A Bright Future For Pugilism by Edgar Wilson Nye

Story type: Essay

The recent prominence of Mr. John E. Dempsey, better known as Jack Dempsey, of New York, brings to mind a four days’ trip taken in his company from Portland, Oregon, to St. Paul, over the Northern Pacific.

There were three pugilists in the party besides myself, viz. Dempsey, Dave Campbell and Tom Cleary. We made a grand, triumphant tour across the country together, and I may truthfully state that I never felt so free to say anything I wanted to–to other passengers–as I did at that time. I wish I could afford to take at least one pugilist with me all the time. In traveling about the country lecturing, a good pugilist would be of great assistance. I would like to set him on the man who always asks: “Where do you go to from here, Mr. Nye?” He does not ask because he wants to know, for the next moment he asks right over again. I do not know why he asks, but surely it is not for the purpose of finding out.

Well, throughout our long journey across the State of Oregon and the Territories of Idaho, Montana and Dakota, and the State of Minnesota, it was one continual ovation. Dempsey had a world-wide reputation, I found, co-extensive with the horizon, as I may say, and bounded only by the zodiac.

In my great forthcoming work, entitled “Half-Hours with Great Men, or Eminent People Which I Have Saw,” I shall give a fuller description of this journey. The book will be a great boon.

Mr. Dempsey is not a man who would be picked out as a great man. You might pass by him two or three times without recognizing his eminence, and yet, at a scrapping matinee or swatting recital, he seems to hold his audiences at his own sweet will–also his antagonist.

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Mr. Dempsey does not crave notoriety. He seems rather to court seclusion. This is characteristic of the man. See how he walked around all over the State of New York last week–in the night, too–in order to evade the crowd.

His logic, however, is wonderful. Though quiet and unassuming in his manner, his arguments are powerful and generally make a large protuberance wherever they alight.

Nothing is more pleasing than the sight of a man who has risen by his own unaided effort, fought his way up, as it were, and yet who is not vain. Mr. Dempsey conversed with me frequently during our journey, and did not seem to feel above me.

I opened the conversation by telling him that I had seen a number of his works. Nothing pleases a young author so much as a little friendly remark in relation to his work. I had seen a study of his one day in New York last spring. It was an italic nose with quotation marks on each side.

It was a very happy little bon mot on Mr. Dempsey’s part, and attracted a good deal of notice at the time.

Mr. Dempsey is not a college graduate, as many suppose. He is a self-made man. This should be a great encouragement to our boys who are now unknown, and whose portraits have not as yet appeared in the sporting papers.

But Mr. Dempsey’s great force as a debater is less, perhaps, in the matter than in the manner. His delivery is good and his gestures cannot fail to convince the most skeptical. Striking in appearance, aggressive in his nature, and happy in his gestures, he is certain to attract the attention of the police, and he cannot fail to rivet the eye of his adversary. I saw one of his adversaries, not long ago, whose eye had been successfully riveted in that way.

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And yet, John E. Dempsey was once a poor boy. He had none of the advantages which wealth and position bring. But, confident of his latent ability as a middle-weight convincer, he toiled on, ever on, sitting up until long after other people had gone to bed, patiently knocking out those who might be brought to him for that purpose. He never hung back because the way looked long and lonely. And what is the result? To-day, in the full vigor of manhood, he is sought out and petted by everyone who takes an interest in the onward march of pugilism.

It is a wonderful record, though brief. It shows what patient industry will accomplish unaided. Had John E. Dempsey hesitated to enter the ring and said that he would rather go to school, where he would be safe, he might to-day be an educated man; but what does that amount to here in America, where everybody can have an education? He would have lost his talent as a slugger, and drifted steadily downward, perhaps, till he became a school-teacher or a narrow-chested editor, writing things day after day just to gratify the morbid curiosity of a sin-cursed world.

In closing, I would like to say that I hope I have not expressed an opinion in the above that may hereafter be used against me. Do not understand me to be the foe of education. Education and refinement are good enough in their places, but how shall we attract attention by trying to become refined and educated in a land where, as I say, education and refinement seem almost to run rampant.

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Heretofore, in America, pugilism has been made subservient to the common schools. Pugilism and polygamy have both been crowded to the wall. Now pugilism is about to assert itself. The tin ear and the gory nose will soon come to the front, and the day is not far distant when progressive pugilism and the prize-ring will take the place of the poorly ventilated common school and the enervating prayer meeting.

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