September 13, 1963

Alfred Mynn - the mighty man of rustic Kent

It is surely surprising that this is the first full biography of Alfred Mynn

Alfred Mynn and the Cricketers of his time by Patrick Morrah (Eyre and Spottiswoode)

With his tall and stately presence, with his nobly moulded form,
His broad hand-'twas ever open! his brave heart-'twas ever warm!
All were proud of him, all loved him! ... and as the changing seasons pass;
As our Champion lies a-sleeping underneath the Kentish grass;
Proudly, sadly we will name him-to forget him were a sin;
Lightly lie the turf upon thee, kind and manly Alfred Mynn!
WJ Prowse

It is surely surprising that this is the first full biography of Alfred Mynn. Here was a man, who, besides being the most powerful cricketer ever known, was also the most popular. Yet no author, apparently, has devoted a whole volume to him until now.

Mr. Morrah has therefore performed a long-needed service to the game's literature, and, in doing so, has pursued an exhaustive course of research. First he places his subject in proper historical context by recapitulating the chronicles of cricket and the developments of roundarm from Walker to Willes. This involves a portrait of John Willes and an account of his part in converting the wild methods of the undeveloped `Alfred the Great'.

So much is known to us, but there is also an interesting examination of Mynn's origins, going back in Goudhurst to 1756, besides an account of parents, brothers, sisters, and his own marriage in 1828, of which only five daughters lived to grow up.

His steady absorption in cricket brings before us again an array of remembered figures, including Robert Grimston with his specially heavy bat, christened `Mynn's master'. Among the Kentish galaxy, Felix shines out-so different in character, so perfectly in tune with the lovable giant. In their top-hats and individual attire, with apt stroke-play, they take their stance before Mynn, the mighty force in that heroic company on the sheep-nibbled pasture of Lord's, and face the stately march and humming delivery attested by reliable authorities.

Less is said of his batting style, but that dangerous drive is rightly so described, and his slip-fielding gave scope for those all-enveloping hands.

The milestone which almost marked the conclusion of his career, when the battered giant made his only century at Leicester, and Lord Frederick Beauclerk took prompt action to start him on that tormenting London coach-drive, also reveals him as a religious man, with a prayer-book at his side, petitioning for delivery from amputation.

It is also disclosed that the loss of both parents during 1837 probably prolonged his absence from the cricket field. There is an unsolved mystery over his pads, supposed to have been offered to `W.G.', and reported by Lord Harris to be in Canterbury pavilion in 1921but now missing.

A slight change in the balance of Gentlemen and Players was achieved by Mynn before the decisive transformation wrought by `W.G.' Yet, by 1848, someone was writing of Pilch, Mynn, and Felix as `stale'-a judgment not statistically supported in those fiery 'forties, when Mynn and Hillyer formed a deadly combination, and Kent v. England was the great match.

Walter Mynn's happy relations with Alfred, the development of Canterbury Week and the Old Stagers, and Charles Taylor presenting an almost naked giant as the Farnese Hercules, all make agreeable reading.

The complications surrounding the hero's arrests for debt during 1845 are set forth fully, as well as the apt conclusion of his release by ' Mr. Commissioner Bere'.

The personal semi-humorous duel between Clarke and Felix is here matched by that between Clarke and Mynn. That Alfred Mynn was the single-wicket champion of England remains incontestable, despite the powerful resistance offered by Felix. Heated correspondence, some anonymous, some forged, find the great man's humour unimpaired. Mr. Morrah accepts his threat of physical violence at a baronet's dishonourable suggestion, but treats the stories of his thrice flooring a deliberately quarrelsome fellow and dropping another out of a window, who kept jeering at him, as different versions of a single incident, the latter being more in keeping with his nature: this theory hardly sounds convincing, in view of the different circumstances of the two encounters.

His staunch character comes out in the equanimity with which he greeted Clarke's tantrums and in his refusal to join the `rebels' of the United England XI. This, however, belongs to his declining years.

At Hillyer's benefit, England v. 18 Veterans at Kennington Oval (1858), he took emotional farewell of Wenman, though there was fight in him yet.

The Volunteer Movement, provoked by new Napoleonic gestures, found Mynn on parade in 1860, but his air of robust health concealed the diabetes which carried him off so soon.

The inscription on his tombstone at Thurnham (Kent) is given in full, and each of the seven chapters is headed by one of Prowse's In Memoriam verses, the whole poem being given again just before the statistical appendix. This may be overdoing it, but no finer poem to the memory of a cricketer has ever been penned, and it contains descriptive references to other memorable players.

Among the seventeen illustrations is the only surviving photograph - a study of greater historical than artistic value.

If we have waited a hundred years for this biography, Mr. Morrah has accomplished it conscientiously and well, clearing up inaccuracies, and giving a faithful portrait of as noble a figure as ever walked a cricket field.