Thame Local History
James Byrom's Verse on James Figg and Edward Sutton's Fight

Upon a Trial of Skill


Long was the great Figg, by the prize-fighting swains,
Sole monarch acknowledged of Mary-bone plains,
To the towns, far and near, did his valour extend,
And swam down the river from Thame to Gravesend;
Where lived Mr. Sutton, pipe-maker by trade,
Who hearing that Figg was thought such a stout blade,
Resolved to put in for a share of his fame,
And so sent to challenge the champion of Thame.


With alternate advantage two rubbers had past,
When they fought out the rubbers on Wednesday last;
To see such a contest the house was so full,
There hardly was room left to thrust in your skull.
With a prelude of cudgells we first were saluted,
And two or three shoulders most handsomely fluted,
Till weary at last with inferior disasters,
All the company cry'd, come the masters, the masters.


Whereupon the bold Sutton first mounted the stage,
Made his honors as usual, and yearn'd to engage;
Then Figg, with a visage so fierce, yet sedate,
Came and entered the lists, with his fresh-shaven pate;
Their arms were encircled with armigers too,
With a red ribbon Sutton's, and Figg's with a blue;
Thus adorned the two heroes, betwixt shoulder and elbow,
Shook hands, and to't, and the word it was bilboe.


Sure such a concern, in the eyes of spectators,
Was never yet seen in our amphitheatres;
Our commons and peers, from the. several places,
To half an inch distance all pointed their faces ;
While the rays of old Phoebus, that shot-thro' the sky-light,
Seemed to make on the stage a new kind of twilight;
And the gods without doubt, if one could but have seen'em,
Were peeping there through, to do justice between 'em.


Figg struck the first stroke, and with a vast fury,
That lie broke his huge weapon in twain I assure you;
And if his brave rival this blow had not warded,
His head from his shoulders had been quite discarded.
Figg armed him again, and they took t'other tilt,
And then Sutton's blade ran away from its hilt;
The weapons were frighted, but as for the men,.
In truth they ne'er- minded, but at it again.


Such a force in their blows, you'd have thought it a wonder
Every stroke they received did not cleave 'em asunder,
Yet so great was their courage, so equal their skill,
That they both seemed as safe as a thief in a mill;
While in doubtful attention Dame Victory stood,
And which side to take could not tell for her blood,
But remained like the ass 'twixt the bundles of hay,
Without ever stirring an inch either way.


Till Jove to the Gods signified his intention,
In a speech that he made, too tedious to mention;
But the upshot on't was, that at that very bout,
From a wound in Figg's side the hot blood spouted out;
Her ladyship then seemed to think the case plain,
But Figg stepping forth, with a sullen disdain
Shew'd the gash, and appealed to the company round,
If his own broken sword had not given the wound.


That bruises and wounds a man's spirit should touch,
With danger so little, with honor so much!
Well, they both took a drain, and returned to the battle,
And with a fresh fury they made their swords rattle;
While Sutton's right arm was observed to bleed,
By a touch from his rival, so Jove had decreed;
Just enough for to; show that his blood was not icor,
But made up, like Figg's, of the common red liquor.


Again they both rush'd with as equal a fire on,
Till the company, cried, hold enough of cold iron,
To the quarter-staff now lads. So first having dram'd it,
They took to their wood, and i' faith never sham'd it.
The first bout they had was so fair and so handsome,
That to make a fair bargain, was worth a king's ransom
And Sutton such bangs on his neighbour imparted,
Would have made any fibres, but Figg's, to have smarted.


Then after that bout they went on to another,
Rut the matter must end on some fashion or other;
So Jove told the gods he had made a decree,
That Figg should hit Sutton a stroke on the knee.
Tho' Sutton, disabled as soon as he hit him,
Would still have fought on, but Jove would not permit him;
'Twas his fate, not his fault, that constrain'd him to yield,
And thus the great Figg became lord of the field.

James Byrom, 1726

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