« ForrigeFortsett »
impossible to mention a single instance of their unpoliteness, which duelling, if it had been fashionable among them, would have prevented. Nor do we find, in our days, at least among the enlightened part of mankind, that persons who do not fight duels are less distinguished for elegance of bebaviour than those that do : with some exceptions, the contrary will perhaps be found to be the case. And it is not very honourable to human nature to suppose, that nothing but the fear of death, or of disgrace, can prevail on persons in the higher ranks of life to practise the common rules of goodnature and civility.
That it is difficult to prevent duelling, I shall be willing to admit, when I have seen any legislature attempt the prevention of it seriously, and yet unsuccessfully. But this has not happened as yet, so far as I know. A more despicable mockery of legislation there cannot be, than that pretended prohibition whereby our law is said to discourage it. For surely those laws, or those customs established in defiance of law, which grant not only indemnity, but honour, to the transgressor, and punish obedience with infamy and ruin, must mean either nothing at all, or nothing but public mischief.-As to assassination : it is true, that in modern Italy, where duels are rare, it is very common; but it is impossible to prove, that the infrequency of the one enormity occasions the prevalence of the other. Two or three centuries ago, when the point of honour, in regard to single combat, was carried to a very extravagant height, assassinations were, in most parts of Europe, common to a degree that fills us with horrour. In fact, it is not unnatural, that he, to whose mind one: species of murder is become familiar without being shocking, should, without great difficulty, be able to reconcile himself to any other. To plead in behalf of duels, that they prevent assassination, is not less absurd, than to plead in behalf of robbery, that it prevents theft.
The last sessions deprived us of the only surviving member of a society, which (during its short existence) was equal both in principles and practice to the Mohocks and Hell-fire club of tremendous memory. This society was composed of a few broken gamesters and desperate young rakes, who threw the small remains of their bankrupt fortunes into one common stock, and thence assumed the name of the Last Guinea Club. A short life and a merry one, was their favourite maxim;
and they determined, when their finances should be exhausted, to die as they had lived, like gentlemen. Some of their members had the luck to get a reprieve, by a good run at cards, and others, by snapping up a rich heiress or a dowager: while the rest, who were not cut off in the natural way by duels or the gallows, very resolutely made their quietus with laudanum or the pistol. The last that remained of this society had very calmly prepared for his own execution: he had cocked his pistol, deliberately placed the muzzle of it to bis temple, and was just going to pull the trigger,
when he bethought himself that he could employ it to better purpose upon Hounslow-heath. This brave man, however, had but a very short respite, and was obliged to suffer the ignominy of going out of the world in a vulgar way, by a halter.
The enemies of play will perhaps consider those gentlemen, who holdly stake their whole fortunes at the gaming-table, in the same view with these desperadoes; and they may even go so far as to regard the polite and honourableassemblyat White's as a kind of Last Guinea Club. Nothing, they wili say, is so fluctuating as the property of a gamester, who (when luck runs against him) throws away whole acres at every cast of the dice, and whose houses are as unsure a possession, as if they were built with cards. Many, indeed, have been reduced to their last guinea at this genteel gaminghouse ; but the most inveterate enemies to White's must allow, that it is but now and then that a gamester of quality, who looks upon it as an even bet whether there is another world, takes his chance, and dispatches himself, when the odds are against him in this.
But however free the gentlemen of White's may be from any imputation of this kind, it must be confessed, that suicide begins to prevail so generally, that it is the most gallant exploit by wbich our modern heroes choose to signalize themselves; and in this, indeed, they bebave with uncommon prowess. From the days of Plato down to these, a suicide has always been compared to a soldier on guard deserting his post: but I should rather consider a set of these desperate men, who rush on
certain death, as a body of troops sent out on the forlorn hope. They meet every face of death, however horrible, with the utmost resolution: some blow their brains out with a pistol ; some expire, like Socrates, by poison; some fall, like Cato, on the point of their own swords; and others, who have lived like Nero, affect to die like Seneca, and bleed to death. The most exalted geniuses I ever remember to have heard of were a party of reduced gamesters, who bravely resolved to pledge each other in a bowl of laudanum. I was lately informed of a gentleman, who went among his usual companions at the gaming-table the day before he made away with himself, and coolly questioned them, which they thought the easiest and genteelest method of going out of the world : for there is as much difference between a mean person and a man of quality in their manner of destroying themselves, as in their manner of living. The poor sneaking wretch, starving in a garret, tucks himself up in his list garters; a second, crossed in love, drowns himself like a blind puppy in Rosamond's pond; and a third cuts his throat with his own razor. But the man of fashion almost always dies by a pistol ; and even the cob. ler of any spirit goes off by a dose or two extraordinary of gin.
But this false notion of courage, however noble it may appear to the desperate and abandoned, in reality amounts to no more than the resolution of the highwayman, who shoots himself with his own pistol, when he finds it impossible to avoid being taken. All practicable means, therefore, should be devised to extirpate such absurd bravery, and to make it appear every way horrible, odious, contemptible, and ridiculons. From reading the public prints, a foreigner might be naturally led to imagine, that we are the most lunatic people in the whole world. Almost every day informs us, that the coroner's inquest has sat on the body of some miserable suicide, and brought in their verdict, lunacy; but it is very well known, that the inquiry has not been made into the state of mind of the deceased, but into his fortune and family. The law has indeed provided, the deliberate selfmurderer should be treated like a brute, and denied the rites of burial: but among hundreds of lunatics by purchase, I never knew this sentence executed but on one poor cobler, who hanged himself in bis own stall. A pennyless poor wretch, who has not left enough to defray the funeral charges, may perhaps be excluded the churchyard; but self-murder by a pistol qualifies the polite owner for a sudden death, and entitles him to a pompous burial, and a monument, setting forth his virtues, in Westminster Abbey. Every man in his sober senses must wish, that the most severe laws that could possibly be contrived were enacted against suicides. This shocking bravado never did (and I am confident never will) prevail among the more delicate and tender sex in our own nation: though history informs us, that the Roman ladies were once so infatuated, as to throw off the softness of their nature, and commit violence on themselves, till the madness was curbed' by their exposing their naked bodies in the public streets. This, I think, would afford a hint for fixing the like mark of ignominy on our male