THE UNIVERSITY BOAT RACE.
EIGHT years ago not even a paragraph heralded or related the process and progress of the University Eights during the Put- ney week, and a twenty-line account in The Times and Post detailed to the public " sufficient for the day " of the race of 1857. But now three columns of large type, and a leading article to boot, are not thought too much, and the dirty metropolis and its suburbs send forth one-fifth of their whole population to witness a private match. As the hour draws near the excitement be- comes more general and more defined. Publicans and cab- horses hang out their favours of dark and light blue over-night.
Our breakfast is fairly concluded, a continuous stream of wheels rattling down Piccadilly and along the Kensington and Brompton Roads reminds one of the opening of a Derby Day. Waterloo-Bridge station is in a state of siege ; special trains every five minutes fail to make any perceptible reduction in the strug- gling mass of sweltering humanity.
It is 11.30. From the Leander rooms in the Star and Garter and the first floor of the White Lion the anxious faces of the heroes of the day look down upon the busy throng below. One by one the rascally hot-water machines drop their black funnels and plough through Putney Bridge ; there lie, swaying grimly as they back against the tide, off the pier, or in defiance of all decency and courtesy drift on under the Middlesex shore, greedy to secure a start at the expense of the racing boats. There is Harvey's boat, with the 0. U. B. C. flag ; and Logan's, for Cambridge ; George West's thronged with the enthusiasts of D. U. C. ; the River Queen, chartered by the Thames Subscription Club, last year graced with the presence of Royalty ; Citizen L, with the umpire's placard, reserved especially for a burden of stalwart frames and jovial faces of heroes of bygone contests ;—country parsons, ruddy squires and grizzle-haired barristers, old brethren in arms and quondam foes, are pumphandling each other heartily. This meeting is a sight to see and envy. Farther up the river lie a host of dirty tugs and other insubordinates ; the Midge and the Matrimony, with their loads of insolent, selfish snobs. Some hundreds of horsemen are waiting on the tow-path, or picking their way through the throng of pedestrians that crowd the first mile. Putney Bridge, despite the intervening aqueduct, is almost impassable. Finch's cricket field is let out as a stand for carriages half a dozen deep. Ham- mersmith Bridge is packed perpendicularly from the roadway to half way up the chains. Barnes Terrace and road for more than a mile is as impassable as the hill at Epsom ; even on the country side of Mortlake and Putney the roads are becoming blocked, and still the cry is " They come !" At a fair computation half a mil- lion would fall far short of the number of the spectators.
Twelve o'clock chimes from Putney Church, and immediately afterwards "Dark Blue," escorted by a bevy of college friends and admirers, edge their way up the crowded street, amid the collision of carriages and the vociferations of Jehus, till they reach the London Boathouse. Cambridge simultaneously are on the move to " Simmonds's," and their boat is the first to be launched and manned. Oxford follow closely. Fortune has favoured them as usual, and they have won the toss for the fifth year in succession. Both boats reach their stations a little before 12.20 p.m. But the Midge and Matrimony, and others of their ruffianly compeers, hustle to the front, right in the course of the race, determined at all hazards to secure a start. In vain the crews and their friends expostulate, in vain Chitty solicits the name of the captain of the Midge, and asks, useless query, whether there is such a thing as a gentleman on board of her. Nothing can be done till, by mutual agreement, Kinglake and Morrison take back their crews to the boat-houses, and declare their determination not to start while a single steamer remains in front of the umpire. It is some time before the offenders can be brought to understand that such is their decision, and still longer before the police can force them to back astern. (What a pity that they could not be taken to Newgate for a month !) And then at last the crews come back to stations, but not until the tide has almost spent itself. None but those who have experienced it can form any adequate idea of that horrible tension of mind and muscle as the sixteen stretch " forward.all " for the start.
" Gentlemen ! are you ready? Of !" cries Mr. Searle, and ere the second " f " has left his lips the Oxford oars have begun steadily to move through the water. For the first three strokes
they show a few inches in front, and then Lawes, with a " frantic fourty-four," short and " clipped," yet uniform, has pushed to the front and rapidly increases his lead. Brown has gone off with little more than thirty-six to the minute, which he works up to thirty-eight before he has rowed a dozen strokes. Each crew knows its own game, and confidently follows its stroke. As they sweep by the umpire's boat, Cambridge already half a length ahead, the dark blue supporters look gloomy, but an ex-'Varsity stroke bends over the rail, and roars out to Brown, " Keep it long, don't hurry—and you must win !" Whether the voice is heard or not, through the din of battle, the principle is heeded, and .Oxford settle down to their "form "and sweep, maintaining that stroke which they know will take them quickest over the whole course, while Cambridge still draw more and more to the front. At the Point there is a length's daylight between the boats, and upwards of two at the Crab Tree, distant rather more than a mile from the start. Both coxswains come in for censure at Craven Point. Tottenham goes in too close to cut the corner, Archer too far out to gain the tide. But a coxswain's is a thankless office. If a race is won, the x' So; goes to the stroke ; if lost, the blame falls upon the luckless pilot.
And now, as they pass the ruins of Colonel M'Murdo's Villa, Brown for the first time slightly quickens his stroke up to 39 ; with all his confidence, he begins to think that Cambridge are getting a little too far ahead. And soon Cambridge has ceased to gain, while Lawes, with his lightning recovery, still holds on the 44 at which he started (not, for his sake we assert it, " vary- ing from 40 to 45'' (!), as a foolish, would-be sporting.chranicle reports). Then, as the boats cross to the Surrey side, making for the centre arch of Hammersmith Bridge, and pass under the wall of the odoriferous Soap Works, Oxford for the first time strikes into the wash of Cambridge. Matters become critical ; now, if ever, is the race in danger, and as the chopping swell breaks against the boat the crew begin to row wildly, and to fall away from their hitherto massive swing. But Brown has a head upon his shoulders, and nerves that would have done credit to the Iron Duke. In an instant his mind is made up ; he slackens his stroke, and rows slower than ever, thus allowing his men to become steady and long again behind him. The crisis passes, and as they shoot the bridge at Hammersmith, rather more than two clear lengths in the rear of Cambridge, they find themselves again in smooth water. Wild are the cheers for the success of light blue. It is their turn to win, and every one feels that they deserve it. Special messengers re- port in town that Cambridge has won, one over sharp hand flies a pigeon to his friends at Hampton with a collar of dark blueas a signal to entrap the unwary into backing Oxford, and thus cunning over- reaches itself. But as Oxford clears the eddy of the pier Brown puts on his 39 again, his men respond like giants refreshed, and Lawes, with all his pluck and dash, cannot increase his lead. Ignorant critics abuse him for not having slackened his stroke when he had once obtained a commanding lead, but his was not a crew to row longer by rowing slower,—he knew more of them than did the outsiders on the bank, and anyhow he did his best to win. 'The pace has begun to tell at last ; the marvel is that Cam- bridge have lasted so long at such a terrific stroke, and as the crews sweep by the Oil Mills it is evident that Oxford have crept up half a length. Still they continue to gain as they come by Chiswick, still Brown sweeps on with unvarying steadiness, still Lawes spurts in desperation ; and now, as they come to the lower end of the Eyot, Oxford are close to the stern of Cambridge. Twice they come up to them, twice Lawes struggles away, but at the third essay they steadily and surely overlap. Cambridge are gradually going to pieces and losing their form, but Oxford now rowing more uniformly that heretofore. They feel that they are winning, and longer and longer yet they reach out for the stroke. As they pass Chiswick Church Steavenson is level with the nose of Oxford. In this position they row the next 100 yards. Is Brown faltering, or has Lawes still another spurt left in him ? The next twenty strokes tell a tale; Oxford gradually creep up, level, and remain so for half a dozen strokes, and in the ecstasy of the moment (pardon the failing, critics and coxswains) Brown looks out and tries to catch Lewes's eye. They are old school antagonists, and at last Henley and Radley are avenged. Then, amid a crash of cheering that utast be heard even at Richmond, Oxford go to the fore, after having rowed a stern race for three miles ! Cambridge have shot their bolt, their strength has been spent to the last, else could they never have surrendered that dearly-bought lead. They have nothing left them now but their pluck. That cannot save defeat, but it defies disgrace, and still they struggle on, while Oxford shoot clear in a dozen strokes, and rapidly increase their distance.
Still the same unvarying 39, still the same sweep and swing. The race is soon over, all but the shouting of the populace, ever ready to cheer victors. Oxford lead by two clear lengths at Barnes Bridge, and Tottenham atones for his mistake at Craven by a brilliant manoeuvre between a buttress and a barge. At the Ship four clear lengths separate the boats, and the race is won in 22 minutes 30 seconds by a White's chronometer, no mean per- formance upon a bad tide.
What a hurricane of applause greets each crew as they turn at post. It is delicious to watch the wild joy of the father of one of the Oxford crew, as he stands on the paddle-box of the umpire's boat, cheering and waving his hat. An ugly steamer puts a finale to the offences of the day by cutting off the bows of the Cambridge boat, leaving the crew to founder but for the opportune arrival of a police-boat. Oxford, apparently none the worse for their hard chase, paddle back to Putney.
Jealous cavillers have already begun to revile the losers in the daily papers, and The Field is sure to contain a series of letters from conceited critics, ever ready to strike a man when down, condemning Cambridge in general and Chambers in particular. And yet the latter has done more than his four predecessors, though starting with diminished prestige and materiel. He has succeeded in bringing a crew to the post that could row in time and make a splendid race—more than Cambridge has done since 1860. Those egotistical captains of smaller clubs that have never ceased to carp at their president, must recollect that if Cambridge was bad they were still worse, and that it was the indifferent rowing of themselves and their subordinates that threw so many difficulties in his way. Oxford had only to make her men. Chambers had to unmake all his from a vitiated style before he could form them in a new mould. He has done well, and need not be ashamed of himself : Cambridge has learned under him to " catch the beginning," let them learn next year to keep the stroke long, and then they will know how to row. The rowing of both strokes was superb, and their names will live in future annals with the records of the faultless Stanley and the inimitable Menzies, the glories of Chitty and Meade King, with Wray and Vialls, with the stripling Rich, ill-fated Bagshawe, the everlasting Hall, the indomitable Risley, slashing Pocklington, and invincible Hoare. Doubtless there are faults in both boats. In Cambridge individual faults of form were not sufficiently " coached " and corrected, and the beginning " was caught at the expense of " clipping," i. e., rowing the first and most important part of the stroke in the air instead of the water. The forward reach also was too short, and the men were trained too suddenly at the last. Oxford seem to have erred, whether of necessity we cannot say, in confiding too much to their rule of selecting the strongest men at all hazards, and trusting to be able to hammer them into shape in time. Some of their men were very rough, though strong, and the strength of the crew was gained rather at the expense of individual style. Still their general style was good, and though perhaps hardly up to the mark of the four previous years, they have had an opportunity of distinguishing themselves such as rarely falls to the lot of any crew. Nothing but blind confidence, undaunted pluck, and un- wavering nerve could have won the race for them. And there is none among them, from the cherub-faced bow to the wiry stroke, but was and is a hero for his performance last Saturday,—a hero not by the vulgar conventionality of sensation novelists, but in the eyes of better and higher powers.