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Chambers, Robert, 1802-1871 / Chambers's book of days, a miscellany of popular antiquities in connection with the calendar, including anecdote, biography & history, curiosities of literature and oddities of human life and character
Vol. I (1879)

May,   pp. [unnumbered]-714 PDF (97.6 MB)

Page 713

THE COISWOLD GAMES.                     MAY 31.                     THE COTSWOLD GAMES.
And, whilst the bagpipe plays, each lusty jocund
Quaffs sillibubs in cans to all upon the plain,
And to their country girls, whose nosegays they
do wear,
Some roundelays do sing; the rest the burthen bear.'
The description pleasantly, but yet painfully,
reminds us of the halcyon period in the history
of England procured by the pacific policy of
Elizabeth and James I., and which apparently
would have been indefinitely prolonged-with a
great progress in wealth and all the arts of
peace-but for the collision between Puritanism
and the will of an injudicious sovereign, which
brought about the civil war. The rural popula-
tion were, during James's reign, at ease and
happy; and their exuberant good spirits found
vent in festive assemblages, of which this
Cotswold meeting was but an example. But the
spirit of religious austerity was abroad, making
continual encroachments on the genial feelings
of the people; and, rather oddly, it was as a
countercheck to that spirit that the Cotswold
meeting attained its full character as a festive
There lived at that time at Burton-on-the-
Heath, in Warwickshire, one Robert Dover, an
attorney, who entertained rather strong views of
the menacing character of Puritanism.       He
deemed it a public enemy, and was eager to put
it down. Seizing upon the idea of the Cotswold
meeting, he resolved to enlarge and systematize
it into a regular gathering of all ranks of people
in the province-with leaping and wrestling, as
before, for the men, and dancing for the maids,
but with the addition of coursing and horse-
racing for the upper classes. With a formal
permission from King James, he made all the
proper arrangements, and established the Cots-
wold games in a style which secured general
applause, never failing each year to appear upon
the ground himself-well mounted, and accoutred
as what would now be called a master of the
ceremonies. Things went on thus for the best
part of forty years, till (to quote the language of
Anthony Wood), ' the rascally rebellion was
begun by the Presbyterians, which gave a stop
to their proceedings, and spoiled all that was
generous   and  ingenious  elsewhere.'   Dover
himself, in milder strains, thus tells his own
story :-
'I've heard our fine refined clergy teach,
Of the commandments, that it is a breach
To play at any game for gain or coin;
'Tis theft, they say-men's goods you do purloin;
For beasts or birds in combat for to fight,
Oh, 'tis not lawful, but a cruel sight.
One silly beast another to pursue
'Gainst nature is, and fearful to the view;
And man with man their activeness to try
Forbidden is--much harm doth come thereby;
Had we their faith to credit what they say,
We must believe all sports are ta'en away;
Whereby I see, instead of active things,
What harm the same unto our nation brings;
The pipe and pot are made the only prize
Which all our spriteful youth do exercise.
The effect of restrictions upon wholesome out-
of-doors amusements in driving people into sot-
ting public-houses is remarked in our own day,
and it is curious to find Mr Dover pointing out
the same result 250 years ago. His poem occurs
at the close of a rare volume published in 1636
entirely composed of commendatory verses on
the exploits at Cotswold, and entitled Annalia
Dubrensia. Some of the best poets of the day
contributed to the collection, and among them
were Ben Jonson, Michael Drayton, Thomas
Randolph, Thomas Heywood, Owen Feltham,
and Shackerly Marmyon. 'Rare Ben' contri-
buted the most characteristic effusion of the
series, which, curiously enough, he appears to
have overlooked, when collecting such waifs and
strays for the volume he published with the
quaint title of Underwoods; neither does it
appear in his Collection of Epigrams. He calls
it 'an epigram to my jovial good friend, Mr
Robert Dover, on his great instauration of hunt-
ing and dancing at Cotswold.'
'I cannot bring my Muse to drop vies*
'Twixt Cotswold and the Olympic exercise;
But I can tell thee, Dover, how thy games
Renew the glories of our blessed James:
How they do keep alive his memory
With the glad country and posterity;
How they advance true love, and neighbourhood,
And do both church and commonwealth the good--
In spite of hypocrites, who are the worst
Of subjects; let such envy till they burst.'
Drayton is very complimentary to Dover:-
'We'll have thy statue in some rock cut out,
With brave inscriptions garnished about;
And under written-" Lo ! this is the man
Dover, that first these noble sports began."
Lads of the hills and lasses of the vale,
In many a song and many a merry tale,
Shall mention thee; and, having leave to play,
Unto thy name shall make a holiday.
The Cotswold shepherds, as their flocks they keep,
To put off lazy drowsiness and sleep,
Shall sit to tell, and hear thy story told,
That night shall come ere they their flocks can
The remaining thirty-one poems, with the ex-
ception of that by Randolph, have little claim
to notice, being not unfrequently turgid and
tedious, if not absurdly hyperbolical. They are
chiefly useful for clearly pointing out the nature
of these renowned games, which are also ex-
hibited in a quaint wood-cut frontispiece. In
this, Dover (in accordance with the antique heroic
in art) appears on horseback, in full costume,
three times the size of life ; and bearing in his
hand a wand, as ruler of the sports. In the
central summit of the picture is seen a castle,
from which volleys were fired in the course of
the sports, and which was named Dover Castle,
in honour of Master Robert; one of his poetic
friends assuring him-
thy castle shall exceed as far
The other Dover, as sweet peace doth war!'
This redoubtable castle was a temporary erec-
* This word may be taken in the sense of comparison
To vie is interpreted by Halliwell as 'to wager or put
down a certain sum upon a hand of cards;' and the word
is still in use as a verb, with the sense of to compete. As
the line balts, however, there is probably a word of one
syllable wanting between ' drop' and 'vies.'
MAY 31.

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