The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Channell AM

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Channell, Arthur Moseley[edit | edit source]

“An Amiable Judge” (Spy), February 17, 1898[edit | edit source]

The Honourable Sir Arthur Moseley Channell, now one of the puisne Judges in the Queen’s Bench Division, began life precisely sixty years ago as son of the late Sir William Fry Channell, Baron of the Exchequer: so that he is of quite legal parentage. From the nursery he went to Harrow; then to Trinity, Cambridge (where he first became known as a Wrangler); and thence to the Bar, by way of the Inner Temple. He practised as a Junior for two-and-twenty years, and as a Leader for twelve. He has been Recorder for Rochester, and Vice-Chairman of the General Council of the Bar. He has also been twice married, and now he is a Knight.

As a Junior, his practice was very general; as a “silk,” he chiefly conducted cases without juries, and very frequently argued points of Local Government Law before the Court in banc. He has, indeed, made himself an authority on such small matters as pertain to vestries, boards, sewers, waterworks, and new streets. He was never a great lawyer, nor an eloquent advocate; but he is well known as a good “workman,” with considerable knowledge of the Law and its Practice; and though never expected to be brilliant, he could always be trusted to make no mistakes. It may be said of him that during all his four-and-thirty years of practice he never made an enemy among his brethren, his clients, or his opponents; and it is certain that he never received anything but friendly attention from the Bench. He is a quiet, kindly, considerate gentleman, wholly free from conceit; in whose keeping the wholesome traditions of the English Bench for good sense in civil matters and for humanity in criminal will be quite safe.

He will not make a great Judge; but he is a very worthy sitter in the high place which he has honourably attained by long service to the Law.

Arthur Moseley Channell (1838-1928) won the Colquhoun Sculls at Cambridge in 1860 and the University Pairs in 1861. With First Trinity he won the Grand and Ladies’ at Henley in 1861 with J.C. Carter at cox. He also rowed in the Wyfolds and Pairs, losing to Woodgate’s Brasenose crews.

Vanity Fair featured Channell at his trial court commencement. He served sixteen years, retiring in 1914 in time to take up an appellate career in prize cases arising from the 1914-18 war. In this latter position he was assisted by forty years’ experience as an amateur yachtsman.

How to Choose an Oarsman[edit | edit source]

John Arkell, who succeeded Edmond Warre as O.U.B.C. President, introduced Trial Eights at Oxford in the fall of 1858. The C.U.B.C. followed suit three years later. The new approach to selecting the university crews increased the talent pool and intramural competition, but still left considerable discretion to the U.B.C president on whom to select for trialing, how to run the trials, and how to pick the final crew. Although this approach has survived the years largely intact, one “E.B.M.” put a case in Vanity Fair (April 22, 1897) for a challenge system based on a form of seat racing:

Coaching the Eights, Oxford, c. 1897

Dear Vanity, -- In a former letter I ventured to submit that the choice of a winning oarsman de visu was not very much more satisfactory than an awarding of the Derby Stakes to that three-year-old which the experts most admired. None of your readers having thus far disputed this assertion, I am tempted to go on a step further and suggest a mode whereby the places in the University boat might be filled with less risk of public dissatisfaction than at present. What is the chief qualification for a seat in the boat? Not strength in its crude form; still less weight, but that sort of strength which enables a man to exert the greatest pressure in forcing the blade of his oar through the water; in other words, to row the hardest. How are you to discover which of any two men row the hardest? Here the mystery is supposed to come in. I do not admit that there is any mystery about it. I say that it is as easy to tell which of two men rows the hardest as it is to tell which horse in a pair does the most work. Given any number of competitors for the places in any boat, and I believe that it is possible, by pairing them against one another, to ascertain without any real risk of mistake which are the strongest oars. Why not apply such a test? It may be said that to a large extent the test is now applied. But if it is -- and possibly of late more has been done in this way -- still, it is not used as a conclusive and positive criterion of merit. And it is not used extensively enough. Why not allow any man -- Freshman or otherwise, with or without the sanction of the captain of his College boat club -- to challenge any other man, Old Blue or not, to a trial of strength -- i.e., of the kind of strength above specified? Ought not the mere fact that such a pretender had beaten the man challenged give the former an a priori right to oust the latter from the crew? He might, no doubt, prove inferior in other respects. He might not be able to go the four-mile course. He might break down in training. But these are hypotheses. So might the other man. At any rate, in preferring Paul of Emmanuel to Peter of Trinity, a President, if asked the question why he did so, would be able to say, not “because I thought him a better man,” but “because he proved himself the better man.”

How could he prove that? Probably in several ways; but certainly in one. Let us not discuss the most obvious method -- that of putting one man in one boat and one in another, starting them, and seeing which comes in first. That would involve a resort to the art of sculling, which is supposed to involve other qualifications than those necessary for an oarsman pure and simple. That there is any such difference -- except in the matter of steering, which can be obviated by adding coxswains of equal weight -- I am not prepared to admit. If you took the winners of eight sculling races and put them in one boat, I should like to lay long odds on them against the eight losers rowing in another boat. But let us not offend rooted prejudices. Take another test, against which it is difficult to urge a common-sense objection. Take out any two men for two rows of a quarter of a mile, out and home. On the first trip let A row stroke and B row bow, and on the second trip reverse the positions. Now, barring tricks -- which an expert will easily detect -- the man who on the two journeys has the rudder most against him will be the stronger oar. This is not a matter of opinion; it is a mechanical truth. A President who selected a man in preference to another because he had “rowed him around,” as the saying is, would be safe against all criticism. To Therasites, who challenged his decision, he would be able to say, “If you don’t agree with me, get into the pair-oar, and try for yourself which is the stronger man.” The President, maybe, does not care a jot what Therasites thinks. But Therasites is a prevalent being in these days, and occasionally even a troublesome. And if you can have conclusive argument ready for use, why resort to one that is inconclusive, either against him or any other critic?

Is, therefore, every Johnny who covets a seat in the University boat to be allowed to challenge any other who has already a good chance of rowing therein? Non sequitur. The aspirant might be compelled to show that he was the strongest oar in his own College -- barring Old Blues -- before having the right to “send in his name” to the P.U.B.C. And he would show this, of course, by practical victories in the same sort of trials as those above referred to. Captains and Committees of College Boat Clubs would not object to the trouble therein involved. For it is their interest, as well as the University’s, that an unknown rowing genius should not blush unseen within the College walls. Rowing “trials,” not of the inconclusive Trial Eight type, might become fashionable as well as useful. If not, the institution, having been proved a failure, would die out. Hitherto it cannot be said to have had a fair chance of success. The Harrow or Winchester boy, however strong, and however likely to prove a first-rate oarsman, feels naturally shy about challenging competition with the Freshman who has come up from Eton with all the honours of the Ladies’ Cup at Henley thick upon him. The odds are, doubtless, that the latter is really the better man for the University boat. But in that minority of cases where the reverse occurs the newcomer from the non-rowing school has no fair start. He has practically no chance -- or very little -- of showing that if given a place in the boat he will do better than the other. That chance he ought to have; and he might have it if, without undue presumption, he were allowed to “send in” his own name.