The Corner

“You Were Not Shooting Like a Gentleman, Gilbert”

My bringing up (yesterday) that line from the late great James Mason’s last movie, “The Shooting Party” snagged several readers’ attention. Sample:

“Mr. Derbyshire— From reading the accounts of the Cheney incident, it appears that you were closer that you might have thought when you posted James Mason’s line. Recent accounts indicate that Cheney, following the bird, turned backwards and fired. At least one hunting expert has suggested that the appropriate line of fire extends forward, and at the extreme, one should not aim more than 90 degrees to either side. (As the hunters move forward in a line, I would have thought that something less than 90 degrees would be more sensible.)

“If I remember correctly from the film, Lord Hartclip followed the bird too low before he shot, but it appears that Cheyney too must have broken some rules. In all fairness, so did the victim by not announcing his presence.”

[Derb] I must say, I think my dredging up that line was a bit unfair to Cheney. The essence of Gilbert’s (i.e. Lord Hartlip’s) “ungentlemanliness” in the movie is that he is being too competitive–too determined to defend his name as the best shot in England, at the expense of good shooting “form.” This is imbedded in a larger point the movie is making about the decline of “true” aristocratic and gentlemanly values–honor, self-control, self-restraint, noblesse oblige — in the fat years before WW1, England’s own Gilded Age.

In Cheney’s case, inattention and inexperience seem to account for the incident, together with, as my correspondent said, some unfortunate behavior by the shootee. It was not likely, as in the movie, an excess of competitive zeal. And if it was, who on our sode would mind? We want our politicians to be full of competitive zeal. That’s how you succeed in politics. And we want our people to succeed.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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