Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/"Bell's Life," and our sports and pastimes
The prize-fighter's crib is the very soul of hannony, if we may believe their advertisements. Thus, Professor Mike Madden assures his friends that the ' ' merrie little Bell is always in tune, and everything goes on right merrily every evening." Whilst Jem Mace (champion of the world) states "that he Avill hold a conversazione this evening, July Gtli, in the new picture-gallery," the said picture-gallery consisting of portraits of pugilists. By the Avay, I may mention that no sporting publican thinks his bar complete without one of j Newbold's pictures of the set-to between Heenan and Sayers, the possession of which is always i advertised. "At Nat Langham's, Cambrian, j Castle Street, Leicester Square," we are informed, " that the usual scenes of tranquil delight are enacted every evening with gorgeous effect." Who shall say after this that the converse of Shakspere's proposition is not true ? Of course such national sports as racing and cricketing are fully and minutely reflected in " Bell's Life ; " but even here the reader is surprised to find the number of events that are coming off' day by daj', in the former sport especially. It is remark- able the number of collateral occu(iations to which it gives rise. There is generally a column of advertisements of racing prophets, each vieing with the other as to their infallibility. These horse-wise men dispense their predictions to regular subscribers at so much per season or qiiarter, a striking jiroof of the de[ith to which Sfieculations on the turf have penetrated every section of the British community. Swimming is I find gradually asserting itself as a national S[iort of the first magnitude. There is a champion swimming belt, and Beckworth, the champion, advertises the graceful swimming and floating feats of his daughter. Miss Jessie, aged seven years, and the babies, F. and W., aged live and three years. As if the element he performed in did not furnish sufficient difficulties to the pursuit of the art, one professor attemjited to perform the feat of jumping into seven feet of water from a height of ninety feet, and w'hen in mid air firing off two pistols, jum[iing thi'oiigh two balloons, and, whilst under the water, putting on a pair of trousers ! The oddest games and con- j tests are to be found in the jiages of " Bell's Life." For instance, what does the reader know of the game of Knurr and Spell ? Yet this sport also has its professors and players devoted solely to it. We believe it is a kind of scientific trap-and-ball game. A Mr. Tupper (not Martin Farquhar) has given a challenge, which has been accepted, to match his donkey to make the best of his road for two miles against a runner. A most exciting match will, we hear, speedily come off between Lord 's horses and the hounds of Lord . Running matches between dogs are, we find, a matter of everyday occurrence. Pigeon flying is a great sport among the Birmingham fancy, and dog and cock fighting (the latter, a stage of sport beneath the dignity of " Bell's Life" to chronicle), are still rife in the last-named stronghold of the "fancy." Among the moi-e sedentary games I find matches are continually coming olf. A young man challenges the world to play a game of diaughts with him ; even dominoes have their triumphs registered in these omnivorous pages. And be it remembered, with every season the readers have an entire change of performances. Indeed, scarcely a month goes by without wit- nessing an entire alteration in the nature of the sports. It will be observed, however, that with the exception of field-sports or yachting, trials of skill, strength, agility, and endurance are not made in the public eye. Trials of skill in running, leaping, wrestling, &c., are generally made in professional grounds, into which "society" enters not. Our athletes are either professionals or plebs from the shop — the butcher, the baker, and the shoemaker, who exert themselves for money, &c. The snip who brings home your coat, for all you know, is recognised among his pals as the Brompton Stag, or the young butcher may be famous among the fancy as the great hurdle-leaper, or the baker boasts the best dog at a rat in the parish. Their triumphs are unnoted except by the publicans where the matches are made up and their proceeds spent. The other class of men Avho are fond of sporting are the officers of the army ; they have leisure and money, and their profession gives them a strong leaning toward physical exercises. But the great middle class have not hitherto been given to sports — at least, not to contend in any l)ublie arena for honours or rewards. This has been the great want of the young men of the counter and of the desk ; their wits have been, of late, fustered at the expense of their muscles. Athenteums and mechanics' iustiiutes have been favoured to the total exclusion of athletic and manly games, and this is the reason why the idea exists that our old sports and pastimes have died out. I have shown how far this is from being the case among the upper and lower classes, and there are very evident symptoms that the great middle classes are beginning to move in this direc- tion. To the Volunteer movement this amend- ment in our public life is clearly due. The driU grounds attached to most corps throughout the country are centres of gathering for our youth, which they have not been slow to take advantage of. They have fostered in our citizen- soldiers a love for out-of-door life that was utterly wanting for a century at least. The very monotony of the drill itself has led to the practise of athletic games ; and not a fortnight since, at Beaufort House, the South Middlesex ground, the palm of victory was contended for in our old English games at a fete in which there were thousands of fan- women to look on and applaud. The esprit by these regimental gather- foster this growing love of By-and-b3% corps will play and we shall be and jumpers de corps produced ings are likelj to our national games, against corps, crack runners as proud of our in our regiments, as we are of our prize shots. And, be it re- membered, these sports will be carried on un- der the eyes of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters ; all the best influences of the family will be brought to bear upon our games, and a far healthier influence will pervade our sports, thus carried on in the light of day, than we find at present, when the house of caU of the athlete is a public house, and oui- contests are adidterated with a certain blackguardism, inseparable from them so long as they are chiefly participated in by the lowest class of the population. "Bell's Life," we predict, will ere long be the record of the athletic sports of the youth of the middle class, as represented by our Volunteers, and when such is the case, it will truly represent all classes in the country, and will be as true a reflection of sporting life in England in its entirety, as the "Times" is of its political life. A. W.