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|The Comfort of the Billiard Table
Written by JulieW
(5/24/2007 7:48 a.m.)
The scenes at Rosings in our current chapters take place around Easter . As this is a moveable feast in the Christian calendar (Easter Sunday is always on March 22nd to April 25th inclusive ,therefore there are 35 possible dates for it), we can’t really pinpoint the dates that Lizzy visits Charlotte or the Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam visit Lady Catherine, IMHO,( Ellen Moody has created a calendar for P+P based on the publication date of the book-see teh P+P Board FAQ) but, however, we do know that it is spring( March – April) and that therefore gentlemen’s opportunities for enjoying themselves in the country were now limited :
Within doors there was Lady Catherine, books, and a billiard-table, but gentlemen cannot be always within doors; and in the nearness of the Parsonage, or the pleasantness of the walk to it, or of the people who lived in it, the two cousins found a temptation from this period of walking thither almost every day.
There is no opportunity for shooting game as the close season is now upon the gentlemen. Game could only be shot during the “open season”. By April that had ended.(Here is a link to modern close seasons, to give you some idea of the dates ).
Indoors there would be no music either ,rmember,as neither Lady C or Anne can play( and Mrs Jenkinson is probably only allowed to play in her room!),but there would be books, ( if one was allowed the peace and quiet in which to read) and a billiard table.
Here is a picture of an an early 19th century billiard table manufacturer’s advert for his wares:
Billiards had developed as a game in the 17th century ,and its popularity rose during the 18th and into the early 19th centuries. One can clearly see its appeal, as something for men to do within doors on days when on hunting shooting or fishing could not take place .
The big problem was accommodating the table in houses: they were large items of furniture, needing some space to allow the game to be played properly.
Here is Diana Spurling’s wonderful illustration of the entrance hall at her home, Dynes Hall in Essex, from the book Mrs Hurst Dancing and Other Scenes form Regency Life
Gordon Mingay comments on the picture as follows:
…The picture reveals the existence of a billiard table in the hail. Billiards became a popular game with gentlemen in the previous century, but the cost and size of the table limited it to the well-to-do, and even in the larger houses the only place that could be found for it was in the hail. This was not always very convenient, however, and so the new houses of the nineteenth century often had a room specially set aside for the game. Frequently it was located in what eventually became the "gentlemen's suite" of the house, with a separate entrance from outside, and near the study, library, smoking room and gentlemen's cloakroom. Most country gentlemen found a billiard table to be an asset, especially when the weather forbade outside activities and male guests became restless indoors.
I'm sure that at a modern built house like Rosings where they have the advantage of such a myriad of rooms including such a thing as a "small summer breakfast parlour", there would be a room to accommodate a billiard table ;-)
Jane Austen herself knew of one at Godmersham ,and recognized its attractions for gentlemen.
Look at this from her letter to Cassandra ,dated October 14th,1813:
The comfort of the billiard-table here is very great; it draws all the gentlemen to it whenever they are within, especially after dinner, so that my brother, Fanny, and I have the library to ourselves in delightful quiet.
There were many variations on the game . My copy of Hoyle’s Games(1816) lists five variants:
GAME OF BILLIARDS.
THERE are various games of billiards as follows:
The White Winning Game.
The game usually played is the White Winning Game.
(I wont bore you with the details of the rules, for they amount to 32 pages of the book.)
However ,I am sure that now you can understand what a comfort such a table would be-especailly at Rosings, away from the normal comforts of home and in quite dull society . And no wonder the gentlemen often walked to the rectory ;-)
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