Thursday, August 22, 2013

An Apologia for the Duel

An apologia for the duel from Mrs. St. Julien Ravenel's Charleston: The Place and the People (1912):
The evil [of dueling] was great, but some things can be said in its favour. The knowledge that an account would be required of his words and actions brought constantly to a man's mind, not as a menace but as a principle, the belief that his words were a part of his character and his life. False or cruel speech was to be answered for, as was an evil act; it, therefore, was held to be an act, not mere empty breath, as it is too often considered now. "The word" had its true value. Other injuries were thus punished also. An affront to a man's character or family, a wrong or even a discourtesy to a woman or to an absent friend, evoked a challenge, but business difficulties were not cause of battle. Those were settled by courts of law; the duel guarded personal honour, which the law was powerless to defend. One who can remember the exquisite urbanity of the social intercourse of fifty years ago, and contrast it with the careless expressions, the rough give and take, of the present, can but wonder how much the old way had to do with the self-respect and consideration for others of that society which people now call half civilized.
At its worst — and its worst was very grievous — duelling was not so bad as those shocking unregulated encounters which occur now when the passions of men are beyond control, and which cost more lives than were ever sacrificed to the old duello.

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