Wednesday 20 March 2024

Review of a biography of Neville Cardus - The Great Romantic by Duncan Hamilton (2019)

I first came across the name of Neville Cardus in 1976, the year after he died, when reading a book review published in The New Statesman. This was a collection of interviews by Robin Daniels called Conversations with Cardus. For some reason, the title stuck permanently in my memory. 

Shortly afterwards, I found on our bookshelves at home a 1945 "war economy standard" publication of Ten Composers by Neville Cardus; which my father (a Sergeant in the Education Corps of the British Army occupying Germany) had saved from the ruins of the 6th Airborne Division library, which had been cleared-out and awaited disposal. 

I still have the book - its spine partially detached to reveal the binding was made from paper scavenged from some book about Belfast featuring a chap called Heeney. A note in my handwriting says that I first read it in 1977. 

I must admit that I didn't much like Ten Composers, mainly because - apart from Schubert, Wagner and Richard Strauss - it featured musicians of the "romantic" era that were of little interest to me; and this was reflected in Cardus's evaluations. At that time, I was interested in Baroque and Classical-era music, and Opera - and nothing much else. 

But, music criticism has never been much of an influence on me; and I have not found a single "classic" volume to which I return, and re-read - not even Bernard Shaw. I think it just seems to be the case that writing about music does not rise above the level of journalistic notices or recommendations for recordings. 

I believe that the best (i.e. highest) way to learn about music is to listen, and re-listen (when possible) with close attention - and (when possible) with empathy..

Only after which does greater knowledge about music become helpful. 

It was not until the mid-1990s when I belatedly began to develop an (armchair) interest in cricket; that I began to read Cardus in some volume, and to appreciate his special qualities as the very first great sports writer (not just cricket writer) - to whom all since are indebted. 

Because the thing about Cardus was that he was simultaneously (although cricket first) the undisputed best cricket correspondent in England (and latterly Australia) - and one of a handful of the most influential music critics of Britain. 

But, for me, Cardus's cricket writing is better and more important - both historically, and in human terms. 

There must be something very special about an author who can make me read through a collection entitled The Roses Matches 1919-1939 - a series of match reports from the Manchester Guardian newspaper concerning the annual first class (nowadays also other types of cricket, and sport) between the counties of Lancashire (Cardus's county) and Yorkshire

I found his Autobiography to be compelling, too; and there are several other collections I own, or read in library copies - including (after a couple of decades delay) Conversations with Cardus

Not only is Cardus great, but pretty much every worthwhile cricket writing since is indebted, in some way, to the example or encouragement of Cardus. For example, CLR James (who went on to write Beyond a Boundary) was directly helped to publish for the Manchester Guardian by Cardus's interventions, after James arrived in Lancashire to provide support for Learie Constantine.  

All this was brought back to mind by my reading (actually, audiobook listening) of Duncan Hamilton's biography of Cardus - The Great Romantic

I found this to be a masterly piece of work - extremely skillfully constructed, so as to be completely comprehensible as an account of a life, while always compellingly interesting. 

Hamilton (who is himself an immensely distinguished sports journalist - thrice recipient of the top British annual award in the field) clarifies just how original and excellent was Cardus's early work as cricket correspondent between the First and Second world wars: how he changed what the public expected from cricket writing, and the whole way that journalists would approach their job. 

Cardus even changed the way that people watched cricket - by depicting it as a drama of interacting personalities and aptitudes; or even as a microcosm of Life. 

Cardus the man was very interesting, but not much likeable, to my evaluation. Yet, as so often, it was the man's deficiencies that fuelled his virtues. He was a genius of his craft; and geniuses are typically of-a-piece in terms of character and achievement; and Hamilton lets us see how this combination worked in the case of Neville Cardus. 

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