Online Encyclopedia

BILLIARDS

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V03, Page 935 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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BILLIARDS, an indoor game of skill, played on a rectangular table,' and consisting in the driving of small balls with a stick called a cue either against one another or into pockets according to the methods and rules described below. The name probably originated in the Fr. bille (connected with Eng. " billet ") signifying a stick. Of the origin of the game comparatively little is known—Spain, Italy, France and Germany all being regarded as its original home by various authorities. In an American text-book, Modern Billiards, it is stated that Catkire More (Conn Cetchathach), king of Ireland in the 2nd century, left behind him " fifty-five billiard balls, of brass, with the pools and cues of the same materials." The same writer refers to the travels of Anacharsis through Greece, 400 B.C., during which he saw a game analogous to billiards. French writers differ as to whether their country can claim its origin, though the name suggests this. While it is generally asserted that Henrique Devigne, an artist, who lived in the reign of Charles IX., gave form and rule to the pastime, the Dictionnaire universel and the Academic des jeux ascribe its invention to the English. Bouillet in the first work says: " Billiards appear to be derived from the game of bowls. It was anciently known in England, where, perhaps, it was invented. It was brought into France by Louis XIV., whose physician recommended this exercise." In the other work mentioned we read: " It would seem that the game was invented in England." It was certainly known and played in France in the time of Louis XI. (1423-1483). Strutt, a rather doubtful authority, notwithstanding the reputation attained by his Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, considers it probable that it was the ancient game of Paille-maille (Pall Mall) on a table instead of on the ground or floor—an improvement, he says, " which answered two good purposes: it precluded the necessity of the player to kneel or stoop exceedingly when he struck the bowl, and accommodated the game to the limits of a chamber." Whatever its origin, and whatever the manner in which it was originally played, it is certain that it was known in the time of Shakespeare, who makes Cleopatra, in the absence of Anthony, invite her attendant to join in the pastime " Let us to billiards: come, Charmian." Ant. and Cleo. Act ii. sc. 5. In Cotton's Compleat Gamester, published in 1674, we are told that this " most gentile, cleanly and ingenious game " was first played in Italy, though in another page he mentions Spain as its birthplace. At that date billiards must have been well enough known, for we are told that " for the excellency of the recreation, it is much approved of and played by most nations of Europe, especially in England, there being few towns of note therein which hath not a public billiard table, neither are they wanting in many noble and private families in the country." The game was at one time played on a lawn, like modern croquet.2 Some authorities consider that in this form it was ' In 1907 an oval table was introduced in England by way of a change, but this variety is not here considered. 2 A later form of " lawn-billiards " again enjoyed a brief popularity during the latter half of the 19th century. It was played on a lawn, in the centre of which was a metal ring about 52 in. in diameter, planted upright in such a manner as to turn freely on its axis on a level with the ground. The players, two or more, were provided with implements resembling cues about 4 ft. long and ending in wire loops somewhat smaller in diameter than the wooden balls (one for each player), which were of such a size as barely to pass through the ring. In modern times such games as billiards have afforded scope for various imitations and modifications of this sort. introduced into Europe from the Orient by the Crusaders. The ball was rolled or struck with a mallet or cue (with the latter, if Strutt's allusion to " inconveniences " is correct) through hoops or rings, and these were reproduced for indoor purposes on a billiard-table, as well as a " king " or pin which had to be struck. In the original tables, which were square, there was one pocket, a hole in the centre of the table, as on a bagatelle board, the hoop or ring being retained. Then came similar pockets along one of the side cushions sunk in the bed of the table; and eventually the modern table was evolved, a true oblong or double-square, with pockets opening in the cushions at each corner and in the middle of each long side. The English tables are of this type, small bags of netting being attached to the pockets. The French and American game of billiards is played on a pocketless table. We shall deal first with the English game.
End of Article: BILLIARDS
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ELIZABETH BILLINGTON (1768?–1818)

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