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Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Vice Kills

The above title came to mind as I perused a copy of The New York Spectator printed in June 1836. Along with reports of shipwrecks and Texan victory in their war of independence from Mexico, the following three items caught my attention:

DUEL IN HIGH LIFE.--Our London correspondent states that a duel had taken place between Lord Melbourne and the husband of the Hon. Mrs. Norton, author of "The Undying One." The premier received a pistol wound, though not of a dangerous character. The probable cause of the duel is no secret, either here or in London. Rumors of a rather too great intimacy between lord[sic] Melbourne and Mrs. Norton, who is one of the most beautiful women in England, have been rife for the last two or three years. Mr. Norton, however, has always been represented, hitherto, as conveniently blind to the existing state of affairs; and it has been said, even, that his appointment as police magistrate was obtained through the influence of Lord Melbourne, as the reward for his discreet lack of observation.

Cause of the injury: Gun ownership? Hardly. Adultery to begin with, along with an insane law that allows a man to kill another over a perceived slight. The latter has been successfully extinguished from our national culture; the former is as rampant as ever, now close to enjoying the cultural acceptance previously held only by the latter.

FATAL RECONTRE.--An unfortunate affair took place at the race ground near this place on Wednesday last, the first day of the races. Mr. Beverly Pryor, a young man from Huntsville, Alabama, suspecting there had been foul play in the race, attacked and knocked down one of the trainers. Mr. Eli Abbott, of this town, remonstrated with him on such conduct, and told him that the race ground was not a proper place for such disturbances. Upon this Pryor drew a pistol, pushed the muzzle into the face of Abbott so violently as to take off the skin, telling him at the same time to draw and defend himself. Abbott declared that he had no pistol. Just at this time, Pryor's friend snapped a pistol at Abbott, which momentarily drew off the attention of Pryor. Abbott taking advantage of this occasion, instantly drew a large knife, plunged it into the breast of Pryor, turned and severely wounded the friend in the arm, who made off, and Abbott followed him. Pryor, though mortally wounded, pursued Abbott some fifteen or twenty paces, snapped his pistol repeatedly at him and then fell, and expired without a groan.
Comment upon this melancholy recontre is not we presume called for from us. One remark, however, we cannot refrain from making. The practice which is becoming so common, of carrying pistols and knives, cannot be too much condemned. If public sentiment does not restrain it, the strong arm of the law ought to be brought in to put it down.
The affair produced considerable sensation in town. The unanimous impression seems to be that Abbott was perfectly justifiable. He immediately delivered himself up to the officers of the law, by whom he was discharges, upon the ground, that it was a case of justifiable homicide. --Mississippi Free Press

We see here that it was not the habit of carrying such weapons that produced such a danger, but the readiness with which they were used to settle a quarrel. It was only a technicality upon which Mr. Abbott's innocence was based; he had not yet agreed to the duel at the time he was attacked. But we also see here that the real root of the problem was the greed behind the anger at a losing bet--and once again we see that vice was at the root of the crime.

SUICIDE OF THE HON. BERKELY CRAVEN.--A considerable sensation has been produced in the fashionable sporting world by the suicide of the Hon. Berkely Craven, so well known on the turf, who put a period to his existence by shooting himself through the head with a pistol, at his residence. The particulars of the melancholy affair, are as follow :--The deceased, it appeared, was a loser by the Derby Stakes to an enormous extent, some say as much as £30,000.
As soon as the result of the race became known, he was observed by his friends to be excessively agitated, and in this state he left Epson, and arrived at his residence. He flung himself on the sofa in the parlour[sic] in a state of mental distraction, and all attempts to solace him being in vain, the domestics were forced reluctantly to leave him, and he retire to bed at a late hour.
About six o'clock on the following morning, one of the female servants came down stars, and on entering the parlor a most appalling spectacle was presented to her view ; the body of her master was found extended on the floor, deluged in blood, which had flowed from a frightful wound in the head, and near him lay a large duelling pistol, with which it was evident that the deed had been perpetrated.

What more can we say? The greed expressed through the vice of racing having been allowed to destroy the inner man, it remained only for the duelling pistol, that weapon of legalized murder, to do its work on the owner rather than on his opponent. In all three of these sad stories we see that vice kills; it needs only the tool and the opportunity, and death will follow sin as sure as night follows day.

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