4/11/2009 8:14pm, #1
- Join Date
- Jan 2006
Bare-Knuckle Boxing, Byron and Early 19th Century Politics.
Here's some quotes from a very interesting article about Georgian bare-knuckle boxing, but also its prominent place in popular culture, high culture and politics at the time. If you want more, PM me for more details.
POETS & PUGILISTS
By John Strachan
Originally published in History Today, January 2009
...Byron decorated his rooms in Cambridge with a decoupage screen illustrated with pictures and reports of the most notable boxers. He was an enthusiastic sparrer tutored in the rooms of the former champion John 'Gentleman' Jackson, whom Byron referred to as 'my corporeal pastor and master'... (1)
...Late Georgian boxing crowds, memorably described by the contemporary philosospher Dr Samuel Parr as 'a vulgar and tumultuous rabble of vagrants, drunkards, ruffian brawlers, and gambling desperadoes', were no models of delicacy. They gathered to booze, bet and watch bare-knuckle, and were not disappointed as [John] Gully, the more technically accomplished boxer, or 'scientist' as the slang of the ring had it, clinically disposed of the bruiser [Bob] Gregson, who was possessed of 'bottom' (strength and pluck) but not much skill... (2)
...In proselytising for boxing, [Boxing journalist/poet/historian Pierce] Egan used both prose and poetry. Why should this have been? Part of the answer lies in the fact that boxing had something to gain from its flirtation with poetry. Poetry dignified modern sport, moving it from one level of cultural status to another, re-inscribing a fight ... in aesthetic, even philosophical terms. The ennobling laurel of verse allowed sporting journalists - anxious that theirs might not be a gentlemanly trade - to dignify themselves. Egan's poetry reiterated un metrical form the polemical convictions of his journalism and historical writing...(3)
...Some of the canonical poets also wrote boxing verse. In Byron's comic masterpiece Don Juan (1819-1824), the eponymous hero develops a taste for boxing when he visits London. Keat's friend J.H. Reynolds wrote a book-length poem on the boxing fraternity, The Fancy (1820), and Thomas Moore composed a book on the same theme, Tom Crib's Memorial to Congress, with Preface, Notes and Appendix, by One of the Fancy (1819). This volume pressed the vogue for boxing writing into the service of wider socio-political satire on the state of post-Napoleonic Europe. Moore envisages the European dignitaries whp had overseen the negotiations between Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia on the withdrawal of troops from France, at the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) in 1818, becoming pugilists under the tutelage of [famed British boxer] Tom Cribb himself. Cribb writes to the statesman of Aachen suggesting a new way to resolve European quarrels. Instead of sending armies into battle on their behalf, kings and statesmen, trained by Cribb himself, could fight it out like men in the prize ring. (4)
(1) John Strachan, 'Poets & Pugilists', History Today, January 2009, p. 18
(2) ibid, p. 19
(3) ibid, p. 20
(4) ibid, pp. 22-23
4/11/2009 8:47pm, #2
Any mention of Pierce Egan at all - the "Sainte Beauve of the London prize ring" as A.J. Liebling called him.
I've often thought that there should be a new biography of Egan (indeed, any decent biography of Egan), not only for his contributions to boxing and sports journalism (which, thanks to his interests in both pugilism and horse-racing, he practically invented), but also his efforts recording popular Regency slang, the youth cultures of the day, and high and low life in London. "Life in London" was also the name of his hugely popular picaresque novel in which he gave the world two characters named Tom and Jerry. As the novel was was a phenomenon of the early nineteenth-century entertainment industry and the names of the principals became by-words for hard-living roister-doisters, they subsequently became the inspiration for the cartoon cat and mouse.
A while ago, I had half a mind to write one myself, but discovered that a young graduate student in Newcastle, UK, was writing his thesis on him. Seeing as Egan was his main focus, and just a passing fancy of mine, I thought I'd wait and see what this guy came out with in the future rather than stepping on his toes and buggering up his fledgling career just because I can.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, thanks for posting the article, and Pierce Egan for the win!
4/19/2009 4:27am, #3
Just seconding the vote of thanks. I find that the older I get, the more interested I become in the cultures surrounding various martial arts and combat sports. Context FTW.Check out the Bullshido.net Western Martial Arts Forum for all things Western, martial and arty.
Bartitsu: the Gentlemanly Art of Self Defence (est. 1899)
4/19/2009 1:50pm, #4
4/19/2009 3:18pm, #5
- Join Date
- Feb 2006
- Waltham, MA
I remember reading somewhere that Byron was quite a skilled boxer too, I'll see if I can find the source.
4/19/2009 5:20pm, #6
There's no doubting that Byron was game, but I wonder actually how "good" he was. Not only did he have a disability, but on the evidence of Henry Angelo, his fencing master, he paid so well and was such a celebrated client who brought so much publicity to the fencing/boxing school that Angelo shared with B's boxing instructor, John "Gentleman" Jackson, that the proprietors may well have been inclined to let him win.
I have Angelo's "Reminiscences" on my shelf, and just found this:
"[Byron has just taken a new residence in Piccadilly]...and had not long been there, when he wanted me to attend him every day, to have (as he called) une bonne sueur at the broad sword. As my professional attendance in the country engaged much of my time, it was arranged that any day at twelve o'clock he should be glad to see me, baguette a la main, not foil. This was an exercise he preferred to fencing, as the defect in his foot did not prevent it from being an amusement to him, and at the same time it would be the means of reducing his size, for he was fearful of growing too lusty [fat]. Perfectly satisfied that he could beat me, independent of the exercise for his health, it was a diversion to him. Now having a daily scholar, far more lucrative than any of the others, I took care to make assualts the more satisfactory to him; keeping always on the defensive, retreating on his attacks; now and then receiving a stroke: not like the clowns for a gold-laced hat, or broken head, mine was a gold half-guinea each lesson" (vol.2, p.98).Reminiscent of Elvis' karate phase. Practical dojo management in action.
Last edited by BaronVonDingDong; 4/19/2009 5:28pm at .
4/20/2009 12:20pm, #7
- Join Date
- Jan 2006
I'm presently trying to get my hands on a copy of this documentary:
Some remarkable facts emerge from this look at the murky and brutal world of bare-knuckle boxing during the 18th and 19th centuries. The story hinges on Bill Richmond, who was born into slavery in what was still the British colony of New York. He impressed a visiting aristocrat enough to be brought to Britain as a servant, not a slave. Very soon he found himself the toast of London as a winning prizefighter; essentially he was Britain's first black sports star. But, as the social history experts tell us, it was a different story when Richmond's protégé, another black fighter, came up against the white champion. Then Britain's reputation as a tough nation was at stake.
If I succeed, I'll try to put it on or link it via YouTube.