J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Literary Legacy of Joseph Strutt

Joseph Strutt (1749-1802) was an English engraver and antiquarian. Most of his career was taken up with researching, drawing, and publishing artifacts of the British past: pictures of kings from old manuscripts, clothing of different periods, and so on.

I’m using Strutt’s Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, published in 1801, as a source in my paper at the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife today. The paper is titled “Political Football,” and Strutt described the game as played in his time this way.
When a match at foot-ball is made, two parties, each containing an equal number of competitors, take the field, and stand between two goals, placed at the distance of eighty or an hundred yards the one from the other. The goal is usually made with two sticks driven into the ground, about two or three feet apart. The ball, which is commonly made of a blown bladder, and cased with leather, is delivered in the midst of the ground, and the object of each party is to drive it through the goal of their antagonists, which being achieved the game is won. The abilities of the performers are best displayed in attacking and defending the goals; and hence the pastime was more frequently called a goal at foot-ball than a game at foot-ball. When the exercise becomes exceedingly violent, the players kick each other’s shins without the least ceremony, and some of them are overthrown at the hazard of their limbs.
Strutt also wrote poetry and fiction, including a novel set in the fifteenth century that he hadn’t finished when he died. The publisher John Murray asked a young lawyer and poet named Walter Scott to complete the story, which he did rather perfunctorily. But that book gave Scott the idea of writing historical novels of his own.

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