Lionel Tennyson, grandson of Alfred and son of Hallam, was a famous cricketer. Renowned not only for his Captaincy of the England team, he also fought in the First World War as well as pursuing a dazzling career on the London social scene. These three different parts of his life, though seemingly at odds, frequently went hand in hand for Lionel, one most notable occasion being his arrival on the Western Front after convalescing from a wound, bearing a crate of champagne.
Cricket though not often mentioned in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poetry, is mentioned, albeit briefly, in his long poem ‘The Princess’.
‘Petulant she spoke, and at herself she laughed;
A rosebud set with little wilful thorns,
And sweet as English air could make her, she:
But Walter hailed a score of names upon her,
And 'petty Ogress', and 'ungrateful Puss',
And swore he longed at college, only longed,
All else was well, for she-society.
They boated and they cricketed; they talked
At wine, in clubs, of art, of politics;
They lost their weeks; they vext the souls of deans;
They rode; they betted; made a hundred friends,
And caught the blossom of the flying terms,
But missed the mignonette of Vivian-place,
The little hearth-flower Lilia.’ – ‘The Princess’
Here it is reminiscent of summer days and of an age of innocence. Cricket has a distinctly fin de siècle mood to it, summing up a sense of pre-war Britain. For the soldiers of the First World War, cricket was something that they looked back to as possessing an innate sense of both home and the past, such as in ‘Dreamers’ by Siegfried Sassoon.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats. – ‘Dreamers’
The pre-war associations of cricket have been used as a shorthand by writers for the turn of the century ever since this period, perhaps most notably of all in L.P. Hartley’s famous novel ‘The Go Between’, set in the summer of 1899.
‘I remember walking to the cricket ground with our team, sometimes trying to feel, and sometimes trying not to feel, that I was one of them; and the conviction I had, which comes so quickly to a boy, that nothing in the world mattered except that we should win. I remember how class distinctions melted away and how the butler, the footman, the coachman, the gardener and the pantry boy seemed completely on an equality with us, and I remember having a sixth sense which enabled me to foretell, with some accuracy, how each of them would shape.’ – ‘The Go Between’
In this novel cricket is something that removes social boundaries, that creates a sense of oneness, a sense of, perhaps, a kind of national team. Even when the writers of the 19th and 20th century are rude about cricket, it is with an awareness of its social currency, and its ability to unify. ‘Cricket is a game played by 11 fools and watched by 11,000 fools’ Wrote George Bernard Shaw about the game.
What cricket shows, perhaps above all, is the movement from Victorianism into Edwardianism, and Lionel Tennyson sums this movement up. Turning away from the family’s tradition of literature and writing, he moved away from his Grandfather’s Victorian legacy, pursuing a totally different career. Finding Farringford gloomy and depressing, he preferred the bright lights and scene of London, a kind of social decadence at odds with the Victorian manor house which he so disliked.
However, Lionel did find cricketing friends amongst the many literary figures of the day, becoming a member of the ‘Allahakbarries’, an amateur team formed by Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, whose members included, amongst others, Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, P.G. Wodehouse and A.A. Milne. The books of these authors, for many of their readers, denote a pre-war age, and are associated with both the innocence before, and the shadow of, the coming war, and the dramatic changes of the 20th century.