Some Recollections of Sport
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
- Some Recollections of Sport (september 1909, The Strand Magazine [UK]) 3 photos and 5 illustrations by Arthur Twidle
- Some Recollections of Sport (october 1909, The Strand Magazine [US]) 3 photos and 5 illustrations by Arthur Twidle
- Some Recollections of Sport (may-june 1924, The Strand Magazine [UK]). Article revised and enlarged.
- in Memories and Adventures (18 september 1924, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. [UK])
- in Memories and Adventures (1924, Little, Brown & Co. [US])
- in Memories and Adventures (29 july 1929, John Murray [UK])
Some Recollections of Sport
- Text below is from Memories and Adventures (1924, chap. XXIV)
Racing — Shooting — A Fish Story — Boxing — Past and Present — Carpentier and France — The Reno Fight — Football — Golf with the Sirdar — Billiards — Cricket — W. G. Grace — Queer Experiences — Tragic Matches — Humiliation — Success in Holland — Barrie's Team — A Precedent — Motor Accidents — Prince Henry Tour — Aviation — The Balloon and the Aeroplane — Ski — Over a Precipice — Rifle Shooting.
It is here — before we approach what Maxwell has called "The Great Interruption" — that I may perhaps break my narrative in order to interpolate a chapter upon the general subject of my experiences of sport, which have taken up an appreciable part of my life, added greatly to its pleasure, and which can be better treated as a whole than recounted seriatim. It may best be fitted in at this spot as my sporting life one way and another may be said to have reached its modest zenith about that time.
As one grows old one looks back at one's career in sport as a thing completed. Yet I have at least held on to it as long as I could, for I played a hard match of Association football at forty-four, and I played cricket for ten years more. I have never specialized, and have therefore been a second-rater in all things. I have made up for it by being an all-rounder, and have had, I dare say, as much fun out of sport as many an adept. It would be odd if a man could try aa many games as I for so many years without having some interesting experiences or forming a few opinions which would bear recording and disciission.
And first of all let me "damn the sins I have no mind to" by recording what most of my friends will regard as limitation. I never could look upon flat-racing as a true sport. Sport is what a man does, not what a horse does. Skill and judgment are shown, no doubt, by the professional jockeys, but I think it may be argued that in nine cases out of ten the best horse wins, and would have equally won, could his head be kept straight, had there been a dummy on his back. But making every allowance on the one side, for what human qualities may be called forth, and for any improvement of the breed of horses (though I am told that the same pains in other directions would produce infinitely more fruitful and generally useful results), and putting on the other side the demoralization from betting, the rascality among some book-makers, and the collection of undesirable characters brought together by a race meeting, I cannot avoid the conclusion that the harm greatly outweighs the good from a broadly national point of view. Yet I recognize, of course, that it is an amusement which lies so deeply in human nature — the oldest, perhaps, of all amusements which have come down to us — that it must have its place in our system until the time may come when it will be gradually modified, developing, perhaps, some purifying ehange, as prize-fighting did when it turned to contests with the gloves.
I have purposely said "flat-racing," because I think a stronger case, though not, perhaps, an entirely sound one, could be made out for stecplechasing. Eliminate the mob and the money, and then, surely, among feats of human skill and hardihood there are not many to match that of the winner of a really stiff point-to-point, while the man who rides at the huge barriers of the Grand National has a heart for anything. As in the old days of the ring, it is not the men nor the sport, but it is the followers who cast a shadow on the business. Go down to Waterloo and meet any returning race train, if you doubt it.
If I have alienated half my readers by my critical attitude to the Turf, I shall probably offend the other half by stating that I cannot persuade myself that we are justified in taking life as a pleasure. To shoot for the pot must be right, since man must feed, and to kill creatures which live upon others (the hunting of foxes, for example) must also be right, since to slay one is to save many; but the rearing of birds in order to kill them, and the shooting of such sensitive and inoffensive animals as hares and deer, cannot, I think, be justified. I must admit that I shot a good deal before I came to this conclusion. Perhaps the fact, while it prevents my assuming any airs of virtue, will give my opinion greater weight, since good shooting is still within my reach, and I know nothing more exhilarating than to wait on the borders of an autumn-tinted wood, to hear the crackling advance of heaters, to mark the sudden whirr and the yell of "Mark over," and then, over the top-most branches, to see a noble cock pheasant whizzing down wind at a pace which pitches him a 100 yards behind you when you have dropped him. But when your moment of exultation is over, and you. note what a beautiful creature he is and how one instant of your pleasure has wrecked him, you feel that you had better think no longer if you mean to slip two more cartridges into your gun and stand by for another. Worse still is it when you hear the child-like wail of the wounded hare. I should think that there are few sportsmen who have not felt a disgust at their own handiwork when they have heard it. So, too, when you see the pheasant fly on with his legs showing beneath him as sign that he is hard hit. He drops into the thick woods and is lost to sight. Perhaps it is as well for your peace of mind that he should be lost to thought also.
Of course, one is met always by the perfectly valid argument that the creatures would not live at all if it were not for the purposes of sport, and that it is presumably better from their point of view that they should eventually meet a violent death than that they should never have existed. No doubt this is true. But there is another side of the question as to the effect of the sport upon ourselves — whether it does not blunt our own better feelings, harden our sympathies, brutalize our natures. A coward can do it as well as a brave man; a weakling can do it as well as a strong man. There is no ultimate good from it. Have we a moral right then, to kill creatures for amusement ? I know many of the best and most kind-hearted men who do it, but still I feel that in a more advanced age it will no longer be possible.
And yet I am aware of my own inconsistency when I say I am in sympathy with fishing, and would gladly have a little if I knew where to get it. And yet, is it wholly inconsistent ? Is a cold-blooded creature of low organization like a fish to be regarded in the same way as the hare which cries out in front of the beagles, or the deer which may carry the rifle bullet away in its side ? If there is any cruelty it is surely of a much less degree. Besides, is it not the sweet solitude of Nature, the romantic quest, rather than the actual capture which appeals to the fisherman? One thinks of the stories of trout and salmon which have taken another fly within a few minutes of having broken away from a former one, and one feels that their sense of pain must be very different from our own.
I once had the best of an exchange of fishing stories, which does not sound like a testimonial to my veracity. It was in a Birmingham inn, and a commercial traveller was boasting of his success. I ventured to back the weight of the last three fish which I had been concerned in catching against any day's take of his life-time. He closed with the bet and quoted some large haul, 100 lbs. or more. "Now, sir," he asked triumphantly, "what was the weight of your three fish ?" "Just over 200 tons," I answered. "Whales ?" "Yes, three Greenland whales." "I give you best," he cried; but whether as a fisherman, or as a teller of fish stories, I am not sure. As a matter of fact, I had only returned that year from the Arctic seas, and the three fish in question were, in truth, the last which I had helped to catch.
My experiences during my Arctic voyage both with whales and bears I have already touched upon, so I will not refer to them again, though it was the greatest period of sport which has ever come my way.
I have always been keen upon the noble old English sport of boxing, and, though of no particular class myself, I suppose I might describe my form as that of a fair average amateur. I should have been a better man had I taught less and learned more, but after my first tuition I had few chances of professional teaching. However, I have done a good deal of mixed boxing among many different types of men, and had as much pleasure from it as from any form of sport. It stood me in good stead aboard the whaler. On the very first evening I had a strenuous bout with the steward, who was an excellent sportsman. I heard him afterwards, through the partition of the cabin, declare that I was "the best sur-r-r-geon we've had, Colin — he's blacked my ee." It struck me as a singular test of my medical ability, but I dare say it did no harm.
I remember when I was a medical practitioner going down to examine a man's life for insurance in a little Sussex village. He was the gentleman farmer of the place, and a most sporting and jovial soul. It was a Saturday, and I enjoyed his hospitality that evening, staying over till Monday. After breakfast it chanced that several neighbours dropped in, one of whom, an athletic young farmer, was fond of the gloves. Conversation soon brought out the fact that I had a weakness in the same direction. The result was obvious. Two pairs of gloves were hunted from some cupboard, and in a few minutes we were hard at it, playing light at first and letting out as we warmed. It was soon clear that there was no room inside a house for two heavy-weights, so we adjourned to the front lawn. The main road ran across the end of it, with a low wall of just the right height to allow the village to rest its elbows on it and enjoy the spectacle. We fought several very brisk rounds, with no particular advantage either way, but the contest always stands out in my memory for its queer surroundings and the old English picture in which it was set. It is one of several curious bye-battles in my career. I recollect another where another man and I, returning from a ball at five of a summer morning, went into his room and fought in our dress clothes several very vigorous rounds as a wind-up to the evening's exercise.
They say that every form of knowledge comes useful sooner or later. Certainly my own experience in boxing and my very large acquaintance with the history of the prize-ring found their scope when I wrote "Eodney Stone." No one but a fighting man would ever, I think, quite understand or appreciate some of the detail. A friend of mine read the scene where Boy Jim fights Berks to a prize-fighter as he lay in what proved to be his last illness. The man listened with growing animation until the reader came to the point where the second advises Boy Jim, in technical jargon, how to get at his awkward antagonist. "That's it! By God, he's got him!" shouted the man in the bed. It was an incident which gave me pleasure when I heard it.
I have never concealed my opinion that the old prize-ring was an excellent thing from a national point of view — exactly as glove-fighting is now. Better that our sports should be a little too rough than that we should run a risk of effeminacy. But the ring outlasted its time. It was ruined by the villainous mobs who cared nothing for the chivalry of sport or the traditions of British fair play as compared with the money gain which the contest might bring. Their blackguardism drove out the good men — the men who really did uphold the ancient standards, and so the whole institution passed into rottenness and decay. But now the glove contests carried on under the discipline of the National Sporting or other clubs perpetuate the noble old sport without a possibility of the more evil elements creeping into it once more. An exhibition of hardihood without brutality, of good-humoured courage without savagery, of skill without trickery, is, I think, the very highest which sport can give. People may smile at the mittens, but a twenty-round contest with four-ounce gloves is quite as punishing an ordeal as one could wish to endure. There is as little room for a coward as in the rougher days of old, and the standard of endurance is probably as high as in the average prize-fight.
One wonders how our champions of to-day would have fared at the hands of the heroes of the past. I know something of this end of the question, for I have seen nearly all the great boxers of my time, from J. L. Sullivan down to Tommy Burns, Carpentier, Bombardier Wells, Beckett and that little miracle Jimmy Wilde. But how about the other end — the men of old ? Wonderful Jem Mace was the only link between them. On the one hand, he was supreme in the 'sixties as a knuckle-fighter; on the other, he gave the great impetus to glove-fighting in America, and more especially in Australia, which has brought over such champions as Frank Slavin and Fitz-simmons, who, through Mace's teaching, derive straight from the classic line of British boxers. He of all men might have drawn a just comparison between the old and the new. But even his skill and experience might be at fault, for it is notorious that many of the greatest fighters under the old regime were poor hands with the mittens. Men could bang poor Tom Sayers all round the ring with the gloves, who would not have dared to get over the ropes had he been without them. I have seen Mace box, and even when over sixty it is wonderful how straight was his left, how quick his feet, and how impregnable his guard.
After the Great War, one can see that those of us who worked for the revival of boxing wrought better than we knew, for at the supreme test of all time — the test which has settled the history of the future — it has played a marked part. I do not mean that a man used his fists in the war, but I mean — and every experienced instructor will, I am sure, endorse it — that the combative spirit and aggressive quickness gave us the attacking fire and helped especially in bayonet work. But it was to our allies of France that the chief advantage came. I believe that Carpentier, the boxer, did more to win the war for France than any other man save the actual generals or politicians. The public proof that a Frenchman could be at the very head of his class, as Ledoux was also at a lighter weight, gives a physical self-respect to a nation which tinges the spirit of every single member of it. It was a great day for France when English sports, boxing, Rugby football and others came across to them, and when a young man's ideal ceased to be amatory adventure with an occasional duel. England has taught Europe much, but nothing of more value than this.
To return to my own small experiences of the game, I might have had one very notable one, for I was asked to referee the great contest when the champions of the white and black races fought for what may prove to be almost the last time.
My first intimation was a cable followed by the following letter: —
December 9, 1909.
MY DEAR SIR,'—
I hope you will pardon the liberty I took as a stranger in cabling to you asking if you would act at the championship battle between Jeffries and Johnson. The fact is that when the articles were signed recently your name was suggested for referee, and Tex Rickard, promoter of the fight, was greatly interested, as were many others. I believe it will interest you to know that the opinion was unanimous that you would do admirably in the position. In a voting contest several persons sent in your name as their choice. Believe me among sportingmen of the best class in America you have many strong admirers; your splendid stories of the ring, and your avowed admiration for the great sport of boxing have made you thousands of friends.
It was because of this extremely friendly feeling for you in America that I took the liberty of cabling to you. I thank you for your reply.
It would indeed rejoice the hearts of the men in this country if you were at the ring side when the great negro fighter meets the white man Jeffries for the world's championship.
I am, my dear Sir,
IRVING JEFFERSON LEWIS,
Managing Editor New York Morning Telegraph.
I was much inclined to accept this honourable invitation, though my friends pictured me as winding up with a revolver at one ear and a razor at the other. However, the distance and my engagements presented a final bar.
If boxing is the finest single man sport, I think that Rugby football is the best collective one. Strength, courage, speed and resource are great qualities to include in a single game. I have always wished that it had come more my way in life, but my football was ruined, as many a man's is, by the fact that at my old school they played a hybrid game peculiar to the place, with excellent points of its own, but unfitting the youngster for any other. All these local freak games, wall games, Winchester games, and so on are national misfortunes, for while our youths are wasting their energies upon them — those precious early energies which make the instinctive players — the young South African or New Zealander is brought up on the real universal Rugby, and so comes over to pluck a few more laurel leaves out of our depleted wreath. In Australia I have seen in Victoria a hybrid, though excellent game of their own, but they have had the sense in other parts to fall into line, and are already taking the same high position which they hold in other branches of sport. I hope that our headmasters will follow the same course.
In spite of my wretched training I played for a short time as a forward in the Edinburgh University team, but my want of knowledge of the game was too heavy a handicap. Afterwards I took to Association, and played first goal and then back for Portsmouth, when that famous club was an amateur organization. Even then we could put a very fair team in the field, and were runners-up for the County Cup the last season that I played. In the same season I was invited to play for the county. I was always too slow, however, to be a really good back, though I was a long and safe kick. After a long hiatus I took up football again in South Africa and organized a series of inter-hospital matches in Bloemfontein which helped to take our minds away from enteric. My old love treated me very scurvily, however, for I received a foul from a man's knee which buckled two of my ribs and brought my games to a close. I have played occasionally since, but there is no doubt that as a man grows older a brisk charge shakes him up as it never did before. Let him turn to golf, and be thankful that there is still one splendid game which can never desert him. There may be objections to the "Royal and Ancient"— but a game which takes four miles of country for the playing must always have a majesty of its own.
Personally I was an enthusiastic, but a very inefficient golfer'— a ten at my best, and at my worst outside the pale of all decent handicaps. But surely it is a great testimony to the qualities of a game when a man can be both enthusiastic and inefficient. It is a proof at least that a man plays for the game's sake and not for personal kudos. Golf is the coquette of games. It always lures one on and always evades one. Ten years ago I thought I had nearly got it. I hope so to-day. But my scoring cards will show, I fear, that the coquette has not yet been caught. The elderly lover cannot hope to win her smile.
I used in my early golfing days to practise on the very rudimentary links in front of the Mena Hotel, just under the Pyramids. It was a weird course, where, if you sliced your ball, yon might find it bunkered in the grave of some Eameses or Thothmes of old. It was here, I believe, that the cynical stranger, after watching my energetic but ineffectual game, remarked that he had always understood that there was a special tax for excavating in Egypt. I have a pleasant recollection of Egyptian golf in a match played with the late Sirdar, then head of the Intelligence Department. When my ball was teed I observed that his negro caddie pointed two fingers at it and spat, which meant, as I was given to understand, that he cursed it for the rest of the game. Certainly I got into every hazard in the course, though I must admit that I have accomplished that when there was no Central African curse upon me. Those were the days before the reconquest of the Soudan, and I was told by Colonel Wingate — as he then was — that his spies coming down from Omdurman not infrequently delivered their messages to him while carrying his golf clubs, to avoid the attention of the Calipha's spies, who abounded in Cairo. On this occasion the Sirdar beat me well, but with a Christian caddie I turned the tables on him at Dunbar, and now we have signed articles to play off the rubber at Khartoum, no cursing allowed. When that first match was played we should as soon have thought of arranging to play golf in the moon.
Every now and then I give up the game in disgust at my own incompetence, but only to be lured on once more. Hunting in an old desk I came upon an obituary which I had written for my game at some moment of special depression. It ran, "Sacred to the memory of my golf. It was never strong, being permanently afflicted with a deformed stance and an undeveloped swing. After long weakness cheerfully borne it finally succumbed, and was buried in the eighteenth hole, regretted by numerous caddies."However it is out and about once more, none the worse for this premature interment.
There is said to be a considerable analogy between golf and billiards, so much so that success in the one generally leads to success in the other. Personally, I have not found it so, for though I may claim, I suppose, to be above the average amateur at billiards, I am probably below him in golf. I have never quite attained the three-figure break, but I have so often topped the eighty, and even the ninety, that I have lived in. constant hope. My friend, the late General Drayson, who was a great authority on the game, used to recommend that every player should ascertain what he called his "decimal," by which he meant how many innings it took him, whether scoring or not, to make 100. The number, of course, varies with the luck of the balls and the mood of the player; but, taken overa dozen or twenty games, it gives a fair average idea of the player's form, and a man by himself can in this way test his own powers. If, for example, a player could, on an average, score 100 in twenty innings then his average would be five, which is very fair amateur form. If a man finds his "decimal" rise as high as ten over a sequence of games, he may be sure that he can hold his own against most players that he is likely to meet. I daresay my own decimal when I was in practise would be from six to eight.
I was never good enough for the big matches, and though I once went in for the Amateur championship it was not out of any illusions about my game, but because I was specially asked to do so, as it was advisable to strengthen the undoubted amateur element in the contest. By the luck of a bye, and by beating a player who was about my own form, I got into the third round, when I ran across Mr. Evans, who eventually reached the final with my scalp as well as several others at his girdle. I made 650 against his 1,000, which, as I was not helped by a bad fall from a motor bike a few days before, was as much as I could expect. Forty-two off the red was my best effort. Surely billiards is the king of all indoor games, and should have some writer who would do for it in prose what John Nyren did for cricket. I have never seen any worthy appreciation of its infinite varieties from the forcing losing hazard which goes roaring into a top pocket with a clash upon the rail, to the feather stroke so delicate that it is only the quiver of reflected light upon the object ball which shows that it has indeed been struck. Greatest of all is the ball heavily loaded with side which drifts down the long* cushion and then is sucked against every apparent law into the pocket as though it were the centre of a whirlpool. Mr. E. V. Lucas is one who could do it with discernment.
I have one funny recollection of billiards, when I wandered into some small hotel in a South-Coast watering place, and for want of something to do played the marker. He was a pompous person in a frock coat with a very good opinion of his own game, which was really ruined by a habit he had of jerking. I won the match, which was not difficult to do, and then I thought it a kindness to point out to the man how he could improve his game. He took this badly, however, and hinted that he allowed gentlemen who played him to get the better of him. This in turn annoyed me, so I said: "Look here. I will come in after dinner and you can show all you can do, and you shall have a sovereign if you win." After dinner his game was worse than ever, while I had amazing luck and made the 100 in about three shots. As I put on my coat and was leaving the room the queer little fellow sidled up to me and said: "I beg pardon, sir, but is your name Roberts ?"
My earliest recollection of cricket is not a particularly pleasant one. When I was a very small boy at a preparatory school I was one of a group of admirers who stood around watching a young cricketer who had just made his name hitting big hits off the school bowlers. One of the big hits landed on my knee-cap and the cricketer in his own famous arms carried me off to the school infirmary. The name, Tom Emmett, lingers in my memory, though it was some years before I appreciated exactly what he stood for in the game. I think, like most boys, I would rather have been knocked down by a first-class cricketer than picked up by a second-rater.
That was the beginning of my acquaintance with a game which has on the whole given me more pleasure during my life than any other branch of sport. I have ended by being its victim, for a fast bowler some years ago happened to hit me twice in the same place under my left knee, which has left a permanent weakness. I have had as long an inning as one could reasonably expect, and carry many pleasant friendships and recollections away with me.
I was a keen cricketer as a boy, but in my student days was too occupied to touch it. Then I took it up again, but my progress was interrupted by work and travel. I had some cause, therefore, to hold on to the game as I had lost so much of it in my youth. Finally, I fulfilled a secret ambition by getting into the fringe of first-class cricket, though rather, perhaps, through the good nature of others than my own merits. However, I can truly say that in the last season when I played some first-class cricket, including matches against Kent, Derbyshire, and the London County, I had an average of thirty-two for those games, so I may claim to have earned my place. I was more useful, however, in an amateur team, for I was a fairly steady and reliable bowler, and I could generally earn my place in that department, while with the M.G.C. the professional talent is usually so strong that the amateur who fails in batting and is not a particularly good field has no chance of atoning with the ball. Yet even with the M.C.C. I have occasionally had a gleam of success. Such a one came some years ago, when the team presented me with a little silver hat for getting three consecutive clean-bowled wickets against the Gentlemen of Warwick. One of my victims explained his downfall by assuring me that he had it thoroughly in his head that I was a left-handed bowler, and when the ball came from my right hand he was too bewildered to stop it. The reason is not so good as that of an artist who, when I had bowled him out, exclaimed: "Who can play against a man who bowls in a crude pink shirt against an olive-green background ?"
A bowler has many days when everything is against him, when a hard, smooth wicket takes all the spin and devil out of him, when he goes all round and over the wicket, when lofted balls refuse to come to hand, or, if they do come, refuse to stay. But, on the other hand, he has his recompense with many a stroke of good fortune. It was in such a moment that I had the good luck to get the wicket of W. G. Grace, the greatest of all cricketers.
W. G. had his speedy revenge. There was nothing more childlike and bland than that slow, tossed-up bowling of his, and nothing more subtle and treacherous. He was always on the wicket or about it, never sent down a really loose ball, worked continually a few inches from the leg, and had a perfect command of length. It was the latter quality which was my downfall. I had made some thirty or forty, and began to relax in the deep respect with which I faced the Doctor's deliveries. I had driven him for four, and jumped out at him again the next ball. Seeing my intention, as a good bowler does, he dropped his ball a foot or two shorter. I reached it with difficulty, but again I scored four. By this time I was very pleased with myself, and could see no reason why every one of these delightful slows should not mean a four to me. Out I danced to reach the next one on the half volley. It was tossed a little higher up in the air, which gave the delusion that it was coming right up to the bat, but as a matter of fact it pitched well short of my reach, broke sharply across and Lilley, the wicket-keeper, had my bails off in a twinkling. One feels rather cheap when one walks from the middle of the pitch to the pavilion, longing to kick oneself for one's own foolishness all the way. I have only once felt smaller, and that was when I was bowled by A. P. Lucas, by the most singular ball that I have ever received. He propelled it like a quoit into the air to a height of at least 30 feet, and it fell straight and true on to the top of the bails. I have often wondered what a good batsman would have made of that ball. To play it one would have needed to turn the blade of the bat straight up, and could hardly fail to give a chance. I tried to cut it off my stumps, with the result that I knocked down my wicket and broke my bat, while the ball fell in the midst of this general chaos. I spent the rest of the day wondering gloomily what I ought to have done — and I am wondering yet.
I have had two unusual experiences upon Lord's ground. One was that I got a century in the very first match that I played there. It was an unimportant game, it is true, but still the surprising fact remained. It was a heavy day, and my bat, still encrusted with the classic mud, hangs as a treasured relic in my hall. The other was less pleasant and even more surprising. I was playing for the Club against Kent, and faced for the first time Bradley, who was that year one of the fastest bowlers in England. His first delivery I hardly saw, and it landed with a terrific thud upon my thigh. A little occasional pain is one of the chances of cricket, and one takes it as cheerfully as one can, but on this occasion it suddenly became sharp to an unbearable degree. I clapped my hand to the spot, and found to my amazement that I was on fire. The ball had landed straight on a small tin vesta box in my trousers pocket, had splintered the box, and set the matches ablaze. It did not take me long to turn out my pocket and scatter the burning vestas over the grass. I should have thought this incident unique, but Alec Hearne, to whom I told it, assured me that he had seen more than one accident of the kind. W. G. was greatly amused. "Couldn't get you out — had to set you on fire!" he cried, in the high voice which seemed so queer from so big a body.
There are certain matches which stand out in one's memory for their peculiar surroundings. One was a match played against Cape de Verde at that island on the way to South Africa. There is an Atlantic telegraph station there with a large staff, and they turn out an excellent eleven. I understand that they played each transport as it passed, and that they had defeated all, including the Guards. We made up a very fair team, however, under the captaincy of Lord Henry Scott, and after a hard fight we defeated the islanders. I don't know how many of our eleven left their bones in South Africa; three at least — Blasson, Douglas Forbes (who made our top score), and young Maxwell Craig never returned. I remember one even more tragic match in which I played for the Incogniti against Aldershot Division a few months before the African War. The regiments quartered there were those which afterwards saw the hardest service. Major Ray, who made the top score, was killed at Magersfontein. Young Stanley, who went in first with me, met his death in the Yeomanry. Taking the two teams right through, I am sure that half the men were killed or wounded within two years. How little we could have foreseen it that sunny summer day!
It is dangerous when an old cricketer begins to reminisce, because so much comes back to his mind. He has but to smell the hot rubber of a bat handle to be flooded with memories. They are not always glorious. I remember three ladies coming to see me play against one of the Bedford schools. The boys politely applauded as I approached the wicket. A very small boy lobbed up the first ball which I played at. It went up into the air, and was caught at point by the very smallest boy I have ever seen in decent cricket. It seemed to me about a mile as I walked back from the wicket to the pavilion. I don't think those three ladies ever recovered their confidence in my cricketing powers.
As a set-off to this confession of failure let me add a small instance of success, where by "taking thought" I saved a minor international match. It was at the Hague in 1892, and the game was a wandering British team against Holland. The Dutch were an excellent sporting lot, and had one remarkable bowler in Posthuma, a left-hander, who had so huge a break with his slow ball that it was not uncommon for him to pitch the ball right outside the matting on which we played and yet bring it on to the wicket. We won our various local matches without much difficulty, but we were aware that we should have a stiff fight with United Holland, the more so as Dutch hospitality was almost as dangerous to our play as Dutch cricket.
So it proved, and we were in the position that with four wickets in hand they had only fifteen runs to make with two batsmen well set. I had not bowled during the tour, for as we were a scratch team, mostly from the schoolmaster class, we did not know each other's capacity. Seeing, however, that things were getting desperate, I went the length of asking our skipper to give me a chance.
I had observed that the batsmen had been very well taught by their English professional, and that they all played in most orthodox fashion with a perfectly straight bat. That was why I thought I might get them out. I brought every fielder round to the off, for I felt that they would not think it correct to pull, and I tossed up good length balls about a foot on the off side. It came off exactly as I expected. The pro. had not told them what to do with that particular sort of tosh, and the four men were all caught for as many runs by mid-off or cover. The team in their exultation proceeded to carry me into the pavilion, but whether it was my sixteen stone or the heat of the weather, they tired of the job midway and let me down with a crash which shook the breath out of me — so Holland was avenged. I played against them again when they came to England, and made sixty-seven, but got no wickets, for they had mastered the off-side theory.
Some of my quaintest cricket reminiscences are in connection with J. M. Barrie's team — the "Allah-Akbarries," or "Lord help us" as we were called. We played in the old style, caring little about the game and a good deal about a jolly time and pleasant scenery. Broadway, the country home of Mr. Navarro and his wife, formerly Mary Anderson, the famous actress, was one of our favourite haunts, and for several years in succession we played the Artists there. Bernard Partridge, Barrie, A. E. W. Mason, Abbey the Academician, Blomfield the architect, Marriott Watson, Charles Whibley, and others of note took part, and there were many whimsical happenings, which were good fun if they were not good cricket. I thought all record of our games had faded from human ken, but lately a controversy was raised over Mr. Armstrong, the Australian captain, bowling the same man from opposite ends on consecutive overs. This led to the following paragraph in a Birmingham paper, which, I may say, entirely exaggerates my powers but is otherwise correct.
"BARRIE AND ARMSTRONG.
"I am not surprised that in the matter of Mr. Armstrong's conduct in bowling two consecutive overs from different ends, no reference has been made to the important precedent which on a similar occasion Sir James Barrie failed to establish (writes a correspondent of the "Nation") . The occasion was his captaincy (at Broadway, in Worcestershire) of an eleven of writers against a strong team of alleged artists. The circumstances were these. One side had compiled seventy-two runs, chiefly, if not wholly, contributed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
"The sun-worshippers had thereupon responded with an equal number of runs for the loss of all but their last wicket. The ninth wicket had fallen to the last ball of Sir Arthur's over, the other eight having succumbed to the same performer, then in his prime. Actuated, apparently, by the belief that Sir Arthur was the only bowler of his side capable of taking or reaching a wicket, even in Worcestershire, Sir James there-upon put him on at the opposite end.
"Before, however, he could take a practice ball, a shout was heard from the artists' pavilion, and the nine unengaged players were seen issuing from it to contest our captain's decision. After an exciting contest, it was ultimately given in their favour, with the result that the first ball of the new howler was hit for two, assisted by overthrows, and the innings and match were won by the artists."
Of Barrie's team I remember that it was printed at the bottom of our cards that the practice ground was in the "National Observer" office. Mr. Abbey, the famous artist, usually captained against Barrie, and it was part of the agreement that each should have a full pitch to leg just to start his score. I remember my horror when by mistake I bowled a straight first ball to Abbey, and so broke the unwritten law as well as the wicket. Abbey knew nothing of the game, but Barrie was no novice. He bowled an insidious left-hand good length ball coming from leg which was always likely to get a wicket.
Talking of bowling, I have twice performed the rare feat of getting all ten wickets. Once it was against a London Club, and once I ran through the side of a Dragoon Regiment at Norwich. My best performance at Lords was seven wickets for fifty-one against Cambridgeshire in 1904.
Of fencing my experience has been limited, and yet I have seen enough to realize what a splendid toughening exercise it is. I nearly had an ugly mishap when practising it. I had visited a medical man in Southsea who was an expert with the foils, and at his invitation had a bout with him. I had put on the mask and glove, but was loath to have the trouble of fastening on the heavy chest plastron. He insisted, however, and his insistence saved me from an awkward wound, for, coming in heavily upon a thrust, his foil broke a few inches from the end, and the sharp point thus created went deeply into the pad which covered me. I learned a lesson that day.
On the whole, considering the amount of varied sport which I have done, I have come off very well as regards bodily injury. One finger broken at football, two at cricket (one after the other in the same season), the disablement of my knee — that almost exhausts it. Though a heavy man and quite an indifferent rider, I have never hurt myself in a fair selection of falls in the hunting field and elsewhere. Once, as I have narrated, when I was down, the horse kicked me over the eye with his forefoot, but I got off with a rather ragged wound, though it might have been very much more serious.
Indeed, when it comes to escapes, I have had more than my share of luck. One of the worst was in a motor accident, when the machine, which weighed over a ton, ran up a high bank, threw me out on a gravel drive below, and then, turning over, fell on top of me. The steering wheel projected slightly from the rest, and thus broke the impact and undoubtedly saved my life, but it gave way under the strain, and the weight of the car settled across my spine just below the neck, pinning my face down on the gravel, and pressing with such terrific force as to make it impossible to utter a sound. I felt the weight getting heavier moment by moment, and wondered how long my vertebrae could stand it. However, they did so long enough to enable a crowd to collect and the car to be levered off me. I should think there are few who can say that they have held up a ton weight across their spine and lived unparalyzed to talk about it. It is an acrobatic feat which I have no desire to repeat.
There is plenty of sport in driving one's own motor and meeting the hundred and one unexpected roadside adventures and difficulties which are continually arising. These were greater a few years ago, when motors were themselves less solidly and accurately constructed, drivers were less skilled, and frightened horses were more in evidence. No invention of modern civilization has done so much for developing a man's power of resource and judgment as the motor. To meet and overcome a sudden emergency is the best of human training, and if a man is his own driver and mechanician on a fairly long journey he can hardly fail to have some experience of it.
I well remember in the early days of motoring going up to Birmingham to take delivery of my new twelve horse-power Wolseley. I had invested in the sort of peaked yachting cap which was considered the correct badge of the motorist in those days, but as I paced the platform of New Street Station a woman removed any conceit I might have over my headgear, by asking me peremptorily how the trains ran to Walsall. She took me for one of the officials. I got the car safely home, and no doubt it was a good car as things went at that time, but the secret of safe brakes had not yet been discovered, and my pair used to break as if they were glass. More than once I have known what it is to steer a car when it is flying backwards under no control down a winding hill. Looking back at those days it seems to me that I was under the car nearly as much as on the top of it, for every repair had to be done from below. There were few accidents from smashing my differential, seizing my engines, and stripping my gears, which I have not endured. It was a chain-driven machine, and I can well remember one absurd incident when the chain jumped the cogs and fell off. We were on a long slope of 3 miles and ran on with the engine turned off quite unconscious of what had occurred. When we reached level ground the car naturally stopped, and we got out, opened the bonnet, tested the electricity, and were utterly puzzled as to what was amiss, when a yokel in a cart arrived waving our motive power over his head. He had picked it up on the road.
Our descendants will never realize the terror of the horses at this innovation, nor the absurd scenes which it caused. On one occasion I was motoring down a narrow lane in Norfolk, with my mother in the open tonneau. Coming round a curve we came upon two carts, one behind the other. The leading horse, which had apparently never seen a motor before, propped his forelegs out, his ears shot forward, his eyes stared rigidly and then in a moment he whirled round, ran up the bank, and tried to escape behind his comrade. This he could have done but for the cart, which he also dragged up the bank. Horse and cart fell sideways on the other horse and cart, and there was such a mixture that you could not disentangle it. The carts were full of turnips and these formed a top dressing over the interlaced shafts and the struggling horses. I sprang out and was trying to help the enraged farmer to get something right end up, when I glanced at my own car which was almost involved in the pile. There was my dear old mother sitting calmly knitting in the midst of all the chaos. It was really like something in a dream.
My most remarkable motor car experience was when I drove my own sixteen horse-power Dietrich-Lorraine in the International Road Competition organized by Prince Henry of Prussia in 1911. This affair is discussed later, when I come to the preludes of war. I came away from it with sinister forebodings. The impression left on my mind by the whole incident is shown by the fact that one of the first things I did when I got to London was to recommend a firm of which I am director to remove a large sum which it had lying in Berlin. I have no doubt that it would have continued to lie there and that we might have lost it. As to the contest itself it ended in a British victory, which was owing to the staunch way in which we helped each other when in difficulties, while the Germans were more a crowd of individuals than a team. Their cars were excellent and so was their driving. My own little car did very well and only dropped marks at Sutton Bank in Yorkshire, that terrible hill, one in three at one point, with a hair-pin bend. When we finally panted out our strength I put my light-weight chauffeur to the wheel, ran round, and fairly boosted her up from behind, but we were fined so many marks for my leaving the driving wheel. Not to get up would have meant three times the forfeit, so my tactics were well justified.
No doubt the coming science of aviation will develop the same qualities as motor driving to an even higher degree. It is a form of sport in which I have only aspirations and little experience. I had one balloon ascent in which we covered some 25 miles and ascended 6,000 feet, which was so delightful an expedition that I have always been eager for another and a longer one. A man has a natural trepidation the first time he leaves the ground, but I remember that, as I stood by the basket with the gas-bag swinging about above me and the assistants clinging to the ropes, some one pointed out an elderly gentleman and said: "That is the famous Mr. So-and-So, the aeronaut." I saw a venerable person and I asked how many ascents he had made. "About a thousand," was the answer. No eloquence or reasoning could have convinced me so completely that I might get into the basket with a cheerful mind, though I will admit that for the first minute or so one feels very strange, and keeps an uncommonly tight grip of the sideropes. This soon passes, however, and one is lost in the wonder of the prospect and the glorious feeling of freedom and detachment. As in a ship, it is the moment of nearing land once more which is the moment of danger — or, at least, cf discomfort; but beyond a bump or two, we came to rest very quietly in the heart of a Kentish hop-field.
I had one aeroplane excursion in rather early days, but the experience was not entirely a pleasant one. Machines were under-engined in those days and very much at the mercy of the wind. We went up at Hendon — May 25, 1911, the date — but the machine was a heavy bi-plane, and though it went down wind like a swallow it was more serious when we turned and found, looking down, that the objects below us were stationary or even inclined to drift backwards. However, we got back to the field at last, and I think the pilot was as relieved as I. What impressed me most was the terrible racket of the propeller, comparing so unfavourably with the delicious calm of the balloon journey.
There is one form of sport in which I have, I think, been able to do some practical good, for I can claim to have been the first to introduce skis into the Grisons division of Switzerland, or at least to demonstrate their practical utility as a means of getting across in winter from one valley to another. It was in 1894 that I read Nansen's account of his crossing of Greenland, and thus became interested in the subject of ski-ing. It chanced that I was compelled to spend that winter in the Davos valley, and I spoke about the matter to Tobias Branger, a sporting tradesman in the village, who in turn interested his brother. We sent for skis from Norway, and for some weeks afforded innocent amusement to a large number of people who watched our awkward movements and complex tumbles. The Brangers made much better progress than I. At the end of a month or so we felt that we were getting more expert, and determined to climb the Jacobshorn, a considerable hill, just opposite the Davos Hotel. We had to carry our unwieldy skis upon our backs until we had passed the fir trees which line its slopes, but once in the open we made splendid progress, and had the satisfaction of seeing the flags in the village dipped in our honour when we reached the summit. But it was only in returning that we got the full flavour of ski-ing. In ascending you shuffle up by long zigzags, the only advantage of your footgear being that it is carrying you over snow which would engulf you without it. But coming back you simply turn your long toes and let yourself go, gliding delightfully over the gentle slopes, flying down the steeper ones, taking an occasional cropper, but getting as near to flying as any earth-bound man can. In that glorious air it is a delightful experience.
Encouraged by our success with the Jacobshorn, we determined to show the utility of our accomplishment by opening up communications with Arosa, which lies in a parallel valley and can only be reached in winter by a very long and roundabout railway journey. To do this we had to cross a high pass, and then drop down on the other side. It was a most interesting journey, and we felt all the pride of pioneers as we arrived in Arosa.
I have no doubt that what we did would seem absurdly simple to Norwegians or others who were apt at the game, but we had to find things out for ourselves and it was sometimes rather terrifying. The sun had not yet softened the snow on one sharp slope across which we had to go, and we had to stamp with our skis in order to get any foothold. On our left the snow slope ended in a chasm from which a blue smoke or fog rose in the morning air. I hardly dared look in that direction, but from the corner of my eye I saw the vapour of the abyss. I stamped along and the two gallant Switzers got on my left, so that if I slipped the shock would come upon them. We had no rope by which we could link up. We got across all right and perhaps we exaggerated the danger, but it was not a pleasant experience.
Then I remember that we came to an absolute precipice, up which no doubt the path zig-zags in summer. It was not of course perpendicular, but it seemed little removed from it, and it had just slope enough to hold the snow. It looked impassable, but the Brangers had picked up a lot in some way of their own. They took off their skis, fastened them together with a thong, and on this toboggan they sat, pushing themselves over the edge, and going down amid a tremendous spray of flying snow. When they had reached safety they beckoned to me to follow. I had done as they did, and was sitting on my skis preparatory to launching myself when a fearsome thing happened, for my skis shot from under me, flew down the slope, and vanished in huge bounds among the snow mounds beyond. It was a nasty moment, and the poor Brangers stood looking up at me some hundreds of feet below me in a dismal state of mind. However, there was no possible choice as to what to do, so I did it. I let myself go over the edge, and came squattering down, with legs and arms extended to check the momentum. A minute later I was rolling covered with snow at the feet of my guides, and my skis were found some hundreds of yards away, so no harm was done after all.
I remember that when we signed the hotel register Tobias Branger filled up the space after my name, in which the new arrival had to describe his profession, by the words "Sportesmann," which I took as a compliment. It was at any rate more pleasant than the German description of my golf clubs, which went astray on the railway and turned up at last with the official description of "Kinderspieler " (child's toys) attached to them. To return to the skis they are no doubt in very general use, but I think I am right in saying that these and other excursions of ours first demonstrated their possibilities to the people of the country and have certainly sent a good many thousands of pounds since then into Switzerland. If my rather rambling career in sport has been of any practical value to any one, it is probably in this matter, and also, perhaps, in the opening up of miniature rifle-ranges in 1901, when the idea was young in this country, and when my Hindhead range was the pioneer and the model for many others.
A pleasing souvenir of my work on Kifle Clubs is to be found in the Conan Doyle Cup, which was presented by my friend Sir John Langman, and is still shot for every year at Bisley by civilian teams.
On the whole as I look back there is no regret in my mind for the time that I have devoted to sport. It gives health and strength but above all it gives a certain balance of mind without which a man is not complete. To give and to take, to accept success modestly and defeat bravely, to fight against odds, to stick to one's point, to give credit to your enemy and value your friend — these are some of the lessons which true sport should impart.