REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
1. Croquet. By James Redpath.. Boston :
2. Handbook of Croquet. By George Routledge and Sons.. London :
3. The Game of Croquet; its Appointments and Laws. By Hurd and Houghton.. New York :
4. Croquet, as played by the Newport Croquet Club. By one of the Members. New York: Sheldon & Co.
THE original tower of Babel having been for some time discontinued, and most of our local legislatures having adjourned, the nearest approach to a confusion of tongues is perhaps now to be found in an ordinary game of croquet. Out of eight youths and maidens caught for that performance at a picnic, four have usually learned the rules from four different manuals, and can agree on nothing ; while the rest have never learned any rules at all, and cannot even distinctly agree to disagree. With tolerably firm wills and moderately shrill voices, it is possible for such a party to exhibit a very prettv war of words before even a single blow is struck. For supposing that there is an hour of daylight for the game, they can easily spend fifteen minutes in debating whether the starting-point should be taken a mallet’s length from the stake, according to Reid, or only twelve inches, according to Routledge.
More than twenty manuals of croquet have been published in England, it is said, and some five or six in America. Of the four authorities named above, each has some representative value for American players. Mayne Reid was the pioneer, Routledge is the most compact and seductive, Fellow the most popular and the poorest, and “ Newport ” the newest and by far the best. And among them all it is possible to find authority for and against almost every possible procedure.
The first point of grave divergence is one that occurs at the very outset of the game. “ Do you play with or without the roquetcroquet ? " has now come to be the first point of mutual solicitude in a mixed party. It may not seem a momentous affair whether the privilege of striking one’s own ball and the adversary’s without holding the former beneath the foot, should be extended to all players or limited to the “ rover ” ; but it makes an immense difference in both the duration and the difficulty of the game. By skilfully using this right, every player may change the position of every ball, during each tour of play. It is a formidable privilege, and accordingly Reid and “ Newport ” both forbid it to all but the “ rover,” and Routledge denies it even to him; while Fellow alone pleads for universal indulgence. It seems a pity to side with one poor authority against three good ones, but there is no doubt that the present tendency of the best players is to cultivate the roquet-croquet more and more ; and after employing it, one is as unwilling to give it up, as a good billiardplayer would be to revert from the cue to the mace. The very fact, however, that this privilege multiplies so enormously the advantages of skill is perhaps a good reason for avoiding it in a mixed party of novices and experts, where the object is rather to equalize abilities. It should also be avoided where the croquet-ground is small, as is apt to be the case in our community, — because in such narrow quarters a good player can often hit every other ball during each tour of play, even without this added advantage. If we played habitually on large, smooth lawns like those of England, the reasons for the general use of the roquet-croquet would be far stronger.
Another inconvenient discrepancy of the books relates to the different penalties imposed on “flinching,” or allowing one’s ball to slip from under one’s foot, during the process of croquet. Here Routledge gives no general rule ; Reid and “ Newport ” decree that, if a ball “ flinches,” its tour terminates, but its effects remain; while, according to Fellow, the ball which has suffered croquet is restored, but the tour continues, — the penalties being thus reversed. Here the sober judgment must side with the majority of authorities ; for this reason, if for no other, that the firstnamed punishment is more readily enforced, and avoids the confusion and altercation which are often produced by taking up and replacing a ball.
Again, if a ball be accidentally stopped in its motion by a careless player or spectator, what shall be done ? Fellow permits the striker either to leave the ball where the interruption left it, or to place it where he thinks it would have stopped, if unmolested. This again is a rule far less simple, and liable to produce far more wrangling, than the principle of the other authorities, which is that the ball should either be left where it lies, or be carried to the end of the arena.
These points are all among the commonest that can be raised, and it is very unfortunate that there should he no uniformity of rule, to meet contingencies so inevitable. When more difficult points come up for adjudication, the difficulty has thus far been less in the conflict of authorities than in their absence. Until the new American commentator appeared, there was no really scientific treatise on croquet to be had in our bookstores.
The so-called manual of the “ Newport Croquet Club ” is understood to proceed from a young gentleman whose mathematical attainments have won him honor both at Cambridge and at New Haven, and who now beguiles his banishment as Assistant Professor in the Naval Academy by writing on croquet in the spirit of Peirce. What President Hill has done for elementary geometry, “ Newport ” aims to do for croquet, making it severely Simple, and, perhaps we might add, simply severe. And yet, admirable to relate, this is the smallest of all the manuals, and the cheapest, and the only one in which there is not so much as an allusion to ladies’ ankles. All the others have a few pages of rules and a very immoderate quantity of slang they are all liable to the charge of being silly ; whereas the only possible charge to be brought against “ Newport ” is that he is too sensible. But for those who hold, with ourselves, that whatever is worth doing is worth doing sensibly, there is really no other manual. That is, this is the only one which really grapples with a difficult case, and deals with it as if heaven and earth depended on the adjudication.
It is possible that this scientific method sometimes makes its author too bold a lawgiver. The error of most of the books is in attempting too little and in doing that little ill. They are all written for beginners only. The error of “ Newport ” lies in too absolute an adherence to principles. His “ theory of double points ” is excellent, but his theory of “ the right of declining” is an innovation all the more daring because it is so methodically put. The principle has long been familiar, though never perhaps quite settled, that where two distinct points were made by any stroke, —as, for instance, a bridge and a roquet, — the one or the other could be waived. The croquet, too, could always be waived. But to assert boldly that “ a player may decline any point made by himself, and play precisely as if the point had not been made,” is a thought radical enough to send a shudder along Pennsylvania Avenue. Under this ruling, a single player in a game of eight might spend a half-hour in running and rerunning a single bridge, with dog-in-the-mangerish pertinacity, waiting his opportunity to claim the most mischievous run as the valid one. It would produce endless misunderstandings and errors of memory. The only vexed case which it would help to decide is that in which a ball, in running the very last bridge, strikes another ball, and is yet forbidden to croquet, because it must continue its play from the starting-point. But even this would be better settled in almost any other way ; and indeed this whole rule as to a return to the “spot ” seems a rather arbitrary and meaningless thing.
The same adherence to theory takes the author quite beyond our depth, if not beyond his own, in another place. He says that a ball may hit another ball twice or more, during the same tour, between two steps on the round, and move it each time by concussion, — “but only one (not necessarily the first) contact is a valid roquet.” (p. 34.) But how can a player obtain the right to make a second contact, under such circumstances, unless indeed the first was part of a ricochet, and was waived as such ? And if the case intended was merely that of ricochet, it should have been more distinctly stated, for the right to waive ricochet was long since recognized by Reid (p. 40), though Routledge prohibits, and Fellow limits it.
Thus even the errors of “ Newport ” are of grave and weighty nature, such as statesmen and mathematicians may, without loss of dignity, commit. Is it that it is possible to go too deep into all sciences, even croquet ? But how delightful to have at last a treatise which errs on that side, when its predecessors, like popular commentators on the Bible, have carefully avoided all the hard points, and only cleared up the easy ones !