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In Defence Of Gambling
by [?]

Without gambling life would lose its salt in many a humble household. The humdrum, deadening routine of monotonous daily toil finds relief by this creation of an outside interest; to have a shilling on the favourite enlarges and colours existence, gives it a wider and vaguer horizon. Imagine the delicious anguish of suspense, the excitement of hearing the result, the exultation of winning. And the beauty of gambling is that you cannot lose. Gambling is really a disguised system of purchase. One buys excitement, a most valuable emotion, for which even the members of the Anti-Gambling League are prepared to pay heavily in other forms! And the advantage of gambling over all these other forms is the possibility that you may not be called upon to pay for your purchase after all–nay, that you may even be paid instead! You get not only excitement, but a possible bonus. Is there any earthly transaction that offers such advantages? Why, ‘t is always “heads I win, tails you lose.” Who speaks of losing at cards? As well speak of losing at play-going or novel-reading; what is called loss is simply payment for excitement. You cannot lose at cards, though you may win; unless it be in games where skill preponderates, and then loss means penalty for lack of skill. The mere transfer of money from hand to hand leaves the wealth of the world what it was before. ‘T is redistribution, not destruction. It is scarcely relevant to look for the evils of gambling in its effects–to point to ruined reputations and ruined homes. Everything is capable of abuse, from love to religion. The evil of gambling lies in the fact that it is an unworthy form of excitement–that it is possible to colour life more intellectually. The Anti-Gambling League, for all its recent prospectus, will not put down gambling among the poorer classes, except by widening their outlook otherwise, by creating other interests outside the dull daily groove. For the well-to-do classes there is less excuse. With all the arts and amenities of life at their command, it is degrading to use up time and nervous energy in so brainless a pursuit. The gambling that is inherent in the constitution of modern civilization is another affair: that is pursued for the sake of gain; or for a livelihood. The Stock Exchange is an unhappy consequence of the joint-stock company; credit in business is an equally inevitable outcome of the ramified mechanism of exchange. We are all gamblers to-day, insomuch as there is no stable relation between work and reward, and the failure of a bank in Calcutta may impoverish a shopkeeper in Camden Town. Our investments may rise or fall in value through the obscure machinations of unknown millionaires. And even the Anti-Gambling League has no word to say against those great gambling concerns, Life and Fire Assurance Societies, which bet you that you will not die or be burnt out within a certain number of years, or those journals which offer you large odds that you won’t be smashed up while reading them. The prudential considerations behind these forms of gambling seem quite to moralise them: indeed, to refuse to accept the bet of the Life Assurance Companies is now considered immoral; a man is expected to amend on his marriage at the very latest.

There is a form of gambling to which I must myself plead guilty. A forlorn, shabby creature, pathetically spruced up, arrives from a ten-mile tramp. He has been a journalist or a poet, but owing to this or that he is on his beam-ends. He has eaten nothing for two days. His wife is dying, his children are weeping for food. His voice breaks beautifully as he tells me I am his last hope. What is to be done? According to Charles Lamb, the solution is to give, to give always. For either the man is in need and speaks truth, or he is a liar and therefore a consummate actor. We pay for stage representations: why deny our obolus to the histrionics of the beggar? So artistic a make up, an elocution with such moving notes of pathos, surely deserve our tribute. Nay (and this Elia forgot to note), the beggar-actor is frequently the author of his own piece; that consistent argument, those tragical episodes, those touches of nature, that minute detail, all are his. For my part, this view does not touch me; I scarcely ever pay for the play, so I expect even the beggar to perform to me as to one of “the press.” If I give to beggars, it is purely from the gambling spirit. What are the odds against the man being a scamp? If they are short, or if the betting is level, I incline to the side of mercy. The money is of so much more consequence to him than to me, if the beggar is genuine, that the speculation is well warranted. I know how wrong it is from the point of view of the Charity Organization Society, but I am a man, not a bureau of beneficence. Few of us, I fancy, escape this godly gambling.

How ill Society is ordered! We pay poor rates and support hospitals and orphan asylums; but is there any thinking man who can banquet with the assurance that nobody is starving? It spoils the dinner of Dives to meditate on the longings of Lazarus, and this is the true skeleton at the feast. The business of philanthropy seems but a mockery, and Government takes charitable toll from us without pacifying our consciences. There is something rotten in the state of Denmark. Cannot the intellect of man devise a means of guaranteeing the deserving poor against starvation?

Novel-reading is the woman’s substitute for gambling–the thing that takes her outside her narrow circle of interests. Her ravenous appetite for new novels is amazing; children are not so gluttonous of cream-tarts. To supply this demand sequestered spinsters in suburban or rustic bowens sit spinning the woof and warp of life as it never was on sea or land. Bound goes the wheel, to and fro glides the shuttle, and the long, endless pattern unwinds itself in all its wealth of imaginative device and all its glory of fanciful colour. Poor things! What are they to do? They have not the means to study the life they depict; they cannot mix in the circles they describe. Fortunately their ignorance is their salvation; the pretty patterns please the young ladies, the brave notes of colour set them a-dreaming. And now in the revolt against the three-volume novel these simple scribblers are to be swept away; the country parcels will know them no more, and the three-deckers they built of yore will be dismantled in the dry dock of the fourpenny box. Poor creatures! Some will take to typewriting and some to drink, some will be driven to the workhouse and some to literature.