Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bare-Faced Dishonor (or, A Brief Lamentation On The Decline Of Dueling)

Mike Mansell has jumped his contract with the Lucas club, and has signed with the Allegheny Club. This of course is the result of solicitation by President McKnight, of the American Association, and adds to the shameless record that individual is fast acquiring. Does any one believe that players or managers, who are capable of such bare-faced dishonor, would not barter games if opportunities were available?
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 13, 1884

Those are some rather harsh words from the Globe. Even in the coarse and vulgar society that we live in, to say that someone lacks honor is an insult of the highest order. A 19th century man, I'd assume, wouldn't take those words lightly. Or McKnight, thinking himself the gentleman, wouldn't bother to respond to the scribblings of a lowly baseball writer.

The real problem here, I believe, is that by this time Western society had pretty much done away with dueling. A general threat of physical violence is usually enough to curb one's tongue (or, in this case, pen). If the writer of the above words had believed that by calling McKnight (or, even better, Mansell) shameless and dishonorable he would have found himself one morning facing a pistol at ten paces, he probably would have been more judicial in his use of language. I'm also of the belief that this lesson applies to the modern age as well. I think a lot of people have forgotten that actions have consequences and everyone must be held accountable for the things that they do. Pistols are a fine way of reminding people of these lessons.


Richard Hershberger said...

The problem with this theory is that the level of discourse in the 1880s was much higher than in, say, the 1810s. The things that made their way into the press back then make modern cable news commentary look civil in comparison.

Cliff Blau said...

"'Shall we say pistols at dawn?'
'We can say it. I don't know what it means, but we can say it.'"

Jeffrey Kittel said...

I guess it's probably true that the level of discourse has improved over time but you can't deny that dueling pistols have thinned the herd over that same period. Alexander Hamilton, Charles Dickinson, Charles Lucas, Alexsander Pushkin, etc. I think the fact that there is no women on that list says something about the intellectual superiority of the female sex.

I imagine a conversation between two women in the early 19th century that goes something like this:

First woman: Where are all the men folk?

Second woman: They're out dueling again.

Fist woman: Idiots.

Second woman: Yep.

The entire conversation takes place while they're beating clothes against rocks or trying not to die of consumption.