April 23, 2014

How to survive 100 duels

Reading that Irish animal rights activist Humanity Dick Martin fought a supposed 100 duels, I'm reminded of this chapter from Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad.
Chapter VIII. The Great French Duel 
I Second Gambetta in a Terrific Duel 
Much as the modern French duel is ridiculed by certain smart people, it is in reality one of the most dangerous institutions of our day. Since it is always fought in the open air, the combatants are nearly sure to catch cold. M. Paul de Cassagnac, the most inveterate of the French duelists, had suffered so often in this way that he is at last a confirmed invalid; and the best physician in Paris has expressed the opinion that if he goes on dueling for fifteen or twenty years more--unless he forms the habit of fighting in a comfortable room where damps and draughts cannot intrude--he will eventually endanger his life. ...  
Premier Gambetta
As soon as I heard of the late fiery outbreak between M. Gambetta and M. Fourtou in the French Assembly, I knew that trouble must follow. I knew it because a long personal friendship with M. Gambetta revealed to me the desperate and implacable nature of the man. Vast as are his physical proportions, I knew that the thirst for revenge would penetrate to the remotest frontiers of his person. 
I did not wait for him to call on me, but went at once to him. As I had expected, I found the brave fellow steeped in a profound French calm. ... He threw his arms around my neck, bent me over his stomach to his breast, kissed me on both cheeks, hugged me four or five times, and then placed me in his own arm-chair. ... 
I said I supposed he would wish me to act as his second, and he said, "Of course." ... He wanted to know how the following words, as a dying exclamation, struck me: "I die for my God, for my country, for freedom of speech, for progress, and the universal brotherhood of man!" 
I objected that this would require too lingering a death; it was a good speech for a consumptive, but not suited to the exigencies of the field of honor. We wrangled over a good many ante-mortem outburts, but I finally got him to cut his obituary down to this, which he copied into his memorandum-book, purposing to get it by heart: 
"I die that France might live." ...
The next thing in order was the choice of weapons. My principal said he was not feeling well, and would leave that and the other details of the proposed meeting to me. Therefore I wrote the following note and carried it to M. Fourtou's friend: 
Sir: M. Gambetta accepts M. Fourtou's challenge, and authorizes me to propose Plessis-Piquet as the place of meeting; tomorrow morning at daybreak as the time; and axes as the weapons. 
I am, sir, with great respect, 
Mark Twain. 
M. Fourtou's friend read this note, and shuddered. ... Then he added that he and his principal would enjoy axes, and indeed prefer them, but such weapons were barred by the French code, and so I must change my proposal. 
I walked the floor, turning the thing over in my mind, and finally it occurred to me that Gatling-guns at fifteen paces would be a likely way to get a verdict on the field of honor. So I framed this idea into a proposition. 
But it was not accepted. The code was in the way again. I proposed rifles; then double-barreled shotguns; then Colt's navy revolvers. These being all rejected, ... He fished out of his vest pocket a couple of little things which I carried to the light and ascertained to be pistols. They were single-barreled and silver-mounted, and very dainty and pretty. I was not able to speak for emotion. I silently hung one of them on my watch-chain, and returned the other.

Some of this actually happened.
     

40 comments:

Steve Sailer said...

Not much of it, to be frank, but Gambetta and Fourtou did fight a duel the year before Twain's trip to Europe to write this book, and they both survived.

Dave Pinsen said...

Twain was no Emerson.

Steve Sailer said...

From the Sydney Morning Herald, January 7, 1879:

The four seconds considered that in these circumstances an encounter was unavoidable. The conditions of the encounter were settled as follows :-' The duel shall be fought with rifled pistols at a distance of 35 paces, and, on the signal being given, a single ball shall be exchanged. In witness thereof we have signed the present minute. For M. Gambetta-Allain Targo, Clemenceau; for M. de Forton-Blin di Bourdon, R. Mitchell, le 20 Novembre, 1878.'

The encounter took place to-day, the 21st November, at Plessis Pique conformably with the conditions above stipulated. Neither of the two adversaries was hit.

Two surgeons-MM. Lannclongue and Thevenet were in attendance. |The duel came off at 9 a.m., and at its conclusion tho seconds on both sides shook hands, while the principals lifted their hats to each other, whereupon all left the ground. ...

This episode will excite both laughter and surprise, and will add nothing to tho reputation of its heroes. The conditions of the duel were reassuring te the principals' friends, and drew mind one of tho Vaudeville burlesque in which there is an encounter with ordinary swords at 10 paces distance. As matter of course, neither party was hurt, and, indeed, the) real danger would bavo been for the seconds, had they been imprudent enough not to be under shelter, for at 38 paces the deviation of balls presents the greatest risk.

http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/13427376

Anonymous said...

You certainly abridged that.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/119/119-h/119-h.htm#ch8

...one thing I learned from the full chapter is that squirt guns existed in 1880. I wonder how much a child's toy like that cost before mass production.

Harry Baldwin said...

We laugh at the French duels fought in the half century before World War I because so few of them resulted in fatalities. The epee was the preferred weapon, and the duel was considered settled as soon as the first wound ("first blood") was inflicted, as the duel had to be fought fairly and a wound put the injured party at a disadvantage. These affairs were ridiculed in the foreign press, but can you imagine one of our politicians risking a steel blade being thrust four inches into his forearm? That would be a typical injury. There were also a few instances of fatal sword duels in this period, so it was a possibility.

Duels might be fought with pistols. Though Twain describes the guns as tiny, he's joking. However, it is said the the dueling pistols loaned out by gunsmiths for such affairs tended to have hard triggers, weighted hammers and rusted bores to discourage precise marksmanship. The duels were also staged at considerable distances. The Gambetta and Fourtou duel was fought at 30 paces.

By the way, in 1900 one of the Rothschilds, a military officer named Robert, defeated a French count, Guy de Lubersac, in a sword duel after Lubersac called him "a dirty Jew." Rothschild concluded the affair with a thrust that entered Lubersac's arm just above the elbow and exited at his armpit.

eah said...

damps and draughts

In southern France the weather is nicer.

Steve Sailer said...

German university student dueling:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_fencing

The ideal was to get a cool scar on the left cheek without much flinching.

Steve Sailer said...

I presume the Clemenceau who was Gambetta's second was the leader of France during WWI?

rho said...

Man, how many satirical newspapers owe their existence to the unnamed American Lit teachers that made teenage boys read Twain.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

Gatling guns at fifteen paces!


Seriously though, this reads well. I might have to dig into some more twain.

Anonymous said...

If you are feeling particular sanguine, I suggest "The Duelists" or "Barry Lyndon", which both revolve around duels and are excellent in their own right.

Steve Sailer said...

"I did not wait for him to call on me, but went at once to him."

Sounds like early Across Difficult Country, who was always reading some news item about a West African dictator's troubles and immediately jetting off to console him.

Rusty Shackleford said...

Cavallotti, leftist and experienced duelist, and Count Macola, personal friends but political enemies, fought a duel with sabres in 1898. Macola's sword passed through Cavoltti's open mouth and out through his neck. This resulted in instant death.

Sword duels were generally thought to be more deadly than guns and the epee more dangerous than the sabre. Aldo Nadi, gold medalist/greatest fencer ever believed that duels were so random in outcome that they proved nothing. He suffered a minor wound in a duel against a newspaper columnist despite wounding his opponent many times.

Lucien Gaudin another Olympic gold medalist was wounded on his thumb in a duel against a non fencer. The shame of this resulted in his committing suicide.

Anonymous said...

Your name is Sailer, so you should be interested in why sailors did not fight duels? I know some navy officers did it, but I have never heard it being common.

My guess is that when you are able to show your "courage" with real world danger, you don't need to show off like the ones that live in safety.

In Norway/Sweden it was the land crabs who are famous for dueling and trying to show off doing single dancing to impress the ladies.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Wq6If8MsFQ

In other parts of Norway, where it was normal that a quarter of the men drowned, we don't find these ritual forms of competition. An interesting parallel is the sailing lowland Scots, and the landlocked highlanders.

Steve Sailer said...

Good point.

Guillaume Durocher said...

One of the earliest NYT hits for "French decadence" is a June 16, 1901 piece lamenting that duels in France are not as manly as they used to be. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=FB0A13F9345C12738DDDAF0994DE405B818CF1D3

Anonymous said...

Can you imagine today's politicians dueling?

Shotguns at 15 paces!

charleskiddell said...

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp has that interesting duel scene, between Blimp and a German officer chosen by lot to avenge an insult. It takes place sometime after the Boer War in the German regiment's gymnasium, with a neutral Swedish officer officiating, and shows the formality and precautions taken.

I can't find a longer clip than this one except one of poor quality. In the actual movie the camera rises above the scene and one does not actually see blood shed.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5Y2-YdWbvAw

Big Bill said...

We have frequent duels in our local Negro Community--impromptu, perhaps "unfair" (by white standards) but duels nonetheless.

They arise over affairs of honor and reputation usually relating to a poisoned look, an inappropriate laugh, a too-quick turning away, a sneer, or the like.

Of course, no Negro duelist, family or friend, soils his honor by going to the police. These matters are, as one would expect of an honor-based culture, handled internally.

When liberal friends talk about the "tragedy of urban violence" and how "we need to stop it", I chastise them for being so intolerant of Negro Culture and tell them to stop their cultural imperialism--stop trying to force the Negro Community to "act white".

sunbeam said...

Rusty Shackleford wrote:

"Cavallotti, leftist and experienced duelist, and Count Macola, personal friends but political enemies, fought a duel with sabres in 1898. Macola's sword passed through Cavoltti's open mouth and out through his neck. This resulted in instant death.

Sword duels were generally thought to be more deadly than guns and the epee more dangerous than the sabre. Aldo Nadi, gold medalist/greatest fencer ever believed that duels were so random in outcome that they proved nothing. He suffered a minor wound in a duel against a newspaper columnist despite wounding his opponent many times.

Lucien Gaudin another Olympic gold medalist was wounded on his thumb in a duel against a non fencer. The shame of this resulted in his committing suicide."

I'm not a kid anymore. I think I understand the world and the nature of things better than I did (though history shows us a lot of middle-aged and elderly blowhards who were full of it).

But I don't think people, or Americans at least understand violence. Or maybe they have had their world view shaped by Hollywood and TV so much that they do not understand it.

Let's hypothetically propose a NAVY Seal named Sean. Sean was always an athlete. He joined the Navy, and after a couple of years he applied to and was accepted to BUDS school in Coronado. He passed.

Sean then goes through training (UDT, HALO, all kinds of stuff that costs Beaucoup money). He is in phenomenal shape; runs Ironman triathlons for fun. Got into the martial arts, a couple funny guys in his Team got him into using blades (Filipino way doncha know).

Sean is a badass. Smart tough. Photogenic. The kind of guy you see in all these Hollywood movies. He is in such phenomenal shape he could be a teenager from Nepal.

Then one day his Team gets sent to Somalia. Or I dunno, somewhere else, really doesn't matter where.

Something happens though. An rpg round explodes just ahead of his chopper, some shrapnel goes into the turbine, and the chopper crashes. Sean and his equally expensive Seal Team are immolated.

Or maybe Sean had to cover 100 yards in a hurry to reach cover. He steps on a landmine, and he is bleeding out on the ground with fire whizzing over his head. Or he gets saved and is a paraplegic.

Or maybe Karim, a 15 year old kid with an AK (who never even got to go to school of any sort, not even Madrassa,) just plinks him (one thing Karim can do is shoot), and Sean dies.

Maybe Sean is wearing some photogenic high tech body armor with a studly name like "Dragon." Karim is popping a lot of rounds, Sean can only kill 1 or 2 Karim's a second, and by god there are an assload of Karim's. Any Karim gets lucky; a round goes through the eyehole aperture. Sean might be dead cause it went into his brain, if he somehow got lucky and didn't die immediately, staying awake for a week and being able to swim 5 miles in rough water didn't prepare him for the experience. So old Sean is dead or out of it.

That's war. And the very best way to fight it is on the most uneven odds in your favor you can swing. Ideally they give up without anyone firing a shot. If you have to pop caps, then you want to kill all of them with NO risk to yourself. That's war.

At least to me, though I have never been in one. Hopefully the asswipes in the State Department who were behind this poorly conceived fiasco, and the Navy brass who were willing to go along with it for reasons of their own are happy.

Victory may go to bigger battalions. But there isn't a whole lot Hollywood or the casual American's conception of things have to do with it.

Sheer random chance. It might play to the well heeled side at the macro level. But at the micro, well it's sheer random chance.

And I would prefer Vicky Nuland to play this game on her own, instead of me.

Anonymous said...

No wonder they cheat on the SAT.

Anonymous said...

The head of the werewolves, a Nazi special forces outfit during the war, had some seriously gnarly dueling scars. His name escapes me

FredR said...

The possibility of getting into a duel if you mouth off must make life more lively and interesting.

Anonymous said...

"some navy officers did it". Indeed they did. I don't understand how the early USN could maintain discipline when a captain dismissed from command could challenge the president of the naval court that did so (Stephen Decatur) to a duel.
The Highlands of Scotland are not landlocked and the full name is Highlands and Islands.
The famous physicist Paul Langevin fought a pistol duel against a proto-fascist named Barras in defence of the honour of La Veuve Curie. Neither was wounded.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Decatur, probably America's second most famous sailor, was killed in a duel.

pat said...

I read a biography of Aaron Burr a year or so ago. Much as the author tried to paint his subject in a favorable light, it's clear that Burr intended murder and was delighted with the outcome.

Andrew Jackson was also a famous duelist. Clemenceau was the last head of state I know of who killed a man in a duel.

But thanks to the cinema most people toady associate sword fighting with Orientals.

I read Richard Burton's book on swords and swordsmanship many years ago. I wanted to know what he thought about the Samurai sword. BTW that's the explorer not the actor.

But Burton left the katana to the next volume that he never wrote. I believe the evidence supports the conclusion that The Samurai were very poor duelists.

The Samurai only continued with the sword because of the Tokogawa Shogunate. The first wave of Samurai were foot lancers. The next were mounted archers. Only the last Samurai - the Tokogawa Samurai - were swordsmen. They were not good swordsmen and they were not good duelists.

Tokugawa was one of the three middle period Japanese rulers. The others being Nobunaga, and Hideyoshi. The deciding battle in their rivalry was Sekigahara which involved firearms. They had gotten them from the Portuguese. Nobunaga is often credited with introducing volley fire to the art of the battlefield. But Tokugawa, when he became Shogun discouraged guns. He gave tax incentives and social rewards to swordsmen.

But the Samurai carried two swords. The long one, the katana, was for cutting into other people. The short one was for cutting into yourself. The Shogunate opposed dueling. The Daimyo or other overlord was supposed to decide the winner in disputes and order the loser to commit seppuku. No messy dueling by the parties involved.

Miyamoto Musashi was not typical. He lived at the beginning of Shogunate. He had fought at Sekigahara. He wandered around fighting duels like knight errant of the Middle Ages or Theseus in ancient times. But dueling like firearms died out. By the Meiji restoration Samurai were mostly just welfare cheats and social parasites. They were more likely to sell their swords than to use them.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

Charles Dickens has a tremendous article, "Shots (Dead And) Gone," about dueling in Ireland. There are descriptions of a number of duels, including a long discussion of the Bellomont-Townshend duel.

Duels in Ireland were dangerous, though not invariably fatal. I've heard figures of 15% mortality as a lower bound.

The actual explanation of Humanity Dick is that he probably only fought 20 or so duels (still a grand total).

If you'd like the particulars on the events involving his first wife, search for "Martin's Divorce Bill" here.

According to rumor, Vessey was unfaithful to him from the first (one of his nine children with her was not his), and he divorced her only when she moved to France with her lover.

I believe that "Humanity Dick" was the inspiration for Maturin's reputation as a duelist in The O'Brian novels. And the story of his divorce seems remarkably similar to the divorce in Ford Maddox Ford's Parade's End.

MKP said...

"German university student dueling:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_fencing

The ideal was to get a cool scar on the left cheek without much flinching."


Famed astronomer and scientist Tycho Brahe lost the bridge of his nose in such a duel. Supposedly, he wore a copper implant, affixed by bands that wrapped around his head, for the rest of his life.

Steve, if you even need something interesting to write about, Tycho Brahe is a wealth of material.

Anonymous said...

An interesting parallel is the sailing lowland Scots, and the landlocked highlanders.

I, too, have never heard of the Sea Shepherds and their unique breed of sheep.

I also do not know how uncle Ebeneezer was going to get David Balfour to the west Indies to be a slave.

Steve Sailer said...

"Steve, if you even need something interesting to write about, Tycho Brahe is a wealth of material."

I've been thinking about a piece on his influence on "Hamlet."

Anonymous said...

Nords had something called "rogaland dueling" , which involved tying their arms together via cord, putting them on cow skin, and giving them both knives. No first blood here.

Sean said...

Lincoln was long in the habit of mocking people in anonymous letters he left on the road and sent to the papers. An Irish soldier who he ridiculed (it was Lincoln, and not his wife as admirers tried to claim) as an unmanly coward, and told to get back where he came from, challenged him to a duel. Lincoln 6'4'', tried to make conditions that were certain death for the Irishman. Lincoln as the challenged had the choice he said it was to be broadswords and and over a little fence that neither could cross on pain of being shot. The Irishman said OK.

Come the day, Lincoln's admirers said, the Irishman realised he was at a disadvantage when he saw Lincoln warming up, and called it off. Lincoln refused to discuss the incident ever after . Others say Lincoln apologised (chickened out). Lincoln stopped mocking people after this.

Hereward said...

The Irish Code Duello was rather bloodier than others, and was the one most used in the U.S. It's available here.
Dueling was considered a vital part of a young Irish gentleman's education. "The two first questions always asked as to a young man's respectability and qualifications, particularly when he proposed for a lady wife, were, 'What family is he of?' and 'Did he ever blaze?'"
Sir Jonah Barrington, Personal Sketches of His Own Times.

irishman said...

"Lincoln stopped mocking people after this."

The man in question was James Shields. Lincoln is one of those people you like less and less the more you know about him.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Shields

Harry Baldwin said...

The head of the werewolves, a Nazi special forces outfit during the war, had some seriously gnarly dueling scars. His name escapes me

Are you thinking of Otto Skorzeny, "Hitler's commando"? Gnarly scars indeed.

David Davenport said...

...

They arise over affairs of honor and reputation usually relating to a poisoned look, an inappropriate laugh, a too-quick turning away, a sneer, or the like.

Of course, no Negro duelist, family or friend, soils his honor by going to the police. These matters are, as one would expect of an honor-based culture, handled internally.

Andrew Jackson would have approved of that honor-based culture.

David Davenport said...

Here's a part of Sam Clemen's life that he found em-bare-assing:

Clemens ( i.e., Mark Twain ) spent a couple of weeks in a Confederate army training camp before bugging out to San Francisco.

The gist of it is, Mark Twain dodged taking a moral and physical side in the great war of his time.

David Davenport said...

In sketching the history of the judicial combat we have traced the parentage of the modern duel. Strip the former of its legality, and divest it of its religious sanction, and the latter remains. We are justified, then, in dating the com-mencement of duelling from the abolition of the wager of battle. To pursue its history we must return to France, the country where it first arose, and the soil on which it has most flourished.

The causes which made it indigenous to France are sufficiently explained by the condition of society and the national character. As Buckle has pointed out, duelling is a special development of chivalry, and chivalry is one of the phases of the protective spirit which was predominant in France up to the time of the Revolution. Add to this the keen sense of personal honour, the susceptibility, and the pugnacity which distinguish the French race. Montaigne, when touching on this subject in his essays, says, "Put three Frenchmen together on the plains of Libya, and they will not be a month in company without scratching one another’s eyes out."

The third chapter of d’Audiguier’s Ancien usage des duels is headed, "Pourquoi les seuls Français se battent en duel." English literature abounds with allusions to this characteristic of the French nation. Lord Herbert of Cherbury, who was ambassador at the court of Louis XIII, says, "There is scarce a Frenchman worth looking on who has not killed his man in a duel." Ben Jonson, in his Magnetic Lady, makes Compass, the scholar and soldier, thus describe France, "that garden of humanity":—

There every gentleman professing arms
Thinks he is bound in honour to embrace
The bearing of a challenge for another,
Without or questioning the cause or asking
Least colour of a reason.

Duels were not common before the 16th century. Hallam attributes their prevalence to the barbarous custom of wearing swords as a part of domestic dress, a fashion which was not introduced till the later part of the 15th century. In 1560 the states-general at Orleans supplicated Charles IX. to put a stop to duelling. Hence the famous ordinance of 1566, drawn up by the Chancellor de l’Hôpital, which served as the basis of the successive ordinances of the following kings. Under the frivolous and sanguinary reign of Henry III., "who was as eager for excitement as a woman," the rage for duels spread till it became almost an epidemic. In 1602 the combined remonstrances of the church and the magistrates extorted from the king an edict condemning to death whoever should give or accept a challenge or act as second.

But public opinion was revolted by such rigour, and the statute remained a dead letter. A duel forms a fit conclusion to the reign. A hair-brained youth named L’Isle Marivaux swore that he would not survive his beloved king, and threw his cartel into the air. It was at once picked up, and Marivaux soon obtained the death he had courted. Henry IV. began his reign by an edict against duels, but he was known in private to favour them; and, when De Crequi asked leave to fight Don Philip of Savoy, he is reported to have said, "Go, and if I were not a king I would be your second." Fontenay-Mareuil says, in his Mémoires, that in the eight years between 1601 and 1609, 2000 men of noble birth fell in duels. ...


http://www.1902encyclopedia.com/D/DUE/duel.html

David Davenport said...

Voltaire, a young man in the France of King Louis' XIV, supposedly was seen talking too loudly at the opera in December of 1725 by a certain French aristocrat named the Chevalier de Rohan-Chabot. In the France of that time, anyone who did not have a de at the end of their name denoting royal patronage was immediately looked down upon. Rohan confronted him superciliously with the haughty question: "Monsieur de Voltaire, Monsieur Arouet - comment vous appelez-vous? [what really is your name?]" Voltaire is said to have replied:

"One who does not trail after a great name,
but knows how to honor that which he has!"

Yikes! The enraged Chevalier raised his cane to strike while Voltaire tried to draw his sword before the fight was broken up and the two separated. Voltaire spent the next day practicing swordsmanship for a duel to the death with Rohan when the aristocrat simply had Voltaire arrested and thrown into the Bastille. Soon thereafter, Voltaire was exiled to England where men and minds were free.


http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/rousseau/rousseau.html

Anonymous said...

"in the eight years between 1601 and 1609, 2000 men of noble birth fell in duels."
Shows how grotesquely swollen the French "Nobility" was if even this wasn't enough to cull them. One thing that enabled England to pull ahead of Europe was the feudal nobility obligingly exterminated themselves fighting over the crown in the 15thC.