Cox's Diary, by William Makepeace Thackeray

the Finishing Touch.

I was always fond of billiards: and, in former days, at Grogram’s in Greek Street, where a few jolly lads of my acquaintance used to meet twice a week for a game, and a snug pipe and beer, I was generally voted the first man of the club; and could take five from John the marker himself. I had a genius, in fact, for the game; and now that I was placed in that station of life where I could cultivate my talents, I gave them full play, and improved amazingly. I do say that I think myself as good a hand as any chap in England.

The Count and his Excellency Baron von Punter were, I can tell you, astonished by the smartness of my play: the first two or three rubbers Punter beat me, but when I came to know his game, I used to knock him all to sticks; or, at least, win six games to his four: and such was the betting upon me; his Excellency losing large sums to the Count, who knew what play was, and used to back me. I did not play except for shillings, so my skill was of no great service to me.

One day I entered the billiard-room where these three gentlemen were high in words. “The thing shall not be done,” I heard Captain Tagrag say: “I won’t stand it.”

“Vat, begause you would have de bird all to yourzelf, hey?” said the Baron.

“You sall not have a single fezare of him, begar,” said the Count: “ve vill blow you, M. de Taguerague; parole d’honneur, ve vill.”

“What’s all this, gents,” says I, stepping in, “about birds and feathers?”

“Oh,” says Tagrag, “we were talking about — about — pigeon-shooting; the Count here says he will blow a bird all to pieces at twenty yards, and I said I wouldn’t stand it, because it was regular murder.”

“Oh, yase, it was bidgeon-shooting,” cries the Baron: “and I know no better sbort. Have you been bidgeon-shooting, my dear Squire? De fon is gabidal.”

“No doubt,” says I, “for the shooters, but mighty bad sport for the PIGEON.” And this joke set them all a-laughing ready to die. I didn’t know then what a good joke it WAS, neither; but I gave Master Baron, that day, a precious good beating, and walked off with no less than fifteen shillings of his money.

As a sporting man, and a man of fashion, I need not say that I took in the Flare-up regularly; ay, and wrote one or two trifles in that celebrated publication (one of my papers, which Tagrag subscribed for me, Philo-pestitiaeamicus, on the proper sauce for teal and widgeon — and the other, signed Scru-tatos, on the best means of cultivating the kidney species of that vegetable — made no small noise at the time, and got me in the paper a compliment from the editor). I was a constant reader of the Notices to Correspondents, and, my early education having been rayther neglected (for I was taken from my studies and set, as is the custom in our trade, to practise on a sheep’s head at the tender age of nine years, before I was allowed to venture on the humane countenance,)— I say, being thus curtailed and cut off in my classical learning, I must confess I managed to pick up a pretty smattering of genteel information from that treasury of all sorts of knowledge; at least sufficient to make me a match in learning for all the noblemen and gentlemen who came to our house. Well, on looking over the Flare-up notices to correspondents, I read, one day last April, among the notices, as follows:—

“‘Automodon.’ We do not know the precise age of Mr. Baker of Covent Garden Theatre; nor are we aware if that celebrated son of Thespis is a married man.

“‘Ducks and Green-peas’ is informed, that when A plays his rook to B’s second Knight’s square, and B, moving two squares with his Queen’s pawn, gives check to his adversary’s Queen, there is no reason why B’s Queen should not take A’s pawn, if B be so inclined.

“‘F. L. S.’ We have repeatedly answered the question about Madame Vestris: her maiden name was Bartolozzi, and she married the son of Charles Mathews, the celebrated comedian.

“‘Fair Play.’ The best amateur billiard and ecarte player in England, is Coxe Tuggeridge Coxe, Esq., of Portland Place, and Tuggeridgeville: Jonathan, who knows his play, can only give him two in a game of a hundred; and, at the cards, NO man is his superior. Verbum sap.

“‘Scipio Americanus’ is a blockhead.”

I read this out to the Count and Tagrag, and both of them wondered how the Editor of that tremendous Flare-up should get such information; and both agreed that the Baron, who still piqued himself absurdly on his play, would be vastly annoyed by seeing me preferred thus to himself. We read him the paragraph, and preciously angry he was. “Id is,” he cried, “the tables” (or “de DABELS,” as he called them) — “de horrid dabels; gom viz me to London, and dry a slate-table, and I vill beat you.” We all roared at this; and the end of the dispute was, that, just to satisfy the fellow, I agreed to play his Excellency at slate-tables, or any tables he chose.

“Gut,” says he, “gut; I lif, you know, at Abednego’s, in de Quadrant; his dabels is goot; ve vill blay dere, if you vill.” And I said I would: and it was agreed that, one Saturday night, when Jemmy was at the Opera, we should go to the Baron’s rooms, and give him a chance.

We went, and the little Baron had as fine a supper as ever I saw: lots of Champang (and I didn’t mind drinking it), and plenty of laughing and fun. Afterwards, down we went to billiards. “Is dish Misther Coxsh, de shelebrated player?” says Mr. Abednego, who was in the room, with one or two gentlemen of his own persuasion, and several foreign noblemen, dirty, snuffy, and hairy, as them foreigners are. “Is dish Misther Coxsh? blesh my hart, it is a honor to see you; I have heard so much of your play.”

“Come, come,” says I, “sir”— for I’m pretty wide awake —“none of your gammon; you’re not going to book ME.”

“No, begar, dis fish you not catch,” says Count Mace.

“Dat is gut! — haw! haw!” snorted the Baron. “Hook him! Lieber Himmel, you might dry and hook me as well. Haw! haw!”

Well, we went to play. “Five to four on Coxe,” screams out the Count. —“Done and done,” says another nobleman. “Ponays,” says the Count. —“Done,” says the nobleman. “I vill take your six crowns to four,” says the Baron. —“Done,” says I. And, in the twinkling of an eye, I beat him once making thirteen off the balls without stopping.

We had some more wine after this; and if you could have seen the long faces of the other noblemen, as they pulled out their pencils and wrote I.O.U.‘s for the Count! “Va toujours, mon cher,” says he to me, “you have von for me three hundred pounds.”

“I’ll blay you guineas dis time,” says the Baron. “Zeven to four you must give me though.” And so I did: and in ten minutes THAT game was won, and the Baron handed over his pounds. “Two hundred and sixty more, my dear, dear Coxe,” says the Count: “you are mon ange gardien!” “Wot a flat Misther Coxsh is, not to back his luck,” I hoard Abednego whisper to one of the foreign noblemen.

“I’ll take your seven to four, in tens,” said I to the Baron. “Give me three,” says he, “and done.” I gave him three, and lost the game by one. “Dobbel, or quits,” says he. “Go it,” says I, up to my mettle: “Sam Coxe never says no;” and to it we went. I went in, and scored eighteen to his five. “Holy Moshesh!” says Abednego, “dat little Coxsh is a vonder! who’ll take odds?”

“I’ll give twenty to one,” says I, “in guineas.”

“Ponays; yase, done,” screams out the Count.

“BONIES, done,” roars out the Baron: and, before I could speak, went in, and — would you believe it? — in two minutes he somehow made the game!


Oh, what a figure I cut when my dear Jemmy heard of this afterwards! In vain I swore it was guineas: the Count and the Baron swore to ponies; and when I refused, they both said their honor was concerned, and they must have my life, or their money. So when the Count showed me actually that, in spite of this bet (which had been too good to resist) won from me, he had been a very heavy loser by the night; and brought me the word of honor of Abednego, his Jewish friend, and the foreign noblemen, that ponies had been betted; — why, I paid them one thousand pounds sterling of good and lawful money. — But I’ve not played for money since: no, no; catch me at THAT again if you can.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00