The Brave Coward

How would you describe a character who APPEARS courageous, but only because he or she has never been tried under fire?

Here’s how Anthony Trollope does it in his first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1843), when describing the villain of the piece, Captain Myles Ussher:

“He had natural abilities somewhat above par; was good-looking, strongly made, and possessed that kind of courage, which arises more from animal spirits, and from not having yet experienced the evil effects of danger, than from real capabilities of enduring its consequences.”

Good. But he goes one better by giving us specific examples of this “untried” courage:

“Myles Ussher had never yet been hit in a duel, and would have no hesitation in fighting one; he had never yet been seriously injured in riding, and would therefore ride any horse boldly; he had never had his head broken in a row, and therefore would readily go into one; he cared little for bodily pain if it did not incapacitate him, — little at least for any pain he had as yet endured, and his imagination was not strong enough to suggest any worse evil. And this kind of courage, which is the species by far most generally met with, was sufficient for the life he had to lead.”

We have a “broken reed” that isn’t aware he is broken, because no one has yet put weight upon him.

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