Returning to “The Royal Game of Bezique,” by Camden — Part VIII: Comments by Tom on the “previous” article on Bezique, from “The Westminster Chess Club Papers” — thanks to David Levy . . .

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I had been unable to locate a certain article in The Westminster Chess Club Papers, later known as The Westminster Papers — an article out of which arose another article, which (later article) I did discuss in that earlier post.

I am glad to say that David Levy (who operates a blog on Edmond Hoyle) very kindly stepped in and provided me with images of the “predecessor article.”  The article, entitled “Bezique,” appeared in the January 1869 issue of The Westminster Chess Club Papers.

I am not sure who wrote the article.  Jessel shows Telemachus Brownsmith as the editor, or at least as the first editor.  The Bodleian Library catalog shows that as a pseudonym.  I’m not sure when Charles Mossop (whom Jessel also mentions) first became involved.

An image of the first page of the article is shown below.  I realize that it is rather small, but I think most of you will have some simple way of viewing it in a larger size.

It is quite an interesting article, and indeed a fairly significant one, from start to finish.  After all, it is the only article I know of which discusses in reasonable detail the content of Goodall’s The Royal Game of Bezique.  Not only that, but the article compares the content to other Bezique rules that were available at the time.  For a collector of card-game booklets — and especially to a collector with a special interest in Goodall’s The Royal Game of Bezique (or for that matter in Cavendish’s The Pocket Guide to Bezique) — the article is outstanding.

The article is quite critical of Cavendish’s own booklet on Bezique, and it also criticizes The Field, for its criticism of the Goodall booklet.

There is a moderate amount of sarcasm in the article, and though I know basically nothing of Lewis Carroll, in examining the article I kind of had the feeling I was reading some extract from Through The Looking Glass, maybe in part because the article does discuss in terms of high gravity a subject which maybe is not.  (I’m not saying that is a feature of Through the Looking Glass, though perhaps it is.)

It does flirt with being a work of literary merit — hey, like this blog!  This is clear from his evaluation of the relative merits of several works.  The writer says, “Shall we not be satisfied with the rules approved by his Royal Highness?  Of course we shall.”  Then he rather summarily dismisses certain other rules, and then calls Cavendish’s rules “a more pretentious work.”

I guess one pretty much has to conclude that the whole article constitutes a “tempest in a teapot.”  But obviously, to all of the participants, it was a serious matter — I think.

One of the great lines in the article comes at the very end of the article, where the author states:

Of the game itself, in our opinion, it is entirely unnecessary, and would never be played by any one who understood Piquet or Foose.  It is slow, melancholy, and dull, much too long, and cannot retain its present popularity.

I am not sure how one would measure the popularity, or lack thereof, of Bezique, during the decades that followed.  In terms of game-sets sold by various makers, I would think that it was one of the most popular of all games, for many years.

It also lends further meaning to the later article, the follow-up article that was discussed in the earlier post.  It now appears to me that the discussion of “who introduced the game” was in more of a commercial context — the question not being the rather complicated historical question, but instead the question of which dealer was most responsible for the then-current craze.

In this first article, the writer comes down on the side of Goodall.  In the second article, it is perhaps a bit more in the air, but the writer was obviously unhappy with Reynolds, who had failed to provide relevant materials to the writer.

The writer seems to have taken a special interest in the backgrounds of the booklets.  He says, kiddingly one would assume, “[. . .] the card-makers of the day keep an author on the premises, ready to write out the laws of a game at the shortest notice.”

The writer mentions the 1861 article by W.P. [presumably William Pole], and says, “but the game did not seem to take with the public until Messrs. Goodall set their wits to work on the matter.”

Later the writer says:

The first book of rules brought out here in a separate form was “The Royal Game of Bezique ‘Standard Rules’ as played by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh,” (Goodall and Son) now in its third edition.

That’s pretty interesting. It basically comes right out and says that the title of the work was: The Royal Game of Bezique “Standard Rules” as played by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.  I wonder whether he is referring to the first edition.

Jessel does not call it that.  But then again, maybe Jessel didn’t describe the first edition!

As mentioned, the article appeared in the January 1869 issue, which is fairly decent evidence that the second edition appeared in 1868.

[First page of the article:]


—Tom Sawyer

December 31, 2012

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