By North Overton Messenger
Outing, Vol.38:6 (1900)
Introduction: Civilized mankind has been playing cards since the year 1200, or thereabouts, and it is probable that the prototypes of the fascinating pasteboards had held their sway over the minds and fortunes of men, among those whom we are pleased to term the benighted people of the dim ages, for as many years before.
In all climes, and through all the periods that furnish a record of card playing, their fascination seems to have been paramount. Cards were brought into Europe by the witches, the soothsayers and the mysterious people suspected of being in league with the evil one, and it does not take a great stretch of the imagination to conjure the idea that the cards, too, were possessed of the spell, and wrought the influence of their first masters upon all who subsequently came within the range of their potency.
For what whist player will deny the influence akin to witchery, of the cards upon him, even in this day and generation, when it is no longer necessary to burn witches? What poker player will not admit the devilish attraction of two kings that imperatively command him to draw for a third; or the siren appeal of the queen who clamors for a sister to keep company with the two knaves, already in hand?
It would be no exaggeration to say that cards have been the standard form of amusement for all classes for nearly eight hundred years. There have been highwater periods in the era, when card playing reached the extent of a craze, but there has been no low water mark.
It is interesting to follow the development of card playing from its inception in the fortune telling stage, through the gambling era beginning around the soldiers’ campfire and extending into the palaces of kings and the homes of fashion; so on to the family circle where it begins to take an intellectual form requiring skill and science; and the relegation of the hazard to the club room and the substitution of small stakes for the large sums won and lost in the old times.
In all these ramifications covering so many years, the variety of the games varies but little. There is improvement in method, the cultivation of the mind as education progresses, demanding amusements consonant with improved standards. Whist goes through evolution until it appears in the product of the day, still capable of apparently illimitable thought and study. The game of the gambler evolves into the American poker, combining the highest form of commingled chance, character study, perception, inference and self control.
See also A Moorish Sheet of Playing Cards