Coincidentally: Lend an Ear

“If you bite him again, I’ll disqualify you.” Thus spake the surprisingly contralto voice of Mills Lane, referee of the Michael Tyson-Evander Holyfield heavyweight boxing match in Nevada on June 28, 1997. Tyson had just bitten off part of Holyfield’s ear in a violation of the Marquis of Queensbury Rules, as the Prince of Wales was resting aboard the royal yacht “Britannia” before returning Hong Kong to China. One hundred years earlier, Germany acquired Kiaochow, provoking the formation of The Society of Harmonious Fists, known as the “Boxers,” while back in Nevada, James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett (1866-1933) lost the heavyweight title to Robert Prometheus Fitzsimmons (1862-1917).

The Tyson frenzy would have been a rare chance for sports commentators to invoke the shade of the bully, Sir Thomas Styles, who similarly had attacked the poet Shelley while at Eton. Years later, on his way to join Wellington’s forces in the Peninsular War, Styles was so driven to distraction by fleas in Portugal that he committed suicide. A harsh and humiliating fate this, and rather gratuitous since the Queensbury Rules were not drawn up until 1867.

According to the New York Department of Health, in 1996 the number of people partially chewed by other people in Brooklyn was 419, matching the year of St. Boniface’s recognition as pope by the Emperor Honorius. Bites of many sorts can be fatal. King Alexander of Greece, the second son of the deposed King Constantine, died on October 25, 1920, from blood poisoning after having been bitten by his pet monkey. Holyfield survived his wound, unlike the Scottish pugilist Sanday Mackay, who died in the ring after the forty-seventh round against the Irishman Simon Byrne in 1830, forty-seven years before Queen Victoria succumbed to the flatteries of Disraeli and accepted the Imperial Crown. As Mackay lay dying, a baby was born who would be known to the world as Alfred William Howitt, the anthropologist of the anthropophagites of New Zealand, to which Robert Prometheus Fitzsimmons had emigrated from England. As the great Howitt died in 1908, John “Jack” Johnson delivered the winning punch to Thomas Burns for the Australian heavyweight championship in Sydney.

These magical figures could easily distract us from the issue at hand. The usual gang of emetic social engineers flaccidly used Tyson’s mordant act as an excuse to decry all contact sports as incubators of blood lust. My complaint is verily the opposite: What neurasthenic weaklings they were who stampeded out of the Las Vegas arena on June 28 at the sight of a small bit of ear. Forty-three boxing fans were injured in the panic: Coincidentally, one for each of the pretended years of the rich attorney’s elderly ugly daughter in Trial by Jury. Did Domitian’s mobs flee the Coliseum as more than earlobes flew about? Pugilism actually unmasks the squeamishness of Americans, like the president, who are horrified by the dismemberment of anyone larger than an infant.

Violence vests in different guises. Backbiting can be more painful than ear biting, yet the intelligentsia backbite as a habit. In the final round, the chattering classes draw more blood than the chomping classes. It has been said that university politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small. That surely is so from the monetary angle. Tyson would have been paid for his brief bout 606 times the average annual salary of a university professor. Perhaps teachers would be paid more if they publicly chewed those with whom they disagree.

The wife of Mr. Holyfield is a physician, specializing in pain management. That is a happy situation, but supine decadents would even replace male boxers with women, like the 106-pound Golden Gloves champion, Jill “The Zion Lion” Matthews. One reason I oppose combat duty for women is not that they are weak, but that they tend to be more violent than men in any arena, including the political. Women therefore have to exercise even more self-control than men, and thus can teach men much about deportment, but only by heroic effort.

There is the phenomenal case of France’s illustrious female concert pianist of the nineteenth century, Isabelle Oreille. Since her name means “ear,” it is all the more poignant that she was born with no outer ear. Because of an unusual structure of her inner ear, which has been explained to me by a friend who is perhaps the world’s foremost audiologist, she was able to hear by keeping her mouth wide open. Hers was a physical instance of the more problematic moral instance of those who compensate for moral deafness by not shutting their mouths.


*Originally published on Crisis Magazine

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