Cricket. An Heroic Poem. Illustrated with the critical observations of Scriblerus Maximus. London: W. Bickerton, [1744]. 4to (225 x 161mm), woodcut title vignette. (Occasional light browning, a few spots.) Early 20th-century boards (spine worn). Provenance: F.S. Ashley-Cooper (bookplate) -- Julien Cahn.

FIRST EDITION OF THE FIRST SEPARATELY PUBLISHED POEM ON CRICKET, priced at one shilling. Its author, James Dance (1721-1774), was the eldest son of the architect George Dance the elder (c. 1694-1768). In about 1751, he apparently abandoned his wife, and began a relationship with an actress called 'Mrs. Love' or 'de l'Amour', adopting her name for the stage and in later editions of his mock-heroic poem. Dedicated to the game's 'illustrious patron' John, Earl of Sandwich, this describes a match between the sons of Kent and all other counties played at the Artillery Ground in June, 1744. The first of its three 'books' stresses the superiority of cricket to billiards, bowls and the game's 'sister sport' of tennis. Book two describes the Kentish challenge, the great crowd at the ground and the prowess of individual players. Crowd control is exercised by the master of the ground, a Mr. Smith who 'plies with strenuous Arm, the smacking whip' in order to keep spectators behind 'the circling String'. In the last book, twenty-one lines are devoted to a mighty catch by Lord John Sackville, one of the many 'God-like deeds' of the victorious Kent side. The participants, identified in the heroic couplets only by the first and last letters of their names, have their identities revealed in the Scriblerian footnotes.

HIGHLY RARE. Foxon locates copies only at BL, Trinity College, Cambridge, and MCC. There is a further copy at the National Trust. NO COPY RECORDED IN NORTH AMERICA. Allen 2; Foxon English Verse 1701-1750 D-22; Goldman p. 52: 'invaluable'; Padwick 6445.

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