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Southpaws Post by :mleiding Category :Essays Author :Heywood Broun Date :November 2011 Read :3658

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Southpaws

Our text to-day is from the fifteenth verse of the third chapter of the Book of Judges, in which it is written: "And afterwards they cried out to the Lord, who raised them up a saviour called Aod, the son of Gera, the son of Jemini, who used the left hand as well as the right."

As a matter of fact, it seems probable that the old chronicler was simply trying to spare the feelings of Aod by describing him merely as an ambidextrous person, for there is later evidence, in the Book of Judges, that Aod actually favored his left hand and was--to be blunt and frank--just a southpaw.

Aod, as you may remember, was sent to Eglon, the king of Moab, ostensibly to bear gifts from the Children of Israel, but, in reality, to kill the oppressor. "Aod," continues the vivid scriptural narrative, "went in to him: now he was sitting in a summer parlor alone, and he said: I have a word from God to thee. And he forthwith rose up from his throne. And Aod put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly with such force that the haft went in after the blade into the wound, and was closed up with the abundance of fat."

When some great scholar comes to write the long-neglected book entitled A History of Lefthanders From the Earliest Times, it may well be that Aod will be discovered to be the first of the great line to be definitely identified in ancient history. He is the only lefthander mentioned by name in the Bible, although this physical condition--or is it a state of mind--is referred to in another chapter (Judges 20) in which we hear of a town which seems to have been inhabited entirely by lefthanders. At any rate the Bible says: "The inhabitants of Gabaa, who were seven hundred most valiant men, fighting with the left hand as well as with the right and slinging stones so sure that they could hit even a hair, and not miss by the stone's going on either side."

It is interesting to note that these lefthanders are again described as ambidextrous, but it is safe to assume that they too were in reality southpaws. It may even be that Gabaa was a town specially set aside for lefthanded people, a place of refuge for a rather undesirable sort of citizen.

This surmise is made in all seriousness, for there was a time in the history of the world when lefthandedness was considered almost a crime. Primitive man was unquestionably ambidextrous, but, with the growth of civilization, came religious and military customs and these necessitated at certain points in drill or ceremonial a general agreement as to which hand should be used. Man, for some reason unknown, chose the right. That is why ninety per cent of the people in the world to-day are righthanded. Then with the development of business there soon came to be a conventionally correct hand for commerce. Early dealings of a business nature were carried on by men who held the shield in the left hand and bargained with the right. The shield proved convenient in case the deal fell through. Men who reversed the traditional use of the hands were regarded as queer folk or even a little worse than that. After all, lefthandedness was impious in religion, subversive to discipline in military affairs and unlisted in business. It is not to be wondered at then that there is testimony that centuries ago lefthanded children were severely beaten and the offending arm often tied down for years.

And yet the southpaw has persisted in spite of persecution. The two men most widely known in America to-day are both lefthanded. I assume that nobody will dispute the preëminence in fame of Charlie Chaplin and Babe Ruth, both of whom are completely and fervently lefthanded. And to top that off it may be added that the war was won by a lefthander, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, a southpaw, or, as the French have it, gaucher.

It is interesting to note that the prejudice against lefthandedness has manifested itself and endures in our language. We speak of forbidding things as "sinister," and of awkward things as "gauche," but we lefthanders can afford to smile contemptuously at these insults knowing, as we do, that Leonardo da Vinci was one of us. Gauche indeed!

On account of the extent and the duration of the ill will to lefthanders there has come to be definitely such a thing as a lefthanded temperament. This is no more than natural. The lefthander is a rebel. He is the descendant of staunch ancestors who refused to conform to the pressing demands of the church, the army and the business world. Even to-day lefthanders are traditionally poor business men and Babe Ruth has been obliged to bring suit against the company with which he made a moving picture contract. They are apt to be political radicals, and it has been freely rumored that Charlie Chaplin is a Socialist. They are illogical or rather they rise above logic, as did Foch in his famous message: "My left is broken, my right has been driven back, I shall attack at dawn." That is a typically lefthanded utterance. It has in it all of the fine rebellion of folk who have refused to conform even to such hard things as facts. If the sculptor had been a little more astute the lady who stands at the entrance of our harbor would have borne the torch aloft in her left hand. Liberty is a southpaw.

So strong is the effect of the left hand upon the temperament that it may even be observed in the case of converts. Such an instance is afforded by the case of Daniel Vierge, the great Spanish artist, and by the recent conduct of James M. Barrie, a righthander of years standing, who finally developed writer's cramp and switched to the use of the left hand. What happened? He wrote Mary Rose, a play which deals symbolically with death and, instead of giving his audiences the conventional Barrie message of hope and charm and sweetness, he straightway set forth the doctrine that the dead didn't come back and that if they did they and the folk they left behind couldn't get on at all. Time, said the new Barrie, destroys all things, even the most ardent of affections. This was a strange and startling doctrine from Barrie. It was a lefthanded message.

To-day, of course, lefthanders are pretty generally received socially; occasionally they are elected to office, and there is no longer any definite provision against intermarriage. But anybody who thinks that prejudice has died out completely has only to listen to a baseball player when he remarks: "Why him--he's a lefthander!" There is also the well authenticated story of a young lefthanded golfer in our Middle West who played a match with Harry Vardon, in which he made a brilliant showing. Indeed, the youngster was so much elated that at the end of the round he asked the great pro.: "Who's the best lefthanded golfer you ever saw?" "There never was one that was worth a damn," answered Vardon sourly.

The estimate is not quite fair, for Brice Evans is lefthanded and, though it seems hardly patriotic to dwell upon it, our own Chick Evans was put out of the English amateur championship several years ago by Bruce Pierce, a southpaw from Tasmania. Still, lefthanded golfers of any consequence are rare. Football has a few southpaw or rather southfoot heroes. Victor Kennard won a game against Yale for Harvard with a leftfooted field goal. He and Felton were two of Harvard's greatest punters, and both of them were leftfooted kickers. There must have been some others, but the only one I can think of at the moment was Lefty Flynn of Yale, who was hardly a great player.

Almost all boxers adopt the conventional righthanded form of standing with the left arm advanced, but Knockout Brown, for a few brief seasons, puzzled opponents by boxing lefthanded. He jabbed with his right and kept his left hand for heavy work. Of all the men nominated as possibilities for the international polo match only one is lefthanded, Watson Webb, the American, and one of the greatest and prettiest horsemen that America has turned out in many a year. In tennis we have done better, with Norman Brookes, Lindley Murray, Dwight Davis and Beals Wright.

But the complete triumph of the lefthander comes in baseball. Tris Speaker, greatest of outfielders and manager of the world's champion Cleveland Indians, is lefthanded. So is Babe Ruth, the home run king, and George Sisler, who led the American League in batting. Ty Cobb, like the Roman emperor before whom Paul appeared, is almost persuaded. He bats lefthanded. Almost half the players in both leagues adopt this practice since it gives them an advantage of about six feet in running to first base. And yet, in spite of this fact, thousands of meddling mothers all over the country are breaking prospective lefthanders into dull, plodding, conventional righthandedness. Babe Ruth was fortunate. He received his education in a protectory where the good brothers were much too busy to observe which hand he used. His spirit was not broken nor his natural proclivities bent. Accordingly he made fifty-four home runs last season and earned over one hundred thousand dollars. The world has sneered at us all too long. Even a lefthander will turn in time.


(The end)
Heywood Broun's essay: Southpaws

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