Behold the power of a deck of cards.
Kick Up at the Hazard Table by Thomas Rowlandson, 1787-90, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Able to render seemingly rational men and women utterly senseless, willing to wager unholy amounts of money on the next turn of the card. Which makes it quite fitting that these powerful, albeit inanimate, objects have been known by the names “the devil’s picture books,” “the devil’s bible,” and this week’s cant phrase. And as periodic caricatures tell the stories, much mischief is afoot in the company of cards.
Devil’s Books (noun)
The Family Party or Prince Bladduds Man Traps!! by Isaac Cruikshank (1799), British Museum. The Prince of Wales stands with his hand on the breast of Honor Dutton while his younger brother Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany, flirts opposite.
The Snug Party’s Exit. Or the Farewell to Bath by J. Brown of Bath, May 6, 1799, British Museum
Lady Godina’s rout; – or – Peeping-Tom spying out Pope-Joan, by James Gillray, 1796, National Portrait Gallery. The Lady is holding the nine of diamonds, the “Pope” of the game.
Sir Joseph Mawbey, 1st Bt — A pig in a poke. Whist, whist, by James Gillray, 1788, National Portrait Gallery
The Loss of the Faro Bank — or The Rook’s Pigeon’d, by James Gillray, 1797, National Portrait Gallery.
Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.