Sometimes in politics one must duel with skunks, but no one should be fool enough to allow skunks to choose the weapons.
According to a long-established anecdote a sausage proved a killer choice for the German pathologist and leading Liberal politician, Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902). His opposition to Bismarck’s excessive military spending so enraged the Minister President of Prussia that he challenged the doctor to a duel in 1865.
Virchow chose two sausages as his weapons: one safe, the other infected with Trichinella spiralis larvae (he’d previously become the first man to identify the worm as the killer agent in ‘off’ pork). The two men would eat breakfast together, with dire consequences for whoever got the dodgy banger. Bismarck declined and the doctor claimed the victory.
In 1808, a dispute between Monsieur Grandpre and Monsieur de Pique over the affections of a young woman was resolved in a duel 2,000 feet above Paris. They took to the skies in separate hot air balloons, each armed with a blunderbuss. De Pique shot first and missed. Grandpre then fired at De Pique’s balloon and punctured it, sending him and his second plummeting to their deaths.
A sword gives you the best chance of surviving a duel, allowing the dispute to be resolved by ‘drawing first blood’.
2 serving Prime Ministers duelled with pistols: Pitt the Younger in 1798 and Wellington in 1829. All the participants missed.
The only known billiard ball duel took place in 1843. When a Monsieur Lenfant and a Monsieur Melfant fell out over a game of billiards, they decided to resolve their differences by pelting each other with the porcelain balls.
Standing 12 paces apart, they drew straws to see who would throw first. Melfant won, warning his opponent he was going to kill him with the first throw. Which he did, striking him clean between the eyes with the red ball.
The last duel with swords in France took place after Gaston Deferre insulted
René Ribière in the French Parliament. It was in 1967.
It has a strange, quick jar upon the ear,
That cocking of a pistol, when you know
A moment more will bring the sight to bear
Upon your person, twelve yards off or so.
In 1654, as the result of a row over a mathematical formula, Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe had a duel with fellow Dane, the nobleman Manderup Parsberg, his third cousin. They duelled with swords and Tycho lost the bridge of his nose.
He had an artificial nose made not from the customary wax but, it was said, from an alloy of gold and silver. He would carry a small box of paste to attach it.
In November 2012, Danish and Czech researchers, chemically analysed a small bone sample from the nose from the exhumed body and reported the prosthetic nose was made from brass.
In 1842, Illinois state auditor James Shields challenged Abraham Lincoln to a duel, accusing the future President of mocking him in print under a pseudonym.
Lincoln chose cavalry broadswords as weapons, and as his location a narrow plank where his long arms would give him the advantage. Fortunately, Shields soon realised this and backed down, allowing the two men to settle their differences amicably.
Before they'd written their major novels, Tolstoy and Turgenev were scheduled to have a duel. It was called off at the last minute.
Pushkin fought up to 29 duels, and was eventually killed in one in 1837 at the age of 37. He had accused Georges D'Anthès, a French officer serving with the Chevalier Guard Regiment of attempting to seduce his wife, Natalya Pushkina.
D'Anthès, lived on for almost fifty years, rising to become a French Senator. He never expressed a single word of remorse for having killed Russia's finest poet.
Pushkin’s last home in St Petersburg, where he lay dying for two days after the duel, is now a popular museum. It displays the poet’s death mask and last waistcoat, complete with fatal bullet hole.
If all seconds were as averse to duels as their principals, very little blood would be shed in that way.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan once eloped with a girl who was promised to another man. The two men fought in London, and the infamous battle, with swords, was so bloody that the weapon of choice for duellists became the pistol.