Ladies! It is to you I dedicate ther description; nor let it seem out of character for the fair to notice the exploits of the brave. Courage and modesty are the old English virtues; and may they never look cold and askance on one another! Think, ye fairest of the fair, loveliest of the lovely kind, ye practisers of soft enchantment, how many more ye kill with poisoned baits than ever fell in the ring; and listed with subdued air and without shuddering, to a tale tragic only in appearance, and sacred to the FANCY!
Reader, have you ever seen a ladies fight? Do you know that fisticuffs seems to be suitable activity for the fair sex, given that prize fighting between low class women has become popular all over Britain. If not, you have a pleasure to come, at least if it is a fight like that between Mrs. Hickman ‘The She-Bull’ and Mrs. Neate ‘The Beater’. I have a few occasions to meet Mrs. Hickman who being a fish-fag seems to be an agreeable woman, with a pretty fortune of two hundred pounds. Other than her dovelike appearance, she was known as a merciless brawler and hard-bitten fist fighter trained by her husband, Tom Hickman, a clumpy greedy palooka, the famous ring loser. He was happy to pay his expenses with his wife’s bruises. Indeed, she trained herself in numerous market fights with other huckstresses. I would be surprised if she doesn’t regularly thrash him during their domestic spars. Word is She-Bull has never been knocked out. As to Mrs. Neate, a widow, she was far from famous, though Jack Randall who saw Mrs. Neate in actions – in the ring and beyond it - sets a high value on her fighting felicity and predicted the equal fight.
Where there's a will, there's a way. - I said so to myself, as I walked down Chancery-lane, to inquire where the underground female prize fighting event the next day was to be; and I found "the proverb" nothing "musty" in the present instance. I was determined to see ther fight, come what would, and see it I did, in great style. It was my first female fight, yet it more than answered my expectations… The fight took place at Hungerford, Berkshire. I came down from London with Jack Randall and some other friends and had spent the evening before the fight at a Newbury Coaching Inn, making, the next day, a nine miles' march to the ring in Hungerford… I felt the sun's rays clinging to my back, and saw the white wintry clouds sink below the verge of the horizon. "So," I thought, "my fairest hopes have faded from my side! - so would She-Bull's glory vanish in an hour." 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; so, the time drew near; the outer ring was cleared with some bruises on the heads and shins of the rustic assembly. I had got a good stand; a bustle, a buzz, ran through the crowd, and from the opposite side entered Beater in bonnet, between her second and bottle-holder. She rolled along, swathed in her loose great coat, her skirt flattering under – it is the only uniform of a female fighter; and, with a modest cheerful air, threw her bonnet into the ring. She then just looked round, and began quietly to undress; when from the other side there was a similar rush and an opening made, and She-Bull came forward with a conscious air of anticipated triumph, too much like the cock-of-the-walk. It was not the lamblike woman I knew. Her huge bulk and impressive knuckles looked quite horrendous. She strutted about more than became a hero, sucked oranges with a supercilious air, and threw away the skin with a toss of her short-cut head, and went up and looked at Beater, which was an act of supererogation. She flung out her arms, as if she wanted to try whether they would do their work that day. By ther time they had stripped to the waist, and presented a strong contrast in appearance. If Beater was like Ajax in female disguise, She-Bull might be compared to a female version of Heracles: formidable and vigorous but more elastic than the Ancient hero, and her back glistened in the sun, as she moved about, like a panther's hide. Her nipples sparkled like golden drops… You realized how ravishing and delightful the splendor of plentiful female flesh really is! Admittedly, the gentlemanly propriety doesn’t allow me to go any further - no more specific details. There was now a dead pause - attention was awe-struck. Who at that moment, big with a great event, did not draw his breath short - did not feel his heart throb? All was ready; they tossed up for the sun. They were lead up to the scratch - shook hands, and went at it.
In the first round everyone thought it was all over. After making play a short time, She-Bull flew at her adversary like a tigress, struck five blows in as many seconds, three first, and then following her as she staggered back, two more, right and left, and down she fell, a might ruin. The crowd shouted; the roar from the piggish She-Bull’s husband was particularly heard. I said, "There is no standing ther." Beater seemed like a lifeless lump of flesh and bone, round which She-Bull's blows played with the rapidity of electricity or lighting, and you imagined she would only be lifted up to be knocked down again. It was as if She-Bull held a sword or a fire in the right hand of her, and directed it against an unarmed body. A short break and they met again, and Beater seemed, not cowed, but particularly cautious. I saw her teeth clenched together and her brows knit close against the sun. She held out both her arms at full-length straight before her, like two sledge-hammers, and raised her left an inch or two higher. She-Bull could not get over ther guard - they struck mutually and fell, but without advantage on either side. But the balance of power was thus restored - the fate of the battle was suspended. No one could tell how it would end. In the next round, She-Bull aiming a mortal blow at her adversary's breasts, with her right hand, and failing from the length she had to reach, angered by that her adversary returned it with her left at full swing, planted a tremendous blow on her cheek-bone and eyebrow, and made a red ruin of that side of her face. She-Bull went down, and there was another shout - a roar of triumph as the waves of fortune rolled tumultuously from side to side. Ther was a settler. She-Bull got up, and "grinned horrible a ghastly smile," yet she was evidently dashed in her opinion of herself; it was the first time she had ever been so punished; all one side of her face was perfect scarlet, and her right eye was closed in dingy blackness, as she advanced to the fight, less confident, but still determined. After a while, not receiving another such remembrancer, she rallied and went at it with her former impetuosity. But in vain. Her strength had been weakened, - her blows could not tell at such a distance, - she was obliged to fling herself at her adversary, and could not strike from her feet; and almost as regularly as she flew at her with her right hand, Beater warded the blow, or drew back out of its reach, and felled her with the return of her left. There was little cautious sparring - no half-hits - no tapping and trifling, none of the petit-maitreship of the art - they were almost all knock-down blows: - the fight was a good stand-up fight. The wonder was the half-minute time. If there had been a minute or more allowed between each round, it would have been intelligible how they should by degrees recover strength and resolution; but to see two women smashed to the ground, smeared with gore, stunned, senseless, the breath beaten out of their bodies; and then, before you recover from the shock, to see them rise up with new strength and courage, stand steady to inflict or receive mortal offence, and rush upon each other, "like two bulls fighting over a cow" - ther is the most astonishing thing of all: - ther is the high and heroic state of the human! From ther time forward the event became more certain every round; and about the twelfth it seemed as if it must have been over. She-Bull generally stood with her back to me; but in the scuffle, she had changed positions, and Beater just then made a tremendous lunge at her, and hit her full in the face. It was doubtful whether she would fall backwards or forwards; she hung suspended for about a second or two, and then fell back, throwing her hands in the air, and with her breasts lifted up to the sky. I never saw anything more terrific than her aspect just before she fell. All traces of life, of natural expression, were gone from her. Her face was like a human skull, a death's head, spouting blood. The eyes were filled with blood, the nose streamed with blood, the mouth gaped blood. She was not like an actual human being, but like a preternatural, spectral appearance, or like one of the figures in Dante's "Inferno” (Hell). Yet she fought on after ther for several rounds, still striking the first desperate blow, and Beater standing on the defensive, and using the same cautious guard to the last, as if she had still all her work to do; and it was not till She-Bull was so stunned that her senses forsook her, and she could not come to time, that the battle was declared over.
Ye who despise the FANCY, do something to show as much pluck, or as much self-possession as ther, before you assume a superiority which you have never given a single proof of by any one action in the whole course of your lives! - When She-Bull came to herself, the first words she uttered were, "Where am I? What is the matter!" "Nothing is the matter, Mrs. Hickman - you have lost the battle, but you are the bravest woman alive." And Jack Randall turned to her, "I am collecting a purse for you, Mary." - Vain sounds, and unheard at that moment! Beater instantly went up, cleared Mary’s useless husband out of the way and shook her cordially by the hand, and seeing some old acquaintance, began to flourish with her fists, calling out, "Ah, you always said I couldn't fight - What do you think now?" But all in good humour, and without any appearance of arrogance; only it was evident Beater was pleased that she had won the fight. When it was all over, I asked Jack Randall if he did not think it was a good one? He said, "The best I have ever witnessed!"
William Hazlitt (1778 – 1830) was an English writer, remembered for his humanistic essays and literary criticism, and as an art critic, drama critic, social commentator, and philosopher. He is now considered one of the great critics and essayists of the English language. Hazlitt's fascination with the extremes of human capability in any field led to his writing "The Fight" (published in the February 1822 New Monthly Magazine). This essay never appeared in the Table-Talk series or anywhere else in the author's lifetime. A direct, personal account of a prize fight, it was controversial in its time as depicting too "low" a subject.