Tiptoeing down the stairs of reason
“Whatever the endeavour, if the setting is glorious and the tenor grandiose, it will have its adherents. In fact, as the locations for duels became more picturesque and the pistols more finely manufactured, the best-bred men proved willing to defend their honour over lesser offenses. So while dueling may have begun as a response to high crimes – to treachery, treason and adultery – by 1900 it had tiptoed down the stairs of reason, until they were being fought over the tilt of a hat, the duration of a glance, or the placement of a comma.”
The Confederacy of the Humbled
When one experiences a profound setback in the course of an enviable life, one has a variety of options. Spurred by shame, one may attempt to hide all evidence of the change in one’s circumstances. Thus, the merchant who gambles away his savings will hold on to his finer suits until they fray, and tell anecdotes from the halls of private clubs where his membership has long since lapsed. In state of self-pity, one may retreat from the world in which one has been blessed to live. Thus, the long-suffering husband, finally disgraced by his wife in society, may be the one who leaves his home in exchange for a small, dark apartment on the other side of town. Or, like the Count and Anna, one may simply join the Confederacy of the Humbled.
“I’ll tell you what is convenient,” he said after a moment. “To sleep until noon and have someone bring you your breakfast on a tray. To cancel an appointment at the very last minute. To keep a carriage waiting at the door of one party, so that on a moment’s notice it can whisk you away to another. To sidestep marriage in your youth and put off having children altogether. These are the greatest of conveniences, Anushka – and at one time, I had them all. But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me most.”
When all was said and done, the endeavours that most modern men saw as urgent (such as appointments with bankers and the catching of trains), probably could have waited, while those they deemed frivolous (such as cups of tea and friendly chats) had actually deserved their immediate attention.
[Picture source: Swedish National Heritage]