THE END OF THE BACCARAT CASE.
THE intellectual interest of the Baccarat Case, the interest which will attract historians, consists in this, that a majority of those within the Court, and probably a majority outside it, wished the result to be favourable to Sir William Gordon-Cumming. This feeling, which was avowed privately even by men who understood the evidence, lasted all through the trial, although when the witnesses' cross-examination ended, no one had any doubt as to what the result must be ; and even sur- vived the verdict, the jurymen, as well as some members of the Wilson family, being angrily hissed. It was not that any one worthy of attention doubted the justice of the jury's decision. There was doubt at the beginning of the case, it is true, and it was reasonable, because, though it seemed improbable that a bold man like Sir William would, if innocent, sign a letter which he himself described as an acknowledgment of guilt, it was at least as improbable that a man with so unusually good a professional record as the prosecutor—and mind, though professional record does not tell in a Verney case, it does tell, and ought to tell, in a card case or a horse ease, the presump- tion always being violent that, though a bold soldier may be a debauchee, he will not be a sharper—with an old name to keep up, and no direct pecuniary pressure to escape from, should have descended to a practice which English opinion holds to be specially base, not only a fraud, but a treachery towards one's friends. Men do lose their heads very often under ruinous charges, and it was at least as probable that Sir William Gordon-Cumming had lost his, as that he had cheated anybody at cards. When the direct evidence had been given, however, and five persons had sworn that they saw the prosecutor ask for and receive more money than he had staked, but one verdict was seen to be possible for the jury. Sir William might be innocent by some conceivable possibility of continuous misfortune r but if so, human judgment was hopelessly at fault, and the jurymen could only deliver a judgment in accordance with the evidence. Nevertheless, the feeling did not die away. Up to the last, there were plenty of solid men who hoped against hope that the jury would disagree ; and it was that hope which pro- duced some of the well, deserved enthusiasm evoked by Sir E. Clarke's magnificent burst of forensic oratory on behalf of the prosecutor's claim. He gave them the off-chance they longed for, though they knew, as they exulted, that it was all in vain. That is a very strange mood for a British audience at a trial, for as a rule, though often perverse about evidence, it always wishes for a just verdict ; and it is worth while for a moment to examine its cause.
It was due, in the first place, to an idea that Sir William Gordon-Cumming had been ill-used by his hosts, who had, it was said, after detecting him, suffered him to play on, and so " trapped " him to his fate. That idea was unfair, for there was no trapping. It was quite natural for those who suspected, to wish to make certain before they accused a friend, and every precaution was taken to prevent any guest suffering unfairly from continued play. The Wilson household mismanaged their trying affair most grievously, but they did nothing wrong. Their clear course, if they suspected foul play, was to inform the head of the house of the facts, and leave it to him either to stop the play peremptorily, assigning no reason, except privately to the Prince of Wales, who by the etiquette of Courts would have been entitled to "an explana- tion, or to warn Sir William Gordon-Cumming that he was suspected, and request his departure. Lord Coleridge says this would have produced a row, and might have produced a fight, which in such a scene would have been most discredit- able ; but there was no reason forbidding the explanation to be made in private, and the offender would have taken the hint more quietly than he signed the letter. Mismanagement, however, is not error, and the public on this point made a mistake, probably in consequence of their final reason for taking the side they did. They wanted a verdict for the prosecutor, or, when that was seen to be im- possible, a disagreement among the jury, because they wanted a sharp rebuke to be given to "the gambling lot of rich folks" who, with the heir to the Throne in the midst of them, could find no better way of passing the time than playing every night a game for which poor folks are
punished every week. That was their real desire, and though to gratify it they would not have had the jury forswear them- selves, they would have had them, if possible, accept Sir E. Clarke's masterly speech as an excuse to disagree. The Prince of Wales and his friends had, in fact, affronted and wounded the strain of Puritan feeling which underlies all English society, which crops up on the most un- expected occasions, and which extends in full guiding force through classes and households which appear not to be influenced by it in any action of life. There are hundreds of the best-placed men in the land who would join on occasion in an " unintellectual game," particularly if a Prince wished for it, but who nevertheless agree in substance with the Nonconformist Councils and Committees and congregations who are bombarding society with their half- angry, half-simple " resolutions " of protest ; and we con- fess our sympathies go with them. Lord Coleridge was no doubt right when he pleaded for every man's right to liberty, and we ourselves have contended a dozen times, and shall con- tend again, that there is no more harm in a game of chance, a bet, or a stake of any kind in itself, than in any other waste of money for the purpose of buying recreation. It is waste, but there exists a right to waste a modicum of one's means. Non- conformist ministers may despise Archbishop Whately if they please, but the moral formula which he failed to draw will not be drawn by them, nor will they be able to separate the offence of staking money on a card and staking money on a Stock Exchange speculation. There is, in truth, no difference. None the less the serious side of society is in the right, and the frivolous side in the wrong, just as the temperate man is in the right and the drunkard in the wrong. To make an occu- pation of baccarat, to want it always as a distraction, to play it against a host's known disfavour, to play it so that a guest may think it worth while and not very risky to cheat,—all this is not only bad form, but is a distinct encouragement to a kind of society which makes of recreation the end of life instead of its relief, and which always ends, sooner or later, by rotting down. We can quite understand all that is said in defence of the Prince of Wales, and have on occasion said much of it ourselves. There is no position in the world so trying as that of an Heir-Apparent to a Throne, with no real work to perform, barred oat from his natural occupation, which is politics, and bored to suffocation by ceremonial duties which are not even stately, as reviews are, and which, we venture to say, no man on earth ever regarded with any feeling milder than weary toleration. The position is intolerable, has ruined every Hanoverian male heir since the Act of Settlement, and has in our own time sent an heir of the little Dutch Throne to Paris, and an heir of the great Austrian Throne to suicide,—but still, noblesse oblige, and there are com- pensations. A King should be on the serious side, and an avowed preference for the other irritates a people which gambles itself, and bets itself, and speculates itself, but all the same retains its admiration for a healthier and higher ideal, and does not want to be encouraged from above in its own weaknesses. Old Pepys was an old sinner, and no better, but he was an Englishman, and he could not abide the scene in Whitehall, which was very much what the average English mind, most unfairly, imagines the scene at Tranby Croft to have been like.
There always has been a frivolous society in London, tending usually to be a bad society, embedded in the much more serious mass; but we note one change of late years which is very natural, but which, we suspect, tends to mischief. The millionaires, who in America are so important in business and politics, but have no social weight, are here, as in France, rising to the top of the social milk. Curiously enough, the Prince Consort, who belonged to the serious side if ever man did, approved the change, and in one of his letters before his marriage, directed that his Court should be formed from the great and the ex- ceptionally rich ; but he would, we may be certain, have checked the present development, when to have millions is to possess a right 'of way to the very centre of society ; and foreigners who are shunned in their own countries find here that every look yields to the golden key. A millionaire is, of course, not objectionable on that account ; but a prepon- derance of new millionaires, we suspect, vulgarises society, fosters its vicious tendency to make of mere luxury an ideal, and introduces a tone of expense for the sake of expense which is ruinous, and may become demoralising. Luxury does not ruin States, as used to be said ; but it very often ruins societies, which can no more escape the effects of low ideals than individuals can. This influence of the millionaires is all the worse because it happens to synchronise with a tendency of our time which, though described as social, has become so marked as to attract the attention of physicians. Owing, as we believe, to an exaggeration of nervous susceptibility, due to the hurry of modern life, to the increase of receptive intelligence —originating intelligence has not increased, but half the men and women you meet really "catch" all that is going on every- where—and possibly to some unperceived change in diet, like the one which, as all dentists testify, has ruined the teeth of the next generation, there is a positively new craving for ex- citement, and impatience of the tediousness of time. Boys and girls alike, between twenty and thirty, seem physically in- capable of enduring the "stillness and the quietness," as the old Quakers used to describe tranquillity, for a single month on end. They feel stifled with dullness, and seek for din- traction of any kind with the sort of eagerness with which an overworked Londoner in our day seeks for the country air or a sea-breeze. The millionaires offer distraction, and find themselves rewarded by a social position which with some of them, more especially if they are Jews or provincials by training, is an object of passionate desire. What they get out of it would have tasked Thackeray to define ; but they crave for it, and spend for it, and lend money for it, with a result on the social organisation which should not be exaggerated, but which, so far as it goes, is disastrous. It should not be exaggerated, because the notion so sedulously cultivated by two classes of journalists that the higher society of England is all frivolity, is pure nonsense. The best society in England has always been and remains as men like Byron have always described it, serious, sombre even in its pleasures, and slightly tedious. There is, however, a frivolous society, and that has become of late years worse than it was, and tends to become worse still, because the serious grandees recoil from it, and so lose the influence they might still exert. The great and dignified houses, in fact, are standing aside, leaving society to be not controlled but pervaded by people with Continental ideas of pleasure, immense means of being wilful, and very few restraints, except from an opinion which, though healthy, is so narrow and unintelligent, that it affects them only with a sense of half-contemptuous dread. Let any one who doubts whether the change has occurred, but who knows England, read the lists of those present at fashionable functions, and he will recognise the truth at once. The prominent society is a society of the Second Empire, rather than of our country and our day.