E.S. Turner

  • The Descent of Manners: Etiquette, Rules and the Victorians by Andrew St George
    Chatto, 330 pp, £20.00, July 1993, ISBN 0 7011 3623 5

In the sixth year of Queen Victoria’s reign two well-bred brothers-in-law faced each other with pistols in the fields of Camden Town and one shot the other dead. The survivor, who had issued the challenge, was sure that his Merciful and All-Seeing Maker would hold him guiltless, for he had been grievously wronged: in the course of a business dispute he had been ordered out of the other man’s house in front of a servant. Both parties were officers and gentlemen, and at this level a breach of good manners could carry the death penalty. ‘Satisfaction’ could be demanded for an accusation of lying or cowardice, for eyeing a woman, for derisive laughter or taking a pinch of someone’s snuff without permission. Such rules did not apply, of course, to solicitors or tradesmen, though editors and even contributors could find themselves called out. The affair of the brothers-in-law greatly perturbed nation, government, church and throne. Thereafter the rate of duelling fell to a trickle, but there were many who saw its decline as a fatal blow to the maintenance of good behaviour.

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