MR. THOMAS HUGHES ON PROFESSIONAL SPORTSMEN.
To THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR."
Sin,—As the subject of sports has been started in connection with the discussion about the recent fight, I should like to say a few words upon it, if you will allow me. While some papers are going in for giving legal sanction to the Prize Ring, others are abusing boxing as a brutal sport. This seems to me as great a mistake as the other ; I believe that boxing has done, and will continue to do, great good in England. Boys and certain classes of men must always fight more or less, and surely it is a very desirable thing that they should fight with as little danger as possible to life and limb. Now we English have attained this desirable result. We have abolished the use of knives and bludgeons in our quarrels, of all weapons, in short, except natural ones. We have gone much further. When two unarmed men stand up to fight, there seems to be no reason prima fade, why they should not kick or butt one another, or strike foul blows, or gouge out one another's eyes. But we in England have done away with all this brutality, and (with very few local exceptions) there is scarcely a village in the king- dom in which a man could with impunity kick or strike his adversary when down. We owe this comparative humanity to the practice of boxing. The well-known rules which govern the sport keep us from the murderous and cowardly practices of other countries.
I know that in urging this I leave myself open to the retort that these rules are the prize-ring rules, and that there would have been no such system of fair fighting as we have in England but for the Ring, and that we shall lose it with prize-fighting. I deny this. The rules preceded prize-fighting, as I think any one may satisfy himself who will take the trouble. I admit that the common law customs (so to speak) of boxing have been codified by the authorities of the prize-ring—and let them have whatever credit they may be entitled to for this—but the customs existed with few exceptions before there was any prize-fighting—and that they do not depend upon prize-fighting, and will not be likely to fall into disuse should we happily get rid of the ring, I think is fairly de- ducible from the fact that they are just as fully recognized now as ever they were, though the prize-ring has sunk into the depths of decay and blackguardism.
The fact is, Sir, that as the country gets richer, and the
number of unfortunate people with nothing particular to do in the world—almost the most dangerous of the dangerous classes—in- creases, there is a constant tendency with us to turn sports into serious pursuits, and as surely as a sport is turned into a serious pursuit or profmion it becomes mischievous and demoralizing. I believe the rule to hold good in the case of every one of our national popular sports. .13oxing has been already sufficiently discussed. The professional bruiser and his satellites are the result of introducing prizes, and making it possible for men to live, however precariously, by the ring. Look at horse-racing ; fifty years ago the gentlemen in every county bred a few horses, and ran them at their county meetings. We have turned the money- tap on, and now almost all of the county meetings have disap- peared, and we have instead the monster meetings at Newmarket, Epsom, &c. County gentlemen have given up breeding and running their own horses, and have been succeeded by stable-boys and jockeys, who have risen to be trainers by their sharpness, and by gentlemen who have doubts about the spelling of well-known words. We all know something of the morality of the betting-ring oi the Turf. I don't think that the present state of horse-racing ought to encourage us to go on turning sports into trades or pro- fessions. Take field sports. Our gentry have turned them, in many instances, into professions, and round the gentlemen pro- fessionals has grown up a large class of inferior professional men, in the shape of keepers, watchers, &c.,—with what benefit to the country let the Assizes and Game-law Amendment Acts witness. I will add nothing as to those landlords who descend a step lower, and turn their sport into a trade by selling game. The professional point of view is enough for my purpose.
Look at Cricket again. This noble game is anything but benefited by the pursuit of it as a profession or trade by so many in late years. Gentlemen and players are alike in-
jured by making it the object of their lives, and, moreover, the romance of the game is fast disappearing. Any one who knew the game twenty years ago could generally tell you where any given player came from after watching him for an over or two. Each school, again, had its own style ; and hits, such as the Winchester barters and the Harrow drives, were handed on from one generation to another, and became a part of the school inheritance. Now, one eleven of boys trained by one professional is just like another in play.
Fortunately boating has been saved from the fate of her sister games, by the simple fact, that gentlemen can't, in after-life, make rowing a profession. So there is not a living to be made out of the sport only, and the professional waterman has to make his bread otherwise, and is much benefited by the necessity, which keeps him generally a respectable and useful member of soziety. The theory that you must have professional men to train if you are to have excellence in any sport, must meet the fact that in this, one of the most scientific of our sports, all the most famous crews have been trained by gentlemen amateurs, such as Shad's-ell, Egan, or Morrison.
Wrestling and cudgel-playing stand much in the same category as boating. There isn't a regular living to be made out of them. They remain sports, and consequently the professors are not demo- ralized. In the parts of the country I know best they were well- conducted, civil men, living by shepherding, ploughing, or other agricultural work, in an ordinary way.
I think, Sir, I have gone through more than enough of our national sports to prove my point, which is, that we cannot make sports into the serious business of men's lives without injuring them and spoiling the sports. What our dangerous classes are to do for work--how they are to find any serious business in life for them- selves—it is no part of my business to consider. There seems to be plenty of work lying about, somehow, on all sides, which wealthy and educated men might take to with advantage. They would go back to their sports with a zest which they have not felt since they left college, if they would try it.—Ever yours, THOMAS HUGHES.