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Even back then, people wanted to shoot their banker
July 17, 2011 9:45 PM   Subscribe

One August morning in 1826, two men went for a walk in the Scottish countryside. Only one of them came back alive. Timewatch tells the story of two men who fought to the death with pistols: one a respected merchant, reluctantly provoked into an unwanted duel; the other a professional soldier, steeped in military tradition. The soldier also happened to be the merchant’s bank manager. It would end with the death of one man and mark the demise of a 600-year-old ritual.

The duel, whether with blades, pistols, or... other methods, was for centuries recognized both socially and legally as a way to resolve matters of honor between men of high social class. Women & peasants need not apply.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey (51 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm always partial to the Burr v Hamilton duel and its great Got Milk? commercial.
posted by dealing away at 10:21 PM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's hard to believe Michael Bay directed that.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:26 PM on July 17, 2011


Previously: Abraham Lincoln's duel
posted by 7segment at 10:27 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Skip to 41 minutes in if you don't have the time to watch the whole bloody thing now.
posted by pracowity at 10:37 PM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have to admit that I am fascinated by dueling, and there are days during which the romantic side of me wishes that more disagreements could be settled under the code duello. You do see it around, still: Uwe Boll's boxing matches against his critics being the most obvious recent example. But then I think about how stupid trial by combat is. It's a reversal to our most primitive instincts - "might makes right" - with a conclusion that is far too open to chance, physical skill and brute strength. In that spirit I've always admired Abraham Lincoln's response to being challenged to a duel - broadswords in a divided pit, which was (to the future Rail Splitter's evident relief) declined just as soon as the offended party realised just how long Lincoln's reach was. (As noted by 7segment's referenced post.)

Civilization, as I see, is defined by two things: taxes, and the ability to win arguments intellectually.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 10:46 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Michael Bay directed the Aaron Burr milk commercial? That is truly amazing.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:59 PM on July 17, 2011


It's hard to believe Michael Bay directed that.
Bay: The offer to do Got Milk? came to me and I'm like, "Milk? That's embarrassing." When I did it, I was like, "This is a terrible commercial. I don't get it." It won the Grand Prix Clio for Commercial of the Year. I think it's an OK commercial.
He also thought that Raider's of the Lost Ark was going to suck after seeing the storyboards. link. previously. I like Armageddon, but, man, that guy is a complete dumbass.
posted by stavrogin at 11:01 PM on July 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


He directed it. He didn't write it.
posted by philip-random at 11:01 PM on July 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ah, that makes more sense.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:04 PM on July 17, 2011


There can be only one!
posted by bwg at 11:07 PM on July 17, 2011


[facepalm]

Okay, so the duel didn't quite mark the demise of a 600 year old ritual. It marked the beginning of the last 20 years before the demise of a 600 year old ritual.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:08 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Women & peasants need not apply.

I can't answer for the peasants but there were a few female duelists.
posted by ninazer0 at 11:11 PM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Don't like Pat Metheny huh?

There is a way to settle this, and it involves two bananas and a chair.
posted by the noob at 11:15 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not Pat Metheny I don't like. His evisceration of Kenny G is for the ages.

But man, some of his playing (so tasteful and assured, so exquisitely, demurely, manifestly .... something) does make me want to frighten me small children. Make them cry.


but I resist the urge ... as I resolve my arguments with my intellect and I pay my taxes
posted by philip-random at 11:57 PM on July 17, 2011


Everybody knows what happens when you run from a duel.

You discover Tomacco.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:46 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's a reversal to our most primitive instincts - "might makes right"

I don't think that really captures it for me. In a culture that has very restricted emotional expression, strict codes of honour and more limited legal and social systems for dealing with things than we do now, one person is so angry at another that they have to do something.

Honour and good conduct means they don't wage war on their family, or murder them in cold blood which could lead to blood feuds and social breakdown in cultures where this happens. So they both agree to limited violence and when it's over it's over.

Similarly, people used to agree to go outside a pub to fight each other then it was over.

It's not the best way, but I can see why it happens.
posted by Not Supplied at 12:49 AM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


French politicians, writers, journalists and artists duelled throughout the 19th and the 20th century. Georges Clémenceau (twice, in 1872 and 1893), Léon Blum (1912) and Jean Jaurès (1904) all defended their honour through highly publicised duels. One of the last public duels took place in 1967, between the colourful Mayor or Marseille, Gaston Defferre, and René Ribière, a parliament member who had shouted "Shut up, moron!" at Defferre during a debate at the National Assembly. Ribière did not intend to die (he was getting married the next day) but was scratched a couple of times. Another famous duel took place in 1959 between the dancer Serge Lifar and the Marquis de Cuevas (trivia: the witness with an eyepatch is none other than the future extreme right-wing National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who had just lost his eye in a brawl, not in a duel).
posted by elgilito at 1:39 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Duelling is in fact still practiced to this day, in the only slightly sanitised version of "Mensur", in a number of (very conservative) German and Austrian "fighting" student fraternities ("schlagende Verbindungen").

And as elgilito points out, duels to the death were still an occasional feature of social life in most of Latin Europe until well into the XX century. "Count" Pepito Abatino, Josephine Baker's first husband, fought for her honour on at least one occasion (although la Baker eventually intervened to separate the two duellers).
posted by Skeptic at 2:58 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


There ought to be mental duels -- if someone insults you, have it out with him in a public sphere. You each go into a soundproofed Faraday cage and have a Faraday cage match. The winner is decided based on how each responds to questions or tasks passed into the cage on paper. You can respond using only what you recall and what you can say or draw or write on the spot. You can't take in notes, books, computers, or phones. If part of the agreed contest involves back and forth between the two contestants, one is cut off while it is the other's turn, so one person can't just scream the other person down. And no physical contact possible: no actual fighting, just communication and possible victory or humiliation.
posted by pracowity at 3:07 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not the best way, but I can see why it happens

Totally agree with this. Duelling is a quick, cheap and final method of dispute resolution between private actors, which is why it was popular in the time before (a) people had reasonably efficient access to a system of State courts and tribunals; and (b) the State cemented its monopoly on violence.

Given that both (a) and (b) cost taxpayer dollars, duelling is actually being reinstated in the UK as an efficient, "user pays" dispute resolution system that removes a burden on the State and makes people take responsibility for their OWN lives.

So three cheers for Prime Minister Cameron and his policy of a "Big Society", and if you don't like it, why not just arrange a duel and shoot the smarmy, posh dickhead in the face.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 3:17 AM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


French politicians, writers, journalists and artists duelled throughout the 19th and the 20th century... Even Marcel Proust 'fought' a duel:
After the novelist Jean Lorrain implied in print that he was gay, Proust challenged him to a duel; they fired their pistols symbolically into the air and went on about their business. (source).
posted by misteraitch at 3:43 AM on July 18, 2011


A small niggling annoyance with this FPP, in that this is the right and proper pistol duel link that should've been used from Barry Lyndon, instead of the duel with John Quin.

And it's the methodical brilliantly filmed pistol duel between Redmond Barry (Barry Lyndon), and his step-son, Lord Bullington.* (SPOILER).

The damn thing unfolds like a perfect choreographic piece. It is amazing how codified the ritual was, and how strangely beautiful.
posted by Skygazer at 4:11 AM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


ON second thought, I imagine most of the strange controlled beauty of it, is attributable to Kubrick.
posted by Skygazer at 4:18 AM on July 18, 2011


Duelling is in fact still practiced to this day, in the only slightly sanitised version of "Mensur", in a number of (very conservative) German and Austrian "fighting" student fraternities ("schlagende Verbindungen").

You can see an example of a Mensur challenge and duel in this filming of Heinrich Manns "Der Untertan".
posted by ts;dr at 4:19 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


(btw, Der Untertan is a very good book too!)
posted by ts;dr at 4:24 AM on July 18, 2011


But then I think about how stupid trial by combat is. It's a reversal to our most primitive instincts - "might makes right" -

Trial by combat isn't really based around the idea that "might makes right" is it? I thought it was based on the idea that God would not allow the guilty to succeed in the judicial duel, so the party that one the duel would always be the party in the right.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:22 AM on July 18, 2011


I thought it was based on the idea that God would not allow the guilty to succeed in the judicial duel, so the party that one the duel would always be the party in the right.

Really? I thought it was based on the idea that "Yez insulted me honor, and I'll gut yez if I can."
posted by 1adam12 at 5:25 AM on July 18, 2011


Yez insulted me honor, and I'll gut yez if I can.

Is it talk-like-a-pirate day, already?


I would think the unspoken implied aspect of Yez insulted me honor, and I'll gut yez if I can is: because I am righteous Christian, and God will be on my side.

I guess, many a man faced a duel and realized they weren't really as Christian as they would've originally thought, and thought up some trickery or other to force the hand of a win squarely in there court. Although, of course, maybe that would be proving God was on their side, which of course, would mean God helps those who help themselves or simply Christians are fools who can be tricked.

Where did I leave that plate of beans?
posted by Skygazer at 5:33 AM on July 18, 2011


You know, I'd hear about the whole Mensur thing, but never seen any examples. Some video research shows that it's possibly the silliest, least efficient way of fighting with swords that's still capable of leaving somebody seriously hurt. I didn't think you could make dueling that goofy.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 6:00 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Trial by combat and the dueling code aren't the same thing. In England at least, trial by combat for matters at law died out hundreds of years before people stopped dueling. I think the last judicial duel in England was in the 15th century and they were rare before that, but people in English (later British) public life dueled over matters of honor into the 19the century.
posted by immlass at 6:05 AM on July 18, 2011


Something, something in challenging a Kzin, You scream and you leap something.....
posted by mikelieman at 6:18 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Leon Humphreys remained adamant yesterday that his right to fight a champion nominated by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) was still valid under European human rights legislation. He said it would have been a "reasonable" way to settle the matter.

Magistrates sitting at Bury St Edmunds on Friday had disagreed and instead of accepting his offer to take on a clerk from Swansea with "samurai swords, Ghurka knives or heavy hammers", fined him £200 with £100 costs.

posted by b1tr0t at 6:48 AM on July 18, 2011



Pray allow me to recommend An Affair of Honor-The Duel.
While dueling may seem barbaric to modern men, it was a ritual that made sense in a society in which the preservation of male honor was absolutely paramount. A man’s honor was the most central aspect of his identity, and thus its reputation had to be kept unvarnished by any means necessary.
“A coward, a man incapable either of defending or of revenging himself, wants one of the most essential parts of the character of a man.” Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
[N]o gentleman relished having to fight a duel and risk both killing and being killed. . . . [D]uels were often not intended to be fights to the death, but to first blood.

A duel fought with swords might end after one man simply scratched the arm of the other. In pistol duels, it was often the case that a single volley was fired, and assuming both men had survived unscathed, satisfaction was deemed to be achieved through their mutual willingness to risk death. Men sometimes aimed for their opponent’s leg or even deliberately missed, desiring only to satisfy the demands of honor. Only about 20% of duels ended in a fatality.

The practice was also thought to increase civility throughout society. To avoid being challenged to the duel, gentlemen were careful not to insult or slight others. . .

. . . But they were not spontaneous affairs in which an insult was given and the parties marched immediately outside to do battle (in fact, striking another gentleman made you a social pariah). A duel had to be conducted calmly and coolly to be dignified, and the preliminaries could take weeks or months; a letter requesting an apology would be sent, more letters would be exchanged, and if peaceful resolution could not be reached, plans for the duel would commence.
posted by Herodios at 6:50 AM on July 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


mikelieman: "Something, something in challenging a Kzin, You scream and you leap something....."

"Louis Wu, I found your challenge verbose. When challenging a Kzin, a simple scream of rage will suffice. You scream and you leap."
posted by Chrysostom at 7:06 AM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


[spoiler]


Any evidence that Morgan shot wide I wonder? It was not uncommon do have a duel with the understanding that both principals would intentionally miss or at least aim for extremities. In this case they did not even turn to fire, but had the opportunity to carefully aim.
posted by thefool at 7:18 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Alexander Pushkin supposedly was killed in a duel with some guy who was supposedly shagging his wife in 1837. I don't know of anything weirder or more recent.
posted by bukvich at 7:19 AM on July 18, 2011


History of dueling in America
posted by TedW at 7:26 AM on July 18, 2011


The reason why dueling became obsolete is because the statement, "I must have satisfaction!" took on new overtones in the cultural chasm before 70s porno music had been invented. If "bow-chicka-wow-wow" had been around, we could have moved seamlessly from dueling to hot-hot action in one easy step, thus preserving dueling in a porny afterlife for all eternity.
posted by ob at 8:16 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nowadays, I only duel with banjos.

(The secret it to use it as a stabbing weapon rather than a bludgeon. No one ever seems to see it coming.)
posted by quin at 8:41 AM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


I suspect a not-insignificant problem in conducting a (pistol) duel today would be finding suitable weapons. Unless both parties were complete amateurs, the distances involved in the Barry Lyndon duel would be almost invariably fatal with modern handguns and ammunition, unless you missed intentionally.

So I wonder whether part of the decline of dueling wasn't because it was becoming more and more dangerous over time, as pistols moved from firing round ball to Minie balls to modern bullets out of rifled barrels ... there's not much room for the hand of God when you're using a weapon that can consistently hit center-mass when aimed and fired at fifty feet, or whatever your chosen distance happens to be. It sort of loses the sporting aspect if you do it close enough that the first person to fire invariably hits the other, and becomes a bit impersonal if you back off to a distance long enough to be really challenging if both parties are standing still and facing each other.

Interestingly, I've seen matched sets of modern handguns sold which definitely recall, in terms of aesthetics, the matched sets of dueling pistols that were sold throughout the 17th-19th centuries. Obviously not intended to be used that way, but it's interesting that the concept and aesthetics has remained popular beyond the actual use.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:47 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Kadin2048 i writes "I suspect a not-insignificant problem in conducting a (pistol) duel today would be finding suitable weapons. Unless both parties were complete amateurs, the distances involved in the Barry Lyndon duel would be almost invariably fatal with modern handguns and ammunition, unless you missed intentionally."

If you were willing to go less than lethal plastic training bullets, preferably in revolvers, would allow one to use any handy handgun. And while a snub nosed revolver can produce less than 10" groups at 50 yards most people aren't anywhere near that good. I wonder how a snub nose with a barrel reamed to remove rifling would perform.
posted by Mitheral at 11:52 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


*glove slap*
posted by Sys Rq at 12:17 PM on July 18, 2011


Interestingly, I've seen matched sets of modern handguns sold which definitely recall, in terms of aesthetics, the matched sets of dueling pistols that were sold throughout the 17th-19th centuries.

I've seen those as well, and yes there is a definite callback to the old dueling pistol style, but in at least some cases it's a "You have two hands, so here are two matching guns" kind of thing, particularly when the style is single action revolvers (cowboy guns).

The one nice thing is that this is the place where you are most likely to find real artistry in the firearm making process, because paired guns are most often for decoration more than actual use, and you will see the real detail work that can be put into a gun not meant to be fielded.
posted by quin at 12:28 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I wonder whether part of the decline of dueling wasn't because it was becoming more and more dangerous over time

Yes and no.

The last paragraph of TedW's link, above:
By the time of the Civil War, dueling had begun an irreversible decline, even in the South. Not surprisingly, public opinion, not legislation, caused the change. What once had been a formal process designed to avoid violence and amend grievances had deteriorated into cold-blooded murder. People at last were shocked by it, and they showed their disdain. It may have been too late to save Alexander Hamilton. But if American was to become a truly civilized nation, the publicly sanctioned bloodshed would have to end.
A lesson for anyone who champions social change.
 
posted by Herodios at 12:37 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you were willing to go less than lethal plastic training bullets, preferably in revolvers, would allow one to use any handy handgun.

Mitheral for Minister of Justice please.
posted by Not Supplied at 5:51 PM on July 18, 2011


Waitwaitwait. What's this about the duel ending in the 1820s? I don't buy mensur-as-duel; it's just a brutal sport, after all, fights are matches, not angry men settling arguments.
But: dueling with epees continued well into the 20th century. Italian olympic fencing great Aldo Nadi fought a duel and wrote about it.
Others fought duels as late as 1967, in fact, there's video!
Look for more videos by that same youtube user to see more actual dueling.
For those hesitant to click the link for fear of seeing someone killed on film: no-one dies. The men wave sharp epees at each other from long distance, with bad form, and then declare themselves satisfied. Only small scratches to the forearm are delivered in any of the videos.
posted by agentofselection at 9:08 PM on July 18, 2011


A duel was once even fought over the skies of Paris, with the participants utilizing blunderbusses in an attempt to rupture each other’s hot air balloons. One succeeded, sending the opposing man and his comrade plummeting to their death, while the winner floated triumphantly away.

Hello next year's indie gaming hit.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:02 PM on July 18, 2011


The documentary seemed very biased towards the winner of the duel, relying heavily on the input from the winner's descendant. Like thefool, I am also wondering whether Morgan deliberately missed.
posted by aielen at 5:31 AM on July 19, 2011


You know, I'd hear about the whole Mensur thing, but never seen any examples. Some video research shows that it's possibly the silliest, least efficient way of fighting with swords that's still capable of leaving somebody seriously hurt. I didn't think you could make dueling that goofy.

I was once invited to witness a Mensur, but I (very politely) declined. I watched a Bursche train against a wooden stump, though, and it was more terrifying than silly. Those Mensur swords pack a mighty whack, and they may well break a skull, or at least a jawbone, even if they hit it flat.
posted by Skeptic at 5:46 AM on July 19, 2011


Even though it was Lansdale's descendant who did the piece, I kinda find it hard to believe that an ex-soldier like Morgan is going to go to the trouble to have the blacksmith cast him 30 bullets, practice his marksmanship, and deliberately provoke a duel with them man who talked all kinds of shit to his bosses in London, called him & his brother liars and dishonest businessmen... and then shoot wide so as not to hit him.

I lean towards those pistol weren't rifled, were shooting round balls, and so there was no guarantee that the ball would actually fly at the target you were drawing a bead on. I think the amateur got lucky and the soldier very unlucky.

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:20 AM on July 24, 2011


Best dueling pistols ever.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:29 PM on July 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


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