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Published October 01, 2023 Updated October 02, 2023

The Origin of Patience Games in English

Jessel’s Bibliography of works in English on Playing Cards and Gaming describes “The first book on Patience published in English”, dated 1859.

1859 United Kingdom Solitaire Patience Add to Collection

I have been doing some digging around the origins of card games which were devised or popularised in the second half of the nineteenth century, of which, hopefully, more in due course. During this research, I came across a passing reference in Jessel’s Bibliography of works in English on Playing Cards and Gaming¹ to what he describes as “The first book on Patience published in English”, dated 1859. Frederic Jessel can usually be relied upon to get things right.

Portrait of a Woman Playing Patience, 1829 (oil on canvas) by Walenty Wankowicz

Above: Portrait of a Woman Playing Patience, 1829 (oil on canvas) by Walenty Wankowicz. (1800-42); 37x29.5 cm; Private Collection

box from dual set of Goodall's Elfin Duplex and Round cornered patience cards, c.1899

Above: box from dual set of Goodall's Elfin Duplex and Round cornered patience cards, c.1899-1930.

This bracketed reference in Jessel came as a surprise to me for a number of reasons. First, I found it hard to believe that Patience as a concept was only written about for an English-speaking audience as late as 1859! I had assumed that this form of card play had been around forever. Indeed, it was certainly popular before this date in Germany and France and probably elsewhere in Europe and almost certainly, by virtue of emigration, in parts, at least, of north America.

Second, I was surprised because all that I had seen written on the subject before had attributed the first compilation of this kind in English to Lady Adelaide Cadogan in the 1870s. Indeed, Jessel includes her books “Illustrated Games of Patience”, 1874 and the follow-up “Illustrated Games of Patience: second series”, 1887, in his bibliography. Yet, John Hunter, in his Preface to a facsimile edition of this book, published in 1968, writes:

“By the 1870s, Patience was already a popular pastime, and it is surprising to learn that Lady Adelaide’s compilation was the first on the subject to appear in the English language. Her name on the title page made the game fashionable overnight, and gave it the aristocratic stamp it still bears.”

This, I guess, is where the failure to acknowledge the earlier publication began.

Jessel identifies the earlier published work as “Games of Patience” by Madame de F-------, translated by Madame de Chatelain. This was the “Second edition. viii+92 pp. 12mo., E. C. Spurin, London, 1859.” He goes on to state that he had not been able to find the first edition (which will probably have been earlier than 1859) but that “A reprint appeared as a third edition in 1863”. Perhaps these much earlier publication dates and reprints helps to explain why, using John Hunter’s words, patience was already a popular pastime by the 1870s.

So, this raised two immediate questions: who wrote the original text and who translated it into English for an English-speaking public searching for new games to play and amuse. I was initially unable to answer the first question (who wrote the original text?) but was intrigued by the name “Madame de Chatelain” as the translator. Was this yet another pseudonym? To my surprise, further research revealed that a woman called Clara de Chatelain did live between 1807 and 1876, born of a French father and English mother, and is described as a prolific writer, composer and translator. Was it too fanciful to suggest that she might also be credited with the introduction to the English-speaking world of one of the most influential and long-standing card games ever to be played? At first try, I was unable to find any evidence to support this suggestion, but if it were not she, this would have been a remarkable coincidence! Further research was required.

At this point, and after my first draft was published on wopc, I received an email from another frequent contributor to the World of Playing Cards, Peter Burnett, with all of the information I had hitherto been unable to track down. Contained in the Jessel Collection in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, (previously unknown to me) was the complete reference to the 1859 translation which answered both of the outstanding questions at a stroke:

“Games of patience by madame de F***, translated by madame de Chatelain, 2nd ed.² Fortia, marquise de.; Chatelain, Clara de, 1807 – 1876, translator. 1859. London.”

First, I was delighted to see that my hunch was right that the translator was indeed the aforementioned Clara de Chatelain. Her list of accomplishments is extraordinary. According to her Wikipedia entry “she translated over 400 songs for musical houses including Wessell, Myers and Schott; her books of fairy-tales included 140 original tales and 50 retellings of classic fairy tales; and she also wrote 16 handbooks. She left many unpublished works, including a novel, The Queen of the Spa, and a short story Our New Governors.” How she found time, in addition, to play cards and to translate and publish a book of patience games is a further mystery.

But Peter Burnett’s intervention did not stop there. The library reference includes the name of the original author as the Marquise de Fortia. and he was able to provide additional details not included in the Jessel reference which I had found so intriguing. The original French text, containing descriptions of 25 games, appears to have been first published as “Le Livre des Patiences”, Paris, France, in 1842. Thereafter it was reprinted many times³ right up to the present day. Most recently, I have seen the bookshop, Foyles, advertising a paperback edition of the original text published in April, 2022.

From these unlikely origins, the game or games of Patience almost instantly spawned a veritable industry of writers, both men and women, seeking to offer yet more “new” and different games for an eager public.⁴ Many of these, in turn, were translated from other European origins, particularly French and German. And unlike so many of the games promoted and popularised in the second half of the 19th Century, published collections of patience card games are still readily available today.

One final thought. This attempt to delve into the detailed history of card games illustrates the value of checking details, digging deep and collaboration between scholars. My interest was first aroused by a bracketed reference in a book first published in 1905 which was not consistent with an account in another published source which I knew. My first attempt to understand this little bit of history left a number of questions unanswered and some speculation about past events. Peter’s response, on reading this, was to provide evidence to fill the gaps in my knowledge and research results. As a result, together we have been able to publish probably the first accurate account of how the game of patience was introduced into the English language. Keep digging. You never know what you will find!

Tony Hall, October 2023.


Notes & References

1. Longmans, Green and Co., 1905, Reprinted in the Patterson Print Reprint Series, no. 132, 1972

2. The date of the first edition is still unknown.

3. The Bodleian Library has various editions of the French original: 1842, 1850, 1857, 1861, and 1894. Search Oxford Libraries Online

See also Le Livre des Patiences by Madame de F* (Marquise de Fortia), Paris, France 1842

4. Tony Hall, Whist Writers and Pseudonyms, wopc, 2023

Thanks to Peter Burnett for additional research.

Le Livre des Patiences by Madame de F* (Marquise de Fortia), Paris, France 1842
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47 Articles

By Tony Hall

Member since January 30, 2015

I started my interest in card games about 70 years ago, playing cribbage with my grandfather. Collecting card game materials started 50 years or so later, when time permitted. One cribbage board was a memory; two became the start of a collection currently exceeding 150!

Once interest in the social history of card games was sparked, I bought a wooden whist marker from the 1880s which was ingenious in design and unbelievably tactile. One lead to two and there was no stopping.

What happened thereafter is reflected in my articles and downloads on this site, for which I will be eternally grateful.


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