Ten Duel Commandments and a Jane Austen Variation
How many of you watched Hamilton on Disney+ ? I saw the show—and heard the music for the first time—in Chicago in 2018. I assumed I would be bored because we all know he dies at the end. It turns out I left the theatre a complete convert! I bought the music and I read the Ron Chernow biography that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Although it wasn’t published until last year, the manuscript for His Choice of a Wife was written in 2011. Since listening to the Hamilton soundtrack after I saw the performance, I’ve thought about the similarities between the actions Darcy takes against Wickham and the song Ten Duel Commandments. This song from act 1 recounts a duel between John Laurens and Charles Lee after Lee made disparaging remarks about George Washington following Lee's dismissal as Major General after his failure at the Battle of Monmouth.
When researching this illegal means of conflict resolution, I learned that they adhered to a strict code of gentlemanly honor. The dueling code observed in England at this time was the Irish “code duello” that was established by an assizes in 1777. It has 25 rules—not 10—that cover how, when, and why duels could be conducted. This was the source I relied on when I was setting the stage for Darcy’s meeting with Wickham.
They were fought in response to words or actions that attacked a gentleman's integrity, courage, reputation or person, or that of someone under his protection. Like insulting General Washington in the hearing of his loyal subordinates or saying—and doing—some terrible things to Darcy’s future sister-in-law and fiancée. While duels steadily fell out of favor in the nineteenth century, they were still tacitly condoned for a long time, particularly amongst those in the military.
So how does the song parallel what happens in His Choice of a Wife?
Ten Duel Commandments … in a Jane Austen Variation
1. The challenge, demand satisfaction. If they apologize, no need for further action.
“Mr. Wickham!” cried Darcy. “I expect your apology in person and in writing tomorrow morning, or you will answer for your words!” Darcy promptly turned on his heel and exited the room.
2. If they don’t, grab a friend, that’s your second.
Darcy hesitated to say the words aloud […] There is no denying it. He then turned back to his cousin. “I have challenged George Wickham to a duel, and I need you to be my second.”
3. Have your seconds meet face to face. Negotiate a peace or negotiate a time and place.
“I have already seen Mr. Kenneth, a sycophant hoping to hang on Wickham’s wealthy sleeve. He would not attempt to find a way to avoid a meeting. Neither he nor Wickham has any interest in resolving this before shots are fired.”
4. Time to get some pistols and a doctor on site.
“… she is tended by this doctor who, either from his own overhearing or from that of the servants, knew of your challenge. His name is Lockwood, and upon my leaving, he offered his assistance. I told him the time and place, and he will be ready to render his services.”
5. Duel before the sun is in the sky, pick a place to die where it’s high and dry.
At the first appearance of dawn on Saturday morning, Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam sat in Darcy’s landau, the only sound in the cool morning air the occasional rattle of the horses’ reins. […] It was an enchanting prospect if one were not on Kingsmead Field for a duel.
6. Leave a note for your next of kin, tell ‘em where you been.
“It is for Elizabeth; her direction is printed on the envelope. You must deliver it to her should Wickham—” Darcy paused and glanced at the field. “Should Wickham kill me,” he finished in a faltering voice.
7. Confess your sins. Ready for the moment of adrenaline, you finally face your opponent.
“I cannot walk onto that field and take my life into my hands without knowing she will be provided for.” He considered his moss agate sleeve buttons again rather than meet his cousin’s eye. “I could be dead before the sun is fully over the horizon, and my greatest fear is that I leave Elizabeth vulnerable.”
8. Last chance to negotiate, send in your seconds, see if they can set the record straight.
Fitzwilliam was speaking with Wickham’s second, Mr. Kenneth, when Wickham turned his attention down the field.
“Come now, Darcy, let us speak plainly!” Wickham called to where Darcy stood next to his pair of horses. “Will you apologize for calling me a liar and a rake?” he asked with a smirk.
“Your second may speak with Colonel Fitzwilliam.”
“I find your attention to propriety a dead bore!”
9. Look ‘em in the eye, aim no higher. Summon all the courage you require.
With cold civility, he inclined his head towards Wickham, who only smirked. His heart rate felt too rapid, and he could hear his blood pounding in his ears. Darcy’s eyes widened despite the early morning sun rising in the east. He felt cold, resolved, tense, but he only felt a brief flash of dread when they both raised their arms
10. Ten paces fire!
No, I won’t tell you what happens after Darcy and Wickham fire! But I will say that the end of the duel isn’t the end of the excitement. But it looks like Darcy and his second followed the same commandments of dueling made notable in Hamilton. Find His Choice of a Wife here. And if you have Disney +, check out the performance!
Down the River by George W. Hooper , John Lyde Wilson, 1874
“American Duels and Hostile Encounters," Chilton Books, 1963. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/duel-code-duello-rules-dueling/