[-353-] CHAPTER XI.
GAMING-HOUSES AND GAMBLERS.
Supposed origin of gambling—Little known of its history—Increase in the number of gaming-houses in London—Many of them kept open all day—How managed— Morals of ~he upper classes, in connexion with gambling—Visit to a gambling. house—Anxiety consequent upon gambling—Its pernicious effects on the mind— Suicides caused by play—The injuries it entails on relatives and families—Insidious character of gambling—Gambling in the last century—Female gamblers— Cheating at the gambling-table—Instances of the debasing tendencies of gambling —Universality of the vice—The propriety of doing something to put an end to gambling.
IN my First Series of “The Great Metropolis,” I devoted a chapter to the
Gaming-houses of London. Since the first edition of that work was published, I
have acquired a good deal of new information on the subject, which I at one time
intended to have made use of in the third edition, which appeared a few months
since. On second thoughts, however, I have deemed it best to resume the subject
in this work; only premising that I shall not here repeat any of the facts I
have stated in “The Great Metropolis,” but that the matter of this chapter
will be a continuation of, or supplement to, what appeared in the work in
The vice of gambling is of very great antiquity. It is generally believed that it was first resorted to by the Lydians, upwards of 2500 years ago, when suffering under the effects of famine. It is said that they had recourse to gambling with the view of diverting their thoughts from the privations they were enduring; and that, in the state of intense excitement into which they worked their minds, they did forget, for whole days at a time, that they had not tasted food for the previous twenty-four hours. There may be some fiction mingled with fact in this account of the origin of gambling. It is not, however, to be denied, that if the Lydians were desirous of forgetting their privations by an artificial excitement, there was no expedient to which they could have had recourse, better adapted to promote their object than the expedient of gambling. This vice prevailed to a great extent among the Greeks and Romans, as is evident from the frequent reference to it in the works of their greatest authors.
Of the history of gambling in London, little definite is known. It was very general so far back as the reign of Richard the First [-354-] and was practised to a considerable extent in the time of Queen Elizabeth. It was still more prevalent in the reign of Charles the Second; but I am not aware that any houses were then opened for the exclusive purposes of play. When they first were so, I have not been able to ascertain, the history of gambling in the metropolis being so imperfectly known. There can be no doubt that houses for the express purpose of affording knaves and fools an opportunity of indulging their propensity to play to any extent, were opened long before the public generally were aware of the circumstance. The thing was then managed with more secrecy than it is now. Then the hells were in secluded streets and lanes: now they court distinction, not only by being in the most crowded thoroughfares, but by the blaze of light which is to be seen above their doors.
About twenty years since, the number of the larger class of hells in the metropolis was supposed to be about ten or twelve. In my first series of the work already mentioned, I estimated the number, in 1836, at fifteen. Since then, there has been a considerable increase in the number. The law which came into operation in January last for closing all gambling establishments in Paris at twelve o’clock at night, has had the effect, as was to be expected, of causing a number of the Parisian speculators in hells to come over, and commence business in London. What the number of the additions which have been thus made to our gambling establishments is, I am not able to state with certainty; that being a kind of statistical information which is not very easily to be acquired, owing to the circumstance of there being certain hells which are still conducted with comparative secrecy. I should say, however, the number of gambling establishments now in London, doing business to a very considerable amount, cannot be under twenty-four or twenty-five. Indeed, I could almost myself name two dozen particular houses which are solely used for the purposes of gambling. When I wrote the work before referred to, two years since, there were only five gambling-houses in the Regent’s Quadrant: now there are eight, if not nine. In Leicester-square and the neighbourhood, there have also been several recent additions to the previous number of hells.
Formerly, the gaming-houses were only open after dark: of late years, the practice of keeping them open all day has been systematically adhered to in the case of at least eight or ten of their number. In these houses, the dice are scarcely ever idle, day or night. From Sunday to Sunday, all the year round, persons are to be found in these places, losing their money, and wasting away their very bodies by the consuming anxiety consequent on their position at the hazard or roulette table.
[-355-] It may be asked, how can the proprietor of one of these establishments continue to look after his own interests, if gambling goes on by day as well as night,—nature requiring, in gamblers as well as in other men, a certain amount of repose at stated intervals? In the first place, it is to be remarked, that the cases are extremely rare indeed, in which a gaming-house belongs to one proprietor. In almost every case there are three or four individuals who engage jointly in the speculation of opening such establishments, and putting down, as the phrase is, a bank against which any person who chooses may play. But even were such an establishment the property of one individual, the house, if deemed advisable, could be kept open all day as well as night, by the proprietor employing some person to act for him when not present himself. In all the gaming-houses of any note, there are unprincipled reckless persons in the pay of the hellites. They are employed in various capacities, and for various purposes. Sometimes they play for the proprietors against any person who chooses to put down his money; at other times, when there are no other individuals playing at all, they pretend to be strangers themselves, and get up sham games with the proprietors, with the view of practising a deception on any strangers who may be in the room, and by that means inducing them to put down their money. There are other occasions, again, in which they go to coffee-houses, hotels, and other places of a public nature, where they look out for simple persons possessed of property, whom they may decoy into the particular hells with which they are connected,—always, of course, taking care to appear as if they knew nothing of any of the parties belonging to these establishments. In many instances, these persons are allowed a certain per-centage on the amount of plunder got from the persons whom they trepan into these dens of iniquity. In the larger gaming establishments, there are certain individuals kept at a regular salary for the express purpose of looking out for opulent young men. To this employment they confine themselves entirely. They are dressed in the most fashionable manner, always exhibiting a profusion of jewellery and living in great splendour when they have any particular person in their eye, in the various hotels throughout town. If report speaks truth, there are men of very high rank and standing in society, who are retained for such purposes by one or two of the largest gaming establishments in the metropolis. They are called Greeks; and the parties who are their victims, are, as I explained at some length in the work more than once referred to, very appropriately called pigeons, being, as they generally are, thoroughly plucked before they are suffered to escape out of the hands of the hellites. In some cases, in the higher class of gaming establishments, the Greeks, [-356-] or decoys, being men of title or considerable standing in society, do not receive a fixed salary for seducing young men of fortune into these places for the purpose of plundering them of their property; but being in every case needy men, they nominally borrow, from time to time, large sums of money from the hell-keepers; but it is perfectly understood on both sides that the amount so borrowed is never to be repaid.
Here let me pause, to ask what must be the state of morals among a certain portion of the upper classes, when persons who are quite well known to be constantly on the watch for simple unsuspecting noblemen or gentlemen of property, in order that they may decoy them into places in which their ruin is inevitable as well as designed, are received into society with as much seeming respect and cordiality as if they were the most illustrious persons for moral worth that the world ever produced? It is a melancholy state of things; but still more melancholy is the fact, that when unsuspecting young men of property are thus seduced into gambling-houses, there are noblemen and gentlemen—by courtesy so called—who, not content with the slower process of plundering their unhappy victims by means of their superior skill at the dice or the cards, acquired from long experience, resort to habitual cheating; or at least cheating as frequently as they think they can do it without being detected. Had I written this eighteen months ago, many persons would have doubted the truth of what I say. They would have come at once to the conclusion that I was speaking from erroneous information. That will not be said now. The disclosures which took place in the Court of Queen’s Bench, upwards of twelve months since, on the occasion of the trial of Lord de Roos for cheating at cards, furnished the strongest demonstration that he was not the only titled person who was in the habit of cheating in certain clubs; while there are others who, if they could not be charged with directly cheating, or cheating in their own persons, did cheat indirectly and by proxy, inasmuch as they, by their own admission, were on frequent occasions partners with Lord de Roos long after they knew that he habitually or systematically cheated. The noble lord, by the confession of the titled parties to whom I allude, thus cheated for himself and them at the same time. Are such parties, then, now excluded from fashionable society? By no means: they have not forfeited the friendship, or lost the countenance—not, at least, so far as has yet transpired—of a single aristocratic acquaintance. They are as great favourites in the circles of high life as if nothing had happened. Could any fact more strongly prove the low standard of morals which prevails among the upper classes of society?
But this is a topic which I have no wish to pursue at any [-357-] length. It is deeply to be regretted that there should be so much room for animadversion, in regard to the loose notions which obtain among a large number of the aristocracy on the question of morals.
The proprietors of the gaming-houses take every precaution to guard against the admission of parties who might lodge informations against them. In most of these establishments, the practice is to have the outer or street-door half shut. This, with a large brilliant display of gas-light above the door, is well known among those who gamble, to be an indication of the fact that play is going on in the house at the time. Within a yard or two of the street-door, is another door with an eye-hole in it, which is always covered by a sliding piece of wood in the inside. The party knocks at this inner door the knock is not responded to by the door being opened, but one of the proprietors, or some one in their confidence, draws the piece of wood aside, and looks at the party seeking admission. If it is any one unknown to him, he asks who he is inquiring for, or what is the object of his visit: if satisfied that he is some simpleton coming for the purposes of play, the door is thrown open at once, and he is shown up stairs to the place where the wheel is revolving or the dice being thrown. If the party watching the door have his suspicions that all is not right, then the person seeking admission is refused it; and it is wonderful how quick the keepers of hells, and those in their employ, are in ascertaining who may or may not be admitted with safety. The very appearance of the party soliciting admission, the tones of his voice, or his general manner, often suffice for their purpose. Anxious to witness the proceedings in these gambling establishments, in order to describe and expose them, and fearing there might be some difficulty in getting access to them, I got one night the card of a gentleman who had been in the habit of visiting such places, but who, I have reason to believe, has by this time seen both his guilt and his folly. He desired me to give his card to a Mr. B—, the proprietor, or one of the proprietors, of a largely-frequented establishment in the centre of the Regent’s Quadrant. Accompanied by a friend, whose curiosity to see the interior of a gaming establishment was most intense, I went to the place in question. The fact of my having the card of the gentleman to whom I have referred, insured our admission without a moment’s delay, or a single question being asked. We were shown up three pairs of stairs to a commodious room, and were there politely accommodated with seats. The only articles of furniture we saw in the place— unless the roulette-table, the table for throwing the dice, and other requisites for play, ought to be called by the name of furniture—were eighteen or twenty handsome chairs. It will at [-358-] once suggest itself to the mind of the reader, that in a large gambling establishment as this was, this number of chairs would not be sufficient to accommodate all the persons who are sometimes in it at one time. Very true; but it must be remembered that several kinds of play (roulette, for example) require the parties playing to stand, or at least a standing posture is the most convenient one. Besides, the excitement which invariably accompanies gambling is so great, that in very few cases only are the parties composed enough to remain in their seats. When my friend and I were ushered into the room on the occasion in question, there were only seven or eight persons engaged at play. One of the proprietors of the place stood at one of the sides of the table at which the play was going on at the time. He was a tall, stout, dark-looking man, with a most surly, forbidding expression of countenance. Immediately opposite to him lay a small box, in which were displayed, in the most conspicuous manner in which it was possible to place them, a number of five-pound notes. This was what is called the bank. At the edge of the table, in the immediate vicinity of the bank, was a large heap of half-crowns, probably amounting to sixty or seventy. The fact of there being so many half-crowns on the table, while neither shillings nor sixpences were to be seen, is to be accounted for from the fact that no less sums than half-crowns are ever played for at the house in question. The parties playing had also each a greater or less number of half-crowns before them. The game going on at the time was roulette; and rapidly, indeed, did the half-crowns change hands. The house, as the technical phrase is, had a run of good luck while I was there. I observed that one gentleman lost three pounds, at half-crown stakes, in less than fifteen minutes. I may here observe, that there was something very peculiar in the conduct of this gentleman: whether it arose from anything constitutional, or whether from a secret conviction that he ought not to be so employed or in such a place, I cannot tell; but the fact was, that he came into the room, and remained in it for about a quarter of an hour, and then quitted it, not only without uttering a single word, but without giving even a nod to any person in the place. One of the proprietors, according to the custom in the gambling establishments, was excessively attentive to every person who entered the room, in the way of pressing him to have something to drink. Brandy-and-water, as being the most stimulating, was the first thing he invariably asked the intended victims to take. If they declined, then they were asked, in the most insinuating manner, whether they would take anything else. The hell-keeper was manifestly much disappointed when they refused to drink; and it was to be expected he would, for [-359-] his whole experience had taught him that men play most recklessly when under the excitement caused by drink. 1 need hardly say that the drink in such places is always given gratuitously. I observed, too, that no one is ever asked to play by the hellites. They rightly judge, that were they to solicit strangers who had not before been in the practice of frequenting gaming establishments, to put down their money, and take part in the play, they would be adopting the very course which would be most likely to defeat their designs on the pockets of such persons, as the latter would, in that case, suppose that if they played, they would run a risk of being cheated. The hell-keepers always trust to the bewitching effect of seeing others at play; for experience has taught them that few men, with money in their pockets, can resist the temptation to play which is always held out by seeing others engaged in it. And here I must take the opportunity of warning those whose eye may meet these lines, from entering a gaming-house under the impression that they will come out again without playing. I do not say the thing is impossible; but it consists with my knowledge that many men have entered those places with the firm determination that they would not gamble to the extent of a farthing, and yet have come out fleeced of the last shilling they had in their possession. Nay, I have known cases in which, after they had lost all their money, and not being acquainted with any one there of whom they could borrow more, have actually pawned their watches to enable them to continue the game. The pawning of watches, waistcoats, and other articles of apparel, to enable persons to play at the gaming-table, is quite an every-day occurrence in the case of persons who have become habituated to gaming; but in the above ease, I am speaking of persons who have entered a gaming-house for the first time in their lives; and entered it, too, let it be remembered, with the firm determination that under no circumstances would they risk a shilling.
The intense anxiety with which gamblers watch the result of the game is proverbial. I had ocular demonstration of this, of the most striking kind, on the evening in question. The countenances of all engaged in play, with the single exception of that of the hell-keeper entrusted with the bank, indicated a degree of anxiety as to the result, when the stakes were large, of which none but he who has experienced it can form any idea. Has the reader ever seen a wretched culprit, charged with some serious offence, standing at the bar of the Old Bailey, or in any other criminal court, while the jury were deliberating on their verdict? If so, he must, notwithstanding all the assumed indifference which sometimes characterizes the miserable being, have seen unequivocal symptoms of the consuming anxiety as to the [-360-] result which was burning in his breast. Precisely similar is the case of the gambler when he has much at stake. On the night in question, the play was deep; and so wrapt up were the parties in their work, and so absorbing was their anxiety as to the issue, that they not only did not, for several minutes at a time, exchange a word with each other, but they did not even withdraw their eyes from the dice and the table; and when the game was finished, you saw the countenance of the winner brighten up as if he had made a princely fortune, while that of the loser suddenly became as pale as if he had been told, through some supernatural agency, that he was to die the next hour.
The deep and consuming anxiety of gamblers, when at table, is natural enough in any case; but there are certain cases in which it is peculiarly so. Only imagine the case—a very common case, I regret to say—not only of a man’s whole property, but even his character in the estimation of mankind, being entirely dependent on the numbers which the dice may chance to turn up; and to heighten the interest which he attaches to the result, only suppose that he has a wife and family, or it may be a mother, or sister, or other near relative, dependent on him for support: their fate is bound up in his, and that fate is to be decided by the numbers which turn up. Who but himself can form any conception of the tumultuous emotions which agitate his bosom at such a moment? What these must be, may be best inferred from the alternative so often resorted to in such cases, when -the numbers turned up by the dice are adverse. In how many -instances is ruin at play followed by immediate suicide? We hear Of only a comparatively small number of the cases of self-destruction which occur from losses at play. How often is it stated at coroners’ inquests, by the relatives of the deceased, that they could assign no reason why he committed suicide. I am convinced, that in almost every instance, especially where the party moved in a respectable sphere of life, in which no reason can be assigned by friends or relatives for the “rash act,” that reason was losses at play. Acquaintances often bear testimony to the fact that the deceased was in good circumstances; and that, therefore, the fact of his committing suicide was unintelligible to them. Ay, it is true, he was in easy circumstances a few months, or even a few weeks, before he destroyed himself; but then, in the interim, though they knew nothing of the fact, he had gambled away the last farthing he had in the world. An instance of this occurred about ten weeks ago. A gentlemanly-looking man came up from the country, and taking lodgings in the vicinity of Leicester-square, entered some of the gaming-houses with which that neighbourhood is infested. He at once fell a prey to the keepers of these Pandemoniums. In [-361-] the short space of a fortnight he was plundered of from 2000l. to 3000l., including a valuable gold watch, which he had risked when all his money was gone. He then went and blew out his brains. Of course, if any of those who knew him a month previously, and who were unacquainted with the fact of his gambling, had been asked if they knew any cause why he destroyed himself, they would have answered in the negative; adding, that he was in excellent circumstances. It is no uncommon thing for persons. who have entered one of these hells with the determination of hazarding their last shilling before they come out again, to make previous preparations for the commission of suicide, in the event of their being unfortunate. Their motto in such a case is—“Something or nothing.” If the latter be the result, then out they go, and straightway carry the purpose on which they had previously resolved, into effect. In fifteen or twenty minutes afterwards their bodies are weltering in their gore*, (* It is worthy of remark, that very few gamblers commit suicide by hanging or drowning: they almost invariably, when they do destroy themselves, either cut their throats, or blow out their brains ) and their spirits are before the throne of the Eternal.
The feelings of one who enters a gambling-house for the first time, are of a very peculiar and painful kind. He has a secret conviction, though too infatuated to profit by it, that in the very act of crossing the threshold of such a place for the purposes of play, he is not only sinning against Heaven, but periling his own reputation and prospects in life. He is so powerfully impressed with a sense of doing wrong, that his very head becomes dizzy, his eyes become dim, and his heart palpitates with a violence which, perhaps, he never before experienced. I have even known instances in which young men, on their first entering a gaming-house to engage in play, have almost been divested of consciousness itself. They have walked up stairs in a state of trance; reminding one, in some measure, of the mechanical motions of a somnambulist. I knew one who was so overpowered with a sense of the impropriety and perils of entering one of these hells, that he could not collect his scattered senses sufficiently to play when he had got into the room, and actually quitted it again without being able to say how many stairs he went up, or to describe the appearance of the place.
No idea can be formed by those who have not experienced it, of the intense excitement consequent on gambling. And what is worthy of mention is, that the mere circumstance of being habituated to play, does not materially abate the excitement. It is well known to those who are personally acquainted with gamblers, that they never throw the dice, deal the cards, or put down their money at roulette, when the stakes played for are [-362-] large, without feeling themselves wrought up to the highest pitch of excitement. A friend of my own who went a few months since into one of these hells, says, that, among others, he saw the son of a nobleman engaged in deep play; and that though, by a run of good luck, as the phrase is, he continued to win while my acquaintance was there, his excitement was so great as to agitate his whole frame. His tongue even faltered while he attempted to speak; and he seemed so absorbed in the game, that he appeared as if insensible to everything and every one around him. Others have been known to sit for sixteen or eighteen hours at a time at the gaming-table, without feeling the slightest hunger, and without imagining that they had been so employed more than two or three hours.
I have dwelt at such length in the work to which I have already made several references, on the debasing and destructive effects of gaming on the minds of those who give way to it, that little more is left me to say on that point. Not only does indulgence in play extinguish all the finer feelings of our nature, but it generally does it in a very short time. In the short space of two or three months, the most amiable and virtuous of men have, in innumerable cases, been transformed into a species of incarnate demons by their nightly visits to the gaming-table. Husbands that were before most devotedly attached to their wives, soon treat them with the most perfect brutality; and fathers who regarded their children with so ardent an affection, that they would have parted with everything they possessed in the world rather than that those children should be injured, would now prefer seeing them die of cold or hunger, to being themselves excluded from the gaming-house. The cases are innumerable, in which a man continues to frequent these Pandemoniums-.—pawning, it may be, the very clothes off his back,— while he sees his wife and children literally dying of want in some wretched hovel. In fact, the confirmed gambler is utterly lost to all virtuous feeling: he has not a trace of humanity left. An affecting instance of the suddenness with which the passion of gambling transforms a virtuous man into one of the most vicious kind, occurred within the last two or three years, under my own observation. A young man, the son of most worthy parents, who had a small competency to support them in their old age, after having spent a little fortune on his education, had, on coming from the country to London, been very successful in the profession to which he belonged, lie was a handsome young man, of engaging manners, and possessed an intimate knowledge of his profession. Circumstances brought, him into contact with a young lady, the daughter of a gentleman of great wealth and high standing in society. Having every reason to believe that [-363-] he had only to make matrimonial advances to the young lady to insure both her own and her parents’ consent to their marriage, he, after a little hesitation, did solicit the hand of the former. His proposals were accepted by her, with the most cordial concurrence of every member of the family; and in due time the marriage took place. With his bride he received a handsome sum down, and the assurance that, on the father’s death, he would receive a great deal more. The first thing he did was to send 1500l. to his parents, in return for the expenses which his education had cost them; feeling, that but for that education, he could never have attained that position in society which he now occupied. The marriage jaunt having been performed, both parties returned to town, and he commenced business on his own account, backed by the great influence and connexions of his father-in-law. Everything went on smoothly for a time: he took a large house, at a rental of 300l. a-year, and furnished it in a style of great splendour: his wife and he lived on the most affectionate terms; and her friends always appeared to me to be exceedingly attached to him. In an evil hour, he met with one or more Greeks, and by them he was decoyed into a fashionable hell in the neighbourhood of St. James’s-street. In a few weeks he lost every farthing of ready money he could command. His father-in-law was applied to, and advanced another sum, not aware of the purposes for which it was intended. That followed the first, in a week or two more. Another application was made to his father-in-law; but having, by this time, ascertained how the former sums had gone, he refused to advance a farthing more. This led to a quarrel, and to the young man ordering his father-in-law to quit the house, and never again to enter it. His wife took his part, and by that means forfeited the friendship of all her family. They one and all refused to have any intercourse with him or her. What was now to be done? He wrote to his father, asking him for the loan, for a few months, of the 1500l. he had sent him, under the pretext that he was going to appropriate it to business purposes, with a moral certainty of its producing a most handsome return. The poor unsuspecting man sent him a draft for the whole sum by next day’s post. In a fortnight or three weeks, every shilling of the amount was lost in one of the dens of iniquity to which I have referred. Inventing the most plausible story his genius could suggest he again applied to his father for the loan, for two or three months, of whatever remaining money he had, assuring him that the whole would be returned at the end of that time, with an ample consideration for the use of it. The still unsuspecting parent immediately sent him the last farthing he had, amounting to nearly 2000l in a month, or rather less, that had all gone the same way as the [-364-] former sum. The splendid establishment was broken up; the furniture was all sold by the creditors to whom he was indebted in his professional capacity; and he and his wife were turned into the streets without a friend or farthing in the world. He now lost all regard for his wife, as he had done already for all his friends; and in a short time afterwards, heard, with the most entire indifference, of the death of his father and the destitution of his mother. He parted from his wife without the slightest feeling of regret; and, to my certain knowledge, though brought up in the first circles of society, she was, in little more than fourteen months after her marriage, dependent for subsistence, and for a place to sleep in, on the charity of a humble tradesman; for her parents had been so offended at her conduct, in taking her husband’s part when he insulted them, that it was not until they had learned that he had quitted the country altogether, that they would consent again to acknowledge her.
I give this case in illustration of the rapidity with which gambling transforms the most virtuous into the most vicious of men, because he was myself intimately acquainted with the unfortunate young man. I have modified rather than overstated the circumstances of the case, while I have purposely suppressed several facts which would have made it still more touching, lest it should be recognized by any of the friends of either the husband or the wife; and possibly, in such a case, give them a moment’s uneasiness. Were I to repeat all the other instances which I have heard of a similar nature, the space that remains of this chapter would be insufficient for the purpose.
I could relate cases without number of the sudden transitions from affluence and respectability to the lowest depths of destitution and degradation, which have been brought about by a passion for the gambling-table. Not long since, a very affecting instance of this nature was brought under the personal cognizance of a number of individuals. A gentleman belonging to a good family, and who possessed a handsome freehold house and a fortune of 20,000l., was somehow or other trepanned into a gambling-house. He was not long there, when he thought he would play to the extent of five sovereigns. He alternately lost and gained, but quitted that evening with the same sum as he entered. He next night repeated his visit to the place, and then lost a considerable sum. A third time he crossed the portals of the Pandemonium, in the hope of regaining what he had lost on the previous occasion; but he found that he only doubled his losses. Still he clung to the hope, that by trying again he would make up for all he had lost: and with that view, and in that expectation, repeated his visits night after night. The result was, that he became a confirmed gambler. He was spell-bound to the gaming-table, [-365-] and every successive loss only seemed to whet his appetite for further play. With the recklessness of a desperate man, he played still deeper and deeper with every new game, until he had gambled away the last sixpence he had in the world,—which he did in the short space of two or three months. He was a married man, with four children. The house, and the things in it, were sold. One article of wearing apparel after another, whether belonging to his wife, or himself, or his children, found its way to the pawnbrokers, as being the only means they had of procuring as much food as would sustain existence. At last the wretched family was discovered, through the merest accident, by a former friend, living in a miserable hovel in one of the lowest parts of the town; the poor wife on the eve of her confinement; the four children not only half-naked, but evidently sick and exhausted from utter want; while he himself had all the appearance of a living skeleton. I should add, that there was neither bed, table, nor chairs in the room; nothing, indeed, in the shape of furniture. The unhappy man confessed to his friend when he entered, that he had brought all the misery he then beheld, on his wife, his children, and himself, by his addiction to the gaming-table.
I have said that in many cases the last resource of the ruined gambler is suicide. Before having recourse to this expedient for ending their earthly miseries, ruined gamesters have, in numerous instances, been so utterly lost to all attachment to life, that the commission of the fatal act seems not to have cost them one moment’s uneasiness. Gamblers have been known to set as coolly and deliberately about blowing out their brains as if they had only been going to light their cigars. Lord Orford, in his Correspondence with Horace Walpole, mentions two curious instances of this. Not having the work just named at hand, and not being able to refer to the particular letter in which the first of the cases is related, I cannot give it in his lordship’s words. I must, therefore, give it as well as I can from memory
One of the fashionable young men of Lord Orford’s day, had been unhappily decoyed into a gambling-house, where his passion for play became so great that he spent nearly the whole of his time in throwing the dice—excepting, of course, that portion of time which was necessary for physical repose. He continued to gamble until he had not only lost a princely fortune, but had incurred a large amount of debt among his tradesmen. With the loss of his money, and the utter beggary which stared him in the face, the unfortunate victim of play lost all relish for life. He saw, or rather fancied he saw, in death the only refuge from the infamy and wretchedness which he had entailed on himself; and therefore, with the coolness and deliberation of a man in his pe-[-366-]culiar circumstances, he determined on the commission of suicide. But though thus past all feeling for himself, he had still some lingering concern for the poor hard-working and honest tradesmen in whose debt he was so deeply; and as he was fully resolved on self-destruction, he thought he might, before carrying his fatal purpose into execution, as well do them an act of justice; though in so doing, he should do injustice to others. I suppose— though this can only be conjecture, he not having expressed any sentiment on the subject—that he thought in his own mind there could be no great harm in taking a small sum out of the pockets of a great many individuals, to make up an amount, the loss of which would be ruinous to many of his tradesmen. Be this as it may, the ruined gambler insured his life to the extent of the sum—amounting to several thousand pounds—which he owed his tradesmen, taking their claims in the aggregate. Being personally acquainted with several of the directors of the company (he called them his life-and-death brokers) in which he insured, he invited them to dinner the following day, with the ostensible view of celebrating the completion of the assurance. He also requested all his tradesmen to be present at a particular hour in the evening; an hour which would allow the party to dispatch a splendid dinner, and do ample justice to the wine. The tradesmen received strict orders to be personally present; and as the non-payment of their accounts for a long period to come was to be the penalty of not acceding to his wishes in this respect, it can scarcely be necessary to say that they were all “punctual as lovers to the moment sworn.” The dinner over, and a liberal allowance of ‘wine having been quaffed, the ruined gambler desired the servant to call up all who were in the hall below. In a few seconds the dining-room was filled with tradesmen, all eager to receive payment of their accounts. “Now, gentlemen,” said the gambler, addressing his guests, and pointing to the little crowd of tradesmen,—” now, gentlemen, these are all my tradesmen; they are honest industrious men, to whom I am indebted, and as I see no other earthly means of being ever able to meet their just claims, you will be so kind as to pay them out of the sum for which I insured my life yesterday. Allow me, gentlemen, to bid you all farewell.” And so saying, he pulled a pistol from his pocket, and placing it to his head, that instant blew out his brains.
The other case to which I have referred, as related by Lord Orford, I can give in his lordship’s own words, having access to it in an extract in one of the periodicals of the day. Lord Or-ford, writing at a time when the friends of the party to whom he alludes were alive, very properly suppresses his name, contenting himself with substituting a few stars for it. “He himself;” says [-367-] Lord Orford, “with all his judgment in bets, would have betted any man in England against himself for self-murder. Yet after having been supposed the sharpest genius of his time, he, by all that appears, shot himself in the distress of his circumstances. *** The same day, he asked immediately for the government of Virginia, or the fox-hounds; and pressed for an answer with an eagerness that surprised the Duke of N-—, who never had a notion of pinning down the relief of his own, or any other man’s wants, to a day. Yet that seems to have been the case of ** who determined to throw the die of life or death. Tuesday se’nnight he received the answer from court, which did not prove favourable. He consulted indirectly, and at last directly, several people on the easiest mode of finishing life; and seems to have thought that he had been too explicit; for he invited company to dinner for the day of his death, and ordered a supper at White’s* (*White’s Club, St. James’s-Street.), where he supped, too, the night before. He played at whist till it was one in the morning: it was New-year’s morning. Lord Bertie drank to him a happy new year. He clapped his hands strangely to his eyes. In the morning, he had a lawyer ~and three witnesses, and executed his will, which he made them read twice over, paragraph by paragraph; and then asking the lawyer if that would stand good, though a man were to shoot himself, and being assured that it would, he said, ‘Pray stay while I step into the next room,’ and shot himself. He clapped the pistol so close to his head, that they heard no report.”
The above are curious illustrations of the utter indifference to life, which is so common in the case of ruined gamblers. But, perhaps, the most singular one on record occurred about fourteen .or fifteen years since. A young man, having gambled away the last shilling be possessed in the world, solicited the loan of a few pounds from one of the proprietors of the hell in which he had been plundered of his money. “What security do you propose for repaying the sum ?“ inquired the hellite.
“My word of honour,” was the answer.
“That won’t do; that’s poor security, indeed,” rejoined the keeper of the hell, in haughty and almost insulting tones.
“Then you won’t lend me a few pounds?”
“Not without security.”
“Why, you surely won’t refuse me a couple of sovereigns after having lost so much?”
“1 won’t advance you a couple of shillings without security.” The young man was, if possible, as deeply stung by this refusal as he was mortified at the loss of his money. A thought struck [-368-] him. “I’ll give you,” he said, addressing himself to the hellite, “the security of the suit of clothes on my back, which is quite new, and cost eight guineas. Will you advance me a couple of sovereigns on that security ?“
“But supposing you lose, I cannot strip them off your back.”
“Don’t trouble yourself about that. If I lose, I shall commit suicide, which I have been meditating for some time, and you shall then have the clothes. I shall return to ray lodgings before day-light, in the most worn-out and worthless dressing-gown or great cloak you can procure for me, leaving my clothes with you.” The money was advanced, and in ten or twelve minutes was lost. The hellite demanded his clothes. The unfortunate youth, with the utmost coolness, stripped forthwith, and enveloping his body in a great-coat, for which no Jew oldclothesman would have given half-a-crown, quitted the Pandemonium in which he had lost his money, with the firm determination of destroying himself. Instead, however, of going home to execute his purpose, he was about to carry it into effect by suspending himself from a lamp-post, in a dark lane, near the hell in which he had lost his money; but before he had completed his preparations, he was observed by a policeman, who at once took him into custody. He was brought before the police magistrate next morning, where the whole circumstances connected with the affair transpired. It is worthy of observation, that the ruined gambler exhibited the most perfect coolness when discovered in the act of attempting to destroy himself; and that he resented the interference of the policeman, by which he was prevented from carrying his purpose into effect, as a most unwarrantable piece of impertinence. He had squandered away all his money, and now he conceived he had an undoubted right to take away his life.
In the work* (* The Great Metropolis. First Series.) to which I have two or three times alluded, I have adverted to some remarkable cases of suicide which have been committed in consequence of losses at the gaming-table. I gave those cases in detail, because, having occurred a good many years ago, they are not now likely to cause that uneasiness to the relations of the parties which they must have done at the time. I could relate many more of recent occurrence which have been made public to a certain extent; but it is better to pass them over. There are, again, many cases of suicide arising from losses at play, which are quite well known to the immediate relations of the parties, but which are carefully kept by those relations from the knowledge of the public. I myself could point to various individual cases of this kind; b[-sic-] [-369-] that would answer no useful purpose, while it would inflict a wound in the breast of surviving relatives.
From what I have already remarked, the reader will at once infer, that an indulgence in the passion of gambling must be productive of an awful amount of individual misery to the parties themselves. Would that the misery which is the inevitable result of gambling were confined to those parties! Unhappily it is not: it extends to families, relatives, and friends; and thus indirectly spreads itself throughout the whole framework of society. Fathers are reduced to poverty by the losses at the gaming-table of their sons; wives, by the losses of their husbands; children, by the losses of their fathers; sisters, by the losses of their brothers; and so on throughout all the variety or family relationship wherever one individual is dependent on the pecuniary prosperity of another. But this is not the only way in which the baneful effects of the pernicious practice of gambling are felt by the relations of the parties. The suicides and forgeries, and other discreditable actions, which result from an indulgence in the practice of gambling, are matters which not only throw them into the deepest misery at the time of their occurrence, but which they can never look back on, at any after period of life, without the most painful feelings. There is yet another though not so manifest way in which gambling is productive of a vast amount of misery and wretchedness. I allude to the marriages which gamblers on the verge of ruin enter into with the view of retrieving their fortunes, or rather postponing their ruin for a longer or shorter period, as the case may be. In such cases, the affections are never for a moment consulted: there is no sympathy of opinion, feeling, or habit: no union of hearts. With the gambler, the transaction is one of a thoroughly sordid kind: he does not even respect the lady he is about to make his wife. It may be, he utterly detests her; but she has a fortune, and he knows of no other means of obtaining money. Of course the marriage ends in the greatest unhappiness, if not in entire separation. This, I need hardly say, chiefly applies to aristocratic marriages; and to them it applies to an extent of which I am convinced the public have no conception. Every one is aware that George the Fourth, when Prince of Wales, was, as the common phrase is, over head and ears in debt; and that it was because he would thereby be enabled to meet the claims of his creditors, that be consented to marry the Princess Caroline of Brunswick. But though this is known to every one, comparatively few people are acquainted with the circumstances under which his debts were contracted. Those debts, then, were the result of losses at the gaming-table. He was an inveterate gambler; a habit which he most probably contracted through his [-370-] intimacy with Fox. It is a well-ascertained fact, that in two short years, soon after he attained his majority, he lost nearly 500,000l. at play. It was with the view and in the hope that marriage would cure his propensity for the gaming-table, that his father was so anxious to see him united to Caroline. And it was solely, as just remarked, on account of his marriage with that princess constituting the only condition of his debts being paid by the country, that he agreed to lead her to the hymeneal altar. The unfortunate results of their union are but too well known, not only as regarded the parties themselves, but as regarded society generally. To the gambling habits, then, of the Prince of Wales is to be ascribed all that unhappiness which he entailed on the unfortunate Caroline; .and the vast amount of injury which her separation from him, and subsequent trial, produced on the morals of the nation generally.
Perhaps there is not, in the whole catalogue of vices, a singe one which is more insidious than that of gambling. If a man once gives way to it—if he once yields to the temptation to play, it is a thousand to one if he ever relinquishes it until he is ruined in character and fortune. I have given, in the previous parts of this chapter, instances of a very remarkable kind, illustrative of the almost moral impossibility of the person who has once fairly entered on play, absenting himself from the gambling-table while he has a shilling in the world. The inference from this is surely so plain, that he who runneth may read. Not only ought men to shun the gaming-houses as they would the path that leads to their own destruction, but they ought to abstain from all betting and gambling among private friends, even when only for the mere purposes of amusement. What is begun for amusement soon ends in a disposition to gamble for gain; and though the party may, in the first instance, confine his risks to trifling amounts, he will gradually venture on deeper and deeper play, until he plays sufficiently large stakes to work his own ruin. Parents ought to check and eradicate the disposition to all sorts of playing for gain among their children. The spirit of the gambler is often, I am convinced, imbibed in our boyish years, though it may not develop itself in any striking manner until we have reached the years of maturity.
The disclosures which were made on the trial of Lord de Roos, proved that not only does the practice of gaming prevail to a great extent among the upper classes of society, but that many of our nobility and gentry are in the habit of playing what is called deep game. In this respect, however, our present aristocracy have the advantage over the higher classes of the last century. With the single exception of a noble marquis, two noble earls, and three or four members of the peerage of inferior rank, [-371-] I am not aware of any of our present aristocracy whose gambling achievements can at all be compared with those of scores of the nobility and gentry of the middle and latter part of the by-gone century, whom it were easy to name. And, perhaps, among all the aristocratic gamblers of the last century, the Duke of Bedford, and Charles James Fox, the illustrious orator and statesman, were the greatest. The Duke of Bedford felt the excitement consequent on gambling to be, in one sense, necessary to existence: life was to him a positive burden when not indulging his favourite propensity. Even sickness itself, when that sickness did not prostrate his mental powers, failed to extinguish his disposition to gamble. But as I have referred to the singularly strong propensity which the late Duke of Bedford felt for play, in the work to which I made allusion in the outset, I will say nothing more relative to his Grace in this volume. I am not sure, after all, whether his friend, Mr. Fox, was not a still greater gambler. At all events, Fox was one of the most inveterate players that ever put a knee under the table. It is a well-attested fact, that one evening he lost the immense sum of 25,000l. No less undoubted is the circumstance of his having, on another occasion, continued at play for twenty-two consecutive hours! It is also, perhaps, worthy of mention, that, singularly enough, he lost 500l. every hour, without a single instance of what is technically called “a turn” in his favour; making a total loss for the twenty-two hours’ sederunt, of 11,000l. The fact of Pox having been able, in a physical point of view, to continue twenty-two consecutive hours in one position, and at one employment, proves, in the most conclusive manner, the stimulating nature of gambling. At any other employment, nature would have been unequal to the effort; she must have sunk in the attempt. It is due to the memory of Fox to say, that he was one of the few inveterate players of his day who were never known to resort to unfair practices. There was something, indeed, of a very peculiar nature in the constitution of his mind. Unlike all other gamblers of whom I have ever heard, his losses, even when ruinous, never seemed to cause him a moment’s regret or uneasiness. A contemporary and friend of his has mentioned, in his memoirs of the eminent men of that period, that at six o’clock one morning, after having the previous night lost the last farthing he had in the world at the gaming-table, he was found reading, in the original, the works of one of the most distinguished philosophers of ancient Greece. His own favourite observation, in reference to his gambling propensities, was, that next to the pleasure of gaining was the pleasure of losing at play.
In the time of Fox, and indeed during the entire latter half of the last century, gambling obtained to a very great extent among [-372-] the female as well as among the male aristocracy of the country. Those unacquainted with the fact will be startled to hear, that to such an alarming height did the spirit of gambling among the female portion of the nobility and gentry rise, in the middle of the eighteenth century, that it was deemed necessary, by way of example to others, to prosecute publicly some of the most distinguished ladies in the land for allowing gambling in their houses. The Countess of Buckinghamshire was convicted of this offence, and fined 200l.; Lady E. Luttrel was fined 50l. for the same offence; and so were several other distinguished females.
How far the spirit of gambling is still cherished by the female aristocracy of England, is a point on which a diversity of opinion prevails. My own impression is—and that impression is founded on facts which have been privately communicated to me—my own impression is, that gambling is practised to a far greater extent among the female branches of the aristocracy than is generally supposed. The truth is, that people have little suspicion of a disposition to gamble on the part of the aristocratic ladies of the land, because the latter are prudent enough to take every possible precaution to conceal the fact from the public gaze. Not only are there no houses kept by their own sex solely for gambling purposes, but they do not even go to one particular house belonging to any one of themselves for many nights in succession. The understanding among them is, that, unless under peculiar circumstances, they shall not indulge their propensity for play for more than six consecutive nights in the same house. The aristocratic female gamblers are divided into various small coteries; and they take each other’s houses in rotation, except when particular circumstances occur to interfere with such arrangement. They meet together on such occasions ostensibly as tea parties; and so skilfully and adroitly is the thing managed, that there are often gambling lady-parties in a husband’s house without his ever dreaming of such a thing. It is due, however, to these ladies to say, that so far as I am aware, they not only refuse to have anything to do with the dice, but that they never even play deeply. The cards only are patronised by them; and the stakes are usually a sovereign each. Not long since, a countess died at an advanced age, who was one of the most inveterate gamblers of her sex in modern times. This lady did nothing else but gamble. Living apart from her husband, and having no family or any one else to interfere with her, she gave full rein to her propensities in this respect. It is a fact which is worthy of mention, that notwithstanding her passionate fondness for gambling, she almost invariably lost. It was calculated that her average losses exceeded fifty pounds per week during the eight months in the year which she regularly played. The passion for [-373-] the card-table clung to her to the very last; it was only when physically unfit for play that she relinquished her gambling pursuits. I know of another lady, living by herself, but intimately related to several of the first families in the country, who never, unless confined to her bed, suffers a single night to pass without taking part at the card-table. The lady sees no company, solely because that would interfere with the indulgence of her disposition to play. She is now upwards of seventy, and yet she displays a flow of spirits and liveliness of manner, when at the card-table, which would be worthy a girl just emerging from her teens. She does nothing else hut gamble; unless, indeed, I ought to except a glance at the morning newspaper, and a half-hour’s “dip” into some circulating-library book. The infirmities incident to advanced age require that she should not over-exert herself at home; but the moment she sits down at the card-table she appears as if she were another person. All her ailments seem to take unto themselves wings and fly away the instant the cards are produced. I could make some curious disclosures respecting the practice of gaming among the aristocratic ladies of the land; but anything which would point in a particular direction in such a case would be in bad taste, and might be unpleasant to the relations of the parties, whose feelings ought to be consulted in the matter.
We have often heard of the long time it has taken to decide a game at chess, when the parties were both first-rate players, or were very equally matched. Instances of this kind have occurred in playing at cards, where the opposing parties were both honest. It also repeatedly occurs when it so happens that both parties are dextrous at cheating. A rather singular instance of this kind took place in London a short time since. A Frenchman had become proverbial among those with whom he was in the habit of playing, for the unerring certainty with which he gained from all who ventured to play with him. At last, as might be expected, seeing no chance of winning, every one refused to engage in the unequal trial of skill. An Englishman who had heard of the triumphs of Monsieur, expressed his readiness to enter the lists with him. The parties played for three hours without intermission, and at the end of that time were, in respect to winning or losing, much about the same as when they commenced. They then stopped to have a little refreshment. “Sare,” said the Frenchmen, in a sort of whisper, to a party who accompanied the Englishman, “your friend is a very clever man at de cards; deuced clever, Sare.” “He is a very clever fellow,” observed the Englishman. “I shall try him again,” said Monsieur. As he made the observation, he proceeded to the room in which they had been playing, and which was fixed on as the scene of [-374-] their future contest. He had scarcely quitted the place, when the other made his appearance, and observed that the Frenchman was the most skilful player he had ever met with. The parties again met, and the cards were again produced. The game was renewed at eleven o’clock, and continued without intermission till six next morning. At the end of that time, to the surprise of each other, they found that they had left off just as they had begun. They were respectively the more astonished at this, as neither had ever before met with his equal. “Sare,” said the Frenchman, “you are de best player I ever met with.”
“And you, Monsieur,” returned the other, “are the only gentleman from whom I could gain nothing.”
“Indeed, Sare,” said Monsieur, hesitatingly.
“It’s a fact, I assure you.”
“Sare, I’m quite surprised at your skill.”
“I’m no less so at yours, Monsieur.”
“You’re the most skilfullest man at de cards in England.”
“Not while you are in it, Monsieur,” replied the Englishman, with a smile.
“Sare, I cheated, and yet could not gain from you,” remarked the Frenchman, hurriedly and with great emphasis, feeling it impossible any longer to restrain his surprise at the circumstance of being unable to play a winning game with the Englishman.
“And, Monsieur, I did the same with you, and yet you are no loser,” remarked the other, with a corresponding energy of tone.
The enigma was now solved: both had been cheating the whole night, though each was unconscious of the dishonest practices of the other. And so equally matched were they in their dexterity at cheating, that each rose from the table with the same amount of money as that with which he sat down. The cheats cordially shook hands, seemingly much gratified that they had at last ascertained how it was that neither could gain from the other.
Persons who have never been in a gambling-house, have very erroneous notions of bow matters are conducted in those sinks of iniquity. They suppose that there is the conversation, the witty remark, the repartee, the laughter and good-humoured uproar, if I may use the expression, which are the usual characteristic” of social parties. There could not be a greater misapprehension as to the real state of things. Gamblers know no friendship except in those cases in which two or more of the hellites, or professed gamblers, con spire together for the purpose of fleecing some unfortunate person who, in an evil hour, has been induced to enter one of these Pandemoniums. Not a word of conversation is to be heard: no smile is ever seen to light up the countenances of those at play. What I witnessed in this respect, in the gaming-house in the Regent Quadrant, is nightly to be seen [-375-] in every hell in the metropolis. In every face you see the deepest anxiety and the most grasping avarice clearly depicted; while in the countenances of those who have been plundered of their money, and have their last farthing at stake, you see a positively horrible expression. Despair in its most frightful aspects is visibly impressed in their looks. In many instances, you witness an unearthly, I had almost said a demoniacal expression of countenance. It requires no effort to infer from their looks what awful emotions are agitating their bosoms. Every eye is fixed on the. table, and on the dice, or cards, or ball, according to the nature of the play that is going on at the time. The stillness of the place is only broken by the rattling of the dice, the motions of the wheel and ball; or by the person who presides over the game announcing the result, or requesting the players to make their game anew. In the very silence of the place there is often something awful; made, of course, infinitely more so by the intense interest which the parties feel in the result of the game. The only occasions on which the voices of the parties are to be heard, is when some unhappy man, who has been robbed of his money by foul play, accuses the hellites, or the persons in their employ, of having cheated him. The charge of cheating is one at which these fellows invariably affect to be mightily indignant; and the more guilty of the crime, the louder they usually are in their blustering, and in their pretended regard for their characters. The victim who has the temerity to charge them with false play, is sure to be a sufferer in person as well as in purse. Not content with heaping every abuse on his head, and uttering the most dreadful imprecations, they usually resort, with the view of silencing the party preferring the charge, to arguments of a physical kind; that is to say, they have recourse to personal violence; and as the one invariably takes the part of the other, it is unnecessary to say that the unfortunate victim has no chance with them. In the leading gaming establishments, they have a bully, of superior pugilistic capabilities, regularly retained for the purpose of inflicting fistic punishment on any party who may become troublesome because he has been plundered of his money. The cases are innumerable—they are of nightly occurrence, though the parties are restrained from a desire not to expose themselves, from prosecuting the hellites for assault—in which poor simpletons, who have been fleeced of their last farthing, have received the most flagrant personal maltreatment* (* It may be right to say, that this applies chiefly to the transactions which take place in the minor hells.) because they have ventured to charge the parties who have plundered them of their money, with unfair play. I could refer to various instances [-376-] of this kind which have been communicated to me by the parties who were the victims: that, however, is unnecessary. I will only add, that a variety of cases have occurred, in which the remonstrating party has not only been grossly assaulted, but has actually been murdered, or has afterwards died of’ the injuries he had received. Nor is this anything but what might be expected; for the hellites are the most thoroughly abandoned class of men under heaven. Their moral sense has been utterly deadened by the series of crimes which they had committed before they became the proprietors of gaming-houses: of humanity, there exists not the slightest vestige in their bosoms. In short, they will never hesitate at the commission of any crime, no matter what its enormity, provided they think there is a probability of their escaping the retribution which the laws of their country in all such cases inflict.
And the practice of gambling, it is right to remark, has the same effect on almost every one who gives himself up to it, whether a gaming-house proprietor or not. The instances are exceedingly rare, in which the habitual gambler is not one of the most vicious members of society. To this point 1 have alluded in a previous part of the chapter. An utter disregard of all virtue and friendship is a necessary consequence of gaming. The man who, when he enters a gambling den for the first time, would not be induced to do an unjust or unworthy action for the world, will, by the time he has been a few months a gambler, perpetrate the most atrocious actions without a compunctious visiting at the time, or a pang of regret at an after period. Nor is there anything too mean or ignoble for them to do, provided it will administer to their propensity for the gaming-table. A few months attendance in one of these fearful places robs a man of all self respect. I could give innumerable illustrations of this, by a reference to individual cases. I shall only allude to one; it. came under my own observation a year or two ago, and possesses some singular features :—A. young man of most respectable connexions, and who possessed great talents in the profession to which he belonged, had, in the course of two or three years, got into a business which was producing. from 1000l. to 1200l. per annum. He had every prospect of his business considerably increasing. I am convinced, from what I myself knew of the circumstances, that in three or four years more he would have annually made by his professional exertions from 1500l. to 2000l. Unfortunately, however, he had not the good sense to let well alone. To make a fortune gradually, and by means of his professional talents, appeared to him a too commonplace sort of affair. His fortune must not be made by the drudgery of business: it was far more aristocratic, and much more [-377-] like a man of spirit, to become rich all at once. He had been told—by those of course whose interest it was to deceive him— that he might make a fortune in a few weeks, by a succession of what are called “hits” at the gaming-table. He listened to the voice which sought his ruin: he entered a Pandemonium; and in a few weeks not only was all his available money in the coffers, or, to speak with technical precision, “the bank” of the hellites, but also all the borrowed money he had been able by any effort to raise. Instead of learning wisdom from sad and painful experience, and abjuring gambling for ever, he only became the more desperately wedded to the dice-box and the cards. What might have been expected, speedily took place: he lost his business entirely, was disowned by his friends, and became a positive outcast from society. As he could not under any pretext or by any ingenuity he possessed get his acquaintances to advance him a sixpence more, he put his wits to the rack to devise methods by which he could obtain money, or that which would produce money, with the least amount of legal risk. He was in the habit of going to the houses of former friends wherever he would still be admitted, and stealing whatever portable articles of value came within his reach. He managed his felonies very adroitly. His favourite practice was to call at those early hours when the mistress of the house was not likely to be seen, owing to her being in dishabille, and when the probability consequently was, that he would he shown into the drawing-room until such time as she could put herself into a condition to see him. In such cases, his custom was to snatch up whatever he deemed most suitable for his purpose; and when walking out, to tell the servant that he would not wait for Mrs. So-and-So, but would call again in a. day or two. As the lady of the house would not under these circumstances be, in many cases, in the particular room until, some other person called, the article stolen would not be missed, and thus an innocent party might be blamed. In one such case, not seeing any other article sufficiently portable for theft, he actually stole a pocket bible. On another occasion, finding nothing of any value which was not too bulky for the purposes of transfer to another locality, he actually stole a Macintosh cloak which hung in the passage leading from the street-door. But of all the thefts—many of them dexterously committed—of which this young man was guilty, the most remarkable and the most ungrateful one was the following. He had gone to an old acquaintance, and laying before him the deplorable circumstances to which he had been reduced, pointed out to him a certain situation which was vacant, and besought him to use his exertions to procure it for him. His friend, though perfectly aware that the altered positioning which the young [-378-] man stood, was to be ascribed wholly to his own foolishness, was so convinced of his being incapable of doing a dishonest action, that he became positively indignant when any charge of dishonesty was preferred against him in his hearing. Anxious to do him a service, he took the young man with him to the office of the gentleman in whose establishment a situation was vacant. The parties were shown into a particular room by themselves; and on the other being called to speak to the gentleman who had the situation to dispose of, he said to the young man, “Now you wait here until I return, and I will let you know the result of the application. I wish to Heaven it maybe successful; at all events, I will do everything in my power to get the place for you. I will be back in a few minutes.” The friend of the young man then quitted the apartment, leaving his cloak in the care of the youthful ruined gambler. He had no sooner quitted the apartment, than the young man snatched up the cloak, which was quite new, and had cost six guineas, and proceeded forthwith to a pawnbroker’s with it. It is unnecessary to say that he never afterwards inquired whether his friend was unsuccessful in his application in his behalf or not.
But stealing was not the only means to which this youthful victim of the gambling-table resorted in order to procure money wherewith to indulge his propensity for play. He was in the habit of making up false parcels, and delivering them at certain offices and houses, pretending they had come a distance, and demanding several shillings for their carriage. In order to practise the imposition more effectually, he dressed himself in the clothes of a porter, and so well imitated the manner and mode of speaking of that class of men, that no one ever suspected he was an
impostor. In this way he contrived to raise, in small sums of two and three shillings at a time, a considerable amount of money. By-and-by, however, he overdid the thing. He went a second time to a place in which he had in this way before swindled a gentleman out of several shillings, when he was taken into custody, tried at the Old Bailey, convicted, and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment; which sentence he is now undergoing. Thus, in the short space of three years, this young man, whose circumstances were so excellent and his prospects so bright, has been reduced not only to absolute penury, and to the loss of friends and of society, hut to the degradation attaching to a convicted and imprisoned swindler.
I have before referred to the various games which are most general in the hells of the metropolis: that at which the greatest amount is lost or won in the ‘shortest space of time, ‘is French Hazard. This is the game which is almost invariably played in Crockford’s, and all the Pandemoniums in which the nobility and [-379-] gentry play. The loss of 10,000l., 15,000l, and even 20,000l., at this game, by one person in one night, is an event which is by no means of rare occurrence. It is well known, that a distinguished gambler ventured, a few years since, no less than 5000l. on the result of a single game at French hazard; which game only occupied a few minutes in playing.
Gambling is an almost universal vice. Though more prevalent in some countries than in others, it obtains to some extent in every country. The mode of gambling is infinitely diversified; but each country has its favourite game. Lewis and Clarke, in their “Travels to .the Source of the Missouri,” give an account of the mode in which the Indians in that part of America gamble. These travellers say—” The games are of two kinds. In the first, one of the company assumes the office of banker, and plays against the rest. He takes a small stone, about the size of a bean, which he shifts from one hand to the other with great dexterity, repeating at the same time a song adapted to the game, and which serves to divert the attention of the company, till, having agreed on the stake, he holds out his hands, and the antagonist wins or loses as he succeeds or fails at guessing in which hand the stone is. After the banker has lost his money, or whenever he is tired, the stone is transferred to another, who in turn challenges the rest of the company. The other game is something like the play of nine-pins: two pins are placed on the floor, about the distance of a foot from each other, and a small hole made behind them. The players then go about ten feet from the hole, into which they try to roll a small piece resembling the men used at draughts. If they succeed in putting it into the hole, they win the stake: if the piece rolls between the pins, but does not go into the hole, nothing is won or lost; but the wager is wholly lost if the chequer rolls outside of the pins. Entire days are wasted at these games, which are often continued through the night, round the blaze of their fires, till the last article of clothing,, or even the last blue bead, is won from the desperate adventurer.”
D’Israeli, in his “Curiosities of Literature,” gives some curious particulars respecting the vice of gambling, as practised in the East. He says :—“ Dice, and that little pugnacious animal the cock, are the chief instruments employed by the numerous nations of the East, to agitate their minds and ruin their fortunes: to which the Chinese, who are desperate gamblers, add the use of cards. When all other property is played away, the Asiatic gambler scruples not to stake his wife, or his child, on the cast of a die, or courage and strength of a martial bird. If still unsuccessful, the last venture he stakes is—himself!
“In the island of Ceylon, cock-fighting is carried to a great [-380-] height. The Sumatrans are addicted to the use of dice. A strong spirit of play characterises a Malayan. After having resigned everything to the good fortune of the winner, he is reduced to a horrid state of desperation: he then loosens a certain lock of hair, which indicates war and destruction to all the raving gamester meets. He intoxicates himself with opium; and working himself up into a fit of phrenzy, he bites and kills every one who comes in his way. But as soon as ever this lock is seen flowing, it is lawful to fire at the person, and to destroy him as fast as possible. I think it is this which our sailors call, ‘To run a muck.’ Thus Dryden writes:
‘Frontless, and satire-proof, he scours the streets,
And runs an Indian muck at all he meets.’
Thus also Pope— Satire’s my weapon, but I’m too discreet
To run a muck, and tilt at all I meet.’
“Johnson could not discover the derivation of the word muck.
I think I have heard that it refers to their employing, on these fatal occasions, a muck, or lance; but my recollection is probably imperfect.
“To discharge their gambling debts, the Siamese sell their possessions, their families, and, at length, themselves. The Chinese play night and day, till they have lost all they are worth; and then they usually go and hang themselves. Such is the propensity of the Japanese for high play, that they were compelled to make a law, that ‘Whoever ventures his money at play, shall be put to death.’ In the newly-discovered islands of the Pacific Ocean, they venture even their hatchets, which they hold as invaluable acquisitions, on running matches. ‘We saw a man,’ as Cook writes in his last voyage, ‘beating his breast and tearing his hair, in the violence of rage, for having lost three hatchets at one of these races, and which he had purchased with nearly half his property.’
“The ancient nations were not less addicted to gaming. In the same volume are collected numerous instances amongst the ancient Persians, Grecians, and Romans! the Goths, the Germans, &c. To notice the modern ones were a melancholy task: there is hardly a family in Europe who cannot record, from their own domestic annals, the dreadful prevalence of this unfortunate passion. Affection has felt the keenest lacerations, and genius been irrecoverably lost, by a wanton sport, which doomed to destruction the hopes of families, and consumed the heart of the gamester with corrosive agony.”
I could have given various passages from the works of travel-[-381-]lers in every part of the world, to prove my position, that the vice of gambling is almost universal; thus proving equally the curse of civilized and barbarous society. That, however, is unnecessary. How it has thus come to be universally prevalent, is a question which I am incompetent to solve.
I believe there is one feature in the gambling of London peculiar to the English metropolis. I refer to the fact of the metropolitan gamblers making stated visits to particular towns in the provinces, for the purpose of prosecuting their “professional” pursuits. All the places at which horse-racing, or sporting amusements of any kind, take place, are regularly frequented by the hell-keepers of London. Epsom, Ascot, Southampton, and other favourite resorts of the patrons of the turf; are honoured during the racing days with a number of portable hells. The proprietors of the London Pandemoniums establish these movable branch hells in the course of a few hours. A marquee or tent suffices for the external part of the erection; and the bank, the dice, the wheel, the balls, and sundry packs of cards—not forgetting an ample supply of intoxicating liquors—are found all that is necessary, in the shape of furniture, for the interior. I ~vent into one of these portable hells at the Southampton races of last year; and during the time I remained there, I. saw a number of gentlemen plundered of very considerable sums. The hellites reaped a rich harvest on that occasion. After living for some days in Southampton in the greatest splendour, it is understood, they returned to town laden with the spoils of simple unsuspecting victims. At the Epsom races, too, of the present year, a friend of mine, who was foolish enough to play—which is almost synonymous with losing one’s money,—states that gambling was carried on by London hellites to an extent ‘of which none but those who were present, and witnessed the transactions with their own eyes, could have any idea. And yet, though thus notoriously carried on under the immediate observation of the magistrates and the police, no one interfered to prevent her Majesty’s subjects from being robbed of their money.
With regard to the gaming-houses in London, I must say, in conclusion, that the existence of so great a number of them, and so openly, is a positive disgrace to a civilized, not to say a christian land. The legislature could easily put them down if it pleased; but, unfortunately for society, it does not choose to interfere. The reason is pretty obvious. A large proportion of our legislators in both Houses are themselves confirmed gamblers: nothing, therefore, is to be expected from parliament in the way of suppressing the hells which infest the metropolis.
What, then, is to be done? Must the evil, in all its awful magnitude and crying enormity, be suffered to exist unmolested [-382-] and ungrappled with? Must the demon of the gambling-table in the metropolis be permitted to have his thousands of victims every year, without one effort being made to rescue a. greater or less number of them from his grasp? I know of no way in which anything effective can be done to stay the wheels of this destructive Juggernaut—destructive at once of the fortunes and morals of its worshippers—unless it be by the wise and good doing all they can to expose the vice, so as that it may be seen in all its native and horrible hideousness. For this purpose, it were extremely desirable that some sort of society, consisting of virtuous and intelligent individuals, were formed, with the view of bringing to light the odious deeds practised in the hells of London; and the awful results, in the shape of suicides, trials at the Old Bailey, want, and wretchedness, which follow. I am sure that if young men were sufficiently aware of die nature of these infamous dens before entering them, they would as soon think of walking into the fire as ~of crossing their threshold. It appears to me, that a small cheap periodical, detailing individual cases of ruin effected in the hells of the metropolis, and exhibiting the characters of the desperate and unprincipled fellows who keep them,—would be productive of great good. Such a publication would be sure to have a large sale; for nothing could be more interesting—indeed, I may say, romantic—than the incidents with which the annals of metropolitan gambling abound.
I am sure there would be no want of materials for conducting such a periodical for at least some years to come. Many a victim of play would feel a melancholy pleasure in recording in it his own misfortunes. It would be to him some alleviation of his own regrets and mortification, to think that he had turned his crimes, or follies, if we must use the mildest term, into the means of teaching virtue or wisdom to others. There are certain weekly journals which now devote a certain portion of their space in every successive number to what they call an exposure of the Hells of the metropolis; and if, with all the drawbacks which attach to the character of the publications in question men are found to relate, through them, the consequences of their having frequented the gambling-houses, how much more certainly might the conductors of any respectable periodical, whose object really was to expose and suppress gambling, rely on receiving an ample supply of authentic materials wherewith to work on?
Why such a society as that I have recommended should not be formed, I can see no reason whatever. We have not only societies of every form and class for the promotion of morality and religion, but we have societies for the express purpose of grappling with and putting down a variety of specific vices. We [-383-] have a most excellent society for putting an end to cruelty to animals: we have sundry societies for the cure of intemperance, including societies which only have for their object to do away with the consumption of ardent spirits, and societies of a yet more radical character, namely, to prohibit the use of wine, or ale, or beer, or any other liquor whatever having in it intoxicating qualities. We have a Universal Peace Society; a society whose object is to grapple with and put down the vice of war, and to promote peace and harmony among all mankind. We have, in short, societies for the promotion of almost everything that is holy, just, and good, and the correction and extinction of everything that is evil. And why not a Society for the Suppression of Gambling? If the evils which result from this vice be as numerous and great as we have stated—and they are far more numerous, and of much greater magnitude—then surely a more wise or commendable course could not be adopted by the friends of humanity and virtue, than to form such a society at once. I am convinced it would be most liberally and most generally supported. Many an unhappy victim of the soul-and-body-destroying vice of gambling, would be glad to co-operate in rescuing others from the gulf into which he had flung his character and fortune. Many a parent would rejoice in countenancing, by every means in his power, the efforts which would be made by such a society to prevent young men and others from falling headlong into the pit prepared for them by the hellites. I do believe that the effects of such a society would speedily be to create in the country so strong an impression against the pernicious vice of gambling, that men would not only themselves feel ashamed that it should be known that they had ever crossed the portals of a gaming-house, but that people in general—I mean in England—would be ashamed to receive those persons into society who were notorious gamblers. I have a strong impression, that it is not until gambling be regarded as a vice which disqualifies a man br admission into society, that it will be compelled to hide its diminished head. At present, among the higher classes—among a certain portion of them, at least—instead of being ashamed of the practice of gambling, many persons are forward to make a boast of their having been at play, even when they have lost their money. In the mean time, and until some great effort be made by a body of individuals to bring public opinion to bear against the destructive vice of gambling, I would warn all those into whose hands this work may fall, to guard against indulging to too great an extent in what is called “a hand at cards” among private friends. The vice is one of a most insidious kind: it imperceptibly grows on those who once give way, in however [-384-] slight a degree, to it. its rise and progress to a confirmed incurable passion can, in thousands of instances, be traced to playing at cards for purposes of pure amusement in parties of friends. They begin, as before remarked, by playing for the most trifling stakes, and not having the slightest wish to gain a sixpence; but it will invariably be found, that the longer persons play even at these games for amusement, and where the stakes are consequently trifling, the more does the disposition to proceed with the game grow upon them; and that, from an utter disregard, or rather entire thoughtlessness about gain, they become mortified and depressed when they lose, and elated when they win. It is ten to one but such parties, provided they repeat time after time playing for amusement, very soon become anxious to play solely for money, without the slightest reference to amusement. For a time they may confine their play to parties of private friends; but sooner or later, if the disposition to gamble for gain be not checked, they will undergo the natural transition from the private party to the public Pandemonium. Mid scarcely less certain is the relinquishment of the cards for the more speedy decision of the game by means of the dice-box. Gamblers are always impatient for the result. They cannot brook delay or protraction. So much depends on the throw, that it is no wonder they wish the point of who is to be the gainer or loser to be decided with the greatest practicable expedition. It is to the circumstance of a passion for expeditious as well as deep play having become general, I might almost say universal, among gamblers, that we are to ascribe the fact of most persons running their course, or, in other words, squandering away their fortunes, whether great or small, in so very short a period.
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]