Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 King Allen, The Golden Ball and Scrope Davies


In the old days when gaming was in fashion, at Watier's Club, princes and nobles lost or gained fortunes between themselves. It was the same at Brookes's, one member of which, Lord Robert Spencer, was wise enough to apply what he had won to the purchase of the estate of Woolbidding, Suffolk. Then came Crockford's hell, the proprietor of which, a man who had begun life with a fish-basket, won the whole of the ready money of the then existing generation of aristocratic simpletons. Among the men who most suffered by play was Viscount Allen, or 'King Allen,' as he was called. This effeminate dandy had fought like a young lion in Spain; for the dandies, foolish as they looked, never wanted pluck. The 'King' then lounged about town, grew fat, lost his all, and withdrew to Dublin, where, in Merrion-square, he slept behind a large brass plate with 'Viscount Allen' upon it, which was as good to him as board wages, for it brought endless invitations from people eager to feed a viscount at any hour of the day or night, although King Allen had more ready ability in uttering disagreeable than witty things.

Very rarely indeed did any of the ruined gamesters ever get on their legs again. The Golden Ball, however, was an exception. Ball Hughes fell from the very top of the gay pagoda into the mud, but even there, as life was nothing to him without the old excitement, he played pitch and toss for halfpence, and he won and lost small ventures at battledore and shuttlecock, which innocent exercise he turned into a gambling speculation. After he withdrew, in very reduced circumstances, to France, his once mad purchase of Oatlands suddenly assumed a profitable aspect. The estate was touched by a railway and admired by building speculators, and between the two the Ball, in its last days, had a very cheerful and glittering aspect indeed.

Far less lucky than Hughes was Scrope Davies, whose name was once so familiar to every man and boy about town. There was good stuff about this dandy. He one night won the whole fortune of an aspiring fast lad who had come of age the week before, and who was so prostrated by his loss that kindly-hearted Scrope gave back the fortune the other had lost, on his giving his word of honour never to play again. Davies stuck to the green baize till his own fortune had gone among a score of less compassionate gentlemen. His distressed condition was made known to the young fellow to whom he had formerly acted with so much generosity, and that grateful heir refused to lend him even a guinea. Scrope was not of the gentlemen-ruffians of the day who were addicted to cruelly assaulting men weaker than themselves. He was well-bred and a scholar; and he bore his reverses with a rare philosophy. His home was on a bench in the Tuileries, where he received old acquaintances who visited him in exile; but he admitted only very tried friends to the little room where he read and slept. He was famed for his readiness in quoting the classical poets, and for his admiration of Moore, in whose favour those quotations were frequently made. They were often most happy. For example, he translated 'Ubi plura nitent non ego paucis offendar maculis,' by 'Moore shines so brightly that I cannot find fault with Little's vagaries!' He also rendered 'Ne plus ultra,' 'Nothing is better than Moore!'[30]

[30] Athenæum review of Captain Gronow's Anecdotes.

John Timbs
Club Life of London Vol. I
London, 1866