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Gambling in History: Preface

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The Gaming Table by Andrew Steinmetz

I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV


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Casino Gambling in history

To the readers of the present generation much of this book will,
doubtless, seem incredible. Still it is a book of facts--a
section of our social history, which is, I think, worth writing,
and deserving of meditation.

Forty or fifty years ago--that is, within the memory of many a
living man--gambling was `the rage' in England, especially in the
metropolis. Streets now meaningless and dull--such as Osendon
Street, and streets and squares now inhabited by the most
respectable in the land--for instance, St James's Square, THEN
opened doors to countless votaries of the fickle and capricious
goddess of Fortune; in the rooms of which many a nobleman, many a
gentleman, many an officer of the Army and Navy, clergymen,
tradesmen, clerks, and apprentices, were `cleaned out'--ruined,
and driven to self-murder, or to crimes that led to the gallows.
`I have myself,' says a writer of the time, `seen hanging in
chains a man whom a short time before I saw at a Hazard table!'

History, as it is commonly written, does not sufficiently take
cognizance of the social pursuits and practices that sap the
vitality of a nation; and yet these are the leading influences in
its destiny--making it what it is and will be, at least through
many generations, by example and the inexorable laws that preside
over what is called `hereditary transmission.'

Have not the gambling propensities of our forefathers
influenced the present generation? . . . .

No doubt gambling, in the sense treated of in this book, has
ceased in England. If there be here and there a Roulette or
Rouge et Noir table in operation, its existence is now known
only to a few `sworn-brethren;' if gambling at cards `prevails'
in certain quarters, it is `kept quiet.' The vice is not
barefaced. It slinks and skulks away into corners and holes,
like a poisoned rat. Therefore, public morality has triumphed,
or, to use the card-phrase, `trumped' over this dreadful abuse;
and the law has done its duty, or has reason to expect
congratulation for its success, in `putting down' gaming houses.

But we gamble still. The gambling on the Turf (now the most
uncertain of all `games of chance') was, lately, something that
rang through and startled the entire nation. We gamble in the
funds. We gamble in endless companies (limited)--all resulting
from the same passion of our nature, which led to the gambling of
former times with cards, with dice, at Piquet, Basset, Faro,
Hazard, E O, _Roulette_, and _Rouge et Noir_. At a recent
memorable trial, the Lord Chief Justice of England exclaimed--
`There can be no doubt--any one who looks around him cannot fail
to perceive--that a spirit of speculation and gambling has taken
hold of the minds of large classes of the population. Men who
were wont to be satisfied with moderate gain and safe investments
seem now to be animated by a spirit of greed after gain, which
makes them ready to embark their fortunes, however hardly gained,
in the vain hope of realizing immense returns by premiums upon
shares, and of making more than safe and reasonable gains. We
see that continually.' In fact, we may not be a jot better
morally than our forefathers. But that is no reason why we
should not frown over the story of their horrid sins, and,
`having a good conscience,' think what sad dogs they were in
their generation--knowing, as we do, that none of us at the
present day lose _FIFTY OR A HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS_ at play,
at a sitting, in one single night--as was certainly no very
uncommon `event' in those palmy days of gaming; and that we could
not--as was done in 1820--produce a list of _FIVE HUNDRED_ names
(in London alone) of noblemen, gentlemen, officers of the Army
and Navy, and clergymen, who were veteran or indefatigable
gamesters, besides `clerks, grocers, horse-dealers, linen-
drapers, silk-mercers, masons, builders, timber-merchants,
booksellers, &c., &c., and men of the very lowest walks of life,'
who frequented the numerous gaming houses throughout the
metropolis--to their ruin and that of their families more or less
(as deploringly lamented by Captain Gronow), and not a few of
them, no doubt, finding themselves in that position in which they
could exclaim, at _OUR_ remonstrance, as feelingly as did King

`Slave! I have set my life upon a _CAST_,
And I will stand the _HAZARD OF THE DIE!_'

Nor is gaming as yet extinct among us. Every now and then a
batch of youngsters is brought before the magistrates charged
with vulgar `tossing' in the streets; and every now and then we
hear of some victim of genteel gambling, as recently--in the
month of February, 1868--when `a young member of the aristocracy
lost L10,000 at Whist.'

Nay, at the commencement of the present year there appeared in a
daily paper the following startling announcement to the editor:--

`Sir,--Allow me, through the columns of your paper, to call the
attention of the parents and friends of the young officers in the
Channel-fleet to the great extent gambling is carried on at
Lisbon. Since the fleet has been there another gambling house
has been opened, and is filled every evening with young officers,
many of whom are under 18 years of age. On the 1st of January it
is computed that upwards of L800 was lost by officers of the
fleet in the gambling houses, and if the fleet is to stay there
three months there will soon be a great number of the officers
involved in debt. I will relate one incident that came under my
personal notice. A young midshipman, who had lately joined the
Channel fleet from the Bristol, drew a half-year's pay in
December, besides his quarterly allowance, and I met him on shore
the next evening without money enough to pay a boat to go off to
his ship, having lost all at a gambling house.

Hoping that this may be of some use in stopping the gambling
among the younger officers, I remain, yours respectfully,

[1] Standard, Jan. 12, 1870.

In conclusion, I have contemplated the passion of gaming in all
its bearings, as will be evident from the range of subjects
indicated by the table of contents and index. I have ransacked
(and sacked) hundreds of volumes for entertaining, amusing,
curious, or instructive matter.

Without deprecating criticism on my labours, perhaps I may state
that these researches have probably terminated my career as an
author. Immediately after the completion of this work I was
afflicted with a degree of blindness rendering it impossible for
me to read any print whatever, and compelling me to write only by


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