Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Rules for the Game of Matrimony (According to Hoyle)

A couple of weeks ago -- before the hectic weekend of my wedding -- a few friends and I paid a visit to a local book and ephemera auction. Today is the annual Pioneer Valley Book and Ephemera Fair in Northampton and, while I’m tempted to go just to browse, after buying antiquarian books at auction I don’t think I could stomach the retail prices -- especially at a fair, where prices tend to be inflated.

This week’s book was part of one of the two lots I picked up at that auction; indeed, it’s the reason I bid on the lot at all. As I’ve mentioned before, bidding on pre-set lots means one can end up with some things one doesn’t want (for that reason I’m starting to expand Tarquin's online presence to include a re-selling operation on Ebay -- going to try to free up some precious space on the shelves in Tarquin Tar’s Bookcase...). At this particular auction, part of the sale was “pick lots” -- meaning the individual bidders could rummage through around forty boxes of books and make up our own lots. One of the two lots I won was a pick lot that I assembled; but this second lot was pre-set. Fortunately, all of the books in it are fascinating and worth adding to my collection (though many are from broken sets). This week’s book is one of the more choice items from that pre-set lot.

The book’s full title is Hoyle’s Improved Edition of The Rules for Playing Fashionable Games at Cards, Etc. It was published by W. C. Borradaile of 146 Broadway, New York, on June 2, 1830. Edmond Hoyle (1672-1769; the cheerful fellow to the right) was a lawyer who became a whist teacher and gaming aficionado; he collected for his own use and the use of his students the rules of various card games, board games, and sports games and in 1742, for his students, he published a booklet on the rules of whist. The first edition of his collected rules was published in London in 1750 and contained only whist, chess, draughts (checkers), and backgammon. In subsequent years, Hoyle published individual pamphlets for various other games; the posthumous 1775 London edition of Hoyle’s Games Improved, prepared by James Beaufort, was the first “full” collection of these pamphlets in one book.

These early editions are highly collectible because so few survive (only two copies of the first edition are still extant); though printed in large numbers, they were heavily used and thus fell apart over time. Many more English editions followed, and, in 1796, the first American edition appeared in Philadelphia (H. & P. Rice). Over the years, other authors and publishers have added to the collection, resulting today in a compendium of over 250 games. Though the rules of many of the games have changed over time, the term “according to Hoyle” or “Hoyle’s rules” is still used to mean “according to official rules”.

The contents of the 1830 New York edition, which have been “carefully revised from the last London edition with several editions” include “copious directions” for dozens of games -- many names of which may be somewhat quaint to a modern reader:

Whist; Reversis; Back-Gammon;

Quadrille; Put; Draughts;

Piquet; Connexions; Hazard;

Quinze; All Fours; Chess;

Vingt-Un; Speculation; Goff, or Golf;

Lansquenet; Lottery; Cricket;

Pharo; Pope Joan; Billiards;

Rouge et Noir; Commerce; Tennis;

Cribbage; Pam-Loo; Horse-Racing;

Matrimony; Brag; Cocking;

Cassino; Domino

The book is bound in worn full-sheep leather and has a calf-leather gilded-title label on the spine (the label is coming loose). The pagination runs [i-iv], comprising the frontispiece and an ornate half-title, followed by the contents starting with the full-title page, running [1]-288. The book ends with a blank flyleaf. There is no marginalia; it is in generally good condition, with some foxing (particularly on the more acidic illustrative plates) and folding of pages and some bumping and chipping of the binding, but no major damage. The pages measure 7cm x 13cm and are of a common machine-made stock. The book may be expressed collationally as 16o: [#2] [A12]-M12 [π]: $1&2[5]. The small sixteenmo format lends itself very well to the book’s most obvious use: being carried in one’s pocket for quick and easy reference while out playing cards with friends or at the club.

Each chapter generally begins with a brief summary of the nature of the game, followed by sections on the terms used in the game, the “laws”, and a description of the game being played. Some of the more complicated games, or games requiring boards, have detailed explanations, charts and diagrams, and illustrated plates. The longest chapter by far is that on Whist; in addition to Hoyle’s instructions, it includes “Mr. Paine’s Maxims for Whist” (123 suggestions and tips) and Mathews’s Directions (another approximately 120 rules from Thomas Matthew’s 1804 London edition of Advice to the Young Whist Player, included in this edition so that “the student may compare them with Hoyle’s and Payne’s [sic] maxims and directions, and follow such as appear most reasonable and practical”). Hoyle ends the section with a brief reflection on etiquette during play and the proper way to behave if you find your partner’s play disagreeable.

Many of the other chapters are brief -- only a page or two -- though some (such as chess and draughts) are quite extensive. My American readers will be amused to know that the rules for cricket only take up two and a half pages. Golf covers less than two pages.

In addition to these chapters, there is a special section in the chapter on chess that provides a move-by-move “analysis of the Game of Chess”; the title-page also promises “an engraved Plate for the Instruction of Beginners” in the game, but that folding-plate illustration has, sadly, been removed from my copy. The chapter on draughts also provides twenty move-by-move games to help novice players see how certain moves follow logically from other moves.

Besides simply presenting rules (and sometimes historical origins) for the games, Hoyle -- being a proper English gentleman -- can’t help from slipping in some passing mention of his personal opinions on some games and their variants. For “four-ball billiards”, for example, he reflects with a Tory sniff: "This is very properly styled the Revolution game, it being subject to as many different vicissitudes as that monster of changes is susceptible of" (270).

On pool, that clumsy billiards variant played by those provincial colonists, he begins simply, “The system of this game is very imperfect, and...inefficient” (271). On cock-fighting, Hoyle begins, “This game, if it may be so called, had its rise and adoption in the earliest times among the Barbarians” (284). More positive is Hoyle’s view of Backgammon: “The Game of Back-Gammon is allowed on all hands to be the most ingenious and elegant game next to chess” (161). Besides individual games, he also has particular opinions on styles of play; for example, in reflecting on how best to play chess, he notes that “bold attempts make the finest games” (211). There is an appealing suggestion, here, that winning or losing is sometimes secondary to the elegance of how one plays the game. As he puts it later, “[I]f, after all, you cannot penetrate so far as to win the game, nevertheless, by observing these rules, you may still be sure of having a well-disposed game” (214).

The book begins with a frontispiece engraving by “Tuthill” showing two men and two women seated around a table, thoughtfully engaged in a game of cards. The two men stroke their chins and smirk knowingly; one woman has her back to us (can’t see her cards, though), and the other woman has her arm draped across the back of her chair as if daring someone to call her bluff. The other illustrations are a backgammon board and a draughts board. As noted above, there was originally also a fold-out illustration of a chess board but it is missing from my copy (alas).

Given my recent state of espousal, I’m particularly intrigued by the game of Matrimony and Hoyle's authoritative description of the rules of the game: “The game of Matrimony is any number of persons, from five to fourteen. The game consists of five chances” (116). Who knew?

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