19 March 2014

Blind Man's Buff

Fig. I: Eden Park, The Seat of Lord Auckland by Peter La Cave, late 18th c.

In a letter from Edward Hamilton to Lord Stanhope in 1862, Hamilton tells a story passed down from his mother of a time she spent in the company of Mr Pitt:

“My mother, now 80 years of age, is the daughter of Sir Walter Farquhar, Mr Pitt’s honoured physician, and she says that she recollects the following circumstance. She went down with her father [Farquhar] and sister to Lord Auckland, near Beckenham to dine & stay the night. The only other guests were Mr Pitt & Ld Melville [Henry Dundas]. After dinner a variety of games were played, among others “Blind man's Bluff [Buff], and in the latter Mr Pitt took a prominent part. This anecdote has always appeared to me to have special value as showing how genial & joyous Mr Pitt’s nature was, & how entirely misrepresented he was by those who only knew him as he appeared in the H[ouse]. of Commons.” [1]

Fig. 2: Blind Man's Bluff by George Morland, late 18th century

Blind Man's Bluff, or 'Buff' - a small push - was a popular game amongst families and children in the Georgian and Regency periods. Still played today, it involves one player, the 'blind man,' having their eyes covered with a scarf tied around their head. The blind man is then turned around several times in a circular motion so that they lose their sense of direction. The blind man must then hold their hands out in front of them and search for another player by the feel of their face and hands. If they identify the right person, the blindfold is removed, and another player has a turn. If they fail, they have to keep trying to locate the other players. Another version is seated blind man's bluff. In this game, all the players sit on chairs in a circle, and the blind man must identify the right player by sitting on each of their laps! 

Pitt always enjoyed games, and relaxing in friendly company when he could get away with it. I like to imagine him doing this at Eden Park - also known as Eden Farm - where the Auckland family lived. That same Auckland family included, of course, the eldest daughter Eleanor Eden, with whom Pitt was once very attracted. The anecdote related by Edward Hamilton can be dated to about 1796, as Sylvester Douglas (Lord Glenbervie) recalled in his journal of November 20th, 1796 that he had dined at the Hamilton's, with whom Pitt, Dundas, and the Auckland's had been spending time previously [2]. This makes sense chronologically as after late January 1797 - when Pitt broke off his intentions to Eleanor Eden - the visits he made to Eden Park ceased.


1. Kent History & Library Centre. Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/C405/2. Edward Hamilton to Lord Stanhope.

2. Bickley, F. (ed.) (1928) The Diaries of Sylvester Douglas (Lord Glenbervie), Vol. 1. London: Constable, p. 98.

Image Credits:

Fig. 1: Eden Park, The Seat of Lord Auckland, by Peter La Cave. late 18th century. Source

Fig. 2: Blind Man's Bluff by George Morland, late 18th century. Source

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