Towards the end of the 1880s, the new developments in Italian sabre fencing were beginning to gain notoriety outside of Italy, in part due to the increased amount of formal interaction between fencers of other countries, but also due to Italian fencers leaving their homeland and settling elsewhere.
This month I present a translation of parts 1-6 of a series of articles by one such emigrant, Enrico Casella (here going by the French version of his name, 'Henri Casella'), entitled 'Causerie', published in the French fencing magazine L'Escrime Française from 20 September to 5 December 1889. Continue reading for more background on Enrico Casella and the articles in question.
By the mid-1880s, journalist Enrico Casella had achieved great fame in his native Italy as a champion Neapolitan amateur fencer, having learnt under the Neapolitan masters Felice Stellati-Dumarteau and the great Giacomo Massei.1
After many successful appearances in fencing circles throughout Italy and France, Casella's fame would soon spread to South America, where he resided for a couple of years, founding the Cosmopolita newspaper in Rio de Janeiro, spreading his tradition of Italian fencing among Brazilian aristocrats at the same time. He received more international attention in 1885 due to a dispute with the eternally-offended duellist Athos di San Malato, eventuating in one of the several duels that Casella would have in his lifetime.2
Following a fencing tour through various countries in Europe, as well as residing for a short time in the USA, Casella settled in Paris, where he worked as a correspondent for various French and Italian newspapers, even getting himself mixed-up in the infamous Dreyfus affair at one point.
Although Casella would quickly come to consider France as his home, he nevertheless remained a staunch advocate of Italian fencing, particularly of his own Neapolitan school. Despite this, early on in his 'Causerie' articles he firmly establishes himself in opposition to the 'modern Neapolitan school' as represented by Masaniello Parise at the Military Fencing Masters School in Rome and Almerico Melina at the National Academy of Fencing in Naples. With his typical colourful language, Casella gives a damning appreciation of Parise's ability as a fencer and master:
Mr. Masaniello Parise belongs to a family of fencers who all had greater or lesser merit, a few even had a lot, but who all indistinctly never had a natural gift for teaching. Masaniello could therefore not escape this fatal law of inheritance. He has just the right amount of physical means to provide a correct fencer; no more than that. His artistic intelligence is more limited. He has always had rather questionable bouts, and wrote a treatise on Fencing of the future which posterity will surely appreciate, but which we humble mortals have not understood a word of.
But perhaps more interestingly for those who concern themselves with Radaellian fencing, he also speaks very favourably of the modern Radaelli school, saying that compared to the Neapolitan sabre school, '...it must be admitted that the Radaellians hold the high ground'.
He also gives a brief and rather humbling account of Giuseppe Radaelli admitting that his ability as a foilist was limited:
When Radaelli was alive, I went to Milan to meet him. He was a 'good fellow', not the least bit pompous, but he knew nothing at all about foil lessons. Moreover, he did not hide this, and his only concern was the sabre. I remember one day very well when I was fencing in his salle with Marquis Fossati, he 'begged' me not to watch what he was doing, foil in hand, with one of his students.
This account gives yet more proof that Radaelli's main concern was the reforming of sabre fencing, with the teaching of foil most likely being something that he felt obliged to do by the 'classical' faction of Italy's fencing community.
Aside from these valuable insights into the world of Italian fencing in the late 1880s, Casella's articles are made even richer due to the fact he was writing for an audience that was largely ignorant of Italian fencing at the time, and so despite the various pop-culture references Casella makes, the articles can still be informing for those who have little to no appreciation of Western European fencing in the late 19th century.
I must give my sincere thanks to François Perreault for his proof-reading, and helping me to decode some of the more colourful turns of phrase employed by Casella. Scans of the original copies of L'Escrime Française may be found here, courtesy of the archives of the Fédération Française d'Escrime.
1 CM De Vaux, Le sport en France et à l'étranger, J. Rothschild, Paris, 1899, p. 283.↩
2 'The Prince of Fencers', Baltimore Sun, 28 March 1886, p. 9.↩