Killing Cliffs, Bloody Island and The Art of The Novella?
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…
One of the greatest features of our new HybridBooks platform is subtlety. The Art of The Novella series has been celebrated for its simplistic design ever since we released the first one, Bartleby, The Scrivener back in 2004. So when we began discussing the creation of a scholarly yet entertaining series of readings to append to each novella one of the first considerations was to avoid disturbing the design of the books. There is a nearly universal elegance to the novella form, with its compressed plot and poignant themes. So the spare design and text-alone approach was something we desired to maintain for the print books.
Thus we came up with the HybridBooks idea. Basically we usurped an advertising metric, the QR (quick response) Code, to deliver for no additional charge an anthology of readings and illustrations that explain the cultural milieu and legacy of the particular novella. We’ve dubbed these anthologies Illuminations, and as mentioned above the first series of Illuminations will be for the five novellas we release on August 16th. The Duel by Casanova, Chekhov, Conrad, Kleist and Kuprin. Also affectionately known as The Duel x5.
Since this concept is new, we thought we would share some of these supplementary readings over the course of the month of August. Given the fact that all five books were concerned with duels, we created a special supplement, a veritable book unto itself called The Duelist’s Supplement, that goes beyond the books to explore the culture, history and techniques of the luckily now anachronistic realm of dueling. So, like any good duelist, we first must address the issue of where,” before “what” and “how.” Before you can declare, “Pistols at dawn,” you first must pick the location of your contest. This of course refers to that sanguinary confine known as the “dueling ground.”
Recently the New York Times had a post about “Questions About New York.” The first question concerned whether Alexander Hamilton died at 82 Jain St. in the Village, where a plaque proclaims that he did. The answer was that he did not die there, mainly because the building was constructed in the mid 1880′s and Hamilton died in 1804. This of course brought up one of U.S. history’s most discussed affairs, namely the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
The follow up question was about the place where Alexander Hamilton met Aaron Burr to receive his mortal wound. Had anyone else died there? Michael Pollack writes that indeed many others had.
Hamilton’s eldest son, Philip, 19, was shot there by a Burr follower named George I. Eacker on Nov. 23, 1801, in a duel that was provoked by an attack on Alexander Hamilton; he died the next day. Aaron Burr would use the same pistols to shoot Philip’s father less than three years later.
Ah, nothing brings a family together like the institution of dueling. No doubt Zell Miller has been misunderstood all these years. Dueling is family values. Now I get it.
Weehawken certainly was the “Killing Cliffs” of lore, but perhaps nowhere in the U.S. comes close to the Mississippi’s “Bloody Island” for quantity and quality of dueling legends. The following passage is taken from the Illuminations for The Duel by Giacomo Casanova, which includes the “Famous Duels, Dueling Grounds and Duelists” portion of The Duelist’s Supplement.
This Mississippi River towhead outside of St. Louis is heavily wooded and thus became a favorite hideout for criminals and the chosen place of contest for some of the American South’s greatest duels.
Thomas Hart Benton, a senator at the time, fought perhaps his most dramatic duel on Bloody Island. After exchanging a round of shots with Charles Lucas in 1817, where the former was hit in the knee and the latter in the throat, both men reset their positions and guns in order to have another go. Lucas missed and Benton did not. This was the second time Benton and Lucas had dueled and also the last.
On June 30th of 1823, Joshua Barton, then Missouri Secretary of State, was killed in a duel with a district attorney. Barton, the loser, had served as second for Charles Lucas in both his duels with Thomas Hart Benton.
1831 marks the year of perhaps Bloody Island’s most senseless duel. Thomas Biddle and Spencer Darwin Pettis squared off over remarks that Pettis had made against Biddle’s brother, who at the time happened to be the head of the United States Bank. The men set an insane range of five yards distance for their pistol duel. Both men were killed.
Affectionately known as “The Duel of the Governors,” Bloody Island played host to the duel of Thomas C. Reynolds and Benjamin Brown, both of who escaped the encounter alive. The contest was over issues of emancipation. Ironically, one man, Reynolds, was Governor of Missouri during the years of the Confederacy and the other, Brown, became Governor in the years following the war. You can easily surmise who was on what side of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Some of the most infamous dueling grounds were not nearly as remote as Bloody Island. In fact, the heaviest trafficked dueling grounds were right in the midst of city life.
This nugget about an Irish dueling ground comes from the May 29th, 1732 edition of the Irish newspaper The Weekly Rehearsal. It concerns a pair of coffee houses of ill repute. This passage is lifted from a much larger sermon published in the Irish newspaper about the evils of gaming.
If anyone doubts the Truth of this Position, I refer him to the Groom Porters and Lucas’s Coffee House, where the only Virtuosos of the gaming Science are daily and nightly to be seen. If Blasphemy, Cursing, Swearing, Dueling, Running of Heads against the Wall, Throwing Hats and Wigs in the Fire, Distortions of the Countenance, Biting of Nails, Burning of Cards, Breaking of Dice Boxes, can be called a Loss of Temper, they are found in the aforesaid Places, in the highest Degree of Perfection. And to make out the last and greatest Loss, which is the Loss of Life.
Biting of nails! Throwing of hats and wigs! What depths of depravity hath man endured… Lucas’s Coffee House actually maintained a small area between it and the next building designated for dueling. Unfortunately Lucas’s Coffee house was demolished in 1768. Maybe that’s more fortunate than unfortunate. And certainly a little whiskey with your coffee may have been a bad idea at such a place. Lucas’s was not alone in the coffee house-as-dueling ground. The following reportage is from the April 2nd, 1775 edition of the St. James’s Chronicle and can also be found in the Illuminations for the Casanova novella.
COFFEE HOUSE CHAT
Some gentlemen talking round the Fire in Bedford Coffee House about the late Duel in Hyde Park—This is nothing in Dublin, cries one of the Circle to an Irish Gentleman; Duels are as plenty there as Bunters in this Piazza: I love the Irish, continued he, they are an honest generous People, by they are certainly Half a Century behind the English in polished Manners, and the Frequency of Duels there is a Proof of it; though you are good-natured, you are certainly quarrelsome, which polished Manners of Good Breeding would prevent. I don’t know what you mean by quarrelsome, cries the Irish Gentleman; we are not half so quarrelsome as the English; if we quarrel with one another now and then, you are forever quarrelling with yourselves; and though we now and then, and perhaps too often, decide a Difference with a Friend by the Sword, or the Pistol, the English are forever fighting Duels with themselves; and you seldom hear of any one being killed in our Duels, while in yours neither Party survives the single Combat.
Island neighbors can be so hard on one another. On Monday we’ll take a look at one of history’s most celebrated duelists. If you can guess their name we’ll send you Casanova’s The Duel.