SOME four or five weeks ago, a strange procession made its way through the north-western suburbs of London, from Camden Town to Highgate Cemetery, the Pere-la-Chaise of the British. metropolis. A crowd more than two miles in length pushed noisily up the, road, surrounding a funeral train of very unusual. aspect. The bier, drawn by four sable-plumed horses, was preceded by a band of rather jovial-looking musicians, while next to it followed, as chief mourner, a gigantic dog, of the St. Bernard breed, sitting in lonely grandeur on the top of a little pony cart. The immense crowd, composed of the dregs of the population of London, kept shouting and vociferating, and the cbtogour of brass instruments made the whole a hideous noise ; but the big dog sat there unmoved on his pedestal, silent and grave, the only true mourner, and the only decent creature, in this vast multitude. Thus the procession rolled onward till, arrived at the gates of the cemetery, it was stopped by a body of police, instructed to preserve orderly behaviour at least within the inclosure of the dead. Not so, however, did the mob understand it ; a sharp and short fight ensued, and the gates being broken by force, the vagabond host rushed into the sacred area, trampling down shrubs and flowers, and dancing upon the graves. Amidst all this noisy tumult, the coffin, • centre and chief object of the procession, was lowered to its clayey depth, and while the mob remained in the cemetery, shouting and swearing, the funeral car went its way back, preceded by the merry band playing a merry tune, and followed as before by the silent, noble-looking dog.
• Tons Sayers, some Urns Oinanpion of England, his Life and Pugilistic Career, con- taining the Whole of Ms &ilk', Av., Er. By the Author of Pstotistiri. London: st S. 0. Boston. 1013.
Perhaps a more grotesque funeral was never seen in the streets of London ; yet was it not altogether out of keeping with the no less grotesque career of the dead hero of the procession. It was some- thing akin to a feeling of true devotion and duty which drove this London mob to crowd around the bier, to show its last respects to Tom Sayers, " Champion of England."
What sort of a man this " Champion " was, and what he did in the course of his earthly career, forms the subject of a curious tale, very curiously told by " the Author of Pugilistica." Tom, that is, Thomas Sayers, was, we learn, "born on the 17th of July, 1826, at Brighton, in the humble locality known as Pimlico." Tom's father was a shoemaker, " born at Storrington, near Steyning, Sussex, and there baptized in 1793." Au absurd rumour, noticed by the biographer, went for some time flying about the world to the effect that the Champion of England was " of Irish extraction ;" but we rejoice to be informed that " the Anglo-Saxon origin of Sayers is beyond dispute." Of the early life of the Champion the report is very naked and unsatisfactory ; it is said that he showed a " spirit of knightly courage," but no mention is made that he ever went to school, or even learnt the A B C at home. Getting at a sudden leap over twenty-three years of the Champion's life, his biographer next shows him a working bricklayer, moving in the best society of " the fistic celebrities of the day." His young soul, under the teach- ing of these guides, now began to thirst for renown, and on the 19th of March, 1848, three weeks after the proclamation of the French Republic, Tom had the intense satisfaction of measuring himself with "the famous Aby Couch," whose deeds of valour are chronicled for all generations in the Fistiana. The day of the 19th of March laid the groundwork of Tom's future fame, for " the spectators of this battle, including the reporter, were con- vinced that something remarkable resided in the young brick- layer." He was patronized accordingly by the leaders of the "Ring," and after a short while relinquished bricklaying alto- gether for prize-fighting. Tom's career for the next five years was one of continued " rounds," until his merits as a pugilist had brought him a sufficient sum to realize the great ambition of modern gladiators, that of becoming the owner of a gin-shop. He set up the "Bricklayers' Arms," in Camden Town, but, scarcely established, got restless again, and started on a provincial tour. Coming back to London full of honours, "his neat step was to challenge the redoubted 13-stone Tipton Slasher," claimant of the famous " belt," the distinguishing mark of English Championship. " Never," exclaims the enthusiastic biographer, " never since the memorable battle between Count and Bendigo, in September, 1845, had there been a match which excited such general interest beyond the circle of regular supporters of true old British boxing." Torn not only beat the " Tipton Slasher," but nearly killed him, and gaining the coveted belt, his fame was now firmly established as greatest of English prize-fighters.
Tom Sayers' renown, however, reached its highest pitch on the occasion of his encounter with John Heenan, who had come all the way from the United States to dispute the possession of the " belt." The fight between Sayers and Heenan took place on the 17th of April, 1860, in the presence, we learn, of above 1,200 individuals, many of them said to be " noblemen, officers of the army and navy, members of Parliament, justices of the peace, and even brethren of the cloth," the whole of them " evincing at the same time the overwhelming interest and excitement this great national event created throughout both hemispheres." The minute description of the " great national event," dwelt upon with immense satisfaction by the Champion's biographer, is worthy a place in English history, as showing what an amount of low brutality was allowed to show itself openly, in the middle of the nineteenth century, in broad daylight, before the eyes of twelve hundred people, including members of Parliament and justices of the peace. Tom Sayers and his antagonist fought thirty-seven " rounds," tearing and knocking away at each other like wild beasts for not less than two hours and twenty minutes. At the thirty-fourth round, we learn, Heenan had one of his eyes knocked out ; in the thirty-fifth, Tom " landed another little pop on the good eye ;" and in the thirty-sixth round, Heenan's "face was a spectacle to behold"—a glorious spectacle—to the " sup- porters of true old British boxing." In the thirty-seventh and last round Tom Sayers " administered severe punishment" to Heenan's face, and " after a wild rally they fell together." On rising, Heenan found that "he was totally blind ;" however, Tom Sayers "was strong on his pins, and could have fought some time longer." A pity it was he did not fight a little longer, so as to kill his blind antagonist, and be hung as Champion of England, pour encourager les autres. As it was, the Champion escaped the
gallows, not having entirely, but only nearly killed his American antagonist, who had to be taken home " in a close cab, wrapped in blankets, blind, unpresentable, and seemingly unconscious."
The next period of Tom Sayers' life was one of " tremendous glory,"—glory too great for tongue to utter, too overwhelming for the pen of even a faithful biographer. How " British admiration of true courage expressed itself in the substantial form of public subscription," and how " members of Parliament, the Stock Ex- change, Lloyd's, and Mark Lane clubbed their gold pieces, to enable the Champion to pass in peace and competence the remainder of his days, guarded from the stings and sorrows of poverty," is sufficiently well known. Less well known, and only half told by the enthusiastic biographer is how the "gold pieces" served, after all, but to accelerate the final ruin of the " renowed Champion of England," who might have been a happy man had he never quitted his honest work as a bricklayer. The fatal gold pieces of the patrons of " true courage" led the Champion to become " first a shareholder, and then proprietor of Howes and Cushing's circus, under the manage- ment of Jem Myers." This brought poor Tom—plentifully gifted by nature with muscle, but very sparingly with brains—into diffi- culties, to escape which he had to sell his circus property. " Tom's free living," further relates the biographer, "degenerated into ex- cess during this loose and exciting life of a travelling showman and exhibitor," and he admits that " there is little doubt that Tom at this time laid the seeds of the inflammatory disease which shortened his days, and cut him off at the early age of thirty- nine." But we are informed that " the great gladiator" was not himself at fault, but all was due to " the force of circumstances." Which is undoubtedly a very comfortable doctrine, even for prize-fighters.
The Life and Pugilistic Career of the " Champion of Eng- land " is interesting from more than one point of view. The biographer—if so we may call the composer of a terrible mass of slang and slipshod writing, intermingled with a still larger quantity of raw paste-and-scissors work—takes the greatest pains to raise his " Tom " into a hero, yet all his efforts have the only effect of making the figure utterly repulsive. The constant tirades about true British sport, followed by long descriptions of so many London ruffians rushing to some lonely spot in the country, " dodging the blues," venting their energy- in fearful oaths, and gloating over the sufferings of two unhappy muscular but brain- less creatures, belabouring each other with their fists until be- grimed with blood and utterly exhausted—all these descriptions are so thoroughly loathsome and disgusting, that we wonder whether there is any educated man living, be he ever so enthu- siastic an admirer of the "Prize-ring," who can read these accounts without feeling sick at heart. Then as to the poor hero of the tale himself, his example, spite of all the big words about gladiatorship, true British pluck, and so forth, is in reality as saddening and disgusting as all the rest. Tom Sayers evi- dently was a man endowed by nature, if not with much in- telligence, at least with a body wonderfully perfect, strong, and healthy. In the slang of the biographer, " the bulk of Sayers was so compactly packed that you did not realize his true size and weight at a cursory glance, and it was this close and neat packing of his trunk that doubtless was an important ingredient in many a long day in which Tom's lasting powers were the admiration of every spectator." Useful indeed, as well as happy, might have been the earthly career of this splendid "trunk," if left to follow the bent of its own inclination, and doing duty as a navvy or a bricklayer.. From the little that is said on the subject by " the Author of Pugilistica," it appears that the first twenty- three years of the poor Champion's life flowed on happy and con-
tented enough ; in 1848, he was a working bricklayer, had got mar- ried, and earned no doubt good wages. But now came the harpies, "patrons of the Prize-ring," who, perceiving the profits to be got out
of the muscular bricklayer, turned him into a fighting-cock. The "Author of Pugilistica," otherwise so grandiloquent on all sub-
jects connected with the " Ring," is remarkably reticent in respect to these "patrons," who seem to pull the wires at the great prize- fights, the outlay for which, in regard to special railway trains, steamers, bodies of hired ruffians, and other necessary auxiliaries for successfully contravening the law, must be considerable. No doubt the " patrons" are capitalists who, fully knowing the instru- ments with which they have to deal, do not risk their money without the certainty of a good return. As for the fighting- cocks themselves, champions, gladiators, or whatever else they
are called, they do not seem to be much better off nowadays than their predecessors in ancient Rome. Though no more dragged to the spoliarium by hooks, awaiting their fate of tun pollicem premebant or pollicem vertebant, -their life, as of old, depends clearly on the humour of their employers, who, as they are themselves safe from the gallows, do not appear very particular in overstepping now and thenthe barrier which separates murder from manslaughter. Even the 'ceremony of the pollex is retained, more or less, in that of "throwing up the sponge ;" until this is done by the editoris tribunal, modern-English gladiators must fight on, however faint, blind, and besmeared with blood. It is clear from all the accounts of " the Author of Pugilistka" that the successive prize-fights through which the bricklayer-gla- 'iliator had to wend his way to the Championship had-the most bru- talizing effect upon the poot fellow himself, until at last he sank, milder the heavy weight of sin and debauch, " at-the early age of thirty-nine." Such was the end of the "pugilistic career of one to -whom., the shades of Ajax, 'Entelles, -Milo, Dares, Bryn, Gyas, Vierontes, and the deified twins Castor and Pollux, may well-give 'the fist of friendship." It may excite increased compassion with the evil fate of the poor bricklayer to see him thus persecuted even in. death.