Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, March 16, 2007


Below is an excerpt from a book review in The New Yorker. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full review.

The book reviewed, The Last Duel: A True Story of Death and Honour, by James Landale, is at Amazon right here -

Other books you might find of interest are The Secret History of the Sword, by J. Christoph Amberger - and

By the Sword, by Richard Cohen -

En Garde!
The history of duelling.
by Arthur Krystal March 12, 2007

Duelling codes, though intended to curb violence, may only have ritualized it.

On the night of June 10, 1804, Alexander Hamilton seated himself at his desk in his home in upper Manhattan to finish a letter explaining why the following morning would find him in Weehawken, New Jersey, pointing a flintlock pistol at Vice-President Aaron Burr. He began by listing five moral, religious, and practical objections to duelling, but ruefully concluded, seven paragraphs later, that “what men of the world denominate honor” made it impossible for him to “decline the call.” Burr had placed him in an untenable position. If Hamilton ignored the challenge, Burr would “post” him—that is, publish his refusal in the newspapers—and his political career would effectively be ruined. The next morning, Hamilton had himself rowed across the Hudson.
“If we were truly brave, we should not accept a challenge; but we are all cowards,” a friend of Hamilton’s said after his death. He was thinking not only of Hamilton but of all men in public life whose reputations were at the mercy of political rivals and incendiary journalism. As Joanne B. Freeman makes plain in “Affairs of Honor” (2001), Hamilton and Burr belonged to a class for whom no public offense could go unchallenged even if one felt no personal outrage. Hamilton, too, had issued challenges and seconded other men—one way or another, he had been involved in more than ten “affairs of honor”—while Burr had been party to three duels, including one where he actually took the field. Neither of them was an exception among the Founding Fathers.
Button Gwinnet, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, died of wounds received in a duel; and James Monroe refrained from challenging John Adams only because Adams was President at the time. Some years later, Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay took part in duels, and even the young Abraham Lincoln came very close to a sword fight with James Shields, a fellow-Illinoisan who eventually became a Union general.
Duelling is an anachronism, of course. This is true because it may still crop up. In 1954, Ernest Hemingway was challenged to a duel in Cuba, but declined. In 1967, two French politicians literally crossed swords in Neuilly. And four years ago a Peruvian legislator challenged his nation’s Vice-President to meet him on a beach near Lima. No one anticipates such shenanigans at Buckingham Palace, but the Queen, as it happens, still retains an official champion who stands ready to challenge anyone who disputes her sovereignty.
This rather daunting fact turns up in James Landale’s “The Last Duel: A True Story of Death and Honor” (Canongate; $24). Landale, a correspondent for the BBC, is descended from one of the two men who fought the last recorded fatal duel on Scottish soil. Relying on a trial transcript, newspaper accounts, bank documents, and the correspondence of the duellists, Landale elegantly reconstructs the circumstances that forced his ancestor David Landale, at the mature age of thirty-nine, to challenge his former banker, George Morgan. David Landale, a linen merchant from the coastal town of Kirkcaldy, just north of Edinburgh, was, if anything, more reluctant than Hamilton to pick up a pistol; he didn’t even own one. But the code of honor extended to wherever men conducted business, and honor dictated that Landale challenge Morgan. The two met in a field on the morning of August 23, 1826; only one left the spot alive.


ms_lili said...

If you want to see an excellent movie on duels, check out The Duellists. Made in 1977, it stars Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine. Directed by Ridley Scott (the guy who directed Blade Runner), it's set in the France of Napolean's time. The drama revolves around dueling and human nature.

Rick Matz said...

That's a terrific movie

Compass360 Consulting Group said...

Miyamoto Musashi the Japanese sword saint, (the master of the two sword style) was famous for carry a sword everywhere he went. Even when he bathe, he has his small sword no further than one feet away.