base —prison-base, or prison-bars,—a rustic game: “I bid the base for Proteus” THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, i. 2. 97 ; (with a quibble—“I challenge an encounter on behalf of Proteus)” “lads more like to run The country base,” CYMBELINE, v. 3. 20 ; “To bid the wind a base he now prepares,” VENUS AND ADONIS, 303. “There is,” says Strutt, “a rustic game called base or bars, and in some places prisoner's bars; and as the success of this pastime depends upon the agility of the candidates and their skill in running, I think it may properly enough be introduced here. It was much practised in former times, and some vestiges of the game are still remaining in many parts of the kingdom. The first mention of this sport that I have met with occurs in the Proclamations at the head of the parliamentary proceedings, early in the reign of Edward the Third, where it is spoken of as a childish amusement, and prohibited to be played in the avenues of the palace at Westminster, during the sessions of Parliament, because of the interruption it occasioned to the members and others in passing to and fro as their business required. It is also spoken of by Shakespeare as a game practised by the boys [see the second of the passages above cited]. It was, however, most assuredly played by the men, and especially in Cheshire and other adjoining counties, where formerly it seems to have been in high repute. The performance of this pastime requires two parties of equal number, each of them having a base or home, as it is usually called, to themselves, at the distance of about twenty or thirty yards. The players then on either side taking hold of hands, extend themselves in length, and opposite to each other, as far as they conveniently can, always remembering that one of them must touch the base; when any one of them quits the hand of his fellow and runs into the field, which is called giving the chase, he is immediately followed by one of his opponents; he again is followed by a second from the former side, and he by a second opponent; and so on alternately, until as many are out as choose to run, every one pursuing the man he first followed, and no other; and if he overtake him near enough to touch him, his party claims one toward their game, and both return home. [Note. It is to be observed, that every person on either side who touches another during the chase, claims one for his party, and when many are out, it frequently happens that many are touched.] They then run forth again and again in like manner, until the number is completed that decides the victory; this number is optional, and I am told rarely exceeds twenty. About thirty years back I saw a grand match at base played in the fields behind Montague-house [Note. Now better known by the name of the British Museum] by twelve gentlemen of Cheshire against twelve of Derbyshire, for a considerable sum of money, which afforded much entertainment to the spectators. In Essex they play this game with the addition of two prisons, which are stakes driven into the ground, parallel with the home boundaries, and about thirty yards from them; and every person who is touched on either side in the chase is sent to one or other of these prisons, where he must remain till the conclusion of the game, if not delivered previously by one of his associates, and this can only be accomplished by touching him, which is a difficult task, requiring the performance of the most skilful players, because the prison belonging to either party is always much nearer to the base of their opponents than to their own; and if the person sent to relieve his confederate be touched by an antagonist before he reaches him, he also becomes a prisoner, and stands in equal need of deliverance. The addition of the prisons occasions a considerable degree of variety in the pastime, and is frequently productive of much pleasantry.” Sports and Pastimes, etc., p. 71, sec. ed.
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