Wednesday, 28 December 2011


More from Chambers' Book of Days

The kind of advertisements, now called circulars, were often, formerly, printed on the backs of playing-cards. Visiting cards, too, were improvised, by writing the name on the back of playing cards. About twenty years ago, when a house in Dean Street, Soho, was under repair, several visiting cards of this description were found behind a marble chimney-piece, one of them bearing the name of Isaac Newton. Cards of invitation were written in a similar manner. In the fourth picture, in Hogarth's series of 'Marriage-a-la-Mode,' several are seen lying on the floor, upon one of which is inscribed: 'Count Basset begs to no how Lade Squander sleapt last niter Hogarth,' when he painted this inscription, was most probably thinking of Mrs. Centlivre's play, The Basset Table, which a critic describes as containing a great deal of plot and business, without much sentiment or delicacy.

An animated description of a round game at cards, among a party of young people in a Scottish farmhouse, is given in Wilson's ever-memorable Nodes. It is the Shepherd who is represented speaking in this wise:

'As for young folks—lads and lasses, like—when the gudeman and his wife are gaen to bed, what 's the harm in a ggem at cairds? It's a chearfu', noisy, sicht o' comfort and confusion. Sic luckin' into anither's banns! Sic fause shufflin'! Sic unfair dealin'! Sic winkin' to tell your pairtner that ye hae the king or the ace! And when that wunna do, sic kickin' o' shins and treadin' on taes aneath the table—often the wrong anes! Then down wi' your haun' o' cairds in a clash on the boord, because you've ane ower few, and the coof maun lose his deal ! Then what gigglin' amang the lasses! What amicable, nay, love-quarrels, between pairtners! Jokin', and jeestin', and tauntin', and toozlin'—the cawnel blown out, and the soun' o' a thousan' kisses!—That's caird-playing in the kintra,Mr. North; and where's the manamang ye that wull dour to say that it's no a pleasant pastime o' a winter's nicht, when the snow is cumin' doon the lum, or the speat's rearm' amang the mirk mountains.'

...There are few who sit down to a quiet rubber that are aware of the possible combinations of the pack of fifty-two cards. As a curious fact, not found in Hoyle, it is worth recording here, that the possible combinations of a pack of cards cannot be numerically represented by less than forty-seven figures, arrayed in the following order: 16, 250, 563, 659, 176, 029, 962, 568, 164, 794, 000, 749, 006, 367, 006, 400.


One thing I have often regretted when abroad is not having a proper business card / calling card. It's awkward handing them round in England - like holding a formal speech - but in Asia it is vital. People come all the way round a big circular table to hand you their card and, to tell the truth, it is useful, not so much for business purposes as to remember who they are. I have brought back several from China, some of them entirely in Chinese so I forget the person, but next to others I have written the occasion of our meeting.

I suppose the university could give cards to its teaching staff but universities in England are not like that. Professors tend to wear leisure clothes, say things like 'Hi' and leave it at that. In China the cards bear full titles. Somewhere in between might be the ideal.

As for actually playing cards I used to do more of that than I do now. At school I gambled for pennies and shillings, occasionally pounds, at pontoon and three-card brag. At home on sacred family Sundays, we played bridge or rummy for no stakes. I like cards as potentially numinous objects. Especially old Hungarian cards such as these:



Angela France said...

The Hungarian cards are wonderful - I covet them! I have always particularly liked the jokers, the different ones you get in old packs of cards.

I finally got myself some business cards this year (from one of the online places where you design your own) - it feels somewhat pretentious but so much easier than writing down phone number/email on lose-able scraps of paper.

Happy New Year to you and yours, George

George S said...

My father had a set of such cards. Most Hungarians had. It was this pack they meant when they went to play cards. I expect my stepmother has the deck. I'll pick one up next time I am in Hungary.

Have a very happy New Year, Angela!