The period of study which this blog predominantly concerns itself with, i.e. the 19th and 20th centuries, is one which is so abundant in high-quality printed material that manuscripts are a relatively rare occurrence, unless one finds oneself rummaging through private collections, of which there exist several that are relevant to researchers of fencing. We inhabitants of the 21st century are extremely lucky to have the majority of one of these collections being digitised, free to access, and of high quality: the Archibald Corble collection, courtesy of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.
It was by browsing through this truly amazing collection that I came across this unique copy of Del Frate's 1876 treatise Istruzione per la scherma di sciabola e di spada del Prof. Radaelli. What makes this version special is that blank folios were inserted in between each printed page. With this particular copy in the Corble collection, most of these blank pages contain the handwritten notes of none other than Luigi Barbasetti, made during the time he was at the Milan Fencing Master's School from 1880 to 1881 (aside from one page at the beginning written by Archibald Corble after he acquired the book in 1929).1
Due in large part to Barbasetti's sometimes less-than-neat writing, my initial attempts at transcribing left several gaps and uncertainties, and so the transcription was shelved until I felt more confident in deciphering the scribbles or until I found someone more competent to assist. As it turns out, neither of these two events have yet occurred, but I was nevertheless able to improve the transcription significantly thanks to the help of Maestro Giancarlo Toràn, who was kind enough to supply me with scans of another copy of the Del Frate treatise with handwritten notes, this one being housed at the Silvio Longhi Museum at the Agorà della Scherma in Busto Arsizio. This second book of handwritten notes was owned by Giovanni Lombardi, fencing master of the 7th artillery regiment, who likely attended the Milan Master's School from November 1876 to October 1877.2
Lombardi's handwriting is much neater than Barbasetti's and therefore presented no issues at all in transcribing it. Minor odd discrepancies between the two manuscripts such as one author using an 'e' instead of an 'a' or confusing 'noi' and 'non' are good indicators that the students were copying this text from somewhere else, i.e. from a blackboard or another exemplar, as opposed to it being orally dictated to them.
The most significant difference, however, can be seen in the additional material found in the Barbasettti manuscript. Barbasetti's copy contains a set of question and answers at the end of the sabre and sword material, similar to those which would be seen in later editions of Masaniello Parise's treatise,3 as well as section on 'tempo' in the sword material, while Lombardi's contains neither. Therefore most of the transcription uncertainties are contained in these sections, as it was not possible to cross-reference with Lombardi's manuscript.
Below are the links to the individual transcriptions, as well as a side-by-side comparison of the two in which I have highlighted in blue the parts of Lombardi's text which show noteworthy difference to Barbasetti's.
The content of these handwritten notes do not introduce any techniques that are not already in Del Frate's textbook, but they do expand on them in mainly a tactical and pedagogical sense. Both the sabre and sword sections begin with the pedagogical progression for the master to follow with their students, followed by commentary on each technique.
An example of the elaboration provided by the notes is seen in the following useful remarks on Radaelli's guard of 2nd, remarks which are very similar to those seen in Del Frate's 1868 book, but which were curiously omitted in the 1876:
In general the guard most used by other methods for the bout is the guard of 3rd, but this presents some weak aspects and is dangerous due to coupés and manchettes. Among all the guards, the one which presents the greatest ease to rush to all the parries and which is the most rich in ripostes is the guard of 2nd, somewhat high and correct.In this guard the hand must be at the height and in the direction of the chin, the point 20 cm lower than the hand and in line with the left flank, the sabre across the body, edge diagonally up.In this position we will have the advantage of having the forearm sufficiently covered and the ability to rush to the parries of 1st, 2nd, and 5th, which are the most rich in ripostes and allows a quick riposte by thrust.In this guard position it will be necessary to practice forearm rotations, moving the sabre from front to back, with the body advancing and withdrawing; in this movement the edge must never be turned. This movement is useful to not tire oneself, always staying firm in the same position and always leaving the opponent unsure of our action and our attack.It will therefore be necessary in the last exercises for the student to be taught to attack in this position, which presents great difficulty because he is not yet accustomed to it, but in little time he will discover that the arm and the eye will become accustomed and he will appreciate its advantages.
The 'forearm rotation' described here may likely be referring to the exercise described by Rossi as 'Exercise for keeping to the parries of 2nd, 5th, and 1st' and by Pecoraro & Pessina as 'Exercise for the parries of first, second, and fifth'.4
As with this particular example, much of elaboration seen in the notes may be taken for granted by modern readers due to more comprehensive nature of later Radaellian treatises, but for the young student-masters at the Milan school these notes would have been hugely valuable, expanding on the relatively short Del Frate treatise and solidifying the oral advice they would be receiving during their studies.
I do hope to complete a translation of the manuscripts at some point in the future, preferably when the number of uncertainties have been reduced as much as possible, so if readers have any comments or suggestions to improve the Barbasetti transcription, I encourage you to do so here.
The fact that two copies of the Del Frate treatise exist containing additional unprinted folios inserted throughout indicates that these were special editions of the book given to students of the Milan Master's School. Given that well over 100 (even perhaps over 200) students attended the school in its 15 years of activity, there are likely many more copies of this nature waiting to be discovered and shared with the community. If you know of any other copies of this nature, please do get in touch!
2 Lombardi's signature on the first two pages are both alongside a date, written as '16/12 - 76', which I have taken to mean 16 December 1876. This date would line up nicely with the course of 26 students which started at the Master's School in November 1876, announced in Corriere della Sera, 4 November 1876, 3. With a course length of one year (see note 1), it was likely Lombardi's course which was undergoing final exams in October 1877 as announced in Corriere della Sera, 9 October 1877, 3.↩
3 Masaniello Parise, Trattato teorico pratico della scherma di spada e sciabola: preceduto da un cenno storico sulla scherma e sul duello (Turin: Casa Editrice Nazionale Roux e Viarengo, 1904), 343–52.↩
4 Giordano Rossi, Manuale teorico-pratico per la scherma di spada e sciabola con cenni storici sulle armi e sulla scherma e principali norme pel duello (Milan: Fratelli Dumolard Editori, 1885), 198–9; Salvatore Pecoraro & Carlo Pessina, La Scherma di Sciabola: Trattato Teorico-Pratico (Viterbo: Tipografia G. Agnesotti, 1912), 75–6.↩