August 15, 2011

Illuminations: Against The Duel: Part I


"Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares", a sculpture by Evgeniy Vuchetich (1908-1974) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The title is derived from Isaiah 2:4 and reads in full:

With the release of The Duel x5, Melville House is launching a new digital innovation, HybridBooks, which combines the concept of a digitally enhanced eBook with the printed book. For more information on HybridBooks please click here.

Throughout August we will be posting samples from the Illuminations — additional material that will appear exclusively in the first releases in our Hybrid Books series. So sharpen your sword, keep your powder dry and get ready for a month of dueling history, lore and technique. That’s right. Dueling technique…

Fabulous Bird—Among the many quaint and beautiful conceits in Fuller, there is one preeminently fine: in which he likens the life-long remorse of a man who has slain another in a duel to the condition of “a bird I have read of, which hath a face like, and yet will prey upon, a man; who, coming to the water to drink, and finding there, by reflection, that he had killed one like himself, pineth away by degrees, and never afterwards enjoyeth itself.”

—from the Feb 19th, 1853 edition of Notes and Queries. The Fuller quoted above is Thomas Fuller, the celebrated 17th century English churchman and historian. This selection is followed by a query from a reader, asking where Fuller might have read such a grim fable. Notes and Queries had no response. Neither did Charles Lamb or Charles Dickens, both of whom cited Fuller’s description of the raptor.

The fable and citation above is lifted directly from the Illuminations for Anton Chekhov‘s The Duel, and no, we’re not launching a super nuanced counter marketing campaign for The Duel x5. Instead, we’re talking about The Duelist’s Supplement – Against The Duel, which is at  the tail end of the Illuminations for the Chekhov.

The institution of dueling, although heavily romanticized in its day was also constantly under attack from religious and secular thinkers alike. The duel is, in the end, an indefensible act of homicide and this was not lost on the learned of the duel’s day.

While on the surface it might not seem as exciting as an anthology of the code duello (found in the Conrad) or as fascinating as a collection of the ten deadliest duelists (found in the Casanova) but the “Against The Duel” anthology to be found in the Chekhov Illuminations is perhaps the most interesting of all the anthologies. It is by far the best at demonstrating the insane proliferation dueling enjoyed in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Today and tomorrow we will share two selections from the “Against The Duel” anthology, starting today with this amazing article, a sort of current affairs bulletin from The Boston News-Letter, May 18th 1720. It is fascinating to note that the piece contains celebrity style gossip information about the travels of the nobility, as well as major Papal decrees and news of way. Amongst all these major world affairs is a piece on the banning of duels. It demonstrates just how prolific dueling was.

Paris, Jan. 12, N.S. The Earl Stanhope arrived here the 9th Instant from Great Britain, and waited on the Regent, who received him in such a manner as evidently shewed his great Regard for His Britannick Majesty, and that his Lordships Person and Negotiation in which he is employed, are very acceptable to him. His Lordship has had several Conferences with his Royal Highness, and the Abbot Dubois, Secretary of State, and intends to return in 3 or 4 Days. An Express from America brings Advice that the Spaniards in August last, having retaken Penzacola on the Coast of Florida, which had been taken from them by the French, the latter possessed it again in October last, taking Five Spanish Merchant Ships in that Port.

Hague, Jan. 12, N.S. The States of Holland and West Friesland, have resolved that the States General should be moved to come to a determination, that unless the Grievances of the Protestants in the Palatinate and other places, under the Dominion of Roman Catholick Princes, are redressed within a time to be prefixt, all the Jesuits and others of the Regular Romish Clergy, shall be banish’d out of the Territories of this Republick, and that if within a further Term to be agreed upon, no Redress is obtained for the Protestants, all the Secular Polish Clergy shall be likewise banished, and their Churches shall be shut up, and this Proposal was accordingly made this Day to the States General who have taken it into Consideration.

Whitehall, Jan. 15. The Earl of Stanhope left Paris the 9th Instant I the Evening & Embarked at Calis the 13th at Night; and having Landed the next Morning at Deal, returned hither this Day.

Berne, Jan. 17. The State for preventing private Quarrels, have made a severe Law, against Dueling, and whoever shall deliver a Challenge to another, or give a blow, though in his own Defence, shall for the first fault be imprisoned a Year, the second be for ever banished the Canton. The Party aggrieved by a blow or any Injurious terms, to make his Complaint to the Council, who will order Satisfaction for the Affront. The Canton of Schaffhausen has received a favourable resolution from the Court of Vienna, as to the Differences between that Canton and the Regency of Nellenbourg, which they gratefully acknowledge the good Offices of His Britannick Majesty therein at the Court of Vienna.


A Certain Person has lost in Boston a Silver Picktooth Case, with a Cypher Engraved on one End, whoever will bring it to John Campbell in Corn-hill, Boston, so as the true owner may have it again, shall be well rewarded.

The advertisement is included for the sake of levity. Tomorrow we will cover some of the most famous trials and bans against dueling, with some hilarious writings from those crazy folks at the Council of Trent.