Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Gaslight and Daylight, by George Augustus Sala, 1859 - Chapter 33 - The Sporting World

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I TAKE it for granted that you are not a ‘sporting man.’ I take it for granted that you own no race-horses, yachts, or ratting terriers; that you have not ‘backed the Slasher for a “flyer”;’ and that you ‘have’ nothing on any ‘event.’ I take it for granted that you are not prepared to bring forward a novice to run the Hampshire Stag; that you are not one of [-375-] the contributors to the correspondents’ column of 'Bell’s Life,' anxiously awaiting a reply to your cribbage query last week, and feverish to know whether ‘A. wins;’ and, lastly, that though you may have a sufficient zest for the amenities of social intercourse, you are not to be ‘heard of’ at the bar of any sporting public~house, where you ‘will be happy to see your friends.’
I propose to read ‘Bell’s Life ‘—a very honestly and respectably conducted weekly paper—with you, but I do not propose to read it in that spirit. There are thousands who read it as what it is—a sporting print, giving reliable information on all sporting subjects. It is the chronicle of what is called the Sporting World. A human eye never asleep (nunquam dormio), and six columns of advertisements greet us in the front page. Instanter we become denizens if not habitués of the eporting world. Have we horses ?—here are saddles, bridles, harness, harness-paste, unrivalled nosebands, inimitably rowelled spurs, and patent ‘bits,’ to counterfeit the marks appended to which is felony. Have we dogs?—inventive tradesmen tempt us to purchase kennels, collars, dog-whips and specifics against the distemper and hydrophobia.
We are invited to peruse works on the dog, works on the horse, works on the management and treatment of every animal of which man—having exhausted the use and employment—has condescended to make the means or the end of the hydra-headed amusement known as ‘sporting.’ Foxes to replenish the hunting preserves, which by the too zealous ardour of their Nimrods have become denuded of their odoriferous vermin, are advertised in company with stud grooms who can bleed, sling and fire horses, and whippers-in who can be highly recommended. One gentleman wants twenty couple of deer to give a sylvan relish to the dells and glades of his park; another has some prime ferrets to dispose of ‘Well up to trap;’ a third wants to sell two bloodhounds a fourth to purchase some Cochin China fowls, and a real Javanese bantam or two. Then there is a Siberian wolf and her cubs to be sold—a bargain—by an amateur ‘who has no further occasion for them’ (we should fancy not); and who, apparently puzzled as to whether they are ‘sporting’ animals or not, and consequently entitled to the freedom of ‘Bell’s Life,’ is perplexingly ambiguous in his description: hinting, at the commencement, that they would be ‘suitable for a nobleman fond of zoology,’ but subsiding, eventually, into a [-376-] vague alternative, ‘or would do for a menagerie.’ They would be suitable there, I opine; but are not exactly the sort of quadrupeds I should like to make drawing-room pets of, or to win in a raffle.
Soon, however, a thoroughly sporting announcement comes blazoned forth in conspicuous type. ‘To be sold at Tattersall’s, five-and-twenty couple and a half of fox-hounds, the property of a gentleman relinquishing hunting.’ Good; or has hunting relinquished the gentleman: which is it? Shall I mind my own business and take the sale as a sale and nothing but a sale, or shall I be malicious and surmise that the gentleman has ridden, neck or nothing, after the five-and-twenty couple and a half of fox-hounds till he and they have clean outridden and lost scent of the fox, and have started another species of vermin called the ‘constable,’ which pursuing, the gentleman has managed to outrun, and has ended by riding ‘over hounds ?‘ He has gone to the dogs, and his dogs have gone to Tattersall’s. Who can this gentleman relinquishing hunting be? Not the Honourable Billy Buff, third son of Lord Riffington of Raff Hall, Rowdyshire; surely. Not that gay scion of aristocracy—that frolicsome pilaster (if I may call him so) of the state—-whilom of ten successive regiments of cavalry, all ‘crack’ ones, out of which he was ten times moved to exchange or sell by ten successive colonels. Not Billy Buff, who was the worthy and emulous associate of the Earl of Mohawk, of Sir Wrench Nocker, Bart., and of that gay foreign spark, the Russian Count Bellpulloff, who laid a wager of fifty to one with Lord Tommy Plantagenet (called ‘facer’ Plantagenet from his fondness for the ring), that he would, while returning from the Derby on the summit of a ‘drag,’ fish off four old ladies’ false fronts by means of a salmon hook affixed to the end of a tandem whip within twenty minutes, but happening, just on turning the quarter, to hook a fierce butcher under the chin by mistake—lost his wager. The fifty was in five-pound notes, and Bellpulloff offered to make them peasants of the Ukraine (he had fifty thousand sheep and five thousand serfs on his paternal estate Tcharcshi­Bellpullofforgorod) if Tommy would bet again, but the ‘facer’ wouldn’t. Not Billy Buff, the scourge and terror of the police, the Gordian knot and worse than sphynx-like enigma to sitting magistrates, the possessor of a museum in his chambers in Great Turk Street, consisting solely of purloined goods— articles of vice rather than of vertu :—fifty brass plates in[-377-]scribed with the name of Smith; a gamut of knockers on which he could play ‘ God save the Queen;’ miles of bell-wire; ill-gotten area railings like stands of spikes; brewers’ sign-boards—enough to set up fifty publicans; good women without heads; goldbeaters’ naked arms brandishing their auriferous hammers fiercely, as though they would like to be at their ravisher; glovers’ stiff fingered hands, little dustpans, original teapots, golden canisters, pounds of candles, sugar- loaves, and scarlet cocked hats and hessian boots, adorned moreover with gold, and of gigantic proportions. Not this Billy: the Billy who positively had two of his front teeth knocked out in order to be able to imitate a peculiar whistle he had heard among the refined denizens of Old Street, St. Luke’s; who made it his proud boast and self-glorification, that calling one morning on a friend who lived in an entresol in Regent Street, and in a house otherwise occupied as a fashionable millinery establishment, he did then and there in the absence of the fair workwonmen at dinner, sit upon and utterly spoil and crush flat twenty-seven new bonnets, all ready trimmed, ordered, and wanted for the Chiswick Horticultural fête next day, whereby Mademoiselle Guipure (the millinery firm was Gimp, Guipure, and Gingham, and they went bankrupt last year) was driven to a state bordering on frenzy, and was only appeased by a cheque for a large amount. Yet Billy—this Billy—kept hounds, I know, and the old half-couple has a pleasant savour of his old familiar eccentricity. After that duel of his with Captain Trigghair of the Guards; after the two consecutive fevers he caught at Pau in the Pyrenees; and, notably, after that ugly wrestling-match in the coffee-room of Flimmer’s Hotel, where Jack Langham (eight feet in height, and known as the ‘baby’) threw him, whereby he cut his hand open, and got rather more of the sand off the floor and a splintered Champagne glass or two into the wound than was pleasant—Billy sowed his wild oats, sold his museum, and, marrying old Mrs. McMack (widow of General McMack, H.E.I.C.S., who died at Brighton of the modification of the East India Company’s charter and an excess of curry), retired to Budgerow Park, near Godown, Dawkshire, fully determined to subside into a country gentleman. We heard of him at first as exceedingly devoted to Mrs. McMack (late), whose five poodle-dogs he much delighted to array in martial attire, and to instruct in the manual exercise : indeed—there was a report in town that each poodle [-378-] slept in a four-post bed, and that Billy went round for the candlesticks. But the Honourable Mrs. Buff (late McMack) took to sitting under the Reverend Lachrymose Snivel, of St. Niobe’s Chapel (belonging to the primitive Weepers’ connection), an ecclesiastic of such a watery and tearful nature and aqueous of doctrine, that his ministry, combined with an over­zealous attachment to the abstinence-from-any-food-save-watermelon system, and the hydropathic system, prompting her, as did this latter, to the hankering after strange pumps, and taking long journeys in quest of artesian wells of extraordinary repute, eventually brought on dropsy, of which she died. Then Billy took to hunting his part of the country, and keeping hounds and the rest of it. I never had a day with him, for, goodness help me! I ride like a tailor’s goose; but those who have ridden with the Dawkshire hounds, of which Billy was master, assure me that he did the thing in first-rate style; that he had a kennel built for his hounds in the cinque-cento or renaissance style of architecture, which, coupled with the fact of the dogs very nearly eating a whipper-in one night, made Billy quite fashionable among the gentlemen of the country side. He it was also, I believe, who made that sublime response to an indignant farmer, who reproached him with riding through a turnip-field, on the ground that it was always customary to ‘ware turnips—to whom says Billy, ‘How the deuce was I to know they were turnips, unless you stuck a boiled leg of mutton in the middle of ‘em?’ But, alas! I heard one day that Billy had been ‘carrying on shameful;’ next, that he was ‘shaky;’ next, that he was ‘wanted;’ finally, that he was ‘done up;’ and now who shall say that my surmise is chimerical, if I conjecture that the five-and-twenty couple and a half of fox-hounds, to be sold at Tattersall’s, might once have formed the pack of the Honourable Billy Buff Lord Riffington’s third son?
Poor Billy Buff! sorrowful, sold-up scion of aristocracy, where art thou now, I wonder? Hast thou gone down to to the cities of refuge that are in Belgium ?—to sly little Spa, nestling among quasi-Prussian trees; to ‘pale Brussels;’ or gaunt, grim, silent Ghent? Or art thou at Kissingen, or Wiesbaden, or Aix, making wry faces at some ill-smelling, rusty-keys-tasting brunnen; or at Homburg, pricking on a limp printed card how many times rouge has turned up; or at Boulogne, wistfully peering at the white cliffs of Albion through a telescope; or at the prison of Clichy in Paris, [-379-] otherwise known as the Hotel des Haricots; or art thou languishing at the suit of a Gasthof-keeper in the Constablerward of some petty German principality? Certain I am, that if in this country, thou wilt never be at Tattersall’s to see thy hounds sold. The memories would come, rushing over thee; it would be too much for thee to contemplate Flora and Hector, that ran so evenly together, and that carried their tails so bravely parallel, that, at a side view, they looked like one dog. Nor unmoved couldst thou view Blucher, the deep-mouthed hound, and Sandy, the old liver-patched fellow that knew every move on Reynard’s board, and the half couple— that young dog that would give tongue, for all a fierce whipper-in nearly cut the dumb brute in two with his double thong. Ah! ‘the southerly winds and the cloudy skies’ that proclaimed thy hunting mornings: where are they now? Where are the gay young bucks from London, with bran-new scarlet and leathers, the chefs d’oeuvres of Nugee, or Crellin, or Buckmaster: the lads that took the astonishing leaps o’er hedges, and ditches, and stone walls, when bright eyes were locking at them, and went round by gates and gaps, like sensible fellows, when bright eyes were somewhere else? They are gone like the smoke of the cigars they puffed as they rode to cover; like the mighty breakfasts they consumed at Budgerow House at thy expense; like the mightier dinners and libations they achieved at ditto ditto, when the chase was over, and the fox was caught. ‘Who will realise tableaux vivants of Luke Clennell’s picture of a hunting dinner now ?—who will preside at joyous banquets in thy great dining-room, and stir up the punch-bowl (nasty fellow!) with the fox’s brush, and give ‘Torn Moody,’ and fall first beneath the table among black bottles and unsteady top-boots? The ancient huntsman has transferred his stained scarlet frock and grog- blossomed countenance to another master; they are going to build an Agapemone, or a Sanatorium, or a Puseyite convent on the ruins of thy renaissance kennel; the very ragged boy that followed barefoot, in his torn red jacket, thy hounds, and begged for coppers because he was in at the death; the pepper­and-salt farmer, who began by swearing at the fox and then mounted his cob and followed it; the parson on his big brown horse; the staring red-haired children; the old dames that hobbled out from cottages; the bumpkins with heads of hair that looked like thatch, who put their hands beside their mouths, and yelled a rustic Tallyho! as the hunt swept by:- [-380-] Where are they now? Ichabod, Ichabod—enough. We have all been sold up more or less, at some time or another. We have all been bankrupt, or insolvent, or have compounded with our creditors, in friendship, love, hopes, ambition, truth. Some of us, too, have paid but little, very little, in the pound.
From dogs to horses. Tattersall's again; but this time the spirited auctioneers leave but little room to surmise. Thirteen racers to be sold. All from irreproachable dams and by aristocratic sires. The Beauty, by Candlebox, out of Sophronisba, brother to Columbine, sire to Rhodomontade, to be sold by auction : with all his engagements. With him are other horses and mares, all of equally illustrious descent. Some have won plates in cantors, and others cups in hand-gallops, and others again have walked over the course for purses full of sovereigns. All are to be sold: with their engagements. It does not require vision quite as acute as that necessary for seeing through a millstone to discern who the gentleman going abroad is. I think Sir Gybbe Roarer knows him: Sir G. Roarer, Bart., whose horse, Ramoneur, won the Sootybridge sweepstakes. Sir G. R., Bart., whose filly, Spagnoletta, was scratched just before the St. Rowels, last year. The same Baronet who started Folly for the Pineapple stakes, and is supposed to have given Jack Bellyband, his jockey, instructions not to win, he having laid against himself considerably ; but Jack having drunk too much champagne, forgot himself and did win, to the Baronet’s wrath and consternation. Sir G. R. had a share in the horse which started for—what was it ?—the Bumblebury Cup, entered under a certain name—was it Theodosius ?—and as of a certain age, but which was subsequently discovered to be a horse called Toby, two years older. Can Sir Gybbe Roarer, Bart., be the gentleman who is going abroad? I think lie is. He is always going abroad, and selling his horses and buying fresh ones: with their engagements. He stands to win a pretty sum on the next French steeple­chase: I hope he may get it. Sir Gybbe Roarer dresses very like his groom, and has a hoarse voice and an intensely shiny hat. When he wins he treats everybody with champagne, beggars included, and throws red-hot halfpence out of hotel windows; when he loses, he horsewhips his servants and swears. There is but one book to him in the world,—his betting-book, for he wants no Racing Calendar; he is that in himself. He has a penchant for yachting sometimes, between [-381-] Ascot and the Leger. His yacht is called the Handicap. Will he ever go to the Levant in her, I wonder?
Supposing that, looking at ‘Bell’s Life’ as you and I do— not as a mere chronicle of sporting occurrences, a calendar for reference and information, but as a curiously accurate, though perhaps unconscious mirror of what, from the amusement of the mass of the people, has come to be the engrossing business and occupation of a very considerable section of that people,—we ponder a moment over Sir Gybbe Roarer’s race­horses, stepping-down in the spirit, if you like, to Tattersall’s yard, where they are to be sold.
Here they are, slender symmetrical creatures with satin coats, with trim and polished hoofs, with plaited manes, with tails so neatly cropped that not one hair is longer than another. Full of blood, full of bone, full of mettle and action, almost supernaturally speedy of foot, patient, brave, and generous in spirit: high-mettled racers, in fact. Now, to what dunning knave can it first have occurred to build on these beautiful, generous animals a superstructure of fraud and knavery, and low chicanery? Why should a horse be used as the corner-stone of the Temple of Roguery? And why, more than this, should these few stone-weight of horse­flesh be capable of producing the mighty effects they do upon the manners and morals of a great nation? The Beauty, Sophronisba, Columbine: they are not wax-horses; their necks are not clothed with thunder; they say not among the captains, ‘Ha! ha!’—yet, on them has hung, and will hang again, the lives and fortunes, not of scores but of hundreds, not of hundreds, but of thousands and tens of thousands. A wrinkle in the satin coat of Sophronisba; a pail of water inadvertently or maliciously administered to Columbine; an ill-hammered nail in Rhodomontade’s shoe; these are sufficient to send clerks and shop-boys to the hulks, to bring happy households to beggary and shame, and solid mercantile firms down by the run. Sophronisba, Columbine, Rhodomontade. though they know it not, have swallowed up the patrimony of widows and orphans; on their speed or tardiness depend tedious law-suits; interminable mazes of litigation in Chancery can be unravelled by their hoofs. They are powerful—all unconsciously—for more good and evil than ever was stowed away in all Pandora’s box. If Sophronisba runs for the Cup, Charley Lyle will marry the heiress. If Columbine is scratched for the Trebor Handicap, young Bob Sabbertash [-382-] must sell his commission in the Twenty-sixth Hussars. Stars and garters, wealth and honours, life and death, hang on the blind fiat of these horses.
And this is ‘Bell’s Life’ (called in the sporting world 'The Life'), and this is man’s life, too!
Great things are wrought from small beginnings, and mighty edifices stand upon comparatively slender foundations. According to Hindoo theology, the world stands on an elephant’s back—which again stands on a tortoise; though what that stands on is not yet decided by the learned Pundits of the unchanging East. So, on the slender fetlocks and pasterns of these bay and chesnut horses in Tattersall’s sale-yard are erected the Great National festivals of the English people—the acknowledged British holidays: holidays for the due and catholic enjoyment of which grave legislative bodies suspend their sittings, dinner-parties of the loftiest and most solemn haut ton are postponed, and courtly thés dansantes put off. There was a professor of music I knew who was ruined through having fixed his morning concert to take place on the Derby Day.
The Derby Day! who would think these quiet, meek-eyed scions of the hippic race were the alls-in-all, the cynosures, the alphas and omegas of that momentous day? Yet so they are. Closely shrouded in checked or gaily-bordered horse­cloths—as jealously veiled from the prying public eye as was ever favourite Odalisque of Osmanli Pacha of three tails as on Sunday morning they take their 1ong-expected, much-talked- of gallops—jealous and anxious eyes watch their every move­ment; a falter is eagerly foreshadowed as the forerunner of a ‘scratch,’ a stumble as the inevitable precursor of a string-halt, an over-vigorous whinny impetuously translated as a cold, fatal to next Wednesday’s start. Readers of ‘Bell’s Life,’ how you pluck at your long waistcoats; how you twitch at the brims of your low-crowned hats; how many entries and re-entries, and erasures and pencil-smudgings are made in those note-books of yours, with the patent metallic leaves and the everlasting pencils and all on the ups and downs, the on-goings and short-comings of these unconscious four-legged creatures. Early on the Wednesday morning, Newman and Quartermaine’s retainers are as busy as hives of bees multiplied by infinity. Pails of water—resembling (in an inverse degree) the casks of the Danaides, inasmuch as they are always being emptied, and are never empty—dash refreshing streams [-383-] against wheels numerous enough to furnish, it would seem, clock-work for the world. Strange barouches, unheard-of britzkas, phaetons that should properly have been sequestrated in the Greenyard of oblivion, or broken up in the coach factory of forgetfulness long since, suddenly start up from remote coach-houses: their wheels screaming horribly; their boxes anxious for the accommodating man who ‘does not mind sitting there the least in the world,’ and who always manages to get more champagne than anybody else; their boots panting for hampers of choice provisions, always securely tied up, and always dropping sprinklings of lobster salad and raised pie on the road in the ‘Hop-o’my-thumb’ manner—mad, in a word, to be down to the Derby, and to run their poles through adverse carriage panels. Small, weazen, silver-haired men who have vegetated during the winter in ‘watering-houses,’ and down strawy mews, where the coachmen’s wives live, who take in washing, and the fifth footman dwells over the harness-room when he’s out of place—these patriarchs of the saddle emerge in a weird and elf-like manner from stable- doors: their rheumatism-bowed frames swathed in crimson silk jackets, white cords on their shrunken legs, gamboge tops on their spindle-shanks, and great, white, fluffy hats, a world too large for them, on their poor bald heads—calling themselves, save us, Postboys—cracking their knotty whips with senile valour, and calling to Jim to ‘let his head go,’ and to Torn to ‘take a squint at the mare’s off foot.’ And they get into the saddle, these rare old boys! And they hold up their whips warningly to their fellow boys when there is a ‘dead lock’ between Cheam and Sutton; and they untie hampers, and eat pies innumerable, and get very drunk indeed; yet drive home safely, and return the ‘chaff’ measured out to them with interest.
The Derby Day; do I require the limits of this paper to describe it thoroughly? Say, rather, a volume——say, rather, the space occupied by the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica,’ or Mr. Alison’s ‘History of Europe.’ The rushing, roaring, raving, rending, raving railway station full of the million of passengers, who, taking first-class tickets, are glad to leap into third-class carriages; the fifty thousand, who, wishing to go to Epsom, are compulsorily conveyed (howling the while) to Brighton or Dover instead. The twenty thousand that say that it is a shame and that they will write to the ‘Times,’ together with the ten thousand that do write, and don’t get [-384-] their letters inserted. The hundreds that lose their handkerchiefs, watches, and temper. The two or three benign men who haven’t anything on the race, and say that really, all things considered, the Company have done as well as could reasonably be expected for the public—as if any one expected anything in reason on the Derby Day! The road with the solemn drags full of, and surmounted by, solemn guardsmen— hearses of the household Cavalry. The open carriages, close carriages, chaises, carts, omnibusses, stage coaches full of familiar faces. Everybody there, on the rail and on the road, on the Derby Day. The house of Lords, and the House of Commons, the Bar, the Bench, the Army, the Navy, and the Desk; May Fair and Rag Fair, Park Lane and Petticoat Lane, the Chapel Royal and , Saint James’s and Saint Giles’s. Give’ me a pen plucked from the wing of a roc (the most gigantic bird known, I think); give me a scroll of papyrus as long as the documents in a Chancery suit; give me a river for an ink-bottle, and then I should be scant of space to describe the road that leads to the course, the hill, the grand stand, the gipsies, the Ethiopian serenaders, the clouds of horsemen, like Bedouins of the desert, flying towards Tattenham Corner; the correct cards that never are correct; the dog that always gets on the course and never can get off again, and that creates as much amusement in his agony as though he had been Mr. Merryman. The all-absorbing, thrilling, soul-riveting race. The ‘Now they’re off!’ ‘Now they’re coming round!’ ‘Here they come!’ ‘Black cap!’ ‘Blue cap!’ ‘Green Jacket!’ ‘Red jacket!’ ‘Red jacket it is, hurrah!’ followed by the magic numbers at the grand stand, the flight of the pigeons, and the changing of hands of unnumbered thousand pounds. The throwing at the sticks. The chickens, the salads, the fillings of young bodies with old wine, the repasts on-wheels, and hobnobbings over splinter-bars. The broken glasses, cracked heads, rumpled bonnets, flushed faces. The road home! The Cock at Sutton, and a ‘quiet’ cup of tea there. The chaffing, the abuse, the indictable language. The satirical crowd on Kennington Common. The Derby Day, in a word: and all for what? Where are the causes to these most mighty effects. Look around, student of ‘Bell’s Life,’ and see them in the slender race-horses, the stud of a gentleman going abroad, to be sold without reserve.
Change we the theme, for of horseflesh you must have had more than enough. Else, had I space besides and time, I [-385-]  would touch upon the fatidici vati, the sporting prophets, already touched upon elsewhere. Else, should you hear strange stories of stables, and nobbled horses, and rare feats of jockey-ship. Else, would I introduce you, ‘Bell’s Life’ reading neophyte, to one of these same jockeys, a weary, haggard, slouching little man, all mummified in baggy great-coats, and drinking brandy and water tremulously—a very different spectacle from the trim, natty, spruce little jock, with the snowy leathers and the lustrous tops and the rainbow jacket, who is in earnest confab with his owner before the race; or, after it, and after winning, is cheered enthusiastically up and down the course, or who leans indolently over the balcony of the Grand Stand, flacking his horsewhip to shake hands with lords. But ‘Bell’s Life,’ my friend, has as many phases as human life has, and we must hurry to another.
    The Ring! Fights to come! Not many, thank Heaven— thank reading, writing, and arithmetic; and yet, one, two, three columns are devoted to the Ring. Jack Nimmo and the Grotto Passage Pet, for fifty pounds a side. The Nottingham Bruiser and Bandy Starling, at catch weight, for ten pounds a side. Tom Knuckles will fight Ned Lumsden (the Butcher) for twenty pounds, and his money is ready at Mr. Fibbs’s, the Knowledge Box, Chancery Lane. Toby Nutts, of Birmingham, is surprised that the Sheffield Toddler has not made good the last deposit; he is to be heard of at the Bunch of Fives, Rampant Horse Street, Norwich. Tass Cokerconk writes to correct an error that has crept into your valuable paper, as I did not strike foul, and being at present out of town (Tass is wanted for a little matter of hocussing and card-sharping), and so on. We are delighted to see that our old friend, Frisky Wappem, is to be found every other evening at Jemmy Crab’s, the Leg of Mutton Fist, Bell Alley, where he gives lessons in the noble art of self-defence to noblemen and gentlemen. N.B.
Gloves provided. Sparring by the pick of the fancy; and very alternate evening devoted to harmony by first-rate professionals.
I take it for granted that you have never seen a prize fight. I hope you never will; yet, conscientiously pelligrinising as we are through ‘Bell’s Life,’ I don’t think I shall be wrong in showing you one, in the spirit—as a scarecrow and an example.
The fight between Lurky Snaggs and Dan Pepper—the Kiddy. A steam-boat—’ The Pride of the River ‘—has been chartered for the momentous occasion, for the fight is to take [-386-] place at some—to the uninitiated—carefully-concealed place on the Kent or Essex shore. A trip by rail was at first contemplated: a railway company, with an ardour and enthusiasm for the P. R. which did them honour, having offered handsome terms and every accommodation in the way of special trains; but old Sol Abrams, the Nestor of the Ring, reminded the promoters of the cheerful exhibition that a county magistrate, determined to stop the fight, might balk their battle-ground from station to station, and send for reinforcements of ‘bobbies,’ or policemen, by the great tale-teller, the electric telegraph. So the river was decided on. The steamer has been freighted with bottled stout, wines, spirits, cigars, captains’ biscuits, and sandwiches; and, at an early hour, she receives a motley bevy of passengers—all, however, respectable in the Thurtellian or gig-keeping sense of respectability, for they have all paid a guinea for their voyage and back. Several nobs, several first-rate men, several City men—all peculiar and distinct varieties of the genus sporting man, but on which I cannot stay to descant now—are present; and I am compelled to acknowledge the presence of many, very many of the gentlemen we met last night—the chained and ringed dandies—the bucks who know where Brixton is, and who sits at Bow Street on Monday mornings. Take care of your pockets, oh! my young student of ‘ Bell’s Life,’ for, of all the out-and-out thieves—
    There are some temporary difficulties, occupying, indeed, a considerable portion of the forenoon, before a battle-ground can be finally selected. In one parish a fierce county magistrate sallies forth against the Fancy, with the whole of the posse comitatus he has been able to muster at his heels; in another, a detachment of the rural police puts them to rout, with the loss of a considerable portion of their baggage. At last, a sweet little slip of waste land, skirted on one side by a towing-path and on the other by a brickfield, is selected, and possession taken, without molestation. There is a slight disturbance at first with a drunken horse-chaunter and a sporting blacksmith, who persist in offering to fight Snaggs and Pepper themse1ves for any number of pots of ale. These, however, are speedily disposed of—the horse-chaunter by being settled off-hand by three facers and a crack under the left ear, and sent home in a cart with his bloody sconce wrapped round with one of the staring shawls; the blacksmith by being tilted into a wet ditch, and left to get sober at his leisure. Then, business begins in right earnest. Sundry vans, omnibuses,
[-387-] and knowing-looking livery-stable breaks have been following the course of the steamboat down the river; together with a locust crowd of chaise-carts, dog-carts, Hansom cabs, and a few private cabriolets— one with the smallest tiger and the largest gray mare to be found probably in England, and containing the Maecenas of the Ring, rather pink about the eyes, and yellow about the cheek-bones from last night champagne. An amateur trotting-match or two has been got up on the road, and Jack Cowcabbidge, the nobby greengrocer, of the Old Kent Road, has broken the knees of Handsome Charley’s mare Peppermint, for which Charley swears that he will ‘pull him.’ All these vehicles cluster together in a widish outer ring, having sundry scouts or videttes posted, to give notice of the approach of inimical forces; and, in addition, there are several horsemen, hovering on the skirts of the ring, well-mounted gentlemen in garb, and apparently half interested and delighted with the prospect of the sport, and half ashamed to be seen in such company. Old Squire Nobsticks, of Nobstick Hall, close by, has come in spite of his gout in a roomy velocipede, and navigates into the inner ring amid the cheers of the Fancy. He never misses a fight. This inner ring I speak of is now formed. The stakes are firmly driven into the turf, the ropes passed through circular orifices in their tops, and all made snug and comfortable. Now, Monsieur Tyro, if you please, button up all your pockets, and essay not to enter the inner ring, for the swell mobsmen will stone you from it if you do, and hustle and rifle you as you come out. Stand on the top of this hackney cab, and you will be enabled to view the proceedings with greater ease and comfort. None but the veterans of the Fancy and the Maecenasses (?) of the Ring have the privilege of sitting on the grass close to the ropes.
     “Tis distance lends enchantment to the view.’
The heroes peel, and, divesting themselves of the grubby or chrysalis-like covering of great-coats and wrap-rascals appear in the bright butterfly bravery of denuded torsos, white drawers and stockings, flaring waist-handkerchiefs and sparrow-bill shoes. We have no time to ponder on the magnificent muscular development of’ these men’s chests and arms. The bottleholders are at their respective corners, with their bottles and sponges; the referee stands watch in hand (I hope he will not lose it ere the fight be done); the swell mobsmen [-388-] make a desperate rush at anything they can lay hands on; and these two men proceed to pound each other’s bodies.
I could describe the scene that follows, but cui bono? Content yourself with fancying who first drew claret; how often the referee cried time: who got down whom at the ropes; who put out cleverly with his left; whose face bore severe marks of punishment, hit out wildly, hung like a mass of butcher’s meat on his second’s knee; and, failing at last to come up to time, fell down senseless on the turf, caused the sponge to be thrown up, and victory to be declared for his opponent. What need is there for me to state who officiated for Snaggs, .and who did the needful for the Kiddy; how there was a savage foray on this latter’s party by the Nottingham Roughs; how there was a cry of ‘Foul!’ and how the swell mobsmen robbed right and left, hitting wildly meanwhile, till the Maecenas of the Ring—fleeing from before them—fell into the ditch a-top of the tinker, and had an after-fight or fancy epilogue with him? We have had enough of it.
And I am not half through ‘Bell’s Life’ yet, though you must be as weary of it and of me as ever was Mariana in the Moated Grange. But, as I said before, ‘Bell’s Life’ is as the life of man, and how am I to despatch so important a subject in a dozen columns? Come we, however, to close quarters, and make an end on’t.
There is the column devoted to pedestrianism - including walking, running, and leaping matches. Tyros as we may be in sporting matters, there are few of us but have occasionally met an individual in short cotton drawers and a linen jacket, with a printed handkerchief twisted round his head, after the manner of the French poissardes, walking manfully along a suburban turnpike road; his left arm kept on a level with his sternum, or breast bone, and his right hand clutching a short stick—walking for a wager. Or who has not seen the bold runner, skimming along the Queen’s highway, with nimble legs and a stern and unmoved countenance, amid the clamours of riff-raff boys and the cheers of his supporters.
And fishing: fly, salmon, and jack? And wrestling? And ‘cocking’ (hid slily in an out-of-the-way corner, but existing and practised for all that). And quoits, and bowls? And cricket? And aquatics (yachting and scullng)? And change-ringing? And the mysterious game of Nurr and spell, goff, skating, hockey, quarter-staff, single-stick, fencing, dog-fancy­ing, pigeon-shooting, sparrow-shooting, archery, chess, [-389-] draughts, billiards, ratting, otter-hunting? Have I nothing to say on all these subjects? I have, indeed, and to spare; but, knowing that I could never finish were I once to begin, I will eschew the temptation and say nothing. These are bound up with us, these sports and pastimes—they are bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh—they are crackling cinders at almost every Englishman’s fireside.
One word, and an end. Of the phases of sporting life I have endeavoured to delineate, all offer some repulsive and humiliating traits. In these feeble sketches of some of the sports and pastimes of some of the English people, I have been compelled to bring into my canvas degraded human beings—to delineate base passions and appetites — to become the limner and biographer of scoundrels and dens. It may appear to some that I have been incoherent and fantastical—that I have sinned, like the painter in Horace, by joining horses’ necks to human heads,
     '______and wildly spread
     The various plumage of the feather’d kind
     O’er limbs of different beasts absurdly joined.’
Yet those who know the section of the world I have touched upon, know too, and will acknowledge, that to all the manly English sports that find a record in ‘Bell’s Life ‘—round all these fine sturdy oaks with their broad chests and brawny arms—there are obscene parasites and creepers of chicanery, roguery, and ruffian blackguardism—dead leaves of low gambling and vulgar debauchery—rotten limbs of intemperance, knavery, and violence. The potato fields of English sports are afflicted with something worse than a potato blight, an insect more deadly than the aphis vastator: by the betting blight: the foul scorpion of betting-shops, and racing-sweeps, and public-house tossing-matches.
I hope I have not said a word in ridicule or deprecation of the athletic sports of England—the sports that send our lads (from Eton to charity schools) forth to do yeomen’s service all over the globe. Nor can I end this Paper without recognising the hopeful good that education, steam, cheap printing, cheap pictures, and cheap schools have done towards discouraging and discountenancing that brutal and savage wantonness in our sports, which was, until very lately, a scandal and disgrace to us as a nation. Every Englishman who numbers more than forty summers, can remember what formed the [-390-] staple objects of amusement among the people in his youth. Bull-baiting, bear-baiting, duck-hunting, floating a cat in a bowl pursued by dogs; fastening two cats together by their tails, and then swinging them across a horizontal pole to see which should first kill the other; tying a cat and an owl together and throwing them into the water to fight it out; cock-fighting (before lords in drawing-rooms, sometimes—the birds being provided with silver spurs); ratting; and, as a climax of filthy savagery, worrying matches by men against bull-dogs, the man being on his knees having his hands tied behind him! These sports, thank Heaven! are nearly extinct among us, and though, from time to time, we hear of brutes indulging in nooks and corners in such miscalled sports, we look at them as ruffianly anachronisms, post-dated vagabonds who should have lived in the days when the Roman ladies made it a sport to thrust golden pins into the flesh of their female slaves, or when it was the pastime of the British people, from the sabbath before Palm Sunday to the last hour of the Tuesday before Easter, to stone and beat Jews. Yet we are not quite spotless in our sports, yet.