Imágenes de páginas


his temperament made him prefer games of chance; and he too often matched himself against antagonists, who made hazard a game of chance only in name. His losses rapidly became

In these days few men rise to eminence of any sort before forty, but Pitt was Prime Minister at twenty-five, and Fox was the King of Gamesters at twenty-two. Two incidental characteristics of this part of his life are remarkable. Nothing could alienate the sympathy of his friends, nothing could oust his own good humour. After a long day in the House of Commons and a long evening of continued ill-success, he would tranquilly lay his head on the gaming table and go off into a profound slumber. On the morning after an unusually ruinous night, Beauclerk called on him, expecting to find the excited player in a state of reaction, the ruined gambler hopelessly depressed. He found Fox placidly reading Herodotus. • What would you have me do when I have lost my last shilling ?'

His friends supported Fox with a loyalty, due more to affection for him than to reliance on Lord Holland. Many of them found him in funds, and more became security for his obligations. Their espirit de corps was known to the money lenders and to the satirists. One of the latter wrote :

But hark the noise of battle from afar;
The Jews and Macaronies are at war ;
The Jews prevail, and thundering from the stocks

They seize, they bind, they circumcise Charles Fox.' But their support and his intellect availed nothing against continued failure. Fox's ill-luck was persistent :

• If he touches a card, if he rattles a box
Away fly the guineas of this Mr. Fox.
He has met, I'm afraid, with so many hard knocks,
That cash is not plenty with this Mr. Fox.
And he always must lose, for the strongest of locks

Cannot keep any money for this Mr. Fox.' And Walpole enumerating the things worth finding, bracketed the philosopher's stone, the missing books of Livy, and all that Charles Fox has lost.' His debts to friends and usurers had reached a huge amount in 1773, when a son was born to his elder brother, Stephen. But Lord Holland loved his brilliant scapegrace and his family honour too much to allow his son to be ruined. In spite of the portentous nature of the situation, as he soon found it, Lord Holland met the calls. •High or low, grasping Jew or good Samaritan, no one was a penny worse for having helped his favourite boy." By immediate * Early History of Charles James Fox, p. 491.


payments or the creation of annuities which fell in, Charles was cleared, and the Fox property lessened by 140,0001. He was then twenty-four. He had already acquired a position in the senate equalled only by that of his great rival. An opportunity of a wealthy marriage was apparently within his reach, and even with Pitt opposed to him, there is no position to which he could not have attained. But the passion of play was too much for him. Neither Lord Holland's kindness nor the remonstrances of his friends could expel nature; and to gambling is due the fact, that Fox must go down to posterity as the most brilliant, the most gifted, but not the most successful of public men.

But he had many rivals to contest his supremacy. George Selwyn for many years of his life played high, and his correspondence abounds with passages referring to the gambling transactions of himself and his friends. In the latter period of his life he is said * to have got the better of his propensity for play, which is too great a consumer of four things-time, health, fortune, and thinking. One of his partners was Lord March, afterwards Duke of Queensberry, who in 1771 brought an action to recover five hundred guineas, the amount of a wager laid with Mr. Pigot as to whether Sir William Codrington or old Mr. Pigot would die first. The case was tried before Lord Mansfield, and a verdict found for the plaintiff. Richard Rigby and General Fitzpatrick; Henry Furnese, Secretary and afterwards Lord of the Treasury; Fish' Craufurd, and Lords Doneraile, Derby, and Chesterfield, were among a large number of less well-known men who played persistently and deep. But play was not confined to one society or one class :

'It is extremely to be lamented,' said Lord Kenyon, in a charge delivered in 1796, that the vice of gambling has descended to the very lowest orders of the people. It is prevalent among the highest ranks of society, who have set an example to their inferiors and seem to think themselves too great for the law. I wish they could be punished. If any prosecutions are fairly brought before me, and the parties are justly convicted, whatever may be their rank or station in the country—though they should be the first ladies in the landthey shall certainly exhibit themselves in the pillory.''

In the following year Lady Buckinghamshire and two other ladies of position were in fact condemned—not indeed to the pillory, but to pay fifty pounds for illegal gambling.f

* The accuracy of this is very doubtful. He introduced Wilberforce to Brooks's in 1782, when sixty-three.

† Ashton's Old Times, quoted by Lecky, “England in the Eighteenth Century,' vol. vi. p. 152.

L 2


Steinmetz has collected a number of anecdotes of gamesters of this period : * of Sir J. B., who lost 32,0001. one night, and shot himself; of Lord F., who died in 1793, having played away an estate of 18,0001. a year, and 100,0001. in ready money; of Lord D., who succeeded to a large property in Ireland, but encumbered with play-debts amounting to a quarter of a million; of a certain Duchess, wife of a ci-devant Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who was fleeced of 200,0001.; of Henry Weston, hanged in 1796 for forgery undertaken to defray card-debts; of W. B., a Scotch gentleman of good position, convicted in Edinburgh of violent theft of bank-notes taken for the same purpose. In 1818 nearly every month of the year was distinguished by a duel or duels resulting from gambling quarrels. In a word, the law seemed utterly unable to cope with a habit, which produced disasters of terrible frequency, but of the advantages of which it is impossible to discover a trace.

It was not only at cards that men gambled. Lotteries abounded, though, as we have said, they were to some extent reduced in 1778. The upper classes won or lost money on horse-races ; and there was no subject under the sun on which they did not bet. The notorious betting-book at Brooks's is, in Trevelyan's opinion, a curious memorial of the society of the time, possessing an interest of its own which resembles nothing in any library or museum in the country. Fifty guineas that Lord Thurlow gets a tellership of the Exchequer for his son ; fifty that Mademoiselle Heinel does not dance at the Opera House next winter ; fisty that Lord Ilchester gives his first vote in Opposition and kills his first ten pheasants. A hundred guineas that Consols fall ten per cent. before they rise ten per cent. (made in April 1778). Three guineas to receive five hundred if the Allied Armies are out of Paris at Christmas 1794. One to twenty that martial law is proclaimed before Charles Fox is of the Privy Council. Two to twenty on Lady Weymouth having the Treasury against Lord Weymouth. One to receive a hundred when Lord Derby goes up in a balloon. Ten that Free-trade is abolished before Episcopacy. Five hundred to ten that none of the Cabinet were beheaded within three years. Bets upon the marriages and deaths of nembers. Bets


an event understood between the Bets upon events of little public interest and less delicate nature, some of them erased by the prudery of a later age. Assuredly can the members of Brooks's say

* Many of them will be found in a volume called “ The Gaming Calendar,' by Seymour Harcourt, published in 1820.




Quidquid agunt homines, votum, timor, ira, voluptas

nostri farrago libelli.' Brooks's, however, had not the monopoly of club play:

• The gaming at Almack's,' writes Walpole to Horace Mann, which has taken the pas of White's, is worthy of the decline of the Empire. The young men of the age lose ten, fifteen, twenty thousand pounds in an evening there. Lord Stavordale, not one-andtwenty, lost 11,0001. there last Tuesday, but recovered it by one great hand at bazard. He swore a great oath: “now if I had been playing deep I might have won millions." »

At the ‘Cocoa-tree' in 1780 there was a cast at hazard, the difference of which amounted to 180,0001. At Graham's Club took place the whist which led to the notorious De Ros trial. Lord de Ros being accused of cheating, brought an action for libel against his traducers, but lost a verdict, which he only survived a short time. The Times,' in a leading article, said that the public judgment perfectly coincided with the verdict; and perhaps the least severe criticism on the event was Hook's punning epitaph, . Here lies the premier baron of England patiently awaiting the last trump.' In earlier days White's had a well-deserved but not bright reputation :

It is dreadful,' writes a well-known peer in 1750, 'to see not only there, but almost in every house in the town, what devastations were made by that destructive fury, the spirit of play; I tremble to think that the rattling of a dice-box at White's may one day or other, if my son should be a member of that noble society, strike down all our fine oaks.''

Wattier's, where Macao flourished, and where Brummell shone for a dozen years, came to an untimely end in 1819, and was taken by a set of blacklegs. But perhaps the most widely notorious club of all, though a club only in name, was Crockford's, established in 1827. Crockford, who seems to have been a fishmonger, was a man of much energy and no little tact. Having accumulated some capital, he set up the establishment in St. James's Street, which was described at its opening as the new Pandemonium, whose walls will tell no tales. There he kept a hazard bank against all comers. He seems to have played fairly, but fully availed himself of the advantages of being the banker. His courtesy and good manners made Crocky's' the rage, and young and old, rich and poor, provided only they had the entrée to good London society, were admitted to his rooms, and thronged to swell his profits. In 1840 he retired, having accumulated a fortune of à least a million sterling.


The executive government, lenient to the clubs to which many of their members belonged, seem to have made several spasmodic and not whole-hearted attempts to put down gambling in other classes of society. In 1797 the "Bedford Arms' was attacked under warrant by the police, who, after a strenuous siege, forced their way in and found fifteen persons at table, but not actually playing, so there could not be a conviction. Two years later the police made several raids; one on a house in Leicester Square, whence one of the gamblers endeavouring to escape fell into the area and was killed ; another on two of the notorious places in King's Place. But the law-breakers were stronger than the law-makers, even when the latter were in earnest; the breaking up of one hell’ merely led to the establishment of another, and the evidence taken before the Committee of the House of Commons in 1844 clearly showed, that gambling went on in a large number of houses frequented by persons of all positions. There were over twenty such places in Pall Mall, Piccadilly, and St. James's Street alone. Nor were the stakes confined to money; clothes, and jewels, houses and timber, were staked, and alas! sometimes by women that which is more valuable than either. Perhaps, however, the most remarkable wager ever made was brought to light in an investigation which took place at Bow Street in 1812. The police officer reported that he had seen two men on a wall on Hampstead Road, one of them hanging by his neck from a lamp-post, having been just tied ur

and - turned off' by the other. It appears

that the men had tossed' all day, first for money, then for their clothes, and last which of the two should hang the other. The larger man of the twain lost the toss, and was actually paying the penalty when the police officer intervened to save his life.

Of course there was a good deal of cheating. Of the émigrés driven from France by the French Revolution there were many who lived upon play, and several of these managed to prolong their depredations for some time. A certain Frenchman, writes Mr. Dunne,'* • who assumed in London the title and manner of a baron, has been known to surpass all the most dexterous rogues of the three kingdoms in the art of robbing. His aide-de-camp was a kind of German captain who acted the double part of a French spy and an English officer. In 1820, James Lloyd, who was a Methodist preacher on Saturdays, and the keeper of a Little-go or illegal lottery all the rest of the week, was sentenced to three months' imprisonment with hard labour. And proceedings against one William Wright in Brighton, three

* See Steinmetz, vol. i. p. 129.


« AnteriorContinuar »