Read CHAPTER THIRTEEN of Personal Reminiscences in Book Making and Some Short Stories , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on


“Tom Blunt,” said Richard Sharp, “I deny your premises, condemn your reasoning as illogical, and reject your conclusions with scorn!”

The youth who made this remark with very considerable assurance and emphasis was a student.  His fellow-student received it with an air of bland good-nature.

“Dick,” said he, “your oratory is rotund, and if it were convincing might be impressive; but it fails to some extent in consequence of a certain smack of self-assertion which is unphilosophical.  Suppose, now, that we have this matter out in a calm, dispassionate manner, without `tooth,’ or egotism, or prejudice, which tend so powerfully to mar human disputation and render it abortive.”

“With all my heart, Tom,” said the other, drawing close to the fire, placing one foot against the mantelpiece, as being a comfortable, though not elegant posture, resting his elbows on the arms of his chair, and placing his hands in that position ­with all the finger tips touching each other ­which seems, from the universal practice of civilised society, to assist mental elucidation.  “I am quite prepared.  Come on!”

“Stay; while my mind is working I like to have my hands employed.  I will proceed with my monkey while we talk,” said Blunt, taking up a walking-stick, the head of which he had carved into the semblance of a monkey.  “Sweet creature!” he added, kissing the object of his affection, and holding it out at arm’s-length.  “Silent companion of my solitary rambles, and patient auditor of my most secret aspirations, you are becoming quite a work of art.  A few more touches of the knife, and something like perfection shall have been attained!  Look here, Dick, when I turn it towards the light ­so ­isn’t there a beauty about the contour of that upper lip and nose which ­”

“Don’t be a fool, Tom,” interrupted his friend, somewhat impatiently; “you seem to me to be growing more and more imbecile every day.  We did not sit down to discuss fine art ­”

“True, Richard, true; but there is a power in the consideration of fine art, which, when judiciously interpolated in the affairs of life, tends to soften the asperities, to round away, as it were, the ruggedness of human intercourse, and produce a tranquillity of mind which is eminently conducive to ­to ­don’t you see?”

“No, I don’t see!”

“Then,” continued Blunt, applying his knife to one of the monkey’s eyes, “there arises the question ­how far is this intellectual blindness the result of incapacity of intellectual vision, or of averted gaze, or of the wilful shutting of the intellectual eyelids?”

“Well, well, Tom, let that question alone for the present.  Let us come to the point, for I wish to have my mind cleared up on the subject.  You hold that gambling is wrong ­essentially wrong.”

“I do; but let us not have a misunderstanding at the very beginning,” said Blunt.  “By gambling I do not mean the playing of games.  That is not gambling.  What I understand by gambling is betting on games ­or on anything ­and the playing of games for the purpose of winning money, or anything that possesses value, great or small.  Such gambling I hold to be wrong ­essentially, morally, absolutely wrong, without one particle of right or good in it whatever.”

As he spoke Blunt became slightly more earnest in tone, and less devoted to the monkey.

“Well, now, Tom, do you know I don’t see that.”

“If you did see it, my dear fellow,” returned Blunt, resuming his airy tone, “our discussion of the subject would be useless.”

“Well, then, I can’t see it to be wrong.  Here are you and I. We want to have a game of billiards.  It is uninteresting to play even billiards for nothing; but we each have a little money, and choose to risk a small sum.  Our object is not gain, therefore we play for merely sixpenny points.  We both agree to risk that sum.  If I lose, all right.  If you lose, all right.  That’s fair, isn’t it?”

“No; it is undoubtedly equal, but not necessarily fair.  Fair means `free from blemish,’ `pure,’ in other words, right.  Two thieves may make a perfectly fair division of spoil; but the fairness of the division does not make their conduct fair or right.  Neither of them is entitled to divide their gains at all.  Their agreeing to do so does not make it fair.”

“Agreed, Tom, as regards thieves; but you and I are not thieves.  We propose to act with that which is our own.  We mutually agree to run the risk of loss, and to take our chance of gain.  We have a right to do as we choose with our own.  Is not that fair?”

“You pour out so many fallacies and half truths, Dick, that it is not easy to answer you right off.”

“Morally and politically you are wrong.  Politically a man is not entitled to do what he chooses with his own.  There are limitations.  For instance, a man owns a house.  Abstractly, he is entitled to burn it down if he chooses.  But if his house abuts upon mine, he may not set it on fire if he chooses, because in so doing he would set fire to my house also, which is very much beyond his right.  Then ­”

“Oh, man, I understand all that,” said Sharp quickly.  “Of course a man may put what he likes in his garden, but with such-like limitations as that he shall not set up a limekiln to choke his neighbours, or a piggery to breed disease; but gambling does nothing like that.”

“Does it not?” exclaimed Blunt.  “Does it not ruin hundreds of men, turning them into sots and paupers, whereby the ruined gamblers become unable to pay their fair share of taxation; and, in addition, lay on the shoulders of respectable people the unfair burden of supporting them, and perhaps their families?”

“But what if the gambler has no family?”

“There still remains his ruined self to be maintained.”

“But suppose he is not ruined ­that he manages, by gambling, to support himself?”

“In that case he still remains guilty of two mean and contemptible acts.  On the one hand he produces nothing whatever to increase the wealth or happiness of the world, and, on the other hand, whatever he gains is a matter of direct loss and sorrow to others without any tangible equivalent.  It is not so with the orator or the musician.  Though their products are not indeed tangible they are distinctly real and valuable.  During the hour of action the orator charms the ear, eye, and intellect.  So does the musician.  When the hour is past the heart is gladdened by the memory of what has been, and the hopes are aroused in anticipation of what may yet be in the future.  As regards the orator, the lessons inculcated may be a lasting gain and pleasure, and source of widespread benefit through life.  To a great extent this may also be said of the musician when words are wedded to music.  Who has not heard of souls being delivered from spiritual darkness and brought into spiritual light by means of song? ­a benefit which will last through eternity as well as time.  Even the man of wealth who lives on the interest of his possessions is not necessarily a drone in the human hive.  He may, by wise and careful use of his wealth, greatly increase the world’s riches.  By the mere management of it he may fill up his days with useful and happy employment, and by devoting it and himself to God he may so influence the world for good that men shall bless him while he lives and mourn him profoundly when he dies.  But what fraction of good is done by the gambler in all the wide world?”

“Much the same that is accomplished by the others,” put in Sharp at this point.  “The orator gives pleasure to those who are fond of recitation or declamation; the musician pleases those who are fond of sweet sounds, and the gambler gives pleasure to men who are fond of the excitement of play.  Besides, by paying his way he gives benefit to all whom he employs.  He rents a house, he buys furniture, he eats food, all of which brings profit to house-owners, cabinet-makers, butchers, bakers, etcetera, and is good done to the world by the gambler.”

“Nay, friend Richard, not by the gambler, but by the money which the gambler spends.”

“Isn’t that much the same thing?”

“By no means.  The money ­or its equivalent ­is created by some one else.  The gambler merely passes it on.  If he had never been born the same money would have been there for some one else to spend.  The labour of the gambler has not added one penny to it.  He brought nothing into the world, and has added nothing to the world’s pile, though he has managed to consume a good deal of its produce.  Is there not something very mean and contemptible in this state of being?  On the other hand the orator has spent laborious days and exerted much brain-power before he made himself capable of pleasing and benefiting his fellows.  The musician has gone through exhausting drudgery and practice before being fit to thrill or instruct by means of his sweet sounds, and the man of wealth has had to be educated up to the point of using his possessions to profitable account ­so that his fields shall grow heavier crops than they did when he began his work; his tenants shall be better housed than they were at first, and shall lead healthier and happier lives to the great moral and material advantage of the community.  Nearly all the other members of the hive produce, or help to produce, some sort of equivalent for the money they obtain.  Even those who produce what is bad have still something to show for their money, and that something, bad though it be in one form, may be decidedly good in another form, or if put to another use.  The gambler alone ­except, perhaps, the absolute idler ­enjoys the unenviable position of a thorough, out-and-out, unmitigated drone.  He does absolutely nothing, except produce unhealthy excitement in himself and his fellows!  He has nothing whatever to show for the money he has obtained except `risk,’ and that can hardly be styled a commodity.”

“I beg pardon,” interrupted Sharp, “the gambler produces skill; and there can be no doubt that hundreds of men derive as much pleasure from an exhibition of skill with the billiard-cue as others derive from an exhibition of skill with the flute or violin.”

“You forget, Dick, my boy, that skill with the billiard-cue is not gambling.  What I condemn as being morally and politically wrong is betting on games and staking anything upon the issue of them.  Gamblers are, if I may say so, a set of living pockets which circulate money about amongst themselves, one pocket gaining neither more nor less than what another pocket loses.”

“But you are now talking of professional gamblers, Tom.  Of course I don’t defend these.  What I do defend is my right to play, now and then, for sixpenny, or say shilling, or even half-crown points, without laying myself open to the charge of having been guilty of what you term a mean, dishonourable, unjust, contemptible act.”

“In other words, you wish to steal now and then without being called a thief!  But come, old man, I won’t call you bad names.  I know you don’t look at this matter as I do, and therefore I don’t think that you are either mean or contemptible.  Nevertheless, we must bear in mind that honourable, upright men may sometimes be reasoned into false beliefs, so that for a time they may fail to see the evil of that which they uphold.  I am not infallible.  If my reasoning is false, I stand open to correction.”

Laying the monkey down on the table at this point and looking earnestly at his friend, Tom Blunt continued ­

“Let me ask a question, Dick.  Is it for the sake of getting money that you gamble?”

“Certainly not,” returned his friend, with a slight touch of indignation.  “You know that I never play for high stakes, and with penny or sixpenny points you know it is impossible for me either to win or lose any sum that would be worth a moment’s consideration.  The game is all that I care for.”

“If so, why do you lose interest in the game when there are no stakes?”

“Oh ­well, it’s hard to say; but the value of the stake cannot be that which adds interest, for it is so trifling.”

“I’m not so sure of that, Dick.  You have heard gambling talked of as a disease.”

“Yes, but I don’t believe it is.”

“Do you believe that a miser is a morally diseased man?”

“Well, perhaps he is,” returned Sharp; “but a gambler is not necessarily a miser.”

“Yet the two have some symptoms of this moral disease in common.  The miser is sometimes rich, nevertheless the covetous spirit is so strong in him that he gloats over a sixpence, has profound interest in gaining it, and mourns over it if lost.  You, being well off with a rich and liberal father, yet declare that the interest of a game is much decreased if there are no stakes on it.”

“The cases are not parallel.”

“I did not say they were, but you must admit ­indeed you have admitted ­ that you have one symptom of this disease in common with the miser.”

“What disease?”

“The love of money.”

Richard Sharp burst into a laugh at this, a good-humoured laugh in which there was more of amusement than annoyance.

“Tom, Tom,” he said, “how your notions about gambling seem to blind you to the true character of your friends!  Did you ever see me gloating over gold, or hoarding sixpences, or going stealthily in the dead of night to secret places for the purpose of counting over my wealth?  Have I not rather, on the contrary, got credit among my friends for being somewhat of a spendthrift?  But go on, old fellow, what more have you to say against gambling ­for you have not yet convinced me?”

“Hold on a bit.  Let me pare off just a morsel of my monkey’s nose ­ there, that’s about as near perfection as is possible in a monkey.  What a pity that he has not life enough to see his beautiful face in a glass!  But perhaps it’s as well, for he would never see himself as others see him.  Men never do.  No doubt monkeys are the same.  Well now,” continued Blunt, again laying down the stick, and becoming serious, “try if you can see the matter in this light.  Two gamblers meet.  Not blacklegs, observe, but respectable men, who nevertheless bet much, and play high, and keep `books,’ etcetera.  One is rich, the other poor.  Each wishes ardently to gain money from his friend.  This is a somewhat low, unmanly wish, to begin with; but let it pass.  The poor one has a wife and family to keep, and debts to pay.  Many thousands of men, ay, and women, are in the same condition, and work hard to pay their debts.  Our poor gambler, however, does not like work.  He prefers to take his chance at gambling; it is easier, he thinks, and it is certainly, in a way, more exciting than work.  Our rich gambler has no need to work, but he also likes excitement, and he loves money.  Neither of these men would condescend for one moment to ask a gift of money from the other, yet each is so keen to obtain his friend’s money that they agree to stake it on a chance, or on the issue of a contest.  For one to take the money from the other, who does not wish to part with it, would be unfair and wrong, of course; but their agreement gets rid of the difficulty.  It has not altered the conditions, observe.  Neither of them wishes to give up his money, but an arrangement has been come to, in virtue of which one consents to be a defrauder, and the other to be defrauded.  Does the agreement make wrong right?”

“I think it does, because the gamblers have a right to make what agreement they please, as it is between themselves.”

“Hold there, Dick.  Suppose that the poor man loses.  Is it then between themselves?  Does not the rich gambler walk away with the money that was due to the poor one’s butcher, baker, brewer, etcetera?”

“But the rich one did not know that.  It is not his fault.”

“That does not free the poor gambler from the dishonourable act of risking money which was not his own; and do you really think that if the rich one did know it he would return the money?  I think not.  The history of gambling does not point to many, if any, such cases of self-sacrifice.  The truth is that selfishness in its meanest form is at the bottom of all gambling, though many gamblers may not quite see the fact.  I want your money.  I am too proud to ask it.  I dare not demand it.  I cannot cajole you out of it.  I will not rob you.  You are precisely in the same mind that I am.  Come, let us resort to a trick, let us make an arrangement whereby one of us at least shall gain his sneaking, nefarious, unjust end, and we will, anyhow, have the excitement of leaving to chance which of us is to be the lucky man.  Chance and luck!  Dick Sharp, there is no such condition as chance or luck.  It is as surely fixed in the mind of God which gambler is to gain and which to lose as it is that the morrow shall follow to-day.”

“My dear Blunt, I had no idea you were such a fatalist,” said Sharp in surprise.

“I am not a fatalist in the sense you mean,” returned his friend.  “Everything has been fixed from the beginning.”

“Is not that fatalism of the most pronounced nature, Tom?”

“You don’t seem to see that, among other fixtures, it was fixed that free-will should be given to man, and with it the right as well as the power to fix many things for himself, also the responsibility.  Without free-will we could have had no responsibility.  The mere fact that God of course knew what each man would will, did not alter the fixed arrangement that man has been left perfectly free to will as he pleases.  I do not say that man is free to do as he pleases.  Sometimes the doing is permitted; sometimes it is interfered with ­never the willing.  That is always and for ever free.  Gamblers use their free-wills, often to their own great damage and ruin; just as good men use their free-wills to their great advantage and happiness.  In both cases they make free use of the free-wills that have been bestowed on them.”

“Then I suppose that you consider gambling, even to the smallest extent, to be sin?”

“I do.”

“Under which of the ten commandments does it fall?”

“`Thou shalt not covet.’”