Andrea Vitali's Essays

Of the Passion of Gambling

Character and portrait of the gambler in France and Italy of the 19th century

 

Translation from the Italian by Michael S. Howard, December 2014

 

 

Jean Baptiste Félix Descuret (1795-1871), a French physician, owes his fame essentially to two writings: the first, called Les Merveilles du corps humain (Wonders of the Human Body), published in 1856, focuses on the relationship between medicine and religion, composed for use of treligion and philosophy students. The second, La Médecine des passions ou les passions considérées dans leurs rapports avec les maladies, les lois et la religion (Medicine of the passions, or, The Passions Considered in their Relations to Diseases, the Law and Religion), is much more important, as it appears as one of the earliest studies in the psychosocial field (1). First published in 1841, it contains results derived from Descuret’s observation of of thousands of patients in relation to their passions and vices, evaluated from a medical, religious and economic point of view.

 

Chapter XII, “Of The Passion of Gambling” (2), presents a thorough investigation of the world of gamblers in France of the 19th century, in which the author shows in statistical tables the proceeds of the administrations of gambling dens, the general statements of criminal justice related to suicides due to gambling, the correctional process, and more.

 

The Chapter is divided into the following sections:

 

Its definition, antiquity, universality, and progress in France

Causes

Character and portrait of the gambler

Progress of the passion of gambling; its effects and term

Treatment

 

This is followed by Observations consisting of four examples:

 

I - Sad result of the passion of gambling inculcated in a young man by his mother

II - Ruin of a merchant occasioned by his wife's passion for the lottery

III - Suicide of a gambler

IV - A reformed gambler

 

In the following we report parts of some of the sections listed above

 

Character and portrait of the gambler

 

"Look at that maniac seated motionless at a gambling table: you would say that his members want to adhere to it. ...The tetanus-like immobility and stiffness that is observed in most gamblers comes from the concentrated impatience that devours them. In fact the decisions of the game, as quick as they are, seem to them unbearably slow. The time that appears longest to them is certainly that which passes between the falling or rising of the card or dice.

...

Elsewhere, outside his circle, the professed gambler flees society; he prefers to live alone, with his reversals of fortune and bleak unrest; then he experiences the contemplations and terrors of the miser in the face of his treasure. According to the observation of a reformed practictioner, gamblers are affectionate and talkative with each other only. They communicate their joys, their faults, their troubles and their systems, fully successful or abandoned, but their conversation always has the game as its object. They have many friends in the gambling dens, of whom they know neither name nor address, their profession nor their past, nor their present situation. In the street, a gambler never greets a gambler. On the other hand, he rejects the designation of vicious for that of caculator or speculator; the gambler by profession does not admit that he lost (he would disdain this word); he suffered a contrariety [il a subi un écart]. The operation [marche] has consumed all of his capital; he says not that he lost it, but it jumped [a sauté] --a jump that often throws him into the abyss.

 

It would be as long as it would be difficult to depict all the nuances of this deplorable mania. Its moral physiognomy varies depending on the different species of gamblers; and on the other hand all the contrary feelings that agitate them, destroy them reciprocally, and present only confused and almost imperceptible traits. So there are daring gamblers, for whom loss spurs desire; there are the cowards who tremble even when they have a favorable quarter of an hour; the superstitious, who, wanting to be free of their perplexities, become accustomed to producing chimeras, such as dreams, premonitions, a day of bad luck, unlucky places, neighbors who bring bad luck, etc., etc.; there are also the systematic, who attach themselves to gambling only for speculation; there are the gallant gamblers who free themselves promptly and with great courtesy; the lavish gamblers, who sacrifice their greed to their pride; There are, it is said, benevolent gamblers, who consider their gain as a means of making gifts or largesse (if this last character exists, it must be very rare); finally we see individuals who have at the same time the passions of gambling, wine and women; that above all is a bottomless pit that swallows the largest fortunes. The meeting of these three vices does not take long to brutalize the mind, pervert the heart entirely, and to produce the most grave alterations in health. This last class is the debauched form of gamblers, who are not the least numerous: it proliferates in our big cities and populates prisons and penal colonies, because the disorders to which they abandon themselves lead almost always to crime.

 

Progress of the passion of gambling; its effects and end

 ...

“Anyone who cannot resist the first enticement of this harmful pastime kindles a fire he then may not be able to extinguish. Many in the beginning devote only brief moments to it, but soon they give it hours, then days, then entire nights, and insensibly they become passionate gamblers. Then the corruption of those with whom they flock is not slow to take possession of them; for the professional gamblers never come close if not to communicate their vices; and who dares to hazard their company is very near to resembling them: so Mme. Deshoulières has said, with as much truth as grace:

 

Le désir de gagner, qui nuit et jour occupe,

Est un dangereux aiguillon:

Souvent, quoique l’esprit, quoique le cœur soit bon,

On commence par étre dupe,

On finit par étre fripon.

 

The desire of gain, which occupies night and day,

Is a dangerous goad;

Often, although mind and heart are good,

One begins by being a dupe,

One ends by being a rogue.

 

"I would not advise anyone,” says La Bruyere, “to be a villain; but I say, it it will be licit only to the villain to give body and soul to gambling; the honest man must abstain; it is too great a childishness to expose oneself to large losses".

 

Infamy is not the only end of this lamentable passion: it very commonly ends with misery and melancholy, sometimes with madness, murder, and suicide.

 

We note the following inscription made for a gambling den (translator’s note: “antre” in French, “antro” in Italian, meaning both “den” and “cave”):

 

Ici deux portes a cet antre

L'une s'ouvre à l'espoir, l'autre au crime, à la mort;

C'est par la premiere qu'on entre

Et par la seconde qu'on sort

 

Two doors here in this cave:

One opens to hope, the other to crime and death;

It is by the first that one enters

And by the second that one leaves.

 

B. Levraud has remarked that gamblers were particularly subject to congestion of the abdominal viscera, also to aneurysmic diseases of the heart or of the aortal arch.

 

In this regard, we report, from the first volume of this work, the story of the death of a gambler owing to the rupture of an aneurysmic tumor of the aorta:

 

"Health, fortune, credit and honor were swallowed one after the other by gambling. For a long stretch he believed he was favored by fortune: but this was only an illusion; two nights were enough to ruin it all. For a year he vegetated in the capital, in the midst of that crowd of idlers, whose existence is a problem, when a very lucrative employment put the lid on poverty, and ministered the means to calm his feverish agitation and the violent palpitations he felt. Already his benumbed limbs began to revive their former force, already the freshness of color heralded a notable improvement in his constitution, when, carried away as a spectator at a gambling den, the sight of gold is enough to return to him all the fire of his passion. The next day he returns to the game, not as spectator but as player, and his luck having been propitious, he continues to play with more fury than ever. In less than a month after he returned to his old habits, one morning he is found dead in his bed as a result of a ruptured aneuryic tumor of the aorta. The emotions of the game had killed him" (3).

 

 We return to Progress of the passion of gambling; its effects and end.

 

“Doctor Véron has observed many whose health was perfect all the days of winning, and while every day of loss they suffered internal spasms accompanied by nausea, vomiting, headaches, a raging thirst and a general malaise.

 ...     

“...This cruel passion of gambling follows them into the prisons and sometimes leads to excesses that smack of dementia. We mention prisoners who, having lost in an instant the product of a week’s work, were not afraid to indulge their passion, betting in advance the bread that had to feed them for a month, two months, and even three months; and what is even more surprising, is to encounter men so bestial as to keep watch, during the distribution of food, on those who have already received their share; to gain their food, not leaving until they have snatched the morsel of bread from those that cannot do without it. I will add one last remark which shows to what point the delirium of love of gambling can blind a rational being. The doctors of the central house of Mont-St.-Michel observed a convict who gambled with such ardor that in the infirmary, sick as he was, he abandoned to the luck of the game his ration of broth or wine that was necessary for him to restore his exhausted forces. This unfortunate died of inanition [the exhausted condition caused that results from lack of food and water].

 

Tanzini tells of a case that is unbelievable, of which he was assured by a trustworthy person. A certain gentleman L ... who in many years lost by gambling a rich heritage, all isolated and penniless, to sate his passion, he made to run or rather walk in a kind of race some lice (what a state he was in!) and bet with himself that one would win rather than another. If he guessed right he was delighted; if not, he cursed like a maniac, and with a pin pierced the one remaining behind, showering it with insults."

 

Observations

 

I. Sad consequences of the passion of gambling inculcated in a young man by his mother.

 

Sentenced to eight years in irons for forgery, the unhappy D ... has been atoning for his guilt in penal servitude at Toulon. This young man had received a sufficienty careful education and was of good character, except that he had inherited from his mother a passion for gambling, pushed to the point of monomania. Here is the confession he made to Doctor Lauvergne, chief physician of the hospital of the convicts in that city:

 

"My mother,” he said, “separated from her husband who was serving in arms, did not leave the cards, and I remember that after long nights, whether she won or lost she kept me awake tempting me, disinterested then, with the fortunes of gambling. Yes, doctor, the cards were my nurse; though I can say that winning in the game we got by. When my mother lost, we ate a little dry bread, not without tears; but the joy and happiness were late in coming to cheer us up when the wind started to blow favorably. The cards are real Sirens, whatever good and whatever ill they gave me. Would you believe that the sight of a Page of Hearts, even when not in the context of gambling, produced in my brain more magic than the great paintings of Raphael in Rome could work in me? Would you believe that I very nearly died of apoplexy twenty times, when I was sure of making a good hit, and fortune in her finest did me a trick?

 

“The forgery that led me here came from a damned ace that pledged my word, and that of a loyal gambler is sacred. I sacrificed my honor to pay for the infidelity of a card that I believed was in the hand of my partner; my eyes had read badly into his. Oh! the passion of the game, as I have experienced it, it is an evil from hell: it takes hold of all a man's faculties and puts them all into the risky search for a card. Gambling, to me, is a fury that is sometimes lovable, but most often intractable and treacherous:  I pursued her then as an angry and passionate man. While  the game was going on, I held my right  hand straight to my heart, which was leaping with impatience, I barely contained it, and when fortune was against me, it was not uncommon for me to turn my despair against myself; as by a murderous instinct, I tore the skin of my heart with my nails. Look, here are the scars of a gambler." And saying these words, D ... showed, in the region of his heart, deep linear scars attesting to its former torture.

 

“For several years,” Lauvergne added, “D ... has had a horror of cards: viewing them has the same effect as water to a hydrophobic, or as opium to one who has been very nearly poisoned by this narcotic."

 

“III. Suicide of a gambler

 

“Every year the annals of crime record, on average, nine ruined gamblers who resorted to suicide to escape the shame. I reproduce here, therefore, only one instance out of many of this deplorable end.

 

In 1853, a young inhabitant of the provinces was about to contract a marriage of inclination that would assure his happiness. He went to Paris to buy wedding gifts and collect several considerable sums placed in public funds, intending to buy a property close to the chateau of his future father in law. After completing his business, the provincial was about to leave, when he met a friend whom he had not seen since leaving school, who invited him to dinner. He accepts joyfully; it is also a good thing when one is young and all smiles, to find a childhood friend with whom to be able to talk of the past! The friend, who is nothing more than a swindler, leads him into a remote area and introduces him into a house where are found a dozen guests, including several young women. It is an evening meal of beautiful appearance. The food is excellent, the conversation animated; the sparkling wine from Champagne flows in abundance, and already his brain is blurred, wanting to disarm him of his reason. After dinner they all move into the great hall; green cloths are spread out on the tables. The young provincial is invited to take the cards; he agrees without suspicion. Fortune favors him at first, according to the fraudulent tactics practiced in those engagements; then when the bait has produced its effect, when the fever of the game is now in its final paroxysm, his luck changed, the gambler's purse is empty. He opens his wallet, which for safety measure he carried on him; the bank notes come out in succession and pass in the end to the pockets of the cheaters. The unfortunate then leaves the fatal house with despair in his soul. What to do! Impossible to conceal this breach made in his fortune. Indeed, just the revelation of such a mistake would be enough to break off the wedding! Here forever is gone every happiness! With this sad and late thought, he returns home and blows his brains out.

 

We are assured that at the news of his tragic end, the betrothed girl became ill and did not heal but succumbed.

 

“IV. A reformed gambler.

 

"In about 1817, Alfonse B ..., who belonged to a family of honorable origin but little favored by fortune, came to Paris in the age of nineteen to pursue the study of law. Recognizing the sacrifices that his parents imposed upon themselves to create a position for him, he gave himself to work at first with intense ardor, and he was able to resist all the temptations with which he was assaulted. He spent a year in this way; Alfonse seemed to find happiness in this laudable condition, when he was invited to dine at the house of a man from his home town, who had remitted to him three months of his pension. After dinner, during which generous wine had not been spared, the young guest, free from suspicion, was led into a gambling den, where, fascinated by the sight of mounds of gold put on display on the tablecloths, expressed a kind of astonishment. The one who accompanies him whispers in his ear of the huge gains of several gamblers, speaks warmly of chances of fortune open to those who know how to risk something at the right time, says that he is in the mood, and ends up asking to borrow the hundred crowns he had remitted to him, promising to quadruple it and share the winnings with him. Puzzled, trembling with fear for his money, the young B ... does not dare refuse the request of the borrower, only begs him in a low voice not to risk the entire sum. But soon this sum is actually quadrupled, and the scholar Alfonse, thrilled with joy, by different fortunate bets that he attempts in turn, is transformed in a moment into a frantic gambler who must, so to speak, wrest power from the theater of his exploits.

    

The reflections, the losses that followed, even breaking with the villain who dragged him into the abyss, failed to vanquish in him this fatal passion; he is abandoned there for eight straight years. Finally, excess of poverty forced him to accept a job in a house of commerce, where they ignored the vice that had made his life an insult. Indeed, up to then, the unfortunate had never forgotten the principles of honor due to his upbringing. One day, when he is carrying bank notes belonging to his employer, he enters unwittingly into a gambling house, where again he is attracted to his fatal inclination. He is invited to play a hand; he refuses, considering that having lost everything the previous night, he does not have any money at his disposal. They insist, they press him; and here a violent temptation surges in his mind: with a few favorable bets, the losses can be repaired ... Taking his wallet convulsively between his fingers, he is about to open it, when an inner voice shouts from the depths of his heart: STOP! and he stops suddenly; a cold sweat bathes his forehead; about to faint, he throws at the table a look of terror, and staggers out from the fatal den, where his honor was exposed to such imminent danger. Once outside, he regains his strength and a feeling of unspeakable happiness; this first triumph obtained over a passion that demeans him in his own eyes proves to him that he will now be able to be defeat it entirely. From this moment the veil is torn; a new life unfolds before him; certainly he will atone for his past, remaining in a dark positions; but the title of honest man, irreproachable man, will reward him for everything. These promises that B ... made to himself, he has kept religiously; never from that day forward has he played a game of cards or dice; and what makes it all the more admirable still is, that, having married, he was forced, to support his family, to take a job in a gambling house, where he remained for many years without departing once from his courageous resolution. Let us add that B ... was at the same time cured of a disease of the heart occasioned by the excitement of the game. "

 

In conclusion, we report what the lawyer Augustus Lipparini wrote about the underlying causes of pauperism (4) in Italy in the mid-19th century. Among the many reasons, the author also identifies vices, including that of gambling, which drives people to look for easy money without having to work. His analysis, which also indulges in psychological introspection, although aimed at highlighting the problems of an economic nature, emphasizes very clearly the emotional pressure of all the gamblers constantly obsessed with cards.

 

"We shall examine briefly some of the principal vices to which men give themselves up; let us look at the violent and unbridled passions to which they give their labor with light-heartedness and pleasure, so as to secure a concept of maximum influence in the material and moral ruin of their existence. See, for example, the gambler at different stages of his indomitable passion. He feels driven by the mania of making money without working; the vertigo of gold amassed effortlessly fascinates him, chains him and overwhelms him in a chasm without bottom and without shore. With his heart corrupted, his mind clouded, he relies with rapture on the whims of fate. He knows very well that this abominable vice is his destruction; he knows that his family will be reduced to a miserable condition consuming everything of substance; it does not matter; forgeting the tenderest affections, removing every delicate sentiment, there he runs to a table, sits trembling, and resolutely abandons himself to the lust of the game. With red cheeks, with eyes on fire, with mind overwhelemed by a thousand conflicting emotions, he hunts, at the mercy of chance, for considerable sums; in trepidaton, breathing laboriously, he awaits the uncovering of a card, the roll of a die; it is to gain all or lose all: it depends on a combination from a chance accident, the good or bad outcome of the game!

 

“But fortune is adverse for him: by poorly divined bad luck he loses in one stroke an important hoard; he finds himself denuded of a substance that formed a large part of his estate back in an earlier time. Then the passion exalts him and rejects disdainfully all the good advice of reason, suffocates angrily that intimate sense that warns him of the evil he commits, crushing in his heart with mocking laughter any remorse of conscience. Apparently stoic, he gets overexcited and throws himself more and more into ruin and an uncontrollable frenzy, betting with increasing energy double the original sum in order avenge the losses made. Here is the decisive moment: the cards are shuffled, picked up, distributed, revealed; at that moment, more than ever, his heart, soul, senses, and his whole being are in the game that he follows closely and impatiently. An iniquitous fate seems to predominate over fortune; an adverse star haunts him: he has lost again. Crushed, humiliated and confused, he looks without seeing, listens without understanding, and a convulsive and nervous alteration paralyzes all his feelings and gives him a painful vertigo that he tries to conceal with apparent calm, under which he wants uselessly to hide the torture of his heart, the despair of his soul.

 

“Pale, his eyes livid, with incoherent thoughts, he returns at dawn to his home in the bosom of his own family, where he is offered the enchanting spectacle of gentle little children who sleep in the calm of soft feathers unaware of the misery that threatens them due to the unnatural vices of a father. In these awaken the affections of the heart, and at a glance measure the greatness of his guilt and the consequences resulting from it. How to repair it? There are only two courses to choose from: work hard, or again tempt fortune; but the first is no longer possible; the past emotions, the habits of a life of idleness, the route to every vice, has extinguished the taste, the tendency of working; there remains the second, however; fate having taken from him every possible honest resource, he is forced to resort to cunning; the game is no longer conducted by chance but by art; it is no longer a vice but a crime. With a vile and depraved heart, the gambler steals from the inexperienced, those who in good faith have the misfortune to fall into his hands, in their turn denuded. This is how this abominable vice makes into gamblers by profession even many distinguished persons, which, in addition to painful economic hardship, dehumanizes the heart to every kind affection, sweeping away in mud and shame their name and honor. After that it is easy to guess the result: gambling helps to foster vice and is harmful both to the individual and society, since it produces an unfruitful movement of huge and important capital."(5).

 

Directly related to this article is the essay Leonardo e le Carte (Il mondo dei giocatori di carte fra perseveranti e redenti - secc. XV-XIX) [“Leonardo and the Cards: The world of the card players, between the steadfast and the redeemed - sections XV-XIX”, currently in Italian only].

 

Notes

 

1 - G.B.F. Descuret, La Medecina delle Passioni ossia le Passioni Umane considerate in relazione colla Medicina, colle Leggi e con la Religione (Medecine for the Passions, or, Human Passions considered in relation to Medicine, the Law and Religion), New Translation by Francesco Piquè di Livorno, Second Volume, Milan, Francesco Pagnoni, Typographer-Publisher, 1873. Translation of La Médecine des passions ou les passions considérées dans leurs rapports avec les maladies, les lois et la religion, 3rd edition, vol. 2, 1860. The first edition was in 1841, the second in 1844, both in one volume each.

 

2 – The Chapter “Of the Passion of Gambling” occupies pages 224-251 of the Italian translation, pp. 240-263 of the original 1841 edition. In the 1860 edition, with many additions, it is vol. 2, pp. 298-331. In the original French, the sections are:

 

DE LA PASSIONE DU JEU

 

Sa définition, son ancienneté, son universalité, ses progrèss en France

Causes

Caractère et portrait du joueur

Marche de la passion de jeu; ses effets, sa termination

Sa traitemente

 

The Observations are in the 1860 edition only:

 

Observations:

I. Tristes suites de la passion du jeu inculquée à un jeune homme par sa mère

II. Ruine d’un marchand causé par la passion de sa femme pour la loterie

III, Suicide d’un joueur

IV. Un joueur corregé

 

Here is the French original for the passages quoted from this chapter:

 

Caractère et portrait du joueur

 

Voyez ce maniaque assis immobile à une table de jeu dans laquelle on dirait que ses membres vont s'incruster. L'immobilité et la roideur presque tétanique qu'on observe, chez la plupart des joueurs proviennent de l'impatience concentrée qui les dévore. C'est qu'en effet les décisions du jeu, quelque promptes qu'elles soient, leur paraissent d'une lenteur insupportable. Le temps qui leur semble le plus long est bien certainement celui qui s'écoule entre le tomber ou le relever d'une carte ou d'un dé.

...

Partout ailleurs qu’à son cercle, le joueur de profession fuit la société; il aime à vivre seul uvec ses rêves de fortune et ses mornes inquiétudes; il éprouve les contemplations et les transes de l’avare en face de son trésor. Selon la remarque d’un |practicien corrigé, les joueurs ne sont affectueux et causeurs qu’entre eux. «Ils se communiquent leurs joies, leurs fautes, leurs chagrins, leurs systèmes eu plein succès ou abandonnés, mais leur conversation ne quitte jamais le terrain du jeu. On a dans les tripots une foule d’amis dont on ne sait ni le nom, ni les demeure, ni la profession, ni le passé, ni Ia situation présente. Dans la rue, jamais un joueur ne salue un autre joueur.» Du reste, répudiant la dénomination d’homme vicieux pour celle de calculateur ou de spéculateur, le joueur de profession n’avoue qu’il a perdu (ce mot lui est antipathique); seulement il a subi un écart. La marche a-t-elle dévoré tous ses capitaux engagés, il ne dit pas qu’il a perdu, mais qu’il a sauté; saut terrible, qui le jette souvent dans un abîme!

 

Il serait aussi long que difficile de peindre toutes les nuances de cette déplorable manie. Sa physionomie morale varie selon les différentes espèces de joueurs; et, d'un autre côté, les sensations contraires qui les agitent, se détruisant réciproquement, ne présentent que des traits confus et presque insaisissables. Ainsi, il y a des joueurs audacieux pour qui la perte aiguillonne le désir; il y en a de pusillanimes, qui tremblent même lorsqu'ils sont en veine; de superstitieux, qui, voulant se délivrer de leurs perplexités, s'accoutument à réaliser des chimères, tels que les songes, les pressentiments, les jours malencontreux, les mauvaises places, les voisins de sinistre augure, etc. etc.; il y en a aussi de systématiques, qui ne s'attachent au jeu que par spéculation; il y a de beaux joueurs, qui s'exécutent prompteinent et de bonne grâce; des joueurs fastueux, qui sacrifient l'avidité à l'orgueil; il y a, dit-on, des joueurs bienfaisants, qui n'envisagent le gain que comme un moyen de faire des largesses (si ce dernier caractère existe, il doit être fort rare ); enfin, on voit des individus qui mènent de front la passion du jeu avec celle du vin et des femmes; c'est surtout alors un abîme sans fond, où viennent promptement s'engloutir les fortunes les plus considérables. La réunion de ces trois vices ne tarde pas non plus à abrutir l'esprit, à pervertir entièrement le cœur, et à produire dans la santé les altérations les plus graves. Cette dernière classe forme celle des joueurs débauchés, et n'est pas la moins nombreuse. (1441 edition, pp. 652-655, except 2nd paragraph; 1860 edition, vol. 2, pp. 310-313.)

 

“Marche de la passion de jeu; ses effets, sa termination.

...

     Quiconque ne sait pas résister aux premières amorces de ce dangereux passe-temps attise un feu que peut-être il ne pourra plus éteindre. Beaucoup d'individus n'y consacrent d'abord que de courts instants; mais bientôt ils y donnent des heures, puis des jours, puis des nuits entières, et deviennent insensiblement joueurs passionnés. Alors la corruption de ceux avec lesquels ils se rassemblent ne tarde pas à les gagner, car les joueurs de profession ne se rapprochent ordinairement que pour trafiquer de leurs vices, et l'homme qui se hasarde dans leur compagnie est bien près de leur ressembler; aussi madame Deshoulières a-t-elle dit, avec autant de vérité que de grâce:

 

Le désir de gagner, qui nuit et jour occupe,

Est un dangereux aiguillon:

Souvent, quoique l’esprit, quoique le cœur soit bon,

On commence par être dupe,

On finit par être fripon.

 

L'infamie n'est pas la seule terminaison de cette passion funeste; on la voit encore très-communément finir par la misère et la mélancolie, quelquefois par la folie, le meurtre et le suicide.

 

On connaît cette inscription faite pour une maison de jeu:

 

Ici deux portes à cet antre

L'une s'ouvre à l'espoir, l'autre au crime, à la mort;

C'est par la premiere qu'on entre

Et par la seconde qu'on sort.

 

   M. B. Levraud a remarqué que les joueurs étaient particulièrement sujets aux engorgements des viscères abdominaux, ainsi qu'aux affections anéurysmales du cœur ou de la crosse de l'aorte.

    Le docteur Véron en a observé plusieurs dont la santé était parfaite tous les jours de gain , tandis que tous les jours de perte ils souffraient du fer-chaud, accompagné de nausées, de vomissements, de douleurs de tête, d’une soif ardente et d’un malaise

général.” (1841 edition, pp. 655-657; 1860 edition, vol. 2, p. 314-315.)

 

      “...Cette cruelle passion du jeu les obsède jusque dans les prisons; et les entraîne quelquefois à des excès qui tiennent de la démence. On cite des prisonniers qui, après avoir perdu en un instant le produit d'une semaine de travail, n'ont pas craint, pour assouvir leur passion, de jouer parvance le pain qui devait les nourrir pendant un mois, deux mois, et même trois mois; et, ce qu'il y a plus surprenant, les quitter qu’après leur avoir arraché le morceau de pain dont ils ne pouvaient se passer sans souffrir. J'ajouterai un dernier trait qui montrera jusqu'à quel point le délire de l'amour du jeu peut aveugler un être raisonnable. Les médecins de la maison centrale du mont SaintMichel ont observé un condamné qui jouait avec une telle ardeur, qu'à l'infirmerie, tout malade qu'il était, il livrait aux chances du jeu la ration de bouillon ou de vin qui lui eût été si nécessaire pour rétablir ses forces épuisées. Ce malheureux est mort d'inanition. (Des Classes dangereuses de la population.)” (1441 edition, p. 660, in part only; 1860 edition, vol. 2, pp. 317-318)

 

“OBSERVATIONS

 

1. Tristes suites de la passion du jeu inculquée à un jeune homme par sa mère.

Condamné à huit ans de fers pour faux en écriture, le malheureux D... a été expier sa faute au bagne de Toulon. Ce jeune homme avait reçu une éducation assez soignée, et ses penchants étaient bons, sauf un seul qu’il tenait de sa mère, la passion du jeu poussée jusqu’à la monomanie. Voici les aveux qu’il fit au docteur Lauvergne, médecin en chef de l’hôpital des forçats de cette ville:

 

   «Ma mère, disait-il, éloignée de son mari qui servait aux armées, ne quittait pas les cartes, et il me souvient qu’après les longues soirées où elle avait soit gagné, soit perdu, elle me tenait éveillé pour encore avec moi les chances alors désintéressées du jeu. Oui, docteur, les cartes ont été mes nourrices; car je puis dire que le gain du jeu nous faisait vivre. Quand ma mère perdait, nous mangions un triste pain sec; mais la joie et le bonheur ne tardaient revenir lorsqu’une bonne veine ramenait l’eau au moulin. Les cartes sont de vraies sirènes; elles fait tant de bien et tant de mal! Croiriez-vous que la vue d’un valet de cœur, même en dehors de chance, produisait dans mon cerveau un effet plus magique que celui opéré en moi par les grands tableaux de Raphaël à Rome? Croiriez-vous que failli vingt fois mourir d’apoplexie, parce que, sûr d’un bon coup, je l’ai manqué au moment où comptais le plus?

    «Le faux en écriture qui ma conduit ici vient d’un maudit as qui a engagé ma parole, et celle d’un franc joueur est sacrée. J’ai forfait à l’honneur pour payer l’infidélité d’une carte que je pouvais croire dans les mains de mon partenaire; mes yeux avaient mal lu dans les siens. Oh! la passion du jeu, telle que je l’ai éprouvée, est on mal de l’enfer: elle s’empare de toutes les facultés d’un homme et les met à la poursuite hasardeuse d’une carte. Le jeu, pour moi, a été une furie parfois aimante, mais le plus souvent intraitable et perfide: je le poursuivais alors en homme irrité et passionné. Pendant que la partie allait, je tenais la main droite sur mon coeur qui bondissait d’impatience; j’avais peine à le comprimer, et lorsque la chance m’était contraire, il n’était pas rare que mon désespoir se tournât contre moi-même: comme par un instinct meurtrier, je me déchirais la peau du coeur avec les ongles. Tenez, voilà les cicatrices d’un joueur! » Et en disant ces mots, D... montrait sur la région du coeur les profondes cicatrices linéaires qui attestaient ses anciennes tortures.

     Depuis quelques années, ajoute M. Lauvergne, D... a horreur des cartes: leur vue agit sur lui comme l’eau sur un hydrophobe, ou comme l’odeur de l’opium sur celui qui a failli s'empoisonner avec ce narcotique.” (1860 edition, vol. 2, pp. 323-324)

 

“III. Suicide d’un joueur

 

     Chaque année les annales de la criminalité enregistrent, en moyenne, neuf joueurs ruinés qui ont reours au suicide pour se soustraire au déshonneur. Nous ne reproduirons donc ici qu’un seul exemple de cette déplorable terminaison.

     En 1855, un jeune homme habitant la province était sur le point de contracter un mariage d’inclination qui assurait son bonheur. 11 vient à Paris pour acheter les cadeaux de noces et pour réaliser plusieurs sommes considérables placées dans les fonds publics, et. destinées à l'achat d’une propriété voisine du château de son beau-père futur. Ses affaires terminées, le provincial se disposait à repartir, lorsqu’il rencontre un ami qu’il n’a pas vu depuis la sortie du collège, et qui l’invite à dîner. I! accepte avec empressement: c’est chose si bonne, quand on est jeune et que tout sourit, de retrouver un camarade d’enfance avec lequel on peut causer du passé! L’ami, qui n’est autre qu’un chevalier d’industrie, le mène dans un quartier retiré, et l’introduit dans une maison où se trouvent une vingtaine de convives, parmi lesquels plusieurs jeunes femmes. C’est une table d’hôte de bonne apparence. Le repas est excellent, la conversation animée; le vin de Champagne coule à flots, et porte le trouhle dans les têtes, que l’on veut désarmer de leur raison. Après le dîner on passe au salon, où les tapis verts sont diposés. Le jeune provincial est invité à prendre les cartes; il cède sans défiance. Le hasard le favorise d’abord, selon la tactique pratiquée dans ces engagements frauduleux; puis, quand l’amorce a produit son effet, quand la fièvre du jeu est arrivée à son dernier paroxysme, la chance tourne, la bourse duu’jouer se vide. Il ouvre alors son portefeuille, que, par mesure de sûreté, il portait sur lui; les billets en sortent successivement, et passent jusqu’au dernier dans la poche des grecs. Le malheureux quitte alors cette fatale maison le désespoir dans l’âme. Que devenir! Impossible de dissimuler cette brèche faite à sa fortune. La seule révélation d’une telle faute ne suffirait-elle pas d’ailleurs pour rompre son mariage! Ainsi tout bonheur est à jamais perdu! A cette triste et tardive pensée, il rentre chez lui et se brûle la cervelle.                                  

      On assure qu’à la nouvelle de sa fin tragique, la jeune fiancée tomba malade et ne tarda pas à succomber.” (1860 ed. vol. 2, pp. 327-328)

 

“IV. Un joueur corrigé

 

Vèrs 1817, Alphonse B..., appartenant à une famille très-honorable de province, mais qui se trouvait peu favorisée de la fortune, vint à Paris à l’âge de dix-neuf ans pour s’y livrera l’étude du droit. Reconnaissant des sacrifices que ses parents s’imposaient pour lui créer une position, il se livra d’abord au travail avec une grande ardeur, et sut résister à toutes les séductions dont il était environné. Une année se passa ainsi; Alphonse semblait trouver le bonheur dans cette conduite louable, lorsqu'il fut invité à dîner chez un homme de sa ville natale, qui avait â lui remettre un trimestre de sa pension. L’accueil du compatriote fut des plus empressés. Après le repas, pendant lequel un vin généreux n’avait pas été épargné, le jeune convive, sans défiance, est conduit dans un tripot, où ses regards, fascinés par la vue des nionceaux d’or étalés sur les tapis, expriment une sorte d’ébahissement. Son conducteur lui fait remarquer les gains énormes de divers joueurs, lui parle avec feu des chances de fortune ouvertes à ceux qui savent risquer quelque chose à propos, se dit lui-même en veine, et finit par lui emprunter les cent écus qu’il lui remis, promettant de les quadrupler et de l’associer à ses gains. Interdit, frémissant de crainte pour son argent, le jeune B... n’ose refuser la demande de l’emprunteur; seulement, il le conjure à voix basse de ne pas exposer la somme entière. Mais bientôt cette somme se quadruple réellement, et le studieux Alphonse, électrisé par la joie, par divers coups heureux qu’il tente à son tour, se transforme soudainement en un joueur forcené qu’il faut, pour ainsi dire, arracher de force du théâtre de ses exploits.

 

Les réflexions, les pertes qu’il fit ensuite, sa rupture même avec le misérable qui l’avait entrainé dans l’abîme, ne purent vaincre chez lui cette passions funeste: il s’y abandonna pendant huit années consécutives. Enfin, l’excès de la misère le força d’accepter un emploi dans une maison de commerce, ignorait le vice qui entachait sa vie. Jusque-là, d’ailleurs, l’infortuné n’avait jamais oublié les principes d’honneur dus à son éducation.

 

Un jour qu’il était porteur de billets de banque appartenant à son patron, il entre sans intention la maison de jeu où l’attirait toujours son fatal penchant. On l’invite à faire une partie; il refuse, attendu qu’ayant tout perdu la veille, il n’a pas un écu puisse disposer. On insiste, on le presse; alors une violente tentation s’élève dans son esprit: en quelques coups toutes ses pertes peuvent être réparées... Prenant convulsivement entre ses doigts le portefeuille où sont les billets, il va pour l’ouvrir, lorsqu’une voix secrète lui crie au fond du cœur: ARRETE! et il s’arrête aussitôt; une sueur froide baigne son front; près de défaillir, il jette sur le tapis un regard pleine d’effroi, et sort en chancelant de l’antre funeste où son honneur vient de courir un si imminent danger. Â peine dehors, il retrouve ses forces et avec indicible sentiment de bonheur; car ce premier triomphe remporté sur une passion qui l’avilit à ses propres yeux, lui prouve qu’il pourra désormais la vaincre entièrement. Dès cet instant le voile est déchiré; une vie nouvelle s’ouvre devant lui; sans doute il expiera son passé en demeurant dans une position obscure; mais le titre d’honnête homme, d’homme irréprochable le dédommagera de tout.

     Ces promesses, que B... se fit à lui-même, il les a tenues religieusement: jamais depuis il n’a fait une partie de cartes ou de dés; et, ce qui le rend plus admirable encore, c’est; que, s’étant marié, il fut constraint, pour nourrir sa famille, d’accepter un emploi dans une maison de jeu où il resta un grand nombre d’années sans se relâcher une seule fois de sa courageuse résolution.

       Ajoutons que B... fut en même temps guéri d’une maladie de coeur qu’avaient déterminée chez lui les émotions du jeu.” (1860 edition, vol. 2, pp. 329-331)

 

3 - G.B.F. Descuret (trans. Pagnoni), op. cit., First Volume, 1872, pp. 213-214; 1860 French edition, vol. 1, pp. 263-264: “Santé, fortune, crédit, honneur, cet autre a tout englouti au jeu. Longtemps il se crut favorisé par le sort: ce n’était qu’un leurre: deux nuits ont suffi pour le ruiner complètement. Depuis un an il végétait dans la capitale, au milieu de cette tourbe de désoeuvrés dont l’existence est un problème, lorsqu’un emploi assez lucratif vint le mettre à l’abri du besoin et lui fournir le moyen de calmer l’agitation fiévreuse ainsi que les violentes palpitations qu’il éprouvait. Déjà ses membres affaiblis commençaient à reprendre leur ancienne vigueur, déjà la fraîcheur de son teint annonçait une amelioration notable dans sa constitution, lorsque, entraîné comme spectateur dans un tripot clandestin, la vue de l’or suffit pour rallumer en lui tout le feu de sa passion. Le lendemain il retourne au jeu, non plus comme spectateur, mais comme acteur, et, la chance lui ayant été favorable, il continue de jouer avec plus de fureur que jamais. Il y avait à peine un mois qu’il était revenu à ses anciennes habitudes, lorsque, un matin, on le trouve mort dans son lit, par suite de la rupture d’une tumeur anévrismale de l’aorte: les émotions du jeu l’avaient tué”.

 

4 - Pauperism: the economic and social phenomenon that at certain times large sections of the population are affected by poverty as a result of a combination of various factors (such as scarcity of natural resources and capital, poor spirit of initiative, poor distribution of wealth etc.) or of exceptional circumstances (war, famine, economic crisis, acute inflation, etc.), which can give rise to situations of serious economic depression and unemployment, or worsen existing imbalances (See  Pauperismo, Enciclopedia Treccani.it).

 

5 - Augusto Lipparini, Del Pauperismo in Italia. Principali cause e rimedi (On Pauperism in Italy, Principal causes and remedies), Bologna, Stab. Tip. Di Giacomo Monti, 1873, pp. 45-49.