The Importance of Boxing Ernest

You will remember from last time, that I spoke of an evening in 1946 when I defeated Slugger McGee to win the middleweight boxing championship of the British Army. Today, I’ll speak of an afternoon in 1928 when I boxed no less than Mr Ernest Hemingway.

I was visiting Paris in the course of one of those extended Home Leaves I was entitled to as an army officer overseas. A friend who knew important men, introduced me to Mr Hemingway who was then still living in Paris. Upon learning I was a good amateur boxer, Mr Hemingway invited me to spar with him at the American Soldiers and Sailors Club, which had a gymnasium with a boxing ring.

Flattered that the famous Mr Hemingway wished to box me, I was nonetheless apprehensive, for I had heard the stories that he boxed as well as he wrote. And the six-foot 200 pound Mr Hemingway was in boxing terms a heavyweight, whereas I was a mere middleweight.

I thought also of the fact that my boxing skills had atrophied considerably over the previous decade, the years when I should have been in my physical prime. Unfortunately, when in the trenches during The Great War, I had received wounds which sent me to the hospital for many months, and which still took me several more years after, to recover completely from.

After the Armistice – throughout the ‘twenties and ‘thirties – I was continually posted from one torpid, fly-buzzing out-of-the-way garrison to another throughout the Empire, where training facilities by means of which to hone one’s boxing skills to the sharpest, just weren’t there. Then the war, which you know as the Second World War, came, in which for a further five years I was totally otherwise engaged, and so couldn’t box at all.

So, now you know why it was only as late as 1946, when I was 51, that I could at last have the chance to win the middleweight championship  of the British Army; and now you know also why I’d been so apprehensive when I’d climbed into the ring – nearly twenty years earlier – for my three-round sparring session with Mr Hemingway, who, by the way, awed his hangers-on so much, that they called him “Papa”. I would normally have thought this odd, for Mr Hemingway was not then thirty. But, in his mien, he seemed much older, notwithstanding that he still looked physically imposing. I wasn’t therefore comforted.

I needn’t have worried. The stories that “Papa” boxed as well as he wrote turned out to be……….well……..stories. Although strong, he was slow. The more his would-be knock-out blows missed, the wilder they became. I easily got inside his round-house swings, and dug counter-punches deep into “Papa’s” ribs and stomach. He gasped, I assumed from pain, each time my punches dug.

I knew I could easily have taken him out. I thought it best not to, though, for I had sensed his excessive masculine posturing was merely a facade, behind which a feminine vulnerability hid. To be knocked out by a much smaller man like me, in front of his servile retinue, may have been more than he could bear.

At the end of the third and final round “Papa” raised his arms. I assumed he thought he’d won. I felt chagrined, and regretted not knocking him out. But I grinned (sic) as a gentleman should grin after a world-famous man has accorded him the privilege to box him.

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5 comments on “The Importance of Boxing Ernest

  1. Ladybugg says:

    At the time, you couldn’t have known that knocking out Ernest Hemingway might have been good for his character development. Gee, I wish you had driven him to his knees.

    Remember poor Robert Cohn, H.’s pathetic boxer at Yale and anti-hero of the Sun Also Rises. What a foil he made for the suave but impotent Jake Barnes.

    Your bout with H. came two years before he would pen Farewell to Arms and three years after Sun.

    Four novels, four wives–what a mess H. was.

    To be in the ring with him and have him on the ropes…you have done more than most.

  2. Jeremy says:

    Three decades later I learned that, a year or so after my bout with Mr Hemingway, another man, who was also much smaller than him, did actually knock him down in the ring.

    This other man was the Canadian writer, Mr Morley Callaghan, who told of all this in his memoir, “That Summer in Paris”.

    Mr Hemingway appeared never to forget this humiliation, for which he blamed Mr Scott Fitzgerald, who was the timekeeper. Mr Fitzgerald had accidentally delayed clanging the bell ending the second round, and it was during this delay that the knockdown happened.

    Mr Hemingway’s friendship with Mr Fitzgerald was reportedly never the same after, and his friendship with Mr Callaghan apparently ended.

    Mr Hemingway’s novels after this time – possibly excepting “For Whom the Bell Tolls” – don’t seem to have had the quality of the ones he’d written before. Remember, that although “A Farewell to Arms”, one of Mr Hemingway’s best, was published in 1929 – and therefore a year after my bout with Mr Hemingway and about the same time as his bout with Mr Callaghan – it had almost certainly been written before these two bouts.

    Could Mr Hemingway’s knockdown at the hands of Mr Callaghan have been a contributing cause of his artistic decline? Indeed, could his bout with me have been a contributing cause also? for I think he knew I had got the better of him.

  3. Duck says:

    Hemingway claimed he’d drunk too much wine when he fought Callaghan. Perhaps he’d done the same when he fought you?

  4. Jeremy says:

    No, Duck, Mr Hemingway appeared completely sober when we boxed. And Mr Callaghan, learning of what Mr Hemingway had claimed, said also that Mr Hemingway appeared sober when they boxed.

    The fact is, Mr Hemingway was an infinitely worse boxer than he was a writer. Was he as inept a bull-fighter and animal-shooter as he was a boxer? I suspect, yes.

  5. Ladybugg says:

    Love the title of this post. Forgot to mention that when I commented.

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