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Thursday, 17 April 2014

Gambling and Gamesters

Card-playing and gambling was part of everyday social life in Jane Austen's day (although playing cards on a Sunday was frowned upon). Ladies and gentlemen played card games like vingt-un (pontoon), casino, speculation, whist and loo after dinner at home, or during private parties.
In a letter to her sister Cassandra (7 October 1808) Jane commented: ‘We found ourselves tricked into a thorough party at Mrs M.’s, a quadrille and a commerce table, and music in the other room.  There were two pools at commerce, but I would not play more than one, for the stake was three shillings, and I cannot afford to lose that twice in one evening’.   
Gambling for large stakes or 'deep play' could lead to ruin, and careful Mamas warned their daughters off young men who were known rakes or gamblers. In Pride & Prejudice, Jane Bennet is horrified when she hears that George Wickham has ‘debts of honour’ and other expenses amount to ‘more than a thousand pounds... “A gamester!” she cried. “I had not an idea of it”'.
Illustration: 'A Gamester'. Barclay's Dictionary, 1813.