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ISIS v. CAM.
BY WAT BRADWOOD.
Wilderness for to see? The
HAT went they out into the
British populace on Wednesday, March 17th. Two eights rowing? They could see a score of them any summer evening, floundering and catching shell-fish on the tideway between Barnes and Wandsworth. To see good rowing? Not one of them in a hundred could have distinguished one crew from the other had they been suddenly painted black and white instead of indigo and azure-or would have been the wiser, but for the uniforms, had the University match at the last been tacitly withdrawn, and a couple of scratch eights of the Leander and London Rowing Clubs gone to the post to make sport for the community.
To see a race? They one and all made up their minds before ever they left their homes, that Oxford could not lose, and five to two against the ever-persevering Light Blue went hopelessly begging!
As far as a coup d'œil of rowingas the sight of a race from start to finish, and not of one only but of ten or a dozen of all sorts and sizes every half-hour, and for scenery and fair summer weather, why did they not keep their energies for Henley Regatta, the Ascot and Goodwood combined, as the University Boat Race is the Derby, of rowing?
They turn out early or late, in fair or foul, for the University Race because it is the standard spectacle of its kind; and one-half the spectacle consists, not only in the race itself, but in the motley masses that throng to the river banks upon the same errand. The bill of fare has been uniform for many years pastchallenge, preparation, training, gossip, arrival a Putney, scrutiny, an eve of rest, the race. And its sequel, the lunch of the crews at Mortlake, the dinner in town in the evening, have also been in the same strain without interruption since 1856. Till that year the match, though frequent, had not yet worked itself into an annual groove. And
the uniformity has become almost monotonous on one point, viz., the result; for since the double races of 1849, the one of which Cambridge won by superior condition and the other lost by a foul, Light Blue has thrice only led the way at the winning-post, viz., in '56, '58, and '60. Of intermediate years in which no Putney match took place, viz., '50, '51, '53, and '55, Oxford walked over at Henley in the former, won on the next two occasions, and were beaten by Cambridge on the last. So that of twenty years, four only show a Cambridge superiority, the two Universities having met either at Henley or Putney every one of these years, excepting '50, when, as above explained, Oxford, for reasons doubtless best known to the rowing world of that date, were left alone in their glory at Henley.
The preceding twenty years, from the first University match in '29 till '49, show a marked difference in result. The first match, from Hambleden Lock to Henley Bridge, was easily won by Oxford, who, having gained the toss, had undeniably the best of the station for the first mile to the Pavilion Island. In '36, the match was renewed, and Cambridge won easily, so also in '39, '40, and '41. In '42 Oxford turned the tide and won with a celebrated crew who made the nucleus of the 'glorious seven' in the succeeding year.
In '45 and 46 Cambridge again had the upper hand, and the next Putney match brings us to those already mentioned, of 1849.
Thus up to that point when Oxford won by a foul Cambridge had scored seven matches to Oxford's two. There had, however, been other meetings besides the matches. Oxford had meantime twice beaten Cambridge for the Gold Cup at the Thames Regatta, and of two meetings for the Grand Challenge at Henley each boat won one event; besides two other wins of the Grand Challenge by Oxford, in which Cambridge put in no appearance. The seven
var episode in 1843 was not nominally a meeting between the Universities proper, and cannot rank as a match. The Oxonians were a University eight, but the Cantabs were the Cambridge Subscription Rooms' of London, comprising oarsmen both past and present, but not necessarily the exact pick of each class, though they had thus double ranks from which to select.
From 1829 to 1839 there had been a custom, so far as we can trace in the absence of authentic records, that the head college boat of each University should meet for a spin over the Henley reach at the close of the summer term. Training was not thought much of in those days, and it was as common as not for the boats to row down from Oxford, fifty miles, to the scene of action, overnight. The only match recorded is that of Queen's College, Oxford v. St. John's, Cambridge, in 1837, won easily by the former.
It was the recurrence of these quasi-University matches, and the desire of other clubs to measure their strength with the Universities (for Cambridge had, to the surprise of the world, beaten the far-famed Leander Club in a match from Westminster to Putney in 1838), that induced the town of Henley to give the Grand Challenge Cup, open to the world, first rowed for in 1839, and which formed the nucleus of future Henley regattas.
Many scientific oarsmen have puzzled their brains to discover the reason why Cambridge, after showing on the whole superiority for the first twenty years of University boatracing, should in the later twenty have failed to hold its own, and for the last nine years should have been systematically beaten.
The reason probably is, that the small volume of water in the Cam is not so suitable for learning rowing in the modern style of light boats as is the fuller and deeper Isis. Boats drag heavily on narrow and shallow water, and feel as heavy as 'tubs' even when they are racing 'shells.' When, at the last, the crews come to race on deep buoyant water, that crew which is most accustomed to
that style of rowing has manifest advantage.
In olden days boats were so heavy and broad, and offered such resistance to the water of themselves, that the difference between deep and shallow water was not so appreciable; just as two runners shod with heavy hobnailed shooting-boots would not find so much difference between muddy ground and light turf, but if they changed to running-pumps the consistency of the ground on which they practised would make all the difference to the acquirement of proper action and stride.
Secondly, in these days cesspools still existed; the Cam was nota public sewer as it now is, silted a couple of feet shallower than its former normal depth.
Thirdly, Oxford in former days had petty jealousies and disorganizations: till Shadwell and Menzies came to the rescue in 1842, few men were taught to row, or chosen for what they could be made by care and coaching the latter art was hardly understood. The President who got into office divided his favours among his own school and college friends, and rivalry ran high between ex-Etonians and Westmonasterians.
These causes can explain, to a great extent, why Cambridge once had the upper hand and subsequently lost it. Want of success, however, of late years had sown demoralization and want of confidence among Cambridge oarsmen. They changed coach after coach, tactics after tactics, but without improvement; rather the reverse, for they lost even the common appliances of good time of oars and form of body. This year, Mr. G. Morrison, who had, while President of Oxford, trained the winning crews of '61 and '62, went down to Cambridge to coach, at the request of their President, and produced a marked improvement. He brought out a neater crew than the Oxonians, though not so powerful a one, or so au fait at rowing a light boat upon deep water. The crew made a good race for two miles, and none can say that, under the circumstances, their defeat was any disgrace. The authorities of Cambridge are now beginning to awake to a sense
of the state of their river, and the work of clearing it out has commenced. By next year, when it will have been deepened and widened, if Cambridge will row in as good form as they did this year, with as able a coach to guide them, they will as likely as not regain their old pride of place.
The race this year was a very pretty one up to Chiswick Eyot; the pace of both boats was above the average, far greater than that of the preceding year, and few of the accompanying steamers saw much of the struggle. Oxford got the best of the start, and led more or less the whole way to Craven Point and into the shoot beyond it. The steering of both boats was here very erratic, to say the least; and Oxford steering wide to the right, into the Crab Tree bight, were caught and passed by Cambridge, and off the Soap-works were a quarter of a length to the bad. Here they came with a rush, and shot Hammersmith Bridge, a mile and three-quarters from the start, but a yard behind, and went in front off the Doves just beyond. It was still a close race to Chiswick Eyot, but Cambridge had so far held alongside of Oxford simply by dint of rowing three or four strokes more in the minute than the others; consequently they were the first to crack under the severity of the pace. Oxford, on the other hand, had a shot or two left in the locker, and forcing the pace with a quick ened stroke as they passed the Eyot, came away from Cambridge, who were already extended to their utmost, and led by a clear length as they crossed to the Middlesex shore in Corney Reach. Up the broad water to Barnes Bridge they improved their position, and had a good three lengths' lead as they shot the shore arch. From thence to the winning-post they had all their own way, and won by six lengths in 20 min. 20 sec. (not 20 min. 5 sec., as recorded by Benson's chronograph and other timekeepers, who probably took the win from the usual point of the Ship' instead of the flag-boat a hundred yards further on). But, be the
time what it may, it is at least the best on record of any that have been rowed in the flood-tide, and only surpassed by that of 1863, rowed on a strong ebb and with favouring breeze, in 23 min. 6 sec. from Barker's rails (5 miles), and 20 min. 5 sec. from the Ship to Putney; the last four miles and a quarter which forms the standard distance, the same as rowed this year.
But, after all, the time of a race rowed on a tideway is little or no criterion of a boat's capabilities, so seldom does any crew manage to secure a strong tide and smooth water at the right moment. An afternoon tide always runs stronger than a morning one, i.e., those tides which fall later than two o'clock are nearer the 'spring' than those which are at their height before noon, and are 'neaps.' This year the tide was a fair one, but three or four days beyond the spring-tide (which had been on the Saturday), and thus, though better than some tides, still not one of the best. The race being usually a fixed date, Saturday week before Easter (which itself varies by the new moon), has generally fallen upon a thorough neap-tide: this year being on the Wednesday before the usual date it had rather a better stream. Moreover, many crews in former years-to wit, in '60, '65, '66, &c.- have been bullied by steamers overcrowding them, till the tide (a neap at the time) had spent and almost turned before a clear field had been secured for the start: and a crew is not worked up to complete concert pitch, to maintain full racing pace the whole way, till the last day or two of training; hence, at the time of spring-tide, a week before the race, they are rowing but half speed of stroke. Yet even these half-speed strokes, of about 34 and 35 a minute, have on spring-tides completely eclipsed racing records, and times varying from 20 min. 20 sec. to 19 min. 50 sec. have been accomplished on those terms in training, while 20 min. 20 sec. is the quickest record for a race. At the same time no disparagement is meant to the Oxonians of this year, who were, though rather rough in form, considerably above the ave
rage in speed, and fit to be placed in the same class with the winning crews of '57, '63, and '66, which were no doubt the pick of those which have been brought out since the keelless boat has come into vogue.
Two points come into strong relief in contemplating the subject of University Races: one, the intense furore of the populace for the event, which can principally be attributed to the fact that this contest alone, of the leading items of sport in the season, is the one that cannot be squared' or bought at any price. A well-known turfite of large property and of the leg' class, whose horses run in and out on the turf in a manner explicable only to their owner, having lately lost a racing trial in a court of law, openly attributed his failure as he left the court to having recklessly neglected to 'square the
before the cause came on. Such individuals fall into the natural yet very uncharitable error of estimating their neighbours' probity by the ratio of their own; yet the narrative serves to show the too general standard of morality among professional racing men, and at the same time the appreciation which the more fair-dealing public accord to a race which is beyond the influence and contamination of the 'legs.'
Last of all, the populace marvel and applaud the stubborn, bulldog pertinacity with which Cambridge year after year come up again to the scratch, saddened, no doubt, but unsubdued by the disaster. Characteristic though the whole race and its concomitants is from first to last of the English, and of no other
nation, yet this one feature is perhaps the most marked characteristic of all. In no other nation would such a trait be found, and, without disparaging other clubs, in hardly any other society even of England itself. An Anglo-Saxon never knows when he is beaten, and hence can never be finally crushed; the same spirit that made Oxford steal the race from the fire in '65, though three lengths behind at Hammersmith and virtually beaten by all precedents of boat-racing, urges Cambridge year after year to ignore all idea of inferiority and to throw down the gauntlet with new hopes and new pains in store. The tide must turn in time. Considering the extent to which Cambridge were handicapped by the inferiority of their river, their crew this year did them as much and more credit than did the Oxonian boat to the Isis. There is no school like adversity to those who know not to be crushed or cowed by it, and who, not scorning to take a leaf from their victors, do their best to repair year by year the weak point which caused their failure the year before. Cambridge will yet find a Zama to revenge Cannæ and its preceding overthrows, and like her prototype
'Per damna, per caedes, ab ipso
Ducit opes animumque ferro.
And the ovation of that day will go far to atone for all the hardships and disappointments of a ten years' uphill struggle with luck, demoralization, and (pardon the bathos) the shortcomings of a navigable sewer!
UNDER THE CHESTNUTS.
ALL the white blossoms, the soft turf is glowing,
Rustle the tender green fans in a row:
Under the chestnuts it seems to be snowing,
Whilst the grand leafy boughs sway to and fro.
Glints on the mill-stream the silvering glory
Filling with dewdrops the lily-cups white.
Hushed are the moorlands; the nightingale keepeth
Under the ferns every grey rabbit sleepeth,
Monarchs are peasants, and peasants are kings.
Through the tall chestnuts the night breeze is straying, Kissing their leaves and their pyramids white; Through the tall chestnuts the zephyrs are playing, Sporting like brownies and fays in the night.
Under the chestnuts we wandered a-dreaming,
And yet I know not-for why should we, weeping,
Lie unawakened, nor murmur in vain!
A. H. B.