This week I am moving from the theme of real life 18th Century affairs of the heart, to affairs of the sharper and looking in more detail at the stories of the gamblers or gamesters who populated Bath’s society in the 1700s.
Again this story is taken from the Life of Beau Nash written by Oliver Goldsmith in 1762.
The social society of Bath in the 18th Century included a considerable interest in playing cards and gambling as did other social centres like London and Tunbridge Wells. Gaming was a pivotal part of society and many took full advantage of the money to be made from people’s enthusiasm and addiction for card games. Gaming rooms were set up especially for men and women to meet and play and most evening events included an area of gaming tables, as did the assembly rooms in Bath. They were not simply established for pleasure but for profit.
Yet even those who set up these rooms were not above being caught by sharpers. And Beau Nash as an I8th Century entrepreneur who captured every opportunity for making money was caught several times during his life.
This occasion occurred during a period I have mentioned in an earlier blog on ‘Gambling, Cards and Billiards in the Assembly Rooms of Bath’ at the time when laws were established to cease gambling due to the high number of people being left bankrupt. An Act was introduced by Parliament to prevent fraudulent and excessive gambling, private lotteries and games of Faro, Basset, Hazard, Ace of Hearts and Pharaoh. But those who wished to continue exploiting people hungry for games of chance just invented new games such as ‘Passage’. And when in 1740 Parliament declared all games of chance involving numbers using cards or dice illegal, games not involving numbers were introduced. ‘Even and Odd’, known as E.O. was one of these.
As I said in my earlier blog, Beau Nash was involved in the development of E.O. C—k invented the game and ran it through a gaming room Nash calls A—e. They shared the profits. But as you might expect of these gaming rooms their morals were rarely high and their activity frequently unfair. A—e broke the agreement with C—k. C—k and his friends then employed a town crier to walk the streets, shouting out that people should not play E.O. at the A—e club because the game was not fair. This is when Beau Nash becomes involved as the orchestrator of society and entertainment A—e asked him to stop the crier.
Beau Nash did and in recompense for his involvement accepted a percentage agreement with A—e.
C—k then also asked Beau Nash to sponsor his own gambling room, probably having recognized the need to influence Beau Nash if he was to continue in business, but Nash claims to have refused the offer.
However when another room was set up, playing the same game, by J—e, Beau Nash agreed a further arrangement between the rooms and a cut of the profits for himself.
All seemed well, but let’s remember the nature of sharpers, they did not play fair among themselves and Nash discovered that they were pocketing profits which were not declared to him. He had A—e arrested and J—e claimed that everyone was fiddling their agreement with Nash. But it would appear Nash never had his losses returned.
His comments on the episode below included reference to the psalm;
For the Lord hateth lying and deceitful lips.
Here is his own account of his opinion of the shapers involved and what occurred.
“THE curse denounced in my motto, is sufficient to intimidate any person, who is not quite abandoned in their evil ways, and who have any fear of God before their eyes, everlasting burnings are a terrible reward for their misdoings and nothing but the most hardened sinners will oppose the judgments of heaven, being without end. This reflection must be shocking to such, as are conscious to themselves, of having erred from the sacred dictates of the Psalmist, and who following the blind impulse of passion, daily forging lies and deceit, to annoy their neighbour. But there are joys in heaven which they can never arrive at, whose whole study is to destroy the peace and harmony, and good order of society in this place.
E O was first set up in A—e room, the profits divided between one C—k (the inventor of the game) and A—e.
The next year, A—e finding the game so advantageous, turned C—k out of his room, and set the game up himself, but C—-k and his friends hired the crier to cry the game down; upon which A—e came running to me to stop it, after he had cried it once, which I immediately did, and turned the crier off the walks. Then A—e asked me to go a fourth with him in the bank, which I consented to; C—k next day took me into his room which he had hired, and proffered me to go half with him, which I refused, being engaged before to A—-e.
J—e then set up the same game, and complained that he had not half play at his room, upon which I made them agree to join their banks, and divide equally the gain and loss, and I to go the like share in the bank.
I taking them to be honest, never enquired what was won or lost, and thought they paid me honestly, till it was discovered, that they had defrauded me of 2000 guineas.
I then arrested A—e, who told me I must go into Chancery, and that I should begin with the people of Bath, who had cheated me of ten times as much; and told my attorney, that J—e had cheated me of 500, and wrote me word that I probably had it not under his hand, which never was used in play. Upon my arresting A—e, I received a letter not to prosecute J—e, for he would be a very good witness. I writ a discharge to J—e for 125l. in full, though he never paid me a farthing, upon his telling me, if his debts were paid, he was not worth a shilling.
Every article of this I can prove from A—e’s own mouth, as a reason that he allowed the bank keepers but 10 per cent because I went 20; and his suborning **** to alter his informations.
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
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