Boxiana (1821)

Egan, Pierce
C.R. Ryley, 'Daniel Mendoza & Richard Humphreys', United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, 2016.184.160, 1790


"A boxer without a HEART is an impostor indeed! But such things cannot be; a fighting man without the above pendulum, which moves or is at the bottom of all his actions, sinks into nothing else but a mere apology for a PUGILIST!"


A boxer requires a nob as well as a statesman does a HEAD, coolness and calculation being essential to second his efforts; and it is also highly necessary that the pugilist's NOB should not only be screwed on rather FAST, but the right way; i. e. if he is not exactly in danger of having it knocked off, he should be particularly careful to avoid any SCREWS being loose about it. It has been frequently observed by connoisseurs, when criticising the paintings of several eminent artists, that the HEADS of their works do not belong to their bodies! the same thing is also to be discovered in real life. A more common assertion is not to be met with among the lower classes of society, than in speaking of various individuals according to their notoriety of talents, or remarkable for their stupidity, "that such a man wears a HEAD;" again, of another, "he is without a HEAD;" of a third, "he was upon the wrong side of the hedge when the brains were given away;" and so on to the end of the chapter upon mankind. If the NOB of the boxer, then, does not bear any competition with the nicety of the mathematician's HEAD, it will, however, not be disputed but it has some analogy to the upper works of the GENERAL'S. Without science and tactics the pugilist's NOB soon becomes a mere dummy in the hands of his opponent.

A boxer without a HEART is an impostor indeed! But such things cannot be; a fighting man without the above pendulum, which moves or is at the bottom of all his actions, sinks into nothing else but a mere apology for a PUGILIST!

The morley of the boxer is of as great importance to him as the hand is useful to an AUTHOR: they are also both exerted to procure the blunt, but the works of the former are frequently more intelligible, and likewise profitable,* than the latter. It falls to the lot of very few authors to make a lucky HIT, but he must be a trifling boxer indeed whose blows do not tell. The marking instruments of both of them can paint black and blue, as well as now and then make some flourishes with red. But then where is the PHILOSOPHY in all this? Professor WILSON might ask. We will tell him, in case he should be at a loss for a striking argument to impress on the minds of his pupils upon this subject, that there are lots of PHILOSOPHY even in PRIZE-FIGHTING. And, although it was never illustrated by that great, that enlightened man, the late inimitable DR. PALEY, yet prize-fighting practically teaches men to admire true courage; to applaud generosity; to acquire notions of honour, nobleness of disposition, and greatness of mind. To bear hardships without murmers; fortitude in reverse of fortune; and invincibility of soul. It teaches men also, in obtaining conquests, to show HUMANITY, and not to triumph over a fallen foe. It clearly points out, likewise, to despise a coward; not to harbour resentments, but to attack your enemy openly in the field, and to take no unfair, no unmanly advantages of him. To punish foul play; to decide impartially; and not to look on and see wrong done to any person. It also teaches men to discountenance treachery; not to stab persons in the dark; and to become horrorstruck at ASSASSINATION. It likewise is a stimulus to love of country;-and these maxims are not only thorough-bred English ones from top to toe, but they are felt and acknowledged by the mass of the people: and the name of a BRITON makes a man feel proud that he belongs to such a nation.

It is the HONOUR, as well as the reward, in obtaining the PRIZE PURSE, which sets the boxer above his fellows; and it is this circumstance which operates on his mind and instils into the hero-PHILOSOPHY.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

It is winning the purse that gains the boxer friends -it procures him fame; he acquires notoriety--and, if he does not make a fortune, he obtains a handsome living. It also enables the pugilist to mix with superior society-it enlarges his mind-and, according to his deserts, so he is respected; all of which tend to make him a better man.* Facts are stubborn things, and the names of Messrs. JACKSON, GULLEY, CRIBB, and TOM BELCHER, are in themselves sufficient seals of assurance, not to be broken. The general and the admiral, the poet and the painter, and the architect and the sculptor, are all actuated by one powerful stimulus-the love of fame and the sweets of reward.

PRIZE-FIGHTING has also its advantages, even at a distance from the ring, when the boxer is engaged in fighting the battles of his country. It is then the true courage of the pugilist is again witnessed bursting forth in a flame, animating all around him; he courts danger, and then the honour of victory only presents itself before his eyes. He becomes a hero, a host within himself, and his companions in arms endeavour to follow so bright an example in battle. The conquest gained, his eye beams with sympathy, humanity softens his heart, and the generosity he displays to succour a fallen foe, is one of the finest specimens of the philosophy of human nature.

But mark our last broadside--she sinks-down she goes!
Quickly man all your boats, they no longer are foes
To snatch a brave foe from a watery grave,
Is worthy a BRITAIN, who but CONQUERS to SAVE!

It is no argument against the PHILOSOPHY of prizefighting to observe that blackguards are to be found round the Prize-Ring. Is there a horse-race, a fair, or any other public sight, it might be asked, in answer, where bad characters are not to be seen? Thieves and women of the town are to be found in churches. Neither is there any valid objection to the philosophy of prize-fighting because it admits of gambling. Persons who are not connected with pugilism, but who are fond of sporting, will lay wagers on the election of any particular parson, who is considered the favourite, to obtain a rectorship, with as much sang froid, if it requires judgment or produces gain, as they would upon any other subject. 

*The GAS-LIGHT MAN, in his second battle with COOPER, WON (or earned) one hundred guineas in three minutes. This is even getting "the best of SIR WALTER SCOTT;" at all events, it is making use of the hands to a profitable purpose."

* A pugilist, who has fought several battles in the prize-ring, is at the present moment a most respectable magistrate, and much admired for his urbanity and upright conduct.


Pierce Egan, Boxiana; Or, Sketches of Antient and Modern Pugilism, from the Days of the Renowned Broughton and Slack, to the Championship of Crib. London: Sherwood, Neely and Jones, 1821, p. 2-5. Transcibed by Alain Kerhervé. Full text from Google.