|The Serpent In Paradise:|
or, Gambling at Monte Carlo
by C. H. Spurgeon
From the June 1879 Sword and Trowel
E MUST APOLOGIZE to our readers for introducing to their notice a subject which will neither minister to their edification nor increase their pleasure, a subject, moreover, in which the bulk of them have no personal interest whatever. Our apology is the necessity of doing something towards ending an abomination which reeks before high heaven, and has been too long permitted to defile the earth; an abomination which has survived the removal of all others like it from among civilized men, as dangerous to society and ruinous to public morals; an abomination for which there is no excuse but the depraved appetite of the immoral public, and no remedy but its universal denunciation by all respectable men. Those who have set up the gaming tables of Monte Carlo have no conscience; it remains for the public to find them one, and this can never be till an enlightened public opinion is formed and expressed. We cannot tell where the following protest may make its way, we do, however, entreat all lovers of common decency, all lovers of their race, to use such influence as they have in assisting the effort to put down this bane of the Riviera, this pest-house of Europe, the gambling establishment of Monte Carlo.
Thousands every year resort to Nice, Mentone, Cannes, and other towns in the sunny south of France to escape the rugged winters of their own land. Many of these are invalids, but a considerable number are wealthy persons who are accustomed to foreign travel, and are attracted by the exquisite scenery which they have the health and strength to enjoy. Numbers of well-to-do people come with their families, and the young folks make up pleasure excursions for the valleys and the mountains, and spend their time most agreeably, with undoubted benefit to their health. Who can blame them for resorting to such a Paradise, which seems indeed to have been specially prepared to give health to the sick, and pleasure to the active? Possessing a balmy air, a dry atmosphere, lovely landscapes, and a brilliant sun, the land is the garden of the world, an Eden which has survived the Fall. What more could be desired? Alas, there is a serious drawback to the enjoyment of the region, and this is of a most insidious and deadly sort. At Monte Carlo, which is generally confused with Monaco, of which it is a part, the insignificant Princelet has set up a public gaming establishment in the finest conceivable position, in the choicest spot in all this choicest of lands. The establishment is surrounded with magnificent gardens, which are free to all, and within there is a theater with the finest music in the world, with all its entertainments gratis, and superb rooms furnished with newspapers in all languages, and every convenience which luxury can desireall for nothing.
This may seem a small matter at first sight, for no one is obliged to go near the spot, much less to enter the gaming rooms and lose his money; persons have only to keep clear of the nuisance, and there is an end of it. So it might appear, and yet on closer inspection the matter assumes a different aspect. Young men of respectable and even godly families go to Monte Carlo just to see the place; in fact, in many cases the parents take an early opportunity of going over to Monaco with their young people to enjoy the gardens and the delightful view. No harm is dreamed of; the most respectable persons go into the rooms just to see the game and the gamesters; they take no part in the proceedings, they look on and retire, and have no thought of doing wrong. In many instances, however, young men have gone again, have put down a five-franc piece or a Napoleon, and have acquired a taste for gambling. Gentlemen of fortune, merchants of position, and persons of moderate competence have found themselves penniless after a course of attendance at these rooms, and our young friends who commence with modest losses are learning the way to the same consummation. Moreover, while lingering at Monte Carlo and watching the wheel of fortune, young gentlemen become aware of other charms which are placed around them, as a snare is set for a bird, and connections are formed polluting to character and fatal to virtue. We know of cases where Monaco has been the moral death of hopeful youth. The way of destruction was smoothed even to the jaws of hell: first, there was a walk in the lovely gardens with mother and sisters; then the music in the hall was enjoyed in mixed society; next came a sly visit to the rooms and a trifling speculation, followed by frequent sittings at the table, diversified with wine and questionable company, and in the end brought to a climax by actual vice and ruin. Parents are afraid to bring their families to Nice and Mentone lest their children, drawn to Monte Carlo by simple curiosity, should succumb to its temptations, to their endless sorrow.
Their fear is not an idle one, for in numerous cases the dreaded evil has actually occurred. Ought such a man-trap to be tolerated? Should it be permitted that such a moral pestilence should desolate so many households that prudent fathers shun the spot as full of peril to their sons? What right has the Prince of Monaco to drive away persons of character from this region of health and beauty because he finds the wages of iniquity a convenient addition to his income? The Bishop of Gibraltar says, "All the Christian churches of the Riviera, from Marseilles Genoa, have condemned with one consentient voice this establishment at Monte Carlo, as a curse to the neighborhood, a scandal to our Christian religion, and a disgrace to the civilization and culture of the age." Why, then, does France allow it to continue, when it could in a moment put it down?
It is not only that Monte Carlo is a gaming house, but that it is so conspicuous. There are, no doubt, many secret haunts of gamblers, but this is public and ostentatious. What the Crystal Palace is to London this establishment is to the health resorts of the Riviera; and if our readers will only imagine the Crystal Palace transformed into what is called "a hell," with all its fascinating surroundings, they will have some idea of the prominence and perilous power which Monte Carlo possesses. In the month of February of this year 43,905 strangers visited the place, a tolerably large flock of pigeons for the devil to practice upon. These people did not all go to Monaco to gamble, but they were all subjected to a temptation which, over many persons, exercises a fascination from which they cannot escape. Of course, those who gamble are fools; but then fools are very numerous, and it is for fools that we must legislate. Let a man look around him before he stakes his money, and what will he see? A tiny territory free from duties, possessing public buildings of the most sumptuous character, and roads smooth as a billiard table; a casino, with gardens, theater, music, all gratuitous because all paid for by the profits of the gambling table; a prince with a palace, army, and so forth, maintained in like fashion, and a clear gain of eight millions of francs, or £320,000 sterling, to the "Societe Anonyme," which manages the whole concern. Surely, if a man must gamble, he might find some way of doing it with out being quite so heavily weighted. Every thinking man must know that though an occasional visitor to the tables may possibly gain, yet if persons stay long enough it is as sure as death and doom's-day that all they have must be raked into the treasury. Even if the odds which make the commission were only one per cent. the bank must, as a matter of absolute fact, in the long run, suck up the capital in a hundred times of playing. The odds are, however, far greater, and yet the tables are crowded. Surely, in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird, but these fools of all nations are eager to be destroyed. The feathers are plucked from them, and they call it "play." Mr. Brock, the English chaplain at Mentone, in his earnest pamphlet gives several instances of crushing losses at Monte Carlo. Of course these are usually concealed, but they must amount to a great number in a year, and many of them are far worse than those which we now quote from our excellent friend.
"I was traveling last December," said a French friend to me, "with a young German returning home. He came to Nice for his health with seven thousand francs to bear his expenses. Soon after his arrival he was tempted to Monaco, where he lost all. Some kind people raised sufficient to pay his expenses home, whether to live or die they know not.
"A somewhat similar case recently happened. A nice young fellow went one day to the hell. His visits were repeated, became more frequent; a carriage was, next, daily hired to drive to Monaco. His money went: his landlord was imperious. One, two, three, four weeks bills unpaid! 'You must pay, sir.' At last action was taken. The landlord detained what of property he had, bought him a through ticket home; and so the young man left, money and reputation gone.
"A German in England had made in business £15,000. He thrice came to Monaco, in the hope of retrieving his first loss of £5,000, and at the close of his last visit found himself minus the whole sum. He returned to London, committed forgery, and again tried his fortune at the Tripot. A Lord Mayor's warrant was put into the hands of a detective, who laid hold of the wretched man one night on his return to Nice. So ended his guilty course.
"A gentleman purchased a property on the Riviera, but leaving before the purchase was concluded lodged the amount (several thousand pounds), authorizing certain parties to draw, and pay the amount. They drew the money; but overcome by the tempting vicinity of Monaco squandered it all there.
"We do not expect to put down gambling: that will ever exist. But this gambling 'made easy,' at Monaco, we will do our best to suppress.
"'I never played in my life, I have no taste for play whatever,' said a Russian prince to his friends, who were dissuading him from his intention of settling at Monaco; however, in vain. And what was the consequence? Naturally, he used to lounge into the hall; naturally, this became a habit; naturally, he came to play; naturally, he lost all he had; naturally, he got into debt; and, as naturally, decamped, leaving creditors to look in vain for the thirty thousand francs he owed them.
"'Come,' said a companion to a poor invalid who had saved £70 for his winter expenses at Nice, 'before you settle down in your room let us go over and hear the music at Monaco.' They went. From the concert room they entered the gambling room, and before they left that place of infamy the poor invalid had lost his all."
It will be seen from these incidents that losses at Monte Carlo are the root of other evils. Continually persons are brought before the police courts, who plead their losses at the gaming table as the reason of their departures from honesty. Frequently, also, the money which should be paid over to the hotel-keeper by his guest is lost at play, and the debtor absconds without paying his bill. There is no doubt, also, that a taste for gambling has been fostered, that many clandestine roulettes are in full action, and that at the clubs men play very high. It was said that by tolerating this one den all gambling would be confined to Monaco, and would there be under control: the contrary is the case, the whole region is polluted by it. Well did one of the magistrates of Nice exclaim, "This gaming is the plague of the country, and the plague is gangrened. The ravages of this vice extend every day." Although the local press is charged with venal silence yet these matters come out in the courts of justice, and are made occasionally a public topic by the agitation of those who deplore the giant evil. A letter addressed to the French senators and deputies by certain inhabitants of Nice, Cannes, and Mentone contains such an indictment against Monte Carlo as should secure its instant condemnation, especially as it is sustained and abundantly proved by a terrible array of facts, which are placed in an appendix.
That part of the appendix which has made the most impression upon our mind is the list of suicides of whom, in less than three years, twenty had been recorded in Monte Carlo and the region near at hand. Deaths by pistol shots, hanging, placing the head upon the railway, and casting one's-self from a rock make up the principal items of the ghastly list. A commercial traveler coming on business to Mentone went to Monaco. As usual, he just put down a five-franc piece. His own money soon went. That of his employer followed, and there he was! He could not bear the disgrace, and, therefore, putting a pistol to his head he rushed, at the early age of thirty, unbidden, into the presence of his Maker, a self-murderer. Another poor wretch, before taking his own life, wrote these words on a blank leaf"Monaco, thou wilt yet slay many others!" A third, who destroyed himself with a pistol, wrote upon a photograph of the casino these words"House of perdition, fit only to be burned!" In sight of the blood-stained halls of Monte Carlo we are constrained to join in the verdict of the unhappy victim. Those suicides which are mentioned as happening at Nice, Monaco, and the neighborhood cannot be the only ones; there are, doubtless, others who reach home as beggars and commit the same horrible deed with less publicity. We fear there is much truth in the assertion of the public procurator"The ruined player can scarcely avoid one of two ends, dishonor or death. If he has a heart, he kills himself; and if he has none, he becomes a swindler and a thief." Such thieves every now and then turn up at the tables themselves, and are led to the borders of the little territory and dismissed with a kick; as for the corpse of the suicide, it is buried by stealth after sundown. In the case which happened on March 25, 1876, a gentleman had lost his all at roulette, and blew his brains out near the casino itself: the remarks made by certain frequenters of the rooms contained no pity for their wretched fellow-creature, but expressed the refinement of their manners"Poor Y ________ showed a shocking want of taste in killing himself so near the salon. He might have gone a little further off." No sin hardens the heart like gambling. Inhumanity is only a natural result of it. The play burns the heart, and dries up the milk of human kindness. While it renders a man weary of ordinary labor, for he fancies he has found a swifter road to riches, it makes him fit for any villainy and vice. It arouses covetousness, creates a selfish excitement, unfits for duty, and prepares for every iniquity. Need we say more against it? Can more be said?
Now, this hell-hall of Monte Carlo has its admirers and advocates, and we do not wonder at it, for unrenewed hearts are always ready to defend sin, but what we shall marvel at will be thisif Christian people who know the nature of the place are seen in connection with it. That they should go to hear "the finest band in Europe," and to see gardens which are not to be surpassed for beauty is not at all surprising so long as they are unaware of the evil which they are thus patronizing, but if they continue to do this after due warning, it will be a great evil under the sun. The managers do not want all who visit Monte Carlo to play, they are wise enough to see that the ranks of the gamblers need to be recruited from among sober people, and wish for a fringe of play-hating people to shade off the company into sober respectability, and bring decent folk within range of the temptation. Few would come within their grip if all the assembly consisted of brazen-faced females and worthless sharpers, but there are many steps to the descending stairs, and right glad are the directors to see upon the upper rounds ladies and gentlemen who on Sunday will be conspicuous at church, and are known on other days as the cream of respectability. The presence of such persons makes the road to perdition a genteel promenade, and therefore it pays the promoters to give them music and flowers for nothing.
The Bishop of Gibraltar did well to address his clergy in words such as these: "At the opening of another season I hope that you will endeavor to deepen the impression which your words then produced, by again speaking on the subject whenever you may see a suitable opportunity. You will have in your congregations many fresh hearers, who will know little about Monaco and the ruin it is causing, and who, like their predecessors, might visit the place without a thought that they were dipping into danger or dabbling in sin, without a thought that they were frequenting haunts where no person of right principles should be seen, without a thought that they were giving respectability to the vice of gambling, adding to those wages of iniquity by which the establishment is supported, and decoying brothers and sisters to their ruin; but simply for the love of fun and amusement, for the pleasure of hearing good music and gazing at lovely scenery, for the fascination of witnessing for once a novel and strange sight. Many such persons, as I believe, only want a word of warning. Tell them of the remorse, shame, misery, and ruin which Monte Carlo is daily working; tell them of the separations which it causes in families between son and father, between husband and wife; tell them of the deceit and other vices which gambling fosters; tell them of characters which at the start of life gave promise of a good and useful career, but now are wrecked beyond recovery; tell them how the plague spreads from place to place, how the excitement pursues and haunts its victim, how it draws together the very scum of society; tell them it is the respectable, who are the real supporters of Monte Carlo, and that without their patronage the establishment would become bankrupt; and, if they have ears to hear and hearts to understand, they will restrain their curiosity, practice a little self-denial, and in spite of the attractions which Monte Carlo offers, they will not only abstain from going themselves, but will endeavor by personal influence to prevent others from going. What is wanted of us all is that we should endeavor to form a healthy and righteous public opinion on the subject of gambling, draw away the veil which hides its guilt, and exhibit it to our congregations in its real deformity."
As a humble contribution to the end proposed by the bishop we have inserted this article in our magazine, and we shall be glad if it should be copied into the newspapers, and should help to make a stir. Anyone is at perfect liberty to reprint the present article, and the more it is spread abroad the better shall we be pleased. Since writing as we have done we have been delighted to see The Times hurling its thunder-bolts against the evil, and we feel all the more the necessity of keeping the matter before the public mind. C.H.S.