« ForrigeFortsett »
that bewitching power, the fashion of the times, pervert even the best understandings when resigned to its impostures !
Nor is it the laws of humanity and friendship only that are transgressed by the last of gaming. The sweet emotions of love and tenderness between the sexes are often swallowed up by this alldevouring appetite, an appetite which perhaps beyond anything else tends to harden and contract the heart, at the same time that the immoderate indulgence of it excludes a thousand little reciprocations of sentiment and joy, which would serve to kindle and feed the flame of virtuous affection. How much conversation suffers from it, who does not perceive?
Here indeed you will tell me with an air of triumph, that it prevents a great deal of scandal. What, then, are your minds so unfurnished, so vacant, that without cards you must necessarily fly to that wretched resource? Creation, providence, religion, books, observation, fancy; do these present so narrow a field of entertainment, as to force you on the alternative of preying either on the reputation or on the property of others ?—But now I recollect, while you possess an art of such utility as this last, for filling up the blanks of discourse, as well as for repairing the wastes of extravagance, why should you give yourselves any trouble to read or think, to enlarge your ideas or improve your faculties, beyond the usual standard? Surely the knowledge of the most fashionable games, of the most remarkable characters, of the reigning modes and amusements of the season, with a few common-place compliments, remarks, and matters of fact, but especially some passages of private history, told by way of secret to all the world, is quite sufficient, by the help of a little vivacity which nature will supply, to accomplish you for every purpose of modern society.- Alas, how poor is all this ! How unworthy the principal attention of beings made 'but a little lower than the angels,' and professing to believe in the communion of saints !
THE CHARACTER OF GAMESTERS.
The whole tribe of gamesters may be ranked under two divisions : every man, who makes carding, dicing, and betting, his daily practice, is either a dupe or a sharper ; two characters equally the objects of envy and admiration. The dupe is generally a person of great fortune and weak intellects,
Who will as tenderly be led by th' nose,
shakspeare. He plays, not that he has any delight in cards and dice, but because it is the fashion; and if whist or hazard are proposed, he will no more refuse to make one at the table, than among a set of hard drinkers he would object drinking his glass in turn, because he is not dry.
There are some few instances of men of sense, as well as family and fortune, who have been dupes and bubbles. Such an anaccountable itch of play has seized them, that they have sacrificed every thing to it, and have seemed wedded to seven's the main, and the odd trick. There is not a more me. lancholy object than a gentleman of sense thus in. fatuated. He makes himself and family a prey to a gang of villains more infamous than highwaymen; and perhaps when bis ruin is completed, he is glad to join with the very scoundrels that destroyed him, and live upon the spoil of others, whom he can draw into the same follies that proved so fatal to himself.
Here we may take a survey of the character of a sharper; and that he may have no room to complain of foul play, let us begin with his excellences. You will perhaps be startled, Mr. Town, when I mention the excellences of a sharper; but a gamester, who makes a decent figure in the world, must be endued with many amiable qualities, which wonld undoubtedly appear with great lustre, were they not eclipsed by the odious character affixed to his trade. In order to carry on the common business of his profession, he must be a man of quick and lively parts, attended with a stoical calmness of temper, and a constant presence of mind. He must smile at the loss of thousands; and is not to be discomposed, though ruin stares him in the face. As he is to live among the great, he must not want politeness and affability; he must be submissive, but not servile; he must be master of an ingenuous liberal air, and have a seeming openness of behaviour.
These must be the chief accomplishments of our hero : but, lest I should be accused of giving too favourable a likeness of him, now we have seen his outside, let us take a view of his heart. There we shall find avarice the mainspring that moves the whole machine. Every gamester is eaten up with avarice; and when this passion is in full force, it is more strongly predominant than any other. It conquers even lust; and conquers it more effectually than age. At sixty we look at a fine woman with pleasure, but when cards and dice have engrossed our attention, women and all their charms are slighted at five-and-twenty. A thorough gamester renounces Venus and Cupid for Plutus and Ames-ace, and owns no mistress of his heart except the queen of Trumps. His insatiable ava. rice can only be gratified by hypocrisy ; so that all those specious virtues already mentioned, and which, if real, might be turned to the benefit of mankind, must be directed in a gamester towards the destruction of his fellow-creatures. His quick and lively parts serve only to instruct and assist him in the most dexterous method of packing the cards and cogging the dice; his fortitude, which enables him to lose thousands without emotion, must often he practised against the stings and reproaches of his own conscience, and his liberal deportment and affected openness is a specious veil to recommend and conceal the blackest villany.
It is now necessary to take a second survey of his heart; and as we have seen its vices, let us consider its miseries. The covetous man who has not sufficient courage or inclination to increase his fortune by bets, cards, or dice, but is contented to hoard up thousands by thefts less public, or by cheats less liable to uncertainty, lives in a state of perpetual suspicion and terrour; but the avaricious fears of the gamester are infinitely greater. He is constantly to wear a mask; and, like Monsieur St. Croix, coadjuteur to that famous empoisonneuse, Madame Brinvillier, if his mask falls off, he runs
the hazard of being suffocated by the stench of his own poisons. I have seen some examples of this sort not many years ago at White's. I am uncertain whether the wretches are still alive; but if they are, they breathe like toads under ground, crawling amidst old walls, and paths long since unfrequented.
But supposing that the sharper's hypocrisy remains undetected, in what a state of mind must that man be, whose fortune depends upon the insincerity of his heart, the disingenuity of his behaviour, and the false bias of his dice? What sensations must he suppress, when he is obliged to smile, although he is provoked; when he must look serene in the height of despair; and when he must act the stoic, without the consolation of one virtuous sentiment, or one moral principle. How unhappy must he be even in that situation from which he hopes to seap most benefit; I mean amidst stars, garters, and the various herds of nobility? Their lordships are not always in a humour for play: they choose to laugh ; they choose to joke; in the mean while our hero must patiently await the good hour, and must not only join in the laugh, and applaud the joke, but must humour every turn and caprice to which that set of spoiled children, called bucks of quality, are liable. Surely his brother Thicket's employment, of sauntering on horseback in the wind and rain till the Reading coach passes through Smallberry-green, is the more eligible, and no less honest occupation.
The sharper has also frequently the mortification of being thwarted in his designs. Opportunities of fraud will not for ever present them