Games people play

Amongst the papers of Mary Shiffner,(1815-1894), who was the fondly regarded Mother-in-Law of Sir Reginald, 8th Baronet, there survives a delightful fortune-telling style Victorian parlour game, which is charming in its simplicity.  Twelve different questions have been posed on a different piece of card for each one, with an instruction as to whether it should be asked of a ‘Lady’ or ‘Gentleman’. The question is written on the face; for example,  How will you become rich? and on the reverse, twelve possible answers are given, correlating to a number between one and twelve which has been chosen by the person playing. Answers given for the above question include, by own exertions, by industry, by marriage, by publishing poems, by gaming, by a new invention and by keeping a dram shop.

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Victorian parlour game and poem. Copyright: North Yorkshire County Record Office

Another item, shown in the image above, is a poem from 1755 which  gives Advice to a new married sister. Given the sentiment of the piece, and lines such as ‘sooth ev’ry toil and ev’ry pain allay, seldom advise & never disobey’ one would hope that it has been kept to amuse later generations as to the duties of a wife, rather than one of pure instruction.

One amusement which reminds me of words spelt out on a calculator is the number 7559795/5559, which has been written in such a way, that when reflected in a mirror, answers a question about Louis Napoleon, as it spells out Empereur.

Amongst the papers of Sir Reginald himself, is a notebook containing one hundred conundrums.  Here are a few to ponder, with answers at the bottom of the page.

  1. What is it which makes everyone sick, but those who swallow it?
  2. My first is a preposition, my second is a composition, and both an acquisition
  3. Why is a cook like a dancing master?
  4. What lives in Winter dies in Summer and grows with its root uppermost.

I always enjoy coming across examples of how people amused themselves, see what was considered entertaining and how leisure time was spent. As with other material highlighted within the blog, it’s striking to see just how similar historic and modern lives are, caught up with the same pre-occupations and pleasures. It’s obvious to me, regardless of the time period, that the desire to amuse one another with clever word play and social interaction is constant.

Have fun, whatever you get up to!


Conundrum answers:

  1. Flattery
  2. Fortune
  3. He cuts capers
  4. Icicle



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