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In Topic: REH Word Of The Week

23 March 2015 - 07:16 AM

The Word of the Week for March 23, 2015 is feint




This week’s poem “Time, the Victor” was unpublished during REH’s lifetime. The Word of the Week refers to an important boxing strategy. For more information on this technique, see: http://www.mightyfig...different-ways/


REH’s boxing poems contain tributes, parodies, humor, cynicism and at least one metaphor which is in this week’s featured poem, “Time the Victor.”


In “These Things are Gods” (the full poem is featured in March 9 post) REH gave tribute to boxing and the boxing profession:


Long, smooth muscles rippling under a boxer’s skin,

The stench of sweat and tobacco smoke,

The crash of a gory glove,

The blood-lusting chant of the throng:

These things are gods.


He also wrote tributes to specific boxers including the Nonpareil Dempsey in “Jack Dempsey,” William Harrisison “Jack” Dempsey in “Fables for Little Folks,” both of which were featured last week. There were two other boxers who were featured in a poem of their own: John L. Sullivan in “John L. Sullivan,”


Bellowing, blustering, old John L.

Fearing nothing ’tween sky and hell!

Rushing, roaring, swinging his right,

Smashing, crashing, forcing the fight.

Battering foes until they fell,

Tilt your glasses to old John L.!


Mitchell he knocked, from the ring clear out!

Dropped Kilrain with a single clout!

Laflin he beat and Burke he flayed,

Knocked out the Maori Giant, Slade!

Packed in each fist, damnation and hell!

Tilt your glasses to old John L.!


Old John L.’s in town today

He’s hitting it down the Great White way.

Look at his swallow tail coat, silk hat!

Mustache too, say he’s on a bat!

Living it in, that you can tell,

Tilt your glasses to old John L.!


He’s cleaned out the roughest, toughest saloon,

He’s licked O’Rourke and Jem McClune,

Sampled every saloon on the streets,

Buying drinks for all he meets,

He’s taking the bowery in pell-mell!

Tilt your glasses to old John L.!


Stick in your head in that grog-shop door,

Look at him! Listen to his roar!

“Set out the whiskey, Jimmy, ye bum!

Belly the bar, ye half bred scum!

I can lick any guy from here to hell!”

Tilt your glasses to old John L.!


The world moves on and the ring moves too,

Old fighters have long given way to new.

But here’s a health to the olden days,

To the wild old, mad old, bad old ways,

When a fight was a fight and not a sell,

And tilt your glasses to old John L.


His tribute to Kid Lavigne in “Kid Lavigne is Dead” is a eulogy:


Hang up the battered gloves; Lavigne is dead.

Bold and erect he went into the dark.

The crown is withered and the crowds are fled,

The empty ring stands bare and lone—yet hark:

The ghostly roar of many a phantom throng

Floats down the dusty years, forgotten long.


Hot blazed the lights above the crimson ring

Where there he reigned in his full prime, a king.

The throngs’ acclaim roared up beneath their sheen

And whispered down the night: “Lavigne! Lavigne!”

Red splashed the blood and fierce the crashing blows,

Men staggered to the mat and reeling rose.

Crowns glittered there in splendor, won or lost,

And bones were shattered as the sledges crossed.


Swift as a leopard, strong and fiercely lean,

Champions knew the prowess of Lavigne.

The giant dwarf Joe Walcott saw him loom

And broken, bloody, reeled before his doom.

Handler and Everhardt and rugged Burge

Saw at the last his snarling face emerge

From bloody mists that veiled their dimming sight

Ere they sank down into unlighted night.


Strong men and bold, lay vanquished at his feet,

Mighty was he in triumph and defeat.

Far fade the echoes of the ringside’s cheers

And all is lost in mists of dust-dead years.

Cold breaks the dawn; the East is ghastly red.

Hang up the broken gloves; Lavigne is dead.


In the poem “Down the Ages” REH pays tribute to fighters “down through the bygone centuries”:


Forever down the ages

I watch the fighters go

Down through the bygone centuries,

Silently, row on row.

Men of the mighty shoulders,

Sinewy arms and wrists,

Whose pride and whose profession

Was the cunning of the fists.


Sluggers and panthers and sprinters,

I mark them as they go,

And I mark the kings among them

By the kingship that they show.

Wiry and light of stature,

Dark eye and swarthy face,

The best of England’s finest,

The Gypsy, superb Jem Mace.


Strong and mighty of stature,

Thrilled with the battle joy,

Rugged, powerful, fearless,

Heenan, the Benecia Boy.

Morissey, Sayers, McCaffrey,

All of them men of might.


His parodies are lots of fun. The untitled “We are the duckers of crosses” was featured in the March 5th post for Word of the Week “ham.” Excerpts from another parody “The Cooling of Spike McRue” was the featured poem for March 9th. Here are more verses from “The Cooling…”


REH begins the poem “With Apologies to R. W. Service and John L. Sullivan.”



A couple of hams were having a mill

In Gallegher’s old saloon.

With long left jabs and round house rights

They were playing a merry tune.

One was the Bowery Terror, Murderous Spike McRue,

The other the pride of the whole East Side,

Benny, the Battling Jew.


When out of the night where the fly cops were,

Into the cheering crowd,

A stranger pummeled his way within,

And he laughed both long and loud.

“Now who is he,” said Monk McKee

“Interferrin’ wi’ our sport?”

With a single clout he knocked Monk out

And he gave a scornful snort.


He’d weigh a scant two hundred pounds,

Yet the crowd was still as a louse

As he smashed a sledge‑hammer fist on the bar

And bellowed for drinks on the house.

And, “Boys,” said he, “you don’t know me,

And I don’t give a ding.

But Spike, that bloke—just watch my smoke.”

And he bounded into the ring.


Benny he ducked and the stranger swung,

And Benny he hit the floor.

The stranger tore into Spike McRue

And the crowd began to roar.

’Twas a left that lashed and a right that smashed,

And a left and a right again,

And shoulders flat Spike hit the mat

When he took it fair on the chin.


The crowd it cheered but the stranger sneered,

As he stepped to the waiting bar

And took a swig of whiskey, neat,

And lighted a long cigar.

And “Boys,” said he, “I don’t know ye,

And there’s none of youse worth a damn,

But you all know John L. Sullivan,

And that’s the guy I am.”


While knocked out flat on the trampled mat,

Lay Murderous Spike McRue,

With his feet in the classical Yiddish face

Of Benny the Battling Jew.



References to boxing terms are included in the bawdy untitled “My brother he was an auctioneer” and in the difficult to describe “A Hairy Chested Idealist Sings.”


Surprising cynicism shows up in his boxing poems although it seemed to be directed towards the crowds that attend the matches. In “Aw Come On and Fight!” the boxing match is a brutal one and not even the death of one of the boxers appeases the bloodthirsty crowd.


His first was a left that broke my nose,

His right ripped off my ear;

The red blood splashed beneath our blows

Till we stood in a crimson smear.


He cracked three ribs with his smashing right,

His left hooks gashed my head;

I saw the ring aswim in a light

Hazy and dim and red.


He split my brow and the lid dropped down

Like a curtain over the eye;

At every shove of his wet red glove

I saw the crimson fly.


On my hands and knees in a scarlet pool

I heard the referee toll,

And the crowd roared: “Kill the yellow bum!”

Like the sea along a shoal.


I sprang, I struck, I crushed his skull

With a sudden desperate swing,

He died with his eyes to the glaring lights

And his back to the canvassed ring.


The referee counted above the dead,

I swayed and clung to the ropes,

And the crowd roared: “Yellow! Both of ’em’s bums!”

Like the seas on the beaches’ slopes.


In “The Champ” his cynicism is directed towards the value of the title of champ itself:


The champion sneered, the crowds they jeered,

And to the crowd said he,

“In all this land is there a man

Will go three rounds with me?”

Up then I leaped, “You bum,” quoth I,

The champion loudly jeered,

And like a crowd, full long and loud,

The audience they cheered.


And then into the ring we came

And he rushed swift at me.

His nose I slammed, his jaw I whammed

And mixed it merrily.

A swing I landed on his jaw,

The crowd did yell and stamp,

The referee did count him out

And I was aye the champ.


Ah, amateur, this gink hath been

A champ before your day,

And therefore lend me fifteen cents

And I will go my way.


The untitled (“They matched me up that night…”) reflects on a realization about the crowd’s cheer at the end of the bout.


They matched me up that night with a bird that was a fright,

The Anaconda Kid from Amsterdam,

His face was like a fable, his wrist a hawser’s cable;

His shoulder was a gable, his arm a battering ram.

He rushed me from the bell like a roaring ape from Hell

And I put a wicked left against his chin,

But his left hand found me and his right swing crowned me

And the fogs closed round me and the ring began to spin.

A surf was roaring loud which I reckoned was the crowd

Gone cookoo as babies in their cribs.

At the gong my knees were knocking, I was weaving, ducking, blocking,

I went to my corner rocking with a couple broken ribs.

For the second gory round he came roaring with a bound

Seeing he had victory in his grasp,

I let go my right and duck him—just above the belt it took him

And I know that I have shook him for he halted with a gasp.

He dropped his guard a second—long enough for me I reckoned—

And the crowd went crazy where they sat

For my left hand battered and my right hand shattered

Till the red blood splattered on the great grey mat.

Oh, how they did yell and whoop when I knocked him for a loop

Just about a couple counts before the bell.

They’d have gave as loud a bellow had I been the losing fellow—

God, a crowd is yellow—yellow—all of them can go to Hell.


We know from his letters, poetry and even photos that REH himself boxed in matches. He wrote of his personal boxing experiences with friends in the untitled “There were three lads,” “When You Were a Set-Up and I Was a Ham,” and the untitled “Match a toad with a far-winged hawk."


But perhaps this excerpt from a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith dated August 26, 1925 (Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v1, pp 67-8) give us a picture of REH’s ageless dream:


      Primitive instincts are stronger in us. A child’s strongest, most lasting impressions are received in his earliest years. So with the race. The impressions received in the early, primitive days remain with us longer.


      I am boxing. My opponent leads with his right. I parry with my left and counter with my right. That is not correct. I should have stopped the punch with my right and countered with my left. Why did my instinct not tell me the correct form? More, why did instinct not tell my opponent to lead with his left which is also the correct form? Wrestling was perfected much earlier than boxing. In my former lives I must have been a man of peace and study. The great fighters now have been fighters in other lives.


      Some later age in some other body, I too will be a fighter. For that I am now building the foundation. What some have by sub-conscious instinct, I am gaining by hard work and study. I duck, guard, jab, parry and spar already mechanically and one might say instinctively, but it is not that. It is the act of trained muscle, rather than trained mind, and mind and muscle do not work in unison. But the instincts imparted to the mind in this life will go down the ages. And a thousand years from now, I clothed in another form, may hear the cheering crowd acclaim my name — the name of a new champion.


Boxing was that important to him and luckily for his fans, he was able to share that passion with us.


In Topic: Hyborian Limmericks + Rhymes

20 March 2015 - 05:45 AM


I enjoyed “The Grey and the Lost.” It’s very well done. Thanks for sharing. The line: “In that hinterland of shadowed souls” especially stands out for me. It’s been my experience that the grey and the lost aren’t always ghosts so I’m interested in what inspired you to write this poem last December.





As usual, you are my muse. Your statement “I hope you may find time to write more poems about Hyboria, or about any of Howard s other fantasy characters?” really struck a chord. Made me realize it hasn’t been REH’s characters that inspire me. It’s what he does with words. My poetry voice comes from places inside I don’t normally touch. 


Sometimes that voice is comedic (I love to look at things upside down or inside out or tongue in cheek). But at times it speaks of fantasy (what if) or it gives a voice to Mother Nature or to the Greek gods. And at other times, it touches on despair or is an outlet for plain old pain.


I volunteer for the REHF and I also do a lot of REH related writing: WotW, of course and I'm a member of REHupa .I also belong to PEAPS (Pulp Era Amateur Press Society) (both of which you and VK might consider joining.) In my last PEAPS  zine I quoted this verse from Kris Kristofferson's song "To Beat the Devil":


I was born a lonely singer

And I'm bound to die the same

But I've got to feed the hunger in my soul.

And if I never have a nickel

I won't ever die of shame

Cause I can't believe that no one wants to know.


Kristofferson tells me why I write and Bob Howard's poetry and stories have given me the tools to write about what’s inside. Most of that is nonREH related. Perhaps it’s time to look into doing more REH character poems. I'll see what I come up with! Thanks.


Sorceress and VK (and others who share their poetry) I learn a lot on this thread and I appreciate your posts!


In Topic: REH Word Of The Week

18 March 2015 - 11:33 PM


Thanks for the info on Elizabeth Stokes. I read it and she was quite a fascinating person. Also thanks for posting the photo of the Nonpareil Dempsey here on the Forum. I posted it on the REHupa website along with WotW but didn't know how to do it here.


Sorceress, I read the account of Elizabeth Stokes who fought with bare knuckles. She always insisted that she and her opponent hold a coin in their hands during the fight. Commentators said this prevented the fighters from scratching and gouging and other rough and tumble with the hands but I thought of all the gangster movies where a roll of coins was held in the hands to do more damage with the blows from the fists. As you say, brutal. Add to that the fact that the women stripped down to bare breasts when they fought. Boxing bouts with bare knuckles and bare breasts. They must have been quite a spectacle!


The article also said that most of the women fighters could barely eke out a living from the sport. Probably because the promoters took most of the purse. I think this is consistent with the *ham and egger* fighters--boxers who made just enough money from a bout to buy a plate of ham and eggs. REH's "When You Were a Set Up and I was a Ham" poem tells the story of two fighters who go from boxing in a third rate ring to a heavyweight title bout. 


In Topic: REH Word Of The Week

17 March 2015 - 06:54 PM

I received the following email from Brian Leno regarding the WotW poem “Jack Dempsey”


Thought I should let you know the Jack Dempsey that Howard is referring to as the "Nonpareil" is not the heavyweight champ.  Different Dempsey--he was thought to be unbeatable so he was nicknamed the Nonpareil. Fought heavyweights like Bob Fitzsimmons, etc...  Further information here--  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonpareil_Dempsey.  Of course Jack Dempsey the heavyweight champ was damn near unbeatable, but Howard is meaning the Nonpareil, even mentioning his fight with Fitzsimmons.


Thought you'd want to set the record straight,


He’s right about setting the record so I did a little further research into the two Jack Dempsey’s.


According to the Wikipedia link from Brian:


John Edward Kelly (December 15, 1862 – November 1, 1895) was an Irish-born champion middle weight boxer, better known as Jack "Nonpareil" Dempsey. He was nicknamed "Nonpareil" because of his reputation of being unbeatable.


In Dempsey's first 65 contests, he lost only 3 times (to George LaBlanche (a loss he avenged) and to Billy Baker twice (both bouts were fixed to have Baker win)).[2] This ended when Bob Fitzsimmons pummelled him around the ring and begged him to concede before he was hurt any more. Dempsey, the reigning champion, would not give up; the fight continued and Fitzsimmons knocked him out in round 13. In his final bout, Dempsey, suffering from tuberculosis, lost to Tommy Ryan.


Though Dempsey beat his first battle with tuberculosis, he died at the Portland,Oregon home of his wife's parents on November 1, 1895 at 32 due to a recurrence of the disease.[3] He was buried in an unmarked grave at Mount Calvary Cemetery. M. James Brady, Dempsey's father-in-law, refused to permit former World Champion John L. Sullivan and John S. Barnes to raise funds to erect a monument over Dempsey's grave. The family believed that the four-foot marble shaft was a sufficient memorial. The matter was thus dropped.


Britannica.com offers this further info on John Edward Kelly.


Once Dempsey began boxing, in 1883, he turned professional almost immediately, winning the middleweight world championship against George Fulljames the following year. Dempsey was a clever, agile, skilled boxer who could adjust his style to his opponent. He did not lose a fight until 1889, and that was to George LaBlanche, who used a “pivot” punch that would soon be barred in boxing. Dempsey retained his title despite this loss, as LaBlanche was over the weight allowable for a middleweight. In fact, Dempsey frequently fought men who had a great weight advantage over him; during his career as a middleweight, he never weighed more than a welterweight.


Britanicca.com also mentions that “Years later a young heavyweight named William Harrison Dempsey paid tribute to the great bare-knuckle fighter by boxing under the same name, Jack Dempsey. Since two great fighters are known by this name, the first is also referred to by his ring name, the Nonpareil (“unequaled”).”


According to biography.com "William Harrison Dempsey (1895-1983) was taught to fight by his older brother, Bernie who told him to chew tar to strengthen his jar and soak his face in brine to toughen his skin."


For the next five years, from 1911-16, Dempsey traveled from mining town to mining town, picking up fights wherever he could. His home base was Peter Jackson's Saloon in Salt Lake City, where a local organizer named Hardy Downey arranged his fights. Going by the name "Kid Blackie," in his Salt Lake City debut, Dempsey knocked out his opponent, a boxer by the name of "One Punch Hancock," in just one punch. Downey was so angry that he made Dempsey fight another opponent before he paid him.


William Harrison was fighting Bernie Dempsey was still prizefighting at that time, calling himself Jack Dempsey, after the great 19th century boxer Jack "Nonpareil" Dempsey. One day in 1914, Bernie fell ill, and his younger brother offered to fill in for him. Assuming the name Jack Dempsey for the first time that night, he won his brother's fight decisively and never relinquished the name.  For further info on William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey see:




Some of the differences between the two men were the categories of their fights and their height: John Edward Kelly (Nonpareil Dempsey) was a middle weight champion and was 5’8”. William Harrison Dempsey was a heavy weight champion and was 6’1” so REH is writing about two different Jack Dempsey’s. However, the question is which is REH referring to in his other poems and in his letters.


Looking at the poem “Jack Dempsey” it’s now obvious to me that REH meant John Edward Kelly (“Nonpareil” Dempsey) in this poem.


Through the California mountains

And many a wooded vale

The wind from seaward whispers

The name of the Nonpareil.

O’er many a peak snow covered

O’er many a woodland fair

The sea-breeze murmurs the wonderful tale

Of the lad from County Clare.

But never the wind from seaward

And never the brooks of the vale

Can speak the half of the glory,

The due of the Nonpareil.


Champion of all champions,

Greatest in all times’ bounds,

The lad who held Fitzsimmons

For thirteen gory rounds.

But the ring’s red history passes

In a swiftly roving tale,

And there’s few who now remember

The name of the Nonpareil.

But here’s to the greatest of fighters,

To a name that never shall fail,

To the name of the first Jack Dempsey,

The wonderful Nonpareil.


The photo of William Harrison Dempsey has been replaced on the REHupa website to that of John Edward (Nonpareil Dempsey) Kelly.


However, it’s probable that REH mean William Harrison Dempsey when he referred to Dempsey in the poem “Fables for Little Folks” (1926) and the following untitled poem (And Dempsey climbed into the ring…”) (1925) both of which were written during the period William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey was heavyweight champion.


He was six foot four and wide as a door

And he weighed two hundred pounds

And he laughed as he spoke, “I’ll cool that bloke.

I’ll flatten him in two rounds.”

Ah, the crowd they cheered, but the crowd they jeered

When his foeman stepped in the ring;

They hissed and jowled and the giant scowled

And rushed with a round-house swing.

Yes, he came full tilt but the beans were spilt

For the smaller man timed him fair

And knocked him out with a left hand clout

And the crowd gave him the air.

So the moral is this: make your foeman miss

And never lead with your right,

But the first that you’re to do is be sure

That it’s not Jack Dempsey you fight.


The untitled (“And Dempsey climbed into the ring…”) was included in a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith July 16, 1925 (CL, v1p60).


And Dempsey climbed into the ring and the crowd sneered.

And Carl Morris climbed in the ring and the crowd yelled, “Sock his damned jaw!”

And Dempsey hit Carl, by Hell!

And Carl hit the floor, by Hell!

And the crowd yelled, “You’re the boy, Jack!”


As for his comments in the Collected Letters regarding Jack Dempsey:


In his letter to The Ring, in 1925, REH refers to his list of the “greatest heavyweights of all time.” The Nonpareil Dempsey was a middleweight.


In the letter to Harold Preece in 1928 REH said:


The characters I write about in my fiction are all primitive, see. The one I like to write about best and which I have sold best is kind of a combination of Jack Dempsey, a Zulu chief and a prehistoric man.


The description of the Nonpareil’s fighting style and weight differ drastically from those of William Harrison: The Nonpareil is described as a “clever, agile, skilled boxer who could adjust his style to his opponent” and it was also mentioned “during his career as a middleweight, he never weighed more than a welterweight.


On the other hand, Jersey Jones describes William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey:


At his peak Jack Dempsey was the most dynamic and devastating heavyweight this commentator has ever seen…Manassa Jack had speed, strength, better than average boxing skills, lusty punching power and a blazing spirit. His bobbing and weaving style made him a difficult target to hit solidly, but when he was, he had the “ruggedness” to take it. Lithe as a panther and just as savage, Dempsey packed one of the most powerful punching combinations in the game…”


This description of William Harrison fits in well with the descriptions of many of REH’s characters. In fact, comparing their physical descriptions and backgrounds, it appears that the rest of the references, including the very moving tribute, made by REH were meant to be William Harrison "Jack" Dempsey.


Fascinating background on both these fighters. Thanks Brian for getting this straightened out about the first Jack Dempsey. Your email is appreciated! As usual, I learned a lot.


In Topic: REH Word Of The Week

16 March 2015 - 07:24 AM

The Word of the Week for March 16, 2015 is nonpareil




The featured word refers to Jack Dempsey, who was "The Manassa Mauler" a Hall of Fame boxer and former World Heavyweight Champion, July 4, 1919-September, 23 1926.


In addition to the poem “Jack Dempsey” which first appeared in The Right Hook, v1n2 dated April-May 1925, REH also wrote a couple of other poems about this legendary boxer. One of these is “Fables for Little Folks” which was published in The Daniel Baker Collegian v21n10, Daniel Baker College, March 15, 1926.


He was six foot four and wide as a door

And he weighed two hundred pounds

And he laughed as he spoke, “I’ll cool that bloke.

I’ll flatten him in two rounds.”

Ah, the crowd they cheered, but the crowd they jeered

When his foeman stepped in the ring;

They hissed and jowled and the giant scowled

And rushed with a round-house swing.

Yes, he came full tilt but the beans were spilt

For the smaller man timed him fair

And knocked him out with a left hand clout

And the crowd gave him the air.

So the moral is this: make your foeman miss

And never lead with your right,

But the first that you’re to do is be sure

That it’s not Jack Dempsey you fight.


The untitled (“And Dempsey climbed into the ring…” was included in a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith July 16, 1925 (CL, v1p60) during the time REH was working as a public stenographer.


And Dempsey climbed into the ring and the crowd sneered.

And Carl Morris climbed in the ring and the crowd yelled, “Sock his damned jaw!”

And Dempsey hit Carl, by Hell!

And Carl hit the floor, by Hell!

And the crowd yelled, “You’re the boy, Jack!”


Monte Cox’s article “Jack Dempsey, The Manassa Mauler...’The Greatest Rough and Tumble Fighter Who Ever Lived’” details some of Dempsey’s background and his qualities as a boxer.


Jack Dempsey was not only one of the most exciting heavyweight champions in history he was also one of the ring's greatest all time pound for pound fighters. Dempsey has one of the best knockout records in history with an unparalleled winning streak of 32-0 with 28 knockouts, including 17 of them in the first round! His victims included most of the top heavyweight contenders of the period such as Carl Morris, Fred Fulton, Al Palzer, Battling Levinsky, Gunboat Smith, K.O. Bill Brennan, Billy Miske, and his title-winning massacre of big Jess Willard.


Ray Arcel, one of the greatest trainers in boxing history, worked with 18 world champions including Barney Ross, Tony Zale, Ezzard Charles, Roberto Duran, and Larry Holmes. He was in the opposite corner from Joe Louis in 14 of his fights, and he also personally knew and learned from the great Benny Leonard. Arcel has stated that he considered Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey to be the three greatest heavyweights in history and hedged on picking between them, but here is what he said about Dempsey,

“He should’ve been the only heavyweight anybody ever thought of when they thought about the greatest heavyweight champion. I mean he had everything. He could punch, he could box. He was mean and determined.”


Jersey Jones concurs saying, “At his peak Jack Dempsey was the most dynamic and devastating heavyweight this commentator has ever seen…Manassa Jack had speed, strength, better than average boxing skills, lusty punching power and a blazing spirit. His bobbing and weaving style made him a difficult target to hit solidly, but when he was, he had the “ruggedness” to take it. Lithe as a panther and just as savage, Dempsey packed one of the most powerful punching combinations in the game…”


Sam Langford, when asked how Harry Wills (whom he fought 18 times in his career) would do against Jack Dempsey, said in the June 5, 1922, Atlanta Constitution "Well if he ever fights Dempsey my money will be on the present champion. Dempsey is the greatest fighter I have ever seen. He hits twice as hard as Jim Jeffries and is as fast in the ring as James J. Corbett."


Jack Dempsey was a sure killer. A fighter with great killer instinct and the ability and will to finish a hurt fighter. Dan Morgan, an old time fight manager who had three world champions said that Dempsey had the three qualities which produce greatness in the fight ring and make a man a fighter for the ages. These are: ferocitycold-bloodedness, and gameness. He said, "There's no place for pity in the ring. Many fighters can't bear to hammer a helpless opponent in the ring. They don't want to hurt him. But look at Dempsey he was probably the greatest rough and tumble fighter who ever lived."


Here is the link to Cox’s complete article for further background information: http://coxscorner.tr...m/jdempsey.html


REH expesses his own opinion regarding heavyweight fighters in a letter to The Ring ca early 1926: (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v1 p86)


            Here is my opinion on the greatest heavyweights of all time:

            Boxing reached its height between 1892 and 1905. That was the ring’s Golden Era. The culmination of perfection, the pinnacle of achievement, the greatest heavyweight of all time was James J. Jefferies. Records prove that. During his reign there flourished the greatest collection of heavyweights ever seen, and he was the greatest of all. He defeated all manner of boxers.

            In Corbett he beat the fastest heavyweight and the cleverest boxer that ever lived; in Fitzsimmons the most effective hitter of any time; in Tom Sharkey, the greatest of all near champions. While Jefferies would not rank first in skill, speed or hitting ability, for all around prowess he was invincible.

            Peter Jackson never saw the day that he could have beaten Jefferies; and the idea of Johnson beating Jefferies when the white man was at his best is ridiculous. Johnson lacked both the ability and the nerve. As for Sullivan and Dempsey, they would have fought themselves out punching Jefferies, and then have been defeated. If there ever was a man who might have won from Jefferies it was Corbett, when at his prime.

            This is my rating of heavyweights: James J. Jefferies; James J. Corbett; Jack Dempsey; Peter Jackson; Bob Fitzsimmons; John L. Sullivan; Tom Sharkey; Kid McCoy; Sam Langford; Jack Johnson; Louis Firpo and Jess Willard.


I’ve chosen only a few of the many references to Jack Dempsey in the Collected Letters. I tried to base my choices on the different aspects of what Dempsey meant to REH.


REH writes to Harold Preece, ca. January-February, 1928 about the influence Jack Dempsey on REH when he was creating his characters: (CL v1 p167)


The characters I write about in my fiction are all primitive, see. The one I like to write about best and which I have sold best is kind of a combination of Jack Dempsey, a Zulu chief and a prehistoric man.


REH compared himself and Clyde Smith to Dempsey and Jeffries in a letter to Smith ca November 1928 about the boxing styles of his friends. (CL v1 p241)


I liked the pictures very much especially that one in which you and Truett were boxing. You both look like the essence of Hell and Damnation. Truett looks like a underworld gorilla and you look like The Limehouse Terror, London Prize Ring Champion. That’s the stuff I eat red and reeking. To Hell with properly posed pictures; if I ever get a picture of me that looks that ferocious I’ll feel I have not lived in vain. You have the natural knack for posing dramatically — a certain springy resilience of muscle and limb I suppose. There certainly is a difference between our pictures; you look dynamic — breath taking — steel springs ready to uncoil in one plunge. I look solid, slow, powerful but clumsy. You’re fire and steel and I’m iron. I’m not talking as an individual or a friend, but simply trying to analyze our characters and appearances. The difference between us is the same that there is between a tiger and a bull, Dempsey and Jeffries.


In a letter to HPL ca 1931 REH talks about the height of various fighters: (CL v2 pp 233-34)


It may be that people are really growing taller — indeed, a study of athletes would tend to prove it. The heavyweight champions are a pretty good index, I should think. The present day fighters seem to be taller. Going a good way back, Jem Figg — 1695-1734 — was six feet tall, but Jack Broughton — 1704-1789 — was five feet-ten; Jack Slack — 17-1778 — while weighing over two hundred pounds, was five feet-eight; Bill Stevens, Bill Darts, Tom Faulkner, Ben Brain, Tom Spring, Gentleman John Jackson, Jem Mace, Tom Sayers, not one of them was six feet tall. The great Bendigo was five-nine, Daniel Mendoza was five-seven, Yankee Sullivan was five-eight. These were all Englishmen, of course. John L. Sullivan, first American champion, was a little over five-ten. Succeeding champions were mainly taller. Fitzsimmons was five eleven and three-fourths. Corbett, Jeffries and Dempsey were each six one and three fourths; Burns was short — five feet-seven. Jack Johnson and Gene Tunney were each slightly over six feet. Willard was a giant, six feet six and a half. The present champion — so-called — Max Schmeling, is six feet one. The ring is at present full of giants, mostly foreigners. Primo Carnera of Italy, Jose Santa of South America, Pat Redmond of Australia, Vittorio Campolo of Argentine, all of these are nearly seven feet tall. Then we have Babe Hunt of Oklahoma — the list is too long. Dempsey could have whipped the entire gang in one ring when he was in his prime.


The letter to HPL dated November 2, 1932 relate REH’s comments on his personal reaction to the Dempsey-Sharkey fight: (CL v2, p473)


Strenuous exertion, long sustained, or violent excitement is likely to knock me out. The last thing of the sort was several years ago, when Dempsey knocked out Jack Sharkey in his come-back. For days before the fight I was in a state of nervous tension, and during the battle, to the broadcast of which I listened in a theater, my heart went back on me. Or rather, it went back on me at the conclusion of the fight, when Dempsey finished Sharkey with a terrible smash to the jaw that came clearly over the air like the sound of a woodsman’s axe cleaving a tree-trunk. I sprang up with an involuntary yell — unnoticed because the whole theater was in uproarious pandemonium — and toppled back into my seat, half-conscious. But the attack lasted only a few seconds; in fact I rose and followed my companion out so quickly that he thought I had merely been delayed by the crowd. But I was in a daze, and hardly knew what I was doing. I don’t remember hearing the announcement of the winner — but I knew; I knew only one man in the world could strike a blow like that which had resounded over the air.


One of his more amusing references to Dempsey and his style of fighting is in a letter to HPL ca June 1934 when REH refers to one of his cats and compares her to Dempsey: (CL v3, p218)


The young she-cat I mentioned in my last letter is at present reclining in her favorite spot in the grass by the back step, just outside my window, with her brood — natural and adopted — snoozing about her. She talks more to her kittens than any cat I ever saw. Ordinarily silent, I frequently hear her discoursing at great lengths to her offsprings. The sounds she produces are midway between purr and mew, and contain many variations of tone and inflection; honestly, it’s almost like an intelligible language! She is very peaceable, under ordinary circumstances, even timid, and will even allow another cat to appropriate her food. But any hint of threat toward her kittens transforms her, and when she does fight, she displays more implacable determination than I ever saw in any cat, of either sex. She fights silently, with steel-spring quickness, yet with a coolness that is almost impersonal; nine out of ten cat-fights are more noise than bloodshed, with interludes of spitting and yowling. Not with her; she goes straight for the vitals of her enemy without preliminary threats, and slashes and tears with cold ferocity and without pause until her enemy is hors de combat or has fled beyond the boundaries of her abode. There’s no compromise with her; she fights to the finish. She has a way of fighting that reminds me of Jack Dempsey — rearing on her hind legs and striking right and left with the fury and intent to destroy behind each blow.


Re-quoting from above, in 1928 REH stated: “This is my rating of heavyweights: James J. Jefferies; James J. Corbett; Jack Dempsey.” However, in  a letter to HPL ca July 1934, REH rates Dempsey higher: (CL v3, p244)


I am particularly gratified to have been given a niche in Dempsey’s publication for he was one of my boyhood heroes, and I still entertain a deep admiration for him. The editor asked me for the series before the names of the publication and publishers were divulged, and it was not until I saw the first copy of the magazine that I learned that Dempsey was connected with it. He was a great champion; possibly the greatest of all, though I have always believed that Jim Jeffries deserved that title by a shade. But that is only my own opinion, and it wavers sometimes, when I reflect upon the tigerish ferocity and blinding speed possessed by Dempsey in his prime.


HPL ca. December 1934 REH writes this pretty impressive tribute to Jack Dempsey: (CL v3, pp272-74)


Yes, Dempsey was made editor of the new fight magazine, though I imagine his activities are limited largely to writing a monthly editorial, and that may be written by his ghost writer. It’s not surprizing to find him in the magazine racket. He’s been many things and done many things in the course of his life. Nature was not generous with Dempsey; she gave him a fair mind, not an unusual one; chance placed him in a condition of extreme poverty, with consumptive parents; he never had a chance to acquire an education. He didn’t even start life with a good body; he was a weakly, sickly youngster; but his people were poor and it was work or die. And he couldn’t pick his work. He had to take what came. And what came was back-breaking, soul-crushing work of the roughest, hardest kind. But nature gave William Harrison Dempsey one gift that burned with as strong a flame in his sickly, undernourished body as in any man that ever trod this earth. And that was an unconquerable and invincible determination. He worked in mines and on farms and on road-building jobs when most youngsters were in grammar school. He gave most of his money to his parents, and he roamed over the country as a working-hobo. Many men stronger and hardier than Dempsey have died under such conditions. Dempsey did not die because he would not die. And when nature can not kill, she builds. Under the terrible slugging he endured as a child and a boy, he developed and grew strong; the work that killed other youths gave him a body the magnificent strength and ruggedness of which has never been surpassed. He went into prize-fighting because it was so much easier than the work he was doing, and because it pointed a way out of the muck in which he was writhing with thousands of his miserable kind, who lacked his strength and resolution. In this life a man does what he can and must, not always what he will. Jack London and Jim Tully wrote their way up out of the abyss; Jack Dempsey fought his way up. All men can not be writers and scholars.

            He was a mine worker and a farm laborer, a lumber-jack, a hobo, a bouncer, a roaming pugilist. As a fighter he began at the very bottom, as he had begun life. Sometimes he starved. Once he went three or four days — and fought a desperate battle at the end of that time — subsisting on turnips stolen from a farmer’s field. He had nobody to teach him anything about boxing. He knew nothing of the game. He had only the primitive resolution that had saved him from being ground to small bits in the wheels of the system that had ground up so many, and the iron body that had been forged under the merciless hammers of circumstances. The punishment he took in the ring is appalling to think on. But he had been steeled to punishment. Any man who climbs up out of the abyss knows how to endure and suffer without flinching.

            He became champion in spite of hell and high water. He made millions for himself and for others. During his reign the prize-fighting profession reached a height it will never reach again. He set a new style in fighting and in the literature of fighting men. Just as Corbett popularized scientific boxing and placed the game on a higher level, so Dempsey popularized the rushing, desperate style of fighting, the swift onslaught and unfaltering attack. In his tours of Europe he interested the Continentals in boxing. His bust was placed in a German hall of fame, and he was directly responsible for the enthusiasm for boxing that rose in Germany and is still burning strongly. Up to his time the Continentals had fought in the orthodox British style, and had been easy prey for the Britons. But their admiration for Dempsey caused them to abandon the English style for the crouching, slashing American method, with the result that British domination of European boxing came suddenly to an end. Up to his time, in literature, the hero was usually a clever, “gentleman” type who won his fights by speed and science against a hairy slugger. But Dempsey made the slugger popular. It is not the Sailor Costigans alone, the wood-pulp heroes who emulate the terrific punch and iron man style of Dempsey; I have recognized him again and again in the more sophisticated type of stories that touched on fights and fighting men. His personality has impressed itself on things foreign to the ring itself, and Europeans and Asiatics who don’t know who the president of America is, are in no doubt concerning the identity of Jack Dempsey. He is a successful man, measured by whatever standards, and he deserves his success. Nature dealt with him grudgingly, but he made the best of what she gave him in manful fashion. If all men did as well with their gifts as Dempsey has done with his, this would be a better world in which to live.


For further articles on Dempsey, see the following Brian Leno posts on Damon Sasser’s REH two-gun raconteur website:


“The Duke and the Kid” http://www.rehtwogun...=boxing&paged=5


“When Dempsey Met the Wild Bull” (Luis Angel Firpo) http://www.rehtwogun...=boxing&paged=5


“Fred Fulton”: http://www.rehtwogun...=boxing&paged=5


“Bill Brennon” http://www.rehtwogun...=boxing&paged=5


“*Fat* Willie Meehan” http://www.rehtwogun...=boxing&paged=8


“The Manessa Mauler”: http://www.rehtwogun...=boxing&paged=8


“Jim Tully and Robert E. Howard Beggars of Life” http://www.rehtwogun...=boxing&paged=9


REH wrote the last verse of “Jack Dempsey” sometime before 1925 (it was published in The Right Hook, v1n2 dated April-May 1925.)


But here’s to the greatest of fighters,

To a name that never shall fail,

To the name of the first Jack Dempsey,

The wonderful Nonpareil.


At that time, Jack Dempsey was still the heavyweight boxing champion and had been since 1919. REH said James Jeffries was his first choice for the best heavyweight boxer, Corbett was second and Dempsey was third. Jeffries is mentioned in REH’s letters as is Corbett. And although Corbett appears in the Collected Letters, there is only a passing reference to him in the poetry. Of the three heavyweight champions, it was Jack Dempsey that REH wrote about most. And most of all, it was Dempsey who influenced REH's characterizations.