« PreviousContinue »
union ; so now, he would humbly cherish the belief that the influence of these tales of blood and crime will be to lessen the number of single combats between persons who may rightfully claim the appellation of gentlemen, and so do something to advance the great cause of human brotherhood.
The account of a single hostile meeting, however sad the details, seldom leaves a deep and lasting impression: but, unless the author much mistakes the nature of the human mind, the effect upon the votaries of the duello of the reading at one time, and in course, of several hundred challenges and duels, which embrace accounts of almost every imaginable form of injury and affront, and of almost every possible variety of result to the parties and to their friends and families, must be far different. Certain it is, that, but for this thought, the task now completed would never have been undertaken.
There are many in New England who will object, because terms of unconditional, indiscriminate condemnation of the duel. list have been withheld. (With all respect, be it so. Yet let it be said in reply, that the sympathy manifested in these pages is in no case for the crime, but always for the unhappy social position of the duellist. Most persons, it is apprehended, who calmly consider the subject as it actually is, will assent to and fully appreciate the duellist's plea ; namely, that, if wronged or insulted, he is required to choose between a violation of human and divine laws on the one hand, and the loss of his place in society on the other; and that of consequence, and do what he may, he falls a helpless sacrifice. While, then, there is a grave sin to condemn, there is also a feeling of commiseration to indulge.
During my investigations, I have been convinced of the entire justice of the remark of the great British novelist of modern times, that “few successful duellists (if the word successful can be applied to a superiority so fatal) have beheld their dead antagonist stretched on the earth at their feet, without wishing they could redeem with their own blood that which it has been
their fate to spill.” The scene in the. Monastery, between Sir Piercie Shafton and Halbert Glendinning, — where the passage above cited occurs, - is drawn from real life : and this volume contains more than one instance in which the fallen duellist liter. ally tendered his unharmed adversary his purse, and counselled him to fly and save himself; in which the latter “tore his hair for very sorrow, as he looked on the pale countenance of his victim”; and in which he exclaimed, in vain penitence, like Halbert, "Why did I provoke him to an issue so fatal! Would to God I had submitted to the worst insult man could receive from man, rather than be the bloody instrument of this bloody deed.”
Such are the general reasons that have induced the author, except in particular cases, to spare the individual man ; but to spare him only that the Public Opinion, the Fashion around him and enslaving him, and which, inexorable in their demands, impose upon him alternatives so appallingly cruel, so utterly unworthy of the civilization of the age, might be assailed with the greater force.
Again : the author, during his researches, has been much im.' pressed with the fact that most duels grow out of trifles; or, as Scott states it, out of “the taking of the wall, or the gentle rub of the shoulder in passing each other, or a hasty word, or a misconceived gesture." And the reader of these Notes will find ample illustrations of the sentiment of Sir Henry Lee, – that inveterate quoter of Shakespeare, and stout old adherent of the Stuarts, in Woodstock, that “ The mother of mischief is no bigger than a gnat's wing; and I have known fifty instances in my own day, when, as Will
In single opposition, hand to hand, in which, after the field was fought, no one could remember the cause of quarrel.”
To assume, as may be done without violence to the general truth, that a large proportion of the cartels are given for trivial
causes, and to assume, also, that REMORSE is wellnigh the uni. versal companion of the “successful” duellist, may not gentle. men in duelling communities be kindly asked, Whether the CODE OF HONOR ought not now to be abolished ? In view of the latter proposition especially, may they not be gently remind. ed - ere resolving to appeal to the pistol — of the long roll of those, who, once the pride and hope of the country, went to untimely graves, and of those who, “successful” enough to sur. vive, lived on with wan and haggard face, seeming to say to all observers : “ BE WARNED!” We
“ Eat our meal in fear, and sleep In the affliction of these terrible dreams
That shake us nightly." One word more. Entire accuracy, in a work of this description, is not perhaps possible, and for reasons which every stu. dent of history will understand without explanation. Yet it may be proper
to observe, that, as authorities often differ, and sometimes, indeed, absolutely contradict one another in material circumstances, the writer has been compelled in several cases to select the account which appeared the most probable, and in others, to omit every detail beyond the simple facts of a hostile meeting and its result to the parties. The assurance needs only to be added, that he has designed to arrive at the truth, and to state it in all singleness of purpose.