Posted by: Democratic Thinker | July 16, 2014

Baron De Berenger: How to Protect Life—IX

Natural Rights

In 1835 Charles Random de Berenger—owner of the Stadium Rifle Club outside of London—publishes the first self-protection book. Written in the manner of a series of letters from Lt. Col. Baron De Berenger to his son Augustus, letters III, VI, IX & XI treat the subject of crime.

On failing to use arms, and which robbers most likely will discover about you, additional ill-treatment may fall to your lot, on grounds of your hostile intentions, and your want of nerve to carry them into effect. On using them ineffectually, they may, although illegally, claim your life as a stake won, by having received your fire; or they may return the latter, either from revenge, or from the fear of your firing again, and more successfully.



Helps and Hints
How To
Protect Life and Property:
With Instructions
Rifle and Pistol Shooting, &c.






HAVING given you in two former Letters the Rules and Cautions to which you ought to attend, whilst moving about the streets, and along the highways and roads, I will now instruct you as to the best modes of Self-defence in either of those places.

Your “tools,” or rather weapons, I shall first draw your attention to:

THE STICK is an excellent weapon, and in the hands of a good spadroon swordsman especially, wherefore I have frequently urged you to extend your fencing lessons at the Stadium to the spadroon. You are aware, I believe, that, by that name, I mean a straight sword, lighter than the Highland broadsword, and made to cut and thrust; as the mode of fencing with a spadroon is a combination of Highland broadsword practice with that of the small sword, so its application to the defence with the stick is particularly suitable.

A stick, in able hands, is nearly as good as a sword, and in the hands of an inferior broad-swordsman, it is even better; there being but one edge to a cut and thrust sword, (I mean from a few inches below the point, for, the latter has two edges,) the cut is of no avail, unless made with the edge; whereas, the stick inflicts nearly equal pain, by a blow from any part of its circumference, wherefore, it has jocosely been called a sword having an edge all round. Nevertheless, the cut of a stick should be made similarly to that of a sword; that is, as if it had an edge, wherefore the line of cut or imaginary edge, should always be as if in continuation of the line of the middle joints of your fingers: by using your stick thus, you will hit rather harder, preserve your sword-play free from foul cuts, and you will also promote the action or suppleness of your wrist. A good mode is to draw a narrow chalk line upon the stick, and in the proper place of a sword’s edge, thereupon to allow only such as cuts, (during play with a fencing-school antagonist,) as leave a chalk mark where the cut has been applied; this also shows not only the difference, but likewise the superiority of this stick practice over the more vulgar practice of single-stick play, and which latter decides in favor of him who gives the greatest number of “broken heads,” although inflicted less skilfully, because with any part of the stick.

The best kind of sticks are oak, ash, and hazle saplings, black thorns, and sound ratans; the latter, however, being more likely to fly than the former, yet they suit persons best whose arms are deficient of muscle, as they can be recovered quickly after a cut, and which they may be made to inflict quite sharp enough, even by such an arm as above mentioned; nevertheless, I recommend a stick of the former kind in preference; that is, of a weight suitable to the strength of the purchaser. My own fancy is in favor of the blackthorn; although a little more weighty than other saplings of the same dimensions, its many knobs help to save the knuckles more than a smooth stick. An oak-sapling, however, is an excellent stick, although not quite so tough as a blackthorn. Black ratans, as some dark ones are called, are better than the white, provided they ARE sound! Most of the other canes are too springy, both for parrying and also for making true cuts, and which objection is increased with vine limbs, called “supple jacks.”

There is considerable nicety required in the selection of a well-shaped and sound stick, as well as in having it of a (indeed the only) proper length: the poising in the hand, and the making some few cuts with it alone, can determine the latter. When I speak of a stick for defence, I need hardly tell you that the sticks of the present fashionable kind are the least likely of all to support that denomination in the hour of danger. Nor do I mean a long and ill-shaped stick, such as the famed Colonel Hanger, afterwards Lord Colraine, used to carry when riding on his grey galloway, and which he assured me he regularly “steeped in Port wine, to make it tough!” I mean plain oak, crabsticks, or thorns, and ratans.

Good sticks should taper something more than they commonly do; the points should be strong, yet light enough to come up quickly; the ferules should be small and light, no more than just enough to protect the sticks from wearing, and they never should be allowed to be loose; the thickest or hand end should have a tendency to be oval, as laying more sword-like in the hand; and which should not grasp the stick tight, but ought to hold it lightly, and chiefly between the thumb and fore-fingers, the ends of the other fingers giving increased momentum to the stick at the time of making a cut, the oval shape causing also the supposed edge to lay always in one and the same way: a leathern thong and tassel is necessary, since, by passing your hand through it, and giving one or two twists of the stick, you can secure its retention by it, sword knot like. A knob at the handle end is not only useless, but a decided impediment; and the loading the end with lead is, if not absolutely cowardly, at the least foolish; for it deducts from the severity of a cut from the point; a loaded stick can only be used like a hammer, and then only at close quarters, for, by making a blow with the lead, and if removed only about two feet from the hand, the stick most likely will fly if parried, and if you miss your blow, you must expect to be knocked down before you can recover so heavy a point: the same applies to tuck sticks, they, as well as most of the sword sticks, are made “to sell;” but, a good swordsman, armed with a good blackthorn, may smile at being attacked by two, nay, even three tuck sticks,—one good parry to each will place the owners at his mercy. Attacks from a tuck stick being with its point, you have only to use almost any of the small sword disarming parries, quickly closing upon your assailant, at the same time, in order to seize his right with your left hand, and, after throwing the hilt end of your stick a little out of your hand, to strike it, with a back-handed blow, forcibly into his face or teeth; and as he staggers from you, to lay him at your feet, with either a severe cut at his head, or by giving point at his face, with the proper end of your stick.

If you wish to spare a tuck-stick assailant, one, who from inebriety, or from unaccountable folly, attacks you, you need but parry his thrusts, for very little force will avert them, he having the weighty end in front; and you may also keep him at arm’s length, by giving point to his face sharply and repeatedly with your stick, and which, unless he is much longer armed than you, must keep his point off, since he cannot use it so well with one as with both his hands.

Prolix as my directions, in reference to so homely and so common a weapon, may have appeared to you, I can assure you that your life may depend upon the toughness of your stick; I recommend a perfectly sound one to you, although my life was saved even by my stick’s (a ratan) breaking near the point, whilst applying a severe cut at the ribs of the most formidable of several footpads, whose ferocious attack gave me little hopes of extrication, nay, of life; it was saved, however, by mere chance, for, poising my broken stick, to ascertain its length, it being dusk, the powerful fellow, and who must have been a trooper, from his bludgeon skill, took it for a feint, and throwing himself open, by guarding his head, I seized the opportunity to give point at his face with the splintered end. It must have torn his face all to pieces, for, with a deep groan, he staggered a few paces, turned, and run away, and his companions scampered also, to my great relief, for they had nearly felled me by some very severe blows. On my return home, my servant discovered pieces of skin, with much whisker hair, forced into the splinters of the stick, showing that the wound, although resulting from the impulse of the moment, must have been a very dreadful one.

An UMBRELLA even, on an emergency, may be converted into a weapon, provided the stick is sound, but only to give point; or it may be opened quickly, to serve as a shield to hide your pulling a pistol out of your pocket, (taking care how you cock it safely with one hand,) thereupon to shoot a robber, either through or under it, taking great care to hit him. I found it a valuable weapon, although by mere chance, for, walking along in the rain, a large mad dog, pursued by men, suddenly turned upon me, out of a street which I just had approached: by instinct, more than judgment, I gave point at him severely, opened as the umbrella was, which, screening me at the same time, was an article from which he did not expect thrusts, but which, although made at guess, for I could not see him, turned him over and over, and before he could recover himself, his pursuers had come up, immediately to dispatch him: the whole being the work of even few seconds: but for the umbrella, the horrors of hydrophobia might have fallen to my lot.

A WHIP may be useful, when attacked whilst riding; here a little lead may be tolerated in the handle, since, unable to derive protection from the flexible part, you must take that part into your hand, taking care, however, that too much length does not destroy your having a full command, and which will be the case if the spring of the handle part is too great; if stopped by footpads, cuts five or six at the face, with the loaded end especially, and provided you can make them without being baulked by your horse, are the most destructive; but all depends upon which side, and how you are attacked: if armed with a hammer-ended hunting whip, you may hit where you can, but at a footpad’s hat, it will serve you less than elsewhere, since they fill the crown with anything, hay and straw especially, to break a blow aimed at the top of the head. I have heard of an instance where a country squire threw the lash of his hunting whip over a footpad’s neck, who had stopped him, and, keeping a firm hold of both the stick and the whip-cord end in his hand, he, by giving spurs to his horse, first upset the man, by means of having haltered him in his whip, thereupon to turn round to subdue him so completely by riding over him when down, that it enabled him to bring the thief into the next town a prisoner, with his hands tied behind him, and with the very whip that had caught him by the neck. I should not like to recommend this expedient, except to parties who are satisfied that they really are ball proof! Had the squire seized the muzzle of the footpad’s pistol in an averting direction, immediately to follow it up by spurring his horse against, and over him, it might have been by far the safest way, that is, if the footpad had not any companion; and even then he might have pursued that course, since it gave him the benefits of bustle, bad arms, injudicious and ineffective priming, bad aim, and, above all, the confusion of a guilty conscience too boot.

Having mentioned and described the different weapons fit for your protection, we will now proceed to their best use.

To prescribe the same rules of resistance to all persons, without reflecting on the difference which must exist between them, as much in courage and presence of mind as in size, and therefore both in physical and in muscular powers, would be as ill-judged as the administering of the same medicines and doses to all constitutions indiscriminately would court reproach for madness; nevertheless, most, perhaps all, will agree upon this point, that,

Resistance to robbery not only is more manly than a tame submission to the dictates of a violator of his country’s laws, and who therefore ought to be treated as one who is at war with all the civilized part of the community; but it also is more prudent, for you cannot foresee what consequences your submission may heap upon you, besides loss by robbery. If the robbers are blood-thirsty, and therefore cowardly, submission most likely will seal your doom; whereas a determined resistance may be the only way to avert it; if, on the contrary, they should be brave, and which their illegal pursuit need not prevent, and if you should even be subdued by them, your display of courage will command more or less respect even from thieves, provided they are not rank cowards; whilst cowardice, although they gain by it, experiences the contempt of all plunderers, and provokes ill-usage, and degrading mortifications besides, and from every one: therefore, and at any rate, it must be preferable to employ brave and skilfully resisting efforts to avert maltreatment, than to experience such after all, although you have not resisted. Of course, persons not gifted with sufficient nerve, or those who are conscious of physical inability from corporeal defects, or from sickness, such persons, if attacked, had better refrain from resisting, for neither a pusillanimous attempt, nor one crippled by constitutional disability, can serve them, or the community, in any way; nevertheless, it is not in every case that weakness, inferiority in size, or the superiority of numbers, ought to be allowed to dishearten; since instances out of number can be given, where determined boldness, activity, and presence of mind, have succeeded even against awful odds, and solely because such were employed judiciously, although by mere lads, or even females. Remember,—strength, without courage, is a treasure buried,—strength, without judgment, is a giant shackled,—but courage, presence of mind, and the skilful application of strength, as taught at our Stadium, are impregnable bulwarks, that may defy and laugh to scorn the labourings of superior, yet clumsy, force, and of brutal violence, deficient of refined courage.



Seize a PISTOL the moment when it is presented at you, with one hand, (but unless this can be done neatly it is better left alone,) to force the muzzle either at his own, your assailant’s, head, or, if that is impracticable, in any direction ensuring your own safety; at the same time, with your other hand, or rather well-clenched fist, to hit him a sharp blow on the throat, but upwards, so as to be stopped by his chin, and with the nails of your fingers towards yourself, (the back of the hand downwards,) thus to make his heels fly up, taking care to avert the pistol from you in his fall, and which latter, by a blow with your leg applied to the back of his, and as near to his heels as possible, you will make doubly sure; but unless you can apply this blow from your leg neatly, and in a way that ensures your remaining firm on your legs, this part had better be omitted, since you may throw yourself down, instead of your antagonist, or you may fall with him: secure his pistol and him when down, by kneeling on his throat, your face towards his pistol hand. All this refers to a case when, without any weapon, you have to rely on your fists; if you have a stick, seize the pistol as before, and throw the handle part of your stick to project a little out of your hand, to hit him with it a back-handed blow in the face, similarly to the way I have pointed out under the head Stick, and when resisting attacks made on you with a tuck stick. (See Tuck Stick.)

Should you pass a fellow of suspicious appearance in a dangerous part of the road, do so without seeming to apprehend anything; nevertheless, watch him with a side glance out of the corner of your eye, for it may enable you to catch a glimpse quickly, should he attempt (as is more than likely if he is a thief) to fell you, with a blow from behind, (see the woodcut, letter VI); if you should discover such an endeavour, rapidly face about, throwing your stick up to the St. George’s guard, (see the woodcut, letter VI); at the same moment, and if you succeed in making his blow slide off, immediately return a severe cut at his right ribs; or bring your right hand from the St. George’s guard to a little above your right shoulder, as if about to make, although to appearance aukwardly, a cut at his head, but, instead of it, sharply and quickly to give point at his face, following these stabs up as long as he is under the control of your point. Probatum est!

If he rushes at you, shift backwards a little distance, but with your front towards him, and suddenly turn yourself out of his way, by making one of your legs a pivot, on which to form a quarter of a circle; of course by nimbly stepping round with the other, and by throwing the shoulder of the side of the shifting leg backwards; as he rushes impetuously past you, make either cut five or cut six (as hard as you can) at the back of his neck, to lay him at your feet, if your pivot leg has not upset him already. Cut five is made where you step back with your left leg, and cut six (with your sword hand placed over your left shoulder,) when you have stepped back with the right leg.

Should you be obliged to run away, owing to the arrival of some of his confederates, do so at great speed, to appearance, but let one (the best runner of course,) gain a little upon you; then seem to make a desperate effort to get away, which will cause him to use what is called “the top of his speed;” now let him come nearer to you at that speed, suddenly but cleverly to drop before him on your hands and knees, but taking great care to meet his fall, (which will be a tremendous one,) that is, by leaning back as much as you can, and also by saving your own face in the best way possible, for, as he will be thrown forward beyond you, his will be cut all to pieces; before he can recover himself, you must start up to improve the advantage you have gained, and in every way you can.

Should members of the SWELL MOB or other fellows have taken advantage of your carelessness so as to have succeeded in closely SURROUNDING or HUSTLING you, either with a view to confine your arms or to deduct from the force of your stick, by your being prevented from striking with your point, or that part near to it, which is the forte of your stick; immediately seize your stick in the middle, as it will enable you to hit or to parry with either end, not only in such a situation, but indeed whenever you are grappled by another, or at close quarters generally. If hemmed in thus by numbers, thrust or poke with either end at any of your assailants who lay themselves open; always doing it as forcibly and as rapidly as possible, and chiefly directing such pokes at their faces and stomachs, hitting occasionally, as opportunity offers, smart blows, which, however, from their contraction of the proper length, will not serve you so well as forcible thrusts. Kick the shins of such fellows at the same time smartly, especially of such as come behind you, and you may, by active and determined industry, soon make yourself an opening; for fellows attacking you thus, otherwise will push and throw you to each other, in order to strip you of everything, and to cover you with bruises besides.

If you nimbly can fill your other hand, in your pocket, with the contents of your snuff-box, you cannot do better than by throwing some, but always with a good aim and without waste of such excellent ammunition, into the eyes of those CLOSE to you, to salute their heads with your trusty sapling at the same time: smarting under blindness and sneezing, they will open a gap for you, anxious as they will be to get away, whilst labouring under so perplexing a situation; and which, taking advantage of, will enable you to make good your retreat, carefully applying your “Irish blackguard” to those of the British breed that may endeavour to stop your exit; or making belief that your hand is full when the whole is gone: it requires, however, firmness and activity to effect this, and even to those possessed of both, my advice is, to avoid getting into such clutches, by every precaution, as the only safe way with such hordes.

PISTOLS, whether for a CARRIAGE or the POCKET, should really be trustworthy! but, after all, even when you have procured the best pistols possible, there are two other points deserving of your grave consideration, these being of more importance than even the excellence of your arms: so impressed am I with this conviction, that (and most anxiously and earnestly,) I beseech you to answer, without vanity or stint of candour, the following questions, which you ought to put to yourself; for, on the self-probing correctness of your inward reply, not only your property, but your life, may depend. Say to yourself,

1st, On being attacked, may I rely on having sufficient firmness and self-possession to use them?

2d, If this should be the case, do I possess skill sufficient to use them to the purpose?

On failing to use arms, and which robbers most likely will discover about you, additional ill-treatment may fall to your lot, on grounds of your hostile intentions, and your want of nerve to carry them into effect. On using them ineffectually, they may, although illegally, claim your life as a stake won, by having received your fire; or they may return the latter, either from revenge, or from the fear of your firing again, and more successfully.

For similar reasons, your pistols should be in the best order; and as to your loading and priming, you should be quite certain as to execution, for a miss-fire will be something like signing your own death-warrant. Of the care of your pistols, and their best use, I shall speak hereafter; wherefore I will now conclude this part by mentioning what kind of pistol I recommend to you.

For a four-wheeled carriage, a brace of double-barreled detonators, (or even flint-lock pistols,) not less than six to seven inches in the barrels, nor smaller in the bore than twenty-five balls to the pound.

For a two-wheeled carriage, and equally so for the coat-pocket, when either riding or walking, one double-barrelled pistol, not less than four inches in the barrels, up to six inches; the bore about twenty-five balls to the pound, and not less than the calibre of thirty. The diminutive pistols, displayed in so many of the gun sale-shops, are more likely to lead you into, than out of a scrape: not only are they mere toys, but you cannot load them with six to eight BUCK-SHOT, instead of a BALL; a mode that is desirable, for, by loading one barrel thus, and the other with a ball, you can show more or less mercy, as occasion may require: since you may disable a robber by wounding him with buck-shot, in some part where a ball would have proved more fatal; and it is also obvious that you are more likely to hit him with buck-shot than with a single bullet.

The pistols may be either “under and over,” or “side by side,” so called from the position of the barrels; either will do well, although, for a deliberate aim, the latter answer best: a pistol however should be used without any other aim than that which may be secured by practice; that is, by pointing at an object, and without looking along the barrel. These kind of pistols may be a little more inconvenient, on account of bulk, but where safety is the aim, and life is likely to be the forfeit of neglect, the preference of convenience becomes a sinful folly.

Bolts to pocket-pistols are certainly more safe, because preventing accidental explosions, but the bolts should be removed (unbolted) BEFORE you arrive at any place the least suspicious, in order to be ready; for, if pounced upon suddenly, the removal of two bolts, additional to cocking two locks, and opposed to fellows who present pistols ready cocked, is too much to be expected from any one: a person so situated, if even quite self-possessed, (and still more if flurried,) would have no chance, but that of being ill-used for an abortive attempt. I have known instances where persons, under similar dilemmas, have broken off the seer-nose of the trigger, because they pulled with all their might, owing to agitation, and having forgot to full-cock their pistols: what would they have done with two bolts and two cocks, if so they acted with a single-barrelled pistol without any bolt? It being clear then that bolts are a great baulk to persons not perfectly cool, it follows, as a matter of course, that such persons are not fit to have pistols without bolts; wherefore the natural conclusion must be, that persons not PERFECTLY self-possessed, had better leave their pistols at home! and which to the latter I always have strenuously recommended.

There is a considerable advantage in that kind of pistol which fires BOTH locks (yet in succession, and at your pleasure,) by means of ONE and the SAME trigger, since it prevents the mishap of pulling, by possibility, at the wrong one of a pair of triggers from flurry; I mean the wrong trigger, because of a barrel already discharged. You must know that kind of pocket-pistol, since my men have made one for me according to my orders, and which I have shown you as acting thus, and very securely too; and so do the pistols and guns for which I have a patent, and which you know too well, from seeing the men in any patent-gun manufactory at work upon them, to require my description; indeed, from having often explained them yourself to our Stadium subscribers.

It will be obvious that a double-barreled pistol is better to resist an attack, than a brace of single-barreled pistols would be, since one hand is at liberty for other purposes, and the other holding in reality, although more compactly, a brace in one, and both ready for your firing them in succession, as the exigency of the case may require: saving the loss of time, and devoid of the great exposure which is inseparable from your shifting the discharged for a loaded pistol.

STILETTOS, or DAGGERS of ANY kind, as well as those infamous weapons called PROTECTORS, (I mean short pieces of cane, with a lump of lead, in catgut fastenings, at each end,) are such dastardly weapons, that I am sure you would never use either, could I even forget myself so far as to give instructions in reference to them.

ALL these, and DAGGERS especially, or KNIVES instead of the latter, are a disgrace to an Englishman’s hand! and their recent extensive introduction, unless vigilantly checked by some legislative enactment, cannot fail, and ere long, to destroy his proud fame for manly honor, and bring him to a level with those wretches whom formerly he indignantly used to reprobate for their cowardice! That mine is not a cynical prejudication, is borne out by the frightful INCREASE of murder all over the kingdom, and more by means of the KNIFE than otherwise; of which debasement the journals so constantly exhibit disgusting details.

If the possession of such weapons should even be allowed, in some cases, my humble opinion is, that this permission should only be conceded to persons who can and will give good and sufficient security to prevent the misapplication of either; whereupon their names, together with those of their securities, ought to be registered, and in books accessible to the police. I should venture to recommend that air-guns be included, for it could not be objected to by THOSE who intend to use them FAIRLY.

THE FIST, with all its censured vulgarity, after all, is by far the more national, the more manly, and also the more honorable mode of self-defence, nay, even of resentment in certain cases, and under sudden provocations: in asserting that its encouragement alone can arrest the growth of a RACE of KNIFE DASTARDS, I only echo the patriotic opinion of philanthropic statesmen, and others of former and present days: nor would its vulgarity have brought it into disrepute, had the gamblings of the prize-ring generally, and the misconduct of some of its members, not hastened such a catastrophe. Can any one deny that the turf, with all its glittering pomp and fashion, does not court reprobation on equal grounds? then why should not those who, and very properly, maintain that the national benefits resulting from the turf’s continuance, outweigh by far its evil consequences, cherish, if not mercenary prize-fighting, at least pugilistic exploits, and their cultivation as a NATIONAL mode of SELF-DEFENCE. Often have you heard me maintain that our Maker has NOT given us ANY POISON! but that it is OUR use of improper quantities, or OUR misapplication, that CREATES poison! Apply the same reasoning to the TURF and to PUGILISM, and THEIR bane is gone! As there are so many pamphlets giving pugilistic instruction, I refer you to them; and equally so may you, as to FENCING with either the SMALL or THE BROAD SWORD, collect ample information (additionally to the lessons from your masters,) from the many clever works which have been published both in this and the last century. I shall, nevertheless, instruct you in the course of this correspondence, as to some few PECULIAR hits with the stick and the fist, however; and also as to some powerful grapplings, and likewise falls, with a view to enable you, under peculiar circumstances, and in the absence of other means or weapons, to bring these defensive modes into use, in order to repel attacks successfully, and of whatever kind.

(Continued in LETTER XI.)