In December 1802, Lord Malmesbury noted in his diary,
Pitt, Lord Mulgrave, and Colonel Stanley dined with me; nobody could be more cheerful or more companionable than he [Pitt] was after dinner; and upstairs, with Lady Malmesbury and my daughters, as usual, we played at Speculation.
Speculation was a popular card game at the time, and Lord Malmesbury mentions it more than once (as does Jane Austen). Pitt seems to have enjoyed playing it. As a young man he had had a brief fascination with serious gambling, but had made himself give it up. With his wonderfully retentive memory he was probably lucky at cards, and maybe this harmless parlour game reawakened the old thrill.
If you want to have a go, here are the rules (from an 1840s edition of Hoyle’s Games):
This is a noisy round game, that several may play, using a complete pack of cards, bearing the same import as at whist, with fish or counters, on which such a value is fixed as the company may agree upon. The highest trump, in each deal, wins the pool; and whenever it happens that no trump is dealt, the company pool again, and the event is decided by the succeeding round. After determining the deal, &c., he who is to deal pools six fish, and every other player four; next three cards are given to each player by one at a time, and another turned up for trump, which belongs to the dealer, who has the privilege of selling it to the highest bidder, unless it be an ace, which gives him the pool at once. The cards are not to be looked at except in this manner: - the eldest hand shows the uppermost of his three cards, which, if a superior trump to the dealer’s, the company may speculate on, by bidding for it as before. When this is settled, he who sits next to the purchaser is considered as eldest hand, and shows the uppermost of his cards; but if the first card shown should not prove a superior trump, then the next in order to the first player shows the uppermost of his cards, and so the showing goes on, the company speculating as they please, till all the cards are discovered, when the possessor of the highest trump wins the pool. N.B. The holder of the trump, whether by purchase or otherwise, is exempted from showing his cards in rotation, keeping them concealed till all the rest have been turned up. To play this game well, little more is requisite than recollecting what superior cards of the trump suit appeared in the preceding deals, and calculating thereby the probability of the trump offered for sale proving the highest in the deal then undetermined.(Source, where you will also find a more modern “translation”.)
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