James J. Corbett’s The Roar of the Crowd

Libraries can be curious places, as anyone who spends too much in them can tell you. Usually thats because of those who spend too much time in them, but they can be strange in plenty of other ways too – some of the books you’re liable to find among the stacks can be truly remarkable, quirky little volumes. ‘Gentleman Jim’ Corbett was a well-known Irish-American boxer and World Heavyweight Champion, who defeated the great John L. Sullivan. While doing some research for a paper that included another Irish champion boxer, Jem Roche, I came across Jim Corbett’s memoir of his boxing career, The Roar of the Crowd in the sports section of University College Cork’s Boole Library. The book was unusual on a couple of fronts.

Inside the cover, there is a green slip of paper with a typed dedication glued to the cover, reading:

Presented to

University College Cork

by the

American Irish Foundation

in memory of

George W. Burkitt

Born Moneymore, County Derry, 1849.

Died Houston, Texas 1923.


George W. Burkitt emigrated to the United States at the age of 13 and became a naturalised citizen in 1883. A successful timber merchant and railroad contractor, he was Republican candidate for Governor of Texas in 1912.

The American Irish Foundation was born out of John F. Kennedy’s trip to Ireland in 1963 and was initiated by both Kennedy and de Valera to foster connections between the two countries. The remarkable thing about it is that Corbett’s book was published in 1894, while the particular edition which was given as a gift by the American Irish Foundation to the Boole Library in UCC was a reprint of Corbett’s book published by New York Times imprint Arno Press in 1976 based on a 1925 edition of the text.

Corbett’s book was originally published in 1894 by GP Putnam’s  of New York and London, under the imprint of The Knickerbocker Press, whose imprint logo was De Halve Maen (The Half Moon), a Dutch East India Company boat that sailed to New York in 1609 as part of a trip covertly trying to find a route to China. George Putnam, the publisher of Corbett’s book, is another intriguing character – he married Amelia Earheart, whose career as a female flyer he helped promote, in 1931, six years before her disappearance. The story of Corbett’s career was initially serialised in the newspaper before being brought out in book format.

The particular edition reprinted by Arno Press in 1976 of Corbett’s memoir was part of a wider series of titles being produced by them, entitled ‘The Irish-Americans’, a series of some 42 titles on topics from the full range of Irish-American experience from histories of the Tammany Hall machine, the role of the Irish in the American Labor movement and all points in between. The Arno edition of Corbett’s The Roar of the Crowd, we also learn from the Boole Library copy, is based on one to be found in the University of Missouri Library, likely to be the Ellis Library built in 1914.

All of this is incidental information quite apart from the content of Corbett’s book or indeed it seems from the life of George Burkitt, in whose name the American Irish Foundation saw fit to gift this book to UCC’s library in the bicentennial year of America’s declaration of independence from Britain for whatever reason. There are with certain books, treasures contained in the covers alone, to say nothing of the treasures contained in their pages.


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Filed under Book History, Irish History, Nineteenth Century, Sports History, Twentieth Century

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