Abhishek Mukherjee, cricketsoccer’s prolific writer, brings to you the words, verbal or written, almost never intended to be pathbreaking quotes in the history of cricket in this fascinating series…….

As promised, we shall deal with the most significant quotes in the history of cricket in this series. In the previous piece, we have dealt with the universally accepted oldest mention of cricket anywhere. However, as discussed, cricket was still a boys’ sport at this point, far from attaining mainstream status.

With time spread to the parishes, where the clergymen found it curiously addictive. Two priests were fined for bunking service in 1611. Eleven years later two churchwardens were reprimanded for playing cricket in the churchyard on a Sunday – a strict no-no for Christians. In fact, over three centuries later, Jack Hobbs would refuse to play cricket on a Sunday, but that is another story.

By 1640s matches were being played for wagers. One curious incident deserves a mention, where two ‘Royalists’ played four ‘prophane men’. The Royalists were supposed to concede cash if they are lost, while their opponents had promised to ‘pay’ a dozen candles. The quartet lost but refused to pay and ended up facing a lawsuit.

While all this was going on, John Milton was busy stamping his authority on English literature. Paradise Lost would come out in 1667, but he had already published a collection of poems in 1646.

Milton’s only sister Anne was married to one Edward Phillips. Their sons, Edward Jr and John, were both tutored by the great man of words. Edward Jr was also Milton’s first known biographer.

However, that was not the only thing Phillips wrote. The one in question came out in 1658, and went by the exotic title of The Mysteries of Love & Eloquence, or, The Arts of Wooing and Complementing as They Are Manag’d in the Spring Garden, Hide Park, the New Exchange, and Other Eminent Places : a Work in Which is Drawn to the Life the Deportments of the Most Accomplisht Persons, the Mode of their Courtly Entertainments, Treatments of Their Ladies at Balls, Their Accustom’d Sports, Drolls and Fancies, the Witchcrafts of Their Perswasive Language in their Approaches, or Other More Secret Dispatches…

There is no typographic error. It was not uncommon for books of the era to boast of titles of comparable length, and the spellings are in accordance with the ones used in the era. One must remember that Phillips belonged to the elite class when it came to education.

Despite the imposing title, the book is essentially a collection of tips on flirting with chapters, classified into mini-sections on the lines of A Horse-Courser courting a Parsons Widow, An Apprentice and a Young Lady at a Boarding School, and some very specific ones like A Passado Complement between a Gentleman and a Lady, meeting in two several Coaches in the High-way going to Hide-Park.

One of the chapters, titled Mock-Complements, contained the following conversation in the section At the Inn, between Richard and Kate. It ended on the unfortunate note of Kate calling it a day (“my Dame will thrash my bones for staying so long”) despite Richard’s sincerest efforts. All Kate could offer was “a piece of bag-pudding”.

Richard tried his best to impress Kate: “Nay ’tis true Kate, and I’le lay our pie-bald Mare against any Horse in the Town, that thou hast as pretty a smelling brow as any Lass in the Countrey.”

Kate, unfortunately, was not as willing: “Ay, but Richard will you think so hereafter? Will you not when you have me throw stools at my head; and cry, Would my eyes had been beaten out of my head with a cricket ball, the day before I saw thee.”

Kate’s response remains the first known mention of cricket – or, more specifically, a cricket ball – in the text that can safely be classified as literature.

One cannot help but wonder whether Edward Phillips Jr liked the sport at all. If he indeed did, shouldn’t he have mentioned a cricket ball as something, er, nicer than a blunt instrument?

Almost two centuries later, Mary Russell Mitford wrote about a hundred sketches for The Lady’s Magazine. The collection was later published under the title Our Village: Sketches of Rural Character and Scenery. The series was described by Barclay’s World of Cricket as the “first major prose on the game”.

Sample Mitford’s excellent prose on the two kinds of village cricketers: “One of young men, surrounded by spectators, some standing, some sitting, some stretched on the grass, all taking a delighted interest in the game; the other, a merry group of little boys, at a humble distance, for whom even cricket is scarcely lively enough, shouting, leaping, and enjoying themselves to their hearts’ content.”


If only she had made writing on cricket her priority!

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