August 12, 2011

Illuminations: The first ten rules of the French Code Duello


Drawing of a pistol duel between Francois Dubois and Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, 1830. Note the interaction of the seconds and the duelists.

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…

As discussed in previous posts, the Illuminations for The Duel x5 contain a special section called “The Duelist’s Supplement.” Each book has a different section of the supplement. The Casanova contains “Famous Duels, Duelists and Dueling Grounds,” as we outlined in the previous posts. The Chekhov has “Against The Duel: Writing In Protest of Dueling.” The Kuprin Illuminations contain “The Other Duel: Fiction and Poetry Concerning Duels.” Many of these stories and poems are actually titled “The Duel.” The Kleist, because it deals with the concept of knightly combat and includes some discussion of technique, houses “The Art of Dueling: How To Shoot and Slash Your Way To Satisfaction.” And it is literarly that: a somewhat tongue-in-cheek (but thoroughly useful) collection of Victorian and Medieval manuals on various sword and pistol techniques.

But before you could ever even think of using such techniques (and we hope mightily you never do) or pick the properly notorious dueling ground, you’ll need to know how to properly conduct yourself in a duel. One can’t just show up and swing a sword around… No. That would be barbaric. Thus we have provided the portion of The Duelist’s Supplement that is found in the Conrad Illuminations: “The Code Duello: A Diverse Anthology For Personal Use.”

Tongue-in-cheek, people! The duelist’s culture is indefensible, and we know that. But that said, let’s talk about the most intricately wrought dueling code.

The French have certainly refined a great many things. Cuisine, most famously. But dueling, and its system of rules and etiquette is perhaps nowhere more intricately realized than in the eighty-four rules (and their supplements) of the French code duello.

The code opens thus (taken from Illuminations for The Duel by Joseph Conrad):

The French admit three sorts of offenses:

First. A simple offense.
Second. An offense of an insulting nature.
Third. An offense with personal acts of violence.

In these cases they have established the following rules, which, indeed, so long as dueling is tolerated, may be considered most judicious, and such as should regulate the arrangement of all quarrels.

Rule 1. If, in the course of a discussion, an offense is offered, the person who has been offended is the injured party. If this injury is followed by a blow, unquestionably the party that has been struck is the injured one. To return one blow by another of a more serious nature severely wounding, for instance, after a slap in the face does not constitute the person who received the second blow, however severe it may have been, the party originally insulted. In this case, satisfaction may be demanded by the party that was first struck. Such a case must be referred to the chances of a meeting.

Rule 2. If an insult follows an impolite expression, if the aggressor considers himself offended, or if the person who has received the insult considers himself insulted, the case must also be referred to a meeting.

Rule 3. If, in the course of a discussion, during which the rules of politeness have not been transgressed, but in consequence of which, expressions have been made use of which induce one of the party to consider himself offended, the man who demands satisfaction cannot be considered the aggressor, or the person who gives it the offender. This case must be submitted to the trial of chance.

Rule 4. But if a man sends a message without a sufficient cause, in this case he becomes the aggressor; and the seconds, before they allow a meeting to take place, must insist upon a sufficient reason being manifestly shown.

Rule 5. A son may espouse the cause of his father, if he is too aged to resent an insult, or if the age of the aggressor is of great disparity; but a son cannot espouse the quarrel of his father if he has been the aggressor.

Rule 6. There are offenses of such a galling nature, that they may lead the insulted party to have recourse to acts of violence. Such acts ought invariably to be avoided, as they can only tend to mortal combat.

Rule 7. The offended party has the choice of arms. (This is a point of such vital importance, that it is impossible to be too careful in ascertaining, coolly and deliberately, from which of the parties the insult originated. To name a duel, refers to time and place.)

Rule 8. When the offense has been of a degrading nature, the offended has the right to name both the arms and the duel.

Rule 9. When the offense has been attended by acts of violence, the offended party has the right to name his duel, his arms, the distance, and may insist upon the aggressor not using his own arms, to which he may have become accustomed by practice; but in this case the offended party must also use weapons in which he is not practiced.

Rule 10. There are only three legal arms; the sword, the saber, the pistol. The saber may be refused even by the aggressor, especially if he is a retired officer; but it may be always objected to by a civilian.

This is only the beginning. The rules governing the selection of seconds, the number of volleys allowed in a pistol duel and the terms of satisfaction have all to be discussed. After all, there are seventy-four more rules to go over. The entire French code duello, as well as the Irish and the American Southern codes are included in the Illuminations for Conrad’s The Duel. As well as a description of the Viking holmganga, which will be the selection for tomorrow’s post. Grab your best axe and a sack of your finest mead, fore heartily we will walk the island.