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Gambling and Duel Satire of 1754, "The Connaisseur"

By George Colman the Elder and Bonnell Thornton

The Connaisseur, Thursday, August 29, 1754

Neu, pueri, neu tanta animis assuescite bella (Virg.)
No more, ye bloods, encounter with each other,
but each fine gentleman, embrace his brother.

To Mr. Town,

YOU must have observed a paragraph in the newspapers dated from Dublin, which informs us, "the spirit of duelling is now become so common, that scarce a day passes without one or more being fought in or near that metropolis." I am very much alarmed, lest this madness should cross the seas: to say the truth, I almost begin to think it necessary, that the frequent importation of Irishmen into this kingdom should, for some time, be prohibited ; and an embargo laid on those ships, that are freighted with contraband duellists. It is your duty, Mr. Town, at least to do all in your power to prevent the influence, which the conduct of these heroic gentlemen, who cannot suffer their swords to sleep quietly in their scabbards, may have on our young fellows: I must therefore beg of you to put together a few thoughts on this occasion; and though the subject has been often treated before, I cannot but imagine that there is sufficient room left for you to expatiate on it. It is usual among the bishops, when they find any particular vice prevail, to send orders to the clergy of their respective dioceses to preach against it. In like manner it is your duty, as Censor General, to attack the reigning follies : and It is surely as easy for you to throw them into a new light, as it is for the clergy to preach different sermons on the same text.

You will undoubtedly agree with me, that gaming is one of the principal causes of duels and that many a young fellow has owed his death to cards and dice. As the gaming-houses are often filled with rogues in lace, and sharpers in embroidery, an honest but rash adventurer often loses his temper with his money, and begins to suspect that the cards are packed, or the dice loaded; and then very wisely risks his life, because he finds it impossible to recover his cash. Upon this account I am never witness to deep play, but it raises very serious reflections in me. When I have seen a young nobleman offer a large stake, I have considered him as setting his life upon a card, or (like King Richard) "laying it upon a cast, and standing the hazard of the die." I have even imagined, that I heard bullets rattle in the dice-box, and that I saw challenges written upon every card on the table. The ladies also are frequently the cause of duels; though it must be owned, in justice to the better part, of the sex, that where one is fought on account of a modest woman, ten are occasioned by prostitutes.

The stout knight-errants, who entertain a passion for the faithless Dulcineas of Drury-lane and Covent-Garden, find frequent opportunities of manifesting their prowess. They not only encounter with bullies and bravoes, but sometimes meet with other enimoratos as fond and as mad as themselves. I am personally acquainted with two gentlemen of this turn, who held out pistols at each other across a bed at one of these ladies lodgings, and tossed up which should fire first. The pistol however luckily missed fire, and gave them time to think better of it: so they very amicably shook hands, laid down their pistols, and went to bed to the lady together. These females are not content, it seems, with the conquests commonly made by the fair, but often pass a more cruel sentence on their captives. Their lovers not only suffer those metaphorical deaths, which all their tribe must endure, but are often really killed in serious truth and sober sadness. They are not only shot through the hem by an accidental glance of the eyes, but often have a brace of balls lodged in their heads : and are not only "stabbed through the liver (as Mercutio has it) by the blind bow-boy's butt-shaft," but they may perhaps be engaged in a duel with a rival, in which they are run through the body.

A foreign Count was once challenged by one of these hot-headed gentlemen; and I shall conclude my letter by recommending his method to our modern duellists. The place of battle appointed was the Count's house and when the furious challenger came in, breathing nothing but revenge, he was surprised to find the Count sitting very composedly with a candle and a barrel at his side. " This, sir, said the Count, is a barrel of gunpowder; and if you please, we will take our chance, who shall set fire to it, you or I." The gentleman amazed at so extraordinary a proposal, made no answer; upon which the Count lighted a match, and waving it over the mouth of the barrel, cried out, "Get out of the room, sir, or I will set fire to the powder this instant." This abated our challenger's wrath so considerably, that the Count was rid of him in a moment, and he was glad to leave the room without any satisfaction. 1 shall expect something from you on this subject, and am,
Sir, your humble servant,

The letter found an answer of Mr Town, a gentleman "not older than 24" and "around the 30".

I shall not refuse, in compliance with the request of my correspondent, to give my animadversions on this subject; but as I am not inclined to measure swords on this occasion with any of my predecessors or contemporaries, I shall take a different course, and appear in the cause as an advocate for duelling. The vices and follies of the fashionable world are so connected with each other, that they almost form a regular system ; and the practice of them all is absolutely necessary to complete the character of a fine gentleman. A fine gentleman (in the modern sense of the word) is one that whores, games, and wears a sword. Running after loose women is, indeed, in some measure common to this exalted part of mankind with the vulgar: but to live in bagnios, to be kept in repair by Rock or Ward by the quarter, to be in a continual course of pill and electuary, and to make a business of fornication, is the peculiar privilege of a fine gentleman. Gaming is also an essential requisite to this character, and is indeed capable of itself to create a person a gentleman, who has no other pretensions to that title. The greatest scoundrels, provided they were gamesters, have always been permitted to associate with people of fashion; and perhaps they hold their title to the best company by the same tenure, that the knaves keep their rank among the Honours in a pack of cards. But the grand distinguishing mark of a fine gentleman is the wearing a sword. Gentility displays itself in a well fancied sword knot, and honour lies sheathed in the scabbard. All who bear arms have a claim to this character: even our common soldier (like the knights of old) are dubbed Gentlemen on the shoulder; with this only difference, that instead of the sword, the ceremony is performed by a brown musket.

Upon these and many other weighty considerations, I have resolved not to disturb the tranquillity of the polite world, by railing at their darling vices. A Censor may endeavour to new cock a hat, to raise the stays, or write down the short petticoat, at his pleasure. Persons of quality will vary fashions of themselves, but will always adhere steadily to their vices. I have besides received several letters from surgeon and younger brothers, desiring me to promote as far as lies in my power the modern way of life, and especially the practice of duelling. The former open their case in the most pathetic terms, and assure me that if it was not for duels, and the amorous rencounters of fine gentlemen with the other sex, their professions would scarce support them. As to the young gentlemen, they inveigh bitterly against the unequal distribution of property by the laws of England, and offer me very considerable bribes, if I will espouse the cause of duels and debauchery; without which they scarce have any tolerable chance of coming in for the family estate.

Swift somewhere observes, that these differences very rarely happen among men of sense, and he does not see any great harm, if two worthless fellows send each other out of the world. I shall therefore humbly propose, the more effectually to keep up this spirit, that duels may be included in the Licence-Act among our other public diversions, with a restraining clause, taking away all power from the justices to prohibit these entertainments, I would also propose, for the better accommodation of the public, that scaffolds be erected behind Montague House, or in any other convenient place, as there are now at Tyburn; and that whenever any two gentlemen quarrel, they shall insert their challenges in the daily papers, after the following manner, in imitation of the late champions at Broughton's Amphitheatre.

I John Mac-Duel, having been affronted by Richard Flash, hereby challenge him to meet me behind Montague House on the day of to go through all the exercise of the small sword; to advance, retire, parry and thrust in carte, tierce, and segoon, and will take my life, or lose his own.

I Richard Flash, who have spitted many such dastardly fellows on my sword like larks, promise to meet John Mac-Duel, and doubt not, by running him through the body, to give him gentleman-like satisfaction.

By this scheme the publick would have an opportunity of being present at these fashionable amusements, and might revive that lost species of gaming (so much lamented in our last paper) by laying bets on the issue of the combat.

It should also be provided, that if either or both are killed, the body or bodies be delivered to the surgeons to be anatomised, and placed in their hall; unless the younger brother or next heir shall give them an equivalent.

It should also be provided by the abovementioned act, that no person be qualified to fight a duel, who is not worth 500 L per aim. For as it is unsportsmanlike to admit dunghill cocks into the pit, so it would render this inestimable privilege less valuable, if every mean wretch had a right of being run through the body, who could do the publick no service by his death.