Read carefully the following passage, taken from a speech by the writer J.M. Barrie (delivered to the Australian Test XI and others in 1926).
“Let us not forget, especially at this time, that the great glory of cricket does not lie in Test Matches, nor county championships, nor Sheffield Shields, but rather on village greens, the cradle of cricket. The Tests are but the fevers of the game. As the years roll on they become of small account, something else soon takes their place, the very word may be forgotten; but long, long afterwards, I think, your far-off progeny will still of summer afternoons hear the crack of the bat, and the local champion calling for his ale on the same old bumpy wickets.
It has been said of the unseen army of the dead, on their everlasting march, that when they are passing a rural cricket ground the Englishman falls out of the ranks for a moment to look over the gate and smile. The Englishman, yes, and the Australian. How terrible if those two had to rejoin their comrades feeling that we were no longer playing the game!”
Q1) Provide a brief summary of the meaning of this passage and describe briefly your feelings about it. Do you think the date is particularly significant?
Here are two comments about the passage by later writers:
“He spills over into mawkish excess.”1
Q2A) Do you think this is a reasonable comment? Would you agree that the passage is “mawkish” or excessive? Give reasons.
Q2B) The author goes on to say: “The ranks of the unseen dead were soon to be unnaturally swollen.” Given the date of the passage, do you find this puzzling?
“Like many inter-war cricket writers, Barrie’s speech positions the contemporary practice of Test cricket within a broader discourse of cultural crisis by defining it as little more than a part of ephemeral modernity. Against this fallen image of impermanence, village cricket signifies sameness, not only through history, but across geographical space, a quality that endows this auratic English locale with an imperial dimension. This generic location possesses not only an ability to transcend imperial space, but can enforce a diachronic conformity in which past and present merge into one. The aesthetic space of the rural cricket field can thus imaginatively obviate the violent separations of war. Such synoptic imperial imagery had specific resonances at this time.”2
Q3A) Provide brief definitions of “auratic”, “diachronic” and “synoptic“.
Q3B) Do you feel that you have learned anything about cricket (as distinct from the British Empire) by reading this?
Q4) If you happened to be passing a rural cricket field, do you think you would break ranks to look over the gate? If so, do you think you would smile?
Q5) Do you understand now? Comprendo? Comprenez-vous?
(1. Derek Birley, A Social history of English cricket.)
(2. Anthony Bateman, Cricket, literature and culture : symbolising the nation, destabilising Empire.)