Uncle Daniel

The idiosyncrasies of the human mind are not more remarkable for their number than for their diversity. It is told of the great Richelieu that he found an agreeable pastime in jumping over chairs, and of De Grammont who surprised the great cardinal thus amusing himself one day, that he instantly joined in the artless sport like a true courtier that he was. The immaculate Dr. Johnson adduced no little internal satisfaction from stepping on the cracks in the pavements as he walked along the street. Poor Goldsmith amused himself by playing the flute to the peasants in the lands through which he passed in quest of material for “The Traveler,” and Sir Walter Scott relaxed his nervous system by sliding down the baluster at Abbotsford with a pack of children on his back. Nor have these eccentricities been confined to cardinals, courtiers, or literateurs, for the luckless Louis XVI. turned his thoughts to lock-making in opportune moments, and Nero would not relinquish his coquetry with the violin whether Rome went down to ashes in a night, or went to perdition in a less tragic way.

I might multiply examples in support of this theory; I might call the proud list of names of those whom nothing could divert from their cherished hobby—the fiddler in the “Arkansas Traveler,” the hero of “Here She Goes and There She Goes,” Mrs. Micawber, who could never be prevailed upon to desert her lord—but I refrain; their name is legion. And while these are only peculiarities of individual heads, there are those which obtain in entire national minds. The Frenchman is most engrossed with intrigues, the Englishman is happy in a dream of the infallibility of John Bull, the Teuton is inseparable from his Sunday beer and song, while the Ethiopic mind turns ever fondly to bewitching policy.

This delusive hobby your true son of Ham rides from early childhood to the hour when life’s fitful fever is waning, and the variegated landscape of human events fades upon his sight. As of the poet, Pope, it may be said of him

“He lisped in numbers,”

and when death comes I surmise he will expire with the inquiry, “What’s first to-day in de Kentucky?” on his wandering tongue. A representative of the most superstitious race in the world, he believes in omens good and bad, and there is nothing which occurs in his daily life, or comes to him in visions, that can not be construed to throw a light across the mysterious surface of this losing game. I say losing advisedly, for though he is always going to make his fortune, he is really losing, drop by drop, what might ultimately constitute one, by the investments of small amounts in this ruling hallucination of his soul. After your colored tonsor invites you to set him up in a shop of his own, to give him the coat you have on, or the sleeve-buttons your wife gave you at Christmas, don’t he proceed to enlighten you concerning his experiences in playing “policy?” Certainly he does. If you know a darkey who is innocent of the significance of “gigs” and “saddles,” he is a stranger among his kind.

In the attempt which has been made to suppress gambling of all sorts, the “policy” business has come in for a share of attention, and, though it is popularly thought this manner of tempting fortune has been crushed out, it is constantly coming to the surface to confuse and discomfort the detective mind. I was walking through a region called “Africa,” situated in the neighborhood of Thompson and Broome streets, yesterday, when I met with an experience which leads me to make the above statement.

“What’s first, Joe?” asked a tall, brawny son of Africa of a little negro trudging in an opposite direction.

Joe turned up the whites of his eyes, gave a laugh, showing a solid row of ivories, and replied: “Why, I ain’t seen de slip, but dey say, around to Dutch Hanks, that sixteen’s fust, but I don’t believe it. I ain’t seen de slip, Joe. Golly, no, I ain’t seen de slip, but I dreamed on twenty-six and I’ll bet it comes fust. Just you see!”

A little further on I met an old darkey whose face looked exceedingly familiar. I stared at him and he at me until it flashed upon me that he was old Uncle Daniel Webster who used to be janitor at No. 21 Wall Street years and years ago. Knowing him then as a kind-hearted old policy-player, who talked to the operators as if they were really nephews of his, and who dreamed “gigs” and “saddles” for them to play and to lose upon, generally, I regret to say, as if he were their patron saint—knowing him thus, I

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