Golf 300 Years Ago

In 1592 Devotees Played Game on Ice.

JUDGE PARRY August 1 1921

Golf 300 Years Ago

In 1592 Devotees Played Game on Ice.

JUDGE PARRY August 1 1921

Golf 300 Years Ago

In 1592 Devotees Played Game on Ice.


THAT what many have considered the “modern game of golf’ was indulged in with zest in many parts of Europe in the latter part ol the sixteenth century seems amply proved by Judge Parry in a collection of marginalia on the game which has been published in The Cornhill Magazine. Recently, the author tells us he came across several curious allusions to golf which he had for some time been awaiting an opportunity to put together in readable form. He sets them down as follows for the entertainment of those who love golf and letters:

In an interesting but alas! unindexed volume entitled ‘Shakespeare’s Europe 1903,’ which consists of many hitherto unpublished chapters of Fynes Moryson’s Itinerary, I find I have two valuable golf marginalia from the historical point of view. There is no reason to suppose that Moryson had ever seen or heard of the game of golf, yet his close powers of observation and graphic accuracy of description leave you in no doubt about the game he is describing.

Moryson was at Leyden in the winter of 1592, and writing a chapter of the pastimes and exercises of the people at this season when all are ‘slyding upon yce with Iron in their wooden Pattens,’ he goes on to speak of a strange game which he had evidently observed with some curiosity.

‘They have,’ he writes, ‘a Common Pastyme and exercise to dryue a little ball through the fieldes and vypon the Ice, with a sticke of wood turning in at the lowe end like the basting we vse in kichens, saue that they are not made hollowe but are rounde in the end, and this sporte I haue seene frequently vsed not only by boys and young men, but by men of 40 yeares age and vpward.’

It may be said that this adds little to our knowledge of the history of the game since many early Dutch painters have portrayed the scene that interested the observant Moryson. But later on, in 1594, when the traveller was in Italy, he comes across the strange game once again in a most unlikely locality, for he tells us that ‘at Naples I haue seene gentlemen play in the playne with a little ball and a sticke like a basting ladell, to driue it before them, which sporte the Hollanders much vse upon the yce in Winter.’

That the game was played by the gentlemen of Southern Italy at this date is not, I think, generally known. It would be interesting to ascertain if other early travellers have reported the game from other parts of Europe.

The early beginnings of golf in different parts of the world seem to be wrapped in unnecessary mystery. One often reads the statement that James I played golf at Blackheath, but is there any authority for it? Did James care about g’olf, and did he bring his clubs down from Scotland when he became King of England ? I have grave doubt about it. But that his son Prince Henry was keen about the game I have no doubt at all. The fact that Sir Simond D’Ewes says in his Autobiography that ‘he was a prince rather addicted to martial studies and exercises than to goff or other boy’s play,’merelyl proves how eager that dull pedant and Puritan was to ignore the popular reputation of the Prince as a sportsman. It is the ignorant contempt of a south country high-brow for a game introduced from the North that he can neither play nor appreciate.

Prince Henry was always a keen player of both golf and tennis. Isaac DTsraeli, in his ‘Curiosities of Literature,’ has a pleasant anecdote of the Prince and his tutor, Adam Newton.

‘Newton was sometimes severe in his chastisement; for when the Prince was playing at golf and having warned his tutor, who was standing by in conversation, that he was going to strike the ball, and having lifted up the golf-club, someone observing, “Beware, sir, that you hit not Mr. Newton!” the Prince drew back the club, but smiling-

ly observed, “Had I done so, I had but paid my debts.” ’

Newton who was not a Scotsman and may not have understood the etiquette of the game, became in after years Dean of Durham in spite of his indiscretion of ‘standing by in conversation’ whilst a prince was striking off. Chattering on the tee is not a nuisance of modern origin, but has probably been a rub of the green since the early days of golf.

That Prince Henry played golf in the neighbourhood of London is very probable, but I have no marginalia locating any links in the suburbs until 1758, when I find in the Autobiography of Alexander Carlyle a curious account of a game played at Molesley Hurst in. Surrey.

The Reverend Doctor Alexander Carlyle minister of Inveresk, was a friend of John Home, Smollett, and the bestknown men of law, letters and divinity in Edinburgh, and was also well received in similar circles in London. He was a comely man of commanding presence, ‘the grandest demi-god I ever saw,r says Sir Walter Scott, ‘and was commonly called Jupiter Carlyle, from having sat more than once for the king of gods and men to Gavin Hamilton.’ He says himself that he excelled at golf and took great pleasure in it, and from his build and physique he may well have been a powerful driver. He seems to have become acquainted with Garrick, probably through his friend John Home, and on a visit to London in 1758 the actor ‘gave a dinner to his friends and companions at his home at Hampton which he did but seldom. He had told us to bring golf clubs and balls that we might play at that game on Molesley Hurst.’ The fact that Garrick knew there was such a game seems to suggest that there was a regular links at Molesleyi at this date. The party consisted of Carlyle, John Home, Robertson, Alexander Wedderburn (afterwards Lord Chancellor, then just called to the English Bar), his brother Colonel David Wedderburn, and Robert and James Adam, the architects. They set out in good time, says Carlyle, six of us in a landau. As we passed through Kensington the Coldstream regiment were changing guard, and on seeing our clubs they gave us three cheers in honour of a diversion peculiar to Scotland; so much does the remembrance of one’s native country dilate the heart when one has been some time absent. The same sentiment made us open our purses and give our countrymen wherewithal to drink “The Land 0’ Cakes.” Garrick met us by the way, so impatient he seemed to be for his company.

There were only three players, Parson Black, the Vicar of Hampton, an Aberdonian who may have started golf at Molesley, and John Home and Carlyle himself, who tells us that ‘immediately after we arrived we crossed the river to the golfing ground which was very good.’ After the match, of which,unhappily, there is no description, they returned to Garrick’s to dinner, and after dinner Garrick, out of compliment to Home, ordered the wine to be carried out into his temple in the garden where the statue of Shakespeare was erected. This was the statue for which Garrick had sat to Roubiliac and recently purchased from the sculptor for three hundred guineas.

Carlyle was perhaps a little peeved at so much attention being shown to Home, and made use of his skill at golf to emphasise his own importance.

‘Having observed,’ he writes, ‘a green mount in the garden opposite the archway, I said to our landlord that while the servants were preparing the collation in the temple I would surprise him with a stroke at the golf as I should drive a ball through his archway into the Thames once in three strokes. I had measured with my eye in walking about the garden, and accordingly at the second stroke made the ball alight in the mouth of the gateway and roll down the green slope into the river.

+This was so dexterous that he was quite surprised and begged the club of me by which such a feat had been performed.’

Whether the club was a cleek or a baffy, whether the ball was retrieved or is still rolling along the bed of the river, whether Garrick himself ever took the club out afterwards and had a knock on Molesley Hurst—these are matters upon which diligent research has thrown no light.

I have been puzzled to find in my marginalia so few allusions to golf in the early novelists. The fact seems to be that they did not themselves play games, and wrote for a generation of readers who cared for none of these things.

We turn to the preface of ‘The Surgeon’s Daughter’ and there seems little doubt that Sir Walter had no clear notion of the true inwardness of the game. Mr. Croftangry had lent his MS. to his friend Mr. Fairscribe, and is impatiently waitingfor the letter’s arrival that he may hear his verdict.

‘At last my friend arrived, a little overheated. He had been taking a turn at g:olf, to prepare him for “ colloquy sublime.” And wherefore not, since the game, with its variety of odds, lengths, bunkers, tee’d balls, and so on, may be no inadequate representation of the hazards attending literary pursuits. In particular, those formidable buffets, which make one ball spin through the air like a rifle-shot, and strike another down into the very earth it is placed upon, by the maladroitness or the malicious purpose of the player—what are they but parallels to the favorable or depreciating notices of the reviewers, who play at golf with the publications of the season even as Altisidora, in her approach to the gates of the infernal regions, saw the devils playing at racket with the new books of Cervantes’ days?”

The idea that a golfer strikes a golf ball into the very earth with malicious intent, as a reviewer slates a book, suggests to my mind that Scott thought that it was part of the game for one golfer to deliberately injure his adversary’s lie, and that it was not present to his mind that at golf each player strictly confines his industry to his own ball under the sanction of severe penalties. Novelists, however, are subject to no laws which prevent them writing about matters they do not understand, else would much pleasant literature be lost to the world.

That Edinburgh golfers, like all true followers of the Royal and Ancient Game, knew no class distinction is clear from the fact that among the celebrated judges, ministers and doctors of the eighteenth century caricatured in that \ interestingvolume, ‘Kay’s Edinburgh Portraits,’ you may find an etching of Alexander McKellar, the Cock o’ the Green, a retired butler who neglected a small tavern in pursuit of a higher life of golf. Mr. Paterson’s memoirs of | Alexander and his chapter on Ed ini burgh golf in the letterpress of the \ volume contain many interesting marginalia of Scots golf. McKellar was a respected Edinburgh worthy, and his ! favourite expression as he walked up to a perfect lie: ‘By g-racious, this won’t g-o for nothing!’ became a favourite phrase on the links.

A vivid picture of the golfing community of St Andrews as Lord Cockburn saw it when he went the North Circuit in the spring of 1844 has a very modern ring about it. Cockburn’s ‘Circuit Journeys’ is not a mere record of legal work, but contains interesting pictures of Scots life of the day by a shrewd observer.

‘The people of St. Andrews,’ he says, ‘have a local pleasure of their own, which is as much the staple of the place as old colleg-es and churches are. This is golfing, which is here not a mere pastime but a business and a passion, and has for ag-es been so, owing probably to their admirable links. This pursuit actually draws many a middleaged gentleman whose stomach requires exercise, and his purse cheap pleasure, to reside here with his family; and it is the established recreation of all the learning and all the dignity of the town. There is a pretty large set who do nothing else, who begin in the morning and stop only for dinner; and who, afterpractising the game in the breeze all day, discuss it all night. Their talk is of holes. The intermixture of these men, or rather the intermixture of this occupation, with its interests, and hazards, and matches, considerably whets the social appetite. And the result is that their meetings are very numerous, and that, on the whole, they are rather a guttling population. However it is all done quietly, innocently, and recreation of the place partakes of what is, and ought to be, its peculiar character and avocation.’