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The Life of Tom Morris
Chapter XXVI - Tom as modern statesman


(By WILLIAM HODGSON)

 It affords me pleasure here to introduce a chapter by my old friend Mr William Hodgson, for Iong known as the genial and able editor of the Fifeshire Journal. Mr Hodgson was always a welcome visitor to the links of St Andrews and the Club-House. His chapter, ``Among the St Andrews Golfers," in Mr Clark's book is well known. He has for log been a close friend of Tom Morris. This chapter appeared as a leader in the Fifeshire Journal on the 19th August 1880.

THE Society journals have hitherto omitted Tom Morris from their lists of modern statesmen. They continue negligently to follow his fortunes in brief paragraphs only about his "rounds." With incomprehensive zeal and steadfastness they devote their energies to infamous beauties and famous politicians, as if the foremost man in his world was not Tom Morris. It would follow from this that the Society journalist is not a golfer; or if he is, that he has never been in St Andrews, and is utterly unaware of Mr. Clark's entrancing book. If he wields the play-club at all, it must be on some back green of his own, and after the fashion of the man of whom Allan Robertson once said that he "paps, paps awa, ye ken; but ye canna ca'd playing."

Anyhow, we can only reconcile Tom's omission from the galaxy of statesmen in the Society papers with partial knowledge in their conductors of men who are noted for skill, worth, and their indispensableness. For a peerage would not add a sliver to Tom's fame. Nor would a seat in the Cabinet adorn his accepted character. Either would be, on the contrary, in the nature of a calamity. It would take Tom away from the links, which were never nearer to perfection than now, and which, to all seeming, cannot do without him. The preceding generations of golfers, not having lived to this day, have been denied the pleasure of "a round" on links the like of which they never saw. They should have stayed till now to enjoy the results of handiwork which has eclipsed the handiwork of all predecessors, and which leaves to the most ardent imagination not an inch of space in which to flee speculatively. Tom has won and lost in his day with all the implements in the armoury of his craft, and has been mainly a hero in disaster as in triumph. But these are matters which go into reports and legends and momentary tittle-tattle. They mellow in the recollection, and, in a sort, cease to be, like all human endeavours. It is altogether otherwise with these links of his, which, notwithstanding the daily walk of the human race over them, and the chipping at them of school-boys with ill-favoured irons, are without reproach in being the utmost reward of diligence, patience and knowledge. They comprise Tom's monument, which all men see while yet he lives. No rival statesman has so commanded the approbation of all classes for Collective Note or Commercial Treaty as Tom at present commands the universal and the hearty praise.

It is little wonder that there is a good deal of prevailing delusion about who Tom is and where he came from. That is constantly the case with the careers of uncommon men, who always come to grief with the archaeologist and the gossips. In Tom's case this is remarkable, for his story is clear and quite unique. And it may be as well to put bits of it on record. Tom's natal origin was very peculiar. He was found one dewy morning in the Dyke hole. The date can be accurately ascertained from that of the fact that a bovine witness of the scene was so excited with its novelty as to have made the bunker known ever since as "Tain's Coo." The date of that performance will settle the date of Tom's origin. From this point on all is luminous in the extreme in the matters of habit and custom. He rapidly grew by means of "black strap" (a preparation of Dublin stout and soda water) and the short spoon. And that reminds us of the singular coincidence which is in Prince Bismarck, who has fed himself all along on equal parts of champagne and London porter, and whose concurrent recreation, differing from Tom's short spoon, has been big dogs. In both cases there has been the rising superior to the lacteal mixture. Tom began to play when he was four months old he felt himself so early to be "in form." It is an age since now, an age full of adventure and vicissitude; but Tom's public performances, from the early day when in his first round he fell into the hole in which he originally was found, make all dubiety about his public career foolish. There is not a break of heather, a bunch of thyme, or a tuft of bent on any links in the two kingdoms on which Tom has not placed his feet, while following that ball, lie has been the companion of all the heroes and duffers of the lugubrious past, and of all the same in the urgent present. He has lived through the momentous epoch of balls made of leather and feathers,, and is on the eve of seeing
the commonplace one over of balls made of gutta-percha. In the course of his peaceful avocations he has placed men under obligations to him who are in all ranks of society in all the islands of the sea. It is an open secret that if Tom were to be tried by the Lord President of the Court of Session to-morrow for roughly vindicating any breach of his authority on the links, or for driving O'Connell's coach and six through any one of the statutes that are passing or passed, a flaw would instantly be found with the minor or the major proposition of the indictment. This excessive personal popularity, and the fondness of amateurs for him, is less due to the mystery 'of Tom's origin, which is so much more charming than that of Macduff, than to the unfailing knack he has always had of having kept his position in life, which is that of a gentleman in virtue of his manners. It is proposed, with the assimilation of the franchises which is coming with the Greek Kalends, to have a redistribution of seats, and that The Parlour is to have two members. In that event it is quite on the cards that members of all parties in it will concur in a requisition to Tom that he should agree to serve the links in Parliament after having served the links so well and so long near the flagstaff. It will be admitted on all hands that his courteous bearing there and his meek assiduity would be an improvement on the turbulence and the bounce that have been the main fruits of the recent election.

Marvels about famous men are habitual, and we so found it in Tom's case. It is said of him, for instance, that he symbolises more of thrift and well-being to St Andrews than the United Colleges. The interest in his own personality, and his fame in the excellence of the links which he is keeping, are drawing people to St Andrews, it is contended, who are willing to spend and be spent for the local tradesmen, who, without Tom and the links, would never be in St Andrews. But that is the view which takes all the romance and repose out of golf which are in it, and it can be at once set aside as fitted merely for sinister contrasts. Then it is said that Tom alone has the secret about the little sonnet in stone which is over the Swilcan Burn. He can be quoted if he would only tell, to the disparagement of the theory that the bridge was built as part of a lost path to the old castle. It is even hinted that in the mists of antiquity it was foreseen, in the remote future, as to be of use in the short cut to arise from The Parlour to the Railway Station, and that as such it was on purpose contrived and constructed. Tom could tell us more than that, it seems, out of the wallet of his inspired conjecture, as may be inferred from the "rumour" about his secret that the arch is yet to form the picturesque feature of the enlarging scheme of things, of which the Links Road and its polls which are the latest development. Putting aside, however, these conjectures and speculations about Tom's known merits and hidden knowledge, enough remains in what we have said about him to show that until now the newspapers, Society and other, have been at fault. They have been at fault in not recognising the worth and work of a man who has done his duty to St Andrews, as its all-important links at present can prove to a demonstration, according to his lights, of which no golfer can say that they are darkness. And as that is all that the best of us can do, it would be impossible to pitch the tone of the praise any higher. In lightly touching upon some of the features of the career in which there has been so little striving and crying, contrary to the world's stormy custom, a career associated in their sunniest hours with those of so many other people, and in whose elasticity, vitality and success there would seem to be the gracious recompense in touching upon some of the features of it, we say, we have been so bold as to be marvellous, and so free as to be novel. It is not the habit that with the mere biographer, who rarely perceives humour in life, and who ordinarily is solemnly precise in style. If Tom Morris had fallen into the hands of one of the set his lineaments would have been smirched in the energetic endeavour to give him a character. It is because Tom has a character, and that we arc not biographers, that we have given him none, as all will admit to be wise who think that "good wine needs no bush," or who from daily experience are presently aware of what the condition is of the St Andrews links.

The biography will come by-and-by may it be a long by-and-by! - - with the proper man; meanwhile here is the merited tribute while yet there is time, and before the autumn medal day comes to close the year with new joys for old golfers.


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