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‘My English Joy’ : In 1837 William Sterndale Bennett, then regarded as England’s most exciting young composer, made history in quite another... field.
‘My English Joy’

From ‘The Life of William Sterndale Bennett’, by his son J.R. Sterndale Bennett.

German club cricket began in 1858, courtesy of British and American expatriates living in Berlin. But there is a much earlier game on record, played in Leipzig on June 10th, 1837. One of the participants was William Sterndale Bennett, a young and promising composer, and inevitably perhaps, a Yorkshireman.

Diary for June 10th, 1837.

WELL, I’m off on Monday. Beginning to pay my visits p.p.c..* Count Reuss is gone away to Kreutz.* Called yesterday on Madame von Goethe,* dined with Benecke,* and played at Cricket with some Englishmen, which made the Germans stare very much, as they never saw the game before — we had English bats and balls.

8 o’ clock evening. Schumann has been to spend an hour with me and drink a bottle of Porter,* I am so sorry to part from him, for I think he is one of the finest hearted fellows I ever knew — My heart springs up when I think that I leave Leipzig on Monday, but yet I don’t know whether it is with sorrow at leaving this place or joy at seeing my England again. I could never believe before that one was so fond of his own country — especially mine. As Sir Walter Scott says, ‘Merry England which is the envy of all other countries and the pride of all who can call themselves her natives’.

Amen, say I.

* “When a person or family is about to remove from a city, or to be absent for some time, it is customary to call upon the friends to take leave. Should those upon whom the call is made not be at home, a card is left with the letters P.P.C. written upon it. These letters stand for ‘Pour prendre congé’, a French phrase signifying ‘to take leave’.” From Student and Family Miscellany Vol. X (1855), edited by N. A. Calkins.

* The future Heinrich II, Prince of Reuss-Köstritz (1803-1852), who had been schooled for time in Yorkshire, and according to Bennett’s biographer, his son J.R. Sterndale Bennett, ‘seemed to Bennett quite an Englishman’.

* Bennett was acquainted with Walter von Goethe, grandson of poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Madame von Goethe was Walter’s mother, Ottilie (1796-1872), wife of the poet’s son August.

* ‘One of two brothers, F.W. and V.’ says J.R., ‘probably the latter’. They were the uncles of Mendelssohn’s wife, Cécile. FW’s children settled in England.

* Robert Schumann (1810-1856) and Bennett spent many nights together on the town. Robert was already suffering from serious depression and paranoia, in particular fear of poisoning or attack with metallic objects such as cutlery. He attempted suicide in 1854, then confined himself in an asylum, where he died two years later. Bennett ensured that Robert’s widow Clara, a brilliant professional pianist, came to perform in London in later years.

From ‘The Life of William Sterndale Bennett’, by his son J.R. Sterndale Bennett.

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Picture: Unknown Artist, via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domaon View original
‘First Grand Match of Cricket Played by Members of the Royal Amateur Society on Hampton Court Green, August 3rd, 1836’. It was less than a year later that Germany’s first recorded game of cricket, not perhaps quite so grand, began at Leipzig, with Yorkshireman William Sterndale Bennett an enthusiastic participant. Bennett joined a deep and ultimately irresistible love for his own country with a profound respect and indeed love for another, in this case Saxony – Germany, as a unified state, would not come into existence until 1871.

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