Monday, June 11, 2012

Evening Amusements

by V.R. Christensen

My friends and family are aware of my strange (to them) fascination with old books, and so, at times, I'm blessed with random gifts of literary kindness.

Recently, I was given a very old and fascinating copy of a book called Evening Amusements, which describes, and gives detailed instructions for parlour games and tricks and various other suggestions for activities that might while away the evening hours in a time before t.v., internet and cinema. I believe the book was printed in the 1880's. Some sources say 1870's, but certainly by 1880 it was in publication.

With the winter time of the year, a book like this should prove a welcomed guest; as it is essentially intended as a book to amuse, to pass quickly away the long nights, to add to the festivity of Evening Parties, and to be a pleasurable companion on all Social Gatherings; for it is to be hoped we are none of us so old or so crusty but that we can still appreciate

"Jest and youthful jollity,
Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
And Laughter, holding both his sides."

 With this book as one's guide, we are promised that we will never find ourselves, 'for an evening's entertainment, like the poor old lady in this picture' . . .
The Game of Frog in the Middle
A player selected by lot sits on the carpet, while the others form a circle round him, taking him unawares every time he turns his back, pulling him, pinching him, buffeting him, and pulling his hair. When he succeeds in catching one of them the captive must change places with him. As the players dance and caper round the Frog they cry "Frog in the middle—catch him who can."

The Game of the Huntsman
This game is one of the liveliest winter evening's pastimes that can be imagined. It may be played by any number of persons above four. One of the players is styled the "Huntsman," and the others must be called after the different parts of the dress or accoutrements of a sportsman: thus, one is a coat, another a hat, whilst the shot, shot-belt, powder, powder-flask, dog, and gun, and every other appurtenance belonging to a huntsman, has its representative. As many chairs as there are players, excluding the huntsman, should next be ranged in two rows, back to back, and all the players must then seat themselves; and being thus prepared, the huntsman walks round the sitters, and calls out the assumed name of one of them; for instance, "Gun!" when that player immediately gets up, and takes hold of the coat-skirts of the huntsman, who continues his walk, and calls out the others one by one. Each must take hold of the skirts of the player before him, and when they are all summoned, the huntsman sets off running round the chairs as fast as he can, the other players holding on and running after him. When he has run round two or three times, he shouts out "Bang!"and immediately sits down on one of the chairs, leaving his followers to scramble to the other seats as they best can. Of course one must be left standing, there being one chair less than the number of players, and the player so left must pay a forfeit. The huntsman is not changed throughout the game unless he gets tired of his post.

The Game of Evasion
This amusement is of an intellectual character, and consists in a number of questions being addressed to the company, alternately, by the director of the game, or by themselves to each other; to every one of which questions, evasive or indirect answers must always be given, and never a direct affirmative or negative, under a penalty of a forfeit; for instance:—
DIRECTOR. I proclaim, that no question from this time be answered either in the affirmative or negative.
EDWARD. Does your injunction extend to every question that may be proposed from this moment?
DIRECTOR. Yes, to every question.
EDWARD. Then please to pay a forfeit for your "yes".
DIRECTOR. Oh! you cunning rogue! you took advantage of me; but you shall not escape, if I can help it: perhaps you have played the game before?
EDWARD. Perhaps I have.
DIRECTOR. Which do you prefer, Maria, music or drawing?
MARIA. Indeed, I hardly know to which to give the preference.
DIRECTOR. Experience, I perceive, has made you wary; you do not, however, expect to escape, I suppose?
MARIA. I only hope to do so.
DIRECTOR. Have you been to the theatre, Sophia, lately?
MARIA. You seem to have forgotten that I last week informed you of my having seen the Comedy of Errors.
DIRECTOR. Well, and how did you like it?
MARIA. No one, I think, possessing a taste for dramatic representations, can witness the performance of any of Shakespere's plays without feeling truly gratified. But did not I hear the bell ring?
EDWARD. Oh, no; it's not supper-time yet.
SOPHIA. How happy I am to call on Edward for a forfeit! are you not glad, Maria, that he is bit at last?
MARIA. Yes, that I am; how silly he was to allow himself to be so easily caught!
DIRECTOR. As Maria is so much wiser, she certainly cannot mind paying a forfeit for her "Yes, that I am!"

The director continues the game in this manner until enough forfeits have been collected.
*   *   *
So! What does one do with all these 'forfeits'? The book offers suggestions for that, as well.

Ninety-and-Five Forfeits
The most enjoyable pleasure of an evening's entertainment, or nearly so is "Crying the Forfeits," as it usually concludes the holiday evening's gambols. The previous portion of the evening, as respects the games, being generally looked upon as a means for the collection of this description of mirth and glee . . .

 As it frequently takes the invention of those who are called upon to decide on the penalty to be paid for the mistakes made during the evening, the following forfeits, even though they are not literally carried out, may be the means of starting ideas that might not, without such a spur to thought, have come into existence. We all remember what Campbell says in the "Pleasure of Hope."

"Wake but one thought, and lo! what myriads rise."

Much inconvenience may be avoided, if the persons who subject themselves to forfeiture in play, would, instead of depositing their trinkets, or the like, merely write their names on a strip of paper or card each time, and give it to the Director; it being arranged that each person is bound to redeem his name, the same as if it were the most valued of ornaments.

The Director, or any one of the party who has no forfeits, collects them altogether; and sitting down calls any of the players to kneel with his (or her) face on the Director's knees, so that the forfeit cannot be seen, as the Director, holding up one of the slips of card (or the forfeited article) a little way over the head of the person kneeling, cries out "Here's a pretty thing, a very pretty thing; and what's to be done to the owner of this very pretty thing?" The person having to declare the penalty then asks, "Is it for a lady, or a gentleman?" and, on receiving the answer, proclaims the forfeit, choosing the most difficult things to be thought of (suggested by the others in attendance). The person to whom the forfeit belongs has accordingly to perform the penance or forfeit just mentioned. In this way all the forfeits are cried, one at a time. The Director can call a different person to kneel as often as is pleased; or, if preferred, each one can cry a fixed number of forfeits a-piece.

We here give some very good forfeits for our friends to cry when they (the persons who must perform the forfeit) are kneeling down before the Director:—
1. To laugh in one corner, to cry in another, to sing in another, and to dance in another.
2. To put one hand where the other cannot touch it.
This forfeit is managed by putting the right hand to the left elbow.
3. To say "Quizzical Quiz, kiss me quick" six times running without drawing breath.
4. To lay a sheet of newspaper down without leaving it, and place two persons on it in such a way that they cannot touch each other with their hands. (This must be done by putting the newspaper on the floor, half inside the door, and half outside; then, if you put one person on the end of the newspaper outside the door, and shut the door, and put the other person on the inside half, they cannot touch each other, do all they can.)
5. To bow to the wittiest, kneel to the prettiest, and kiss the one they love the best.
6. To bite an inch off a hot poker.
This is done by making a bite, with your mouth one inch distance away from the hot poker.
7. To make a wall-flower of yourself. (To perform this forfeit; if it is for a lady, she must place herself with her back against the wall, and remain there until she has been kissed twice, by two different gentlemen, each of whom she must herself ask to come and kiss her. But if this forfeit falls on a gentleman, he must place himself against the wall until any one of the ladies will take compassion on him and release him by kissing him.)
*   *   *
And that's only seven of them! Interesting, isn't it, how absurd, comical, and altogether "undignified" some of these are? I love it!

The book also contains magic tricks. These are my favourite. I hardly think they'd be recommended today.
 *   *   *
The Great Gun Trick
Amalgamate some tin-foil and quicksilver, and with the composition make a bullet, which will be as heavy as a leaden one. Produce a leaden bullet, and request some person to mark it, and then state you have a composition with which you must rub the bullet to prevent it from hurting you. Rub it with some of the composition, which will give it the exact appearance of the artificial bullet previously prepared by you. It is easy to change one for the other during the process, and when ready you ask which of the audience will fire at you! Having obtained a volunteer, you tell him to put the powder in the gun, then ask him to observe you put in the bullet, telling him to listen and he will hear it fall. You then order him to "present" and to "fire;" when you say the word "fire" you must slip the real bullet in your mouth, or between your shirt and your waistcoat, so that on undoing the latter it will drop down, or if kept in the mouth you can spit it out on a plate.

We strongly advise our young readers to be very cautious and careful if they try this trick, and to have an old hand with them while learning it.

Turning a Sovereign into a Shilling
If a sovereign be rubbed with mercury, it will lose its usual appearance, and become as if silvered over; the attraction of gold for the mercury being sufficient to cause a coating of it to remain.

When it is wished to remove the silvery appearance, dip the sovereign in a dilute solution of nitric acid, which will entirely take it off. Some rather laughable circumstances have occurred, where persons, having a little quicksilver get loose in their pockets, have been surprised to find their sovereigns apparently changed to shillings.

To Make Fusible Spoons
Melt about four ounces of bismuth in a crucible, and, when fused, throw in about two ounces and a half of lead, and one ounce and a half of tin. These metals will combine, and form an alloy, which melts at a very low degree of temperature. If some of it is formed into tea-spoons (which may easily be done by making a mould in a clay, or plaster of Paris, from another spoon), the spoons thus made will produce much amusement; for if one of them be placed in hot tea it will melt, and sink to the bottom of the cup, much to the surprise of the person using them; and even if they do not melt, they will bend considerably. They have a bright appearance, and if made well, will not be easily distinguished from ordinary metal spoons.

There is even a section entitled How to Make Laughing Gas. But I'll leave that one for another time. I'd hate to have the authorities after me.

*   *   *

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  1. Elizabeth Gayle FellowsJune 12, 2012 at 8:00 PM

    What a fantastic find and addition to your collection. You are very fortunate as the book looks fascinating. What a terrific thing to read, it actually helps you comprehend how folks live in the 1870's... Lucky..!!

  2. Victorian parlour games were incredibly popular and helped amuse young and old alike.I remember my gran getting us to play The Old Family Coach, a game very popular when she was a youngster in the latter years of the 19th Century. Each person was allocated a word associated with a trip to the seaside by coach - someone would be 'the wheels' another 'the horses' another the 'whip' and so on. A story was then read out along the lines of "The coach set off, the wheels spun round, the horses galloped and the driver spared the whip" and as each word was mentioned that particular person had to get up and turn a circle clockwise. Whenever the words 'The Old Family Coach' were mentioned the entire assembled company had to stand up and revolve anti-clockwise. Of course no-one could remember who they were supposed to be, or which way they should be turning, and great fun was had by all....when I tried to reprise this game with my own family they refused to have anything to do with it. I suspect if it had involved karaoke or moeny it might have been better received!

  3. Isn't that sad? Sounds like a riot to me. That game is in the book, too. It really is just loaded with fun stuff. Obviously I won't be trying out the chemical or magical entertainments which involve mercury or having someone shoot me, but the parlour games part of it sounds like a lot of fun. There are charades, of course, and even some parlour dramas and the old 20 questions, and one that resembles modern day Mad Libs. I think it would be great to have a Victorian evening in. I'm tempted to try it.

    I am fortunate to have this book. It's around, and can be found, but for more money than I'd like to pay. I think my mom picked it up in a library sale or something. I'm not sure. But it's a lot of fun just to read. Sort of shatters that idea of everyone sitting around talking stiffly and doing needlework. It does say, though, that this is intended for 'young people'. Seems to me there are a lot of opportunities to flirt. Ha ha. Which I like the idea of. I may have to work it into a book at one point. Won't people be shocked! 'The Victorians never behaved like *that*! Oh, didn't they?

  4. Fun times! The Huntsman game sounds a lot like musical chairs, and it can be incredibly fun. I might just try one of these at the next party I go to, instead of the boring drink and dance stuff.


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