In an effort to get back to my book project, I’ve been reading about the eighteenth-century Jewish boxer Daniel Mendoza (1764-1836), pictured here.
I’m interested in representations of Jewish masculinity in English literature from around 1680 to about 1820. Mendoza seems like a natural fit for such a project.
Currently I’m reading his memoirs, which were published in 1816. I’m about halfway through them. What stands out so far is the interesting mix of his sense of honor combined with his willingness to thrash anyone who he deems worthy. On the one hand, he’s very gentlemanly in his description of his life and the reasons for his fighting. On the other hand, he clearly seems to relish “trashing” his foes.
Sometimes these early fights are the result of prejudice, people calling him names or demeaning him or someone he knows for being Jewish. But often they seem the result of a general lack of civility in English culture at this time, which stands in marked contrast to my general sense of the period’s politeness and sensibility. It makes me want to go back and reread Anna Bryson’s book, From Courtesy to Civility: Changing Codes of Conduct in Early Modern England, which was published by Oxford in 1998.