I read the Charles Dickens's short novel " the haunted-house" ,and ran across a paragraph

I was travelling towards London out of the North, intending to stop by the way, to look at the house. My health required a temporary residence in the country; and a friend of mine who knew that, and who had happened to drive past the house, had written to me to suggest it as a likely place. I had got into the train at midnight, and had fallen asleep, and had woke up and had sat looking out of window at the brilliant Northern Lights in the sky, and had fallen asleep again, and had woke up again to find the night gone, with the usual discontented conviction on me that I hadn't been to sleep at all;--upon which question, in the first imbecility of that condition, I am ashamed to believe that I would have done wager by battle with the man who sat opposite me. That opposite man had had, through the night--as that opposite man always has--several legs too many, and all of them too long. In addition to this unreasonable conduct (which was only to be expected of him), he had had a pencil and a pocket-book, and had been perpetually listening and taking notes. It had appeared to me that these aggravating notes related to the jolts and bumps of the carriage, and I should have resigned myself to his taking them, under a general supposition that he was in the civil-engineering way of life, if he had not sat staring straight over my head whenever he listened. He was a goggle-eyed gentleman of a perplexed aspect, and his demeanour became unbearable.

I didn't understand this: I am ashamed to believe that I would have done wager by battle with the man who sat opposite me. Can someone explain it for me?

1 Answer 1


I didn't know this but apparently "wager of battle" (or "wager of battle") is a British expression that means "to engage in single combat", i.e. "duel".. So Dickens' character is saying that he was so annoyed at the man who sat across from him that he might have "challenged him to a duel".

Naturally this is a literary exaggeration to simply mean that he was (mistakenly) annoyed that the man had kept him awake all night.

Historical note: I'm not sure if dueling was actually illegal in England at that time, but it had fallen out of fashion.

  • Keep in mind this novel was written in 1862 (I think) so the expression is pretty old-fashioned. Maybe British people would understand it but this is the first I've seen it in writing. So it's not something I would suggest using, but it's another "good to know" bit of English vocabulary.
    – Andrew
    Jan 20, 2017 at 4:13
  • (ↂ⃙⃙⃚⃛_ↂ⃙⃙⃚⃛₎,anyway,you make it sense!
    – peter jams
    Jan 20, 2017 at 4:17

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