THE GUARDIAN NO. 120 July 29, 1713
Letter from a fretful husband regarding his gaming wife:
“Sir, I wonder how their (ladies) gaming has so long escaped your notice… You are perhaps a stranger to these viragos; but what would you say should you see the Sparkler shaking her elbow for a whole night and thumping the table with the dice box? Or how would you like to hear the good widow-lady herself returning to her house at midnight and alarming the whole street with a most enormous rap after having sat up til that time at crimp or ombre? Sir, I am the husband of one of the female gamesters and a great loser by it, both in my rest and my pocket. As my wife reads your papers, one upon this subject might be of use both to her and your humble servant.”
Joseph Addison’s Editorial Response:
I should ill-deserve the name of GUARDIAN, did I not caution all my fair wards against a practice which, when it runs to excess is the most shameful…The ill consequences of it are more than can be contained in this paper. However, I shall consider then first as they relate to the mind; secondly as they relate to the body.
Could we look into the mind of a female gamester, we should see it full of nothing but trumps and mattadores. Her slumbers arte haunted with kings, queens, and knaves. The day lies heavily upon her til the play season returns when for half a dozen hours together, all her faculties are employed in shuffling, cutting, dealing and sorting out a pack of cards and no ideas to be discovered in a soul which calls itself rational, excepting little squares figures of painted and spotted paper. Was the understanding, that divine part in our composition given for such use? Is it thus that we improve the greatest talent human nature is endowed with? What would a superior being think, were he shown this intellectual faculty in a female gamester and at the same time told that is was by this she was distinguished from brutes and allied to angels? When our women thus fill their imaginations with pips and counters, I cannot wonder at the story I have lately heard of a new-born child marked with the five of clubs.
What hope and fear, joy and anger, sorrow and discontent break out all at once in a fair assembly upon such an occasion as the turn of a card…all those affections of the mind which should be consecrated to their children, husbands and parents are thus vilely prostituted and thrown away upon a hand at loo…play, when followed with assiduity engrosses the whole woman. She grows quickly uneasy in her own family, takes but little pleasure in all the domestic innocent endearments of life and grows more fond of Pam than of her husband…
What charming bedfellows and companions for life are men likely to meet with that choose their wives out of such women of vogue and fashion! What a race of worthies, what patriots, what heroes must we expect from mothers of this make!
I come in the next place to consider the ill-consequences which gaming has on the bodies of our female adventurers. It is so ordered that almost everything which corrupts the soul, decays the body. The beauties of the face and mind are generally destroyed by the same means…there is nothing that wears out a fine face like the vigils of the card-table… Hollow eyes, haggard looks, and pale complexions are the natural indications of a female gamester. Her morning sleeps are not able to repair her midnight watchings. I have known a woman carried off half-dead from bassette, and have many a time grieved to see a person of quality gliding by in her chair at two o’clock in the morning, and looking like a spectre amidst a glare of flambeaux. In short, I never knew a thorough-paced female gamester hold her beauty two winters together.
But there is still another case in which the body is more endangered than in the former. All play-debts must be paid in specie or by an equivalent. The man that plays beyond his income pawns his estate; the woman must find out something else to mortgage when her pin money is gone; the husband has his lands to dispose of, the wife her person. Now, when the female body is once dipped, if the creditor be very importunate, I leave my reader to consider the consequences…
Paraphrased from Essays of Joseph Addison Chosen and Edited by Sir James George Frazer, MacMillan and Co., London 1915