1776 · London:
In his Persian correspondence, Lyttelton copied the format of Montesquieu's success in Persian Letters, as a tool for social criticism, earning success himself. In this case he brings the subject of chance into a meeting of a man and a woman: "I was the other Day in a House where I saw a Sight very strange to a Persian; There was a Number of Tables in the Room, round which were placed several Sets of Men and Women: They seem'd wonderfully intent upon some Bits of painted Paper which they held in their Hands: I imagin'd at first that they were performing some Magical Ceremony, and that the Figures I saw traced on the Bits of Paper, were a Mystical Talisman or Charm: What more confirm'd me in this Belief was the Grimaces and Distortions of their Countenances, much like those of our Magicians in the Act of Conjuring: But enquiring of the Gentleman that introduced me, I was told they were at Play, and that This was the Favourite Diversion of both Sexes. We have quite another Way of diverting ourselves with the Women in Persia, answered I. But I see no Signs of Mirth among them: If they are merry, why don't they Laugh, or Sing, or Jump about? If I may judge of their Hearts by their Looks, half of these Revellers are ready to hang themselves! That may be, said my Friend, for very likely they are losing more than they are worth. How! said I, Do you call that Play? Yes, replied he, they never are well pleas'd unless their whole Fortunes are at Stake: Those Cards you see them hold are to decide whether he who is now a Man of Quality shall be a Beggar, or another who is now a Beggar, and has but just enough to furnish out one Night's Play, shall be a Man of Quality. The last, said I, is in the Right; for he ventures nothing: But what Excuse can be thought on for the former? Are the Nobility in England so indifferent to Whealth and Honour to expose them without the least Necessity? I must believe that they are generally sure of Winning, and that those they play with have the Odds against 'em. If the Chance was only equal, answered he, it would be tolerable; but their Adversaries engage them at great Advantage, and are too wise to leave any thing to Fortune. This comes, said I, of your being allow'd the Use of Wine. If these Gentlemen and Ladies were not quite intoxicated with that cursed Liquor, they could not possibly act so absurdly. But why does not the Government take Care of them when they are in that Condition? Methinks the Fellows that rob them in this Manner should be brought to Justice. Alas! answered he, these Cheats are an innocent Sort of People: They only prey upon the Vices and Luxury of a few Particulars; but there are others who raise Estates by the Miseries and Ruin of their Country; who game not with their own Money, but with the Publick, and securely play away the Substance of the Orphan and the Widow, of the Husbandman and the Trader. Till Justice is done upon these, the others have a Right to Impunity; and it is no Scandal to see Gamesters live like Gentlemen, where Stock-jobbers live like Princes" (Letter VII).
See: Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke and His Circle: The Politics of Nostalgia in the Age of Walpole, Harvard University Press, 1968, p.230. (Inventory #: LV2124)