John Collis Snaith 1876-1936

We include a cricket book by JC Snaith in our next list.

Willow, The King: The Story of a Cricket Match (London: Ward, Lock and Co. Limited: no date) [1899] Illustrated by Lucien Davis , R.I., comprising a frontispiece and three plates.

I was curious to find out something about the author. The most interesting source of information is Kevin Telfer’s book on JM Barrie’s cricket team, the Allahakbarries, Peter Pan’s First XI: The extraordinary story of J. M. Barrie’s cricket team. I’m waiting for a copy I bought to arrive in the mail, but meanwhile, I quote from it:

…the real cricketer of note who made his debut this year against the Artists was JC Snaith. Born in 1876…the left-handed John Collis Snaith played his one and only first-class game for Nottinghamshire in 1900. He made a reasonably promising twenty-one in his own innings in that game, but never got the opportunity to follow it up. He certainly excelled in club cricket and for the Allahakbarries proved to be a dangerous and greatly feared bowler who could skittle sides out – something which he accomplished the following month in the next match against the Artists. Charles Tennyson, who later played for the Alaahakbarries described him as ‘a medium or slow-medium left hand bowler, and on certain types of wicket he had the power of bringing the ball in very quickly off the pitch time after time, just bail high, with a ‘naturally unnatural’ break from the off, which was fatal to second class batsmen.’

The essay in which this description appears is called ‘The Too-Serious Snaith’, for Tennyson writes that he was an intense and introverted man who found it difficult to socialise and generally led a very private life. He was pale, gaunt and wore scholarly glasses, had straight black hair and slightly stopping shoulders. He enjoyed playing chess with a select group of companions and loved more than anything else to play cricket. And of course he was a writer, though not a writer with the fame of many of the other members of the Allahakbarries team. Tennyson, however, writes that Snaith’s story Willow the King, which was published in 1899, ‘has often been referred to as the best cricket story ever written’.

Snaith was so ardent about his cricket that one member of the Allahakbarries recalled that on the south lawn of Black Lake Cottage, ‘when the traditional match of Gentlemen (left-handed) against Ladies was being played wit customary hilarity, Snaith smote Mrs Barrie on the ankle with a fast Yorker and was with difficulty restrained from claiming lbw.’

He was sometimes called ‘the gloomy scribe’, such was his generally overcast disposition, and it seems that the rest of the team aimed some gentle jokes in his direction. He had first been introduced to Barrie in 1898 and, quite typically, Barrie saw him as an interesting character study. And when Prichard published the book about his travels to South America, Adventures through the Heart of Patagonia, in 1902, which described his hunt for the giant sloth, Barrie ‘immediately invented a shy and formidable and even more mysterious animal , The Giant Snaith, about which he delighted to weave grotesquely appropriate fantasies in his slow rich Scottish drawl.’

He does not, however, seem to have found his way into Barrie’s written fiction, but his exploits on the cricket pitch must have delighted the little Scot. In this first match of the season he took an unspectacular but useful four wickets and scored sixteen, but they still lost the match by twenty-two runs. Far better performances were just around the corner, and he proved to be one of the team’s strongest players.

To this one can add a piece of ephemera:

Snaith letter
JC Snaith’s letter on cricket auctioned in 2015.

John Collis Snaith. Nottinghamshire (one match) 1900. Two page handwritten letter from Snaith, dated 31st December 1932 to A.W. Shelton, Secretary (and later President) of Nottinghamshire C.C.C. enclosing a small donation for John Dixon’s Widow, Dixon died in June 1931, and played 235 matches for the county 1882-1905, he captained the side between 1889-99. ‘There was only one John Dixon’. Snaith adapts the famous lines on Alfred Mynn (William Jeffrey Prowse) after his death to lament Dixon’s passing ‘My friend [E.V.] Lucas may have kept them in mind. I rather hope so’. Signed in ink by Snaith. VG – cricket The Sale Room

Snaith picture

According to Wormwoodiana’s piece The Genius of JC Snaith, he is an unjustly neglected writer.

Several critics agreed, I later found, that J.C. Snaith was the author of a masterpiece. Unfortunately for him, none of them could agree which book of his that was, while all of them did agree that the others were not worth much attention. That must be a uniquely frustrating position. Essayist S.P.B. Mais acclaimed his novel The Sailor (1916): others lauded his humorous and Pickwickian cricketing novel Willow, the King (1899). There are champions for others of his books too.

Snaith’s reputation has suffered, I think, from his work being too various. Comedy, sport, historical romance, criminous thrillers, psychological meditations, visionary works, it was all too much for the reader and reviewer to get a grasp upon. Nevertheless, with the advantage of retrospect, we can winnow out those that stand distinctive. Whichever work one chooses, though, it is sure that Snaith was an original, as eccentric in his outlook and his style as, say, M.P. Shiel or Baron Corvo.

He was not always so neglected and, indeed, I think that Telfer may not have appreciated that in his day, Snaith was a notable and popular writer. Enter R. (Reginald) Brimley Johnson was a biographer, critic, and editor specializing in nineteenth century English literature and literary figures. In particular he was a noted authority on Austen and he edited Shelley-Leigh Hunt: how friendship made history and extended the bounds of human freedom and thought. 

Johnson, Reginald Brimley.

Adm. pens. at CORPUS CHRISTI, Oct. 1, 1886.
[Youngest] s. of William Henry Farthing (1843), schoolmaster, of Llandaff House, Cambridge [ Cambridgeshire ]. B. Dec. 6, 1867, at Cambridge [ Cambridgeshire ].
School, Llandaff House, Cambridge [ Cambridgeshire ], and Crawford College, Maidenhead [ Berkshire ].
Matric. Michs. 1886.
Established a small publishing business in London and Edinburgh [ Scotland ] in 1900, for the purpose of issuing early books by G. K. Chesterton, G. Lowes Dickinson, and others.
Founded, in October, 1909, The Gownsman and edited it, 1912-13.
Author, Jane Austen, a critical study; Jane Austen, her Life, her Work, her Family and her Critics; The Women Novelists ( Fanny Burney to George Eliot ); Fanny Burney and the Burneys, etc.
Also edited numerous collections of the novels, poems, plays, letters, etc. of many other well-known writers.
Died May 18, 1932, in London .
Brother of George W. (1876) and Augustine H. (1884), etc.
(Scott, MSS.; Who was Who, 1929-40; The Times, May 20, 1932; English Cat. of Books; Cambridge Review, May 27, 1932.)

In 1922 Johnson published his Some Contemporary Novelists (men), in the introduction of which he segues from DH Lawrence to JC Snaith. Indeed, where Lawrence, Buchan and EM Forster each receive 10 pages, Snaith has eighteen. One might add that Johnson does not even seem aware of Willow King, which is neither discussed nor mentioned in the works by Snaith that he lists, evidently under the impression that Snaith’s first novel was some years after this was published. Perhaps he was aware of it and in the scheme of the literary critic, a cricket book just isn’t cricket.

Snaith married Madeline Ruth Armstrong in 1913. She died in 1931. There do not seem to have been any children. He is listed in the Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club’s wiki page just above Garfield Sobers.

His quotes to be found online include:

Cricket is quite a gentle, harmless game, but he is a lucky man who has not to sweat some blood before he’s done with it .


Beside a perfectly-timed boundary hit on a hard ground from fast bowling, all other delights of this life are a nothingness.

He is credited by the Oxford dictionary with the earliest use of the expression ‘street person’ and also, in the fine tradition of turning nouns into adjectives, the first use of the expression ‘pince-nezed’ to mean, wearing a pince-nez.

Another contemporary appraisal reveals the high regard in which he was held.

The Bookseller, Newsdealer and Stationer, Volume 45
Excelsior Publishing House, 1916 p. 187 The steady development of the literary genius of John Collis Snaith over a period of some twenty years is one of the remarkable incidents of contemporary English literature. Mr Snaith is a young Englishman who makes his home now in London. At the age of eighteen he wrote a remarkable novel full of the faults of youth full of the inspiration of a really imaginative mind. It had a marked success and still stands in a distinguished place amongst English modern fiction. He then produced in regular order half a dozen novels of different types, some historical, some contemporary, some with a political flavour, some with a strong romantic character development tone. Each book is very different from the last. The author very gradually finding himself, was way too original, too independent to stick to his last. The craftsman in him instinctively rebelled against any set mold for his work. Meanwhile the author himself, who is a quiet, reserved Englishman, a member of certain established literary and artistic clubs in London, lived his own life partly retired from the busy whirl of the great city, working out his own problems and the development of his art. Many times reviewers have noted as one book after another has appeared that some day Snaith would come into his own when he found the proper mediums for what was unquestionably real genius. After Broke from Covenden in 1909 came Ariminta, Anne Feversham and now his latest book The Sailor.  Both the America (sic) and British reviewers of this long novel have been quite unstinted in  their praise and in their acknowledgement that the author has at last reached the high place he was bound to occupy eventually. Mr Snaith is still a young man, hardly forty years old, and his great work is still ahead of him. The promise of another great British writer of the Thomas Hardy type is here.

Elsewhere in the issue, The Sailor is described as ‘one of the season’s big novels’.

His death on December 10, 1936, received a small notice in the Melbourne Argus, where it was listed above that of Pirandello.




2 thoughts on “John Collis Snaith 1876-1936

  1. “The English duke watched Ariosto’s Time at work. The naked ancient, in an eternal breathless scramble with himself, collected from the Fates small metal tablets, then moved off at the double to dump these identity discs in the waters of Oblivion. A few of them were only momentarily submerged, being fished out, and borne away to the Temple of Fame, by a pair of well disposed swans. The rest sank to the bottom, where they were likely to remain.”

    – Anthony Powell, “Hearing Secret Harmonies”

    • Nice! Though I would add that in fact this process isn’t a once and for all, it is often cyclical, revered, reviled, revered, reviled….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s