Cards and Other Games Of Chance
( Originally Published 1906 )
I WAS once off camping with a merry party of business men, most of them in professional life, and the majority of them ministers. We spent our evenings in many ways, but the favorite amusement was dominoes. We discovered in our-selves a surprising fondness for that exceedingly mild form of amusement, and after each day's fishing, swimming, and mountain-climbing, we went back to our twos and sixes and nines with a zest that had come down to us unimpaired from the happy days of childhood.
Now dominoes, to my apprehension, is a game of chance. There were those in our party that hotly disputed the assertion, but they were the ones that always beat ! If there is any element of skill in it, it is so reduced by the small number of pieces that fall to one by lot as to come very near the capacity of an idiot. It is a game of chance,—and the luck was against me !
Yet we all enjoyed it, and the game did us good. We were brain-weary, and though some of us played chess, we had no business to. What we needed was something to occupy our minds without taxing them, something to serve as a nucleus for merry jests, to bring us all together around the one rickety table-, and hold our eyes open until it was something like a de-cent time to go to bed.
But since we have come home, I will war-rant that not one of us has touched a domino ; no, not even Dr. Peace, who was most enthusiastic over " that nice, little, intellectual game." We have settled down to our preaching and editing and teaching and lawyering, and we are getting our brains into condition for dominoes and the Maine woods—next summer.
We might have played backgammon up there, and that would have been as much a game of chance as dominoes. We might have played portrait authors, and there would have been a strong element of chance in that, also. We might have played crokinole, and that would have rested our minds while wearying our fingers, and there would have been no chance in it.
But we didn't play cards.
And why ? Not because cards would not have done for us just what dominoes did. Indeed, whist would have been a game far too intellectual for that company ; we needed something more inane. But we left cards alone, even there in the Maine wilderness, because of what they stand for; because not a man of us could look at a pack of cards with-out thinking of ruined lives, of greasy saloon tables, of drawn pistols, of heart-broken mothers, of starving wives, of little children shrinking at the very name of the disgraced father; because with that pack of cards is indissolubly linked the fearful curse of gambling, and we did not wish to darken our pleasure with such memories, or befoul our rest with such associations.
There are games enough, thanks to the patent office and the keen, brisk brains behind it. I, for one, will not have the wailings of the lost shrieking through my hours of relaxation, nor, till memory and imagination leave me, can I fail to connect the thought of degradation, misery, and ruin, with the very sight of a pack of cards.
"That is bigoted," some of you are thinking peevishly. " Doesn't he know that some of the very best families play cards ?" Of course I do, but if some of the best families play cards, so, also, do all of the worst families. " But people could gamble with anything, with chess," you urge. Well, when they begin to gamble with chess, I think it would be good policy for folks who wish to oppose gambling to refrain from chess. If meat makes my brother to offend, I will eat no meat. If that is bigoted, so is essential Christianity. Much that is not inherently wrong is made wrong by association with evil. For instance, I know of nothing essentially bad in a green screen back of a doorway, but a baker would be thought a queer business man who adopted that bit of saloon furniture. So I think a Christian, as a matter of business policy in the advertising of the Father's business, had better steer clear of everything that smells of the devil as distinctly as does a pack of cards.
I have another reason for my position. There is not in existence a game of cards that is worth playing by a man or woman who has any brains, or wit, or thoughtfulness, or any-thing in the upper story but rooms to let. " Why," you ask, " must there not be good mental drill in these card games ? " No. " Why, how do you know ?" you ask again. Because I have tried them, and found out their emptiness by experience. Now I hope you are not saying with the boy in the old Greek story,
I, too, want to find out their emptiness by experience," because I am not at all proud of the experience, but would give much if I could honestly say that I do not know a king from a jack, or poker from euchre. It will save you, young Christian, from many an embarrassment, if you are able to say that you know nothing of these devil's games.
Take my word for it,—born of a pretty thorough knowledge of every one of these games,—there is not as much fun or recreative value in the entire lot of them, the whole range from whist to high-low-jack, as there is in halma, or chess, or checkers, or logomachy, or any one of a score of games besides. They require little memory, less skill, no wit; they lead to that craven reliance upon luck which is a destruction of moral stamina ; they cultivate one's ' powers of deception, of braggadocio and effrontery ; and in the presence of the scores of noble indoor games, the use of these silly, senseless bits of pasteboard in any family is a severe commentary upon the thoughtfulness, vivacity, and brains of that household.
But cards are not the only game of chance. Nowadays people in fashionable and respect-able society in this country no longer put down their pence or shillings or pounds around the whist or cribbage tables, as was perfectly proper not long ago. 0, no! We have grown much better. We no longer play for stakes, we no longer " rake in pools " ; we are more "progressive," you know, and we have "prizes."
"Progressive " euchre and halma and tennis and what not,—they are only progressive gambling.
Mr. Marion Lawrence, at an interesting convention, drew a good distinction between a prize and a reward. A reward, he said, all may get who attain a certain degree of excellence. A prize only one can get. God, in all His universe of blessings, has no single prize ; but He has myriads of rewards, ready for all who will work hard enough for them. The essence of gambling lies not by any means in the element of chance ; it lies in getting some-thing for nothing, or in getting something that is not the appropriate and natural reward of the effort. The fitting reward of a game of tennis is an invigorated body and the pleasure and praise of skill. There is no connection of appropriateness or desert between a game of tennis and a pretty gold pin. If the hostess wishes to make presents, let her make them in such a way that they will go directly to the person that she likes. If she wishes to show off, let her do it in some other way than by opening a gambling establishment. If you play at all, play games whose interest and value need no increase from such false and dangerous sources. Have nothing to do with any game of chance.