Chapter 14

Containing Reflections

 The Captain was a good man, but unacquainted with the world. His ideas were drawn chiefly from what may be called the old school: the Greek and Roman notions of things. The combat of the duel was to them unknown; though it seems strange, that a people who were famous for almost all arts and sciences, should have remained ignorant of its use. I do not conceive how, as a people, they could exist without it. But so it was, they actually were without the knowledge of it. For we do not find any trace of this custom in the poets or historians of all antiquity.

I do not know at what period, precisely, the custom was introduced, or to whom it was owing; but omitting this disquisition, we content ourselves with observing, that it has produced as great an improvement in manners as the discovery of the load-stone and mariner's compass has in navigation. Not that I mean to descant at full length on the valuable effects of it; but simply to observe, that it is a greater aid to government than the alliance of church and state itself. If Dr. Warburton had had leisure, I could wish he had written a treatise upon it. Some affect to ridicule it, as carrying to a greater length small differences, than the aggravation may justify. As for instance, a man is angry enough with you to give you a slap in the face; but the custom says, he must shoot you through the head. I think the smaller the aggravation, the nicer the sense of honour. The heaviest mind will resent a gross affront; but to kill a man where there is no affront at all, shows a great sensibility. It is immaterial whether there is or is not an injury, provided the world thinks there is ; for it is the opinion of mankind we are to consult. It is a duty which we owe them, to provide for their amusement. Non nascimur nobis ipsis; we are not born for ourselves, but for others. Decorum pro patria mori; it is a becoming thing to die for one’s country; and shall it not also be accounted honourable to throw one’s life away for the entertainment of a few particular neighbours and acquaintances? It is true, the tears that will be shed upon your grave will not make the grass grow; but you will have the consolation, when you leave the world, to have fallen inthe bed of honour.

It is certainly a very noble institution, that of the duel; and it has been carried to very great perfection in some respects. Nevertheless, I would submit it to the public, whether still further improvements might not be made in the laws and regulations of it. For instance, could it not be reduced nearer to an equality of chances, by proportioning the caliber, or bore of the pistol; the length of the barrel, also, to the size of the duellist who holds it; or by fixing the ratio of distance in proportion to the bulk of combatants? To explain myself: When I am to fight a man of small size, I ought to have a longer pistol than my adversary, because my mark is smaller; or I ought to be permitted to come nearer to him. For it is altogether unfair that men of unequal bulk should fire at equal distances, and with equal calibers. The smaller size multiplied by the larger space, or larger pistol, would equal the larger size multiplied by the smaller space or smaller pistol.... If this amendment of the duel laws should be approved by men of honour, let it be added to the code.