GAMBLERS AND SUICIDES.
CHARLES DICKENS knew London life very well, but he made a horrid blunder in this scene :- "' I see there's a notice up this morning about Boger,' observed
Mr. Simmery. ' Poor devil, he's expelled the house I'll bet you ten
guineas to five, he cuts his throat,' said Wilkins Flasher, Esquire.- ' Done,' replied Mr. Simmery.—' Stop ! I bar,' said Wilkins Flasher, Esquire, thoughtfully. 'Perhaps he may hang himself.'—' Very good,' rejoined Mr. Simmery, pulling out the gold pencil-case again. `I've no objection to take you that way. Say, makes away with himself.'—' Kills himself, in fact,' said Wilkins Flasher, Esquire.— 'Just so,' replied Mr. Simmery, putting it down. "Flasher—ten guineas to five, Boffer kills himself." Within what time shall we say 1" —' A fortnight ?' suggested Wilkins Flasher, Esquire.—' Confound it, no ;' rejoined Mr. Simmery, stopping for an instant to smash a fly
with the ruler. Say a week.'—' Split the difference,' said Wilkins Flasher, Esquire. Make it ten days.'—' Well ; ten days,' rejoined Mr. Simmery.—So, it was entered down in the little books that Boffer was to kill himself within ten days."
The impression intended to be produced is, that an unsuccessful dealer on the Stock Exchange kills himself; but that is not the
case. The sensation created on the Stock Exchange this week by the suicide of Mr. F. Burge was quite deep enough to mark the infrequency of such occurrences there. Nevertheless, it is certain that gambling is one of the most frequent causes of suicide. Indeed, we are strongly tempted to suspect that if we could but obtain accurate statistics, we should find that gambling was of all vicious habits, not even excluding hard drinking, the one which most predisposed its victims to suicide.
There is a trace of the gambling spirit in most men with red blood in them, but it is kept down by a variety of causes ; and the number of true " gamblers," in the sense in which moralists use the word—that is, of men who make an occupation of gambling, or who constantly play for stakes the loss of which will mean ruin—cannot be very large. There are a certain number of men all over Europe who habitually frequent the public tables, or the clubs which flourish in silence in all the large capitals, and who intend to play, or, at all events, do play while they
have a shilling left. A few of them disappear every year, and a new set take their places, but the majority play on for con-
siderable periods, and become known to proprietors of hells and to their croupiers as "old hands." Another number speculate in the same way upon the Bourses, and another upon the turf ; but the total of all who will bet, either upon cards, or horses, or the Stock Exchange, up to or over the edge of ruin, can hardly be very great. If it were so, the number of defaulters would be great also, and it is nothing of the kind. Nevertheless, so many gamblers kill themselves as to attract constant public attention, and to raise a general impression, per- ceptible throughout the literature of all countries, that an ardent gambler is a potential suicide. Before gaming was considered worthy the attention of policemen, " losses at play" was the regular explanation of suicide in certain classes ; and the number of self-inflicted deaths is still the grand reason pleaded for suppressing public tables. Suicides were well-known to be frequent at the German tables, while they still existed, though the facts were carefully concealed ; and at Monaco, the monthly average is declared by hostile observers to be some- thing frightful. We have mislaid a report sent us from Nice,
no doubt drawn np by men almost fanatic in their hatred of public gaming ; but if we mistake not, the voluntary deaths in
one year exceeded a hundred. Considering the rarity of suicide, the normal rate of which in England may be taken as 71. per 100,000, that is a great proportion ; and the rate is not low among betting men and speculators, who, especially upon the Continent, kill themselves much more frequently than professional dealers do. " He had been speculating, and could not bear his losses," is one of the most frequent bits of evidence offered at inquests in all the European countries, more especially in the South, where a dislike of monotonous work greatly in- creases the tendency to gamble. And yet one does not quite
nee at first why gambling should so greatly predispose to suicide. The gambler prima fade ought to be a man trained by his life to bear ill-luck with fortitude. Ruin in business has the same results as ruin through speculation, and it is not easy to per- ceive why the rapidity of the result should make any great 'difference. The holder of shares in an unlimited bank may be rained quite as suddenly as the player at rouge-et-noir or baccarat. Yet the chances that the gamester will kill himself are to the chances that the shareholder will kill himself at least
as thirty to one. If we remember right, when an unlimited Bank in Glasgow exploded some years since, no shareholder committed
nuicide. Thousands of men pass into the Gazette every year hope- lessly ruined ; but the proportion who commit suicide at once, mid before they have tested the miseries of poverty, as compared
'with the proportion of speculators who do so, is almost in- 'finitesimal. The gambling seems to exercise some weakening and degenerating influence of its own upon the muscle of character ; and we should like much to know precisely what that is, for if we could define it, a great difficulty in the way of de- nouncing gambling would disappear. At present, we all see that it is inexpedient, and most of us have a perception, akin to smell, that there is vice in it somewhere ; but it is most diffi- cult to reduce the theory to an intelligible formula. If you may buy corn in hope of a rise, which is of the essence of commerce, why may you not stake a similar sum upon the turn of a card ? In either case the wrong turn may ruin you ; but yet the one transaction, supposing you can pay the differences, is moral, and the other is not.
Part of the explanation of the tendency to suicide among gamblers is tolerably easy. No doubt the sharp strain of the gaming-table, short though it may be, spoils the nerves and weakens fortitude more than the strain of business, even business of a risky kind. Why it should be so we hardly know, but that it is so nobody who ever stood by a gambling-table or watched men playing cards for high stakes would ever dream of denying. The strain, due probably to the combination of suspense, fear, and over-drawn attention, changes the very face, and has been known to affect seriously the eyesight, as business anxiety never does. Losses under such circumstances almost paralyse the mind, and frequently produce that blind rage with fate and circumstance, which is one of the con- stituents of despair, and is often admitted by would-be suicides who have recovered to have been their driving impulse. They all talk of the " pressure " as too bad to bear, and the " pressure' is in part what natives of India: call " hot heart," an inner rage , without a vent. One beats the circumstances by springing, or rather skulking, out of them. That is one impelling cause of suicide after gambling, and, no doubt, also the revulsion is unusually severe. Gamblers hope hard, and hope quick, and when defeated tumble further than men who have not been hoping. Fortune seems so near, and is suddenly so far, that the victim feels almost as if he had been cheated by a sentient being, as if he had been lifted up on purpose to be thrown down. The blow is twice as severe as if he had never hoped, and it falls on one ill prepared to receive it ; for, in spite of the stories about " impassive" gamblers, they are a nervous class, and when the risk becomes real, when the last sovereigns are going, they betray excitement rather than stoic courage. Cavour, one of the most serene of men, was within an ace on one great gambling night of throwing half his fortune away rather than call a card, and only called it, as he relates himself, because a drop of sweat rose on his opponent's fore- head. No doubt, also, the gambler who is ruined is in a special degree the victim of self-contempt. He sees at the last moment that he has not been ruined by any business or occupation, or even false calculation, but by the reckless pursuit of a purely selfish indulgence—a search for excitement as entirely personal as dram-drinking, and hardly one whit nobler. The gambler seeks self-forgetfulness as much as the opium-eater. There is a self-revelation in the hour of the gambler's ruin which must diminish his power of resistance to any temptation, and increase that desire to be out of oneself, to alter oneself anyhow, completely, finally, and beyond repentance, which is the wilful suicide's snare. But still there is something more ; and we believe, if we could get at it, it would be found to be a kind of natural selection observable in many departments of human life. We suspect, for instance, that one grand cause in the difference observed in the effects of hard drinking is due to natural selection. When everybody drinks hard, as in Walpole's time, the drink rains a much smaller proportion of drinkers than it does now, when hard drinking stands condemned, for now few drink hard but those who have in their veins the dipsomaniac desire, which intensifies all the mischief worked by alcohol. The men resist- lessly drawn to the poison are precisely the men who ought not to have it,—whom, from some tendency in themselves, it maddens, or it kills. It is often jocularly asked why horses, which are innocent beasts, should impart roguery to horsey men ; but is it not the case that only rogues, or men with potential roguery in them, take to horsey pursuits ? We suspect the gaming-table unconsciously picks its victims, summons to its side mainly those—and they are not so numerous as people fancy—to whom extreme and rapidly alternating excitement is an entrancing pleasure, who only feel truly alive when hope or fear is strong in them, so strong, that to the majority they would give positive pain. Those are the men who enjoy tremendous points at whist, or " plunge " upon the success of a horse,
or hurry across Europe to stake all they have at M. Blanc's green tables. They are not an average, but a picked selec- tion, most carefully picked ; and they of all men are liable to the suicidal mania from which jobbers on the Stock Exchange and speculators in " The Lane," who are not picked, are com- paratively free. They are like the men in a mob who, when a barrel of whiskey bursts, kneel down to drink it from the gutters, and instead of getting drunk as the average would, die on the spot of the debauch. In such men the very nature tends to suicide, and they throw the last great stake just as they threw the one before,—in a torture of hope and fear which has become the sought condition of their lives. They gamble in- stinctively, or, as juries say, maniacally, to the very last.