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No. 454 (a Prize Fight -- From The Spectator) Post by :Paul_Neilson Category :Essays Author :Richard Steele Date :October 2011 Read :2122

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No. 454 (a Prize Fight -- From The Spectator)

Being a Person of insatiable Curiosity, I could not forbear going on Wednesday last to a Place of no small Renown for the Gallantry of the lower Order of Britons, namely, to the Bear-Garden at Hockley in the Hole; where (as a whitish brown Paper, put into my Hands in the Street, inform'd me) there was to be a Tryal of Skill to be exhibited between two Masters of the Noble Science of Defence, at two of the Clock precisely. I was not a little charm'd with the Solemnity of the Challenge, which ran thus:

"I James Miller, Serjeant, (lately come from the Frontiers of Portugal) Master of the Noble Science of Defence, hearing in most Places where I have been of the great Fame of Timothy Buck of London, Master of the said Science, do invite him to meet me, and exercise at the several Weapons following, viz.

Back-Sword, Single Falchon,
Sword and Dagger, Case of Falchons,
Sword and Buckler, Quarter-Staff."

If the generous Ardour in James Miller to dispute the Reputation of Timothy Buck, had something resembling the old Heroes of Romance, Timothy Buck return'd Answer in the same Paper with the like Spirit, adding a little Indignation at being challenged, and seeming to condescend to fight James Miller, not in regard to Miller himself, but in that, as the Fame went out, he had fought Parkes of Coventry. The Acceptance of the Combat ran in these Words:

"I Timothy Buck of Clare-Market, Master of the Noble Science of Defence, hearing he did fight Mr. Parkes of Coventry, will not fail (God willing) to meet this fair Inviter at the Time and Place appointed, desiring a clear Stage and no Favour.

Vivat Regina."
I shall not here look back on the Spectacles of the Greeks and Romans of this Kind, but must believe this Custom took its Rise from the Ages of Knight-Errantry; from those who lov'd one Woman so well, that they hated all Men and Women else; from those who would fight you, whether you were or were not of their Mind; from those who demanded the Combat of their Contemporaries, both for admiring their Mistress or discommending her. I cannot therefore but lament, that the terrible Part of the ancient Fight is preserved, when the amorous Side of it is forgotten. We have retained the Barbarity, but lost the Gallantry of the old Combatants. I could wish, methinks, these Gentlemen had consulted me in the Promulgation of the Conflict. I was obliged by a fair young Maid whom I understood to be called Elisabeth Preston, Daughter of the Keeper of the Garden, with a Glass of Water; whom I imagined might have been, for Form's sake, the general Representative of the Lady fought for, and from her Beauty the proper Amarillis on these Occasions. It would have ran better in the Challenge; I James Miller, Serjeant, who have travelled Parts abroad, and came last from the Frontiers of Portugal, for the Love of Elizabeth Preston, do assert, That the said Elizabeth is the Fairest of Women. Then the Answer; I Timothy Buck, who have stay'd in Great Britain during all the War in Foreign Parts for the Sake of Susanna Page, do deny that Elizabeth Preston is so fair as the said Susanna Page. Let Susanna Page look on, and I desire of James Miller no Favour.

This would give the Battel quite another Turn; and a proper Station for the Ladies, whose Complexion was disputed by the Sword, would animate the Disputants with a more gallant Incentive than the Expectation of Mony from the Spectators; though I would not have that neglected, but thrown to that Fair One whose Lover was approved by the Donor.

Yet, considering the Thing wants such Amendments, it was carried with great Order. James Miller came on first; preceded by two disabled Drummers, to shew, I suppose, that the Prospect of maimed Bodies did not in the least deter him. There ascended with the daring Miller a Gentleman, whose Name I could not learn, with a dogged Air, as unsatisfied that he was not Principal. This Son of Anger lowred at the whole Assembly, and weighing himself as he march'd around from Side to Side, with a stiff Knee and Shoulder, he gave Intimations of the Purpose he smothered till he saw the Issue of this Encounter. Miller had a blue Ribbond tyed round the Sword Arm; which Ornament I conceive to be the Remain of that Custom of wearing a Mistress's Favour on such Occasions of old.

Miller is a Man of six Foot eight Inches Height, of a kind but bold Aspect, well-fashioned, and ready of his Limbs; and such Readiness as spoke his Ease in them, was obtained from a Habit of Motion in Military Exercise.

The Expectation of the Spectators was now almost at its Height, and the Crowd pressing in, several active Persons thought they were placed rather according to their Fortune than their Merit, and took it in their Heads to prefer themselves from the open Area, or Pit, to the Galleries. This Dispute between Desert and Property brought many to the Ground, and raised others in proportion to the highest Seats by Turns for the Space of ten Minutes, till Timothy Buck came on, and the whole Assembly giving up their Disputes, turned their Eyes upon the Champions. Then it was that every Man's Affection turned to one or the other irresistibly. A judicious Gentleman near me said, I could, methinks, be Miller's Second, but I had rather have Buck for mine. Miller had an audacious Look, that took the Eye; Buck a perfect Composure, that engaged the Judgment. Buck came on in a plain Coat, and kept all his Air till the Instant of Engaging; at which Time he undress'd to his Shirt, his Arm adorned with a Bandage of red Ribband. No one can describe the sudden Concern in the whole Assembly; the most tumultuous Crowd in Nature was as still and as much engaged, as if all their Lives depended on the first blow. The Combatants met in the Middle of the Stage, and shaking Hands as removing all Malice, they retired with much Grace to the Extremities of it; from whence they immediately faced about, and approached each other. Miller with an Heart full of Resolution, Buck with a watchful untroubled Countenance; Buck regarding principally his own Defence, Miller chiefly thoughtful of annoying his Opponent. It is not easie to describe the many Escapes and imperceptible Defences between two Men of quick Eyes and ready Limbs; but Miller's Heat laid him open to the Rebuke of the calm Buck, by a large Cut on the Forehead. Much Effusion of Blood covered his Eyes in a Moment, and the Huzzas of the Crowd undoubtedly quickened the Anguish. The Assembly was divided into Parties upon their different ways of Fighting; while a poor Nymph in one of the Galleries apparently suffered for Miller, and burst into a Flood of Tears. As soon as his Wound was wrapped up, he came on again with a little Rage, which still disabled him further. But what brave Man can be wounded into more Patience and Caution? The next was a warm eager Onset which ended in a decisive Stroke on the left Leg of Miller. The Lady in the Gallery, during this second Strife, covered her Face; and for my Part, I could not keep my Thoughts from being mostly employed on the Consideration of her unhappy Circumstance that Moment, hearing the Clash of Swords, and apprehending Life or Victory concerned her Lover in every Blow, but not daring to satisfie herself on whom they fell. The Wound was exposed to the View of all who could delight in it, and sewed up on the Stage. The surly Second of Miller declared at this Time, that he would that Day Fortnight fight Mr. Buck at the same Weapons, declaring himself the Master of the renowned Gorman; but Buck denied him the Honour of that courageous Disciple, and asserting that he himself had taught that Champion, accepted the Challenge.

There is something in Nature very unaccountable on such Occasions, when we see the People take a certain painful Gratification in beholding these Encounters. Is it Cruelty that administers this Sort of Delight? or is it a Pleasure which is taken in the Exercise of Pity? It was methought pretty remarkable, that the Business of the Day being a Trial of Skill, the Popularity did not run so high as one would have expected on the Side of Buck. Is it that People's Passions have their Rise in Self-love, and thought themselves (in Spite of all the Courage they had) liable to the Fate of Miller, but could not so easily think themselves qualified like Buck?

Tully speaks of this Custom with less Horrour than one would expect, though he confesses it was much abused in his Time, and seems directly to approve of it under its first Regulations, when Criminals only fought before the People. Crudele Gladiatorum spectaculum & inhumanum nonnullis videri solet; & haud scio annon ita sit ut nunc fit; cum vero sontes ferro depugnabant, auribus fortasse multa, oculis quidem nulla, poterat esse fortior contra dolorem & mortem disciplina. The Shows of Gladiators may be thought barbarous and inhumane, and I know not but it is so as it is now practised; but in those Times when only Criminals were Combatants, the Ear perhaps might receive many better Instructions, but it is impossible that any thing which affects our Eyes, should fortifie us so well against Pain and Death.

(The end)
Richard Steele's essay: No. 454 (A Prize Fight -- From The Spectator)

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