A.E. Stoddart : Son of Grief?

Maytime at Fairfield Road


A timely Maytime poem by A.E. Housman, from A Shropshire Lad.  The relationship between cricket and melancholy is, I think, a complex one, but this is one side to it.

Twice a week the winter thorough
      Here stood I to keep the goal:
Football then was fighting sorrow
      For the young man’s soul.

Now in Maytime to the wicket
      Out I march with bat and pad:
See the son of grief at cricket
      Trying to be glad.

Try I will; no harm in trying:
      Wonder ’tis how little mirth
Keeps the bones of man from lying
      On the bed of earth.

I recently came across an intriguing reference to this poem in David Kynaston’s W.G.’s Birthday Party,  about the Gentlemen v Players match of 1898 (I believe the book has just been reissued). 

“For W.G.’s vice-captain, however, the outbreak of war and appalling loss of life were the last straw.  “That Son of Grief”, the poet Francis Thompson had called ‘Drew’ Stoddart back in 1898 (in a review of Housman’s A Shropshire Lad), and so it proved.”

In 1898, Stoddart was a great popular idol, the epitome of the dashing Golden Age amateur and a double international (though at Rugby rather than Association football).  As Kynaston puts it –

“In appearance he was strikingly handsome, in character modest and kindly, and not surprisingly he enjoyed enormous popularity”.

It is true that in 1897-8 he had led an unhappy and unsuccessful tour to Australia.  The results were poor, he was personally affected by the death of his mother, and upset by some of the barracking his side received from the Australian crowds.

I haven’t been able to trace the review, so I’m not sure whether Thompson was being facetious in some way (a thing he was perfectly capable of when writing about cricket), or unusually perceptive.

As Kynaston puts it –

The Edwardian years were a depressing struggle for this most beloved of cricketers … By the first winter of war he was suffering from poor nerves, financial problems and a loveless marriage.  The end came on Easter Saturday 1915, when at the age of fifty-two, he shot himself through the head at his home in Maida Vale.” 

Trying to be Glad : A.E. Stoddart

6 thoughts on “A.E. Stoddart : Son of Grief?

  1. That’s such a sad story and what a marvellous photograph of Stoddart – he looks as though he could move at any moment. It always makes me so sad that there are, and always have been, people for whom the world offers so little, or who feel that they have so little to offer, that they end their lives. I can’t imagine what it must feel like not to have the tiniest glimmer of hope or any meagre perception of a hand-hold and my heart aches for those in that situation.

    There is something peculiarly melancholy about cricket, although not necessarily in a bad way. I was watching a match at East Langton last Friday and there was something terribly emotional about the quiet, the beautiful setting, the clink of tea cups and wine glasses in the pavillion and the relentless, easy movement of the white-clad players against the green of the grass and hedges. All of which was shattered by Boy the Younger falling out of a tree, straight into a patch of nettles. So much for melancholy…

  2. I think that is it exactly – it is a very bittersweet sort of feeling, and I think it has something to do with it being summer, and watching cricket making one aware of how brief that particular summer is, but how it’s been repeated for so many years with different personnel. Something like that.

  3. Yes, thanks – interesting to get a contemporary perspective on the man. There’s a biography by David Frith, I think, that I’d like to read – long out of print, though.

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