Gaming appears to be an universal passion. Some have attempted to deny its universality; they have imagined that it is chiefly prevalent in cold climates, where such a passion becomes most capable of agitating and gratifying the torpid minds of their inhabitants.
The fatal propensity of gaming is to be discovered, as well amongst the inhabitants of the frigid and torrid zones, as amongst those of the milder climates. The savage and the civilized, the illiterate and the learned, are alike captivated by the hope of accumulating wealth without the labours of industry.
Barbeyrac has written an elaborate treatise on gaming, and we have two quarto volumes, by C. Moore, on suicide, gaming, and duelling, which may be placed by the side of Barbeyrac. All these works are excellent sermons; but a sermon to a gambler, a duellist, or a suicide! A dice-box, a sword, and pistol, are the only things that seem to have any power over these unhappy men, for ever lost in a labyrinth of their own construction.
I am much pleased with the following thought. “The ancients,” says the author of Amusemens Serieux et Comiques, “assembled to see their gladiators kill one another; they classed this among their games! What barbarity! But are we less barbarous, we who call a game an assembly–who meet at the faro table, where the actors themselves confess they only meet to destroy one another?” In both these cases the philosopher may perhaps discover their origin in the listless state of ennui requiring an immediate impulse of the passions, and very inconsiderate as to the fatal means which procure the desired agitation.
The most ancient treatise by a modern on this subject, is said to be by a French physician, one Eckeloo, who published in 1569, De Alea, sive de curanda Ludendi in Pecuniam cupiditate, that is, “On games of chance, or a cure for gaming.” The treatise itself is only worth notice from the circumstance of the author being himself one of the most inveterate gamblers; he wrote this work to convince himself of this folly. But in spite of all his solemn vows, the prayers of his friends, and his own book perpetually quoted before his face, he was a great gamester to his last hour! The same circumstance happened to Sir John Denham, who also published a tract against gaming, and to the last remained a gamester. They had not the good sense of old Montaigne, who gives the reason why he gave over gaming. “I used to like formerly games of chance with cards and dice; but of that folly I have long been cured; merely because I found that whatever good countenance I put on when I lost, I did not feel my vexation the less.” Goldsmith fell a victim to this madness. To play any game well requires serious study, time, and experience. If a literary man plays deeply, he will be duped even by shallow fellows, as well as by professed gamblers.
Dice, and that little pugnacious animal the cock, are the chief instruments employed by the numerous nations of the East, to agitate their minds and ruin their fortunes; to which the Chinese, who are desperate gamesters, add the use of cards. When all other property is played away, the Asiatic gambler scruples not to stake his wife or his child, on the cast of a die, or the courage and strength of a martial bird. If still unsuccessful, the last venture he stakes is himself.
In the Island of Ceylon, cock-fighting is carried to a great height. The Sumatrans are addicted to the use of dice. A strong spirit of play characterises a Malayan. After having resigned everything to the good fortune of the winner, he is reduced to a horrid state of desperation; he then loosens a certain lock of hair, which indicates war and destruction to all whom the raving gamester meets. He intoxicates himself with opium; and working himself into a fit of frenzy, he bites or kills every one who comes in his way. But as soon as this lock is seen flowing, it is lawful to fire at the person and to destroy him as fast as possible. This custom is what is called “To run a muck.” Thus Dryden writes–