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)
THE COISWOLD GAMES. MAY 31. THE COTSWOLD GAMES. And, whilst the bagpipe plays, each lusty jocund swain 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 assemblage. 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 fold.' 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.' 713 I MAY 31. THE COISWOLD GAMES. THE COTSWOLD GAMES.
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