A page from Edward Phillips’s The Mysteries of Love & Eloquence (was one of the men in the pictures based on the author?)

Edward Phillips Jr, born August 1630, is mostly remembered for the seminal Theatrum poetarum, considered one of the most important chronicles of poetry across time and space, and wrote the biography of his uncle John Milton. However, perhaps unknowingly, he also made the first mention of a cricket ball in literature. Abhishek Mukherjee narrates the story and the excerpt.

Let me begin the story with John Milton, no less, the man who penned down arguably the first epic in the history of the English language. It will not be difficult to find critics who acknowledge Milton the greatest English poet of all time.

Milton’s sister Anne married one Edward Phillips. The couple had (at least) two sons, Edward and John, both of whom were tutored by the great man himself. Edward Jr, in turn, tutored the son of John Evelyn, whose diaries are sources of valuable information of England in the 17th century.

Even beyond that, Edward wrote Theatrum poetarum, a comprehensive list of all eminent poets. He also inherited Milton’s notes and unpublished works, which helped him to put together Enchiridion linguae latinae.

However, before we delve into the works of Edward Phillip, however, let us have a look at the references of cricket in the 17th century.

The era

We have already discussed the seminal works of Giovanni Florio and Randle Cotgrave on these pages. However, here is a quick recap:

Florio was no ordinary man. To begin with, he was a close friend of William Shakespeare, and more — for several works of Shakespeare have been attributed to Florio.

Have you noticed how many of Shakespeare’s works were based in Italy, a country not very familiar to The Bard? Even if one discounts historic characters such as Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, we have Rome, Venice, Milan, Florence, Verona, Mantua, Padua, Miseno, and more, including Sicily…

In his (rather comprehensive) Italian-to-English dictionary Worlde of Wordes (1598), Florio translated sgillare as “to make a noise as a cricket, to play cricket-a-wicket, and be merry.”

Unfortunately, it met a dead-end: the 1611 expanded form mentioned frittfritt: “as we say cricket-a-wicket, or gigaioggie.” On the other hand, dibatticare translated to “to thrum a wench lustily till the bed cry giggaioggie.”

If one assumes gigaioggie and giggaioggie are the same, it seems likely that the cricket in Florio’s book was a sport of a different sort.

Cotgrave’s work, A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), was more famous, and is often referred to by historians as one of the most important reference materials of Britain of that period. The bilingual French-English dictionary translated crosse as “the crooked staff wherewith boys play at cricket” and crosser as “to play as cricket.”

That is more or less explanatory.

A 1680 edition of The Bible contained the following passage: “All you that do delight in Cricket, come to Marden, pitch your wickets.”

Marden, a Kent village, is about 150 kilometres from Hambledon, which probably explains a thing or two.

Back to Edward Phillips

It is time, however, that we return to Edward. He wrote several books, but we will focus on exactly one of them here. The 1658 book went under the spectacular name The Mysteries of Love & Eloquence, or, The Arts of Wooing and Complementing as They Are Manag’d in the Spring Garden, Hide Park, the New Exchange, and Other Eminent Places : a Work in Which is Drawn to the Life the Deportments of the Most Accomplisht Persons, the Mode of their Courtly Entertainments, Treatments of Their Ladies at Balls, Their Accustom’d Sports, Drolls and Fancies, the Witchcrafts of Their Perswasive Language in their Approaches, or Other More Secret Dispatches…

There are two things to note here. First, the spellings in the name of the book (and often inside the book) do not involve typographical errors; indeed, these were the correct spellings. Secondly, the entire thing is the name of one book. For the sake of readers (and myself) let me abbreviate this to The Mysteries of Love & Eloquence.

The book mostly consists of small chapters in the form of dialogues that demonstrate how to flirt (in other words, they were 17th-century pick-up lines). Remember, the title of the book includes the words ‘The Arts of Wooing and Complimenting’.

Our topic of interest involves a conversation between Richard and Kate, used as a demonstrative lesson of sorts. Richard and Kate appear in only two (consecutive) chapters in the book, Between the Countrey Bumkin and his Mistriss going to a Fair and At the Inn.

 These chapters featured under the section Mock-Complements, or Drolling-Complements (once again, self-explanatory). It ran thus.

Richard: Nay ‘tis true Kate, and I’le lay our pie-bald Mare against any Horse in the Town, that thou hast as pretty a smelling brow as any Lass in the Countrey.

Kate: Ay, but Richard will you think so hereafter? Will you not when you have me throw stools at my head; and cry, Would my eyes had been beat out of my head with a cricket-ball, the day before I saw thee.

The relationship between Richard and Kate might not have blossomed after this conversation. Mind you, it might have as well, for romance has had its way with the world over millennia. However, given the theme of the book, it will not be too optimistic to assume that conversations of this sort were considered examples of quality wooing.

While that remains uncertain, there is no uncertainty over the fact that it was the first mention a cricket ball in literature. If only Edward Phillips had not thought of it as a blunt instrument…