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Writing the Prizefight

Pierce Egan’s "Boxiana" World

David Snowdon

This book won the Lord Aberdare Literary Prize for Sports History (2013)

This book focuses on the literary contribution made by the pugilistic writing of Pierce Egan (c. 1772-1849), identifying the elements that rendered Egan’s style distinctive and examining the ways his writing invigorated the sporting narrative. In particular, the author analyses Egan’s blend of inventive imagery and linguistic exuberance within the commentaries of the Boxiana series (1812-29). The book explores the metropolitan and sporting jargon used by the diverse range of characters that inhabited Egan’s ‘Pugilistic Hemisphere’ and looks at Egan’s exploitation of prizefighting’s theatricality. Another significant theme is the role of pugilistic reporting in perpetuating stereotypical notions relating to British national identity, military readiness and morality. Consideration of Egan’s metropolitan rambles is complemented by discussion of the heterogeneity, spectacle and social dynamics of the prize ring and its reportage. The book traces Egan’s impact during the nineteenth century and, importantly, evaluates his influence on the subsequent development of sporting journalism.


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Chapter 1 The Rise in Popularity of Pugilism and its Reporting


Any study of pugilistic writing in the early nineteenth century requires some elaboration on the ways in which sport, and particularly prizefight- ing, played a major role in society during the period. Sporting events pro- vided diversion, or consolation, amidst more onerous issues at home and abroad or simply the toil of everyday metropolitan life. National anxiety at news of precarious military situations on foreign soil or radical unrest at home could be, for some, assuaged by reading reports of the latest prize- fight, race-meeting, pedestrian wager, and so forth. Readers avidly sought the alternative, and perhaps illusory, climate of the sporting world. Even proceedings in the House of Commons, hectic amidst scandal in the first year of George IV’s reign (1820), were downgraded when competing with sporting events: ‘[Thomas] Creevey reported the “rage” of the House of Lords at being compelled to attend in October: “It interferes with every- thing – pheasant shooting, Newmarket etc.”’.1 Honourable, or chivalric, precepts were claimed as being commonplace in the pugilistic ring and, in the wake of conf licting emotions arising at news of the naval triumph of f Cape Trafalgar (20 October 1805), and death of Horatio Nelson (1758–1805), reports of the honourable conduct evinced by Hen Pearce (the ‘Game Chicken’), in his fight against Jem Belcher (1781–1811), provided welcome distraction as news emerged of Napoleon’s victory over Russian and Austrian forces at Austerlitz (2 December 1805). 1 Exiled in Europe since 1814, the King’s of ficial wife Caroline of...

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