Who was Corno di Bassetto?

Still in the 1880s (see previous post), here is an extract from the pseudonymous Corno di Bassetto’s column in the Star, a London evening paper for which he was then the music critic. Maddened by London’s Christmas music, C. di B. had gone to Holborn Viaduct to take a train out and away. At the station he got caught up in a great crowd of boxing fans, who were there to welcome back Frank Slavin and Jem Smith after their British Heavyweight contest (note the topical connection): the fight had been held in Bruges a few days earlier and had ended in controversy and disorder. Probably readers of the Star would mostly have had no great respect for the art and culture of boxing; at any rate, that is what C. di B. seems to assume as his starting point. The questions for you are these: who was Corno di Bassetto (you’ll certainly know him under his real name), and what is the moral logic (his final sentence shows that he believes there is such) that takes him in this fine impassioned paragraph from half-defending pugilism to execrating vivisection?

I have no illusions about pugilism or its professors. I advocate the placing of the laborer in such a position that a position in the ring will not be worth his acceptance, instead of, as it now is, a glorious and lucrative alternative (for a while) to drudgery and contempt. I have not the smallest respect for the people who call the prizefighter a brute, without daring to treat him like one, but who will treat him much worse than one (than their hunter, for instance) if he remains a laborer for wages. I object to gamblers of all sorts, whether they gamble with horses, fighters, greyhounds, stocks and shares, or anything else. I hate foxhunting, shooting, fishing, coursing (a most dastardly pursuit); and I would, if I had the power, make horse traction in the streets, with all its horrors, as illegal as dog traction is. Furthermore, I do not eat slaughtered animals; and I regard a man who is imposed on by the vulgar utilitarian arguments in favor of vivisection as a subject for police surveillance. No doubt, all the other journalists who disapprove of prizefighting are equally consistent.    [The Star, 27 December 1889]

I shall provide answers next time, though I dare say that the internet would answer at least the first question, if you don’t recognise the man and want to know now. Answering the second question is rather more demanding.

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