Lord Byron. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Lord Byron. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

In these pages, we have already documented the details about the day when a young Lord Byron turned up for Harrow against Eton. In this article, Arunabha Sengupta writes about a cricket-linked poem produced in a literary war between the two schools, which is often attributed to the poet.

The first Eton-Harrow match, played in 1805, featured a 17-year-old Lord Byron. He played for Harrow, probably without the captain really being for his selection, and his two outings into the middle did not get him too many runs. After all, he was afflicted with a deformity, which most agree was a club foot.

Yet, his talent with the quill supposedly did its bit to vanquish another cricket related challenge from the traditional rivals.

A day or so after the match, and after Eton’s resounding win, the victors sent the following lines to their vanquished opponents:

Adventurous boys of Harrow School,
Of cricket you’ve no knowledge,
You play not cricket but the fool,
With men of Eton College.

Not exactly soul touching heights of poetry, but the quatrain was calculated to rub prickly salt into the fresh wound.

And there was a reply framed by Harrow. These lines are often attributed to Byron:

Ye Eton wits, to play the fool
Is not the boast of Harrow school;
No wonder, then, at our defeat —
Folly like yours could ne’er be beat.

That must have caught the Etonians on the wrong foot, or at least at a loss for words.

That is not all. There was more poetry scripted by the young master which dealt with the game.

He really enjoyed his cricket. When he was 19, Byron’s first collection of poems was published, titled Hours of Idleness. The work consisted of short poems, mainly in imitation of classic Roman poetry.

And in it he penned several lines on the game, mainly in couplets. The most famous probably are the following:

Yet, when confinement’s lingering hour was done,
Our sports, our studies, and our souls were one:
Together we impell’d the flying ball;
Together waited in our tutor’s hall;
Together join’d in cricket’s manly toil,
Or shared the produce of the river’s spoil.

In 1814, at the age of 26, Byron published a rhymed, tragic narrative poem. It was named Lara, a Tale.

However, that was about 180 years too early to be an epic ode to the great batsman.