As a card game, bridge is unique for its long history, aristocratic British roots, and because from its earliest history (then it was whist) had elite card clubs that set rules for playing and competing.
Human nature being what it is, bridge (and its ancestor whist) has also always had players who took up the card game because it was socially fashionable to do so. The next several blogs under Sociable Bridge will chronicle that “back” story of bridge, as the game evolved from whist to bridge-whist to auction bridge to contract bridge, the game created in 1925 and still played today.
Whist is the direct ancestor of today’s contract bridge. Whist was introduced to London’s fashionable society in 1740 by Lord Folkestone and his gentlemen friends at the Crown Coffee House. Just two years later Edmund Hoyle wrote his A Short Treatise on Whist. Yes, the same man who inspired the phrase “according to Hoyle” to identify absolute authority. Hoyle’s book is still in print today.
Whist as a social skill seemed to flourish from the beginning. There’s a quote from the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1785 complaining that Christmas was “not being kept” properly. The Day even at Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop, ends with playing whist.
Daniel Pool, in his book What Jane Austen Knew and Charles Dickens Ate about the “facts of daily life” in the 1800s, notes “One cannot seem to make it through any Jane Austen book without a brush with whist.” Trollope and Dickens plots talk of whist.
Whist just naturally crossed the ocean to colonial America. A passion for whist in Boston is recorded as early as 1780. The American Whist League back then had 9000 members. There’s historical evidence of George Washington ordering whist tables and playing cards from England and also of having small gambling losses playing the game. First Ladies of Founding Fathers Dolly Madison, Elizabeth Monroe and Louisa Adams played whist.
[Think what it would do for the game if Obama and Michelle played bridge at the White House as Eisenhower and Mamie did in the 50s? I understand the president’s grandma who raised him was a bridge-player. Now there’s a possible PR angle to explore!]
Duplicate whist was played in both England and America by the 1850s. In 1880 or thereabouts, whist evolved into what was considered a more challenging card game–bridge-whist. By 1897 expert players had moved to the new game. The sociable whist players went right on playing their whist game, it seems, but then got word from Britain it was time to move on to the more fashionable bridge-whist. The King and Queen were playing bridge-whist.
This chronicle of sociable bridge continues in 5-2.