|Tom Hardy as James Delaney in Taboo (BBC)|
Hi there! Are you looking for a new hobby? Something that combines the recherché charm of Russian roulette with the formal elegance of Boggle? Then duelling may be the thing for you.
[Note from legal team: The Telegraph would like to remind its readers that duelling is illegal, morally reprehensible and very silly. Furthermore, recent research has shown that receiving a bullet-wound to the head can prove detrimental to one’s health.]
The fifth episode of BBC One’s brooding historical drama Taboo begins with a duel between grizzled adventurer James Delaney (Tom Hardy) and hot-headed fop Thorne Geary (Jefferson Hall). They meet in a secluded spot, draw their pistols and agree to “a polite exchange of bullets”. It’s a nail-biting piece of television, and might well inspire a long-overdue comeback for this quaint pastime.
What could be better, in the age of Twitter-feuds, than an elegantly codified way of dealing with trolls? After one mocking emoji too many, a duel at dawn may seem like the best option. As Dr Johnson once told his biographer Boswell, “A man may shoot the man who invades his character, as he may shoot him who attempts to break into his house.”
Boswell’s son Alexander would surely have something to say about that: he died in 1822 after a duel with Whig politician James Stuart, about whom he had written an offensive poem. Stuart was tried for murder, but the jury let him off. They’d seen the poem.
There were 172 recorded duels in England in the reign of George III (1760-1820), but it tapered off in the mid-century. England’s last fatal duel took place in Surrey in 1852, and that hardly counted – both participants were French.
The 1820s were ‘peak duel’ for London hipsters. The craze reached everyone from lowly journalists to the aristocracy. In 1821 the editor of the London Magazine was killed in a duel, and in 1829 the Duke of Wellington took on the Earl of Winchelsea, after the Earl accused him of being soft on Catholics.
Taboo takes place a few years earlier, in 1814 – which is where we’re going. Join me now on a journey through time, back to the heyday of polite pistol-fire… Read the full article