Few-people arebetter qualified to introduce Bernard Darwin to those who may not know his workthan SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Golf Editor Herbert Warren Wind. In England last yearhe persuaded golf's grand old man to write the personal recollections whichbegin on page 63; and from his own memories of a long association, he hasculled the tribute which follows:
Next week, onSeptember 7th to be exact, Bernard Darwin will be 80 years old. It is SPORTSILLUSTRATED'S privilege on this happy occasion to be able to present to itsreaders an article by Mr. Darwin (which begins on page 63), and it is mypleasant task to tell those of you who have yet to make Mr. Darwin'sacquaintance a little about the man and why his 80th birthday is anoccasion.
To start at thebeginning, Bernard Darwin is the greatest writer on golf the world has everknown. He is much more than that. He may be the greatest of all sportswriters.Many think he is. Sir John Squire, an English critic, rated him one of the sixfinest general essayists since Charles Lamb. Numerous Dickens scholars feelthat no one has ever written quite so felicitously of their hero as has Darwin.His children's stories are wonderful. Golf was simply very fortunate that soexcellent a writer should have chosen to devote so much of his time to it.Thanks to Bernard, golf has acquired the sturdiest literature of any game. Thebest of it is Darwin's—about two dozen books in all—and the rest is as good asit is largely because he showed the writers who came after him how golf couldand should be written. This brings to mind a remark I once heard to the effectthat Artie Shaw never would have become a great swing clarinetist had therebeen no Benny Goodman to show him the general direction in which to head. Onthat I am in no position to comment, but I have never met any serious golfwriter whose love and understanding of the game was not nurtured on Darwin. Infact, I know of more than a few golf writers and golfers who are inclined tothink that they gravitated to the game because they found that reading BernardDarwin struck some responsive chord within them, and they wanted to get closerand closer to the world (and the way of life, too, for it is nothing less) thathe evoked.
A grandson ofCharles Darwin, the famous naturalist who propounded the theory of evolution,Bernard Richard Meirion Darwin was born in 1876 and grew up in the inevitableplexus of stimulation afforded the members of that remarkable family. (GwenRaverat's recent bestseller, Period Piece, contains some very entertainingglimpses of Bernard the boy.) He entered Cambridge University in 1894. It wasat just this time that the first great British professionals—J. H. Taylor,Harry Vardon and James Braid—were coming excitingly to the fore, and Bernard'senthusiasm for golf, which was immense to begin with, was further increased bythe trips he took to watch the glamorous triumvirate in action. Aftergraduation he became a lawyer. Then one day in 1906 he came to the decisionthat the legal life was not for him. He turned in his wig, as one might say,and shortly afterwards embarked upon a new career as the golf writer for theTimes of London. He filled that position for, roughly, the next 45 years.
In accordancewith the Times's tradition, Darwin's columns were signed only with the phrase"By our golf correspondent," but his work had such a distinction thateveryone came to know it was Darwin, just as most readers of The New Yorkerknow that the bulk of the superb, anonymous "Notes and Comments" thatlead off that magazine's "Talk of the Town" section are the work of E.B. White. Darwin also wrote some of the Times's light editorials andcontributed to a slew of magazines in Britain and America, foremostly toCountry Life, for which he continues to write. Then there were his books, ofcourse, and of these I only wish to say that three of his most recent ones—GolfBetween Two Wars, Golf (an anthology) and James Braid—are hearteningdemonstrations that there are some writers whom age cannot wither. These bookshave all of that unpresuming but telling command, that fusion of springtimespirit and autumnal thoughtfulness that characterized Out of the Rough, Playingthe Like and those other earlier pillars of golf libraries scattered throughoutthe green corners of the world. Bernard never tried to bowl his readers overwith exhibitions of his brilliance or power, but his writing, modest andrestrained as it is, has a quiet magic and a terrific staying power. Thoughnever intended to be literature, it is.
One of thereasons Bernard wrote, and writes, so well about golf was that he was a realplayer himself. He represented England countless times in international matchesagainst Scotland, Wales and Ireland. He played for Britain in the first WalkerCup match in 1922, though this needs a word of explanation. Bernard had comeover to the States that summer—his first trip since '13 when he had beenOuimet's scorer at Brookline in the momentous playoff with Vardon andRay—simply to cover the Walker Cup match for his paper. However, on the eve ofthe event, Robert Harris, the British captain, became ill, and Bernard wasrushed into the breach. He and Cyril Tolley lost their foursome to Ouimet andGuilford, but old Bernard won his singles handily from Bill Fownes. Having beenunder fire in hot competition himself, Bernard understood perfectly thefeelings, involved and vagrant, experienced by players in the strain oftournaments. It brought unusual excitement to his writing—you were right withthe golfer.
Several otherfacets of Darwin's style served further to endear him to his readers. His witand erudition are those of the full man who happens to love sport and not thoseof a sportswriter pressing to attract attention through gimmicky phrases. Hehad the courage to waive ubiquity and omniscience; in golf, hustle as you will,you cannot see every important shot, and Bernard was not hesitant to confessthat as he stood, say, at the 17th tee, a wild shout went up from the fifthgreen to which he hustled to arrive only just as an even more colossal roarbroke the air at the 12th. He was extremely sympathetic to the golfers he wroteabout. He never dismissed them with a superior "So-and-so cracked wideopen" or "So-and-so then muffed that simple shot"; his experienceas a tournament player gave him a more complete understanding of what wastaking place, and he wrote of it from the golfer's viewpoint. Do not be misled,though, into thinking of Bernard as having the gravied generousness of DaddyLong Legs. Not at all. There is an implicit strain of toughness in him. Healways called a spade mashie a spade mashie. I doubt if he ever wrote a line hedid not believe in. He never praised a golfer whom he did not considerpraiseworthy. When he admired someone, you could be sure that person was worthyof admiration.
One of the rarestthings in the world is the man of unmistakable talent who in "reallife" possesses even a thread of the attractive traits which his work wouldlead you to believe were the warp and woof of his personality. Bernard wasquite different: the man at the desk and the man away from the desk were oneand the same person—warm, honest, enjoyable and unfailingly gracious. A fewyears ago—I think this anecdote is as illustrative as any—I happened to bestarting on a golf anthology and wrote to Bernard asking if, from his extensivereading, there were any particular pieces he felt should be included in such acollection. I don't have his letter around, and I can only paraphrase what hewrote. It began with an explanation that my request was somewhat difficultinasmuch as he had recently completed an anthology of his own. However, he wenton, I would do well to look into—and herewith he reeled off a whole parade ofbooks, essays and reports by a dozen authors that struck him as being ofunusual quality.
At allget-togethers of golfers, there is talk of Bernard, and this invariablyincludes several people's bringing up some recent line of his they got aparticular kick out of. One I heard last year which sticks with me uncommonlywell is a simple short introductory phrase: "Until the fatal spread ofeducation...." It would appear to reveal the most snobbish of outlooks, ifyou did not know the source to be the most feeling of men, and then you cottonon to all that the phrase implies. For me, rightly or wrongly, it is like thescreen door entrance to Bernard Darwin's attitude to living in general, to golfspecifically. One of the commanding frustrations of life is that all too oftenthe things one likes best and respects the most somehow get misdeveloped orlost through a lack of appreciation of their worth, or some supposedlyprogressive trend popularizes all the charm and pleasure out of them. When Iread Darwin, I get the feeling that his love of golf (and the world of golf)has more than a little to do with its being one sector of life that he foundsweet and wonderful as a boy, which he hoped would remain as appealing as hefirst thought it was and which, indeed, has remained so. It is a climate inwhich one competes on friendly terms: where to win is satisfying, to lose isnot humiliating and where no one in his right mind would choose to stand on thesidelines since he would be missing so much wonderful stuff that has to doneither with winning nor losing.
It has been saidof Dr. Johnson that it was not what he wrote that was important but the ideasand thoughts he started rolling. This is not exactly true of Bernard Darwin—heis a better writer than Johnson—but, like the doctor, his writing constitutes avery small part of what he has done for golf and golfers.