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Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. VIII 1822

Chap. I 1778-1811
Ch. II: 1791-95
Ch. III 1795-98
Ch. IV 1798
Ch. V 1798
Ch. VI 1792-1803
Ch. VII 1803-05
Ch. VIII 1803-05
Ch. IX
Ch. X 1807
Ch. XI 1808
Ch. XII 1808
Ch. XII 1812
Ch. XIV 1814-15
Ch. XV 1814-17
Ch. XVI 1818
Ch. XVII 1820
Ch. XX 1821
Ch. I 1821
Ch. II 1821-22
Ch. III 1821-22
Ch. IV 1822
Ch. V 1822
Ch. VI 1822
Ch. VII 1822-23
‣ Ch. VIII 1822
Ch. IX 1823
Ch. X 1824
Ch. XI 1825
Ch. XII 1825
Ch. XIII 1825
Ch. XIV 1825
Ch. XV 1825
Ch. XVI 1825-27
Ch. XVII 1826-28
Ch. XVIII 1829-30
Ch. XX
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The Fight concluded.

We talked the hours away merrily. He had faith in surgery, for he had had three ribs set right, that had been broken in a turn-up at Belcher’s; but thought physicians old women, for they had no antidote in their catalogue for brandy. An indigestion is an excellent common-place for two people that never met before. By way of ingratiating myself, I told him the story of my doctor, who, on my earnestly representing to him that I thought his regimen had done me harm, assured me that the whole pharmacopeia contained nothing comparable to the prescription he had given me; and, as a proof of its undoubted efficacy, said that ‘he had had one gentleman with my complaint under his hands for the last fifteen years.’ This anecdote made my companion shake the rough sides of his three greatcoats with boisterous laughter; and Thurtell, starting out of his sleep, swore he knew how the fight would go, for he had had a dream about it. Sure enough the rascal told us how the three first rounds went off, but ‘his dream,’ like others, ‘denoted a foregone con-
clusion.’ He knew his men. The moon now rose in silver state, and I ventured, with some hesitation, to point out this object of placid beauty, with the blue serene beyond, to the man of science, to which his ear he ‘seriously inclined,’ the more as it gave promise d’un beau jour for the morrow, and showed the ring undrenehed by envious showers, arrayed in sunny smiles. Just then, all going on well, I thought on my friend
Toms, whom I had left behind, and said, innocently, ‘There was a blockhead of a fellow I left in town, who said there was no possibility of getting down by the mail, and talked of going by a caravan from Belcher’s at two in the morning, after he had written some letters.’ ‘Why,’ said he of the lappels, ‘I should not wonder if that was the very person we saw running about like mad from one coach-door to another, and asking if any one had seen a friend of his, a gentleman going to the fight, whom he had missed stupidly enough by staying to write a note.’ ‘Pray, sir,’ said my fellow-traveller, ‘had he a plaid cloak on?’—‘Why, no,’ said I, ‘not at the time I left him, but he very well might afterwards, for he offered to lend me one.’ The plaid cloak and the letter decided the thing. Joe, sure enough, was in the Bristol mail, which preceded us by about fifty yards. This was droll enough. We had now but a few miles to our place of destination, and the first thing I did on alighting at Newbury, both coaches stopping at the same time, was to call out, ‘Pray, is there a gentleman in that mail of the name of Toms?’—‘No,’ said Joe, borrowing something of the vein of
Gilpin, ‘for I have just got out. Well!’ says he, ‘this is lucky; but you don’t know how vexed I was to miss you; for,’ added he, lowering his voice, ‘do you know when I left you I went to Belcher’s to ask about the caravan, and Mrs. Belcher said, very obligingly, she could’nt tell about that, but there were two gentlemen who had taken places by the mail and were gone on in a landau, and she could frank us. It’s a pity I didn’t meet with you; we could then have gone down for nothing. But mum’s the word.’ It’s the devil for any one to tell me a secret, for it’s sure to come out in print. I do not care so much to gratify a friend, but the public ear is too great a temptation to me.

“Our present business was to get beds and a supper at an inn; but this was no easy task. The public-houses were full, and where you saw a light at a private house, and people poking their heads out of the casement to see what was going on, they instantly put them in and shut the window the moment you seemed advancing with a suspicious overture for accommodation. Our guard and coachman thundered away at the outer gate of the Crown for some time without effect—such was the greater noise within—and when the doors were unbarred, and we got admittance, we found a party assembled in the kitchen round a good hospitable fire, some sleeping, others drinking, others talking on politics and on the fight. A tall English yeoman (something like Mathews in the face, and quite as great a wag)—
A lusty man to ben an abbot able—
was making such a prodigious noise about rent and taxes, and the price of corn now and formerly, that he had prevented us from being heard at the gate. The first thing I heard him say was to a shuffling fellow who wanted to be off a bet for a shilling glass of brandy and water—‘Confound it, man, don’t be insipid!’ Thinks I, that is a good phrase. It was a good omen. He kept it up so all night, nor flinched with the approach of morning. He was a fine fellow, with sense, wit, and spirit, a hearty body and a joyous mind, freespoken, frank, convivial—one of that true English breed that went with
Harry the Fifth to the siege of Harfleur—‘standing like greyhounds in the slips,’ &c. We ordered tea and eggs (beds were soon found to be out of the question), and this fellow’s conversation was sauce piquante. It did one’s heart good to see him brandish his oaken towel and to hear him talk. He made mincemeat of a drunken, stupid, red-faced, quarrelsome, frowsy farmer, whose nose ‘he moralized into a thousand similes,’ making it out a firebrand like Bardolph’s. ‘I’ll tell you what, my friend,’ says he, ‘the landlady has only to keep you here to save fire and candle. If one was to touch your nose, it would go off like a piece of charcoal.’ At this the other only grinned like an idiot, the sole variety in his purple face being his little peering grey eyes and yellow teeth; called for another glass, swore he would not stand it; and after many attempts to provoke his humorous antagonist to single combat, which the other turned off (after working him up to a ludicrous pitch of choler)
with great adroitness, he fell quietly asleep with a glass of liquor in his hand, which he could not lift to his head. His laughing persecutor made a speech over him, and turning to the opposite side of the room, where they were all sleeping in the midst of this ‘loud and furious fun,’ said, ‘There’s a scene, by G—d, for
Hogarth to paint. I think he and Shakspeare were our two best men at copying life.’ This confirmed me in my good opinion of him. Hogarth, Shakspeare, and Nature were just enough for him (indeed for any man) to know. I said, ‘You read Cobbett, don’t you? At least,’ says I, ‘you talk just as well as he writes.’ He seemed to doubt this. But I said, ‘We have an hour to spare: if you’ll get pen, ink, and paper, and keep on talking, I’ll write down what you say; and if it doesn’t make a capital ‘Political Register,’ I’ll forfeit my head. You have kept me alive to-night, however. I don’t know what I should have done without you.’ He did not dislike this view of the thing, nor my asking if he was not about the size of Jem Belcher; and told me soon afterwards, in the confidence of friendship, that ‘the circumstance which had given him nearly the greatest concern in his life was Cribb’s beating Jem after he had lost his eye by racket-playing.’

“The morning dawns; that dim but yet clear light appears, which weighs like solid bars of metal on the sleepless eyelids; the guests drop down from their chambers one by one—but it was too late to think of going to bed now (the clock was on the stroke of seven); we had nothing for it but to find a barber’s (the pole that
glittered in the morning sun lighted us to his shop), and then a nine miles’ march to Hungerford. The day was fine, the sky was blue, the mists were retiring from the marshy ground, the path was tolerably dry, the sitting-up all night had not done us much harm—at least the cause was good; we talked of this and that with amicable difference, roving and sipping of many subjects, but still invariably we returned to the fight. At length, a mile to the left of Hungerford, on a gentle eminence, we saw the ring, surrounded by covered carts, gigs, and carriages, of which hundreds had passed us on the road.
Toms gave a youthful shout, and we hastened down a narrow lane to the scene of action.

“Reader, have you ever seen a fight? If not, you have a pleasure to come, at least if it is a fight like that between the Gas-man and Bill Neate. The crowd was very great when we arrived on the spot; open carriages were coming up, with streamers flying and music playing; and the country-people were pouring in over hedge and ditch in all directions, to see their hero beat or be beaten. The odds were still on Gas, but only about five to four. Gully had been down to try Neate, and had backed him considerably, which was a damper to the sanguine confidence of the adverse party. About two hundred thousand pounds were pending. . . . .

“The best men were always the best behaved. Jem Belcher, the Game Chicken (before whom the Gas-man could not have lived), were civil, silent men. So is Cribb, so is Tom Belcher, the most elegant of sparrers, and not a man for every one to take by the nose. I
enlarged on this topic in the mail (while
Thurtell was asleep), and said very wisely (as I thought) that impertinence was a part of no profession.

“The day, as I have said, was fine for a December morning. The grass was wet, and the ground miry, and ploughed up with multitudinous feet, except that within the ring itself there was a spot of virgin-green closed in and unprofaned by vulgar tread, that shone with dazzling brightness in the midday sun. For it was now noon, and we had an hour to wait. This is the trying time. It is then the heart sickens, as you think what the two champions are about, and how short a time will determine their fate. After the first blow is struck there is no opportunity for nervous apprehensions; you are swallowed up in the immediate interest of the scene.

“I found it so as I felt the sun’s rays clinging to my back, and saw the white wintry clouds sink below the verge of the horizon The swells were parading in their white box-coats, the outer ring was cleared with some bruises on the heads and shins of the rustic assembly (for the cockneys had been distanced by the sixty-six miles); the time drew near; I had got a good stand; a bustle, a buzz, ran through the crowd; and from the opposite side entered Neate, between his second and bottle-holder. He rolled along, swathed in his loose great-coat, his knock-knees bending under his huge bulk; and, with a modest cheerful air, threw his hat into the ring. He then just looked round, and began quietly to undress; when from the other side there was a similar rush and an opening made, and the
Gas-man came forward with a conscious air of anticipated triumph, too much like the cock-of-the-walk. . . . . All was ready. They tossed up for the sun, and the Gasman won. They were led up to the scratch—shook hands, and went at it.

“In the first round every one thought it was all over. After making play a short time, the Gas-man flew at his adversary like a tiger, struck five blows in as many seconds, three first, and then following him as he staggered back, two more, right and left, and down he fell, a mighty ruin. There was a shout, and I said, ‘There is no standing this.’ Neate seemed like a lifeless lump of flesh and bone, round which the Gas-man’s blows played with the rapidity of electricity or lightning, and you imagined he would only be lifted up to be knocked down again. . . . . They met again, and Neate seemed, not cowed, but particularly cautious. I saw his teeth clenched together and his brows knit close against the sun. He held out both his arms at full length straight before him, like two sledge-hammers, and raised his left an inch or two higher. The Gas-man could not get over this guard—they struck mutually and fell, but without advantage on either side. It was the same in the next round; but the balance of power was thus restored—the fate of the battle was suspended. No one could tell how it would end. This was the only moment in which opinion was divided; for, in the next, the Gas-man aiming a mortal blow at his adversary’s neck, with his right hand, and failing from the length he had to reach, the other returned it with his left at
full swing, planted a tremendous blow on his cheek-bone and eyebrow, and made a red ruin of that side of his face. The Gas-man went down, and there was another shout—a roar of triumph as the waves of fortune rolled tumultuously from side to side. This was a settler. Hickman got up, and ‘grinned horrible a ghastly smile,’ yet he was evidently dashed in his opinion of himself; it was the first time he had ever been so punished; all one side of his face was perfect scarlet, and his right eye was closed in dingy blackness, as he advanced to the fight, less confident, but still determined.

“After one or two rounds, not receiving another such remembrancer, he rallied and went at it with his former impetuosity. But in vain. His strength had been weakened—his blows could not tell at such a distance—he was obliged to fling himself at his adversary, and could not strike from his feet; and almost as regularly as he flew at him with his right hand, Neate warded the blow, or drew back out of its reach, and felled him with the return of his left. There was little cautious sparring—no half-hits—no tapping and trifling, none of the petit-maîtreship of the art—they were almost all knock-down blows—the fight was a good stand-up fight. . . . .

“From this time forward the event became more certain every round; and about the twelfth it seemed as if it must have been over. Hickman generally stood with his back to me; but in the scuffle he had changed positions, and Neate just then made a tremendous lunge at him, and hit him full in the face. It was doubtful
whether he would fall backwards or forwards; he hung suspended for a second or two, and then fell back, throwing his hands in the air, and with his face lifted up to the sky. I never saw anything more terrific than his aspect just before he fell. All traces of life, of natural expression, were gone from him. His face was like a human skull, a death’s head, spouting blood. . . . . Yet he fought on after this for several rounds, still striking the first desperate blow, and Neate standing on the defensive, and using the same cautious guard to the last, as if he had still ail his work to do; and it was not till the Gas-man was so stunned in the seventeenth or eighteenth round that his senses forsook him, and he could not come to time, that the battle was declared over. When the Gas-man came to himself, the first words he uttered were, ‘Where am I? What is the matter?’ . . . .

“When it was over I asked Cribb if he did not think it was a good one? He said, ‘Pretty well!’ The carrier-pigeons now mounted into the air, and one of them flew with the news of her husband’s victory to the bosom of Mrs. Neate. Alas, for Mrs. Hickman!

Mais au revoir, as Sir Fopling Flutter says. I went down with Toms; I returned with Jack Pigott [P. G. Patmore], whom I met on the ground. Toms is a rattle-brain; Pigott is a sentimentalist. Now, under favour, I am a sentimentalist too—therefore I say nothing, but that the interest of the excursion did not flag as I came back. Pigott and I marched along the causeway leading from Hungerford to Newbury, now
observing the effect of a brilliant sun on the tawny meads or moss-coloured cottages, now exulting in the fight, now digressing to some topic of general and elegant literature. My friend was dressed in character for the occasion, or like one of the Fancy; that is, with a double portion of great-coats, clogs, and overhauls; and just as we had agreed with a couple of country lads to carry his superfluous wearing-apparel to the next town we were overtaken by a return post-chaise, into which I got, Pigott preferring a seat on the bar. There were two strangers already in the chaise, and on their observing they supposed I had been to the fight, I said I had, and concluded they had done the same. They appeared, however, a little shy and sore on the subject; and it was not till after several hints dropped, and questions put, that it turned out that they had missed it. One of these friends had undertaken to drive the other there in his gig: they had set out, to make sure work, the day before at three in the afternoon. The owner of the one-horse vehicle scorned to ask his way, and drove right on to Bagshot, instead of turning off at Hounslow: there they stopped all night, and set off the next day across the country to Reading, from whence they took coach, and got down within a mile or two of Hungerford just half an hour after the fight was over. This might be safely set down as one of the miseries of human life. We parted with these two gentlemen who had been to see the fight, but had returned as they went, at Wolhampton, where we were promised beds (an irresistible temptation, for
Pigott had passed the preceding night at Hungerford as we had done at Newbury); and we turned into an old bow-windowed parlour with a carpet and a snug fire; and after devouring a quantity of tea, toast, and eggs, sat down to consider, during an hour of philosophic leisure, what we should have for supper. In the midst of an Epicurean deliberation between a roasted fowl and mutton chops with mashed potatoes, we were interrupted by an inroad of Goths and Vandals. . . . . Pigott withdrew from the smoke and noise into another room, and left me to dispute the point with them for a couple of hours sans intermission by the dial. The next morning we rose refreshed; and on observing that Jack had a pocket volume in his hand, in which he read in the intervals of our discourse, I inquired what it was, and learned to my particular satisfaction that it was a volume of the ‘
New Heloise.’ Ladies, after this, will you contend that a love for the Fancy is incompatible with the cultivation of sentiment? We jogged on as before, my friend setting me up in a genteel drab greatcoat and green silk handkerchief (which I must say became me exceedingly); and after stretching our legs for a few miles, and seeing Jack Randall, Ned Turner, and Scroggins pass on the top of one of the Bath coaches, we engaged with the driver of the second to take us to London for the usual fee. I got inside, and found three other passengers. One of them was an old gentleman with an aquiline nose, powdered hair, and a pigtail, and who looked as if he had played many a rubber at the Bath rooms. I said to myself, he is very
like Mr. Windham; I wish he would enter into conversation, that I might hear what fine observations would come from those finely-turned features. However, nothing passed, till, stopping to dine at Reading, some inquiry was made by the company about the fight, and I gave (as the reader may believe) an eloquent and animated description of it. When we got into the coach again the old gentleman, after a graceful exordium, said he had, when a boy, been to a fight between the famous
Broughton and George Stevenson, who was called the Fighting Coachman, in the year 1770, with the late Mr. Windham. This beginning flattered the spirit of prophecy within me, and riveted my attention. He went on—‘George Stevenson was coachman to a friend of my father’s. He was an old man when I saw him some years afterwards. He took hold of his own arm and said, “there was muscle here once, but now it is no more than this young gentleman’s.” He added, “well, no matter; I have been here long, I am willing to go hence, and I hope I have done no more harm than another man.” Once,’ said my unknown companion, ‘I asked him if he had ever beat Broughton? He said Yes; that he had fought with him three times, and the last time he fairly beat him, though the world did not allow it. “I’ll tell you how it was, master. When the seconds lifted us up in the last round, we were so exhausted that neither of us could stand, and we fell upon one another, and as Master Broughton fell uppermost, the mob gave it in his favour, and he was said to have won the battle. But the fact was, that as his second
(John Cuthbert) lifted him up, he said to him, ‘I’ll fight no more, I’ve had enough;’ which,” says Stevenson, “you know gave me the victory. And to prove to you that this was the case, when John Cuthbert was on his death-bed, and they asked him if there was anything on his mind which he wished to confess, he answered, ‘Yes, that there was one thing he wished to set right, for that certainly Master Stevenson won that last fight with Master Broughton; for he whispered him as he lifted him up in the last round of all that he had had enough.’” This,’ said the Bath gentleman, ‘was a bit of human nature;’ and I have written this account of the fight on purpose that it might not be lost to the world. He also stated, as a proof of the candour of mind in this class of men, that Stevenson acknowledged that Broughton could have beat him in his best day; but that he (Broughton) was getting old in their last rencounter. When we stopped in Piccadilly I wanted to ask the gentleman some questions about the late Mr. Windham, but had not courage. I got out, resigned my coat and green silk handkerchief to Pigott (loth to part with these ornaments of life), and walked home in high spirits.

“P.S. Toms called upon me the next day to ask me if I did not think the fight was a complete thing? I said I thought it was.”

Colburn had spoken to some of his friends of the paper on the fight between Neate and the Gas-man as forthcoming, and so had Mr. Hazlitt. Many were
looking forward to its appearance in the Magazine, and into the Magazine it went, under the signature of Phantastes. But
Mr. Campbell, the editor of the ‘New Monthly Magazine,’ and Mr. Redding, the sub-editor, disapproved of the article; and the latter gentleman has emptied himself in his ‘Recollections’ of some remarks upon the matter, which are not worth repeating. The article went in because, it would appear, “Colburn had spoken of it to several persons, and Hazlitt’s friends were expecting it.” The fact seems to have been that Campbell never actively interfered in the editorship, and that Mr. Colburn had more common sense than Mr. Redding.

Campbell’s animosity against Mr. Hazlitt was very strong and equally notorious. Mr. Redding says that it arose from Mr. Hazlitt having charged Campbell with a plagiarism in his line about angel-visits.