Céad Míle Fáilte! I wish you one hundred thousand welcomes in Gaelic for today is St Patrick’s Day!
Yes, it is THE day for Irish cheer, shamrocks, parades, some consumption of alcohol that could include a glass or several of Guinness, the famous Irish Stout and also for ‘pinching’ someone who is not wearing anything in the colour green!
On St Patrick’s Day in 1814 some 207 years ago and although it is more than likely that Byron would also have enjoyed some consumption of alcohol during the course of the day – we cannot be sure if he actually ‘pinched’ anyone, however delightful the idea is!
But what we do know is that he was without any doubt ‘punching’ somebody on that day!
And with a little help from the UFC World Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez who has been suitably adorned for this post, why not join me as I take a peek inside Byron’s journal to discover who he was fighting with on this St Patrick’s Day?
‘I have been sparring with Jackson for exercise this morning; and mean to continue and renew my acquaintance with the muffles.
My chest, and arms, and wind are in very good plight, and I am not in flesh. I used to be a hard hitter, and my arms are very long for my height (5 feet 81/2 inches.)
At any rate, exercise is good and this the severest of all; fencing and the broadsword never fatiqued me half so much…‘
Yes, Byron was sparring with none other than John ‘Gentleman’ Jackson – the celebrated English pugilist of the late 18th century.
For having beaten one Daniel Mendoza in April 1795 to win the title of the Champion of England, he had established a boxing academy at 13 Bond Street in London which was to prove very popular for the fashionable and nobility throughout those early halcyon years of the 19th century.
Byron’s journals are peppered with references to Gentleman John who he had nicknamed the ‘Emperor of Pugilism’ for besides the instruction in boxing, Jackson was also his friend, fashion guru and his Greyhound’ fixer’ as this missive from December 1808 shows:
‘My dear Jack, You will get the greyhound from the owner at any price, and as many more of the same breed (male or female) as you can collect.
Tell D’Egville his dress shall be returned – I am obliged to him for the pattern. I am sorry you should have so much trouble, but I was not aware of the difficulty of procuring the animals in question.
I shall have finished part of my mansion in a few weeks, and if you can pay me a visit at Christmas, I shall be very glad to see you…
It would also appear that Jackson was rather adept in the procurement of Lamb’s Conduit-Street Remedy as another of Byron’s ‘Dear Jack’ missives tells us:
… I also wish you to obtain another bottle of that same Lamb’s Conduit-Street remedy, as I gave the other to a physician to analyze, and I forgot to ask him what he made of it…‘
It’s taken me some time but as a consequence of a ‘lucky’ search thread on Google yesterday, I have finally discovered the secret of this Lamb’s Conduit-Street remedy in the annals of an obscure copy of the Monthly Gazette of Health; Or Medical Dietetic, Antiempirical, and General Philosophical Journal…
‘He will, however, have this advantage, for, after such a course of discipline, he will come out fresh, and sleek as a racer; and no one will deny that the loss of superfluous fat, is a great gain to a heavy man, and the frequent advertised “secret remedy against corpulency,” sold in or near Lamb’s Conduit Street, may, probably turn out to be something in this way.‘
As Byron battled against weight gain throughout his entire life and with a well-read copy of a Treatise on Corpulence in his extensive library; this could offer an explanation for Byron’s fervent wish to get his mitts on a bottle of the stuff.
Wilma Paterson’s Lord Byron’s Relish is a wonderful little book and which includes Byron’s quote of being a ‘Leguminous-eating Ascetic’ feasting on a diet of green vegetables and biscuits
In 1821 and as Byron was beginning his journal of Detached Thoughts during his time in Italy – he was still musing about his former endeavors as a pugilist:
‘I was an excellent swimmer – a decent though not dashing at all a rider – (having staved in a rib at eighteen in the course of scampering) & was sufficient of fence – particularly of the Highland broadsword – not a bad boxer – when I could keep my temper – which was difficult – but which I strove to do ever since I knocked down Mr. Purling and put his knee-pan out (with the gloves on) in Angelo’s and Jackson’s rooms in 1806 during the sparring and I was besides a very fair Cricketer…‘Lord Byron
I wonder if the boxing gloves on display at Newstead Abbey are the ones responsible for displacing poor Mr. Purling’s knee cap?
However, I shall end this St Patrick’s Day post with an Irish Toast that Byron would surely approve of:
My friends are the best friends
Loyal, willing and able.
Now let’s get to drinking!
All glasses off the table!
Beannachtam na Femle Padraig!
Byron’s Letters and Journals In My Hot Youth Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1973)
Byron’s Letters and Journals Alas! The Love of Women Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1974)
Byron’s Letters and Journals In the Wind’s Eye Ed: Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1979)
Lord Byron’s Relish The Regency Cookery Book Wilma Paterson (Glasgow: Dog & Bone 1990)