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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 4 The Nation - Military and Moral

Extract

Chapter 4 The Nation – Military and Moral Pugilism is in perfect unison with the feeling of Englishmen. — Boxiana I, p. 3 Egan’s extravagant promotion of pugilism as a sporting panacea, signifi- cantly contributing to a British superiority in military prowess and philo- sophical enlightenment, is a theme consistently pursued in the Boxiana series. His is not an isolated voice, Jon Bee stating: ‘the national sports of a people cannot be too sacredly guarded, by those who wish to preserve […] its proverbial character for real generosity, manly feeling, and true cour- age’ (Boxiana IV, p. v). Prominent supporters, such as politician William Windham (1750–1810), could be relied on for similar nationalistic rhetoric: ‘True courage […] does not arise from […] the mere beating or being beaten but from the SENTIMENTS excited by the contemplation and cultivation of such practices’ (Book of Sports, pp. 11–12). When, in an attempt to assert some ‘middle class morality’, a group of abolitionists unsuccessfully argued for a ban on bear and bull baiting, and cock-fighting (in a parliamentary vote of 1802), Windham, with a certain ef frontery in victory, proceeded to imply that ‘bulls enjoyed being baited’ and that ‘the Jacobins and the Methodists (by teaching the lower orders to read) were encouraging much less socially acceptable habits’.1 1 An Old Etonian Whig MP, Windham had occupied the position of Secretary at War (1794–1801) and was one of the foremost apologists for pugilism. Birley, Sport and the Making of Britain, p. 157. 128 Chapter 4...

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