A Sad Tale of Regency Gambling Woe

This is a little bombastic story I ran across.  Aside from his gambling habit, I think you will agree that the author has serious issues with women.

The following article is excerpted from Sporting Magazine: or, monthly calendar of the transactions of the turf, the chase and every other diversion interesting to the man of pleasure, enterprize, and spirit, 23, 1804. All but one of the images are from The Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, Manufactures, &c in the years 1818 and 1820


I WRITE from an obscure retirement where your instructive Miscellany has accidentally reached me. As my history may not be uninstructive, I proceed. Deprived, in infancy, of a father whose professional merit as a physician yielded only to the sterling virtues of the man, I was left entirely to the management of my mother, the daughter of a tradesman rather respectable than opulent, not unjustly vain of her personal charms, and most passionately fond of the cardtable. She was left in the full possession of whatever property my father and her own left behind them. With me and the world she passed for a woman of no inconsiderable opulence: and to support that appearance as well as to gratify her sovereign passion for play and parade, she lived considerably beyond her income. Under such a guide, it may be naturally supposed that I could not find my way to the shrine of prudence or rigid virtue. No, Sir. I could support my part in the circle of slander or at the cardtable, before I could regularly subtract my stake from my winnings, or my losses from the former. Yet I was admired, at least in my mother’s presence, for my cleverness.

Having but few ideas, they were the more strongly impressed on my mind, and the more quickly and precisely managed in conversation. Nothing tended to undeceive me in the delusive vanity which the flattery or my mother’s whist and supper friends, and her own loquacious partiality inspired, but the manifest superiority that the dullest of my class-fellows had over me at school. That chagrin however was but transitory, for my master was too lazy to chide me; and as I was a day-boy, I soon forgot it every evening in my conscious cleverness at the card table, where my mother would often say she indulged me merely that, like the young Duke of  B. I should know how to guard my fortune from black-legs, though, poor woman ! As it afterwards came out, she had not then above seven hundred pounds in the world. But she had every year four or five shares in the lottery, and was confident it would make her fortune at last.

In this manner was I educated till I had entered my fourteenth year, at which time I began to be painfully sensible of my mother’s foibles, and to lose that respect for her, which I had till then entertained. We both now thought it high time for me to go to some boarding-school at a distance from my native town: and I accordingly did so. Here I became the chum and favourite of the assistant who was evidently a man that had known better days. He took a pleasure in instructing me, and I in learning from so accomplished and affectionate a teacher. My improvement was rapid for two years, and would soon have qualified me for the university had not my kind instructor fortunately made a young lady of the town, who had a fortune of ten thousand pounds, so sensible of his deserts, that she clandestinely married him. The envious and illiberal comments made by the schoolmaster’s wife and daughters, on this event of which I knew my friend to be highly deserving, called from my indiscreet zeal such asperity of retort, as incensed them against me. It wanted but a few weeks of the approaching vacation, which I past in sullen reserve, and took my leave of school for ever.

I had passed three tedious weeks at my mother’s, when I was agreeably surprised one morning by a visit from Mr. F. my late friend and instructor. He had heard of my angry defence of him at school, and, after thanking me, begged to know my designs and future prospects in life. This investigation, which had never before seriously engaged my youthful mind, led partly to the discovery of my mother’s circumstances: but the painful disappointment it occasioned, was not of long duration; for the generous F. told me he had been in treaty for an ensigncy for me on very eligible terms. It was true, he said, that he thought my mother could very well afford to be the purchaser: but as that was not the case, he would stand in her place, and be a parent to me on that and every future occasion. To be brief, Mr. Editor, I had not been seventeen months in the army, when this active friend procured me a lieutenancy.

With a tolerable person, good spirits, accommodating manners, and a turn for economy, I stood very well with the world in general. I had now and then a visit or letter from my esteemed benefactor, and had the pleasure of hearing that my mother had at last the good sense, before she was reduced to absolute beggary, to lay by the fine lady, and go to live as housekeeper, with a worthy clergyman who had long known her.

Thither I took the earliest opportunity of going to see her, partly with a view to convince her how much more estimable she was in my eyes in the useful state of a menial, than in the beggarly affectation of the gentlewoman, which she had for many months before been ridiculously struggling to keep up. I was kindly received by the clergyman, and a young lady his niece, who had lately lost her widowed mother, and was now come to reside with her uncle. Without describing the progress of a mutual affection between us, let it suffice that it soon had existence; was disclosed to our approving friends, and likely to be crowned by our solemn union, as soon as I could obtain a second leave of absence. My regiment happened then, through the alarm or policy of administration, to be quartered in the vicinity of the capital, in which I had never yet passed three days. My spirits were elated at the near prospect of felicity with my Harriet; every object was new to me in London, and my conductor a young nobleman of one of the first families in the kingdom. But whither, alas! did he conduct me? To the fanes of debauchery, to dens of destruction. From the play we turned into a house under the Piazzas of Covent Garden, where the lively but abhorrent ideas of the immortal Fenelon, relative to Cyprus, were more than realised. To my undebauched but inexperienced mind, it bore the appearance of enchantment. Poetry and fable never gave more attraction and fascinating power to the syren or sorceress than I perceived among the beautiful prostitutes at S.’s. My noble companion, though not past his twentieth year, was deeply versed in the impure mysteries of this Cyprian shrine, and introduced me to one of its priestesses. She seemed not unanxious to make me a proselyte, and somewhat piqued that her charms, seconded by music, wine, and dancing, still found me averse from any closer intercourse. Nemo repente fit turpissimus. One short evening was not sufficient to bereave me of my native modesty, and the guardian idea of my Harriet.

From the lures of the smiling courtesan, to the adjoining gamingroom, was a transition from bud to worse. Yet, from my early habit of card-playing, I felt less horror there than in the dancing-room. I looked on, and thought my knowledge of play superior to that of most of the company. I, however, touched neither card nor die tor that night. From Covent Garden, my friend, another brother officer, and myself, adjourned to Pall Mall, where I soon was taught to consider S.’s at the former place, only as one of the devil’s chapel’s of ease. P.’s and N.’s were his sumptuous temples. There my astonished eye was dazzled, yet fixed, by heaps of gold, that seemed to say, “Win me and wear me.” I panted for an opportunity of appropriating some of those splendid tempters to purposes of pleasure and ornament, which my former system of economy would never soar to. We retired to our lodgings about six o’clock in the morning. I could think of nothing but the Faro Table’s magic centre, and longed for the next evening, when I was determined to enter the path which has led so many to infamy, beggary, or suicide. I began with some caution, and for some time had reason to be satisfied with my success. It enabled me, in truth, to live as expensively as any of my acquaintance. I made golden calculations of my future good fortune, as I improved in skill. My manuals were treatises on gaming and chances: and, without vanity, I may say that there was not a man that frequented a gaming house in London, that understood the doctrine on which they rested, more scientifically than myself. But I unfortunately left out of my calculation, the immense disparity of the two resisting powers —my purse with fifty guineas, and the Faro Bank with a hundred thousand. It was like battering a citadel with a feather. Yet it was ruin only that opened my eyes on this truism at last.

Good meats, good cookery, and good wines, given gratis and plentifully, at those houses, draw many to them at first for the sake of society alone. Among them I chanced one evening to see a clerical prig, who was incumbent of a parish adjoining that in which my mother lived. He was partial to my Harriet, and envied and hated me of course as a successful rival. He therefore wrote an anonymous letter to her uncle, which gave the highest and most malicious colouring to the dissipation in which I lived. In a few evenings after this, I happened to yield to the importunities of a friend, who had bespoke a private Hop at S.’s, and also undertook to provide his quests with partners. He is one of those goodnatured coxcombs who spend their fortune on the most stylish women of the town, and whose greatest ambition it is to be known to have an extensive acquaintance among them. The partner he chose for me would be an ornament to a palace. I became her captive tor the evening, and then left her, intoxicated with wine and pleasure, to go to the haunts of ruin and enterprising avarice at Pall Mall. I played high, and lost in proportion. I rose next day with an aching head and heart, and found two letters on my table—one from Harriet, the other from my mother. The former chid me gently for my late silence, and intimated her fears that the seducements of the capital had made me forget her. The other letter was an angry comment on the tender complaint of my mistress. It stated with some shade of truth, the wicked and dangerous course I had fallen into, and still in her old style threatened to disinherit me to about L.220 which was all she then had to withhold or bestow. My mind was in the most unfit state to answer such a letter, and for that very reason, I could not help answering it. My letter was indecent. I blamed her absurd and vicious mode of educating me, as the sole cause of any propensity I might have indulged for play, and advised her to lay out her property, as she called it, in giving a new edition of Hoyle, which was then out of print. This letter was shewn to Harriet and her uncle. The latter, an inflexible advocate for the jure divino authority and venerability of parents, even in their grossest absurdities, forbid his niece ever to see or correspond with me more. My letter to her was ingenuous and tender: and she in a few days after, gave me an account of the unpleasant effects of that to my mother. To add to my painful sensations at this time, I received a letter from Mr. F. my benefactor, informing me that, on account of the interest which he felt in the progress of liberty on the continent, he had made himself so very obnoxious to the associators of the town he lived in, that he found it adviseable to take his family and property with him to America, and was to sail in a few days from Bristol.

The spirit of adventure was now every day growing on me. I was sometimes very successful, and in those short-lived paroxysms of prosperity, would write to Harriet in the fondness and fullness of my heart; for, in spite of all the folly and depravity which I saw and shared in, she still reigned paramount over my affections. Yet my health was impaired, and my temper soured by the alternation of good and bad fortune, and my pity or contempt for those with whom I consorted. From the nobleman whose acres were nightly melting in the dice-box, there were adventurers to be seen even to the unfledged apprentice who came with the pillage of his unsuspecting master’s till, to swell the guilty bank of Dame N. and Co. Were the commissioners of bankrupt but to know how many citizens are prepared for them, at those houses, they would be bound to thank them. Many a score of guineas have I won of tradesmen who seem only to turn an honest penny in Leadenhall Street, Aldgate, Birchin Lane, Cornhill, Cheapside, Holborn, the Borough, and other eastern spots of industry. But I fleeced them only for the benefit of the Faro Bank, which is sure finally to absorb the transient gain of all. Some of the croupiers would call their gold, which was the most pesant in circulation, the gifts of the wise men from the East; while others, more professional in their allusion, called every rough guinea a cockney counter.

One night I had such a run of luck in the hazard-room, which happened to be rather thinly attended, that I won every thing; and, with my load of treasure, collected from the East and West, nay some of it probably from Finchley Common or Hounslow Heath, I went in the fatal flush of success, to attack the Faro Bank. It was my internal determination, however, that if fortune favoured me throughout the night, 1 never more would become her votary at a gaming-table. For some hours did I proceed under the torture of suspense, in the alternate agitations of hope and fear. But by five o’clock in the morning, I attained a state of certainty similar to that of a wretch just ushered into the regions of the damned. I had lost about three thousand five hundred guineas, which I had brought with me from the hazard-table, together with two thousand which the Bank advanced on my credit. There they stopped, and, with an apathy peculiar to themselves, listened to a torrent of puerile abuse which I vented against them in my despair.

Two days and two nights did I shut myself up to indulge the most racking reflections. I was ruined beyond repair, and had, on the third morning, worked myself up to resort for relief to a loaded pistol. I had rang for my servant to bring me some gunpowder, and was debating within myself whether I should direct its force against the brain or heart, when he entered with a letter. It was from Harriet. I opened it with trepidation, and soon learned she was no stranger to my misfortune. With the pen and soul of a heroine, she urged me to fly from the destructive habits and temptations of the town, and to wait for nine months, when she should have passed her minority, and be in the uncontrouled possession of her fortune, which was seventeen hundred pounds. With that small sum she hoped my experience, talents, and domestic comfort under her housewifery, would create a state of happiness and independence, which millions could not procure in the mad career in which I had been so unsuccessful. This was the voice of a guardian angel in the hour of despair. I wept over my lovely comforter’s name for more than an hour, and found considerable relief. 1 found still more in answering her divine letter. In her next, according to my request, she informed me that the channel by which she had got such early and minute information of my misfortune, was her neighbour and admirer the vicar, who was related to one of the croupiers at P.’s and had from him a regular detail of my proceedings. My lovely mistress’s soothing and monitory language had now tranquilized my soul beyond the absurdity of Gothic resentment, or I would have called this croupier to an account. Instead of doing so, I wrote to the proprietors of the Bank, and stated to them my ruined condition, together with my readiness to sell out, in order to pay them as much as I could of the sum they had lent and won of me. Those gentlemen have friends in every department. They contrived, in the course of two days, to complete the transfer of my lieutenancy, and then, in their superabundant humanity, offered me the place of croupier in an inferior house which they kept in the vicinity of Hanover Square. This offer I declined; and after having paid every tradesman’s bill, left London with only eleven guineas and a half in my purse.

In two days after my arrival at a friend’s house in Wiltshire, I saw an advertisement for a private tutor, which I answered, and was engaged as the mentor of two ill-mannered, ill-disposed lads, the sons of a wealthy clothier. I entered on my new office with the best of dispositions. I met with many slights and mortifications from this low-bred family and their connections. Yet I daily and successfully laboured to improve the heads and hearts of my pupils; and in that consciousness, and the letters of my Harriet, did I find a ready balm for the wounds which pursepride and coarseness inflicted on my sensibility.

Harriet had now attained her twenty-first year. I took leave of my pupils and their family, with some regret, and in the course of the next week was united to the best of women. I hired a cottage with six acres of land in a very retired situation about ninety miles from London, and having sold out fifty pounds of my wife’s fortune, to help to furnish it, commenced farmer in miniature, and have ever since lived in real comfort and happiness, on an income somewhat under a hundred pounds a year, though the addition of a little cherub, the lovely model of her mother, has made it necessary for us to keep a second maid.

[Susanna’s note: How people lived in Regency time based on their income level from the Jane Austen Centre in Bath.]

I regularly correspond with my friend F. who has made considerable purchases in the vicinity of the rising city of Washington, and strenuously exhorts me to come over to him, which I mean to do as soon as the stocks rise from their present very depressed state.

4 Replies to “A Sad Tale of Regency Gambling Woe”

  1. Love the illustrations you have chosen.
    Unfortunately, more women than we usually want to accept, had problems with gambling. Not that I consider the lottery gambling. Cards were usually the culprit. Every one played and quite a few scorned to play for chicken stakes.
    Despite the mother’s example, the man could have resisted the urge to agmble.

  2. @Nancy that man was getting in all sorts of trouble in London. I feel sorry for Harriet….or maybe she just wasn’t very bright or I’m cynical.

    Interesting about women with gambling problems in regency…hmm…have to fit that in a book somewhere.

  3. Bah! This man sounds like someone who blames everyone around him for his problems, but not himself. The type who thinks the world owes them something. I pity his wife too!

  4. @bluffkinghal, Agreed. He is a piece of work. I wonder whatever became of him. Did he follow his friend to the states on that business venture.

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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