WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Back Biter

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Back Biter

In church we call them “parking lot committee members.” In social media we call them “tea spillers.” If you’re at work, people ask for the “scuttlebutt” or “dish.”

No matter the label, someone who gossips, especially with the intent to hurt or defame, is an untrustworthy, chin-wagging scandalmonger that you’d better not turn your back on.

Back Biter

One who slanders another behind his back, i.e. in his absence. His bosom friends are become his back biters, said of a lousy man.

Of course I must consult the artistic authority to illustrate my posts, James Gillray. Let’s find some Back Biters.

The Feast of Reason, & the Flow of Soul, i.e. The Wits of the Age Setting the Table in a Roar, by James Gillray, 4 February 1797, Trustees of the British Museum.

Gillray’s The Feast of Reason… presented five significant Whigs of the time: (from left to right) George Hanger, drinking buddy of the Prince of Wales; Charles James Fox, opposition leader (with back to the viewer); Richard Brinsley Sheridan, playwright and professional debtor; Michael Angelo Taylor, MP, and; John Courtenay, frequent fluent speaker of sarcasm in Parliament. The title of the print represented Gillray’s feelings on his subject: the first half came from Alexander Pope’s Imitations of Horace, II, while the second half came from Hamlet. The artist used these classic works to illustrate that the past was rich and full of wit and reason while the present day was full of feeble satire and weak constitutions.

Farmer Giles & His Wife Showing Off Their Daughter Betty to Their Neighbours on Her Return from School, by James Gillray, 1 January 1809, Trustees of the British Museum.

Farmer Giles and his wife were proud of their returned daughter…perhaps blindingly proud. From the expressions on the faces of the younger sister, dog, and servant, their eldest daughter’s skills on the pianoforte were not quite the thing. Gillray’s talent for drawing and satire were magnificently displayed in the writing of the sampler on the wall, “”Evil communications corrupt good manners,” which of course contrasted deliciously with the back-biting gossip sharing her juicy observations behind her fan.

Sophia, Honour, & the Chambermaid, by James Gillray, 1 August 1780, Trustees of the British Museum.

Here Gillray illustrated Tom Jones, specifically chapter five from Book X. Meeting upstairs outside the rooms at the Inn at Upton were the heroine of the novel, Sophia Western; her maid, Honour Blackmore, and; Susan, the chambermaid. The chambermaid related the gossip she heard below stairs from Partridge, the companion to Tom Jones, who was coincidentally staying at the same Inn. Unfortunately, her gossip – as gossip is wont to be – was no more than half-correct and entirely misleading.

He told us Madam (‘tho to be sure it’s all a Lye)
that your Ladyship was Dying for Love of the Young Squire,
and that he was going to the Wars, to get rid of you.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Lurched

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Lurched

We are game-playing fanatics in my family.

Board, backyard, card – you mention the word “game” and our family is in it to win it. But perhaps that’s too simplistic. We love the strategy, the complexity, and the challenge…and we really enjoy being together with extended family and friends. Sometimes the competition is friendly and sometimes it gets a little more heated, but we always have fun, and always meet again to play another game.

The one game I see pop up the most in all things Regency is whist. It’s a game I’m totally unfamiliar with, so of course I dove into the research head-first. It also helped that whist was mentioned several times in Pride and Prejudice, the most familiar time to me when it vexed Elizabeth no end that Mr. Darcy ignored her to play whist at the behest of her mother, of all people.

When the tea-things were removed, and the card-tables placed, the ladies all rose, and Elizabeth was then hoping to be soon joined by him, when all her views were overthrown by seeing him fall a victim to her mother’s rapacity for whist players, and in a few moments after seated with the rest of the party. She now lost every expectation of pleasure. They were confined for the evening at different tables, and she had nothing to hope, but that his eyes were so often turned towards her side of the room, as to make him play as unsuccessfully as herself.
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 54

Lurched

Those who lose a game of whist, without scoring five, are said to be lurched.

Edmond Hoyle was and is the expert on cards and games, and his collection of instruction pamphlets were grouped together and published, following his death, under the concise title Mr. Hoyle’s games of whist, quadrille, piquet, chess, and back-gammon, complete, In which are contained, the method of playing and betting at those games, upon equal, or advantageous terms. Including the laws of the several games. The fifteenth edition. To which are added, two new cases at whist; also the new laws of the game at whist, as played at White’s and Saunders’s Chocolate-Houses.

Mr. Hoyle’s Games of Whist, Quadrille, Piquet, Chess and Back-Gammon, circa 1770.

Whist is played with a standard 52-card deck, known during the Regency as a French Deck, and four players grouped into two sets of partners. Partners may not comment nor collude about the cards they are dealt. The object of the game is to take “tricks” and thus score the most points (all of which reminds me of pinochle). A trick consists of one turn where each participant plays a card, with the pile going to the winner who plays the “best” card. The best card is not always the highest in rank, as we’ll learn later.

Queen of Hearts from deck of cards, early 1800s, Ackermann’s Repository.

The rank of cards is in order from highest to lowest, beginning with Ace and ending with the deuce. Cards are shuffled by the player to the left of the dealer and cut by the player to the dealer’s right. All 52 cards are dealt facedown save the final card, which is left faceup to determine the trump suit. Each player will have thirteen cards; this yields thirteen tricks.

Trump Suit, from Colonial Games.

Play proceeds clockwise, with the first card thrown by the player on the dealer’s left. The participant may play any card in his hand; remaining players must follow with cards from this leading suit. If no such card is held, a player has the choice to throw a card of any suit – called a discard – or play a card from the trump suit. The player who played the highest card in the lead suit takes the trick unless a trump was played. If multiple trumps fall during a trick, the highest trump takes the trick.

Whist Trick, from Colonial Games. In this trick, the player of the Jack takes the trick.

The winner of the trick collects the four cards and places them in a facedown stack close by. This player then leads the next trick. Once all thirteen tricks have been played, the stacks are then counted. Every six stacks are known as a “book;” one point is scored for that set of partners for every book they collect. The first team to reach five was considered the winner (or seven or nine, if that number was so chosen as the winning score). Those playing a “rubber of whist” played three rounds before the winning partnership was determined.

Christmas Academics Playing a Rubber at Whist, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1 April 1803, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To keep score, players used tokens. Tokens could be made of any material, from metal to leather to cardboard. Later in the 19th century, tokens were replaced by dial counters and hinged pegs similar to those used in cribbage.

Brass Tokens – Vintage Whist Tokens, courtesy WorthPoint.

Whist is so close to pinochle, one of my favorite card games, that I really feel like my family needs to attempt a rubber soon. Wish everyone luck – I play to win.