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Mr. Sage. Pray do, Colonel Plume, and the method of a duel at that time; and give us some notion of the punctos upon which your nice men quarrelled in those days.
Col. Plume. I was going to tell you, Mr. Sage, that one Cornet Modish had desired his friend Captain Smart's opinion in some affair, but did not follow it ; upon which Captain Smart sent Major Adroit (a very topping fellow of those times) to the person that had slighted his advice. The Major never inquired into the quarrel, because it was not the manner then among the very topping fellows ; but got two swords of an equal length, and then waited upon Cornet Modish, desiring him to choose his sword, and meet his friend Captain Smart. Cornet Modish came with his friend to the place of combat ; there the principals put on their pumps, and stripped to their shirts, to show that they had nothing but what men of honour carry about them, and then engaged.
Sir Mark. And did the seconds stand by, Sir ?
Col. Plume. It was a received custom until that time; but the swords of those days being pretty long, and the principals acting on both sides upon the defensive, and the morning being frosty, Major Adroit desired that the other second, who was also a very topping fellow, would try a thrust or two, only to keep them warm, until the principals had decided the matter, which was agreed to by Modish's second, who presently whipt Adroit through the body, disarmed him, and then parted the principals, who had received no harm at all.
Mr. Sage. But was not Adroit laughed at ?
Col. Plume. On the contrary the very topping fellows were ever after of opinion, that no man, who deserved that character, could serve as a second, without fighting; and the Smarts and Modishes
finding their account in it, the humour took without opposition,
Mr. Sage. Pray, Colonel, how long did that fashion continue ?
Col. Plume. Not long neither, Mr. Sagey for, as soon as it became a fashion, the very topping fellows thought their honour reflected upon, if they did not proffer themselves as seconds when any of their friends had a quarrel, so that sometimes there were a dozen of a side.
Sir Mark. Bless me! if that custom had continued, we should have been at a loss now for our very pretty fellows; for they seem to be the proper men to officer, animate, and keep up an army. But, pray, Sir, how did that sociable manner of tilting grow out of mode?
Col. Plume. Why, Sir, I will tell you : it was a law among the combatants, that the party which happened to have the first man disarmed or killed, should yield as vanquished: which some people thought might encourage the Modishes and Smarts in quarrelling to the destruction of only the very topping fellows; and as soon as this reflection was started, the very topping fellows thought it an incumbrance upon their honour to fight at all themselves. Since that time the Modishes and Smarts, throughout all Europe, have extolled the French king's edict.
Sir Mark. Our very pretty fellows, whom I take to be the successors of the very topping fellows, think a quarrel so little fashionable, that they will not be exposed to it by any other man's vanity, or want of sense.
Mr. Sage. But, Colonel, I have observed in your account of duels, that there was a great exactness in avoiding all advantage that might possibly be between the combatants.
Col. Plume. That is true, Sir ; for the weapons were always equal.
Mr. Sage. Yes, Sir ; but suppose an active, adroit, strong man had insulted an awkward, or a feeble, or an unpractised sword's-man ?
Col. Plume. Then, Sir, they fought with pistols. Mr. Sage. But, Sir, there might be a certain advantage that way; for a good marksman will be sure to hit his man at twenty yards distance; and a man whose hand shakes (which is common to men that debauch in pleasures, or have not used pistols out of their holsters) will not venture to fire, unless he touches the person he shoots at. Now, Sir, I am of opinion, that one can get no honour in killing a man, if one has it all rug, as the gamesters say, when they have a trick to make the game secure, though they seem to play upon the square.
Sir Mark. In truth, Mr. Sage, I think such a fact must be murder in a man's own private conscience, whatever it may appear to the world.
Col. Plume. I have known some men so nice, that they would not fight but upon a cloak with pistols.
Mr. Saye. I believe a custom well established would outdo the grand Monarch's edict.
Sir Mark. And bullies would then leave off their long swords. But I do not find that a very pretty fellow can stay to change his sword when he is insulted by a bully with a long Diego; though his own at the same time be no longer than a penknife; which will certainly be the case if such little swords are in mode. Pray, Colonel, how was it between the hectors of your time, and the very topping fellows?
Col. Plume. Sir, long swords happened to be generally worn in those times.
Mr. Sage. In answer to what you were saying, Sir Mark, give me leave to inform you, that your knights-errant (who were the very pretty fellows of those ancient times) thought they could not honourably yield, though they had fought their own trusty weapons to the stumps ; but would venture as boldly with their page's leaden sword, as if it had been of enchanted metal. Whence, I conceive, there must be a spice of romantic gallantry in the composition of that very pretty fellow.
Sir Mark. I am of opinion, Mr. Sage, that fashion governs a very pretty fellow; nature, or common sense, your ordinary persons, and sometimes men of fine parts.
Mr. Sage. But what is the reason, that men of the most excellent sense and morals, in other points, associate their understandings with the very pretty fellows in that chimæra of a duel ?
Sir Mark. There is no disputing against so great a majority.
Mr. Sage. But there is one scruple, Colonel Plume, and I have done. Do not you believe there may be some advantage even upon a cloak with pistols, which a man of nice honour would scruple to take ?
Col. Plume. Faith, I cannot tell, Sir; but since one may reasonably suppose that, in such a case, there can be but one so far in the wrong as to occasion matters to come to that extremity, I think the chance of being killed should fall but on one; whereas, by their close and desperate manner of fighting, it may very probably happen to both.
Sir Mark. Why, gentlemen, if they are men of such nice honour, and must fight, there will be no fear of foul play, if they threw up cross or pile who should be shot.
N° 40. TUESDAY, JULY 12, 1709.
Quicquid agunt homines--
nostri est farrago libelli.
Juv. Sat. i. 85, 86.
Will's Coffee-house, July 11. LETTERS from the city of London give an account of a very great consternation that place is in at present, by reason of a late inquiry made at Guildhall, -whether a noble person * has parts enough to deserve the enjoyment of the great estate of which he is possessed? The city is apprehensive, that this precedent may go farther than was at first imagined.
The person against whom this inquisition is set up by his relations, is a peer of a neighbouring kingdom, and has in his youth made some few bulls, by which it is insinuated that he has forfeited his goods and chattels. This is the more astonishing, in that there are many persons in the said city who are still more guilty than his lordship, and who, though they are idiots, do not only possess, but have also themselves acquired great estates, contrary to the known laws of this realm, which vest their possessions in the crown.
There is a gentleman in the coffee-house, at this time, exhibiting a bill in chancery against his father's younger brother, who, by some strange magic, has arrived at the value of half a plum, as
* Richard, the fifth viscount Wenman.