by Hugh Henry Brackenridge
I'm taking a break between Christmas and New Year's Eve, so this special Tuesday edition of Incessant Divagation reprints something written several years ago by Hugh Brackenridge. He could hardly refuse to fill in for me – not because he owes me any favors, but for the simple reason that he's been dead for a couple of centuries.
Hugh Henry Brackenridge, who was born in Scotland in 1748, came to the American Colony of Pennsylvania with his parents at the age of 5, and had several occupations in his life: teacher, army chaplain, playwright, lawyer, politician, and justice of the United States Supreme Court. He also wrote a popular fiction book series concerning “the adventures of Captain John Farrago”. In this excerpt, Farrago responds to a formal challenge to a duel.
Major Valentine Jacko
I have two objections to this duel matter.
The one is, lest I should hurt you; and the other is, lest you should hurt me.
I do not see any good it would do me to put a bullet through any part of your body. I could make no use of you when you are dead for any culinary purpose as I would a rabbit or a turkey. I am no cannibal to feed on the flesh of men. Why, then, shoot down a human creature of which I could make no use? A buffalo would be better meat. For though your flesh may be delicate and tender, it wants that firmness and consistency which takes and retains salt. At any rate, it would not be fit for long sea voyages. You might make a good barbecue, it is true, being of the nature of a raccoon or an opossum, but people are not in the habit of barbecuing anything human now. As to your hide, it is not worth taking off, being little better than that of a year-old colt.
It seems to be a strange thing to shoot at a man who would stand still to be shot at, inasmuch as I have heretofore been used to shooting at things flying or running or jumping. Were you in a tree now like a squirrel, endeavoring to hide yourself in the branches, or like a raccoon that after much eying and spying I observe at length in the crotch of a tall oak with boughs and leaves intervening, so that I could just get a sight of his hinderparts, I should think it pleasurable enough to take a shot at you. But, as it is, there is no skill or judgment requisite to discover or take you down.
As to myself, I do not too much like to stand in the way of anything harmful. I am under apprehension that you might hit me. That being the case, I think it most advisable to stay at a distance. If you want to try your pistols, take some object, a tree or a barn door, about my dimensions. If you hit, that, send me word and I shall acknowledge that if I had been in the same place, you might also have hit me.
Late Captain, Pennsylvania Militia
Thanks for reading, and have a Merry Christmas.
To those of you who object to the word “Christmas”, I say, “Oh, quit your griping and have a Merry Christmas”.