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  • The Poison Duel 11#: Poison Duels in Plays and Conclusion October 29, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

    curtain down

    Woe, the poison duel series is over, at least till someone else finds some new evidence. Here though are two bits of supplementary evidence, poison duels in plays. This slightly bitchy review appeared in 1835.

    Another new burletta, entitled An Affair of Honour, was also produced during the week at this theatre. The main interest of the piece turns upon the ludicrous scene between KEELEY and LISTON, who, as two officers of dragoons, quarrel about a lady, and fight a duel by the novel mode of each of them swallowing a pill, which they draw by lot from a box containing two pills perfectly alike in appearance, but one of them a deadly poison, the other noxious. It would seem that the public are easier to please now-a-days than they used to be, as this flimsy affair was very favourably received.

    This play instead comes from 1900. Spoiler alert to a century-old play who no-one living today has ever seen and whose script has long since been lost…

    The story revolves round Miss Lavinia Goldfield, a wealthy young I lady, whose hand is sought by three suitors, Major Growler. Captain Blower, and Dr. Fitzgerald [brilliant names], the latter being the favoured swain, a fact of which the two military gentlemen are in blissful ignorance. They quarrel desperately over their love affair, and the incensed major pulls the captain’s nose. The doctor, determined to give the quarrelsome couple a severe lesson, suggests in place of a duel a novel method of settling who shall marry the lovely Lavinia. He produces a box containing two pills, one of which he says is quite harmless, while in the other is a deadly dose of prussic acid. They are each to take a pill, and the one who swallows the harmless globule will, of course, become the husband of the lady. The rivals adopt the suggestion, which they proceed to carry out, but imagination plays such tricks with them that each has reason to suppose he has swallowed the fatal dose, and that the doctor has wickedly poisoned both of them. The relief they experience is great when the medic assures them that the pills were composed of bread only, and they gladly promise never to quarrel again, and to resign the lady to the doctor.

    Sounds very similar to the story of Mullins the Irish doctor and his inconsequential tyro challenger.

    Now a poison duel chronology to round off the series:

    12 century Persian poem about two doctors and the poison duel
    1770s Cagliostro challenges a Scottish doctor in Russia to a poison duel
    1823 Poison Duel threatened in Virginia
    1835 An Affair of Honour play with Poison Duel (see above)
    c. 1850 Faraday offers a Poison Duel to a young hothead (attested very late though)
    1851 Lola Montes sends a Poison Duel to a newspaper
    1859 Apothecary uses Poison Duel in Vienna
    1865 Virchow offers Bismarck a Poison Duel (supposedly)
    1882 Poison Duel in Poland (thanks to Filip for proving that this actually happened)
    1883 Earliest record of duel in Lousiana

    1887 Poison Duel by Tarantula 1#
    1888 Poison Draught short story appears

    1892 Poison Duel by Tarantula 2#
    1894 Molever vs Mullins short story appears
    1894 Tombstone duel remembered (thought fought a generation before?)
    1895: Record of duel in Lousiana
    1896 Poison duel in Genova (thanks to Southern Man) allegedly early 19 cent.

    1896 Poison snake duel in India
    1900 Poison Duel in play (see above)
    1987 Poison Duel appears in the Princess Bride (with thanks to Andy and Tacitus)

    Can anyone fill out the list? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    Questions still to be answered. Can anyone get the text of the Persian poem? Is there a reliable source for Cagliostro? There is the famous early Louisiana duel, is there anything to this? Any evidence for Bismarck? Is Faraday an internet legend? Where is evidence for Genova, I’ve looked in Italian sources and failed?

    29 Nov 2014: Invisible writes in ‘Not sure if anyone commented on this in your poison duel series, but the first episode of the first season of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch features a serial killer who kills his victims with a poison duel.’ Thanks, Invisible!