Writing Greenwood Tree – and more

Inaccurate pistols and unwilling seconds (The London Mob part 2)


ROBERT WARREN : Sir, you pushed me.

THOMAS GRANVILLE : Sir, I did not.

ROBERT WARREN : I say you did, and  knocked my hat askew.            

THOMAS GRANVILLE : I have no interest in your hat.

ROBERT WARREN : (to the bookseller) Sir, I am come to make a serious purchase, and this gentleman insults me –

THOMAS GRANVILLE : I do no such thing. This gentleman has grabbed hold of my coat –

ROBERT WARREN : This gentleman knocked my hat off –

BOOKSELLER : Please gentlemen  both, make your purchases and cease making a scene, or I must call upon the constables . . .

Another scene outside the Cathedral, after service :

ROBERT WARREN : Sir, you were observed looking at my sister during the service.

THOMAS GRANVILLE : (flushing)There is no law to forbid glancing at other persons’ appearances.

ROBERT WARREN : There is in my book, sir, and I require that you desist.    

THOMAS GRANVILLE : I cannot help but see people who happen to sit directly in front of me.

ROBERT WARREN : You were looking at her throughout the whole of the service. Without interruption. I warn you, sir, against doing so again.

THOMAS GRANVILLE : I call bluff to your warning, sir. And I shall look at you, or any one of your sisters or parents, as often as I choose. Though in your case sir, it may be without favour.’

 Greenwood Tree, Chapter 2


 The two men could easily  end up fighting a duel – except that by the late eighteenth century, duelling was already going out of fashion, having lost the edge of the 1600s when the gauntlet thrown at one’s feet was enough to signal drawn swords.

Duelling had in fact become a most secret affair, for very practical reasons: the increasing opposition from the general public and relatives in particular, who would definitely attempt to prevent the duel going any further if they had the slightest whiff of it; even the seconds would often look for a way to prevent it going ahead (providing a healthy source of farce for subsequent writers and artists).

 I have come back to the London Mob with this, which I find an excellent book for background concerning behaviour on the streets, in particular the evolution of social ethics and boundaries in the 18th century.

In chapter 7 ‘Duels and Boxing Matches’, the author Robert Shoemaker gives an impressively mixed list of the various individuals who would attempt to prevent a duel reaching fruition : footmen, soldiers,  housemaids, anonymous passers by. The whole business of duelling became a subject of heated debate, with the public weighing in against the whole idea.

 Add to this an interesting detail : the rapier replaced the sword, and became increasingly a fencing weapon (defensive as opposed to offensive), then the pistol replaced the rapier – but the majority of pistols did not shoot straight. This added to the possible decrease in mortality (always depending of course where approximately you were aiming  . . .) and perhaps thereby ultimately helped show Mr Duel the way out.

James Gillray : The Explanation

 Professor Shoemaker clearly shows how the wish of the individual to appear capable of instruction and improvement necessarily drew away from acts of violence (at least in public) – it was the time of the Gentleman, who had become ‘subject to the ideals of politeness, in which men were expected to control their emotions and be generous and complaisant towards those with whom they interacted . . . the ideals of sensibility required men to show even greater sensitivity and sympathy to other people’s feelings.’ (chapter 7 ‘Duels and Boxing Matches’, The London Mob by R. Shoemaker)


The culture of honour had been replaced by one of inner worth.

With the arrival of the age of enlightenment had come civility, of self respect, of modesty and a desire to be perceived as ‘of the gentility’, i.e., not given to violence where a cutting word might do.

Gone the dagger and the rapier, the sword had finally been won over by the word – the witty word that could slice through an antagonist’s outer shell like a knife through butter – had you the learning and brains to do it effectively enough.

The London Mob by R.Shoemaker, is published by Hambledon and London

 Interesting sites related to duelling :



 Georgian period :



18th century studies :


(Posted by B.Lloyd)

Greenwood Tree on Authonomy

9 responses

  1. Great blog post!

    Regarding a recent review I received, there’s a blogger I’d like to challenge to a duel 🙂

    September 11, 2011 at 11:24 am

    • Might I suggest the rapier, seeing as how inaccurate the pistols were ? 🙂

      September 11, 2011 at 12:52 pm

  2. LOL! You may. I might need a few lessons though. My parrying and thrusting is a bit rusty 😉

    September 11, 2011 at 1:05 pm

  3. Ooh, viking fighting! 😀

    September 11, 2011 at 5:03 pm

  4. Funny! I just passed these sites on to Catherine Chisnall – she’s written a novel called Ragnar the Murderer, a viking epic!

    September 11, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    • Aha, proof that the old adage ‘Great minds . . . etc’ holds true .. . .:D 😀

      September 11, 2011 at 6:47 pm

  5. 🙂

    September 11, 2011 at 7:31 pm

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