IN bringing out a new edition of "Sports and Pastimes," it will probably be of interest to put on record a few facts with regard to the author, who has a fair claim to be ranked among the distinguished literary men of the close of the eighteenth century.
Joseph Strutt, engraver, artist, antiquary and author, was born at Chelmsford in 1749. 1 His father, a wealthy miller, died the year after his birth. He was educated at the Chelmsford Grammar School, and apprenticed at the age of fourteen to the engraver, William Wynne Ryland. In 1770 he became a student of the Royal Academy, and in the following year secured both the gold and silver medals, the former for oil painting and the latter "for the best Academy figure." In the summer of 1771 he was employed by a gentleman to make some drawings for him from British Museum MSS. This gave the direction to his subsequent life's work, and he resolved to devote himself to the study of mediaeval social England. In 1773 Joseph Strutt produced his first work, "The Regal and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of England," drawing and engraving the whole of the plates, and at the same time producing letter-press that bore witness to the breadth and accuracy of his reading. This is also true of all his subsequent works; considering the almost entire absence of genuine works of reference at that period, his books are marvels of careful research. Between 1774 and 1746 he published the three volumes of "Manners, Customs, Arms, Habits, etc., of the People of England," and in 1777-8 two volumes of "Chronicle of England," all of them being in large 4to and profusely illustrated. From this date he for some years gave his attention to painting, and exhibited nine pictures in the Royal Academy, which were chiefly classical subjects. In 1785 Mr Strutt published the first volume of his "Dictionary of Engravers"; the second volume appeared in the following year. Continued asthma caused him to leave London in 1790, and whilst residing in a county village of Hertford-shire, he produced a series of engravings for Bradford's edition of the Pilgrim's Progress. With the improvement of his health in 1795 Strutt returned to London, and resumed his favourite researches at the British Museum. In 1796-1799 he brought out his valuable work on "Dresses and Habits of the English People." This was followed in 'Sol by the most popular of all his books, "Sports and Pastimes of the People of England," "a performance," says his son, "which, from the novelty of the subject, attracted the notice and admiration of readers of almost every class." In 1802 he died, when he had nearly completed
[paragraph continues] "a legendary romance," intended to illustrate the usages and domestic manners of the fifteenth century, to which he gave the name of "Queenhoo Hall." A very special interest attaches to this posthumous work. After Strutt's death the incomplete manuscript was placed by John Murray in the hands of Walter Scott, who added the concluding chapter. It was published in four small volumes in 1808. In the general preface to the Waverley notes, written by Sir Walter Scott in 1829, acknowledgment is made by the great romance writer of his indebtedness to Joseph Strutt. Although "Queenhoo Hall" was not a success, in consequence of its appealing only to antiquaries through being overloaded with details, Scott acknowledges that Waverley would never have been completed, and his initial triumph won, had he not been called upon to edit Strutt's tale. Even if Strutt had no special merit of his own, he is well deserving of a niche in the temple of literary fame as the foster-parent of the immortal series of Waverley novels.
When, however, any reflective person, more particularly the English mediaeval antiquary or historian, studies the writings and illustrations of Joseph Strutt, he cannot fail to realise that he was a laborious and conscientious worker in a hitherto unexplored vein of literary research, and possessed a remarkable power of assimilating a vast store of material. Somewhat shallow or inconsiderate folk from time to time indulge in sneers at the mistakes or inaccuracies in certain points of a writer who toiled a century ago; they do not reflect on the remarkable accumulation of valuable works of reference during the nineteenth century, absolutely unknown in the days when Joseph Strutt was a British Museum reader, or on the present far greater accessibility of public records and similar documents. Strutt was the pioneer in almost every branch of English mediaeval archaeology, and as such is entitled to the respect of every antiquary.
With regard to "Sports and Pastimes," this, the most popular of all his works, was originally published in quarto in 1801. The numerous plates were hand coloured in the majority of the issues; but were evidently drawn by the author with sufficient care to be produced without any colouring adjunct. Indeed, from the style of the drawings it is debatable whether the colouring was not an afterthought of the publisher. It may safely be asserted that Joseph Strutt had nothing whatever to do with the colouring. He was ill at the time the work was produced, and died shortly afterwards. Though in the main an engraver, it will be recollected that Strutt was himself a colourist and won his first Academy medal by an oil painting. His son states of his first work, "The Regal and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of England," that the plates of part of the impression were coloured in order to make them more nearly resemble the originals. But whoever was responsible for treating a large number of the copies of "Sports and Pastimes" in a like fashion never took the trouble to even glance at the originals, but simply dipped the brush into whatever colour caprice suggested, with a result that is sometimes comical in its extravagance and sometimes false in its facts. An ape painted brilliant green is an
example of the one, whilst the same coat of arms appearing twice on the same plate in quite different tinctures is an example of the other. After collating five coloured copies of the first edition, with the more important MSS. of the British Museum which furnished Strutt with his illustrations, it was found that each one differed absolutely in colours from the actual pictures. The primary intention of giving coloured plates in this edition was therefore abandoned, more particularly as the drawings from some of the most frequently used manuscripts are not definitely coloured in the originals, but merely tinted here and there with a delicate wash.
The decision to take this course was confirmed, when it was found that the work was reissued in 1810, with the plates printed in a uniform terra-cotta shade as reproduced in the current volume. The 1810 edition was in slightly larger and much superior type to that of 1801, and it is thought that the type now used will favourably compare with it.
"A Set of Humorous and Descriptive Illustrations in Twenty-one Engravings, by Stephenhoff and others, of the Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, from Paintings of the XVII. and XVIII. Century, in continuation of Joseph Strutt's," was issued in 1816; but they are vulgar in subject, poor in style, and quite unworthy to be associated with any work of Strutt's. That enterprising cheap publisher, William Hone, reprinted "Sports and Pastimes" in octavo, in 1830, with rough cuts in the letterpress in lieu of the plates. This octavo edition, nearly identical in letterpress with the original, was reproduced in 1837, in 1841, and again in 1875.
This is, however, the first time that any endeavour has been made to bring out a new edition of Mr Strutt's great and entertaining work. In producing this largely revised edition, Mr Strutt has been left for the most part to speak in his own characteristic fashion and out of his own store of learning. A few obvious mistakes and rash conclusions have been corrected, whilst now and again certain unimportant omissions have been made. It is peculiarly difficult in a work of this kind to decide on the best plan and arrangement; but Mr Strutt's scheme of dividing sports and pastimes into four books descriptive of "Rural Exercises practised by Persons of Rank," "Rural Exercises generally practised," "Pastimes usually exercised in Towns and Cities," and "Domestic Amusements"--each book being sub-divided into chapters--has been followed. In one or two cases a slight rearrangement has taken place; such, for instance, as bringing together the descriptions of bear and bull baiting, and the scattered references to dancing.
Nearly a third of the book is new. To the paragraphs for which the Editor is responsible a small asterisk is prefixed.
It was found necessary to rewrite almost the whole of the chapter dealing with cricket, golf, tennis, football, and other ball games. There is also much that is new with regard to archery, wrestling, and the hunting of wolves and boars.
No attempt has been made to bring the book generally up to date, or to turn it into an encyclopædia of sports, ancient and modern. Many volumes would be required for such a purpose, and they are already to be found in the admirable Badminton series. At the same time, brief indications are given of the growth and change in sports and pastimes during the nineteenth century, together with references to the best modern sources as to their respective methods.
It is interesting to reflect upon the simply astounding change that has come over all classes of the community with regard to games during the hundred years that have elapsed since Joseph Strutt first wrote upon the subject. Whether the extraordinary devotion of the English of the present generation to every conceivable kind of sport and pastime is a sign of national decay or of national progress is not a matter for discussion in these pages, which merely aim at being a true chronicle of the past.
J. CHARLES COX
SYDENHAM, May 1903
v:1 This brief sketch of the literary life of Joseph Strutt is taken, in the main, from a short biography contributed by his elder son to Nichols' Literary Anecdotes.