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LECTURE XIII.
DETERIORATION OF WHIST, ITS CAUSES AND CURE.
——
“Past and to come seem best; things present worst.”—Shakespeare.

In my time I believe Whist has on the whole deteriorated,[58] it mistakes means for ends, is more tricky, more difficult, more cantankerous; with regard to common mistakes—inability to hold a few cards without dropping them on the table, or to play them one at a time; inability to count[106] thirteen, to recollect the best card, or whether it was your opponents, your partner, or yourself who first led a suit; winning your partner’s trick, or not winning your adversary’s; leading out of turn, revoking, and so on—there is not much difference.

As long as I can recollect, Whist has been gorged with these, and neither the hydraulic ram nor any other of the improved mechanical appliances of the present day can squeeze into a thing more than it will hold. Architects of card-rooms are to blame for a good deal of this bad Whist; it is impossible to play in a badly lighted, or a badly ventilated room. Whist players have often told me exactly what they require, and it is very odd they cannot have it.

With a large fire, the room hermetically sealed, and everybody smoking, the temperature should never exceed sixty-one-and-a-half degrees, nor be below sixty. There must be neither doors (they admit draughts) nor windows: windows are open—allow me to withdraw that offensive word—windows are exposed to two objections, (1) some scoundrel, regardless of consequences, might lower or raise the sash; (2) instead of being placed in the ceiling or the floor—where you would naturally expect to find them—they are always at the side of the room, and no whist player can see a card with the windows in such a position.

Candles do not give sufficient light, and gas is unbearable; a suggestion to try an attic with a[107] skylight fell through (not through the skylight—I mean the suggestion failed), because no one was able to go upstairs; a lift would overcome that objection, but the temperature difficulty remained.

This only applies to clubs; curiously enough, in small stuffy back-rooms in private houses, gas never causes head-ache, and neither a mephitic atmosphere nor a temperature of 120° is at all disagreeable.

Joking apart, the fons et origo mali is Law 91, and not only the head and front of the offending, but its barrel and hind quarters as well.[59]

Since the introduction of signalling, the subsequent petrolatry, and all the elaborate functions of that cultus, an exaggerated importance (increasing in geometric ratio with every additional convention) has been attached to the last trick—the only place where, by universal consent, anything can reasonably be “looked for”—and if you, after seeing the cards played, informing your partner which is yours (of course, in answer to his enquiry), gathering the trick and arranging it neatly, should imagine you have done with it, you will be the victim of a fond delusion—using “fond” in the old acceptation of the word. First, your partner will ask to see it at least twice, then your opponents, one or both, will probably grab at it without asking, and put it back[108] in a dishevelled condition; it is useless to specify what their mental state must be, and unfortunately, by the time all these irritating performances have been gone through and you have again arranged the trick symmetrically, you will find yours is not all you could wish. You can avoid some of these annoyances by allowing your partner to gather the tricks, but from his slovenly mode of doing so, you will never be able to see how many he has; and just as you are endeavouring to concentrate your attention at a critical point, it will be distracted by your having to make an intricate calculation how the game stands, the data being the cards remaining in your hand, and two confused heaps on the table; as long as this is permitted, whist is out of the question, and you feel inclined to say with the Divine Williams,
“Let him have a table by himself.”

One of the principal uses of the new method of suspended animation will turn out to be, that all decent whist players will have to submit themselves to it, and remain, arranged in rows on shelves, until that law is abrogated.

The number of shelves required will not appreciably affect the timber trade.[60]

[109]

In the good time coming, promised by the poet to those of you who wait a little longer, when the present inspired, convention-ridden, and last-trick-inspecting generation is in the silent tomb or cremated, as the case may be, and a new school—basing its play on common sense and attention—has arisen, there may be an improvement; but as I am not an optimist I cannot join in the aspiration of the little girl whose world was hollow and whose doll was stuffed with sawdust; therefore, though this improvement, like the millennium, may be looming in the more or less remote future, I see no sign of it at present.

If “to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the sun,” also “a time to lose and a time to cast away.”—Ecclesiastes, chap. 1, verse 1-6: it seems clear to me there must be a time for bumblepuppy.

Some people deny this, they say that the argument proves too much; they point out that Shakespeare says there are
“Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

and that as this could not apply to bumblepuppy, these passages only show that it was unknown when they were written.

Another argument of theirs against the antiquity of bumblepuppy, based on the passage “in all labour there is profit,” is altogether fallacious and[110] unworthy of consideration; they admit the labour but deny the profit. This must have had its origin east of Temple Bar, where it is held there is no profit unless it assumes a pecuniary form. But the repressing your innate tendency to profane swearing, curbing your evil passions generally, and the cultivation—under considerable difficulties—of nearly all the cardinal virtues, as inuring to your moral well-being, are a profit of the most positive kind;[61] to be able to give a definite answer to the long-standing conundrum “is life worth living?” is something.

However, you can draw your own conclusion, the extract from Shakespeare is—I confess—difficult to get over, still, when Solomon makes use of these remarkable words “a time to lose and a time to cast away,” I fail to see what he could have had in his mind, unless it was this very game.

At any rate one thing is clear, bumblepuppy exists now, and is not a pretty game (there can be no two opinions about that); neither—judging from the demeanour and language of its exponents—is it a pleasant game. I append a hand, which is, I think, the finest specimen of it I ever saw.[111] Judge for yourself. I had jotted down a few further remarks on this repulsive subject, but on reading them over, they seem to be not only inconsistent with that extreme reverence which is due to the young, but absolutely unfit for publication.
“Quod factu f?dum est, idem est et dictu turpe.”
R. I. P.

The two games are now before you, let me conclude the lecture with one more extract from my favourite classic.
Utrum horum mavis accipe.
——
SPECIMEN OF BUMBLEPUPPY IN EXCELSIS.
“Here’s a pretty state of things! Here’s a how-de-do!”

Score love all. Trumps diamond 9. Z is a bumblepuppist with the highest opinion of himself.
     A.    Y.    B.    Z.
1    H5    H6    H2    H4
2    D2    D5    D4    DK!
3    S3    SK    SA    S4!!
4    S7    SJ    S2    SQ
5    D8    D10    S10    S9!!!
6    D3    D7    D6    DQ!!!!
7    C3    DJ    DA    D9!!!!!
8    C4    H8    S8    C2
9    C6    C8    S6    C9
10    C7    HQ    S5    CJ
11     H10    HA    H3    H9
12    H8    CA    C5    CK
13    HJ    CQ    C10    HK

[112]

This is the worst hand ever played, without exception; it is a microcosm, complete in itself, and contains examples of stupidity, selfishness, duplicity, defiance of all recognized principles, and every conceivable villainy.

Trick 2.—The misplaced ingenuity in deceiving Y as to the position of the Qn is worth notice.

Trick 3.—The lead of the only weak suit, in preference to the strong suit of clubs, playing up to declared weakness in hearts, or returning the trump is very neat.

Trick 5.—The force here of the trump leader, inducing him to believe that Z at any rate holds the remaining spades, an illusion carefully fostered by B, is especially good.

Trick 7.—The return of the trump at this point with the best trump (probably) and three long spades (certainly) declared against him in one hand, is a real gem.


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