“It is a false point of honour to take umbrage at the insults of an avowed provocateur”: for Georges Breittmayer, duelling was a serious matter regulated by a code of honour with precise rules.
This famous industrialist, who made his fortune in gas, was also a formidable driver: his active involvement in the promotion of sport led him to found the Racing-Club in 1882 and the Paris Fencing Committee in 1909. A self-styled ambassador of the great tradition of duelling, Breittmayer himself duelled with Robert de Montesquiou in 1912 and stood in for Pierre Loti in a duel with a young Bulgarian officer in 1913.
In 1914, Devambez published his Code de l’honneur et du duel: a vademecum of the rules of propriety that must be adhered to so that a duel can be worthy of its name. Foil, sword, sabre, bayonet, pistol or revolver: each weapon had its rules, its codes of dress, and its manners, from the initial demand for retribution to the request for an official report recording the outcome.
The offender must keep himself at the offended party’s disposal, a gauntlet protecting his arm, without a hat, and with nothing in his pockets. “The duel, which resolves matters of honour, does not necessarily result in reconciliation. […] One does not throw oneself into the arms of a man one wished to see sprawling on the ground five minutes ago”.
Although duelling had been banned by Richelieu in June 1626, the tradition of cleansing the shame of sullied honour through combat still survived in post-war France. With the Code de l’honneur et du duel, Devambez made duelling ethics into a matter of elegance of the mind.
Georges Breittmayer, Code de l’honneur et du duel, Devambez, Paris, 1914