Wistful for Whist


A leather Whist marker produced by the English...

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My grandparents used to play a card game called Canasta. They hosted Canasta parties one night a week. As a kid, I enjoyed being at their house, with all their friends, and substituting in for someone who needed a partner.

I never knew anyone else who played the game. And I haven’t played Canasta since those days when I was eight or ten years old. It was kind of strange that the only card game I really knew was a game no one else had even heard of.

Of course, I eventually learned other card games. But one game I’ve never played and have never known others to play is the game of Whist. I first heard of Whist reading a biography of my favorite American President, Theodore Roosevelt. He played Whist. Knowing him, I’m convinced it must be a card game worth playing. So, though I’ve never played, I am sort of “wistful for Whist.”

A little Googling reveals that there are Whist games for play on the internet, and software versions of the game. I’d like to know whether any of my readers:

  1. have heard of Whist;
  2. have played Whist;
  3. like the game of Whist;
  4. have a favorite card game other than Whist;
  5. have played Whist online;
  6. have played a software version of Whist;
  7. have played Canasta.
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TR on Reading Fiction for Personal Improvement


Book Cover.TR's Letters to His SonsThe American President that most fascinates and inspires me is Theodore Roosevelt. I’ve read several biographies, the best of which is by Texas A & M historian H. W. Brands. I also enjoy collections of TR’s essays and letters.

In a letter to his son Kermit, written from the White House February 3, 1906, the President reveals something of the way he viewed fiction:

Dear Kermit:

I agree pretty well with your views of David Copperfield. Dora was very cunning and attractive, but I am not sure that the husband would retain enough respect for her to make life quite what it ought to be with her. This is a harsh criticism and I have known plenty of women of the Dora type whom I have felt were a good deal better than the men they married, and I have seen them sometimes make very happy homes. I also feel as you do that if a man had to struggle on and make his way it would be a great deal better to have someone like Sophie. Do you recollect the dinner at which David Copperfield and Traddles were, where they are described as seated at the dinner, one “in the glare of the red velvet lady’ and the other “gloom of Hamlet’s aunt”? I am so glad you like Thackeray. “Pendennis” and “The Newcomes” and “Vanity Fair” I can read over and over again.

If TR felt he could read such titles by Thackery over and over again, it is because he did. Thackery is mentioned in many of his letters. Here the father takes pleasure in a shared enthusiasm with his son. And why is he so pleased with the boy’s reading predilections? Apparently because of the power fiction has to form character, to provoke thought about values and truth, and to encourage wise decisions in life.

Evidence for this dominates the quotation. Notice that TR is, in effect, counseling his son about choices in marriage. He is very subtle in this.

It’s pleasing to see that this accomplished public figure had such a relationship with his children that he would write about such things in his letters from the White House.

From the quoted portion of Roosevelt’s letter to Kermit, there is much of positive value to glean:

  • He takes time for his children in the midst of major official responsibilities.
  • He writes in a slow, reflective pace.
  • He guides by example.
  • He engages his son in discussion of ideas and values on the basis of a shared interest.
  • He shows genuine enthusiasm for great literature outside his range of responsibilities.
  • He exemplifies a manner of reading fiction that is directed by the desire to grow in wisdom.
  • He advises the young without preaching at them in any condescending fashion.
  • He regards his son as a peer in the realm of ideas.
  • He looks for points of contact between the fictional characters he meets with in reading and living individuals he knows personally.

It’s enough to make you want to go back and read David Copperfield, and check out the works he cites by William Thackeray.

William Makepeace Thackery, Painted by Sir John Gilbert

William Makepeace Thackery, Painted by Sir John Gilbert

Works mentioned in this post:

Kindle users should know that there is a Kindle collection of over 100 of Thackery’s publications (including the three mentioned in this post) that you can get with a single purchase (cost: $4.79 at the time of this post). Click here. I like the Kindle!

Book Cover.TR's Letters to His Sons.2The quotation is from page 80 in The Letters and Lessons of Theodore Roosevelt for His Sons, edited and compiled by Doug Phillips.

Reading Owen Wister


wisterowen1Owen Wister, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (1902) — I started reading this novel January 8, 2009. I was hooked by the first paragraph. I suppose some ‘hawsses’ really are giddy pranksters. Wister’s book is a classic, the first in the western genre, and unexcelled. Humor I can appreciate appears on every page. Bits are stories in their own right, and fun to read aloud. You can hear how the Virginian sounds from the way the author crafts his dialogue. Wister and Theodore Roosevelt were close friends. The complete text of the novel is available online at Project Gutenberg. You could have a look there, then decide whether to get a hard copy. It can be ordered at Amazon here.

Excerpt from Chapter 5—”Enter the Woman”

“We are taking steps,” said Mr. Taylor. “Bear Creek isn’t going to be hasty about a schoolmarm.”

“Sure,” assented the Virginian. “The children wouldn’t want yu’ to hurry.”

But Mr. Taylor was, as I’ve indicated, a serious family man. The problem of educating his children could appear to him in no light except a sober one.

“Bear Creek,” he said, “don’t want the experience they had over at Calef. We must not hire an ignoramus.”

“Sure!” assented the Virginian again.

“Nor we don’t want no gad-a-way flirt,” said Mr. Taylor.

“She must keep her eyes on the blackboa’d,” said the Virginian, gently.

“Well, we can wait till we get a guaranteed article,” said Mr. Taylor.

. . . . The Virginian was now looking over the letter musingly, and with awakened attention.

“‘Your very sincere spinster,'” he read aloud and slowly.

“I guess that means she’s forty,” said Mr. Taylor.

“I reckon she is about twenty,” said the Virginian. And again he fell to musing over the paper that he held.

“Her handwriting ain’t like any I’ve saw,” pursued Mr. Taylor. “But Bear Creek would not object to that, provided she knows ‘rithmetic and George Washington, and them kind of things.”

“I expect she is not an awful sincere spinster,” surmised the Virginian, still looking at the letter, still holding it as if it were some token.”

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