By Wayne Kett
In the year 1818 parents wishing to ensure their children grew into virtuous adults and free from vice, were given a new tool, in the form of a board game. To give it, its full name: The New Game of Virtue Rewarded and Vice Punished, For the Amusement of Youth of Both Sexes, was a game invented by Thomas Newton and published by William Darton. It sought in the words of its inventor to ‘promote the progressive improvement of the juvenile mind and to deter them from pursuing the dangerous paths of vice.‘
NWHCM : 1956.133.21: The New Game of Virtue Rewarded and Vice Punished for the Amusement of Youth of Both Sexes
The game is laid out as a spiral of circular pictures each numbered and given a title, either a vice such as ‘anger’ or ‘sloth’ or a virtue such as ‘temperance’ or ‘faith’. The game was played with a teetotum which was an early form of dice. Interestingly the teetotum was chosen as dice were associated with gambling which was obviously seen as a vice.
NWHCM : 1975.390.10: Pair of Teetotum from Strangers’ Hall collection
The game commences on the House of Correction square and ends with the winner reaching the 33rd and final square ‘Virtue’. There are however pitfalls along the way, for instance if you have the misfortune of landing on square 17 ‘carelessness’ your punishment is to return to square 2 ‘prudence’. Virtuous behaviour is rewarded as the pious (square 24) are rewarded with a jump up to temperance (square 31).
Square 1, the House of Correction. A place to be avoided.
What interests me about the game is what it tells us about how attitudes to good and bad or vice and virtue have changed in the 200 years since the game was published. Much of what the game has to teach is compatible with modern notions of vice and virtue. We all surely agree that truth and friendship are to be admired whilst hypocrisy and malice are to be disapproved of.
However there are some notable differences, luxury for example is presented as a sin. Do we still consider luxury a sin in the 21st century or is it something to aspire to? Regardless of your answer to this question, one thing is certain – even those of modest means enjoy luxuries in our lives that our 19th century counterparts could only dream of.
Luxury, depicted as a well fed man enjoying a large feast.
Whether the game was successful in achieving its intended aims is uncertain. I do think there is a certain irony in using a game of chance to teach children about the importance of choosing the correct path in life. So much of life is purely down to chance and the path we end up on does sometimes feel like it was decided by the throw of a dice or the spin of a teetotum.
This game forms part of Strangers’ Hall stored collections. Visit the Strangers’ Hall website for more information about this fantastic museum.
Visit our Collections website for a closer look at our stored collections: norfolkmuseumscollections.org
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