« PoprzedniaDalej »
death, as the undertaker who expects to have the care of his funeral; while the other sides are very solicitous about his recovery, send every hour to know how he does, and take as much care of him, as a clergyman's wife does of her husband, who has no other fortune than his living. I remember a man with the constitution of a porter, upon whose life very great odds were laid; but when the person he was pitted against, was expected to die every week, this man shot himself through the head, and the knowing ones were taken in.
Though most of our follies are imported from France, this has had its rise and progress entirely in England. In the last illness of Lewis the Fourteenth, Lord Stair laid a wager on his death; and we may guess what the French thought of it, from the manner in which Voltaire mentions it in his Siecle de Louis XIV. "Le Roi fut attaque vers le milieu du mois d'Aout. Le Comte de Stair, ambassadeur d'Angleterre, PARIA, selon le genie de sa nation, que le Roi ne passeroit pas le mois de Septembre."........ "The King, says he, was taken ill about the middle of August; when Lord Stair, the ambassador from England, BETTED, according to the genius of his nation, that the King would not live beyond September."
I am in some pain, lest this custom should get among the ladies. They are at present deep in cards and dice; and while my lord is gaming abroad, her ladyship has her rout at home. I am inclined to suspect, that our women of fashion will also learn to divert themselves with this polite practice of laying wagers. A birth-day suit, the age of a beauty, who invented a particular fashion, or who were supposed to be together at the last masquerade, would frequently give occasion for bets. This would also afford thema new method for the ready propagation of scan
dal; as the truth of several stories, which are continually flying about the town, would naturally be brought to the same test. Should they proceed further to stake the lives of their acquaintance against each other, they would doubtless, bet with the same fearless spirit, as they are known to do at brag; the husband of one would perhaps be pitted against the gallant of another, or a woman of the town against a maid of honour. And perhaps if this practice should once become fashionable among the ladies, we may soon see the time, when an allowance for bet-money will be stipulated in the marriage-articles.
As the vices and follies of persons of distinction are very apt to spread, I am also much afraid, lest this branch of gaming should descend to the common people. Indeed, it seems already to have got among them. We have frequent accounts in the daily papers of tradesmen riding, walking, eating, and drinking, for a wager. The contested election in the city has occasioned several extraordinary bets ; I know a butcher in Leaden-Hall market, who laid an ox to a shin of beef, on the success of Sir John Barnard against the field; and have been told of a publican in Thames-street, who ventured an hogshead of entire butt, on the candidate who serves him with beer.
We may observe, that the spirit of gaming displays itself with as much variety among the lowest, as the highest order of people. It is the same thing whether the dice rattle in an orange barrow, or at the hazard table. A couple of chairman in a night-cellar are as eager at put or all-fours, as a party at St. James's at a rubber of whist; and the EO table is but an higher sort of Merry-go-round where you may get six half-pence for one, sixpence for one, and six two-pences for one. If the practice of Pitting should be also propagated among the vulgar, it will be common for prize-fighters to stake their lives against each
other; and two pick-pockets may lay which of them shall first go to the gallows.
To give the reader a full idea of a person of fashion, wholly employed in this manner, I shall conclude my paper with the character of Montano. Montano was born heir to a nobleman, remarkable for deep play, from whom he very early imbibed the principles of gaming. When he first went to school he soon became the most expert of any of his play fellows he was sure to win all their marbles at taw, and would often strip them of their whole week's allowance at chuck. He was afterwards at the head of every match at football or cricket; and when he was captain, he took in all the big boys by making a lottery, but went away without drawing the prizes. He is still talked of at school, for a famous dispute he had with another of his own cast about their superiority in learning; which they decided, by tossing up heads or tails who was the best scholar. Being too great a genius for our universities at home, he was sent abroad on his travels, but never got further than Paris; where having lost a considerable bet of four to one concerning the taking a town in Flanders, he was obliged to come back with a few guineas he borrowed to bring him over. Here he soon became universally known by frequenting every gaming-table, and attending every horse-race in the kingdom. He first reduced betting into an art, and made White's the grand market for wagers. He is at length such an adept in this art, that whatever turn things take he can never lose. This he has effected, by what he has taught the world to call hedging a bet. There is scarce a contested election in the kingdom, which will not end to his advantage; and he has lately sent over commissions to Paris to take up bets on the recall of the parliament. He was the first, that struck out the abovementioned practice of pitting; in which he is so thoroughly versed, that
the death of every person of quality may be said to bring him a legacy; and he has so contrived the bets on his own life, that (live or die) the odds are in his favour. O
No. XVI. THURSDAY, MAY 16.
Expediam prima repetens ab origine famam.
I'll trace the current upwards, as it flows,
TO MR. TOWN.
Oxford, May 12, 1754.
YOUR last week's paper, on the subject of bets, put me in mind of an extract I lately met with in some news-papers from the "Life of Pope Sixtus V. translated from the Italian of Gregorio Leti by the reverend Mr. Farnworth." The passage is as follows:
It was reported in Rome, that Drake had taken and plundered St. Domingo in Hispaniola, and carried off an immense booty. This account came in a private letter to Paul Secchi, a very considerable merchant in the city, who had large concerns in those parts, which he had insured. Upon receiving this news, he sent for the insurer Samson Ceneda, a Jew, and acquainted him with it. The Jew, whose interest it was to have such a report thought false, gave many reasons why it could not possibly be true, and at last worked himself up into such a passion, that he said, I'll lay you a pound of my flesh it is a lie. Secchi, who was of a fiery hot temper, replied, I'll
lay you a thousand crowns against a pound of your flesh, that it is true. The Jew accepted the wager, and articles were immediately executed betwixt them. That if Secchi won, he should himself cut the flesh with a sharp knife from whatever part of the Jew's body he pleased. The truth of the account was soon confirmed; and the Jew was almost distracted, when he was informed, that Secchi had solemnly sworn he would compel him to the exact literal performance of his contract. A report of this transaction was brought to the Pope, who sent for the parties, and being informed of the whole affair, said, "When contracts are made, it is just they should be fulfilled, as this shall. Take a knife therefore, Secchi, and cut a pound of flesh from any part you please of the Jew's body. We advise you, however, to be very careful; for if you cut but a scruple more or less than your due, you shall certainly be hanged,"
What induced me to trouble you with this, is a remark made by the editor, "that the scene between Shylock and Antonio in the Merchant of Venice is borrowed from this story." I should perhaps have acquiesced in this notion, if I had not seen a note in the Observations on Spenser's Faerie Queene, by Mr. T. Warton of Trinity College," where he seems to have discovered the real source from which Shakspeare drew his fable, which (he informs us) is founded upon an ancient Ballad. The admirers of Shakspeare are obliged to him for this curious discovery: but as Mr. Warton has only given some extracts, they would undoubtedly be glad to see the whole. This Ballad is most probably no where to be met with, but in the Ashmolean Museum in this University where it was deposited by that famous antiquary Anthony a Wood: I have therefore sent you a faithful transcript of it; and you must agree with me, that it will do you more credit, as a Connoisseur, to draw this hidden treasure