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"A faded 1860 print of Heenan boxing Sayers" (Ulysses 10.831-32)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 47, Number 2, Winter 2010
pp. 283-286 | 10.1353/jjq.2011.0004

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References to boxing in Ulysses, whether in the voice of the author or narrator or in personal reflections or shouts of encouragement, have been quite thoroughly mapped in two notes and a longer essay in the last fifteen years: J. Lawrence Mitchell paid particular attention to the John Camel Heenan-Tom Sayers bout of 1860; Neil Davison added to the roster the Jewish prize-fighter Daniel Mendoza (with his obvious affinities with Bloom); and Richard Brown took the Keogh-Bennett match (this was fictional) as a point of departure for a more theoretical discussion of the "colossal vituperativeness" of the Citizen, as this finds expression in nationalism, anglo- and xenophobia, and cultural isolation.

This note examines a single historical boxing match, Heenan versus Sayers, the first introduced in the novel, and Mitchell's proposal of a plausible real model for the print that Stephen sees in the window of "Clohissey's" (U 10.831). Mitchell identifies it as an engraving by J. B. Rowbotham, entitled "The Great Contest Between Sayers and Heenan, April 17th, 1860" and reproduces it at the close of his JJQ article (30). Numerous depictions of the match were produced and widely disseminated in both Britain and America, according to Mitchell (22-23). For all their differences in execution, most of these prints are of a kind: noble-looking boxers watched by a respectful and attentive public. In this context, Brown's discussion of the "commercial and journalistic exploitation" of boxing, of which the prints were a part, is particularly relevant (86). What earlier commentators have failed to note is that the Heenan-Sayers match was illegal, hence the setting in a meadow outside Farnborough, Hampshire, forty miles distant from London, which would have been its natural site in a more permissive environment. Spectators paid two pounds for a rail ticket "To Nowhere."

There is yet another depiction of the fight, close in character to Rowbotham's engraving, but, I contend, even better matched to the brief characterization that passes through Stephen's mind: "In Clohissey's window a faded 1860 print of Heenan boxing Sayers held his eye. Staring backers with square hats stood round the roped prizering. The heavyweights in tight loincloths proposed gently each to other his bulbous fists. And they are throbbing: heroes' hearts" (U 10.831-35).

Under the title The International Contest Between Heenan and Sayers at Farnborough on the 17th of April 1860, George Newbold of London printed a photogravure lithograph measuring 32 by 40 inches, based on a drawing of the central boxing scene by W. L. Walton. Around this, some forty portraits that had been individually taken in the photographic studio of an otherwise unidentified Watkins were carefully mounted on three sides of the ring (most numerous in the foreground of the print), the great majority fitted under black top hats, which seem to have been rather "squarely" set to accommodate the faces. An advertisement for the lithograph appeared in an issue of Bell's Life in London, and it appealed to "celebrated patrons or members of the ring." Another promotional piece in the same issue noted: "Many of the Corinthian patrons of the science will be included, but of course they do not desire their names to appear in print" (2). The Rowbotham print adduced by Mitchell also seems to have some individual portraits, with top hats worn by some spectators, but the latter do not dominate the scene as they do in the Newbold print, where one prominent and continuous line of hats runs parallel to the nearer ring rope on the left.

At the very front of the assemblage of "sporting gentlemen" and seated on the ground are three bearded men without top hats, conceivably sponsors of some kind. A kneeling figure to their left holds a framed object, which may have been a promotional poster or, conceivably, the symbolic prize. In the ring, the two boxers have adopted the conventional stance found in other illustrations, although here Sayers's hands are held somewhat higher than elsewhere, "proposed," as it were, to the taller Heenan. Since Heenan was over six feet in height and weighed 190 pounds and the much smaller and lighter Sayers was...

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