John Masefield's Minor Sports
V If THROUGHOUT his career as poet, novelist and play¬
wright, John Masefield's major theme was his native land.
No man "was ever better qualified by temperament and
inclination for the English laureateship than the Elerefordshirc lad
who came home from America and the sea to settle near Oxford.
There he spent the remainder of a long life as chronicler of Eng¬
lish landscape and of Englishmen at home and abroad.
Masefield appears always to have been fascinated by sports and
games, especially by those characteristically English or in which
Englishmen participated. iVs a boy in his late teens in a Yonkers
carpet factory he was interested in boxing and later devoted sev¬
eral pages of the autobiographical In the Mill, published in 1941,
to the A'laher-Fitzsimmons and Corbett-Fitzsimmons bouts of his
Yonkers years. Fights are the subject of his poems "Camp Enter¬
tainment" and "A Tale of Country Things," the latter nearly a
thousand lines long, and boxing matches are central incidents in
the poem which brought him to fame in 1911, The Everlastiizg
Mercy, and in the 1924 novel Sard Marker.
Fox-hunting and horse-racing are the subjects of the long narra-
ti\'e poems Reynard the Fox and Right Royal, and these sports
play important parts in other poetry and fiction, especially in two
novels. The Hawbucks and The Square Peg. Masefield's treatment
of these three sports and of the games and diversions of the English
travelling circus and country fair is discussed in Chapter IV of my
John Masefield's England, which mentions but docs not examine
the poet's lesser concern with such sports as rawing, swimming,
running and football.
It is not surprising that a man "who spent nearly four years on
shipboard, and whose writing through sixty-six years consistently
reflected his love for the sea, should have been interested in aquatic