In this week’s news, we have seen the beatification of Cardinal Newman by a passing Bishop of Rome. Sadly, I can find no evidence that Newman took any interest in the game of cricket. It is true that he spent the latter part of his life in Edgbaston, quite close to the ground, so it is not impossible that he used to drop in for an afternoon’s cricket from time to time, but – as I say – this is pure speculation.
His rival as top convert-Cardinal of the nineteenth century, Cardinal Manning was a different matter though. He was a good enough player to have represented the Harrow XI against Eton in 1825, and was the author of the following brief poem, in which he shows a proper Christian humility regarding his abilities:
TO CHARLES WORDSWORTH
in reply to the present of a bat
That bat that you were kind enough to send,
Seems (for as yet I have not tried it) good:
And if there’s anything on earth can mend
My wretched play, it is that piece of wood.
Wordsworth, the donor of the bat – the son of a nephew of the poet William – was the founder of the Varsity Match and the Boat Race, tutor to both Manning and W.E. Gladstone, author of a standard Greek grammar and latterly the Anglican Bishop of St. Andrews. A full and varied life.
In this portrait of Manning (by G.F. Watts) he seems to me to resemble a sort of flightless vulture. I say flightless, but then who knows what was concealed beneath that scarlet mozzetta. Perhaps a pair of vast leathery wings, that he could spread to swoop from the campanile of his (admittedly uncompleted) Cathedral or perhaps – a happier thought – the bat Wordsworth had given him so many years before, before the schism?