The Fight for the Belt.

A Lay Sung at a Feast in Pall-Mall.


The Fancy of America1
By all creation swore,2
A British champion round his loins3
Should gird the Belt no more.4
With strange great oaths they swore it,5
And chose a man straightway,6
And felt his arm, and saw him hit,7
And loafed, and chewed, and cursed, and spit,8
And sent him to the fray.9


Sooth was this picked American10
Of Irish parents born,11
As like Columbia’s progeny12
As wheat to Indian-corn ;13
But ’tis the boast of that free land14
To take the stranger in,15
And, be he any tint but black,16
To own him for her kin.17


I do not know that great men18
Avail them of her grace,19
That shining merit makes her shores20
Its chosen resting-place ;21
But the persecuted burglar,22
Or the man of many wives,23
Or he whose quick ingenious wit24
With legal maxims doth not fit,25
Still seeks that land and thrives.26


America’s step-champion27
Went forth upon the wave,28
High hopes pursued him from the shore,29
And prophesyings brave,30
Dollars to cents he wins it ;31
Yes, sir, I guess he’s spry ;32
He’ll whip the cussed Britisher,33
Our prime Benicia B’y.”34


Like ancient heroes fabled35
Of strange descent to be,36
The Transatlantic hero claimed37
A curious pedigree ;38
His dam an alligator,39
A fiery steed his sire,40
Remoter (thus the tale I read)41
A snapping-turtle crossed the breed,42
Infusing force and fire.43


Full many a practised warrior44
The halls of Congress hold,45
Full many a gouger dexterous,46
Full many a rowdy bold,47
With dagger or revolver ;48
Prepared to legislate,49
But Heenan (so ’twas said) could give50
The skeeriest Representative51
Defeat in such debate.52


Three years against all comers53
The Champion keeps the Ring,54
Keeps it against what fistic might55
The universe can bring ;56
Three years the mystic girdle57
The Champion’s strength hath graced,58
Pelides’ belt, or that which spanned59
The sinewy loins of Hector grand,60
No braver heart embraced.61


And in three years no foeman62
Had dared dispute the prize ;63
All feared the crashing iron fist64
Whose blow not Pollux might resist,65
Though trained amid the skies.66
But now the loud defiance 67
Across the Atlantic hurled,68
Warned Sayers he must guard his fame ;69
Quoth Tom, “ All right, my boys, I’m game ;70
Old England ’gainst the world !”71


Then out spake Harry Brunton,72
Sage bottle-holder he ;73
Quoth he, “ I’ve at your service, Tom,74
My counsel and my knee.”75
And out spake Jemmy Welsh also76
(I know not who was he),77
I will abide, too, at thy side,78
And wet the sponge for thee.”79


Across the sea came Heenan,80
Like an ancient Argonaut,81
Yet found it difficult to meet82
The willing foe he sought,83
For in times so tender-hearted,84
’Tis the fashion to prevent85
All personal damage to a man,86
E’en with his own consent.87


So where’er a champion goeth88
A constable doth go89
(I wish our Volunteers may watch90
Invading Frenchmen so) ;91
They cannot find a county92
Where this vigilance doth cease,93
And many hazards strange they ran,94
And pondered many a cunning plan,95
Ere they could war in peace.96


At London Bridge there waited97
A train immensely long,98
And with the dawn the Champions came,99
And after them a throng100
Of men in shawls deep-muffled,101
Unshaven and unwashed102
Men who, forewarned, sat up all night103
To see the long-expected fight ;104
Each carriage crammed, the word “ All right !”105
Was passed, and off they dashed.106


But quicker still the telegraph107
Went flashing on its way ;108
Look out, police, and stop the fight !”109
The wires officious say.110
From east and west come breathless in111
The myrmidons of Mayne,112
Each stands aghast, and gapes, and stares,113
Its freight the engine past them bears114
Lives not the constable that dares115
Arrest a special train !116


Fast, fast, with wheels quick spinning,117
That train far-lengthening sped,118
It whirled along through Caterham,119
Where folks were still a-bed,120
Turned sharply short at Reigate,121
Passed Dorking, Gomshall, Sheire,122
Shalford, and Guildford, pausing not,123
Rushed by the Camp at Aldershott,124
And checked in a convenient spot125
Near Farnborough its career.126


And as, when April sunshine127
All torpid life revives,128
The bees with flutter and with hum129
Come swarming from the hives,130
So in the broad bright morning131
Poured forth the pent-up throng,132
And clamorous o’er the meadows spread133
To where a stream in oozy bed134
Rolls its dull length along.135


And, throwing off their wrappers,136
All stood in open view,137
Full many a potentate and peer,138
And reverend prelate too,139
And judges filled with learning,140
And authors known to fame,141
Guardsmen and statesmen, nobs and snobs,142
The old and sick and lame.143


For deep in English bosoms144
A germ pugnacious lies,145
And skill to combat still calls forth146
The people’s sympathies :147
They love to see men daring,148
Yet temperate, cool, though bold ;149
Who shows no fear they love to cheer150
As in the days of old.151


And with the crowd came veterans152
Whom well the arena knows,153
Acute observers of the hug,154
The rally, and the close :155
The noted Quaker bruiser156
From Manchester had come,157
Who, as he passed a gentleman,158
Still scowled and bit his thumb.159


Beneath one arm a bludgeon,160
Cut from an olive bough,161
Was tucked—the other linked his mate,162
(Mate new and strange, I trow),163
The Flashy Chancellor, who bore164
Dark marks of punishment,165
Where Ben with might put in his right,166
And left him stunned and spent.167


And other cause for sorrow168
The Chancellor had that day,169
Knowing how for a shadow he170
The substance trucked away171
Deep felt the Homeric critic172
The tale that Homer told,173
How, in the barter, Diomed174
Exchanged his brass for gold.175


And Pam was there, still jaunty,176
Elastic, trimly laced,177
But looking much too Frenchified178
To suit the present taste :179
His pal, the Bedford Bantam,180
Had a grandchild weak and ill,181
And though he yearned to see the fray,182
Paternal feelings had their way ;183
The old ’u n stayed at home that day184
To nurse his little Bill,185


The babe whose idiot features186
Ancestral sins disclose,187
Despised of all, disgrace of kin,188
And ridicule of foes189
Whose misbegotten being190
Is dishonour to his name,191
Link in a still-descending line192
To end in woe and shame.193


But now the ring was forming194
Around the champions twain ;195
The circling crowd kept surging on,196
And then surged back again ;197
And the weak were sorely damaged,198
And by dexterous hands and sly199
Pockets were searched, for prigging swells200
(As Ainsworth, my informant, tells)201
Now faked the nimming cly.202


And a Saturday Reviewer,203
One Mr. Bilious Prig,204
An old young fellow, with false teeth205
And a very youthful wig,206
Got banded by a Scotchman,207
Who jammed his hat so tight208
That he couldn’t get it off again209
In time to see the fight,210


And ’mid the throng mov’d darkly,211
Most piteous to behold,212
His feelings pent from natural vent,213
For he couldn’t even scold ;214
And a thief who picked his pocket,215
Got (’twas hardly worth his while)216
Prescriptions for Acidity217
And a remedy for Bile.218


Down to the waist the champions219
Stood naked to the sight,—220
Secure the strong American221
Appeared in towering height ;222
His arm both long and powerful,223
To guard or deal the stroke ;—224
Beneath the white skin, to and fro,225
Glancing the steely muscles go ;226
On trunk and limbs the sinews show227
Like ivy-stems on oak.228


And as in Rome’s arena,229
In her day of power and pride,230
Some fair-haired gladiator, nursed231
By Trent’s or Thames’s side,232
Matched with a dusky foeman,233
Of Mauritania’s brood ;234
So, opposite, in contrast strong,235
The swarthy Champion stood.236


I cannot say that boxing237
Improves the human face,238
That either profile clearly showed239
A flowing Phidian trace ;240
And any antique statues241
They resembled, must be those,242
A little chipt from long neglect,243
And damaged in the nose.244


Chance gave the choice to Heenan,245
Who took the shaded place ;246
Apollo showered his rays upon247
The dazzled Champion’s face.248
Both smiling stood, both cautious,249
At distance feigned, and sparred,250
Like men who fain would know their foe251
Before they left their guard.252


But soon the game grows earnest,253
More swift the changing blows ;254
Like some great engine, to and fro255
The stranger’s left arm goes ;256
Before its rushing violence257
His footing none may keep ;258
And twice the Champion reels and falls,259
’Mid shouts and murmurs deep.260


But ever he uprises,261
With step both firm and light,262
And still opposes vigilance263
And skill to strength and height ;264
Still as the towering foeman265
Breaks in above his guard,266
The Champion, hurled like stone from sling,267
Recalcitrant across the ring,268
Goes headlong to the sward.269


And seeing how he staggered270
Beneath those thundering blows,271
Each Yankee loud derided,272
Exulting through his nose.273
These taunts the impatient Champion274
To fiercer action stung,275
And, springing in, he dealt a stroke276
That o’er the meadow rung,277


Stern as the stroke of cestus,278
Or hand in glove of mail,279
Splitting and crushing brow and cheek,280
Like corn beat down by hail ;281
The tall foe reels before it,282
And counter cheers as loud283
As hailed the American before,284
Rise from the wavering crowd.285


But now a general murmur286
The English side depressed,287
For his right arm the Champion hung288
Disabled on his breast,—289
That strong right arm, whose single stroke,290
In many a bloody fray,291
Delivered straight and full, had been292
Decisive of the day.293


Yet Sayers, dauntless boxer,294
Right home his left hand sped295
Thrice and again, till reeled the foe.296
Wide-tottering, streaming red,297
Like stalwart Bacchanalian298
Drunk with his drink divine,299
When past his lips the flagon slips,300
And floods his breast with wine.301


Long time these modern Spartans302
Contested still the prize ;303
Long steps the sun, since they begun,304
Had made across the skies ;305
And still, with fronts undaunted,306
(Though sore defaced and smashed307
Like figure-heads on hostile prows)308
They rose, advanced, and clashed.309


Nor can the Muse determine310
Who most renowned should be,311
He who through that stern strife displayed312
The spirit high and undismayed313
That urged him o’er the sea,314
Or he who strove so nobly,315
Though reft of half his might316
Equal the valour, shared the meed,317
Since neither was by fate decreed318
Victorious in the fight.319


Most impotent conclusion320
Had this combat long and stout,321
When constables and lawless mob322
Turned all the scene to rout323
The ring’s fair precincts broken,324
Wild rallies, aimless blows,325
A throng that on the arena gained326
Until no fighting-space remained327
In turmoil vexed the strife attained328
Its indecisive close :—329


Close much to be lamented,330
For the laurel must remain331
Without a wearer, and my song332
Without a crowning strain.333
Beyond the unsettled issue334
New arguments are seen,335
And disputants their weapons wield,336
Manoeuvring in the boundless field337
Of all that might have been.338


By none so much as Heenan339
Must that mischance be felt,340
Who back to those expectant shores341
Returns without the Belt,342
For, though exalted office343
No doubt awaits him there,344
Yet, beltless, he will scarcely gain345
What, conqueror, he might well attain346
The Presidential Chair !347


Meanwhile there swelled through London348
Vague rumours of the fray,349
No man, whate’er his own affair,350
Thought much of it that day351
Swells at club-breakfasts, pausing352
In gastronomic joys,353
And little boys, who, going to school,354
Met other little boys,355


And patriarchs old and hoary,356
And matrons grave and staid,357
And the sick with his physician,358
And the swain with blushing maid.359
Fair penitents conferring360
With parsons Puseyite,361
And clients with their men of law,—362
All asked, How went the fight ?363


And well may both brave nations364
Be proud of both brave sons ;365
Through all the triumphs of the race366
A thread in common runs ;367
Still Jonathan must feel to John368
As son to noble sire,369
Still John (tho’ sometimes moved to chide),370
Watching the boy that left his side,371
As on he goes with giant stride,372
Must wonder and admire.373


Embalmed in verse strong Dares374
To far times lives anew,375
Why not strong Heenan ?  Have we not376
Our brave Entellus too ?377
And I would some worthier poet,378
In more melodious rhyme,379
Should sing the Battle of the Belt,380
And send it down through time.381