A Tribute to Alfred Lyttelton, 1914

Having been asked by Mr. Pardon to write few lines in memory of my old friend and playmate of former years, Mr. Alfred Lyttelton, my recollection travels back some forty-one years to the summer of 1872, when as a lower boy in his first half at Eton, I waited on him, the guest of my fagmaster, Mr. Evan Hanbury, at Mr. Joynes' house, and attended to him, I have no doubt, with all the respect and hero worship that the new boy would naturally give to one lately raised to the proud position of a place in the Eton XI. Even at that first moment of our acquaintance I can recall the cheery smile, the generous kindly consideration to the younger boy, so thoroughly characteristic of the man in after life. The physical impression remaining in my mind is of a tall, chubby faced, bustling youth, giving brilliant promise of future excellence at all the Eton games, cricket, football, racquets, and fives.

The next three years, as every Etonian of that day remembers, abundantly fulfilled these expectations, and by 1875, the year of his captaincy of the Cricket XI, he had arrived at a position of gladly acknowledged supremacy in every phase of Eton life that might well have turned the head of anyone possessing a less modest and well-balanced disposition. As his old friend and contemporary, Lord Curzon of Kedleston, justly said in his eloquent appreciation in the Times newspaper, "no boyish hero was ever quite such a hero." Such matchless brilliancy in every athletic game, such wise and unquestioned leadership among boys and elders alike, and this without neglect of the more serious side of school life, for our friend was among the ablest students of history, both at School and University. And then the personality of the hero of all this boyish achievement. Tall, vigorous, muscular, athletic grace characteristic of every movement, the merriest eye, the most engaging smile that ever gladdened the heart of a friend-were ever so many brilliant and attractive qualities blended in one youthful person? I fancy many of his contemporaries will be at one with me when I say that for us there was and will be this one inimitable hero of our youthful days.

His chief distinctions as a cricketer, as all the cricket world knows, were as batsman and wicket-keeper. His style of batting was bright, vigorous, and very straight, driving and playing back with great force. Curiously enough, although he especially admired the stroke, and had an excellent wrist for racquets and tennis, his cutting of the more horizontal sort behind the wicket was never specially good, and his runs were mostly made well in front of the wicket. He was strong also on the leg-side both in defence and on-side driving, and altogether a batsman of very high-class in any company. If I am not mistaken I have seen his style described as the champagne of cricket, a not inapt simile for the lively attractiveness of his methods. As a wicket-keeper a very sure and brilliant catcher, not taking the ball quite so near the wicket as one or two others, Blackham and Pilling for instance, but very reliable and sure, with a strong safe pair of hands that stood the work of that arduous position with unusual freedom from accident. As a brilliant fieldsman, fine runner and thrower, he used frequently towards the end of a long innings to beg for the comparative freedom of the outer field, and very good he was in any position.

The first innings of his that I can remember was a brilliant 20 or so not out, which finished the Eton and Harrow match of about 1872, and from that time in Eton, Cambridge, Middlesex, and other matches, I saw many brilliant innings of his, and fielded out through some of them between 1875 and 1884.

He was essentially one of those natural players who could take up the game again after a long spell of retirement and almost at once find his best form: he went on playing occasionally in first-class cricket for several years after he had given up regular play. Between 1878 and 1888 it was a considerable source of strength to a representative English side to have such first-class wicket-keepers and brilliant batsmen combined in one person, as in Mr. Lyttelton and Mr. E. F. S. Tylecote, and I am inclined to think the English team of that date was, partly through that fact, as strong as any we have seen.

When the writer went with an English team to Australia in 1882, it was our great hope that A. L. would come as captain, but, although he was very anxious to come, it was a time when serious work at the Bar was just beginning, and the plan had to be abandoned to our infinite regret and, I think, his.

The years 1878 and '79 will be remembered as remarkable years for Cambridge cricket. The captains were the brothers Edward and Alfred Lyttelton successively, and the eleven was unbeaten either year. Probably the '79 eleven was not so good as the '78, which not only did not lose a match, but actually won all eight matches, including the Australian-won in an innings. This 1878 eleven has been often quoted as, perhaps, the strongest University eleven we have seen, though the difficulty of accurate comparison of elevens at widely distant dates must always involve a certain amount of guess work.

Looking back to Eton school-days, no more striking athletic picture comes back to my mind than Alfred at Eton football. The rules of the game offered more opportunity for brilliant individual performance than any other rules, and I can see, as it were yesterday, the dashing vigorous figure scattering his adversaries like nine-pins, the ball apparently glued to his flying feet, till, the last enemy swept away, a characteristic triumphant short proclaimed the rare achievement of a run-down goal of the whole length of the field.

At Hagley, the Worcestershire home of the Lytteltons, there was an annual match with Birmingham, and when the family was at is best, the number of recumbent Birminghamites on the field after one of these rundowns was a sight to be remembered. But, be it said, though his football feats were so splendidly vigorous, it was all done with such good temper and enjoyment that no trace of resentment was left with the defeated foemen.

At racquets and fives he was almost equally pre-eminent and successful and, although he gave up racquets after his third year at Cambridge in order to keep more closely to tennis, he always derived intense enjoyment from the pace and vigour of the game and the wonders of the half-volley or volley half an inch above the line, and used to relieve his feelings by loud and characteristic exclamations that seem to ring even to-day in the ears of his friends.

I well remember the last single game at racquets with him at Cambridge about 1879. After one good rally when we had both hit harder and harder till we could hit no longer, we both sat on the floor and laughed for sheer enjoyment of the fun and exhilaration of it all.

One particular feature of his play at all games was a very remarkable generosity to an opponent whom he was beating easily-so characteristic was this of our friend that he was not always quite so reliable in a match in which he had rather the best of the odds. As many game-players know, however much start a player may have of his opponent, to slacken the game so as to let up the adversary is always dangerous, and the player who does it will very likely find it impossible to find his best game when he wishes to put on full steam again. In his third year at Cambridge, A. L. finally gave up match play at racquets, and soon reached the position of head amateur at tennis, after a historic series of matches with that wonderful veteran Mr. J. M. Heathcote. Those who were fortunate enough to see those encounters were able to see an interesting study in contrasts of physique, style, and method. The almost emaciated, but tirelessly active physique of the older player against the muscular strength and vigour of the younger; the careful painstaking accuracy and judgement against the more brilliant and dashing style, the shrewd and masterly adaptation of natural resources against the athletic grace and classic method.

Until very recent years the foremost amateurs in the tennis world were young men who had left off their racquets at about the University age of 18 or 19 to take up tennis. In the last few years, Mr. Jay Gould and others have taken up the game as boys, and, if this becomes the rule, the advantage of the rapid powers of imitation and assimilation at the earlier age is likely to bring about a higher standard of amateur tennis than that to which we have been accustomed. We may perhaps, look on A. L. as the equal of any amateur of the earlier type.

The only game perhaps, at which he did not reach the front rank, was the game of his later years, golf. Though he was devoted to the game and played with boundless zest and enthusiasm, he had taken up this highly technical game somewhat late in life for a beginner, between the age of 30 or 40, I think. I remember playing with him at Muirfield, about the time when he became Secretary for the Colonies, and thinking what a sound golfing style he was developing at the time, but afterwards, through the increasing demands of work and the diminishing opportunities for play and practice, he developed some curious eccentricities of play, which rather detracted from its efficacy. Not that he was by any means a weak player even then, far from it; within the last three or four years I remember a score of 82 or 83 of his in the Autumn Medal at St. Andrews, as an emphatic piece of evidence to the contrary. I feel convinced that another year or two in his 1905 style would have made him a good scratch player. At all times a game with him was a rare treat from the contagious zest and vigour of his boyish enthusiasm.

In these few lines I have touched on but one aspect of his full and busy life, the game-playing side of it.

Far abler pens have in many places dealt with its more serious sides, as lawyer, politician, and constant worker in many useful and philanthropic spheres

Forty years of cheery comradeship, intermittent of later years, but always on the same delightful footing, may possibly enable me to give some slight picture of my old friend on his lighter side.

Brilliant as were his performances at almost everything that he took up, it was the charm of his generous, eager personality, and the fascination of his unselfish nature that will leave so affectionate a recollection of him in the hearts of the countless friends who mourn his loss.

© John Wisden & Co