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The History of Solitaire

02.05.2007

We have already published some articles about particular solitaires, so it is time to acquaint you with history of the game. Like the origin of playing cards, the origin of solitaire is largely unknown as there are no historical records to support it. Some scholars think these kinds of games are largely French in origin as early English language books about patience games refer to French literature. This can be evidenced by the names of some games written in those English books such as La Belle Lucie, Le Cadran, Le Loi Salique, La Nivernaise and others.

Internationally, the game of solitaire has many names. It is often called "Patience", especially in Britain. In France, the game is sometimes called "Success" (reussite). Other languages, such as Danish, Norwegian and Polish often use the word "Kabal" or "Kabala" (secret knowledge) to describe these games. This goes back to the early origins of solitaire where the outcome of a game may have been though to be a type of fortune telling.

Solitaire makes it earliest appearance in writing in about 1783 where it is described in a German book of games. It was described as a competitive card game where players would take turns or play with separate decks of cards. The idea of playing solitaire completely by one's self probably came out of people enjoying practicing for competitive games.

The first collection of solitaire card games in the English language is attributed to Lady Adelaide Cadogan through her Illustrated Games of Patience, published in about in 1870 and reprinted several times. Before this, there was no literature about solitaire, not even in such books as Charles Cotton's The Compleat Gamester (1674), Abbe Bellecour's Academie des Jeux (1674), and Bohn's Handbook of Games (1850), all of which are used as reference on card games.

Lady Cadogan's book spawned other collections such as Patience by E. D. Cheney, Amusements for Invalids by Annie B. Henshaw (1870), and later Dick's Games of Patience, published by Dick and Fitzgerald. Other books about solitaire written towards the end of the 19th century were by H. E. Jones (a.k.a. Cavendish), Angelo Lewis (a.k.a. Professor Hoffman), Basil Dalton, and Ernest Bergholt.

It is widely believed, but not true, that Napoleon played solitaire during his exile. Many solitaire games bare his name or the name of the island he was exiled to: Little Napoleon, St. Helena, Napoleon's Square, etc. However, Napoleon enjoyed the more popular games of the day such as Whist, so whether he played those solitaire games or actually invented them is not known. Nevertheless by the mid-19th century, solitaire was popular in French society.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was another of the many well known avid solitaire players. His favorite solitaire game was Spider solitaire, but there is also a solitaire called Roosevelt.

There are also literary references to solitaire games. Some of these are:

  • Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace mentions a scene that took place in 1808 where the characters were playing patience.
  • The convict in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations plays solitaire in Pip's flat.
  • In John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men, protagonist George Milton often plays Solitaire on the road and on the farm.
  • Somerset Maugham's The Gentleman in the Parlour mentions Spider and quotes playing solitaire as "a flippant disposition."
  • In Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov, the character Grushenka played a solitaire game known as Fools to get through times of crisis.
  • In Peter Duck, one of the books in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series, Captain Flint keeps himself occupied by playing Miss Milligan.

There are more than 100 distinctly individual solitaire games, with that number reaching more than 1,000 when you consider minor variations.

In the 1980s, personal computers made solitaire more popular than ever. Since players don't need to shuffle and deal the cards for each and every hand, game play has become more enjoyable. In addition, the ability to start a new game with only the click of a mouse has brought forward the addictive quality of these games.

However, there are still millions of people who play the "old-fashion way" with a standard deck of cards, perhaps much like the deck of cards Napoleon played with nearly 200 years ago.

Sources:
Wikipedia
Just Solitaire
Solitaire Card Games

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