Where else but Berkshire would you find King James–yes, that King James, the one for whom the great translation is name–and the Olympics mentioned in a single article? I was looking for something about his controversial “King’s Book of Sports” to go into a sidebar in our new book China Gold, where we quote Confucius and Mao on sport and physical fitness, and found a review from The [London] Times of our original Encyclopedia of World Sport (1996) at the German Amazon.de. I loved that review, which called our work “the newest sporting Bible,” and saying, “They don’t come any better researched, or any longer, than the Encylopaedia of World Sport, from Ancient Times to The Present.” (That referred to a three-volume work, and we’ve definitely beaten that record now, with our five recent volumes.) Here are a few paragraphs from the “Literature” article, written by Olympics historian and rare book dealer Harvey Abrams:
Consider this: what is the most influential book ever written on sport? Probably a nine-page book issued in 1618. King James I issued a declaration known as the Kingâ€™s Book of Sports that declared that certain sports and activities were to be permitted on Sundays after church. He was reacting to a petition submitted by rural working people who complained that the Puritans in their region refused to allow them to play on Sundays, in honor of the Sabbath. The kingâ€™s declaration, which he required be read in all churches, caused a furor. Puritan influence was growing, and religious conflict was tearing
apart. When James died in 1625 his son, Charles I, became king. Charles reissued the declaration with minor changes, but the Parliament, which was increasingly hostile to the monarchy, rebelled. By 1643 the Kingâ€™s Book of Sports was ordered to be publicly burned by an angry Parliament. The Puritans were in power, and Sunday sport was no longer allowed. In 1649 Charles I was beheaded. When, in 1660, his son, Charles II, regained the throne, many Puritans emigrated to the England New World. More than 300 years later, as late as the 1960s, public displays of sport, such as baseball games and boxing, were not permitted on Sundays in some parts of the . United States
Germans, too, were profoundly influenced by a printed work: Johann Christoph Friedrich Guts Muths (1759-1839) published Gymnastik fur die Jugend (Gymnastics for Youth) in 1793. This book, not really about gymnastics as we know it today, was a manual on physical education and promoted a variety of sports and skills at a crucial time, the period of the Napoleonic wars. It was translated into other languages and strongly influenced other nations: It was published in
Denmarkin 1799, in Bavariaand Englandin 1800, in the United Statesin 1802, in Francein 1803, in Austriain 1805, in Hollandin 1806, and in in 1808. By 1812 Napoleon was defeated soundly. The Germans defeated the French again in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. Following this defeat, Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin traveled the world to study sport and physical education in other nations. By the 1890s he had come up with a plan to promote fitness among French youth, as well as the rest of the worldâ€™s revival of the Olympic Games. Sweden
Of course, the current situation in Tibet is stirring much concern about how the Olympics this summer will play out. I take some comfort in the fact that Olympics have often been the stage for international political drama and debate, and that sports have throughout history proved a way for nations, and peoples, to come together.