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The Decline Of Whist
by [?]

What is the reason of the decline of Whist? Why is it that every year we find fewer players, and less proficiency in those who play? It is a far graver question than it may seem at first blush, and demands an amount of investigation much deeper than I am able to give it here.

Of course I am prepared to hear that people nowadays are too accomplished and too intellectual to be obliged to descend for their pastime to a mere game at cards; that higher topics engage and higher interests occupy them; that they read and reflect more than their fathers and grandfathers did; and that they would look down with disdain upon an intellectual combat where the gladiators might be the last surviving veterans of a bygone century.

Now, if the conversational tone of our time were pre-eminently brilliant–if people were wiser, wittier, more amusing, and more instructive than formerly–if we lived in an age of really good talkers,–I might assent to the force of this explanation; but what is the truth? Ours is, of all the times recorded by history, the dullest and dreariest: rare as whist-players are, pleasant people are still rarer. It is not merely that the power of entertaining is gone, but so has the ambition. Nobody tries to please, and the success is admirable! It is fashionable to be stupid, and we are the most modish people in the universe. It is absurd, then, in a society whose interchange of thought is expressed in monosyllables, and a certain haw-haw dreariness pervades all intercourse, to say that people are above Whist. Why, they are below Push-pin!

It would be sufficient to point to the age when Whist was most in vogue, to show that it flavoured a society second to none in agreeability; and who were the players? The most eminent divines, the greatest ministers, the most profound jurists, the most subtle diplomatists. What an influence a game so abounding in intellectual teaching must have exercised on the society where it prevailed, can scarcely be computed. Blackstone has a very remarkable passage on the great social effect produced upon the Romans by their popular games; and he goes so far as to say that society imbibes a vast amount of those conventionalities which form its laws, from an Tin-conscious imitation of the rules which govern its pastimes. Take our own time, and I ask with confidence, should we find such want of purpose as our public men exhibit, such uncertainty, such feebleness, and such defective allegiance to party, in a whist-playing age? Would men be so ready as we see them to renounce their principles, if they bore fresh in their mind all the obloquy that follows “a revoke”? Would they misquote their statistics in face of the shame that attends on “a false score”? Would they be so ready to assert what they know they must retract, if they had a recent recollection of being called on “to take down the honours”?

Think, then, of the varied lessons–moral as well as mental–that the game instils; the caution, the reserve, the patient attention, the memory, the deep calculation of probabilities, embracing all the rules of evidence, the calm self-reliance, and the vigorous daring that shows when what seems even rashness may be the safest of all expedients. Imagine the daily practice of these gifts and faculties, and tell me, if you can, that he who exercises them can cease to employ them in his everyday life. You might as well assert that the practice of gymnastics neither develops the muscle nor increases strength.

I cannot believe a great public man to have attained a fall development of his power if he has not been a whist-player; and for a leader of the House, it is an absolute necessity. Take a glance for a moment at what goes on in Parliament in this non-whist age, and mark the consequences. Look in at an ordinary sitting of the House, and see how damaging to his party that unhappy man is, who will ask a question to-day which this day week would be unanswerable. What is that but “playing his card out of time”? See that other who rises to know if something be true; the unlucky “something” being the key-note to his party’s politics which he has thus disclosed. What is this but “showing his hand”? Hear that dreary blunderer, who has unwittingly contradicted what his chief has just asserted–“trumping,” as it were, “his partner’s trick.” Or that still more fatal wretch, who, rising at a wrong moment, has taken “the lead out of the hand” that could have won the game. I boldly ask, would there be one–even one–of these solecisms committed in an age when Whist was cultivated, and men were brought up in the knowledge and practice of the odd trick?