Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mystery Editor Revisited

Sometimes it pays to think out loud. In a previous post, “Mystery Editor,” I pondered long and hard on the identity of the anonymous lead author, and possible editor of Famous Fights.

A kind reader, Christopher Moughton, wrote to tell me of a book by E. V. Lucas, “The Phantom Journal,” published in 1919. Lucas relates how the editor of a weekly sporting paper, “The Mirror of Life and Boxing,” knew Borrow well, and had visited him in the Isle of Man. My mystery editor, you will recall had said that he and Borrow had “shared” a trip to the Isle of Man. Lucas names his subject only as Mr. Bradley.

I found a little about Mr. Bradley without even leaving the house. He was J. Frank Bradley, mostly referred to as Frank Bradley, editor of “The Mirror of Life and Boxing World” which began publishing in 1894. Bradley was still alive and corresponding in 1918. Just a tantalizing co-incidence, or is this the Cambridge man born in 1834? It needs more investigation but he does look like a good fit.

The British Library gives the following title changes and dates for the paper. First it was “The Mirror of Life” from 1894 to 1907, “The Mirror of Life and Sport” from 1907 to 1912, “The Mirror of Life and Boxing World” from 1912 to 1919, and “Boxing World and the Mirror of Life” from 1919 to 1924.

George Borrow (1803-1881) wrote books based on his adventures in Europe as an itinerant Bible salesman and newspaper correspondent. He was the author of “The Bible in Spain,” “Lavengro” and “The Romany Rye.” Borrow once said that his favorite books were the Bible and the Newgate Calendar, and he himself was hired by a bookseller to compile (with the aid of scissors some critics complained), six volumes of “Celebrated Trials.” I have a beat up copy of “Lavengo” round the house which I have read with pleasure more than once, usually when the snow is piled up against the door and the mercury is showing thirty below zero.

The following article is for my informative reader, who expressed an interest in George Borrow. This is only Part One, and I have no more. The elusive author says that he first met Borrow in the Isle of Man “five-and-forty years ago,” or 1856, while Lucas dates it to “the eighteen seventies.” However the discrepancy in dating the shared trip to the Isle of Man could have been due to E. V. Lucas relying on second hand testimony because in the following article the author says “neither raging tempest nor bitter cold could keep him from his morning plunge among the billows, where he rolled and disported himself like a porpoise. He was, of course a magnificent swimmer, but he swam in a fashion of his own -- pawing the water like a dog.”

Lucas, in “Phantom Journal,” (page 43) quotes Bradley on the same subject: “when Borrow swam, says Mr. Bradley… he “rolled and disported himself like a porpoise,” and at another “pawed the water like a dog.” Mystery solved, the anonymous author of Famous Fights was J. Frank Bradley, editor of “The Mirror of Life.” One mystery remains though, was he also editor of Famous Fights, and possibly Famous Crimes, or was that, as the masthead claims, Harold Furniss?

The illustration at top, of the pugilists, is by “Pugnis.” From Famous Fights Volume III, no. 38:


  1. I am pleased that my tip has proved useful to you. Being particularly interested in George Borrow I am grateful to you for your research into this topic. Many thanks too for reproducing the first part of Bradley`s article in "Famous Fights" - very interesting. I shall try to find the second part. I`m glad you liked "Lavengro" . Sorry to say most people have not heard of Borrow, a most underrated writer but the George Borrow Society does sterling work which helps promote interest.

    Best wishes and thanks again,
    Chris. Moughton

  2. Very useful Chris. I have found the second part of the Borrows article -- had it all along lost in the shuffle and will post it soon.

  3. A couple more quotes from FFP&P.

    From No. 155 article "How a Boxing Contest is Rporter":
    I have written reports of fights in America and England during the last twenty-five years, and have been compelled to find out the quickest way to report a contest, consistent, of course, with accuracy.
    ... as it was when Buffalo Costello and Alec Greggains fought their eighty-odd rounds draw, and they were at it till after three o'clock in the morning.
    When I wrote the Sullivan-Kilrain fight, in 1889, I was ...

    From No. 156:
    Editorial Note.
    With this number out little journal comes to an end as a separate paper. We have received and accepted a very tempting offer from the proprietors of THE ILLUSTRATED POLICE BUDGET, to incorporate this publication with their own; and as we have already far exceeded the size we originally intended our work should occupy as a volume in the library of our friends, we can only now thank them for the support they have so cordially extended to us, and say how that support has proved to us the correctness of our idea when we first thought of producing our little paper--that the love for a fair stand-up fight was so ingrained in the British nation that the publication of a journal entirely devoted to the telling of Famous Fights would be welcomed by the reading public.
    Our paper, therefore, has proved unique in the history of journalism. It has been a success, and--this is indeed curious--it is stopped in the heyday of prosperity!
    In the coming number of THE ILLUSTRATED POLICE BUDGET we will publish the fight between Bishop Sharpe and Bob Hall.

  4. Update, from The National Union Catalog: J. Frank Bradley ("CHRONOS") wrote The Boxing Referee: An Exhaustive Treatise on the Duties of a Referee and an Explanation of the Queensberry Rules relating to Boxing Contests and Competitions, London: Queenhithe Printing and Publishing Company, 1910, pp.92, front, 22cm.