might have been quicker for me to identify the sources had I reached opening 18 more quickly: 


It reads:

The foregoing Laws at Whist, with the following general rules for playing the Game, as well as the instructions for playing particular Hands, are taken from the revised and corrected edition of Hoyles Games Improved, by Chas Jones, Esqr; also, from a Publication called New Hoyle, Printed by Ridgeway, York Street, Saint James's, from the Manuscript of the late Charles Pigott Esqr; both were published in 1796. WmH.
WmH? This must be the monogram of the compiler of the manuscript! And that took me back to the preliminary material. In addition to the 196 openings with Arabic numbers, there are also 22 preliminary leaves with Roman numerals. The opening below shows an alphabetical table of contents and the step index mentioned in the catalogue. If you click on the image to enlarge it, you will see that the contents refer to pages marked in black ink and "cases" marked in red:

page III

Now I understood an entry which confused me on first reading:

H Wm, his observations 3-2-3. 4-1-2-3-4. 6-1. 8-1. 14-1. 17. 51-1-2-3-4-5. 86-1. 105-26. 192-3. 155-4 156-7.

The manuscript has many interpolations by the compiler. Not all of them were indexed in the table of contents. The most interesting is from opening 14. First, the compiler transcribes a law from an old edition of Hoyle (one of four such references in the manuscript) and notes that it is obsolete:

page 14

The laws reads:

No Person may take new Cards in the middle of the Game, without the consent of all Parties. 

Hoyles old Edtn 81-23                 
The law addresses the right of a player to request a new pack of cards, feeling that that the old ones were running against him. I believe that the reference is to the "eleventh" edition of Hoyle's Games from 1757 (Games.2), pictured below. There is another possibility based on the page and case numbers for the 4 references to the old edition of Hoyle, so I'm not 100% certain.

Hoyle's Games
"eleventh" edition (1757)
It is the commentary below the law that is of the most interest:

NB. The above Law is Obsolete.

I betted Ten Guineas that no Person might take fresh Cards in the middle of the Game without the consent of the Adversaries; it was referred to the first Whist Club in England held at that time (1792) at Martindales St. James’s Street; when they decreed, that either Party might have fresh Cards at any Point of the Game, (the Party calling paying for them) without consulting the opposite Party. WmH.
Martindales was a club that took over the premises of another club, White's, in 1789. I suppose the new law is a money-maker for the club--likely they mark up the cost of the cards and are delighted when someone wants new ones! From the anecdote we can deduce that WmH was an adult in 1792 and a man of sufficient means to make a frivolous ten guinea bet. Perhaps he was a member of Martindales.

So who is WmH?
My first thought was that he must have owned one of the early editions of Pigott, which are quite scarce. Might one of the few surviving copies have a revealing bookplate or signature? The only copy of the first issue is at the Bodleian Library. There are no surviving second issues and only two third issues--one at the Bodleian and one in my collection. Sadly, none of the three books was helpful. The first issue has the ownership inscription of J. Muzio whom I cannot identify, and there was nothing useful in the other two.

Second, I went through all the whist literature looking for a William H of the right time period. I found nothing about members of Martindale's club. A book about White's Club notes that General William Howe (1729-1814), commander in chief of the British army in North America, was a member. There is a lot of Howe manuscript material online, but I don't feel qualified to compare the handwriting.
The Jessel bibliography records a four-volume set called Rational Recreations by William Hooper, but that does not particularly deal with whist. The index in Courtney's English Whist and Whist Players (1894) lists artist William Hogarth and writer William Hazlitt as connected to whist. Hogarth (1697-1764) is too early. The samples I've seen of Hazlitt's handwriting do not match the manuscript, but of course the compiler and the scribe may be two different people.

The identity of WmH is likely to remain a mystery. It has been great fun digging into the manuscript and trying to understand it. My conclusion is that it has very little material that is not in any late 18c edition of Hoyle, but that the material is much better indexed and cross-referenced. What a treasure!

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