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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

Lord Winchilsea is such a maniac


1829--Comments upon Wellington's duel]

It seems hard now to understand how any man, in the position and with the responsibilities of the Duke of Wellington, could bring himself to think that he was called upon to risk his life for the mere sake of resenting an imputation which no rational man in his senses could possibly have regarded as of any consequence to the Duke's public or private character. The whole incident seems to us now one more properly belonging to comic opera than to serious political life. We can hardly conceive the possibility of the Marquis of Salisbury insisting on fighting a duel with some hot-headed member of the House of Lords who had chosen to describe him as a conspirator against the Constitution and the Church of England. The Duke of Wellington, however, must be judged according to the ways of his own time, and the code of political and personal honor in which he had been nurtured. There has not been in modern political history a more conscientious and high-minded statesman than Robert Peel, and yet not very long before the Winchilsea business Robert Peel had only been prevented by the interference of the law from going out to fight a duel with Daniel O'Connell, and O'Connell himself had killed his man in another affair of honor, as it was called. We who live in these islands at the present time may be excused if we indulge in a certain feeling of self-complacency when we contemplate the advance towards a better code

of personal honor and a better recognition of the teachings of Christianity which has been made here since the days when the Duke of Wellington thought that for him, as a gentleman, there was no other course to take than to risk his life because an insignificant person had made a ridiculous charge against him.

Still, it is something to know that there were cool observers even at the time who thought the Duke of Wellington had done wrong. Charles Greville, in commenting on {83} the duel, says that "everybody, of course, sees the matter in a different light; all blame Lord Winchilsea, but they are divided as to whether the Duke ought to have fought or not." "Lord Winchilsea is such a maniac, and has so lost his head, that everybody imagined the Duke would treat what he said with silent contempt." Greville utterly condemns Lord Winchilsea for having made the attack on the Duke, and for not having sent an apology when it was first required of him, but he adds: "I think, having committed the folly of writing so outrageous a letter, he did the only thing a man of honor could do in going out and receiving a shot and then making an apology, which he was all this time prepared to do, for he had it ready written in his pocket." Most of us at this time of day would be inclined to think that if Lord Winchilsea was willing to make the apology and had it ready written in his pocket, he might have acted according to a better code of honor by not exposing the Duke to the chance of killing him. However, we must not expect too much from Greville, and it is well to know, as his final verdict on the whole affair, that "I think the Duke ought not to have challenged him; it was very juvenile, and he stands in far too high a position, and his life is so much _publica cura_ that he should have treated him and his letter with the contempt they merited." The King, it seems, approved of the Duke of Wellington's conduct in making the letter the subject of a challenge and meeting his opponent in a duel. Greville goes on to remark that somebody said "the King would be wanting to fight a duel himself," whereupon some one else observed, "He will be sure to think that he has fought one."

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