The club, of which I have often declared myself a member, were last night engaged in a discourse upon that which passes for the chief point of honour among men and women; and started a great many hints upon the subject, which I thought were entirely new. I shall therefore methodize the several reflections that arose upon this occasion. . . .
The great point of honour in men is courage, and in women chastity. If a man loses his honour in one rencounter, it is not impossible for him to regain it in another; a slip in a woman's honour is irrecoverable. I can give no reason for fixing the point of honour to these two qualities, unless it be that each sex sets the greatest value on the qualification which renders them the most amiable in the eyes of the contrary sex. Had men chosen for themselves, without regard to the opinions of the fair sex, I should believe the choice would have fallen on wisdom or virtue; or had women determined their own point of honour, it is probable that wit or good nature would have carried it against chastity.
Nothing recommends a man more to the female sex than courage; whether it be that they are pleased to see one who is a terror to others fall like a slave at their feet, or that his quality supplies their own principal defect, in guarding them from insults, and avenging their quarrels; or that courage is a natural indication of a strong and sprightly constitution. On the other side, nothing makes women more esteemed by the opposite sex than chastity; whether it be that we always prize those most who are hardest to come at, or that nothing nothing besides chastity with its collateral attendants, truth, fidelity, and constancy, gives the man a property in the person he loves, and consequently endears her to him above all things.
In books of chivalry, where the point of honor is strained to madness, the whole story runs on chastity and courage, the heroine’s chastity undergoing as many trials as the hero’s courage.
I am very much pleased with a passage in the inscription on a monument erected in Westminster Abbey to the late duke and duchess of Newcastle. "Her name was Margaret Lucas, youngest sister to the Lord Lucas, of Colchester; a noble family, for all the brothers were valiant, and all the sisters virtuous."
In books of chivalry, where the point of honour is strained to madness, the whole story runs on chastity and courage. The damsel is mounted on a white palfrey as an emblem of her innocence: and. to avoid scandal must have a dwarf for her page. She is not to think of a man, until some misfortune has brought a knight errant to her relief. The knight falls in love, and, did not gratitude restrain her from murdering her deliverer, would die at her feet by her disdain. However, he must wait some years in the desert, before her virgin heart can think of a surrender. The knight goes off, attacks everything he meets that is bigger or stronger than himself, seeks all opportunities of being knocked on the head, and after seven years' rambling returns to his mistress, whose chastity has been attacked in the mean time by giants and tyrants, and undergone as many trials as her lover's valour.
In Spain, where there are still great remains of this romantic humour, it is a transporting favour for a lady to cast an accidental glance on her lover from a window, though it be two or three storeys high; as it is usual for the lover to assert his passion for his mistress in single combat with a mad bull.
The great violation of the point of honour from man to man, is giving the lie. One may tell another he whores, drinks, blasphemes, and it may pass unresented; but to say he lies, though but in jest, is an affront that nothing but blood can expiate. The reason perhaps may be, because no other vice implies a want of courage so much as the making of a lie; and therefore telling a man he lies, is touching him in the most sensible part of honour, and indirectly calling him a coward. I cannot omit under this head what Herodotus tells us of the ancient Persians, that from the age of five years to twenty, they instruct their sons only in three things, to manage the horse, to make use of the bow, and to speak truth.
The placing the point of honour in this false kind of courage, has given occasion to the very refuse of mankind, who have neither virtue nor common sense, to set up for men of honour. An English peer, who has not been long dead,* used to tell a pleasant story of a French gentleman that visited him early one morning at Pans, and, after great professions of respect, let him know that he had it in his power to oblige him; which, in short, amounted to this, that he believed he could tell his lordship the person's name who justled him as he came out from the opera; but before be would proceed, he begged his lordship, that he would not deny him the honour of making him his second. The English lord, to avoid being drawn into a very foolish affair, told him, he was under engagements for his two next duels to a couple of particular friends. Upon which the gentleman immediately withdrew, hoping his lordship would not take it ill if he meddled no farther in an affair from whence he himself was to receive no advantage.
The beating down this false notion of honour, in so vain and lively a people as those of France, is deservedly looked upon as one of the most glorious parts of their present king's reign. It is pity but the punishment of these mischievous notions should have in it some particular circumstances of shame and infamy; that those who are slaves to them may see, that, instead of advancing their reputations, they lead them to ignominy and dishonour.
Death is not sufficient to deter men who make it their glory to despise it; but if every one that fought a duel were to stand on the pillory, it would quickly lessen the number of these imaginary men of honour, and put an end to so absurd a practice.
When honour is a support to virtuous principles, and runs parallel with the laws of God and our country, it cannot be too much cherished and encouraged: but when the dictates of honour are contrary to those of religion and equity, they are the greatest depravations of human nature, by giving wrong ambitions and false ideas of what is good and laudable; and should therefore be exploded by all governments, and driven out as the bane and plague of human society.
* Thought to be William Cavendish, first duke of Devonshire.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Addison on Honour, 1711
Joseph Addison wrote the following on "Honour" in the Spectator, no. 99 (June 23, 1711):