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The groundwork of these sketches of the earlier history of some British pastimes was a set of magazine articles published in "Belgravia" and other periodicals. These papers, in their present form, have been carefully revised, partly rewritten, and have had much new matter added to them.
PASTIMES AND PLAYERS.
EARLY FORMS OF CRICKET.
THOUGH the earliest mention of our national English game by its modern name of " cricket" occurs no further back than the reign of Elizabeth, it is quite clear that Britons batted and bowled away merrily long before the days of the Virgin Queen, though they called their pastime by other names.
The name, of course, is of minor importance, if the principle of the games can be proved to be the same, as nothing is more common than to find a pastime with many different names, according to the place where it is played. Thus, "rounders " is still the same good old English game, though Edinburgh street boys call it "dully," and our American cousins have elevated it into their national game under the name of "baseball." So with our game: and the only question is whether the identity of cricket with "club-ball," "stool-ball," and the other names we shall notice below, can be proved as clearly as that of, say, rounders with base-ball, or hockey with shinty and hurling. This question may easily be answered in the affirmative.
Before entering, then, on the history of our great game under its present name, let us glance at some of these old pastimes, and see if we can find in them the rude beginnings from which the scientific game of to-day has been built up.
According to Strutt, club-ball was the earliest name for the game. It was popular enough in the reign of Edward III. to be included under its Latin name of Pila bacculorea in his proclamation against football, handball, and other pastimes specified, which unduly occupied the attention of the people, to the great detriment of their military exercises, and especially of archery. Strutt, however, has not noticed a paragraph in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1788, where Sylvanus Urban draws attention to perhaps the earliest allusion to the game under a name curiously like "cricket." "In the wardrobe account of the 28th year of King Edward I., A.D. 1300 (page 126), published in 1787 by the Society of Antiquaries, among the entries of money paid to one Mr. John Leek, his chaplain, for the use of that King's son, Prince Edward, in playing at different games, is the following:- Domino Johanni de Leek, capellano Domini Edwardi fil' Regis, pro den' per ipsum liberat' eidem Domino suo ad ludendum ad CREAG' et alios ludos per vices, per manus proprias 100 Sh.'" Glossaries, the writer says, have been searched in vain for any other pastime, except cricket, to which the name creag" can apply; and it is allowable for us to say that, even in these early times, our game was played by some of the highest personages in the kingdom, and that, too, under a name from which its modern appellation is most probably derived.
No written description of the mode of play in club-ball or creag exists, but we can get a clear enough idea of it from engravings in two old manuscripts. The earliest of these representations of the pastime is in a genealogical roll of the Kings of England down to Henry III.-" Chronique d'Angleterre depuis Ethelberd jusqu'à Henri III."-in the royal library. It is a delineation of two male figures playing a game with a bat and ball. The batsman holds the ball in one hand, while in the other he has his bat held perpendicularly, as if about to strike the ball: the other player is drawn with both arms extended, as if eagerly anxious and watchful for a catch.
The bat is straight and broadest at the point, from which it gradually tapers to the handle. It is quite probable that the holding of the ball by the batsman was only a conventional way of showing its existence adopted by the artist, if he found it desirable to omit, or difficult to introduce, the bowler (who, as we shall see, appears in the other MS.); indeed, in another drawing in this same chronicle, the artist has only delineated a batsman and a female fielder, and has left out the ball as well as the bowler. Very similar illustrations of boys playing games with bat and ball are to be found in the MS. Book of Decretals, made about this time for Rayer's Priory of St. Bartholomew, close to the great playground of the Londoners of that period; on which, no doubt, the friar who illuminated the gay volume witnessed all the merry sports he has thus depicted for the benefit of future ages.
A much more complete representation of a club-ball match in the latter days of the Plantagenets is given in a drawing in the "Romance of the good King Alexander," a manuscript in the Bodleian Library, dated 1344. Here we have a batsman, a bowler, and four fielders, who are all monks, which proves that the game was one held in favour by Mother Church as well as by the Court.
Strutt, indeed, has taken the bowler and some of the fielders to be women, but it is more likely that they are monks with their cowls up. However this may be, in the drawing we have a capital delineation of a single-wicket game, the bowler poising the ball with outstretched arm, as if in the act of bowling it to the batsman, who holds his long and slightlycurved bat raised vertically in the air, ready for a hit; while behind the bowler are the fielders, with their hands raised, waiting to catch or stop the ball when hit by the batsman, and all looking very eager for a "chance." This seems quite satisfactory proof that the principle of this old game was, at least, closely akin to that of cricket; and though no stumps appear in either of these drawings, this is rather an additional