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Creighton, Brexit and cricket

Reader comment on item: An American in Search of the English National Character

Submitted by Malcolm (Israel), Jan 23, 2021 at 12:15

Thank you, Mr. Pipes, for this witty piece.

But if we disregard the incomprehension of resentful foreigners and the self-deprecating humor of English self-depictions, the best concise formulation is still Mandell Creighton's 1896 definition of English character as a "a stubborn desire to manage its own affairs in its own way, without any interference from outside." (Exemplified by a disinclination to be told what to think by others, while allowing others "fair play.")

Exactly what drove Brexit, except that the narrowness of the majority for Brexit is symptomatic of the dilution of English and more broadly British character since World War II. But may I offer two contextual definitions. First, it is whatever enables you to build the furthest-flung empire in history even after losing the American colonies.

Second, it is whatever inspires the players and spectators of a cricket match. Indeed, Sir Henry Newbolt's famous poem ("Play up! play up! and play the game!") was precisely a comparison of cricket and empire-building. Note, too, that almost all the major countries of the Commonwealth continue to play this game at national and international levels. Unlike flashier games like soccer, whose duration is measured in minutes, a cricket match lasts three days at county level and five days at international level. Only forty years ago were one-day matches introduced, but alongside the others and still lasting eight hours with breaks for lunch and tea. Well, I understand that a major league baseball game lasts over three hours, so that may have provided some training for American hegemony. Baseball, of course, is the professional form of an English game dating from at least the sixteenth century and still played as "rounders" in many English and even Irish schools.

Anyway, when Mr. Pipes masters the difference between silly-mid-on and square-leg, between a leg-break and a googly, and the intricacies of the law of "out-lbw," which enable you to follow a match from a radio commentary even without a picture, he will be fully familiar with those people across the pond.


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Daniel Pipes replies:

Actually, I long ago devised the iron law that a human can understand cricket or baseball, but not both. I have a deep knowledge of baseball, so no cricket for me.

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