An affronted merchant and his pugnacious banker meet on the field of honor with fatal results.
In 1826, one of the last recorded duels in Europe took place when reputable Scottish businessman David Landale challenged decommissioned officer and all-around rapscallion George Morgan, an agent for the Bank of Scotland. Their dispute stemmed from Morgan’s indiscreet sharing with various creditors of information pertaining to Landale’s financial problems after Landale, offended by the bank’s refusal to assist him during an economic depression, moved his account to a competing institution. At a time when a man’s reputation was as important as his wealth, if not more so, Landale soon faced a steady stream of creditors demanding repayment of loans as a result of Morgan’s imprudent and somewhat inaccurate revelations. Upon learning that Landale had written to Morgan’s superiors to complain of his ill usage, the agent accosted him in the street, whacking him across the back with an umbrella. Though less frequent than in times past, the duel was still a viable means for a gentleman to restore his honor in such circumstances, so Landale issued a challenge. When the two fought the next morning, the inexperienced Landale shot and killed Morgan. The author, a BBC correspondent and a descendant of Landale, interweaves into this personal narrative a riveting history of dueling, exploring its origins in the days when knights fought trials by combat and examining dueling customs throughout Europe and the United States.
By turns fascinating and perplexing, the story serves as the perfect microcosm of what the “noble” art of dueling had become by the mid-19th century: an outdated custom more likely to be a response to a petty slights than a redress for grievous wrongs.