Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Trattato di scherma teorico-pratico illustrato by Vittorio Lambertini


It is with great pleasure that I can share with you today the 1870 treatise by Vittorio Lambertini, its full title being Trattato di scherma teorico-pratico illustrato della moderna scuola italiana di spada e sciabola ('Theoretical-practical fencing treatise on the modern Italian school of sword and sabre'). This particular book comes from my own collection, so I have been able to take high quality photos of every page; the resulting PDF is thus quite large. I have also provided a transcription to make it easier to search through the text for study purposes.

Scans: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1GAcV2NNNvrJa9O29hV-9DvTp9RXMSvS1/view?usp=sharing

Transcription: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1J6olRJ8HrRzV-HLqlxBZQcHdS6EeVizn/view?usp=sharing

The 150-year-old book shows many signs of its age, largely due to it being a paperback, but its 29 fold-out plates are mostly in good condition. I personally find the illustrator's art style to be rather elegant despite is simplicity.

My particular copy appears to have been purchased by the highly decorated war veteran Leopoldo Serra in 1875, as indicated by the signature near the front of the book and by what seems to be part of a receipt for a magazine or newspaper subscription that was found between pages 60 and 61, probably being used as a bookmark.

Nothing is yet known about Lambertini's life or career, and his treatise was, unfortunately, largely overlooked in its time. Nevertheless, Lambertini's treatise is significant for the modern reader as it provides a very detailed look into the sword method of Luigi Zangheri, a fencing master who was highly regarded in the 19th century but never wrote a treatise himself. Clemente Lambertini was a student of Zangheri, and passed the method on to his son, Vittorio.1

Luigi Zangheri was a fencing master from Cesena who opened a fencing hall in Bologna around the year 1825, where he taught sword, sabre, counterpoint, and bastone. He soon developed an outstanding reputation as a fencer, a teacher, and as a man who was reviving the art of fencing in northern Italy.2 His method was not revolutionary in the same sense as Radaelli's, but rather he was largely seen to be preserving the traditional Neapolitan method whilst also making his own modifications, such as using a slightly lighter and shorter Italian foil, abandoning the practice of binding the sword to the hand, and allowing the use of certain 'French' techniques such as the coupé. Zangheri produced many celebrated fencing masters, such as Giuseppe Borelli, Gaetano Simonetti, and Cesare Enrichetti.3

Enrichetti was already quite famous by the time Lambertini published his treatise, having been appointed as the head of the Scuola Magistrale in Parma in 1868 and himself producing a host of talented fencers such as Ferdinando Masiello, Giovanni Pagliuca, Gaetano Baracco, and Giovanni Ciullini.4 Enrichetti published his own treatise a year after Lambertini did, and so by being able to compare the two, we can get a very good idea of Zangheri's method.

Aside from containing more detailed information on the teaching progression and pedagogy of his method than Enrichetti's treatise, Lambertini's book also contains a treatise on the sabre. The exact origins of this sabre method are not stated, but it nevertheless provides an added insight into what sabre fencing looked like in northern Italy prior to the rise of the Radaellians. It may also resemble the kind of sabre fencing that was being taught at Enrichetti's school before it was merged with Radaelli's in 1874.

A full, detailed analysis of Lambertini's method and its differences compared to Enrichetti's is a topic for another day, but an example of this is a difference which Lambertini himself points, being that he only includes five parries in his method, those being 4th, 3rd, half-circle, 2nd, and 1st, compared to Enrichetti who also includes the 'intermediary' parries of low 3rd and low 4th. Lambertini states that it was his father who reduced the number of parries to five.5


1 Vittorio Lambertini, Trattato di scherma teorico-pratico illustrato, Author, Bologna, 1870, p. iii.
2 'Accademia di scherma', Teatri, arti e letteratura, 14 May 1835, p. 86.
3 Carlo Pilla, Arte e scuole di scherma, Società tipografica già compositori, Bologna, 1886, pp. 34-35.
4 ibid., p. 36.
5 Lambertini, op. cit., p. 39.

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Pecoraro defends the Parise method

Despite losing its official status in the Italian army, the Radaellian method had no shortage of public supporters even at the end of the 19th century. The amateur Radaellian Roderico Rizzotti was, like the famous Jacopo Gelli, a man who wrote many articles in support of Radaelli and his theories, particularly in the magazine Scherma Italiana, which he was the editor of from the start of 1893 until mid-1894.

Like those of his colleagues, many of Rizzotti's articles show some of the frustration felt by the Radaellians at the continued silence from the Italian Ministry of War regarding the state of sabre fencing in the army and the Radaellians' calls for Masaniello Parise, the technical director of the Scuola Magistrale in Rome, to come to the table with them and find a compromise.

This frustration is especially evident in an open letter from Rizzotti, published in Scherma Italiana in 1894, entitled 'To Professor and Colonel Masaniello Parise':
While I followed the proceedings of the sabre bouts between the amateurs who flocked to the recent tournament in Venice, fully absorbed and engrossed, my thoughts went to you, dear professor and colonel.
There before me, seated in a less plebeian stall, but equally absorbed and engrossed, sat Comm. Caracciolo1—a prefect of the province—for hours and hours, and I sense that within him, an old student of Achille Parise, your father and maestro of great fame, his now advanced age had not extinguished his passion for our art. Perhaps his mind went back to the good times of his youth, when his companions in his great fencing studies were, among others, the ex-minister Rattazzi, Count Nigra, Colli di Felizzano, and…Agostino Depretis2.
Sure, even Depretis—speaking of the period from 1848 to 1859—studied fencing, and perhaps it is to fencing that he later owed, at least in part, his famous ability of manoeuvring through the treacherous waves of power, always staying afloat and valiantly opposing the continuous attacks of his political opponents—fencers less accustomed than he to the tricks of the trade.
The sabre bouts followed one another, and on the piste appeared Baldi, Ceni, Fazi, Fougier, Meyer, Montalto, Galli, Piacenti, Roffeni, Rosso, Sestini, Weysi, and so many other amateurs, one better than the other, a whole pleiad of fencers simultaneously strong and elegant. Sure in the parry, quick in the riposte, and with majestic and light handling of the blade, obtained not just with the wrist, but with coordinated action of all the joints of the arm and with the elbow as the main point of rotation.
They were the students of Rossi, Arista, Corsini, Masiello, Guasti, Foresto Paoli, Pini, Pecoraro, and so on—these all being maestri who, with regard to the official system of fencing which revolves around you, professor, have as much faith in it as I have that the sinful mind will one day take flight into the merciful arms of God.
Thinking of you, professor and colonel, I said to myself: Oh, how will you feel, here at the Milan tournament, in your capacity as a juror—provided that you accept the honourable task, as I hope—when you will have to judge these same amateurs and many others?
If you, in homage to your artistic principles, your theories, your method, will give the vestal virgin's pollice verso3 for them all, what will you say when your given sabre rankings are found in clear opposition to those of the other Italian and foreign jurors? Will you not think, professor, perhaps with a shiver, that a decade of the Scuola Magistrale's life, as well as convincing everyone of the quality of his sabre method, has further cherished the memory of Giuseppe Radaelli, his school, and his devoted, unfailing apostles?
You, professor, are too much of a gentleman not to admit, even tacitly, that your position would have been very embarrassing, all the more considering that among your colleagues of the jury who would have voted in clear contradiction with you, there would be maestri who are or were previously instructors at the same Scuola Magistrale, in which you reign as the absolute—if not inviolable and sacred—sovereign.
And by association of ideas, my mind also went to that great sin of ingratitude which was committed—along with many others—by a young maestro, recently graduated from the Scuola Magistrale, when in response to my observation that he did not seem to me to be fencing sabre according to the canons of the official teachings, he said: 'Just between friends, do you know that at the Scuola Magistrale, when a student has a promising disposition, he is secretly told that when it comes to sabre, there is no use in doing any system other than Radaelli.'
I was thinking about all this because I saw in the Milan newspapers you were appointed to the jury, along with Pecoraro, Guasti, and Captain Moccagatta!
And it was not me, professor, who had the idea of arousing your remorse or making you confess that Fambri's notorious report to the Ministry of War on the fencing treatise which bears your name, the report to which you owe your high position as director of the Scuola Magistrale and colonel...regardless of whether it is, with regard to form, a masterpiece, with regard to substance—I am speaking of sabre—it is…a tumble.
I thought of this simply because the mind cannot be commanded, nor can its flights be restrained. And I did not predict that you would then not come to Milan, and to me it is a great shame, because instead of writing to you, I would have turned to your proverbial courtesy for a verbal response.
What do you think?
Especially since, as you already know, you do not have time to respond to letters, or you do not want to—not because you are at a loss for good reasons, no, but…so as to not spoil noble blood, perhaps. And so what is the need to write and discuss when you have at your disposal so many means of convincing…forcefully and with so many acolytes to spread your word amongst the faithless rabble, in pills as big as meatballs?
I am, dear professor,
your most obedient servant,
RODERICO RIZZOTTI4
A month later, a response from Salvatore Pecoraro, one of the two vice-directors of the Scuola Magistrale, appeared in Scherma Italiana. Despite being one of the most celebrated Radaellian fencers of the time, Pecoraro is quick to defend to Parise and his sabre method despite the universal opposition shown to it by the other Radaellians.
      DEAR MR. RIZZOTTI, 
I read your letter directed to Cav. Parise and published 11 May in the newspaper Scherma Italiana.
For the part which concerns me, I feel a duty as both a fencer and the vice-director of the Scuola Magistrale to address this to you with the request that it be accepted into the columns of Scherma Italiana.
You, Mr. Rizzotti, assert that Guasti, Pecoraro, and many others believe in the quality of the Parise method like the sinful mind will one day take flight into the merciful arms of God.
I will tell you that loyalty is the uniform of the fencer, because if I am converted (as we might say) to the Parise method, it is because I recognise its superiority over all others. And I would have openly fought the Parise sabre system, within the limits of my power, if I were not convinced of what I said above.
Now to the other subject matter, that being what was said by a young maestro who recently graduated from the Scuola Magistrale, who told you:
'Just between friends, do you know that at the Scuola Magistrale, when a student has a promising disposition, he is secretly told that when it comes to sabre, there is no use in doing any system other than Radaelli.'
The NCO in question has certainly forgotten all his duties. It is entirely made up, and at this moment I will reclaim the honour of my colleagues, those who were and who are now employed at the Scuola Magistrale, in telling you that what he claimed is not true.
My colleagues and I are not dominated by the spirit of servility, and you, Mr. Rizzotti, should have quarantined the words of an individual who, having spent three years at the Scuola Magistrale and attaining an honourable position, in order to now be accepted by the opponents in art, not only does he seek to renounce the past, but also throw a shadow of distrust on maestri who all have an artistic life to prove their loyalty.
I declare myself a partisan of the Parise method; I firmly believe in it. And on behalf of my dear colleagues I reject the words spoken to you by the young maestro.
Thank you, Mr. Rizzotti. 
        Rome, 27 May 1894
yours truly,
SALVATORE PECORARO5
This is not the first time Pecoraro has publicly defended Parise's method in Scherma Italiana. The first time he did so was when Parise's cavalry sabre method was being reformed so that it would at last be accepted by the Ministry of War (see here and here). As would be expected, Rizzotti did not pass up the opportunity to include his own response to Pecoraro's letter, with even more emotive and somewhat poetic language than his first open letter:
À tout seigneur, tout honneur,6 esteemed Professor, and as you see, not only do I hasten to give you your requested hospitality, but, certain that I echo the thoughts of our whole editorial staff, I have respectfully given you the front page.
My goodness! It is not every day one is lucky enough to publish something of yours, even if it is a letter in which you inform us that you serve in a camp which is not ours.
Having said that, I take note of your ample and loyal declaration of your conversion to the Parise sabre method—a conversion which may pain me, but does not surprise me. What would surprise me would be a declaration to the contrary, given your position as vice-director of the Scuola Magistrale. But if you, as you write, 'would have openly fought the Parise sabre system, within the limits of your power, if you were not convinced of its superiority over all others', you would understand, Professor, how I too do the same in the opposite sense, taking advantage of the means which are at my disposal, with this difference: that in the work of our respective propaganda—presumption aside—there is a consideration of a moral order which I feel must be put in a position favourable to the eyes of those who love the art of fencing, and it is that by making yourself a champion of an idea, you, Professor, are also implicitly fighting for yourself and your eminent position. I, on the other hand, have no other hope than in the triumph of the idea because of the idea. Sic vos non vobis7 could apply to me, and you would not wish for it, albeit unjustly, to apply to you.
I wrote that you, Arista, Rossi, Masiello, Guasti, Paoli, and Pini do not have faith in the official sabre system, and I was wrong; but mine is a slight error, because I only needed to bring the verb into imperfect past tense and say 'did not have faith, etc.', not because everything went smoothly like oil, but because aside from those mentioned previously, I could cite countless other names, such as Pessina, Monti, Sartori, etc., who, like you, Guasti, and Pini, I cannot cite in 'present tense' for the simple reason that they are not free teachers, as all fencing masters should be, but even if they are civil maestri, they instead depend on the Scuola Magistrale and the Ministry of War, such that it would be certain that if they were officially consulted one by one, they would out of necessity make the same declaration that you made of your own free will.
And this, Professor, only because the spirit of discipline, so high and noble in those who wear or have worn the uniform of the Italian soldier, seals the lips to truth when it may be unwelcome to one's superiors.
But try, Professor, to remove the appointment of military and civilian maestri from the Scuola Magistrale; try to raise them to the dignity of free and independent professionals in their artistic criteria, and you will see the debacle that is caused by the Parise sabre method.
If Parise can now be proud of the statement of faith which you give for his method, you nevertheless cannot change face to sacrosanct truth: that with regard to sabre, Parise is to Radaelli, Masiello, and Rossi as the flea is to the cyclops.
With all due respect to your opinion, this is as true for me, esteemed Cav. Pecoraro, as it is true that you achieved your greatest triumphs and brought the greatest prestige to your name when you served in our ranks. This is as true as the fact that even now, despite your new faith, and certainly without knowing it, through force of inertia or habit, you wield the sabre just like when you were at the perihelion of your fame. At least so it seemed to the whole audience who applauded you recently at the La Scala theatre, and so it seemed to me that in this same newspaper I gave you, as best as I know how, the modest tribute of my admiration, even though I had already received your letter, which was not possible for me to publish until now. Unless, however, Giordano Rossi has also changed; he who had a sabre bout with you at the La Scala which was altogether marvellous, but especially due to the simultaneously majestic and light handling of the blade which used to be the most beautiful quality of Papa Radaelli's students.
I will not repeat what was said by many, many great maestri, even those joined to you by the bonds of old friendship, which is that at the Scuola Magistrale, one is now taught the Parise system theoretically and the Radaelli sabre system practically, with clear, patent artistic plagiarism. But I will limit myself to vowing, for the good of our cause, that you, like Emperor Julian of the East—who went from paganism to Christianity then back to paganism—may return to us who will gladly open our compassionate arms...that if this does not come true, we will have one less soldier—or rather—one less skilled captain in our ranks, but we will continue on all the same, even knowing we will leave victims along the way.
And now we come to the second part of your letter, Professor.
The quotation written by me and cited by you was said by a young maestro, sure; but why call him an NCO, thus running the risk of turning an artistic matter into a matter of military discipline?
The quote was said to me—and so I wrote it—but how, esteemed Professor, were you able to read that it related to teachers past or present of the Scuola Magistrale? I am with you in rejecting it, but for it to be known, is it necessary for this great discovery of the superiority of the Radaelli sabre method compared to the Parise method to 'descend through the branches' in the minds of those who are barely intelligent and slightly out of their minds? No, by the Gods, no! If it is sacrosanct truth (and I have a whole pyramid of fellow believers, maestri who cannot confess for reasons of discipline and employment), it will penetrate, like the light, from every direction, from a fellow student or colleague in the art, from this or any other newspaper that deals with the subject. If it is true, it will sing itself in the air or arise clearly in the brain of anyone through love of study or a comparative reading of Parise's treatise and those of Radaelli, Masiello or Rossi.
Unless it is forbidden to read any bible other than that of the meek silk-fisted Parise—as one of his admirers said—or put the intelligence and common sense of our good students of the Scuola Magistrale at daggers drawn for the rest of their lives.
And it would perhaps be the only means for the sure triumph of the good cause.
In this case, we will content ourselves with finding us all together, in forty years, in the glory of heaven to gather around Giuseppe Radaelli, who will perhaps apostrophise us again with his fatherly: vioroni8.
And when they are close in fraternal embrace, Colonel Del Frate (now an incessant hunter), the quick-witted and unswerving Arista, the volcanic and nebulous Monti, the profound Masiello, the candid and virtuous Varrone, the untiring Pessina, the diabolical Pini, the slender Barbasetti, the agile Gallanzi, the powerful Sartori, the cautious Morini, the elegant Foresto Paoli, Roggia, Arzani, Verzani, Rognini, Cardellini, and hundreds of others—when they are close in fraternal embrace, without the fear of superiors and glad to be guaranteed golden bread for all of eternity, you can be certain, Professor, that they will let fly those jests and witty remarks concerning the Parise sabre method, disturbing even the cautious and cold sap of the Great Priest of the Scuola Magistrale...until then, even if it will not be as I suppose and hope, there is a lot of time before it all goes to ruin.
And even the ghosts of many intelligent women, who have learned to make their own refined judgement through marrying a fencer, will have companions in their jests. And as full as they are of that fantasy which always portrays and considers things from new artistic and scientific points of view, they have already ruled that, for them, handling the sabre according to Parise method is a desolately feeble method.
I am, dear Professor,
your most obedient servant,
RODERICO RIZZOTTI9
The question of 'military discipline' has arisen on several other occasions in the various writings in defence of Radaelli (see Gelli's Resurrectio, for example) in reference to the relative silence of the Radaellians post-1884, supposedly due to the fact that their loyalty to the army took precedence over publicly denouncing the new regulation sabre method. With the benefit of our modern hindsight, it is curious to see Pecoraro so publicly defending Parise's sabre method, considering he would revert back to a largely Radaellian sabre method after Parise's death in 1910.10




1 Emilio Caracciolo di Sarno
2 These men being Urbano Rattazzi, Costantino Nigra, and Major general Giuseppe Colli di Felizzano, all prominent political or military figures of the Risorgimento.
3 A reference to the famous 'turn of the thumb', which the vestal virgins of Rome would supposedly signal to a gladiator to indicate whether they wish them to kill or spare their fallen opponent.
4 Rizzotti, R, 'Al prof. e colonnello Masaniello Parise', Scherma Italiana, 11 May 1894, pp. 37–38.
5 Scherma Italiana, 15 June 1894, p. 49.
6 'Credit where credit is due'.
7 'For you, but not yours': a phrase attributed to Virgil in response to seeing his work plagiarised.
8 I have absolutely no idea what he means here. The word is perhaps a variant of fioroni, which are large, artistic flowers. Perhaps it was an endearing nickname Radaelli gave to his students?
9 Scherma Italiana, 15 June 1894, pp. 49–50.
10 Pecoraro, S & Pessina, C 1912, La scherma di sciabola, G. Agnesotti, Viterbo. Chris Holzman's translation is available here.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

Alfred Hutton, Masiello, and the 'Italian' lunge

When consulting historical fencing sources, one should give extra scrutiny to any broad claims made regarding fencing outside the author's cultural context or geographic region. Although often treated as an authority in 19th century British fencing, Alfred Hutton is one author who made many such claims in his day, particularly during the 1890s where he was at the forefront of the opposition against Masiello's method being made regulation in the British army.

It is a matter for a future article to pick apart Hutton's criticisms of Masiello's method (some valid, others not so much), but today I wish to touch on a matter which concerns the 19th century Englishman's perception of both French and Italian fencing, specifically with regard to the position of the upper body in the lunge.

Hutton and his fellow opponents of Masiello's system were very vocal in their criticism of Masiello's preference for leaning the upper body in the lunge position so as to obtain more reach without having to lunge further with the front leg. Despite such a lunge being very common among Radaellian and northern Italian methods, this was certainly not unique to northern Italy; indeed it may also be found in German, English, and French methods both in and around the late 19th century.

In general, Hutton and the critics claim to prefer the principles of the 'French School'1, which they say only advocates an upright torso. This incorrect generalisation was highlighted in an article in The Irish Times, where the author points out that some of the most prominent French fencing masters teach and advocate leaning the torso in the lunge, albeit claiming that the French masters were directly inspired to do so from the Italians.2

Hutton saw this article and forwarded it along with some questions to André Pouget, director of the French fencing magazine L'Escrime Française. Here is Hutton's letter3:
London, 1st October 1896
          Dear Sir, 
An article, of which I send you a copy, has appeared in the newspaper The Irish Times, as well as other newspapers. Some assertions regarding French fencing masters seem to me so difficult to believe that I have taken the liberty to ask if you will inform me on this subject.
1. Is it true that the best French fencing masters were inspired by the Italian Masiello?
2. Is it true that the lunge with the upper body pushed forward as much as possible is taught and made compulsory, so to speak, at the school of Joinville?
3. Is it true that Mr. Rue, the best fencer in Paris, teaches and practices this forward inclination in the lunge?
4. Is it true that this lunge is taught in most of the fencing halls in Paris?
5. What do Louis and Lucien Mérignac think of this manner of lunging?
6. Did representatives of the Masiello school take part in the International Tournament last summer?4
L'Escrime Française then provided the relevant excerpt from the article in the Irish Times, here taken from the original English:
... But in addition to the wonderful way in which this Italian system has proved its merits in the United Kingdom, it is encouraging to find that the French themselves have begun to recognise its superiority by the adoption of some of its leading principles. The forward inclination of the body in the 'lunge,' which is one of the great features of Masiello's system, and which has hitherto been strenuously opposed by the French masters of fence, is now actually taught and insisted upon in the great French Military School of Fencing at Joinville-le-Pont. Monsieur Rue, the best fencer in Paris, now practices and teaches this forward inclination of the body when lunging, and it is also taught in most of the Salles d'Armes in Paris. It is not only that some of Masiello's principles are now being adopted by the French fencers, but the great French fencing master, the celebrated Merignac, who for years has been looked upon as one of the best fencers that France has ever produced, has recently sent his son to Vienna to study fencing there under a pupil of Masiello. That Merignac, formerly the bitterest opponent of the Italian system, should send his son to study fencing on Masiello's principles, speaks volumes in favour of the Italian system.5
Pouget forwarded these questions and the article to the masters in question, Edouard Rue and Louis Mérignac, who were two of the most renowned French fencing masters of the time. Here is Rue's reply:
          Dear Mr. Pouget,
You asked me what I think of the questions asked of you in Captain Hutton’s letter, which you kindly passed on to me.
I will only talk about those concerning fencing and those involving myself personally.
1. Is it true, your distinguished correspondent asks, that the best French fencing masters were inspired by the teachings of the Italian Masiello?
— I will not answer for my colleagues, and I will limit myself to declaring to you that I could not personally have been inspired by this Italian professor, as I have never heard of him and do not even know if he has published a fencing treatise.
2. Is it true that Mr. Rue teaches and practices this forward inclination in the lunge?
Without claiming to have invented anything on this subject, I have always taught and practised the inclination of the body at the end of the lunge. This inclination enables a reach to be obtained in the development which is impossible to achieve if the body is kept upright.
Allow me to make a small final observation: the author of the article which accompanies Captain Hutton’s letter appears to unfortunately be confusing the sword and the sabre, and it should be understood that what I just said about the lunge only applies to sword fencing.
Yours truly, etc.6
And Mérignac's reply:
          My dear student and friend,
I hasten to respond to the questions contained in the letter sent to you by Captain Hutton and which you kindly passed on to me.
For the first question regarding the influence of Maestro Masiello on the teachings of French masters, I will answer, for my part, that he is completely unknown to me.
I teach my students the lunge which seems to me the only rational one, in accordance with the principles of fencing and combat—that is to say, with forward inclination of the body. This principle belongs exclusively to the French school, because all Italians only attack on the march and completely ignore the lunge, which is one of the distinctive traits of our school.
If my son went to professor Luigi Barbasetti in Vienna, it was not to follow the teachings of the Italian school, but to practise sabre fencing, which the article in the Irish Times naively confuses with the sword and which, I admit, is still neglected in France.
The French school has always maintained its superiority and my son Lucien has just affirmed this once more with his victory at the international tournament in Budapest.
Yours truly, etc.7
A few issues later this magazine reproduced a letter on the matter from Colonel Fox, the director of the British school at Aldershot:
         Dear Mr. Pouget,
I saw an article in your interesting newspaper 'The position of the body in the lunge', and I saw in the response to Captain A. Hutton's questions that the great masters Rue and Mérignac practise the forward inclination of the body in the lunge! I hope that you also answer in the affirmative for the military school of Joinville (the one in question); I myself noticed it at the time during my last two visits to this school.
Would you be so kind as to tell me whether Captain Hutton sent you the full article published in the Irish Times, because I conclude from your observations and also those of Mr. Rue and Mr. Mérignac that they were under the impression that the author was speaking of the foil and épée de combat. The sabre is what was being discussed, which in England we call the sword.
The article was entitled: Sabre fencing on the continent.
I should explain that, in England, we only have two weapons in fencing, the fleuret (foil) and the sabre (sword). We do not have the épée de combat.
Barbasetti, from Florence, is either a faithful disciple of Masiello's school, or his student. I think he is both. And I know Sestini, from Berlin, who recently had a victory over a student of Mérignac.
Masiello wrote the most complete treatise in existence, both on the sabre (sword) and the fleuret (foil), and if you wish, I would be pleased to send a copy to you immediately.
He has since written a very complete book on the sabre (sword) which I used to form the basis of our military system.
I must declare that in our military schools, fencing is limited to the handling of the sabre (sword). 
Yours sincerely,
Fox8
The next issue contained a letter from Garibaldi Burba, a decorated Italian amateur fencer and L'Escrime Française's correspondent in Rome:
Rome, 26 November 1896
          Dear Director,
I have been waiting to write a few words to you regarding the letters of Rue and Mérignac published in a previous issue of l'Escrime Française in the hope that some fencer or Italian master with more authority than me would do so.
I do not wish to discuss the merits of citing Mr. Masiello on the manner of performing a fencing action, as Captain Hutton wishes to do. But it is not random and without reason that the name of Mr. Masiello appears in this correspondence addressed to l'Escrime Française from England.
The translation into English and adoption of Masiello's fencing treatise in the British army is today a fait accompli and has official sanction. Mr. Masiello was even called to London to explain through a series of short but precious lessons the method through which, despite his modesty, he has made himself famous.
It must also not be forgotten that in Italy Mr. Masiello represents, with the constancy which comes from an enlightened and rational conviction, the splendid traditions of the Radaelli school, whose flag Mr. Masiello has always held high, and which has given Italian fencing Pecoraro, Guasti, Pessina, Barbasetti, Sartori, Rossi, and many others.
If I were to write to an Italian newspaper, I would be careful not to praise Mr. Masiello—he is too well-known for that and too esteemed in the world of fencing, even among laymen. He is a truly remarkable personality, both for his intelligence and for his intellectual culture, unusual among fencing masters, among whom he is distinguished above all by his special qualities of logical, precise, and original teaching.
This is why I allowed myself to ask you for a small place in your newspaper, in the hope that it would not be disagreeable for you to print these few lines which would do justice to one of the kindest figures in the world of fencing, unfortunately largely unknown by strong and courteous French fencing masters. 
Garibaldi Burba9

A month later, L'Escrime Française published a letter it received from Luigi Barbasetti, who also wished to correct some comments made by the article in The Irish Times and Colonel Fox:
          Dear Mr. Pouget, 
I am grateful you were kind enough to point out an inaccuracy overlooked by Colonel Fox concerning me, and which it may be good to clarify.
Masiello is a dear friend of mine, but he was never my master.
Indeed, I am of the pure Radaellian school (for the sabre), and I had as my first master Carlo Guasti, to whom Masiello also owes his knowledge of the sabre, as Masiello belongs to the old Enrichetti school, which completely ignored the handling of this weapon in which we Radaellians have exclusivity, and it seems to me that Masiello could well be a disciple of our great St. Paul on this subject.10
The difference is certainly not slight; however, I would feel very honoured to be from Masiello, and I would accept this title with all the more enthusiasm, since it would give me a few less years on my shoulders!
I spoke here with regard to the sabre.
As for the sword, Masiello’s method is even more different than mine, to the point that we are exact opposites. It is not for me to say which of the two is right. This is a question which I leave to be discussed by the students whom I have everywhere.
Finally, there is one thing especially which I would like to avoid, which is that I must not be confused with Sestini of Berlin, who is a genuinely good student of Masiello, but, in the Italian art, only amounts to a good amateur, and nothing more. 
Yours sincerely,
Barbasetti11
Thus we see that Hutton was not alone in having a limited understanding of contemporary fencing outside his own country. The same incorrect assumptions can be found in all discussions of fencing throughout the ages—we are all only human, after all. These letters also demonstrate that the French were not necessarily much better in their knowledge of the Italian fencing scene. This should hopefully serve as a good demonstration that we must be ever sceptical in what we read, even from contemporary sources, and to be careful when assuming the reliability of certain authors.

The full translations of these articles, including a transcription of the article from the Irish Times, I have collated together here.

I shall leave you with two videos showing French fencers who demonstrate a torso lean in their lunge. The first is a video of the younger Mérignac giving a lesson to the great Lucien Gaudin, who, like his master, shows some amount of lean in the lunge. The second is a video compiled from a flip-book showing two French fencers giving a demonstration of sabre fencing, both showing considerable torso inclination (despite Rue's statement about said torso inclination only applying to foil).





1 Alfred Hutton, 'The infantry sword exercise of 1895', The United Service Magazine, March 1896, p. 631-640; 'Military Matters', The Globe, 7 December 1895, p. 3; I. D. Chepmell & G. H. Savage, 'Infantry sword exercise and the recent handbook from the war office', The Lancet, 27 July 1895, p. 234; C. T. Dent, 'Infantry sword exercise and the recent handbook from the war office', The Lancet, 30 November 1895, pp. 1391-1392.
2 'Sword fencing on the continent', The Irish Times, 3 August 1896, p. 6.
3 Note that this letter was translated into French for publication in L'Escrime Française, which I have then translated back into English.
4 'La position du corps dans l'allonge', L'Escrime Française, 1 November 1896, p. 4.
5 Emphasis added by the editors of L'Escrime Française.
6 'La position du corps dans l'allonge', L'Escrime Française, 1 November 1896, p. 4.
7 ibid.
8 'L'escrime en Angleterre', L'Escrime Française, 29 November 1896, p. 1.
9 'L'escrime en Angleterre', L'Escrime Française, 6 December 1896, p. 3.
10 Here Barbasetti is likening Masiello to Paul the Apostle, most likely in the sense that he was not originally a Radaellian, but ‘converted’ and became Radaelli’s most devoted follower.
11 'Une lettre de Barbasetti', L'Escrime Française, 13 December 1896, p. 4. For Barbasetti's short letter correcting errors in the translation of his previous letter, see: 'Masiello et Radaelli', L'Escrime Française, 3 January 1897, p. 3.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

The Right Tool for the Job

We interrupt your regular broadcast to announce that an article of mine has just been published here on the Melbourne Fencing Society's website. The article takes a look at what various authors of sabre treatises said with regard to what kind of sabres should be used for fencing, collating all the preferences, specifications, and opinions I have been able to find so far.

I hope you enjoy.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

The republication of Marchionni's 1847 treatise

Alberto Marchionni's Trattato di scherma was the first work to be published explicitly discussing the 'mixed' school of fencing, and was highly regarded by many of those in the north of Italy who were themselves also considered proponents of the mixed school. Although it is of great significance within the context of Radaelli and his contemporaries, I will not be discussing the technical matter contained in the treatise here today. Instead, I wish to provide a clarification for the publication of this important work which may not be immediately obvious upon first reading it.

The title page of this book gives a publication date of 1847, however, I wish to point out a few parts of the book which indicate that the majority of copies which can now be found online (and presumably those found in libraries) were published almost 20 years later.

Our first clue of this is contained at the end of part 1, where one finds the following note to the reader from the publisher:
In 1847 the author undertook the printing of this treatise, but due to the political events that took place in 1848, he had to suspend its publication in order to take part in the war of independence as a volunteer, and then due to various circumstances having to continue his military career, where he still finds himself with the rank of major on leave of absence.
Encouraged by several of his old associates, and urged on again by various masters of this art who would like to see this treatise completed, he took to continuing it.
Hence we are more than certain that this book will receive universal approval, due to the useful considerations demonstrated by the author, and due to it truly being a complete treatise on this most noble art.1
Thus we already see that this edition must have been published some time after the First Italian War of Independence. At the end of the book, Marchionni includes various acknowledgements to his friends and colleagues for their support in continuing the publication of his treatise. Among others, he lists Enrichetti at the Royal Military College in Florence as having bought one copy of the book, Maestro Pini in Livorno as buying 4, a Maestro Radaelli in Milan buying 5, and Maestro Lambertini buying 2.2

Further on he gives praise to Carlo Tambornini and Cesare Alberto Blengini for their treatises, calling the former the best sabre treatise written to-date, and commending the latter for his methodology for group fencing instruction.3 Given that Blengini's treatise was published in 1864, the republication of Marchionni's treatise cannot have occurred earlier than this.

By searching outside Marchionni's text, we find an issue of a short-lived newspaper from 8 August 1864 by the name of l'Esercito Illustrato. In this issue, we find an article by an unnamed writer giving a review of Marchionni's treatise, which he says was in fact republished twice in that year:
The first instalment of this important work was published in 1847, the second and the third date from 1864.4
So with a republication date of 1864 (or better yet, two republication dates), we can fairly safely assume that the masters cited by Marchionni would have been Giuseppe Pini (father of the famous Eugenio Pini), Bonaventura Radaelli (older brother of Giuseppe Radaelli, who at this time was following Avogadro and the Monferrato cavalry in their various postings in Italy5), and Clemente Lambertini (father of Vittorio Lambertini).


1 A Marchionni, Trattato di scherma sopra un nuovo sistema di giuoco misto di scuola italiana e francese, 2nd edn?, Federigo Bendici, Florence, 1864 (1847), p. 206.
2 ibid., p. 373.
3 ibid., p. 373–4.
4 'Bibliografia', L'esercito illustrato: giornale militare, 6 August 1864, p. 445.
5 J Gelli, Bibliografia generale della scherma, Luigi Niccolai, Florence, 1890, p. 167.

Monday, 11 May 2020

Translation - Sinossi della scherma di sciabola by Antonio Tinti

In the period of history focused on in this blog, it is not often that one encounters a text without a named author or date of publication. The curious text Sinossi della scherma di sciabola is rather unique in this sense, if not for its content. The text and illustrations (aside from a few small additions) are largely identical to Del Frate's 1868 treatise on Radaelli's sabre method Istruzione per maneggio e scherma della sciabola1, albeit shorter and more concise. Despite this, the small differences in the text may prove interesting for those interested in the Radaellian method at a deeper level. The Biblioteca Fondazione Collegio San Carlo has kindly allowed me to share the excellent quality scans of this text.

Translation (without illustrations): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nLY5z5W7jXBQVQagzVoSuhvF14i2JAXv/view?usp=sharing
Scans (includes illustrations): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1908Q4vF9yamY71hK9mS3pfAfjOdeeXMz/view?usp=sharing


Although this copy does not list an author, in Gelli's 1890 fencing bibliography he states that some copies bear the name 'A. Tinti' in the top right-hand corner of the title page. As Gelli suggests, this is most likely Antonio Tinti, a fencing master at the Military School of Modena. He also gives an estimated date of publication of around 1880, which I would also agree with.2

One piece of evidence that gives a strong indication of it being published before 1884 is the presence in this copy of the following hand-written note at the end of the book, most likely written by the original owner of this copy:
The modifications recently introduced in the Fencing system included in the treatise adopted as the Text for the Army and approved by the Ministers of the Navy and Public Education are based specifically on the teaching of the Sword (Foil).
The sabre fencing is therefore only the continuation of the same artistic principles announced in the sword text, namely: tempo, speed, and measure.
The difference between the sabre method now adopted and that of this booklet is in the method of performing the blows, which are struck with the pivot point in the articulation of the wrist instead of the elbow.
The modifications introduced in the form of the sabres can be seen from the new sabre models; and the theories, pictures, and prints of the swords and sabres for the aforementioned new method are fully explained and highlighted in other sword and sabre synopses.
It is clear that they are referring to Parise's treatise, which became the regulation fencing treatise for the army in 18843, thus indicating that Tinti's book was published earlier than this.

The book includes 21 illustrations, which mostly appear to have been copied from Del Frate's aforementioned 1868 book, but with a few additions such as the diagram labelling the parts of the sabre, plus a close-up illustration showing how to grip the sabre.


As for the method described, the main notable differences to Del Frate is Tinti's explicit recommendation that in the student's later lessons, the half cross-step back in the parries of low 3rd and low 4th may be omitted. He is also the only Radaellian author to state that the change sforzi (sforzi di cambiamento) are only intended as exercises:
With the exception of the sforzo of half-circle and various other simple sforzi done with the edge, the sforzi are only done as exercises in the lesson, while the first ones are also performed in the bout.
There are other minor differences here-and-there, which I leave to the reader to discover for themselves.

Thanks to Biblioteca Fondazione Collegio San Carlo for providing these scans and for allowing me to share them with you all.

1 Del Frate, S 1868, Istruzione per maneggio e scherma della sciabola, Tipografia, lit. e calc. la Venezia, Florence.
2 Gelli, J 1890, Bibliografia generale della scherma, Luigi Niccolai, Florence.
3 'Pubblicazione del trattato di scherma di spada e sciabola compilato dal signor Masaniello Parise', Giornale Militare, vol. 2, 11 August 1884, pp. 653–654.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

La Scherma di Fioretto by Ferdinando Masiello


Considered by many to be the leader of the Radaellian school of fencing in the decades following the death of its founder, Ferdinando Masiello was without doubt a giant in the Italian fencing scene of the late 19th century. He first published his method of fencing in 1887 under the title La scherma italiana di spada e di sciabola ('Italian sword and sabre fencing'). His sword method was a combination of all the principles he considered best among those systems he studied, the main influence being Cesare Enrichetti, along with dozens of footnotes criticising and refuting Masaniello Parise's method. Masiello's sabre method, however, was based only on Radaelli's method, with a few of his own modifications.

Fifteen years later, he separately released a second editions of his sword and sabre methods. His treatise on the sword (now using the name fioretto to differentiate it from the recently popularised épée du combat) entitled La scherma di fioretto is what I wish to share with my readers today.

Scans: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1y2cb5sUZqx_mFQPsRQVNgCFtn43uDIiY

The second edition removes much of the fluff in the introduction of the 1887 edition, and is far less scathing of Parise, having none of the footnotes picking apart his method. Short of doing a detailed side-by-side comparison, the method itself is much the same, still retaining his unique preference of wielding the sword predominantly through the shoulder, both for disengagements and parries. The most obvious change is the illustrations, which replace the clothed clones of the 1887 edition with ripped Adonises in budgie smugglers.

As these scans are of my own copy of this book, I am happy to provide higher quality photos on request for those wishing to use any parts of this book in their own publication.