Hazlitt Goes Boxing

Have just been dipping into William Hazlitt’s Essays and Characters, a wonderful sampling of life in early 19th century London. In the wake of the – aaaargh- Olympics, he describes the training regime for a prize boxer.

“The whole art of training conists in two things, exercise and abstinence, abstinence and exercise, repeated alternately without end. A yolk of an egg with a spoonful of rum in it is the first thing in a morning, and then a walk of six miles till breakfast. This meal consists of a plentiful supplyof tea and toast and beefsteaks. then another six or seven miles till dinner time, and another supplyof solid beef or mutton with a pint of porter, and perhaps, at the utmost, a couple of glasses of sherry. Martin trains on water, but this incrases his infirmity on another very dangerous side. The Gas-man takes now and then a chirping glass (under the rose) to console him, during a six weeks’ probation, for the absence of Mrs Hickman – an agreeble woman, with (I understand) a pretty fortune of two hundred pounds.”

What strikes me most is that there seems to be no actual boxing in the regime, which seems rather odd. And no fruit or veg, but then salads until recently were seen as being for wimps only. I think the water infirmity thingy points to the dangers of contaminated water at the time, and then having to be wthout female companionship is counterbalanced with more alcohol. Diet of champions!

But if the fighters needed to be fit, the audience was often not far behind.

The author relates how he had to catch the mail coach to Newbury, sitting on the roof in the rain – the coach supplied him with a great coat, which was kind of them. Unable to find accommodation when theyarrived in the middle of the night, they stayed up eating and drinking in a local inn, then after a vist to the local barber – of course – he set out for a nine mile march to Hungerford.

“At length, a mile to the left of Hungerford, on a gentle eminence, we saw the ring surrounded by covred carts, gigs, and carriages, of which hundreds had passed uson the road… The crowd was very great when we arrived on the spot; open carriages were coming up, with streamers flying and music playing, and the country-people were pouring in over hedge and ditch in all directions, to see their hero beat or be beaten. …The day was fine for a December morning. the grass was wet, and the ground miry, and ploughed up wiht multitudinous feet, except that, within the ring itself, there was a spot of virgin-gren closed in and unprofaned by vulgar tread, that shone with dazzling brightness in the midday sun. “

One of he great mysteries of the past relates to when people actually worked, as examples like the above show how many people were able to attend sporting events, executions and the like.

I think this was probably on a Monday – they usually were. Technically, people were supposed to work 5 day weeks, but Saturday was oten taken up with wating to be paid, often in pubs where the men ran up debts which their emplyers got a cut from. Sunday was still  kept as the Sabath, so games and sports, especially those involving gambling such as the above, were not allowed. So in many areas, Monday seems to have been the occasional day of leisure. In some areas they mentioned St Monday, so it seems to have been widely recognised for a long time.

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