Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Detestable Duels & the Lower Class of Officers, 1750

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Susan reporting:

Thanks to Loretta, we've explored many excerpts from early 19th c. ladies' magazines. Men had their own reading material, too. The Gentleman's Magazine was founded in 1731 and ran uninterrupted for nearly two more centuries, until 1922.

The contents of the 18th c. editions clearly catered to the tastes of a Georgian gentleman, including military, judicial, & political news, scientific observations, indignant letters, poetry in Latin, and round-ups of births, deaths, marriages, and executions.

But in light of Loretta's post yesterday outlining the classes & orders of English society, I found this excerpt from the May, 1750 issue particularly interesting. What begins as a general tirade against dueling quickly morphs into a tale of the just deserts served to duelists "of the lower class of officers." To this author, there was a world of difference between honorable, well-bred officers who had served abroad and those described as "pests of human society" – all of whom meet their well-deserved (and most convenient) fates by the end of the paragraph.

From OLD ENGLAND, May 12
Of Duelling...

The detestable practice of dueling calls aloud for restriction. It has been observed to prevail generally after a bad peace: immediately after that of Utrech, some of the lower class of officers, call'd Derby Captains*,  (McManus, McNeal, Hardiman, Scroggs, and Marriot) were the pests of human society, and obtruded themselves into company merely to quarrel; insomuch, that their brother officers took all opportunities of shunning them.
    Mr. McManus was sent to the West Indies as lieutenant of a company, where he continued his pestiferous quarrels, to the great annoyance of the plantation, 'till a stout planter, after the greatest provocation, gave him such a drubbing as put an end to his iniquity and his life together. McNeal, taking an opportunity to salute a gentleman in the road, finished his travels at the gallows. Hardiman, after making a havock among the Irish, of whom he had killed no less than five in duels, and not very fairly, died, to the surprize of all, in his bed. Scroggs and Marriot fortunately quarrelled together, and were artfully, and I think wisely, spirited up against one another, for the good of mankind, into a duel, and dy'd very gallantly by their own swords....

* Derby Captain: "There was a house in Covent Garden for many years remarkable for selling Derbyshire ale, which was cheap, and much drank at that time by the neighbours, and others who frequented the house. The long calm which succeeded the Peace of Utrecht, reduced a great number of officers who had been in the Duke of Marlborough's wars; and, as they had but a scanty provision to live on, those who settled in London...found great convenience in frequenting this house; which they did in time to the amount of such numbers, that they were called, by way of cant name, 'the Derby Captains.'" - Memoirs of Charles Macklin, 1804

Above: French Smallsword Duelists, c. 1740. 
I have no idea exactly why the two hot-tempered combatants in this illustration are being handed their swords by a motley-clad fool – though having a clown stand between duelists does seem appropriate.


Anonymous said...

So according to this, dueling is the best way to dispose of poor or lower class veterans that are "shunned" by more noble officers? Nice.

Regencyresearcher said...

I don't think that is what it says. There were many officers who were quarrlesome and quick to take offense. They brawled and duelled. The author seems to be saying that these men came by their just desserts.
Many in the army were quick to issue a challenge to a duel at the slightest provocation. One Major even said that it was expected and that he would have lost all honour in the eyes of others if he hadn't had a duel with the man he killed.
The court was unsympathetic and hanged him anyway. I think he died protesting army custom.
Duelling pretty much died out in England by 1820's. Though duels were still fought until later in the century, they were neither as numerous nor as accepted as they had been or as they still were in the American South.

Sylvan Lady said...

Yes, I would agree with the hot-tempered part. Many soldiers always find it difficult to try to fit back into civilian society.I can understand how they might seem quarrelsome to other civilians, but if all you have left is your honor, well, you'll defend it, no matter what.

LorettaChase said...

My interpretation is much like Regencyresearcher's. I thought "lower class" was simply a statement regarding rank (both military and social) and "pest" referred to the kinds of men who either had a chip on their shoulder or dueled to feel important. They would insult other men on purpose to provoke a duel. Macho swaggering, IOW. There was a wonderful movie dealing with such a man, "The Duellists."

timqueeney said...

Interesting that for an illegal activity, dueling continued for decades. Suspect middle class officers caught dueling were treated more harshly compared to upper class duelists.

Chris Woodyard said...

This is a French engraving called "Folly". Obviously it is poking fun at the two callow combatants. The jester figure is the Fecht-Narr or Fencing Fool, either created or popularized by an Austrian Dominican monk, Abraham a Santa Clara, d. 1709 who wrote and preached about the follies of society. The “Fool” is also a beginning fencing position or “guard”.

Donna Silver said...

Interesting posts and comments as well. I'm glad you included a definition of "Derby Captain". I had the Kentucky Derby on my mind after last Saturday and I kept thinking of a Derby Captain being somehow related to a Kentucky Colonel, lol!

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket