Passing of Noted Turf Writer "Rapier", Daily Racing Form, 1922-12-05


view raw text

l PASSING OF NOTED TURF WRITER "RAPIER" BiT SALVATOR. Laying aside a few days ago the latest issue of the London Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, in which, as for so many years past, I had been glancing through the "Circular Notes" upon current turf events by "Rapier," it gave me a shivery feeling to unfold that same days Daily Racing Form, when it reached me and read of the "passing" of the writer Alfred E. T. Watson. It seemed, indeed, like a meeting of "the quick and the dead." "The obituary stated that "Rapier" was seventy-three. He must have remained active in his journalistic duties to but a few days before his death, which occurred on November 10. Another example of the fact that addiction to the turf is conducive to longevity not only, but longevity of working power. Which is one reason why so many men find the greatest satisfaction in racing. They feel that health, as well as happiness, may be gained there. The detailed notices of Mr. Watsons career, when they duly come to hand, will inform us of the course of his vocation. Speaking from memory, he must have been contributing his "Circular Notes" to the Sporting and Dramatic News for at least forty years. It seems all of that time since I first began to read them there then still a lad, but long "crazy about horses." Since then the mass of newspaper articles signed by him, the magazine contributions and the books upon racing subjects which I have gone through would make a formidable assemblage. FIRST OF HIS ROOKS. J His debut between covers was made in 18S6, when the first volume of the famous "Badminton Library" was published, the well-known one on racing, of which he was, with several collaborators, including the Earl of Suffolk and Berkshire, the author, while he was the general editor of the whole series of books which the "Library" comprised. In after years he either wrote, edited or compiled the following books and, perhaps, a few others: "King Edward VII. as a Sportsman," "Race Course and Covert Side," "The Racing World and Its Inhabitants," "The Turf," "Sketches in the Hunting Field," and two privately printed ones, "Lord Derbys Racehorses" and "Galicia : Her Forbears and Her Offspring." In addition, beside his unremitting labors in weekly turf journalism, he edited for a number of years the "Badminton Magazine of Sports and Pastimes." The position of "Rapier" among the turf-writers of England may be gathered from the fact that he was chosen to contribute the articles upon "Horse Racing" to both of the last editions of the "Encyclopedia Bri-tannica." Such a commission, in any field, is virtually a brevet of authority. Mr. Wat-j sons selection for the task amounted to a i recognition of his being, in the minds of those supposedly most competent to judge, the best-posted and most reliable writer upon the thoroughbred in Great Britain. And such, perhaps, he was. Throughout his long career he eschewed "isms" and propaganda for this, that or the other theory, system or family of breeding or horses almost entirely, preferring to remain "above the battle" rather than mix in it in other words, to be a judge rather than an advocate. While he had "connections" with various stables, he did not use his journalistic opportunities as a continuous barrage for salesmanship, and his writings, as a rule, were marked by a coolness and a detached attitude consistently maintained. And "theres the rub." This coldness, this carefully-kept pese and poise, left his writings, authoritative and well-worded as they were, singularly colorless, lifeless and dry. "Rapier" was pre-eminently "safe and sane." But one longed at times for him to "forget it" and become a bit red-blooded. Of all the mass of his writing that lias these many years passed beneath my eyes I would be puzzled to recall anything that I would care to re-read save for the information it contained. There was no trace of charm, of grace, of color, cf sparkle, to any page, paragraph or sentence that he ever wrote, so far as I have read him. His style was always correct, clear and careful. But the reader locked in vain fori a fresh phrase, a vivid "bit" of any kind, j a spontaneous, happy piece of character . drawing, or a vibrant passage that com-! municated something of the thrill of the great event described. "Rapier" could be ; depended upon to tell what happened and how; but nothing more prosaic or unoriginal could well be imagined. That perhaps was j why he was so well suited to contribute to the Encyclopedia Britannica. is informa-j tion was encyclopedic, and so wav his manner of recording it. j "Rapier" was in this, quite typic. of things j British. It is said that nothing is so dis- j trusted in England as a brilliant or ver-. satile man except on the stage. And even j there the great favorites are those who j always do a certain line cf parts in a certain way and may be confidently relied upon never to depart from it, no matter how they are cast. To such performers the British public often manifests a really remarkable and touching fidelity, regarding them with unabated admiration long after they have passed their prime. Like "Rapier," they are ! "safe and sane." Admirable qualities! But, because of them "Shall there be no more cakes and ale in the world?" One can be safe and sane, and one can at the same time write of race horses, it is to be hoped, without a cut-and-dricd formalism that never deviates from pitch or j key. In witness of this, one need only open j the pages of Mr. Vosburghs new "Racing in j America." Or, if one wishes something . British. "The Druids." The Pecksniffs ofj turf journalism have gone through those ! immortal red-and-gold volumes. "Post and I Paddock," "Silk and Scarlet" and their fellows, and detected "The Druid" in more than one misstatement. I doubt if one of any consequence could be discovered in any of "Rapiers." PRE-EMINENCE OF "THE DRUID." Yet "The Druids" books will live as long as racing, read and re-read with fresh delight by new generations of sportsmen ; while, save to verify some fact, the many bearing the name of Watson will for the most part repose undisturbed upon their shelves. When one thinks of "Rapiers" magnificent opportunities, how sad it seems his inability to rise to them in anything but a formal and perfunctory way. For half a century he had seen everything worth seeing, hard everything worth hearing, known everybody and everything worth knowing, in British turf history. He was unprejudiced, fair-minded, straight-sighted, and, allowing for his limitations, of rare abilities. What a pity it is that added to these qualifications there could not have been that of looking at things and writing of them in an original, individual, out-of-the-common way, which would have caused his pages to be read and treasured by generations of horse lovers yet unborn.

Persistent Link:
Local Identifier: drf1922120501_12_2
Library of Congress Record: