Page images
PDF
EPUB

temperamentally—for mundane struggle. He left Ushaw, made a futile experiment or two to earn his living in the ordinary way, and drifted to London, where he fell upon the hardest times, always, however (in the beautiful image that Pater uses of Marius), protecting unsullied the white bird in his breast, always secure in his soul, but none the less conscious too that things were not as they should be with him and as they had promised to be in the days before thought, before the real fight, began—in the days when Hornby and Barlow went in first for Lancashire. To know all this is to find the first and last stanza of the poem which follows almost unbearably sad.

It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,
Though my own red roses there may blow ;
It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,
Though the red roses crest the caps I know.
For the field is full of shades as I near the shadowy coast,
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,
And I look through my tears on a soundless clapping host,
As the run-stealers flicker to and fro,
To and fro.
O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago

It is Glo'ster coming North, the irresistible,
The Shire of the Graces, long ago
It is Gloucestershire up North, the irresistible,
And new-arisen Lancashire the foe
A Shire so young that has scarce impressed its traces,
Ah, how shall it stand before all resistless Graces !
O, little red rose, their bats are as maces
To beat thee down, this summer long ago

This day of seventy-eight they are come up North against thee,
This day of seventy-eight, long ago
The champion of the centuries, he cometh up against thee,
With his brethren, every one a famous foe
The long-whiskered Doctor, that laugheth rules to scorn,
While the bowler, pitched against him, bans the day that he was born ;
And G. F. with his science makes the fairest length forlorn ;
They are come from the West to work thee woe

It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,
Though my own red roses there may blow ;
It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,
Though the red roses crest the caps I know.
For the field is full of shades as I near the shadowy coast,
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,
And I look through my tears on a soundless clapping host,
As the run-stealers flicker to and fro,
To and fro.
O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago

I might say that the match in question was played at Old Trafford on July 25, 26, 27, 1878, when the poet was eighteen. (He was born in December, 1859.) It was an historic contest, for the two counties had never before met. The fame of the Graces was such that 16,000 people were present on the Saturday, the third day—of whom, by the way, 2000 did not pay but took the ground by storm. The result was a draw, a little in Lancashire's favour, after a very determined fight interrupted now and then by rain. It was eminently Hornby and Barlow's match. In the first innings the amateur made only 5, but Barlow went right through it, his wicket falling last for 40. In the second innings Hornby was at his best, making with incredible dash 100 out of 156 while he was in, Barlow supporting him while he made 80 of them. In this match W. G. (who is still playing, be it remembered : I saw him at the Oval on Easter Monday, immense and grey and jovial) made 32 and 58 not out and took 4 wickets, and E. M. made 21 and 4 and took 4 wickets. G. F. played too, but it was not his day.

The note book in which the verses are written contains numberless variations upon several of the lines.

O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago

becomes in one case

O my Monkey and Stone-waller long ago

“Monkey' was, of course, Mr. Hornby's nickname. “First he runs you out of breath,” said the professional, possibly Barlow himself, ‘first he runs you out of breath, then he runs you out, and then he gives you a sovereign.” A brave summary ! In what other verse he and Barlow have a place I do not know, but they should be proud of this. It is something to have brought tears to the eyes of the poet of “Sister Songs.’ He, that unworldly ecstatic visionary, is no more, but both cricketers are happily alive to-day—(I was talking to Barlow only a month ago, and such was his vivacity he seemed to have drunk of the fountain of youth)—and they may read these verses. I hope they will, although cricketers, in my experience, however they may have taken of late to writing of their game, read as little as they can. The second piece is a description, in very easy couplets, of the great match between Middlesex and Yorkshire at Lord's on May 28, 1899. It was never intended for print: it was merely a versified memorandum of the match for the writer's own amusement. As will some day be seen, his note books took count of most of his experiences, trivial as well as serious. A few lines may be quoted. Albert Trott, it will be remembered, after Warner had paved the way by making an historic 150, hit up in hurricane style 164. The rhymes thus describe his innings:—

For Trott, who also month-long kept
Inert, as the batsman in him slept,
Wakes, and with tumult of his waking,
The many-girded ground is shaking !
With rolling claps and clamour, as soar
Fours after fours, and ever four !
Bowls Rhodes, bowls Jackson, Haigh bowls, Hirst,-
To him the last is as the first :
West-end tent or pavilion-rail,
He lashes them home with a thresher's flail.

I omit a curious interlude in which the psychological state of Lord Hawke, as captain, is delineated: not too accurately, I fancy, for his lordship, if I know anything about him, can meet adversity with philosophic calm. This is the end —

Trott keeps them trotting, till his d-d score
Is just one hundred, sixty, and four, -
The highest tally this match has scored,
And the century fourth is long up on the board.
Thank Heaven, the fellow's grown reckless now,
Jumps and slogs at them anyhow :
Two narrow shaves, amid frenzied howl
Of jubilant people, and lordly growl;
Till a clinker tingles in Brown's left hand—
Good Brown you have snapped the infernal stand 1
The last two wickets go tedious down,
And my lord strides off with his teeth and frown.

The poet throughout, although no Southerner, is against Yorkshire; the old championship of the Red Rose against the White coming out very strongly. The match ended in a victory for Middlesex by an innings and 2 runs. It was Trott's game, for not only did he score his 164 (137 of them in an hour and a half), but he took altogether nine wickets.

The third piece is a tour de force, an imitation of FitzGerald's ‘Omar.’ Thompson, who was not given to filling other men's moulds, began it evidently as a joke, for he gave it a comic title, “Rime o’ bat of O my sky-em.” But his mind was too powerful and proud for imitation or sustained facetia, and he quickly became individual and human, so that the stanzas although a parody in form are also a new and independent thing. They seem to me to have no little charm. Cricket no doubt has been moralised before—indeed is there not Fred Lillywhite's epitaph in Highgate Cemetery 7—but never so sweetly and reasonably.

PART I.

Wake 1 for the Ruddy Ball has taken flight

That scatters the slow Wicket of the Night;
And the swift Batsman of the Dawn has driven

Against the Star-spiked Rails a fiery Smite.

Wake, my Beloved take the Bat that clears

The sluggish Liver, and Dyspeptics cheers:
To-morrow 7 Why, to-morrow I may be

Myself with Hambledon and all its Peers.

To-day a Score of Batsmen brings, you say ?

Yes, but where leaves the Bats of Yesterday ?
And this same summer day that brings a Knight

May take the Grace and Ranjitsinjh away.

Willsher the famed is gone with all his ‘throws,'

And Alfred's Six-foot Reach where no man knows ;
And Hornby—that great hitter—his own Son

Plays in his place, yet recks not the Red Rose.

And Silver Billy, Fuller Pilch and Small,

Alike the pigmy Briggs and Ulyett tall,
Have swung their Bats an hour or two before,

But none played out the last and silent Ball.

Well, let them Perish I What have we to do

With Gilbert Grace the Great, or that Hindu ?
Let Hirst and Spooner slog them as they list,

Or Warren bowl his ‘snorter'; care not you !

With me along the Strip of Herbage strown,

That is not laid or watered, rolled or sown,
Where name of Lord's and Oval is forgot,

And peace to Nicholas on his bomb-girt Throne.

A level Wicket, as the Ground allow,

A driving Bat, a lively Ball, and thou
Before me bowling on the Cricket-pitch—

O Cricket-pitch were Paradise enow !

PART II.

I listened where the Grass was shaven small,

And heard the Bat that groaned against the Ball:
Thou pitchest Here and There, and Left and Right,

Nor deem I where the Spot thou next may’st Fall.

[graphic]

Forward I play, and Back, and Left and Right,

And overthrown at once, or stay till Night:
But this I know, where nothing else I know,

The last is Thine, how so the Bat shall smite.

This thing is sure, where nothing else is sure,

The boldest Bat may but a Space endure;
And he who One or who a Hundred hits

Falleth at ending to thy Force or Lure.

Wherefore am I allotted but a Day

To taste Delight, and make so brief a stay;
For meed of all my Labour laid aside,

Ended alike the Player and the Play.

Behold, there is an Arm behind the Ball,

Nor the Bat's Stroke of its own Striking all ;
And who the Gamesters, to what end the Game,

I think thereof our Willing is but small.

Against the Attack and Twist of Circumstance

Though I oppose Defence and shifty Glance,
What Power gives Nerve to me, and what Assaults,

This is the Riddle. Let dull bats cry ‘Chance.”

Is there a Foe that [domineers] the Ball ?

And one that Shapes and wields us Willows all ?
Be patient if Thy Creature in Thy Hand

Break, and the so-long-guarded Wicket fall !

Thus spoke the Bat. Perchance a foolish Speech

And wooden, for a Bat has straitened Reach :
Yet thought I, I had heard Philosophers

Prate much on this wise, and aspire to Teach.

Ah, let us take our Stand, and play the Game,

But rather for the Cause than for the Fame;
Albeit right evil is the Ground, and we

Know our Defence thereon will be but lame.

O Love, if thou and I could but Conspire

Against this Pitch of Life, so false with Mire,
Would we not Doctor it afresh, and then

Roll it out smoother to the Bat's Desire ?

A few notes would not be out of place. Hambledon is the village in Hampshire where the game was first taken with all the seriousness of a religious rite, as, of course, it should be. The history of the Hambledon cricketers was written by John Nyren in 1833, in a wonderful little book still available in reprints. I suppose that the Knight whom Thompson had in mind was Albert Knight of Leicestershire, whose writings on cricket he greatly admired. Willsher was Edgar Willsher, “The Lion of Kent,’ and a member

« PreviousContinue »