Inspiring a rivalship amongst the gentry: a letter to the papers, 1773

We’re just going to give you this letter, printed in the Reading Mercury on the 25th October 1773, in full. The author has quite clearly had his fill of the fawning sycophancy over the nobility in his morning paper. The article that sparked his ire concerned Charles Bennet, 4th Earl of Tankerville who was a noted cricketer (a good fielder rather than a batter or bowler) and patron of Surrey cricket.

A game of cricket, unknown artist after Francis Hayman, 18th century.
A game of cricket, unknown artist after Francis Hayman, 18th century. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

To the PRINTER

SIR,

It was with the utmost pleasure, and with infinite surprise, that I read the following paragraph in a London paper a few days ago:

“At the cricket match between Kent and Surrey, a few days ago, Lord T__ker__e (as we can assure the public from the best authority) caught two very difficult balls, with his own hands.”

Earth! Air! Water! And fire! Is it possible – what!! Lord T__ker__e! – Lord T__ker__e himself! – to catch two balls – nay, two very difficult balls too – and with his own hands! – Immortal tidings, and more than Elysian raptures, welcome, welcome to our land, and let England ring from shore to shore! Happy for Britain, and very happy for Europe! Why, Mr Printer, if his Lordship is already so alert at catching, who knows but he will in time, instead of catching two cricket balls, catch – three? And if he does this with ease, who knows but he may next attempt the immortal feat of swinging on a gate? And if he swings upon a gate, who knows but he will give the finishing stroke to his reputation by leaping over a stile? And if he rises this length, the L__d only knows where his glories will end.

After all, Mr Printer, and to be serious with you, it gives me pleasure to hear that such actions of our illustrious nobility are recorded as the vulgar dare not, cannot rival them in; for where is the scoundrel commoner that will even pretend to catch two cricket balls? The historian of the day, however, has omitted some very material incidents in the description; such as, whether his Lordship caught the balls with one or with both hands; which parts of his Lordship’s sacred fist the balls first hit; whether they came in a south or north, east or west direction; what was his Lordship’s attitude, &c &c and these circumstances would have certainly made the matter much more important and interesting to mankind.

Cricket played by the Gentleman's Club, Whiteconduit House by Robert Dighton, c.1784.
Cricket played by the Gentleman’s Club, Whiteconduit House by Robert Dighton, c.1784. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

To conclude I repeat the immensity of my joy. For though some of our nobility have excelled in spitting maggots and burning mice, the act of catching a cricket ball was never before performed by mankind – no, nor the nobility themselves.

While I was ruminating on these things, Sir, it occurred to me, that publishing all such like acts and feats of our nobility and gentry, would be of the greatest service to the community, by inspiring a rivalship among them to excel in deeds of such singular praise; and this scheme I myself begun in the following part of my letter, a careful perusal of which will show at once to you and your readers, both the manner and the merit of recording such important incidents. In humble imitation, therefore, of the T__ker__e paragraph, I insert the following:

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, anonymous painting dating to c.1775.
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, anonymous painting dating to c.1775.
Victoria & Albert Museum.

Last night, at the door of Drury Lane Theatre, Lord F___ was observed actually to lift his lapdog into the chariot, without once seeking the footman’s assistance.

We have it from the best authority, that his Grace the Duke of St A____s precisely at eleven yesterday morning, picked his teeth without drawing blood from his gums, which is very singular.

A portrait enamel of George Beauclerk, 3rd Duke of St. Albans (1730-1786) by Gervase Spencer.
A portrait enamel of George Beauclerk, 3rd Duke of St. Albans (1730-1786) by Gervase Spencer. Philip Mould Historical Portraits.

Lord T____t was observed yesterday to swallow a spoonful of soup, in the king’s kitchen, without chewing it.

The king actually pares his nails twice a week.

George III by Allan Ramsay.
George III by Allan Ramsay.

Lord C____e has slept very soundly these three nights past which is a thing he has not done these three years before.

It is not true that one of her Majesty’s right fingers, as was villainously reported, is affected with a pimple. It is one of her left fingers.

Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818) by Thomas Gainsborough
Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818) by Thomas Gainsborough; National Trust, Wimpole Hall

This morning S___n F_x stepped over the kennel at Charing Cross, though it is both deep and broad, without being drowned in it.

Satirical print of Stephen Fox, 2nd Baron Holland, as the Sleepy Macaroni, 1772.
Satirical print of Stephen Fox, 2nd Baron Holland, as the Sleepy Macaroni, 1772. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Lord S_ff__k has of late dedicated his whole time to trap-ball, in which science he has made a prodigious progress. It is said that he will next study the noble game of cricket; and after he has studied it three years, it is not doubted but he will catch a ball with all the dexterity of Lord T___ker__e.

Trap Ball played at the Black Prince, Newington Butts by Robert Dighton, c.1784.
Trap Ball played at the Black Prince, Newington Butts by Robert Dighton, c.1784. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

It is remarkable that Lord M____d was not yesterday, when he appeared in the Court of King’s Bench, so close shaved as usual. The reason is not known. Some attribute it to his barber’s razor having been blunt, and other to his Lordship’s chin increasing in wrinkles.

The Lord Chancellor drinks asses-mile every morning for the establishment of his health, his physicians being of the opinion that it is the food most natural to him.

Henry Bathurst, 2nd Earl Bathurst, Lord Chancellor (1771–1778); David Martin
Henry Bathurst, 2nd Earl Bathurst, Lord Chancellor (1771–1778);
David Martin; Balliol College, University of Oxford

We are informed that the Premier eats a very hearty breakfast every day before dinner.

Lord S____t, the publick may be assured, is come to town: And it is thought he will continue in it – till he goes out of it.

PETER PARAGRAPH

 

 

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