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To Hoyle has been ascribed the invention of the game of Whist. This is certainly a mistake, though there can be no doubt that it was indebted to him for being first specially treated of and introduced to the public in a scientific manner. He also wrote on piquet, quadrille, and backgammon, but little is known of him more than he was born in 1672, and died in Cavendish-square on 29th August, 1769, at the advanced age of ninety-seven. He was a barrister by profession, and Registrar of the Prerogative in Ireland, a post worth £600 a year. His treatise on Whist, for which he received from the publisher the sum of £1000, ran through five editions in one year, besides being extensively pirated.

"Whist, Ombre, and Quadrille, at Court were used,

And Bassett's power the City dames amused,

Imperial Whist was yet but slight esteemed,

And pastime fit for none but rustics deemed.

How slow at first is still the growth of fame!

And what obstructions wait each rising name!

Our stupid fathers thus neglected, long,

The glorious boast of Milton's epic song;

But Milton's muse at last a critic found,

Who spread his praise o'er all the world around;

And Hoyle at length, for Whist performed the same,

And proved its right to universal fame."

Whist first began to be popular in England about 1730, when it was very closely studied by a party of gentlemen, who formed a sort of Club, at the Crown Coffee-house in Bedford-row. Hoyle is said to have given instructions in the game, for which his charge was a guinea a lesson.

The Laws of Whist have been variously given.[34] More than half a century has elapsed since the supremacy of "long whist" was assailed by a reformed, or rather revolutionized form of the game. The champions of the ancient rules and methods did not at once submit to the innovation. The conservatives were not without some good arguments on their side; but "short whist" had attractions that proved irresistible, and it has long since fully established itself as the only game to be understood when whist is named. But hence, in the course of time, has arisen an inconvenience. The old school of players had, in the works of Hoyle and Cavendish, manuals and text-books of which the rules, cases, and decisions were generally accepted. For short whist no such "volume paramount" has hitherto existed. Hoyle could not be safely trusted by a learner, so much contained in that venerable having become obsolete. Thus, doubtful cases arising out of the short game had to be referred to the best living players for decision. But there was some confusion in the "whist world," and the necessity of a code of the modern laws and rules of this "almost perfect" game had become apparent, when a combined effort was made by a committee of some of the most skilful to supply the deficiency.

The movement was commenced by Mr. J. Loraine Baldwin, who obtained the assistance of a Committee, including members of several of the best London Clubs well known as whist players. They were deputed to draw up a code of rules for the game, which, if approved, was to be adopted by the Arlington Club. They performed their task with the most decided success. The rules they laid down as governing the best modern practice have been accepted, not only by the Arlington, but the Army and Navy, Arthur's, Boodle's, Brookes's, Carlton, Conservative, Garrick, Guards, Junior Carlton, Portland, Oxford and Cambridge, Reform, St. James's, White's, etc. To the great section of the whist world that do not frequent Clubs, it may be satisfactory to know the names of the gentlemen composing the Committee of Codification, whose rules are to become law. They are Admiral Rous, chairman; Mr. G. Bentinck, M.P.; Mr. J. Bushe; Mr. J. Clay, M.P.; Mr. C. Greville; Mr. R. Knightley, M.P.; Mr. H. B. Mayne; Mr. G. Payne; and Colonel Pipon. The Laws of Short Whist[35] were in 1865 published in a small volume; and to this strictly legal portion of the book is appended A Treatise on the Game, by Mr. J. Clay, M.P. for Hull. It may be read with advantage by the commencing student of whist and the advanced player, and with pleasure even by those who are totally ignorant of it, and have no wish to learn it. There are several incidental illustrations and anecdotes, that will interest those not gifted with the faculties good whist requires. Mr. Clay is reported to be one of the best, if not the very best, of modern players. The Dedication is as follows: "To the Members of the Portland Club, admitted among whom, as a boy, I have passed many of the pleasantest days of my life, I have learned what little I know of Whist, and have formed many of my oldest friendships, this Treatise on Short Whist is dedicated with feelings of respect and regard, by their old playfellow, J. C."

Leaving his instructions, like the rules of the committee, to a more severe test than criticism, we extract from his first chapter a description of the incident to which short whist owes its origin. It will probably be quite new to thousands who are familiar with the game.

"Some eighty years back, Lord Peterborough, having one night lost a large sum of money, the friends with whom he was playing proposed to make the game five points instead of ten, in order to give the loser a chance, at a quicker game, of recovering his loss. The new game was found to be so lively, and money changed hands with such increased rapidity, that these gentlemen and their friends, all of them leading members of the Clubs of the day, continued to play it. It became general in the Clubs, thence was introduced to private houses, travelled into the country, went to Paris, and has long since so entirely superseded the whist of Hoyle's day, that of short whist alone I propose to treat. I shall thus spare the reader, the learning much in the old works that it is not necessary for him to know, and not a little which, if learned, should be at once forgotten."

Graham's, in St. James's-street, the greatest of Card Clubs, was dissolved about five-and-twenty years back.

[34] Abridged from the Times journal.

[35] The Laws of Short Whist, edited by J. L. Baldwin, and a Treatise on the Game, by J. C. Harrison, 59, Pall Mall.

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