Project Canterbury

The Life and Letters of George Alfred Lefroy, D.D.
Bishop of Calcutta, and Metropolitan

By H. H. Montgomery

London, etc.: Longmans, Green and Co., 1920.

Chapter XIV. Problems of European Life

THE evangelist missionary, being a Bishop, was now called to face the problems specially affecting the European communities in his diocese. It required, of course, a combination of forthrightness and courage, together with genuine sympathy and tact, and more especially with comprehension of the difficulties which beset our race in India.

I have chosen two or three subjects in order to illustrate Lefroy's courage and also his statesmanlike balance of mind, and I append somewhat lengthy extracts, first, from two sermons preached in Christchurch, Simla, in August, 1905, on Gambling, addressed to that remarkable congregation to which I have already called attention. And secondly, from his Charge delivered in 1906 dealing with the one outstanding problem of India, the attitude of the Englishman towards the Indian. Neither of the two subjects are merely Diocesan but of general interest and permanent importance. Let the Bishop speak for himself. And it is instructive to remember that Lefroy was most cautious to obtain the exact facts before he made a public utterance. An officer informs me that two years before the sermons on Gambling were preached, Lefroy was privately inquiring of those whom he could trust the exact details connected with the gambling habit. He remarked to the officer in question that he dreaded being made a laughing-stock in consequence of some ignorant statement of a stupid parson, not because it was humiliating, but because it spoilt his case.

A Sermon on Gambling (extracts only)

It will be observed that in basing my charge against the habit of gambling, I am dealing with what I conceive to be a tendency always and necessarily underlying the act itself, and not merely with some of those coarser abuses connected with the turf, and other special centres of gambling, which are so notorious and undeniable that it would be needless for me in this place to single them out for attack. And I feel that in some ways the conditions of our Anglo-Indian life make it especially necessary that I should be able thus to deal with an essential tendency of the habit, rather than with the coarser forms of its abuse, for undoubtedly the latter are not at all as prominent out here as they are, by all admission, in very many cases in England. Our English society out here forms a very limited and somewhat select circle in which the coarser forms of welshing, etc., are naturally impossible; as are also those large prison corridors (which come before us in parts of the evidence given before the Committee of the House of Lords, to which I have already referred, as well as from other sources), filled with clerks who have been convicted of theft, and who, it is stated, in almost every single instance, trace their fall to gambling losses in some form or other.

In saying this, however, I must not be supposed in the very least to imply that even out here actual crime, or the wreck of careers is by any means unknown in connection with this habit. Many of you will remember that quite recently an order was passed by the Corporation of Calcutta forbidding, under pain of dismissal, any of their employe's to indulge in the habit of betting in amounts "which could possess for him more than a trifling interest." One may be perfectly certain that a body like the Calcutta Corporation does not deal with an exceedingly thorny and difficult subject such as that of gambling, without having been compelled thereto by very specific instances of the injury to their work which results from it, while for me it is of special interest to note that one of the forms which such injury takes, as indicated in the resolution, is exactly that of the un-settlement and loss of interest in honest work, on which I have myself been laying primary stress; "when heavy winnings are the result, his salary and the desire to earn it by honest labour tend to become matters of comparative unimportance, and a proper interest in his work disappears." The dangers attendant on heavy losses are still more obvious and do not need to be pointed out. Further, I can feel no doubt in my own mind that there is scarcely a military man amongst you whom I am now addressing, who has not, in his own experience, known of instances where non-commissioned officers (would that I could say non-commissioned officers alone!) have got into most serious trouble, and been dismissed from the service, for defalcations in connection with canteen funds or other regimental accounts, the origin of which can be traced with absolute certainty to betting or gambling losses. I, at any rate, should have no difficulty in laying my finger quite specifically on not a few cases which have occurred during my years in India.

But still it is not on such quite overt cases of criminality and disaster that I wish to lay primary stress this morning, but rather on that spirit of restlessness and unhealthy excitement which I believe is a necessary characteristic of the entire practice. Thus, to take the case of the Derby Sweep, which is so well known an institution out here, the amount involved in which has increased so enormously during the last twenty-five years, and into which now not Englishmen only but Indians of every possible class and condition of life, and I fear in ever-increasing numbers, put their ten rupees. Can it be denied for an instant that there are men in all ranks of life, who are looking year by year to a successful draw, perhaps of two lacs if by rare luck they should win the first prize, or of some smaller amount, as the path to that success in life for which they long; e.g., that possibility of resigning the service in which they may be employed, going home and settling down comfortably there, or the like? And if this is so, and I do not myself believe that any honest man in the least acquainted with the real facts of the case will for an instant deny it, can this be said from any conceivable standpoint to be a healthy influence at work on the characters of the men who thus take part in that great lottery?

I will take, before stopping, one other instance which has been brought much more closely to my own notice than that of the Derby Sweep, of the very existence of which, of course, many of us may remain almost wholly unaware after years in the country. I refer to the sweep on the daily run, and probably the sale of the numbers on the last few days of the voyage, which is, I believe, an invariable accompaniment of a journey on the P. and O., and for all I know on all other lines as well. I imagine that the institution is due really to two causes. In the first place, there is that craving for a little excitement which is so intensely natural in view of the dull monotony which characterises for most of us life on shipboard. With that desire for a little excitement, I need scarcely say that I entirely sympathise, or rather share it in full measure myself. None the less, I do hold that, before we are justified in seeking to secure it in any special direction, we are bound, if we look at life in a moral way and with any sense whatever of responsibility attaching to it, to see whether there is anything essentially unwholesome or undesirable in that pursuit. And if the charge which I am thus bringing against the whole spirit and temper of gambling has anything in it, then I do not think that participation in those steamer sweeps is a wholesome or desirable form in which to relieve our ennui. I should like to add (for I think it may affect the practice of not a few of those who have really in themselves rather disliked these sweeps, but have not felt any clear basis of objection to them on which to ground refusal to participate) that they are in themselves undoubtedly illegal, although in the conditions of ship life it would be exceedingly difficult to get any one to take on himself the odium of demonstrating such illegality. But I was so much annoyed myself, on a recent journey to England, by the persistence with which passengers were urged to join in the sweep, that I wrote to a man who has at his fingers' ends all the legislation connected with gambling, being indeed secretary to what is known as the National Anti-Gambling League, to inquire of him on the subject. His reply ran:--

"All sweepstakes are lotteries: all lotteries are absolutely illegal by British law. The different parties can all be punished under the somewhat complicated series of Lottery Acts. In each case the lawyers have to determine upon the best method of procedure. We have had our funds too much occupied to go at those steamer sweepstakes. The penalties differ, but can be made heavy if the tribunals are disposed."

As I have said, under the conditions of life on board ship, it would undoubtedly be very difficult to get any one to take the matter up and try to get these sweeps stopped. On the other hand, I feel sure that there are not a few people amongst us who, if once they recognised that gambling in this form is illegal, would entirely decline to participate in it merely because, being on board ship, they could not easily be got at, or proceeded against, for doing so. We claim to be naturally a law-abiding people, and if that claim is not made in vain, as I am sure it is not, this would seem to be a point at which our law-abiding instinct might well come into play, and make us abstain from participation in an amusement which is in itself unquestionably illegal.

In a somewhat similar way, it would seem to me a very strange thing indeed if among the officers of the British Army there were not a good many with whom it goes a good deal against the grain to punish N.C.O.'s or men who are brought before them for playing cards for stakes, or gambling in some other form, while all the time they know perfectly well that they are doing exactly the same thing themselves, perhaps every night of their lives. I entirely decline to believe that this can be a congenial position for Englishmen to find themselves in. To refuse to punish in such cases is not indeed within their power, the King's Regulations being perfectly clear. Another remedy, however, is open to them, the adoption of which would seem to put them, in some ways, in a stronger position.

But to come back to the sweeps on board ship. I feel perfectly certain that there is another cause always at work in such cases, quite apart from the excitement which many crave, and that is the deliberate desire, on the part at any rate of some of the men who take a prominent part in getting up such sweeps, to annex for their own purposes the money of other passengers. I know, of course, how indignantly the individuals concerned would repudiate such a suggestion, and maintain that they are actuated purely by sporting motives, and retaliate on any one who declines to join in their gamble the charge of being spoilers of sport. I likewise, however, indignantly repudiate this latter charge, and most steadily maintain that they are not the true spoilers of sport who object to betting in connection with it, but rather they who are little by little degrading every possible form of English sport by the money interest which they insist on associating with it, and which inevitably, sooner or later, contaminates all which it touches. Thus we all deplore at the present time the immense increase in professionalism in football, while it would be hazardous to say that even the cricket field will much longer be secure from the same disease. But professionalism, as we all know in our hearts, simply spells money interest, and only by getting rid of this once again can we restore our English play-fields to the thoroughly healthy and valuable position which they previously occupied.

No, it is just as well to be perfectly straight and honest in such matters, and I repeat with the most absolute conviction, that always in such cases there are some men who are trusting to what they may win on the voyage either to pay the expense of their ticket, or to have a much better time at home than what they would otherwise have enjoyed. It is not, I hope, that I fail to sympathise with a man whose means may be smaller than my own; and if such a one would come frankly and say that he was hard up and would be grateful for a contribution of or 15 towards the expenses of his trip home, which he greatly wanted to take, I imagine that I, and not a few others, would probably be often willing to assist in such a case. But what I do emphatically and most strongly object to is that, under the colour of sport, my money should be annexed from what is, at the bottom, a purely mercenary motive; and I cannot help fearing that, not in this connection only, but in the matter of playing cards for comparatively high stakes as well, the number of those--women, I fear, at least as much as men--who play definitely for the sake of winning money, and who look to the card table as a very real source of income, is steadily increasing. This, however, belongs to the part of the subject with which I propose to deal next Sunday, and I do not want to go into it now. My desire this morning has simply been to call attention to this whole question, to indicate the undoubtedly great spread, as I believe, of the gambling habit; to try to make clear some of those very real evils connected with it, which I know many people find it difficult to see clearly; and to ask whether amongst you who are present this morning there are not some at any rate who, even in the absence of such a wholly satisfactory and convincing definition of the gambling habit as would finally demonstrate the evils connected with it (and no one knows better than I do myself how extremely difficult it is to frame such a definition), will yet be prepared to take a firmer stand with regard to this matter in the future than perhaps they have done in the past, and will decline entirely to have any dealings with a practice, the evils of which, I am perfectely convinced, are manifold and great, and in connnection with which I, for one, am wholly unable to see any single redeeming feature of positive usefulness and good. . . .

Sermon II. (on Gambling)

Before passing away from this aspect of the subject which occupied last Sunday, I want to say a few more words as to the place and significance in our life of that element of chance, or luck, which is so inevitable, and which constitutes for very many people, I think, a real difficulty in connection with this question.

Again and again it has been said to me, "What can be the harm of it? Of course it is a matter of luck; but chance comes into everything. You cannot possibly eliminate it from human life, so what is the good of making it out to be such a tremendous evil in this particular connection?" That sounds plausible, and I believe the difficulty of perceiving the answer to that position has been a contributing cause in the case of not a few persons who have been drawn into the gambling habit in some form or other. But does not the answer to it really lie somewhere along these lines? Undoubtedly--speaking for the moment purely from the human standpoint, and leaving out of sight all thought of God's overruling providence in the background--undoubtedly the element of uncertainty, chance, luck--call it what you will--in our human life is very large indeed. God has put us into this world of His with a most limited knowledge of, and still less control over, future events, with the necessary result that uncertainty and chance enter very largely into every single department of human life, and involve at any rate the risk of the upset of even the best-laid human plans. At the same time it should be noticed that, so far from this condition of things being merely injurious, it acts in many ways as exactly the reverse; for one great function of the reasoning faculty with which we have been endowed would appear to be just this--to recognise the inevitable presence of this feature of uncertainty in all the conditions with which we have to deal, and to set itself, by careful and wise foresight, to reduce it to a minimum, or if possible to eliminate it altogether from the sphere of our operations. In other words, the very presence of that element of uncertainty and consequent risk has acted as a challenge to our reasoning powers and stimulated them to do their very best to overcome it, and it would be impossible to say how great has been the enrichment of human life in every conceivable quarter from the stimulus thus imparted. The agriculturist knows full well how exceedingly uncertain are the conditions of weather upon which almost all the successes of his arduous labour depends, he therefore sets himself with infinite industry and pains to guard, to the utmost of his power, by every possible resource, against these risks, and his excellence as an agriculturist may be said to depend upon the success he attains in such efforts. The same is true in every branch of life. The cricket captain recognises the uncertainty which necessarily besets the match, he makes his dispositions to overcome them, and his fitness for his post is indicated by the measure of success which he secures. So, too, in trade, speaking now of trade in its solid, steady, honest aspect, not of it on the side of that wild and unprincipled gambling, which I fear enters in no small degree into too many branches of trade at the present time, to its immeasurable injury and its certain eventual decay. All trade, of course, has its risks, it may be very great risks indeed, but the sober, careful merchant sets himself to overcome these, often with a large measure of success.

From these instances it will be seen what I conceive to be the normal and legitimate relation which exists between our reasoning faculties and this feature of uncertainty and chance in all the conditions of human life. Its very presence acts as a challenge to the reason to eliminate it, or to reduce to the utmost extent the sphere of its action and influence.

But it is obvious that the moment we turn to gambling, in any form whatever, the exact opposite of this normal relation comes into play, for the very idea of gambling is to enlarge the area of chance, and deliberately and of set purpose, to make it predominate in the affairs which are submitted to its control. Thus, what is the roulette table but an invention designed expressly and exclusively for the very purpose of making chance supreme in regard to the disposal of the stakes which are involved? Is it not then obvious that, while in all the other operations of human life, to which I have thus referred, we set ourselves to eliminate the element of risk, and to attain to the highest degree of certainty possible, in gambling this is exactly reversed; for does not the whole essence of the thing depend on the presence of that element of uncertainty, and does not gambling become impossible exactly in proportion as this element is eliminated? It is recognised on all sides that there cannot be (or at any rate ought not to be--would that there never were!) any betting on a certainty.

It appears, therefore, that the analogy which it was sought to establish between the various forms of betting or gambling, and that element of uncertainty and risk which forms so inevitable a part of human life, fails entirely, or rather is exactly reversed, in the latter instance, reason being kept on its true plane and attaining some of its highest triumphs, while in the former it is, as I hold, deliberately dethroned and dishonoured.

I now pass on to the subject which, as I have told you, will occupy us to day, namely, that of the practice of card-playing, or shall I say more especially of Bridge, when played for high stakes; though, indeed, what I want to say on this point also really applies to the entire practice and spirit of gambling in whatever form it may appear. But first of all let me substitute for the expression which I have just used--Bridge-playing for high stakes--this, Bridge played for any stakes in which money interest has a substantial place in the mind of the players. We shall all recognise that these expressions are by no means synonymous, for in the case of some, more especially, perhaps, women, a very high degree of interest in the game may be excited on what is really a monetary basis, even though the amount of stakes actually involved may seem to others almost absurdly small.

I know full well how immensely difficult, or rather how impossible, it is to estimate the degree to which cards are played deliberately for the sake of the money involved. A friend of mine asked a young captain of his acquaintance, how many men in his regiment, he supposed, played chiefly for the sake of the money; and his reply was that he thought about two-thirds of them. Presumably the same would hold true in many other cases. On the other hand, of course, I know there are many men--many doubtless amongst those whom I am at this moment addressing--who for years have had their nightly game of Whist or Bridge for quite fixed stakes which never vary or increase, and which are of infinitesimal value, regard being had to the position and incomes of the players. Such men would, I am sure, entirely deny that they were playing for the sake of the money which they might win, though at the same time if I were to propose that they should substitute counters for annas, it is probable that they would in a large majority of cases decline. They would reply that while they were not playing for the money, still just to have a little something on, adds an interest to the game which would otherwise be lacking, helps to. secure carefulness in play and accuracy in marking, etc. I have thought very carefully over the point, and confess that I am wholly unable to perceive how this can be distinguished from a genuine monetary interest, however small in degree. It is always well to be clear on such points, and to understand one's own position, so I would suggest to any one who holds that he is not playing from any interest in the money involved, that he should ask himself whether he would be quite willing to substitute counters for money; and if not, to get it clear in his own mind, why not.

Or, to take another test, would not the interest of the game in many cases be materially reduced, if it were known that at the close of the evening a box, on behalf of some charitable institution, would be passed round, into which all winnings would be put? (To guard against any possible misunderstanding, let me say at once that I am not suggesting that this should be done, at any rate on behalf of any charitable institutions with which I am myself connected, for nothing is further from my desire than that they should be supported from a source which I regard as so essentially tainted.) In this case I feel no doubt that a certain number would willingly accept the proposal; they would say, "We have had our fun out of the game, we do not in the least want to keep the money we have won, and we are perfectly willing that it should go into the box." All credit to them! In such cases one may safely say that the essential money interest, of which I am now speaking, is really absent. But on the other hand, I doubt very much indeed whether any considerable proportion at all of Bridge players would welcome the proposal, and I venture to think that if it were enforced, the amount of Bridge-playing, let me say in Simla itself, would be so materially reduced as to call for no notice, at any rate from this pulpit. Further let me add, with regard to those regular and small money stakes, even in cases where the test which I have just suggested would not be accepted, that while I may not myself think the practice entirely satisfactory or wholesome, and certainly would not think of playing for a money stake at all myself (as indeed I feel quite sure that the great majority of you would be sorry to see me doing), yet I entertain no very strong feeling on the subject, and most certainly should not be dealing with the question from the pulpit to-day, if Bridge-playing were always restricted to this.

But we know perfectly well, if we choose to be honest, that this is not the case, but that, however many there may be who play in a very harmless way indeed, yet there are not a few who do play for the sake of the money involved. Some of these may be almost unconscious of the fact themselves, though every one else who has anything to do with them, or who watches them at play, sees it with unmistakable clearness; while some do not attempt to deny or disguise the fact that they play quite deliberately in order to win, women perhaps in order to be able to dress better, men to pay off old debts, or to have a better time in some form or other.

It is of play of this kind that I now wish to speak, and the charge I bring against it is that of being essentially anti-social. The word may sound a little curious to you in this connection, but I hope I shall be able to make my meaning clear.

I hold, then, that all play of this character is necessarily antisocial in the following three respects:--

(a) It is anti-social because my gain must be, nakedly and purely, your loss, and conversely your gain is my loss. It is not in the least like trade, in which we pay a certain price and receive in return a commodity, buyer and seller alike profiting by the exchange. Exactly the same applies, of course, to money spent on any form of amusement, whether a seat for a concert or a play, the keep of a hunter, or any other of the thousand and one ways in which money may be spent, and quite legitimately spent, under this head. In each case there is, or is supposed to be, some quite definite and tangible return which is looked for as the value of the money spent. But in the case of money lost at cards, or in any other form of gambling, there is plainly nothing whatever of this kind of mutual benefit, and probably this is one reason why it has been found necessary to enlist in support of payment of money thus lost, the grossly absurd and fictitious idea that it is peculiarly "a debt of honour." What other conceivable claim can be advanced for the exceptional treatment which it is thus sought to accord to money dealings of this singularly unsatisfactory character, I cannot imagine. But putting that on one side, I hold very strongly that there ought to be, and need be, no social dealings whatever between us on that basis of my gain being purely and simply your loss; I hold that it is opposed to that fundamental truth of our religion, which comes out in the verses which I have chosen for my text, and in so many other passages of St. Paul's writings; in that one, for instance, where he says "There should be no schism in the body; but the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it;" while also I hold that it is no less opposed to all that is healthiest and best in the relations of our national, social, and family life.

(b) Secondly, I urge that Bridge so played is anti-social in what may perhaps be called a smaller way, because in the absorption which it produces, manners are in some cases lost sight of, other engagements are in danger of being put aside or neglected; guests, who are not willing to take their place at the table for the recognised stakes, may not perhaps be as welcome as they would otherwise be; in short, the pursuit becomes, in an unhealthy degree, engrossing. I know, of course, that the same might be said of any pursuit or amusement carried to excess. But if frequent recent illustrations in Punch are to go for anything at all (and I can scarcely doubt that they gain their point from some facts which are recognised to underlie them) it is at the present time more especially in connection with this game that such results are conspicuous, and I do not think that we can regard this as being to its credit, or doubt for an instant that it is the fact of money being involved which makes it so undesirably engrossing.

(c) It is anti-social, not merely in view of the actual stakes which change hands at the conclusion of the game, but from the purely self-regarding and selfish standpoint which dominates the players throughout. Thus, to take one point, it will of course be admitted by every one that a man ought not to play for more than he can afford, and that before entering on a course of play it is his duty to ask himself whether he can afford to lose the amount, if luck should go against him. But you cannot play Bridge alone, and I wonder how often does a man ask himself, not only "Can I afford to lose the amount?" but "Can the other men with whom I am going to play, who perhaps are being encouraged by my example and influence to join in the game, can they also afford the amount?" Here, again, I know quite well that there are many players, especially older men, who certainly would do this, and would take care that they were not leading a younger man to play for stakes larger than he could quite well afford. But I cannot doubt either, that in a very large number of cases, the reply would be, "I really cannot go into that point: each man must judge for himself. I am responsible for my own pocket and for my own conscience, but not for any one else's; or to put it quite plainly, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' "--a sentiment which, I may remind you, fell in the first instance from the lips of a not very respectable character, Cain, just after he had killed his brother. But this whole attitude of mind is one, which I hold that we are bound most absolutely to condemn. As a simple fact, whether we like it or not, we are and must be in many respects our brother's keeper, in the sense, I mean, of being responsible for the influence which we exercise over one another's lives. It is supremely true, and do what we will we cannot alter the fact, that "no man liveth to himself and no man dieth to himself," but that we are, in a very wonderful and mysterious way, bound together in one bundle of life one with another, so that we are in deed and in truth members of one body.

Further, while this power belongs in its measure to every single one amongst us, it of course is increased immeasurably by those positions of authority or relationship, in which we may be placed towards other lives, and obviously in such cases the guilt by the misuse of so solemn a trust which has been committed to us, is proportionately great.

Thus what are we to say of the senior officer, himself a keen Bridge player, who perhaps by word of mouth or simply by the influence of his example, induces some junior, who would personally in his heart much prefer not to play for money at all, to join in the game, and then wins his money? I fear that if I were to characterise that action exactly as it really appears to me, my language might not be thought entirely suitable to the place which I at present occupy; I will therefore only say that it appears to me to be a shameful prostitution of the great influence which such a one necessarily wields by virtue of the relation in which he stands to the younger man. I fear that this is a subject on which our English public conscience is as yet in some quarters inadequately awake, but I hope and believe that before very long a change will come in men's thoughts about it, similar to that which the last fifty years have seen amongst us in regard to drunkenness; and the gain of such an awakening will be great.

And there is one class about which I feel, if possible, still more strongly even than about that of the officers in high position of whom I have now spoken; I mean the women who use their God-given power of attractiveness, and that charm of influence which woman can so strongly exercise over man, to draw round them guests, in order to play for stakes with the deliberate intention and hope of winning their money. About such a case as this again I feel it very hard indeed to speak. I have a simply boundless admiration for those true, gracious, sweet women who move about amongst us, purifying the very air they breathe, making life a brighter and happier thing for all with whom they come in contact, and strengthening us all to meet more bravely and with truer manhood, the difficulties which so frequently beset our life. I thank God that I have known not a few such up here amongst ourselves in Simla; I thank God that as I look down into the faces of you who are sitting before me at this moment, I know that there are not a few such amongst us still. But in proportion to the strength of my admiration for true women of this sort, is the strength of my feeling, of a very different kind indeed, about those who so basely degrade the power which they wield, either in the way I have suggested or in other similar ways, and betray the sacred trust which has been committed to them by God to strengthen and purify the lives of men. ...

Project Canterbury