August 15, 2011
Illuminations: Against The Duel – Part II
by Melville House
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…
Duelling is prohibited under the most severe penalties.
The detestable custom of duelling, introduced by the contrivance of the devil, that by the bloody death of the body, he may accomplish the ruin of the soul, shall be utterly exterminated from the Christian world. Any emperor, kings, dukes, princes, marquises, counts, and temporal lords by whatsoever other name entitled, who shall grant a place within their territories for single combat between Christians, shall be thereupon excommunicated, and shall be understood to be deprived of jurisdiction and dominion over any city, castle, or place, in or at which they have permitted the duel to take place, which they hold of the church ; and if those places be held as a fief they shall forthwith escheat to their direct lords.
As to the persons who have fought, and those who are called their seconds (sponsors), they shall incur the penalty of excommunication, and the confiscation of all their property, and of perpetual infamy, and are to be punished as homicides, according to the sacred canons; and if they have perished in the conflict itself, they shall be forever deprived of ecclesiastical sepulture. Those also who have given counsel in the ease of a duel, whether for the question of right, or fact, or have in any other way whatever persuaded any one thereunto, as also the spectators thereof, shall be subjected to the bond of excommunication, and of a perpetual malediction ; any privilege soever, or evil custom, though immemorial, notwithstanding.
—from The Canons and Decrees of The Sacred and Ecumenical Council of Trent. Invoked by Pope Paul III (1468-1549), the Council of Trent met from 1545 to 1563 and is to this day one of the Catholic Church’s most influential ecumenical councils. The influence of the council was far reaching and immediate, as it dealt with such large subjects as the recent “Protestant heresies” as well as minutiae like curating the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (“List of Banned Books”) which led to the banning and eventual burning of books considered detrimental to the faith. Many civil laws, such as the prohibition of dueling, were also formed from these meetings.
The above text, like yesterdays, is quoted exactly as it appears in the Illuminations for Anton Chekhohv‘s The Duel. While there are incidents of anti-dueling legislation in Europe preceding the 1545 ban issued by the Council of Trent, none were as influential. Of all the anti-dueling movements, none was as persistent or as long running as the one created by the Catholic Church and maintained by later manifestations of Christianity. One of the more bombastic selections in the “Against The Duel” section is an anonymously published sermon from the July 7th, 1787 issue of the Newport Herald , which opens in spectacular fashion:
Examine all the dictionaries of ancient and modern languages, search even the huge folio lexicons of the copious Arabick, and I am persuaded you will find no word which conveys a just idea of that monster whom, for want of a proper term, we call a DUELLIST.
The philosopher Francis Bacon was also very much against dueling, and included in the Illuminations is his speech before the Star Chamber against dueling, and in turn a selection from the response of the judges in favor of Bacon’s arguments. And yet dueling still continued. Philosophers and popes all tried their hand at banning duels unsuccessfully. In the United States the greatest anti-dueling advocate was Lyman Beecher (father of Harriet Beecher Stowe) who devoted much of his time to eliminating the duel after the death of Alexander Hamilton at the hands of Aaron Burr. Beecher used his church influence to attempt to sway voters, creating an anti dueling league, a sample of one of their pledges is included as well:
And do, by our signatures hereunto annexed, solemnly pledge ourselves to each other, not to vote at any Election for any man, who, from current fame, or our own private conviction, we shall believe to have sent, accepted, or carried a Challenge to fight a Duel; or to have been in any wise concerned in promoting a Duel, or acting as Second or Surgeon therein, after the date hereof.
“For the better attaining the object of this Association, the affairs thereof shall be conducted by a Committee of —; with a President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary, chosen by themselves out of their own number. — members shall form a quorum.
—from the 1809 announcement of the formation of The Anti-Duelling Association of New York.
And yet dueling continued just as it had after the Council of Trent placed their seminal ban and all the sermons published in all the newspapers threatened unique hells for the monstrous duelist. There was one American who believed he knew why an institution like dueling, which akin to most of the West’s signature barbarisms he too found abominable, was so difficult a fire to stamp out. But like most of Thomas Paine‘s progressive ideas, it too went unheeded in its day.
From the peculiar prevalence of this custom in countries where the religious system is established, which, of all others, most expressly prohibits the gratification of revenge, with every species of outrage and violence, we too plainly see, how little mankind are, in reality, influenced by the principles of the religion by which they profess to be guided, and in defence of which they will occasionally risk even their lives.
We of course have included Mr. Paine’s essay “On Dueling” in its entirety. Alongside Richard Steele’s satire of duelist’s remorse and many other sane writings.
On Monday we’ll wax hipocritical to these last few posts and dive right into “The Art of Dueling: How To Shoot and Slash Your Way To Satisfaction”, which is included in the Illuminations for The Duel by Heinrich von Kleist.
Or, you know, you could buy the book now and read the entire thing and the Illuminations. Just saying…