THE EVILS OF GAMING.
A LETTER TO A FRIEND IN THE ARMY.
BY REV. J. B. JETER, D.D., RICHMOND, VA.
MY DEAR FRIEND: Learning that GAMING is prevalent in the Army, I have concluded to address you a letter on its EVILS. I hardly need to assure you that I am actuated in this determination by the most sincere desire to guard you against a fascinating amusement which may issue in your ruin. I fully persuade myself that you will listen to the counsel of one who loves you, who feels a deep solicitude for your welfare, and whose age and experience qualify him to offer you wholesome instruction and warning.
That gaming is a sinful practice, you will readily admit. It is, like many other sins, not expressly but virtually prohibited in the scriptures. It is utterly at variance with their spirit and tenor. It springs from the inordinate love of money, "the root of all evil." This insatiable desire plunges the gamester "into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts," by which he is in dander of being drowned "in destruction and perdition." He violates the law of love: "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Were this divine rule universally understood, loved and obeyed, it would banish gaming, and its attendant evils, from the world. The life of the gambler exemplifies the remark of Solomon, "He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent." Not content with the slow and steady gains of industry and economy, the gamester seeks to grasp the golden prize, reckless of the means of attaining
it. He cannot pray, without mocking his Maker, "Lead me not into temptation." The petition implies a desire to escape, and an obligation to resist temptation; but the gamester courts, knowingly and fearlessly, the most dangerous temptations. Good men, in all countries, and in all ages, and almost without an exception, agree in the condemnation of gaming. Most civilized nations have enacted stringent laws to suppress the vice as a nuisance and curse to society. Even gamblers themselves admit that the practice is wrong. An estimable man?
a reformed sportsman?
once said to me, "I would rather a gambler should warn my son against gaming than you should: he knows the evils of it from experience, and you do not."
Gaming is a most seductive vice. The path that leads to this dangerous precipice is strewed with flowers. "There is no harm," says the tempter, "in gaming for amusement." Perhaps, there is none. A game of chance or skill for relaxation or diversion seems to be innocent. It violates no express law of God or man. But the sport creates an agreeable excitement; and the fondness for this excitement grows by indulgence. At first the game is resorted to merely to fill up an idle hour, or to relax the mind from grave and wearisome pursuits; but soon it encroaches on the business of life, and the seasons of devotion. The pleasurable emotion is increased by small stakes; and there is no more evil, it is plausibly maintained, in betting than in playing for amusement. To keep up or to augment the excitement, the stakes are gradually and indefinitely increased. The amount staked becomes an object of desire, and the utmost skill and exertion are put forth to win it. Success allures to continued and bolder, and failure to deeper and more reckless gaming; and thus by winning and by losing the excitement is kept up, and the hopeful or the despairing adventurer presses forward in his career. The gamester has now reached a crisis at which secrecy becomes necessary to screen him from suspicion and reproach; and he will find haunts suited to his purpose?rooms splendidly furnished, barred and guarded, accessible only to the initiated, or to the candidates for initiation, where he is invited to partake of the richest fare, "without money and without price." In these gambling " hells," as they are
appropriately called, he will meet, not merely with the low and the mean, but with the rich, the refined, the gay and the great. Cheered by the presence and the example of persons so numerous and respectable, he pursues his course, and soon becomes confirmed in the habit of gaming. Now arguments, warnings and entreaties are addressed to him in vain?the loss of property and character cannot deter him, nor can the miseries, tears and pleadings of his wife and children win him, from the path of ruin on which he has entered.
Gaming is a most pernicious vice. I cannot better illustrate its evils than by giving a simple statement of the career and doom of a gambler whom I knew well, but who shall be nameless in this letter. He was of respectable parentage and connexions, and of a most amiable and generous nature. He grew up a promising, noble young man, the admiration of his friends, and the pride of his family. He, early in life, evinced an aversion to steady employment, and became the victim of artful, selfish and unscrupulous gamesters. His patrimony was soon spent, and he found it necessary to resort to gaming, and its usual arts of deception and swindling, to supply his wants. He quickly became a confirmed gamester. Removing to a large city, he entered regularly into the gambling business. His associates were gamblers, and sharpers, and their dupes, of various degrees of guilt. From virtuous and respectable society, such as he had known in his youth, he was, of course, excluded. From the Christian sanctuary, and all its sacred privileges, he habitually excluded himself. His noble nature, aided by the upright principles instilled into his mind by his pious mother, long resisted the corrupting influences of his business and his associations. He retained a warm attachment to his kindred, who were happily ignorant of his degradation, and from his ill-gotten gains made generous contributions for their support. He was accounted honorable among gamblers, for they have a code of honor among themselves. A gamester who does not swindle according to established rules is deemed a disgrace to their fraternity, and is liable to be expelled from it. But the subject of this sketch was conscientious, so far as conscientiousness can be affirmed of one whose business is pursued in violation of the laws of man and of God. Repeatedly he made efforts to
abandon his occupation, tear himself away from his associates, and regain his position in reputable society. But poor man! what could he do? Without employment, without the means of support, without kind and faithful friends, and without encouragement to reform, after a few fitful struggles, he would relapse into his inveterate habit. He had entered into a society in which the Bible was not respected, the Sabbath was not known, and piety was ridiculed; and nothing much short of a miracle could have extricated him from the bad and potent influences that were hurrying him to destruction. Over the door of the gambler's retreat might be appropriately inscribed, in letters of lurid flame, "This is the way to hell; going down to the chambers of death." But few of the multitudes who enter these haunts of dissipation, crime and infamy, ever make their escape to the circle of virtuous society, or become heirs of heaven; and the man of our story was not one of the flavored few. After every failure at reformation, he sunk to lower depths of vice and degradation. Gambling is rarely, or never, a solitary vice. Profanity, drunkenness, debauchery, swindling, and such like evils, spring up spontaneously in the gambler's hell, and reach an early and fearful maturity. The unfortunate gamester was not exempt from the vices so common to his profession. He was, I know, addicted to drunkenness, and it is probable that he was the victim of all its kindred sins. The way of transgressors is always hard, and usually short. The poor gambler was doomed not to live out half his days. His drunkenness was followed by delirium tremens; and in a fit of this horrible disorder, he leaped from the third story of his wretched abode upon the paved street, and was found at early dawn by the watchmen of the city, a mangled, unconscious and dying man. I attended his funeral. It was a solemn and instructive scene. But few of his accomplices in crime, and his companions in degradation, were present. They avoided a sight which must have painfully reminded them of their guilt, infamy and approaching doom. As I attended his body to the grave, two of his associates testified that their lives had been preserved in a time of fatal epidemic, and general panic, by his kind, assiduous and skilful nursing. The gambler, drunkard and suicide was laid in a solitary, unblessed and dishonored grave. I often notice it in passing with a sad heart. No stone marks the spot where rest his mortal remains?no flowers blossom on his tomb?but the place is barren and desolate?a fit emblem of his life and doom.
In the story of this unfortunate man, you have, my dear friend, the history, omitting circumstantial variations, of every professional gambler. This numerous class are all on the high road to ruin. They have lost their virtue, their character, and their happiness. They are wasting their time, prostituting their talents, corrupting the youth of the country, deceiving and swindling the unfortunate victims of their arts, setting thorns in their death pillows, and preparing their souls for eternal destruction. It is questionable whether they are not the most hardened, the most reckless, and the most godless class of persons on the earth. "The finished gambler," said Dr. Nott, "has no heart?he would play at his brother's funeral?he would gamble upon his mother's coffin." Truly as I love you, my friend, and earnestly as I desire your earthly welfare, I would rather see you an inmate of the poor house than an occupant of the most splendid gambler's hell, and in the most successful course of accumulating wealth by the base and infamous arts of gaming.
Thus far I have portrayed the evils of gaming on professional gamesters?let us now notice the effects of the vice on the dupes and victims of these sharks in human form. It is surprising that any man, of sane mind, not initiated into the swindling arts of the profession, should venture to play with a practiced gamester. There is no equality in the contest. It is simplicity contending with cunning?inexperience contending with skill. The uninitiated can never win, except as they are permitted to do so, or the purpose of encouraging them to bet more largely. Success does not depend on chance, or even so much on skill as on the arts of deception and swindling. Some years ago, I was present in a select company before which a reformed gambler exhibited the various contrivances and arts by which the ignorant and unsuspecting are cheated of their money. To the unpracticed these means seemed little less than miraculous. Cards are usually manufactured by gamblers, and by marks that escape the notice of the novice, they are known as readily by their backs as by
their faces. In shuffling, cutting and dealing a pack of cards, the skillful player can, without the danger of detection, secure for himself any card, or just such a hand as he chooses. Nor is it so surprising that astute gamblers, stimulated by the intense desire of gain, and devoting their time and powers to the art of playing and deceiving, should attain to great skill in their business. They learn of one another, and quicken one another's ingenuity; and they are restrained in their tricks by no regard to law, justice or humanity. They belong to a realm from which conscience is banished. Gamblers generally travel and operate in company, that they may the more successfully seduce and fleece the unwary. These sharpers play with each other so as to attract attention. One seems to be in luck, and winning rapidly. He allures into partnership with him some simpleton, who hopes soon to reap a golden harvest. But the tide of luck quickly changes; and the miserable dupe is stripped of all his treasures, and left to bear his loss and his shame as best he can. The execrable swindlers when alone divide their ill-gotten gains, and continue their heartless robberies. By these, and similar arts, multitudes are every year deprived of their honest gains, or their patrimonial estates. It is by such victims that gamblers live, grow rich, and dwell in splendor. I knew a plain, industrious, honest and worthy man, who, from a thirst for gaming, went every Saturday evening to squander at the gaming table, among professional harpies, his hard earnings, until he had lost twenty thousand dollars. He knew that he would lose in every visit to the gaming table, and yet such was his infatuation, that no argument, no entreaty, and no motive could induce him to forego the pleasure of the sport. But in the face of all these facts and considerations, gamblers, the lowest and the meanest of men, still find victims of their arts, and derive their profits, not merely from the thoughtless and the dissipated, but from the intelligent, the wealthy and the respectable. Year after year, thousands are reduced, by the nefarious arts of gaming, to poverty and ruin. Their families, in many instances, stripped of the means of comfort and support, are disheartened, grieved and humbled.
If then, my friend, you would preserve your virtue, your character, and your happiness?if you would not prostitute
your powers, prove a curse to the world, and a grief to your fond parents?if you would not plant thorns in your dying pillow, bar the gate of heaven against yourself, and force your passage to destruction, shun the gambler, and the gambler's hell, as you would the plague. Gamesters are not fit to be your associates. They are debased in their sentiments, corrupt in their principles, vicious in their practices, and baleful in their influence. They may, indeed, be polished in their manners, and warm in their professions of friendship; but they seek your money and your ruin. You cannot touch them without contamination. To be acquainted with them is to be dishonored. You cannot enter their haunts without peril to all your best interests. If there were no sin and no reproach in gambling, it would be the greatest stupidity to risk your money on games with the most skillful, the most unscrupulous, and the most dishonest of sharpers. You had better throw your money into the fire; for in gaming you are simply giving it to the most selfish and the meanest of human kind?to harpies, who are seeking to cheat you not only out of your money, but out of your virtue and of your soul. The honest man who stakes his property at the table of a professional gamester is simply a fool. He shuts his eyes that he may suffer himself to be cheated. He richly deserves to be fleeced, and put to confusion and shame; and happy will it be for him, if he learns from his first lesson his folly and his danger.
Beware of gaming even for amusement. It is not necessary for purposes of relaxation and diversion. Fortunately, there is no lack of recreations, innocent in their nature, and refining in their tendency. Conversation, reading, walking, riding, athletic sports, and numerous simple diversions, may be resorted to in the intervals of toil or study, to refresh and invigorate the body, or to unbend the mind. But gaming is an amusement fraught with peril. It nourishes a habit that may prove the wreck of property, the bane of virtue, the blight of happiness, the ruin of the soul, and the curse of eternity. Abstain then from an indulgence that yields little pleasure and no profit, and is pregnant with such fearful peril. He that enters this flowery, downhill, slippery road, knows not where he will stop. Thousands who begin by playing for pleasure end by playing for gain. Thousands who play honestly in the beginning, in the end, resort to all the tricks and frauds of the profession.
I need not repeat, my young friend, how sincerely I desire your welfare. You are the comfort, the pride and the hope of your parents. They anxiously, as I know, trained you in the ways of virtue and piety; and their earnest prayers have accompanied you to the camp. You are nobly engaged in your country's service. I have confidence that, guided by the principles taught you in your youth, sustained by the prayers of your friends, shielded by the knowledge you have of the dangers that encompass you, and humbly trusting in God, and animated by the prospect of a bright reward, you will pass uncorrupted through the temptations of a soldier's life, and return to your home, to be the support and solace of your parents, the delight of your friends, and an ornament of society.
Your very sincere
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