Bust of John Passmore Edwards

The Autobiography of John Passmore Edwards

A Barbaric Challenge


Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890) I may here refer to an incident which may assist to point a moral, if inadequate to adorn a tale. In 1862, in one of the journals under my control, I condemned Du Chaillu, the African traveller, for an insult he committed on a member of a London scientific society, and blamed Captain Burton (afterwards Sir Richard Burton) for his partial vindication of the offence. A few days after I received a formal visit from Captain Blakeley, who handed me a challenge from Captain Burton to meet him in a duel!
Captain Blakeley was well known at the time as the inventor of a method for strengthening field-guns. I had to accept the challenge, offer an apology, or do nothing. I decided to do nothing. No doubt Captain Burton, with his old-world notions, thought he sufficiently vindicated his honour by so challenging me in due form, as I heard no more about it. I, on the other hand, thought that I as effectively defended myself by treating his hostile message with contemptuous silence. But suppose the matter developed differently? Suppose we were equally foolish and about equal in man-killing ability, that we fought and one or both of us got killed or wounded? Would right or reason or truth or honour have been thereby vindicated? Not a jot. But we were not equal in killing ability. Burton was a soldier, and doubtless a good marksman. I was neither, and had we pistol-shotted each other it would not have been right or reason or justice or law that would have triumphed, but superior marksmanship! War and duelling owe their existence to the same barbaric origin. Duelling is war between two persons; war is duelling between two nations. Duelling, thanks to the good sense of the nation, is now made a criminal and punishable offence; and war, in due time, by the good sense of the nations, will undergo similar disapproval and extinction.
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  © Dean Evans 2003
April 18, 2005