Open main menu

DIXON, HENRY HALL (1822–1870), sporting writer, known as ‘The Druid,’ the second son of Peter Dixon (d. 1866), a large cotton-spinner residing at Warwick Bridge, near Carlisle, who married in 1820 Sarah Rebecca, daughter of General Tredway Clarke, was born in Cumberland on 16 May 1822. He was educated under Arnold at Rugby (1838–41), and proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1846, and would have obtained high honours in classics but for the temporary failure of his eyesight. He had written on sporting subjects for ‘Bell's Life’ both at Rugby and at Cambridge, and when he settled as clerk to an attorney at Doncaster he was easily persuaded by the veteran James White, known as ‘Martingale,’ to become a systematic writer on sporting topics. He showed remarkable aptitude from the first, became in a very short time the manager of the ‘Doncaster Gazette,’ and was introduced from it to Vincent Dowling, editor of ‘Bell's Life in London,’ for which he began writing in 1850. On Dowling's death in November 1862 he was offered but refused the editorship of ‘Bell's Life’ with a commencing salary of 1,000l. He probably retained the idea of practising at the bar, for he was called in 1853, and went for a time upon the midland circuit. But this soon failed him as a resource, and he began writing regularly for the ‘Sporting Magazine,’ first under the pseudonym of General Chassé, and then as ‘The Druid.’ Three of his best known works, ‘Post and Paddock’ (1856), ‘Silk and Scarlet’ (1859), and ‘Scott and Sebright’ (1862), which last he considered his best work, made their first appearance in the pages of that periodical. At the time that he was writing ‘Silk and Scarlet’ he was, in order to conciliate his father, working hard upon ‘The Law of the Farm,’ a useful compendium, which first appeared in 1858, and has maintained its position as a standard work through numerous editions. After its appearance he began a column of freshly written information for the ‘Illustrated London News,’ under the heading of ‘The Farm,’ and in 1859 also he began a series of papers upon ‘The Flocks and Herds of Great Britain’ for the ‘Mark Lane Express.’ He visited upwards of eighty herds, and henceforth his attention was largely diverted from the turf to cattle and farming matters. He won four prizes for essays offered by the Royal Agricultural Society, the most important being his essay on the ‘Breeding of Shorthorns’ in 1865. In the same year appeared his ‘Field and Fern,’ the result of a careful perambulation of Scotland and inspection of the herds of that country, on the conclusion of which he rode from the Orkneys to his house at Kensington on the back of a small pony without stopping at an hotel, thus winning a sovereign, the largest bet he ever made, from the editor of the ‘Field.’ Like ‘Field and Fern,’ his larger work on the herds and cattle of England was issued in two volumes (‘North’ and ‘South’) under the title of ‘Saddle and Sirloin’ in 1870. In the meantime Dixon had been appointed upon the regular staff of the ‘Daily News,’ in which paper his much appreciated article on ‘Cub-hunting’ appeared. But he had suffered terribly from severe exposure during his numerous tramps, and his health gradually gave way. Working to the last with unflinching courage and industry, he died at his house in Kensington on 16 March 1870.

He married in May 1847 Caroline, daughter of Thomas Lynes, who survived him with a large family. An excellent portrait was engraved by W. J. Alais for ‘The Life and Times of the Druid’ (1895).

The Druid rarely hunted or betted on a horse race; he was not a Nimrod himself (like Apperley), but he was an interested spectator of all kinds of sport, and was emphatically one of those lookers-on who see most of the game. He had not much in common with the ordinary turfite, having retained to the last ‘the view he had imbibed at Rugby as to the respect due to classical scholarship, to liberalism in politics, and above all to religion.’ Yet, as an exponent of sporting tradition, he has no rival, though all sporting journalists have lit their torches at the Druid's fire. His sympathies were nearly universal, and, inclining always to take a kindly view of human nature, he studiously avoided writing a word to cause pain. His faults are lack of the finish and clearness that can only be obtained by revision (which he neglected), and the obscurity that comes from allusiveness. There is a strong vein of poetry in many of his vivid sporting recollections and impressions of landscape. A number of stories are told of the Druid's eccentricities, arising for the most part from his queer solitary habits and his singular indifference to money and to regular meals.

[Life and Times of the Druid by Hon. Francis Lawley, 1895; Thormanby's Kings of the Turf; Boase's Modern Biography; Sporting Review, 1870, i. 294; Field, 19 March 1870; Sporting Times, 6 Feb. 1886; Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic (portrait), 1874, i. 64.]

T. S.