Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[graphic][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small]

FORD UNID

CIETY

either? No; the three corners of the triangle may seem to us much of a muchness,-Cæsar and Pompey bery like, 'specially Pompey;'-but each, in the mind of its constituent parts, has its special and sacred individuality, and no atom located in one could entertain, as other than an absurd dream, the phantasy of having been incorporated into another. A miniature nationality is this, no doubt; we are apt to fall into societies, wheels within wheels, and to identify ourselves soon with those particularly in which we happen to be spokes, or even nails. There never can be, we are convinced, another so round, or so well greased, as our own wheel. Yet a disinterested observer might contend that really the fellow-wheel did its work about as well, and was not very different in its look. And no doubt this might be well said of those sister wheels which at any rate differ, we may triumphantly say, in the painting-one being pale and one the darkest blue.

And thus you would soon have perceived, as we advance by easy stages, to Lord's ground, that the dark-blue colours are those pinned on my coat. I am, however, yet a month or two away from that goal; and I am meditating a general reminiscent chat about the noblest of outdoor sports.

The noblest of outdoor sportsyes, neither boating nor any other shall win from it this well-deserved palm. Take the science of it; the interest of it, the duration of it, the healthy and manly exercise which it calls forth the variety of the skill and the study which its different parts present, as the batting, the bowling, the wicket-keeping, the fielding; ay, special excellences required and developed for each place in the field; so that there shall be in England but one point, say, as Julius Cæsar (I write of the past; I am behindhand in cricket knowledge now)-one backstop, as Mortlock; or again, a prince of batsmen, as Parr; a king-bowler, as Wisden; or a man pre-eminently good all round, as Caffyn. See the faculties called into play: the quickness of eye, the strength of muscle

and sinew, the precision, the vigilance, the coolness, the judgment— the science, I repeat. Look at the mind brought to bear on first-rate bowling, for instance; the special pitch calculated, the particular rise, the subtle swerve, and all with a view to the peculiar batting of the man then in. Mark, again, not only the neat batting, the ease and grace with which bailer, shooter, twister are defeated, and Gibraltar still intact, but consider more deeply the science of it. Now the ball rips along the turf, never ascending towards the hands, far away between two fieldsmen: now lies motionless and dead a yard from the wicket: and then there is the exact clear judgment of the runthe crown of the batsman's skill;not one lost, yet no half-bred rashness and excitement. Then note the generalship brought into play, and indeed most indispensable, and see the wary captain arranging his field with a view to this or that batting and bowling. And the tyro goes in, gives just the chance that was planned for, and succumbs, while the initiated admire. But it is still better to see the equal skill of the defence triumph over the consummate skill of the attack.

Well, I have yet further praise for this king of games, even as the gentle Izaak Walton could consume page after page in commendation of his loved craft. I shall not, however, to match his particularity, give a disquisition upon the nature of turf in general; the best kind to be chosen for the ground; the method of laying it down, of rolling and keeping it-and then touch on the differences of trees, the many varieties of the willow, its special fitness for the wood of the bat: with a slight discussion as to the composition and qualities of whalebone, cane, thread, and cobblers' wax;-and then on to the divers species of animals that there be in the world; the preparation of their hides for the making of leather; and which of these soprepared skins shall best suit the purposes of Dark or Duke. But, pardon, old Walton,-this is the banter of an admirer of thine.

Avoiding such voluminous treat

ment of the game, let me go on at once to my next head of praise. And this is that this game is singularly healthy, and free from exceptions which have been taken to what I may call its sister sport, at the Universities, namely, boating. Far be it from me to decry this graceful and manly exercise; but I may praise my own client somewhat at its expense. Besides, then, that I think that cricket excels in the wider range of various powers and faculties called forth by it; besides that the cricket match gives days, while the boat-race gives but minutes of pleasure (and I think this is a consideration, in weighing the two); besides these excellences, there cannot be urged against cricket the objection that-justly or not, I shall not stop to decide has been brought against rowing, namely, that of excessive exertion, ruinous hereafter to the constitution. I do not think this is a necessary consequence of rowing; I only contend that cricket is free even from the suspicion of it. And with fine rosy boys that are to you as the apple of your eye, this consideration also will have its weight.

Moreover, there is one great blemish from which cricket is at least freer than most sports, those, at any rate, which have in them anything of the racing character. And this vice is betting. I am not about now to take up the graver objections to this practice-to do so would be considered out of place here-but I take my stand on the slur cast by it (in my opinion) on any sport which in great measure depends on it. And I say that a sport which is worth the time given to it ought to be able to stand alone without such machinery strapped on to it, otherwise it must be a poor boneless affair. What would you think of sherry which was too poor to drink without pouring neat brandy into the decanter: or of ale that wanted gin in it; or of gin that wanted vitriol? These are homely illustrations, but they express what I mean. Now of course people will bet upon cricket, as they will bet upon every conceivable contingency whatso

ever.

You can't keep the possible

or even the probable earwig out of even your whitest rose. But the interest of cricket does not fall through, does not appreciably deteriorate or flag, if the whole betting cancer were cut out of it. There is always the noble manly game, with its own intense excitement and interest of a sound and wholesome kind; not the fevered mouth and stopping heart of the man who sees money in the one scale, and insolvency, rascality, suicide, perhaps, in the other; not the diluted compound of this feeling which one may trace in young girls even and amateur book-makers. Without all this diseased interest, there is enough of hazard and uncertainty, spite of the science and skill of the game, to make (in a critical moment of the match) every ball delivered stop the heart's beating for a moment; every run gained an ecstasy, and that last cut for five that decides the victory a very 'order of release' for the cheers.

Let me see, what does a wise man -no parson, only old Aristotle,say about betting? As nearly as I remember, he calls it a species of the genus covetousness-covetousness diluted-the genus turned into negus, to make an extempore anagram, but still of the family. And, looked straight in the face, I think it will appear so; nor can I understand that friendship or hospitality which, under any pretence of play or sport, gets its hand into a friend's pocket, and lightens it of what is sometimes not even spare cash. Verily, I'd rather pass some from mine into that of a needy friend, or at any rate go without many things that might be desirable to havesuch as dinner or my library,-than supply them in such a sorry way. But then my idea of friendship, of hospitality, of courtesy, may be peculiar. I should, to say no more, consider such a method of replenishing my purse-or filling my glove-box-as essentially ungentlemanly or unladylike. Enough.

Thou comest in such a questionable shape That I will question thee.' But the shadow is gone, and I am a man again; and free to give my thought to the grand game.

What right have I to talk of it so much? Am I a cricketer now? a cricketing parson? Far be such an imputation from me; had I the inclination, care for my influence for good over my people must forbid its indulgence. But was I ever a good cricketer? and can I, in memory, fight old well-fought battles and campaigns over again? Not even this. No; I will let you, kind reader, into my secret. I had certain younger brothers whose prowess in the cricket-field was the subject of my complacent satisfaction, and whose talk, during the cricket season, was scarcely of aught else but the game. Indeed they were cricket-mad. So at that time, with very little effort, I was well up in not only the game, but the names and special qualifications of the players of the day, professionals and gentlemen; could have almost passed a moderate examination on the subject. Without knowing them, sometimes even without having seen them, we conceived fervid admiration or rooted dislike towards certain of the players; and each of our fraternity, indeed, had his special pets. Caffyn and Julius Cæsar-I think these were mine: and I remember that one of my brothers conceived a violent furor for Sherman, then the Surrey bowler, and would presume to uphold him against the majority of our fraternity, who, with the rest of the world, were Wisdenites. But then, had he not seen and talked with him at his own house at Mitcham? and this, in that cricketcharged atmosphere, was held much such an honour as now a personal acquaintance with Tennyson or Browning would be. Especially before we ourselves excel in any pursuit, what demigods the adepts in it appear to us! For it is notorious that the young are prone to hero-worship.

And my brothers were not at first adepts. They hung fire, so to speak, a little. We were of sufficient number to be companions without seeking external supply; and perhaps too much (being also prone to stick together) confined our sports to our own lawn and fields. And, when it happened that we frater

nised with a school in the village, and got ourselves chosen into their Wednesday afternoon games, we (being elder) were so facile principes that we learned to think rather well of our play, and indeed soon were shut out of the game in which we had begun always to take the lion's share of the fun.

It was just then that we were urged to join a neighbouring club, at which it was our lot to find our level, and to become no longer heroes flushed with victory-the Achilles, and Ajax, and Diomed of the field-but rather raw recruits, in need of the elements of drill. And for a while we sung very small upon the tented field: were misprized on the practice days: were shut out of the matches. Well, well, I myself found out, in process of time, that, for many reasons, my suitable place in the cricket-field was on the spectators' bench, and that I was out of my ground if I was far from my study chair; and that my fielding was better done if it were done alone, wandering through bobbing clover and broadleaved wheat. So I yielded the point and gave them the slip, and set a long stop to my bowling. But I used to remind those brothers of mine, when better days came upon them, and they had warmed to the work, and were valued members of the club, of how indeed I had been the earliest trainer that they had had, and of how time was, when I was wont to take the three of them, and at last resign the bat, some ten years or so before they came out and I retired. There are few triumphs more delightful than to shine out a hero when you had been thought a 'muff'-and did not I share half the delight of that triumph, when I received a letter from one of these lightly-held brothers of mine, giving the details of a match in which, out of sheer desperation for want of men, he had at last been included? I suppose that, steadily and unnoticed, he had been practising his defence; at any rate I know he took me and every one else by surprise. No one, it appeared, was willing to go in first on our side, and accordingly the Captain sent him in. And there he

« ForrigeFortsæt »