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Original Issue

The Fancy may convince you that sport isn't what it used to be—thank goodness

One thing about The Fancy by An Operator (Imprint Society, Barre, Mass., $40): the leather in which it is bound is so nice that the book must smell better than anything else ever printed about boxing, badger baiting and pedestrianism. At $40 it ought to, but aroma is not all this handsome limited edition has to offer. It also has the most vivid rundown—to be honest, thank God, the only rundown—on badger baiting I have ever read: "Vy, you see, ve puts the badger into this here long box with the door at one end. Then I stands by the box and opens the door, and he that backs the dog drops on one knee, holds him by the skin of the neck with his left hand, and by the tail with the right hand. Then he looses the left hand, and lets the dog in at the badger. Then the dog catches hold, if he's worth the crack of a louse; the man pulls him out by the tail, badger and all; I catches hold of the badger by the tail; the man pops the dogs tail into his mouth and gives it a gripe; the dog lets go; the badger flies up as I pull him, and I give him a neat twist into the box again, and flaps to the door."

Here also, in a more elevated tone, is a moment from a human set-to: "...Gas having hit a little short of his mark (the whisker,) his fist came in contact with the tip of his antagonist's nose, and driving the cartilage by a side twist so as to dislocate the integuments a good way round, occasioned a great internal extravasation of blood. Cooper's countenance changed considerably...but recovered a little upon the blood making its way to the mouth and throat, where it burst forth, and nearly choked the man."

"The fancy" was the term in early 19th century England for the crowd that fancied boxing, animal fights and the aforementioned pedestrianism, a sport that entailed such feats as trying to walk half a mile before a man in a pub could eat 24 red herring and two ounces of mustard. The Fancy, first published in 1826, was a compilation of contemporary articles. In his introduction to this condensed reprint edition, George Plimpton says that "An Operator" was probably a boxing journalist named Badcock who borrowed from the writings of his rival, Pierce Egan—whom no less a judge than A. J. Liebling called the "greatest writer about the ring who ever lived." Whoever An Operator was, he surely knew how to record face smashings, chest thumpings (in both senses) and general chawings. One peripheral account concerns a young woman who, on being invited into the home of a middle-aged woman and belabored with a broomstick, emerged "covered with bruises and wonder." The reader may come away from The Fancy feeling somewhat the same.