Victorian Parlor Games

I assure you that I was researching innocent historical children’s games (see The Girl’s Own Book) when I came across Games And Sports: Being An Appendix To Manly Exercises And Exercises For Ladies, Containing The Various In-Door Games And Sports, The Out-Of-Door Games And Sports, Those Of The Seasons, &C, published in 1837.  The last chapters of the volume include some “interesting” parlor games for young ladies and gentlemen.  And really,  how could I resist a title that includes “Manly Exercises”?

Just look at those men being manly!

Le Bon Genre has some illustrations of kissy games in the Regency era, but I couldn’t find any such illustrations closer to 1837.  So, I’m including French fashions from Petit Courrier Des Dames


The Deaf Person

The person on whom this temporary infirmity is inflicted, rises and stands in the middle of the circle, and must answer three times, ” I am deaf, I can’t hear ;” and, the fourth time, “I hear.”

Of course the spite of the players induces them to render the penance severe. If the deaf person be a gentleman, a lady approaches and offers something agreeable to him ; and the unfortunate wight is compelled to reply in the stated form. Two other malicious ladies make him similar offers; or a gentleman, taking a lady by the hand, says, ” I bring this lady to you—salute her.” The deaf person hears not. At the fourth question, however, when his ears are opened, he is told to conduct some lady to kiss the wall, to sing a song, &c. The deaf man is allowed to refuse, and of course does not neglect his privilege.

This penance is also inflicted on ladies; but then it is by no means so amusing.


 Punishments for Ladies

In the French games, kisses are too much multiplied. In Britain, they can be assigned as punishments only to ladies.

Kiss Your Shadow

When the lady attempts to do this, a gentleman may place himself between the candle and the shadow.


Kiss the Candlestick

A gentleman presents the candlestick somewhat elevated; and, when the lady is about to kiss it, she is saluted by the gentleman.

Or, if this punishment be imposed on a gentleman, he requests a lady to hold a lighted candle for a few seconds; and, having thus transformed the lady into a candlestick, he salutes her. This penance is imposed only on young gentlemen, who, it is thought, will be stupid enough to kiss the real candlestick, and thereby create some laughter; or when it is thought that the same effect will be produced by the young lady being ignorant of the consequence of holding the candle.


Baiser A La Capucine

The lady and gentleman are placed on their knees, back to back. They both turn their heads at the same time, one to the right and the other to the left, and endeavour to bring their lips together for the required salute. The gentleman may pass his arm round his companion’s waist, in order to lessen the fatigue and support her, if she lose her equilibrium.

Basier A La Religieuse

This is remarkable for the difficulty of performance. How unpleasant to be unable to salute the lady of your choice, except through the close bars of the back of a chair !


The Deceitful Kiss

The lady who performs this penance approaches a young man, who advances eagerly to salute her, but finds himself repulsed and the favour granted to his neighbour.

When this trick is known, the young man who advances first cannot be deceived again; therefore he is not the one whom they endeavour to mystify; but his neighbour who, thinking he has only to present himself, advances; and the lady, whose choice is free, repulses him, and bestows the favour on the next to him. Sometimes she returns to the one who was before deceived, which renders the game more piquant.

Kiss The Four Corners Of The Room

When the lady attempts to do this, four gentlemen place themselves in the four corners of the room, and she is forced to salute them one after the other; or one gentleman, when the thing is not understood, may in succession, occupy more than one of the four corners of the room, and salute her in each.

To Kiss The Person You Love Best Without Any One Else Knowing It

For a lady, this penance consists in receiving a salute from more than one gentleman in the room.


The Postman

When any one is ordered as a punishment to perform the office of postman, he must commence in the following manner :—He must get together in a bag, or reticule, or in the corner of a shawl, as the sex may be, several pieces of paper folded up as letters. He then stands up in front of the players, and, addressing the player who was on his right hand, when he was seated, presents a letter, saying, ” It is from such a place, &c.” and takes care to make some allusion to the acquaintance, friendship, or relationship existing amongst the players. The party to whom the letter is sent asks how much the postage is? The postman demands as much as he chooses: for instance, he may charge four, six, eight, ten, or twelve pence : the postage is of course paid in kisses. But the lady may refuse to take in the letter, if she thinks the postage too heavy, as a proof that she is not satisfied ; and the postman must pass on. This is a lesson for those gentlemen who are too bold ; for a postage of two or three pence is, almost by the rules of the game, paid immediately in ready cash.

This penance is generally prescribed to a gentleman, who addresses himself to the ladies only. But if, by the casting of the lots, it comes to the turn of the lady, she presents letters to the gentlemen only in the party. In this case, the postage is very trifling, as the lady generally says the postage is paid, &c. &c.

If a successor is found for the postman, by the substitution of his right hand neighbour, this penance becomes a game.

The postman receives a *forfeit from every one who refuses to pay the postage, on account of the demand being exorbitant: the lady, on the contrary, receives forfeits from those that want to pay the postage.

Susanna’s note: *Explanation of a forfeit.

This game is amusing enough for two or three rounds : it is not often played longer, because it accumulates plenty of forfeits and offers no variety.


The Bailiff, Or The Creditor

The gentleman condemned to act as the bailiff, says to a lady, ” Pay, or I must put in a distress for so many kisses ;” and at the same time he endeavours to get possession of her gloves, handkerchief, bonnet, reticule, or shawl. ” But,” says the lady, ” I am short of money ; at all events take off something; the interest is usurious;” with similar phrases. The creditor stands out for the full amount of his demand; but as the lady will not surrender, they bargain between them till finally the lady pays.

When the lady resolutely refuses, and ” says I am insolvent,” she lets the importunate creditor carry off some trifle belonging to her, that he has been able to get possession of, and which he is afterwards obliged to return.

But when this penance is turned into a game, the article seized becomes a forfeit. The creditor passes from one lady to another to the end of the circle.

In the second round, the ladies become creditors, and distrain on the gentlemen; but, instead of demanding kisses of their debtors, they require a song, a declamation, and very frequently an extemporary verse. If the unfortunate debtors cannot comply, the lady endeavours to enforce the distress ; this however, as the gentlemen are on their guard, is not always easily effected.

The creditors, both male and female, are replaced in the same manner as in the preceding game.


Patipata, Who Shall Kiss That ?

The company being seated in circle, one of the players, who is the penitent or Patipata, kneels down before a person of different sex; but to prevent fatigue, especially if the penitent be a female, she is seated on a footstool or cushion. The person on whose knees the penitent’s head reclines, takes good care that he can see nothing; and, pointing with his finger to some person or object in the room, says, ” Patipata, who shall kiss that ?” The penitent names any one he chooses; and the person so named is obliged to obey. As soon as that is performed, Patipata is again asked, and another player is named, and the game continues till Patipata names himself, for then he kisses the object pointed out, and is absolved from his penance.

This game of penance in which a great many players join, is extremely amusing, in consequence of the curious circumstances which the chance decisions of the penitent produce. He frequently sends one gentleman to embrace another; and a lady to kiss the hands or hair of another lady; a third is obliged to kiss her own arm or knee; and a fourth to imprint a kiss on his own cheek or forehead. The door, the walls, the vases, the furniture, chimney, clock, &c, come in also for their share of the kisses which the blind distributor orders.

As Patipata can answer ‘I’ whenever he chooses, he generally takes care to do so immediately after any disagreeable object has been embraced, because he knows they change the object: but it frequently happens that he is mistaken in his conjectures, and, when he expected to indemnify himself by saluting a rosy cheek, finds himself obliged to kiss the back of a sofa, the snuffers, or some such object. Patipata is allowed to raise his head and witness the execution of his decisions ; and he lays it down immediately afterwards.

When this penance is a game, and Patipata names himself, and embraces one of the players, the latter takes his place; but when it is an inanimate object, the unlucky Patipata is obliged not only to kiss it, but also to continue his task. If he does not like to abide by his own decision, he may refuse the salute, by paying a forfeit, and must continue his unsuccessful career; no one else has this privilege; and the penitent can take advantage of it only three times: the fourth time he is obliged to accede to his own decisions. If the object however is animated, the player who sat originally on the right of Patipata, is obliged to take his place.




18 Replies to “Victorian Parlor Games”

  1. You don’t need a dirty mind to see where these games could go if participants weren’t so, you know, Victorian. Having to kiss a guy to get your clothes back…

  2. Where are the prim and proper misses when this was going on? So many kissing games. There was a Regency dance called the Cushion dance that seemed it involve more kissing than dancing. Played very much like some of the games mentioned here, except the couples moved around a little between actions.
    An aristocratic dowager would look down her nose at such games and declare them too vulgar to notice and say that only merchants’ daughters would be so vulgar.
    ON the other hand I could see such games being played at a house party for married couples where it was tacitly agreed that adultery would be part of the fun.

  3. Hah. Gentleman and ladies apparently did quite a bit of kissing and “improper” things back then. Except I wonder if any debutantes’ mothers would have allowed these games…

  4. me too…
    the formulaic one is to sing in one corner, dance in another, cry in the third and laugh in the fourth which is enshrined in Beatice Potter, and presumably well known to her; kisses for forfeits are old, and for men to take a buffet from another man. Reciting a verse, sometimes when standing on one leg was traditional when I was young enough to play forfeit games, but how traditional that is, I don’t know… I recall one party where the forfeits were written in a very old origami flower, like the fortune telling ones we used to make, and your name was ‘spelled’ out to find out which petal to open… things like skip round the circle, kiss a member of the opposite sex, dance a jig, sing a song…

  5. Thank you, Sarah!!! That really clears it up. So the forfeits are part of the “punishments” too. Crazy.

  6. I think what they are saying here is that if you fail to do whatever the object of the game is, you have to write your name on a card and at the end of the game all these forfeits are produced and you have to do a punishment for each time your name is on a card – whereas later, forfeit was used as a word for the punishment too, and certainly the party games of my young day called for immediate enactment of forfeits not saving them up to the end. A question of mutability in the rules of even the oldest and most traditional of games… I suspect that the medieval versions of those which are that old probably also had immediate forfeits, the medieval mind being more immediate as well as often rather basic in humour; it’s a later refinement of cruelty [very Georgian!] to make the nervous worry all through the game to see what forfeits must be performed, probably making them more likely to fail again. These are the sorts of games Lydia Bennett would have loved and poor little Fanny Price or Jane Fairfax would have hated, cringing in horror at the thought of being the object of humiliation. Personally I loathed them….

  7. I never read Mansfield Park, but in one of the movie adaptions, Fanny Price got upset because the young people were putting on a play. I certainly wouldn’t have played these games. They are a bit creepy. Thank you so much for this kind explanation.

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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