An email list to which I subscribe had the following request to antedate the description of a deck of cards as a "Bible, almanack, and prayer-book". Any takers?
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Sender: American Dialect Society <ADS-L@LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Poster: Jonathon Green <slang@ABECEDARY.NET>
Older members may recall that glutinous piece of religiosity, 'Deck of Cards', a hit for country singer Wink Martindale in 1959. While it had already been sung/recorded by Tex Ritter in 1948, I for one was not aware of this somewhat earlier pedigree. Perhaps I am alone in this ignorance, if so, apologies. For those wish to refresh their memories of the Martindale version, there are a good number of websites available.
Sporting Magazine vol. VII Nov. 1795 pp. 90-92
Pack of Cards Spiritualized; or, the Consecration of the Books.
Richard Middleton, a private soldier, attending divine service with the rest of his regiment, in a kirk at Glasgow, instead of referring to a bible, like his brother-soldiers, to find the parson's text, pulled out from his pocket a pack of cards, which he spread before him. This singular behaviour did not long pass unnoticed, both by the clergyman and the serjeant of the company to which he belonged : the latter, in particular, commanded him to put up the cards; and, on his refusal, conducted Middleton, after church service, before the major, to whom he preferred a formal complaint of Richard's indecent demeanour during the divine ceremony. 'Well, soldier," said the major, 'what excuse have you to offer for this strange and scandalous conduct ? if you can make any apology, or assign any reason for it, 'tis well; if you cannot, assure yourself that I will cause you to be severely punished.'
'Since your honor is so good," replied Richard, " as to permit me to speak for myself, an't please your worship, I have been eight days upon the march, with the bare allowance of six-pence per day, which your honour will surely allow is hardly sufficient to maintain a man in meat, drink, washing, and other necessaries, and consequently he may want without a bible, prayer-book, or any other good book.'
On saying this, Richard drew out his pack of cards, and, presenting one of the aces to the mayor, continued his address to the magistrate as follows :
'When I see an ace, may it please your honour, it reminds me that there is only one God ; and when I look upon a two or a three, the former puts me in mind of the father and son ; the latter, of the father, son, and holy ghost. A four calls to my remembrance the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John ; a five, the five wise virgins, who were ordered to trim their lamps, (there were ten indeed, but five your worship may remember, were wise, and five were foolish); a six, that in six days God created, heaven and earth; a seven, that on the seventh day he rested from, all that he had made; an eight of the eight righteous persons preserved from the deluge, viz. Noah and his wife, with his three sons and their wives ; a nine, of the lepers cleansed by our saviour; there were ten, but one only returned to offer his tribute of thanks; and a ten, of the ten commandments."
Richard then took the knave, placed it beside him, and passed on to the queen, on which he observed as follows: "this queen reminds me of the Queen of Sheba, who came from the uttermost parts of the earth, to hear the wisdom of Solomon; as her companion, the king does, of the great King of Heaven, and of our most gracious King George the Third."
" Well," returned the mayor, you have given me a very full and good description of all the cards, except the knave."
"If your honour will not be angry with me," replied Richard, " I can give you the same satisfaction upon that as any in the pack."
" No," said the mayor," I will not be angry, proceed."
'Well," resumed the soldier, 'the greatest knave I know, is the Serjeant who brought me before you."
" I do not know," answered the mayor, " whether he be the greatest knave or not, but I am sure he is the greatest fool."
The soldier then continued, as follows: "When I count the number of dots in a pack of cards, there are three hundred and sixty-five, so many days are there in a year ; when I count how many cards are in a pack, I find fifty-two, so many weeks are there in a year : when I reckon how many tricks are won by a pack, I find there are thirteen, so many months are there in a year. So that this pack of cards, indisputably, proves itself both bible, almanack, and prayer-book to me."
The mayor calling his servants, ordered them to entertain the soldier, and giving him money, pronounced Richard Middleton the cleverest fellow he had ever heard of.