Thursday, August 22, 2013

Twisted Honor

From William Douglas's Duelling Days in the Army (1887), p. v-vi:
"Dueling," said that clever, though rather eccentric philosophical writer, Mandeville, "is the tie of society, and although we are beholden to our frailties for the chief ingredient in it, there has been no virtue, at least" (he adds) "that I am acquainted with, which has proved half so instrumental to the civilizing of mankind; who, in great societies, would soon degenerate into cruel villains and treacherous slaves, were honour to be removed from among them."

But what is honour? The other day a captain in the Russian army stole some seventy pounds from a lady's bag, and when the money was found upon him he pulled out a revolver and shot himself, preferring death to the dishonour of being discovered to be a thief. The act did not of itself, seemingly in his opinion, dishonour him, it was simply in being found put; and this, we almost fancy, must have been Mandeville's opinion of it. Had the Russian officer just referred to got clear away with his plunder, and any one afterwards accused him of the theft, he would have called his accuser out, and thus vindicated his own honour. He might certainly have shot his opponent, but would still have remained what he was, namely, an undiscovered thief. Therefore, in whatever way we regard the subject, dueling at the best was but a relic of a barbarous age; and at the worst--well, we need not describe what that might be. That dueling should continue in the army, long after most stringent orders had been issued against it, is only what might reasonably be expected among men who had not only an inclination for fighting, but had the weapons, as a rule, ready to their hands.

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