As part of a series of blogs Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – explores the books and essays that have been the inspiration for The London Library’s Found on The Shelves series, published with Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary. Here she looks at the individuals whose works feature in The Gentlewoman’s Book of Sports.
The Gentlewoman’s Book of Sports is a selection of our favourite chapters from the book of the same title edited by Lady Violet Greville (1842-1932) and originally published in 1892. Lady Greville, who joined The London Library in 1897, was the daughter of the 4th Duke of Montrose and the formidable Caroline Agnes Horsley-Beresford. Caroline Agnes did not allow social convention to stand in the way of her happiness. Her passion for horseracing drove her to breed her own racehorses, albeit under the name ‘Mr Manton’ in a vain attempt at keeping her unsuitable activities a secret. The true identity of Mr Manton was well known and because of her racing colours, together with the colour of her hair, she was thereafter known as Carrie Red. When the Duke of Montrose died Carrie Red re-married and at the age of seventy she then married her third husband who was forty-six years her junior.
Lady Greville was not as free-spirited as her mother. She married the 2nd Baron Greville in 1863 and settled into the role of a dutiful, aristocratic, Victorian wife and mother for many years, giving birth to four children and living quietly while her husband pursued his political career. By the 1880s, however, this sharp observer of human nature had found a voice of her own. She wrote a ladies column in The Graphic as well as essays, novels, memoirs and even a one act comedy at a time when women in polite society were expected to live quietly. More importantly, she was not afraid to associate herself with other ‘transgressors’ and attend the dinners of the Literary Ladies, a fledgling dining club for women authors which had received many attacks in the press.
In her preface to The Gentlewoman’s Book of Sports she makes it clear that she firmly believes that sport and outdoor pursuits are beneficial for the mind and the body alike and she hopes that women will be encouraged by the book to take the plunge and shake off the ‘morbid self-analysis and diseased introspection’ of the fin de siècle.
Each chapter (and among those not included in our selection are further essays on fishing and on sailing, swimming, skating and lawn tennis) is devoted to a different sport and is written by a different expert or enthusiast, with one exception. Both the 1892 original and our selection begin and end with essays by the notorious Lady Colin Campbell (1857–1911). It is to Lady Greville’s credit that she was not only happy to attach her name to Lady Colin Campbell’s but that she conferred on her the unique honour of including two of her essays in the book. Despite being a gifted and prolific author as well as an accomplished artist and singer Lady Colin Campbell is mainly remembered for the scandal surrounding her failed divorce case. Fortunately, having her character publicly destroyed by her enemies was not enough to force her to retire to a life of lonely seclusion. Indeed, far from withdrawing from the world she continued to travel widely and worked as an art critic, book reviewer, travel writer and journalist. She counted George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde among her loyal friends and until her rheumatoid arthritis confined her to a wheelchair she was a keen sportswoman. In addition to cycling she loved to clamber up waterfalls in the Scottish highlands in search of trout and was an expert rider and swordswoman. Her indomitable and independent character is evident everywhere in her writing, particularly in the concluding line of her chapter on trout fishing:
“If you want to derive the utmost enjoyment in fishing a promising mountain stream, fish alone. A companion is a useless encumbrance to the true worshipper of the noble art of trout-fishing.”
Lady Colin Campbell’s passionate nature also shines through in her chapter on fencing:
“Every faculty of your brain, every muscle of your body, every nerve of eye and hand, are all on the alert; and you live more intensely, more vividly, in an ‘assault’ of a quarter of an hour than most people do in a week.”
Our next author, Miss A.D. Mackenzie, differs from Lady Colin Campbell in every respect. So little information about her has survived that we do not even know what her given names were. All that we know is that she grew up in Henley-on-Thames and that her family had a strong connection to the annual regatta. Her father, William Dalziel Mackenzie, served as a steward of the Henley Regatta for over 60 years and the family’s luncheon parties during the boat races made it into the papers more than once. Miss Mackenzie’s life on the riverbank seems idyllic
“ … river picnics are undoubtedly great fun, and damp sticks for the fire and spiders in tea-cups only add to the amusement”
and her chapter on boating and sculling is more entertaining than stirring but she isn’t afraid to share her views:
“It is essential for every English girl to learn to row, and no one can say anything against a lady rowing – though, of course, there are ‘some folks’ who would run down anything that a lady does in the way of athletic exercises, more for the sake of argument than anything else.”
The chapter on cricket was written by Lady Adeline Milner (1859-1902), who was a founding member of the White Heather Club, the first women’s cricket club in England. As such, hers is a serious essay, which aims to introduce the novice to the rules of the sport she loved so much and to warn anyone thinking of taking it up against the wearing of impractical attire, such as corsets and voluminous hats:
“In your pursuit of a ball let there be no ominous creakings of whalebone and splitting of side seams to delay your onward flight. Neither should you ever forget to fasten your hat on securely. So many ladies omit to do this, and it is no uncommon thing to see a lady holding her hat on with one hand, striving to catch a ball with the other, and succeeding in doing neither.”
Our expert and writer on archery is none other than Mrs C Bowly, whose personal life remains a mystery but whose triumphs as an archery championess are well documented. Her chapter contains advice on setting up archery clubs and participating in championships and she concludes with an anecdote to illustrate the instant addictive charm of her sport:
“I never saw a more striking instance than that of a gentleman visiting at our house, who had never been known to care for games, sports, or athletic exercises of any kind, but who, when we induced him just to take a few shots, suddenly became so enamoured of it that, leaving his beloved books and papers, he was detected gliding off to the archery ground, bow in hand, to indulge, as he thought, in a little private practice. Only let the neophyte experience the charm of hearing the thud on the target of her own well-placed arrow, and she is generally taken captive at once.”
Our final author is Miss Alice M. Stewart, about whose life we know nothing. All we can deduce from her wonderful chapter on golf is that she was a very serious player, that she must have been associated with the Ladies’ Golf Club in St. Andrews and that she had a marvellous sense of humour:
“It is impossible for a non-player to believe that there is as much excitement in a good close match at golf, even to an interested spectator, as there is in a game of lawn-tennis, cricket, or any other popular pastime … To the uninitiated it appears that the game consists in hitting a small ball as hard as possible, not at your opponent’s head, which might cause some excitement, but anywhere out of sight.”
This glimpse into the past at first seems charmingly and hopelessly dated until one realizes how little some things have changed. There is still much debate over whether women should practice the more dangerous sports, such as boxing, and in July 2015 the BBC reported that more than 40% of elite sportswomen in Britain had suffered sexism. Many golf clubs still refuse to accept women members, Wimbledon’s Centre Court is mainly reserved for male tennis players and women’s football receives only a fraction of the publicity and financial sponsorship of male football. To say nothing of the sexist chanting and trolling female athletes endure in person and online… So all praise to the doughty ladies of 1892 willing to stand up and be counted in the name of advancing sporting endeavours.