A tribute, 1976

Sir Neville Cardus

Alan Gibson

Born April 2, 1889; Died February 27, 1975

C. B. E. 1964; Knighted 1967

Sir Neville Cardus died in his sleep after a very short illness. Regular readers will remember a special tribute by John Arlott to Sir Neville which appeared in the 1965 edition.

At a Memorial Service in St. Paul's, Covent Garden, over 720 people joined in an occasion brimming over with joyous music and amusing talk.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by James Loughran of the Hallé, offered Elgar -- Serenade for Strings, and Mozart -- the 2nd movements of both the Piano Concerto in A Major, and the Clarinet Concerto. Clifford Curzon played the former.

A Lancashire cricket match was recalled by Miss Wendy Hiller, who rose from a sick bed to read Francis Thompson's poem 'At Lord's,' and Dame Flora Robson read 'Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer' s Day.'

The Service had great warmth and style, as had Cardus himself. Alan Gibson set the tone on the day with this tribute. -- M. H.

Since we are in a church, I thought it proper that we should have a text. Hear then these words from the prophet Blake (I am not sure whether Blake was one of Sir Neville's favourites, though he has recalled how enthusiastically he would join in 'Jerusalem' in his days with the Ancoats Brotherhood). Blake wrote, in Auguries of Innocence:

Joy and woe are woven fine,

A clothing for the soul divine;

Under every grief and pine

Runs a thread of silken twine.

On an occasion such as this, joy and woe are inseparable companions: thanksgiving for such a life, sadness that it has ended. But more than that: it was the mingling of joy and woe that made Sir Neville such a writer -- the sensitivity to the human condition, not least his own; the ability to observe it, and to communicate what he saw, with detachment and yet with passion. His books are full of humour: rich comedy, sometimes almost slapstick, and yet he keeps us hovering between tears and laughter. For always he is conscious, and makes us conscious, of the fragility of happiness, of the passing of time. He loved the good moments all the more avidly because he knew they were fleeting.

There is no need to recite his achievement. His autobiographical books, the crown of his life's work, have done that already. His early cricket books gave him a reputation for fancy writing. The words lyrical, rhapsodical, were sometimes applied to him, usually by people who would not know a lyric from a rhapsody. These terms were still jostled about long after they had any possible justification, to Sir Neville's wry amusement. His mature prose was marked by clarity, balance, and indeed by restraint, though he never shrank from emotion or from beauty. Perhaps George Orwell was as good a writer of prose; or you may think of P. G. Wodehouse, or Bernard Darwin -- everyone has his own favourites -- but in this century it is not easy to think of many more in the same class.

I remember clearly how I was introduced to Cardus's writing. It was in August, 1935. We were on holiday in Cornwall, at St. Ives, and my father was buying me a book, because of some small family service I had done. I said I would like a cricket book, and the choice narrowed to two: a book of reminiscences attributed to Hendren, I think it was, and Good Days, by Neville Cardus. I doubt if I had heard of Cardus then, because it was difficult to get The Manchester Guardian in the south of England. I was inclined to Hendren, but father was inclined to Cardus. Father won. We bought Good Days. Father read it before I did, though I have more than made up for that since. Most of us, perhaps half a dozen times in our lives, read books -- not always famous books -- which change us, change our thinking, books which open doors, revelatory books. That was one of mine. It was the essay on Emmott Robinson that did it -- do you remember it? -- when Cardus imagined that the Lord one day gathered together a heap of Yorkshire clay, and breathed into it, and said 'Emmott Robinson, go on and bowl at the pavilion end for Yorkshire'. And then the next bit, about how Emmott's trousers were always on the point of falling down, and he would remember to grab them just in time.

All cricket writers of the last half century have been influenced by Cardus, whether they admit it or not, whether they have wished to be or not, whether they have tried to copy him or tried to avoid copying him. He was not a model, any more than Macaulay, say, was a model for the aspiring historian. But just as Macaulay changed the course of the writing of history, Cardus changed the course of the writing of cricket. He shewed what could be done. He dignified and illuminated the craft.

It was, it has occurred to me, fortunate for cricket that Bradman and Cardus existed at the same time: fortunate for them, too, since the best of batsmen was recorded by the best of critics. Each was worthy of the other.

In the music of Sir Neville's time, at least in English music, there was never one figure quite so dominant as Bradman. "Elgar, Delius and Beecham were," he wrote, "the three most original spirits known in English music since Purcell, if we leave out Sullivan." He said it with a shadow of a wink, as if to say, "and take it out of that." You remember how he described Delius, when he met him in what now seem the improbable surroundings of the Langham Hotel: "His attendant carried him into the sitting-room of his suite and flopped him down on a couch, where he fell about like a rag doll until he was arranged into a semblance of human shape. There was nothing pitiable in him, nothing inviting sympathy in this wreck of a physique. He was wrapped in a monk-like gown, and his face was strong and disdainful, every line on it grown by intrepid living." There is a picture for you; there is a piece of prose for you.

As for Sir Thomas Beecham, he is always bursting out of Cardus's pages and making his own way. It was with some difficulty that Cardus stopped his splendid Aunt Beatrice from conquering his first autobiographical book. He never quite stopped Beecham, any more than Shakespeare ever quite stopped Falstaff taking charge of Henry the Fourth.

Perhaps the most remarkable episode in the life of Cardus, going by what he said himself, and one to which we should refer here, was his conversion. I think the word is properly used: I mean his conversion to music. It was achieved by one of the minor saints: Edward German. He was watching a production of a light opera, Tom Jones, at the Prince's Theatre, Manchester. He had gone there because he was reading Henry Fielding, but, he says, "the music of Edward German got past my ears and entered into my mind behind my back." Only twenty months after that first experience, he was listening to the first performance of Elgar's Symphony in A Flat, and wondering, with the other musicians in the audience, how Elgar was going to cope with such a long first subject.

He used to say that he was baffled that it should have been Edward German who had first revealed the light: yet he should not have been. It was all of a piece with the man and his thought. When Beecham and MacLaren, and Bradman and Ranjitsinhji, and Elgar came within the experience of Cardus, he rose to them and did them justice -- but he was capable of being moved, such was his sense of humanity, by men who were no more than good county bowlers, Emmott Robinson or Edward German.

Joy and woe are woven fine. They are not alien, they are complementary, A clothing for the soul divine. And in another part of that poem, Blake says

It is right it should be so,

Man was made for joy and woe,

And when this we rightly know,

Safely through the world we go.

I am not sure whether Sir Neville Cardus would approve of that as an epitaph: but he is probably too busy to bother just now, arguing with Bernard Shaw.

© John Wisden & Co