21 OCTOBER 1922, Page 33

OCCASIONS WHEN . . . F IGHTING, of course, is wrong,"

Thackeray has written, " but there are occasions when. . . . Do, for goodness sake, my dear madam, keep your true, and pure, and womanly, and gentle remarks for another day. Have the great kindness to stand a leetle aside, and just let us see one or two more rounds between the men." There was an occasion at the Albert Hall on the 12th. The plea for prize-fighting seemed the battering of an open door. It was petty to argue that the men had chosen to fight, and loved the glory of it. There was nothing of compulsion, no broken-down cab-horses or goaded bulls, no " tamed and shabby tigers," no tumbling birds. It was a contest of free men, beautifully trained,wisely brave and wisely brutal. It was exalting. Every man in the audience must have discerned the nobleness of his animal manhood in the endurance of Moran, the determination of Beckett, the generalship of Bloomfield, and the classicism of Wells, and it is good for man to feel some- times that he is a noble animal. It saves him from shame. There would be no defence of fighting if man were alto- gether rational, but he is not ; and so there are occasions when . . . and one rests from cynicism at a prize-fight.

The Ring glared from the bottom of a misty crater, whose sides were mottled with faces and shirt fronts, picked out by the light. A whole soaring world was con- centrated to the brilliant square and the two puppets that fought on it so realistically. When I had descended the gangway and immersed myself in the enormous crowd, the puppets became gods of living marble, moulded by Clark, clean shadows. And then I was told that they were Tom Ireland, of Hoxton, and Fred Tovee, of Marylebone. I wondered how they had come to Peloponnesus from Hoxton and Marylebone, and how many Olympiads had passed while I had wasted time in the markets. I folded my toga and put it under the seat. Then Paul Fritsch contended with Teddy Reed. All the time people were coming in. We were restless, waiting. But Fritsch com- manded our wandering attention. He was a prologue that would have been a play in a less sumptuous pro- gramme. We had tired from clapping his skilful victory when we were called upon to greet Georges Carpentier. We faintly foreshadowed the endurance of Moran. Carpentier was introduced from the Ring, and smiled round at the English audience that still loved him. He looked a little apologetic. Evening dress is not good for an Olympian hero. But Bombardier Wells is a god, un peu passe perhaps. When he stripped and stood out to meet Jack Bloomfield, the crowd died and the Albert Hall faded away. There was nothing in the world but Wells and Bloomfield, and it was most splendid that it did not matter who won. Before I had come in I had wanted Bloomfield to win, because of our need of a good heavy- weight. He is our hope. But when they were fighting, practical reasons did not matter. We were only aware of the balanced movement, the rlay of limbs, the bodies.

" White, gleaming, muscular and All beautiful in conscious power "

these Grecians stepped down into London.

" more than LIFE . . .

To watch the noble attitude He takes—the crowd in breathless mood And then to sec, with adamant start. The muscles set—and the great heart Hurl a courageous splendid light Into the eye—and then, the FIGHT! ''

" 'Tis more than life." It is poetry. Reynolds was wise to be the friend of Keats and Jack Randall, and Moran will find consolation in his Keats. At first the fighters stirred us, and then the fight. We put away our poetry, and admired Wells's straight left, and noted how Bloom- field marshalled himself, and how he respected his enemy. They judged carefully and hit surely, boxing in the best tradition. There was no waste, no clumsiness, no accident, but a tensity and wariness that made the fight beautiful. Suddenly it was over ; Wells was stretched senseless on his back, one knee up. The knock-out blow was so clean that we in the crowd came to life and looked at one another in ridiculous surprise. When Wells climbed out of the Ring and smiled at the bouquet that was given to him, somebody happier than I did not find it banal to say, " sic transit."

Beckett looked . exactly like his portraits. It was another dead thing come to life in that magical world. Frank Moran smiled as we had always heard that he smiled. It was startling to be where life was true to con- ceptions, where the expected happened. When the M.C. intoned the resounding phrase, " Joe Beckett, Heavy- weight Champion of England," I felt as I once did when I was introduced to a great soldier. But he was not like Beckett. But then Beckett stood, gleaming and deter- mined, in a pillar of light. One must meet soldiers on the battlefield. The English Champion aided his fists- with grinmess, but the American fought with a smile. Moran's, I think, was the stronger weapon, but it was not strong enough to beat his age. That punch with his right that he calls " Mary Ann " brought Beckett down, but he staggered up with a courage and perseverance that equalled Moran's in the later stages. From the fourth round to the end Moran had little chance, but he struggled on until the referee stopped the fight. Honour, even in that wonderful world of Olympia, must be paid for, and the bravery was worth the blood. One rests front cynicism at a prize-fight. . . .

When I discovered that I was in evening dress and going home in a taxi I began, like Falstaff, to ask myself, " What is honour ? " and, like Falstaff, I grew wary of it. But there are occasions when. . . . It was not until next morning that I remembered that they were contending for more than the crown of olive. warns ANTHONY BERTRAM.