London: Horace Cox, "Field" Office, Bream's Building, E.C., 1911
Ed. note: Paul Nurse, Ph.D, brought this text
to our attention.
The Second Evening.
I had spent part of the morning, in the library, where a few treatises, old and new, had refreshed my memory in matters that had faded from it; yet I felt somewhat nervous as the smoking hour drew near, like a lecturer who had not thoroughly prepared his lecture, a professor unprovided with all his notes. As it was therefore understood that my introduction would not only deal with general principles, but also be somewhat historical, the Marchioness and her two daughters kindly declared their intention of joining us.
The only face which changed expression at the announcement was Shughtie's; his code did not admit of [smoking] shag and cavendish, or even long meerschaums or short briar roots, in the indoor society of fair dames, and his tastes were too far gone for such babe's diet as Syrian or Turkish, Havannahs and Manillas. The gallant Seaton was charmed by the presence of his future pupils, and so, I may add, were all the rest of us. The Marchioness has often been mistaken for the elder sister of her daughters, and Ladies Margaret and Mary would certainly have been called Minna and Brenda in the Shetlands. Minna showed traces of Irish or rather Celtic blood in the silky black hair, the dark-fringed grey eye, and the tall bending figure. This is nowhere more conspicuous than on the northern coast of Tenerife, at lovely Orotava, where so many Irish Catholics settled during the old persecuting days. Brenda, with a wealth of dull gold locks and a complexion delicate as an infant's, was always called "Anglo-Saxon," which, in the language of experts, means Anglo-Scandinavian as opposed to Anglo-Celtic.
It is not so easy to settle down into places when
masculine brusquerie is tempered by softer material. A large armchair,
a "Sleepy Hollow," extra sleepy, was playfully proposed as my cathedra,
but firmly and uncompromisingly rejected; the hardest cane chair is likest
the saddle, and the saddle is the properest seat for man. At length cigars
and cigarettes were lighted, the trays stood upon the side-table, the doors
were closed, and a solemn silence invited -- I will not say encouraged
-- me to begin. You will have before heard the "Voice of Silence sounding
from her throne," and you know that Silence in prose as in poetry is, strange
to say, seldom silent.
My ladies, my lords and gentlemen --
"Before you proceed with the proem," said the Marchioness, "perhaps you will kindly let me know what you think of fencing for women."
The timely interruption restored my composure as the first round of applause makes the young lecturer feel free and easy. Seaton, I fancy, smelt battle from afar; he raised his nose defiantly; the erectness of his spine added a quarter cubit to his stature, and he flapped, so to speak, his wings.
Without noticing the moral effect in drawing out character and in confirming courage, or the diversion, excitement, and noble emulation of the exercise, I believe fencing, which of course includes extension movements, to be the very ablest plastic exercise in the world -- in fact, the prince of calisthenics for acquiring grace, ease, and the full use of the limbs. It would take half the evening to recount and account for its good effects in training, strengthening, and developing the muscles, in setting up the figure, in opening the chest, and in counteracting the habits learned in the lesson room, so I will mention only one. It makes the gait easy and the carriage graceful as that of the Eastern woman whose youth passes in poising the water jar. Do not we say in England, "Straight as a dairymaid, or a Fulham strawberry girl"?
It gives abundant exercise within a short time, no small recommendation during "the season," when we have so little to do and yet so little time to do it in. Really, an hour a day may easily be borrowed from the ride or the walk and the good results will appear in sound sleep, untroubled by dreams.
"I think we have read something about that already," Shughtie observed with significance; "besides, dancing, however pleasant, useful, and hygienic, does not develop the arms and upper muscles. In the ladies' fencing room, however, the master requires peculiar qualifications. He must make the exercise amusing as well as profitable; he should inspire his pupils with the wholesome ambition of becoming accomplished fencers, which, of course, they will not be."
"How unkind!" said Lady Margaret. "And why not? I have read of a certain Donna Maria whose recreant lover fled from love and Lisbon to Goa; she followed him and challenged him with sword and dagger, but he preferred to marry her."
Donna Marias are rare, and on the whole happily
so. Your main disqualification is the happy want of weight of muscular
strength. The essential differences of the sexes are in bodily force and
in the quality which phrenologists call "destructiveness," the source of
power. Women write charming poems and novels, but which of them ever succeeded
in satire or in caricature?
It is the custom to represent fencing as an affair of skill, a mere turn of the wrist. Nothing can be more erroneous. Moreover, I have never found a woman willing to go through the preparatory work, however trifling it is in my system. All want to fence loose, even before they know the routine of the room, or even tierce from carte.
"Is not that part of the national character?" Lady B. asked.
I should say so. The Englishman, who as a rule prepares for the business of life with a patience of methodical training certain of success, is whimsical to a degree about his "accomplishments." In this he contrasts strongly with the Continentals. The foreigner will spend a year obediently, not to say tamely, in mastering the musical scale. After a month the Briton insists upon learning a bravura song. Then in painting we insulars begin landscape or portraits before we know how to mix the colors. It is the same with sculpture, with modeling, and with other branches of what are called "the fine arts." This results from art being to us, I may say with Renan, to Protestantism in general, a pastime, not a study, a devotion, not a religion. In the United States, where English feeling is of a more luxuriant, not to say ranker, growth than in the climate of our moderate land, and where society is English with the weight taken off it, I have heard an eminent statesman (the late Mr. [William] Seward) congratulate himself that his fellows did not waste their time upon "daubing" and "fiddling," as he called painting and music.
"I'm certain we have here a partial truth," said Shughtie. "Dilettantism and amateurship are the banes of what you are pleased to call, in outrage of all respectable authority, the Anglo-Scandinavian and Anglo-Celt. He cribs a few hours from business, he reads a few books on architecture or antiquities, and straightaway he becomes an architectural or an antiquarian authority. He doesn't show to advantage amongst men who've begun the study in their boyhood, and who've possibly inherited it from father and grandfather; he'd stand out far better if men looked at his ledger or his cash book. Dilettantism is very well in its way as that great political compromise 'half a loaf,' but it will boast itself to be the whole. I for one, whenever they tell me that Mr. So-and-so writes poetry during his leisure hours, always feel antipathetic to Mr. So-and-so, and as for reading his poems --" the sentence ended with a shudder.
"Shall we come to the point?" asked Lord B.
I do not propose to enter upon a course of fencing. You will find that in the thousand-and-one treatises of which we spoke last night. Let me particularly recommend in the French school those of Professors La Boëssière [FN15], and especially of MM. Gomard [FN16] and Grisiér, [FN17] the most noted plastrons of their day, who fitly represent the first third of this century. In English read good old Angelo and for modern Italian Marchionni. [FN18] Of course I protest against their excess and wantonness of rules, their waste of precepts, their barbarous luxuriance of feints and thrusts, of parades and riposts, of counter riposts and combinations -- in fact, against all the "stuffing" of their schools, or rather of their school books.
We all know that a very few pages of botany, for instance, extracted from a wearying amount of mathematical definition and barbarous nomenclature, will supply the beginner with certain sound principles. He bears these in memory, and thus during his daily walks he builds slowly but surely upon solid foundations: he assimilates his materials by gradual mental digestion, and almost unconsciously after a few years he becomes botanist enough for all practical purposes. The same powers will make him a geologist, a meteorologist, or anything else.
"So far so good," said Seaton. "We all know how difficult it is to handle a lance; well, in India I learnt it easily enough by never riding out without a boar spear and by 'prodding' at everything in the way."
It is the same with the sword, and I differ completely from those who attach great importance to variety and complication of play. The latter is a positive evil, because it distracts the thoughts, and all must own that, however, useful in the room, it is absolutely valueless in the field. Hence we have sets of feints for the plastron and not for the assault, and movements for the assault, not for the combat. And what more common than to read: "Les coups désignés ci-dessus peuvent se tenter une ou deux fois dans au assaut, mai jamais en duel, car il présentent de grands dangers."
The excellence of a fencer consists in a just appreciation of his own powers and those of his adversary, in readiness of judgment, in quickness of hand, wrist, and forearm; in stability and regularity of position, and in the à propos or propriety of his movements, whether attacking, parrying, or riposting.
The alphabet of the sword, allow me the borrowed expression, is absolute and invariable as that of language. For letters we have certain calculated positions resulting from the natural equilibrium of our bodies; for words, a few simple movements which are instinctive to all, such as contracting and extending the arm; for phrases, easy combinations of the two former. This language has its questions and answers, and with knowledge of its vocabulary we shall find it highly expressive. I need not enlarge upon this; my intelligent audience know enough to carry out the idea. What I shall attempt is to show how mind should agitate matter, without which all fencers would be as dull and regular as the finest piece of machinery ever invented.
This, then, will be my first object, to prove how simple and easy it is to acquire a certain mastery of arms, provided that the teacher adopts a right system. You will remember, please, that this is a conversation, not a lecture; you will kindly interrupt me when you like, and the oftener, the better.
A "h'm" of doubtful import came simultaneously from the direction where Seaton and Shughtie were sitting and smoking, the one a Manilla, the other a Havannah.
I resumed: Let me begin with a few words upon
the origin of fencing proper. I shall not give you that inevitable "historical
sketch" which is the despair of travellers and travel readers, but only
enough to explain how the several great schools arose. Draper (History
of Civilisation) and other learned or ingenious writers have shown
how printing by movable metallic types led to improved navigation with
compass and astrolabe; how navigation directed the discovery, or rather
the rediscovery, of he New World, so called because it is older than the
Old World; and how this material enlargement of boundary in the universe
gave a stimulus which culminated in changes of religion and politics affecting,
and long to affect, the whole of Northern Europe. These are serious reflections
upon such a subject as fencing; but you know as well as I do that the smallest
events are connected with the greatest by a subtle tie, none the less real
because it cannot readily be detected.
The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, that Quaternary epoch of the human mind which doubled for us the material size of the universe, and which modified the habitable region into its modern and actual shape and form, bore such men as Shakespeare, Camöens, and Cervantes; Michael Angelo, Bacon, and Montaigne; Luther and the Reformation; Loyola and the Jesuits. It brought into England a host of minor novelties besides, such as potatoes, turkeys, and beer; and with these blessings came the Art of Arms -- that is, the point, which led to the Bayonet of Bayonne.
As usual in those days, the invention was the gift of the Latin race. The Spainiard Pons is a mysterious figure; not so the learned Achille Marozzo of Bologna, who wrote his famous treatise De l'Arte de l'Armi in 1517, erroneously post-dated to A.D. 1536, and he continued to re-edit it for nearly half a century (1568). [FN20]
The rapier of those times was by no means the light and handy weapon that it is now, nor had its peculiar modification, the foil, been called into being. The favourite sword was shaped like one of those Andrea Ferraras which are hung in the hall. Its straight, bi-concave blade had a central groove, the "incavatura," which the Neapolitans call "scannellatura," inscribed with the maker's name. It was of exaggerated weight, length, and breadth, probably to allow for wastage in grinding and re-grinding; the beautifully chiselled shell (or guard) was a little shield, and, though the sharp point was there, the double edge was still much used. Finally, as parrying had not become an art, the sword was supplemented by the dagger, by different forms of shields, or simply by a cloth wound round the left arm. You have read Walter Scott and you remember the use of the targe.
What Achille Marozzo really did during his career of half a century was to show that the spada sola might be used, and that the dagger in the left hand would serve as a shield. He had no guard properly so called, but in chapter 100 he gives the lunge, curious to say, with face averted. Agrippa (158) [FN21] defined the lunge, and invented the four guards -- "prime, seconde, tierce, and carte".
Grassi (1570) [FN22] cunningly devised the "four lines" -- high, low, outer, and inner. Salvator Fabris (1606) [FN23] named and figured the modern "guards"; but he also used the name for offensive movements (the lunge) as well as for defensive or the engaging guard proper. To Giganti (1608) [FN24] we owe the counter-parades, the flanconnade, and the tagliata, coupé, or "cut over" the blade.
Thirty-seven years after Achille Marozzo the Sieur Henri de Sainct-Didier [FN25] modified the work of Grassi and dedicated to Charles IX. his Traicté Contenant les Secrets du Premier Livre sur l'Espée Seuele. He was followed by another Frenchman, Liancour [FN26] who began as a fencing master in 1680, and died in 1732; and by a host of others, who formed the French School. This system finally abandoned the rude and homely cut for the refined and fatal thrust, which presently found its way all over the civilised world.
The earliest regular and original treatise in German known to me is Ein neue Künstlich Fechtbuch in Rappier, &c., by Michael Hundt, the "Freyfechter" of Zeitz (1611) [FN27]
England seems to have learnt the art abroad until
1755, when the Livornese, D'Angelo [FN28], generally
called Angelo, opened his salle in London.
It is curious to follow step by step the mighty changes which took place in the early days of swordsmanship proper, what some call the fatiguing development of the science of arms. Not a few writers have assumed that our modern system began with extreme simplicity; that it was an infant which had everything to learn, all things to discover, whilst others opine that our schools, after developing into complexity, are now returning to their older form. The contrary is a matter of history. My reading convinces me, as I should have expected, that in this, as in other arts, simplicity is the reduction of a mass of complications; we begin with combinations and details which we end by throwing away. Let me quote a familiar instance. The "petard" which hoisted its own engineer was a costly, clumsy, and artificial bit of machinery. Now we hang a bag of powder to a gimlet and we blow down the gates of Ghazni without affording sport to the spectators.
I cannot do justice to my subject without a few
words about the schools. Of the first or Spanish we know little except
that it begat the Italian. [FN29] This venerable institution
is not, as some say, rapidly disappearing, its connection with the past
being gradually but surely severed, and Spain still preserves not a few
traces of pristine rusticity. You will appreciate them by a glance at the
older treatises [FN30], where the field is covered
with mathematical diagrams, with lines and with tangents, chords and circles,
and segments of circles, as if all the problems of Euclid had been thrown
at your feet. Similarly, the maps of that age are webbed with rhumbs [FN31]
like spider's toils. Here, then, we trace the origin of those peculiar
gainings of ground with the left foot foremost, those steppings aside and
oblique springs, those vaultings and voltes, that stooping with or without
the support of the unarmed hand, and that slipping down which may still
be seen practised by first-rate Neapolitan fencers, General Bosco, for
The earliest form which all systems, but especially the Hispano-Italian, preferred, was the complication of espada y daga -- sword and dagger. This two-handed exercise long haunted the fencing-rooms, and greatly modified their practice. The stiletto served for offence as well as for defence; it was made to parry in certain lines and to deliver, not a riposte, but an attack upon an attack. Thus it was a prime object to "lock the swords" and to clash the hilts (incocciatura), thus making way for a hand-to-hand thrust with the shorter weapon. The remains still linger in the Italian position of guard when the dagger is absent; the left hand is held horizontally extended across the middle of the chest, not in the airy curve of the French school, and it is evidently intended to take part in the parade. The advantage is that by throwing it back a greater impetus is secured for the lunge; on the other hand, it is apt to bring the left shoulder forward, causing increased exposure when standing on guard. In practising, and more especially in serious renontres, at Naples, the seconds always determine how far the left hand may be used; for instance, whether it must be confined to sweeping away the thrust, or if it should be allowed to grasp and retain the blade. Hence it often involuntarily led to unfair play; a hand accustomed to seize the sword not infrequently did so instinctively, with consequences regretted till the end of life.
In the Neapolitan guard the heels are lately, at least, in the position of the French, which usually measures two to two and a half of the fencer's foot-lengths. The right arm is outstretched nearly to the full extent, leaving less opening than the elbow bent at the saignée, and the domed shell of the rapier, often 4 in. in diameter, and derisively called a plat à barbe by the satirical rivals, acts like the umbo (boss) of the Gulf Arab's shield, and adds to the difficulty of attacking. The point faces the opponent's breast, not his eye, the rule of the French school. As the extended area is much more easily fatigued, the cross-bars connect with the haft and the shell give a firm grip by admitting the two first fingers, and finally, for additional support, a silk kerchief or a bandage binds the other digits and the wrist to the handle.
The French have never inclined to this system. They complain that it is barbarous and ungraceful. They declare, with truth, that the kerchief and the crossbar prevent all delicacy of digitation, the reversement of the hand and the suppleness of the wrist; that the rigidity of the grasp reduces the movements to a few rigid extensions and contractions despised by the Northerners; and they highly disapprove of the asides, the slippings down, the effacements, and other irregularities which have survived the old mathematical skill -- in fact, they look upon them as something uncanny, unfair, almost disloyal.
The Italians reply to these objections that the prime object of fencing is, as Molière expresses it, "Toucher et ne pas l'être" -- the first and best definition of the science that can be given. They uphold the superiority of their style by proving its absolute practical utility. This is part of the national character, which is never recognised by passing strangers. The Italian is a Janus, the model of a two-sided race. The face which first strikes you expresses the romantic and poetical, the gushing and the sentimental, almost the childish; behind it and far below it there is another countenance, whose characteristics are the baldest realism, the hardest matter of fact. The iron purpose which runs through Dante's "Comedy" -- why that absurdity the "Divine"? -- distinguishes it from the epic poems of the world. Compare it, for instance, with Paradise Lost.
And the Italians prove their point, and explain the pique which drives Frenchmen to speak of les anciens errements de 'école Italienne -- in fact, to abuse the mother system. During the first quarter of the present [nineteenth] century, especially in the days of Murat, when duels with the small sword were weekly occurrences in Southern Italy, the French rarely recorded a victory. It is true that their adversaries gave themselves the most perfect training. They found in the open air a very necessary change; after the comparative darkness of the Salle d'Armes, the distance almost always appears less than it really is, and thus an inferior fencer, aware of the difference of measure, may get the better of a better man. Instead of confining themselves to the stuccoed floor and the resined parquet, they practised upon stony ground and upon slippery grass, and, by way of accustoming the eye to the true point, not to the button, they screwed on a goad [FN32] about half an inch long, which it was very advisable to parry. Experto crede!
The career of the celebrated Count C., who ended
life in a pistol duel with an Englishman, was typical of the time and country.
Certain peculiarities of make and manner had made him a kind of butt in
society, and society, as it often does, went too far. C. suddenly disappeared,
and for three years was supposed to be travelling -- he had travelled only
to a back street off the Toledo, where he spent day and night in practising
and studying the sword. At last he as suddenly reappeared, and was greeted
with a shout and a cry of "Ecco il nostro bello C.!" The farceur
who uttered the words received a shiaffo, and the result was a duel,
in which he had the worst. This was followed by others, and I need hardly
go on with the story to the bitter end. With the small sword Count C. was
Of late years the Italians have modified their system by the so-called Giuoco misto. The inventor was a fine old sworder, Alberto Marchionni, who died about 1870. At the age of fifteen he began service with the French Empire, whose "legions had married Victory"; after ten years he retired, and was chosen master of the Reale Scuola di Marina at Genoa, with the brevet of His Sardinian Majesty. He then went to France, where he "found all save his own country," and finally settled at Florence, where he opened a celebrated salle, and worked out the nuova sistema. His Tratatto di Scherma, published in 1847, is said to be an opera originale; but experts declare that it was greatly assisted by a certain ex-lieutenant and professor of arms, Sampieri, of Florence, whose name is quoted in the supplement, not on the title page.
Marchionni, originally a fencer of the French
school, began the study of the Italian comparatively late in life, and
flattered himself that he had combined the advantages of both. I do not
like his system, but I must own that it has merits, especially that of
simplicity. [FN33] To sketch even an outline would
lead me deep into unseemly technicalities; but I have made extensive notes
upon the subject, which, though still in manuscript, are entirely at your
service. The system has become general in Upper Italy, where, however,
"hostile rencontres" are nowadays usually settled with the sabre.
As the point is freely used, in addition to the edge, nothing can be more
illogical; a curved weapon with a centre of percussion thus takes the place
of the stiff, straight sword, not the bent wire of the Frenchman, whose
specialty was the thrust. Perhaps broadsword is chosen because it is, generally
speaking, less mortal than rapier, but if so, why use the point?
Has anyone in this room ever been at Bologna, where the Lambertini, father and son, teach the scuola mista?
"I was there last year," answered Shughtie, "and you seem to forget, or, perhaps, you don't know, that Vittorio, the son, went to Russia in June, 1873."
My dear Shughtie, why will you be everywhere? Why not leave us some place unvisited by "Master S., the great traveller"? However, you will correct me if I have wrongfully appreciated the "City of the Leaning Towers," the home of Achille Marozzo, the learned inventor of all modern fencing, not to speak of the Carracci and the Domenichino, of Galvani, and of Mezzofanti.
There is something in the presence of Bologna that softens the soul; a venerable, time honoured aspect, a more mediaeval Tours, which appeals to feelings not wearable upon the sleeve; a solemnity of vast, ruinous hall and immense deserted arcade; a perspective of unfinished church and mediaeval palace, relics of the poetical past, with its old-time quietude and privacy, which have projected themselves into the prosaic present. You will find the timber supports of the old Etruscan temple still lingering in these "grand and awful times" of ours. You learn with pleasure that you can lose yourself in the long, labyrinthine streets, wynds, and alleys, such contrasts with the painful rectangular regularity of New York and Buenos Ayres. The artistic Greeks preferred straight lines of thoroughfare intersecting one another; but they had aesthetic reasons for the plan which led to the principal temple, and they applied it to their miniature official towns, where it must have compared pleasantly with the large, irregular suburbs beyond the walls. The moderns have adopted it, and adapting it to a vast scale, we have produced not a copy, but a caricature. Briefly, to describe the effect of the aristocratic old city, the "rural capital of the Emilia," you have only to remember that of Manchester and Birmingham, and to conjure up into imagination the direct reverse. It is a noble mediaeval castle dwarfing the brand-new semi-detached villa.
"True, O king! But what has this poetical and unpatriotic description to do with fencing!"
Nothing, I replied, my Shughtie, aliquando
bonus dormitat. Pardon again!
Blasco Florio [FN35], a highly distinguished modern writer (1828) on the use of weapons, thus sketches with a master hand the characteristics of the several schools, and though the idea is the same, yet all vary like the physiognomy and the language of their different races. I will not adopt the ugly modifications of Lambertini.
Of the Spanish school, he writes:
"The Spanish school, neglecting all elegance, and resultless expenditure of force; with a plain, true guard; with the body well poised, and with the arm wholly extended towards the object of aim; with all the self-contained gravity and thoughtful seriousness proper to an action which represents the Duello; handling a sword with a most solid blade and a shell-hilt armed with crossbars; abandoning every movement which savours of the cut; this system, I say, looks only to defending itself, and to offending by the shortest, the most covered, and the most cautious ways with the least possible outlay of strength and with the least waste of space." Unhappily, this noble and most ancient school may now be said to have died the death; modern Spaniards use the French style.
Of the Italians, we read:
"This system may be divided into three well-marked branches. There is (1) the Italian, properly so called, and extending throughout the Peninsula; (2) the Neapolitan belongs to the south; and (3) the Sicilian is peculiar to the great Trinacrian Island. Florio asserts that the Italian school of his time happily blended, as was the character of the nation, French vivacity with Spanish gravity, whilst its weapon and its guards held the juste milieu between those two extremes of racial character. The Italian proper aims at covering the shortest distances with the least expenditure of strength, and at touching the adversary whilst consulting its own security." As the date shows, this description refers to the palmy days of the Italian school, before the "mixed play" came into existence.
Of the Neapolitan we are told:
"The Neapolitan fencing, twin sister of the Sicilian, but less fond of movement; using the weapon and showing the gravity of the Spaniard; with its peculiar guard, based upon the principles of animal mechanics; with all the concentration of purpose and the finesse mixed with the lightness of spirits proper to an action that represents sport and combat; this style proceeds with the greatest economy of force, of space, and of measure; it never makes a pass nor comes to a parry without studied foresight and the conviction of success… in fine, abandoning the useless, the casual, and the inopportune, it proposes to itself the safest, the simplest, and the easiest modes of offence and defence."
Since these lines were written the Neapolitan school, preserving its old traditions, has become the Italian school; Peninsular writers always contrast its guard and lunge with the French. The Sicilian is in these times practically unknown to Englishmen, so details of its peculiarities are interesting:
"The national Sicilian style, fiery as its own Etna, fecund of ideas as its soil, brisk as its air, with a more workmanlike guard than the Italian, and with the Spanish blade, adds to the agile movements of the French school more subtlety and more combinations than all the other systems; its cautious and tortuous lines of deception converge upon the main objects of self-defence and of disabling the adversary."
I should rather say that the Sicilian school,
invented by Giuseppi Villardita, called "Il Nicosioto," has persevered
whilst others have forgotten the multitudinous feints and the gymnastic
action of the old masters, such as the sbasso or sparita
(bending to ground); the inquarto or scanso di vita in dentro
(taking ground to the left); the intagliata or scanso di vita
in fuori (taking ground to the right); and a host of others to which
writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries give so much importance.
We cannot but observe how much the Italian invention of the sixteenth century affected Italian poetry. Compare, for instance, the Monomachia or Singulare Certamen of Homer, Virgil, and Milton with the duels of Ariosto and Tasso; you at once distinguish the effects of Achille Marozzo's art engrafted upon the characteristic realism of the romantic school in poetry. What can be more true to life than the lines of "l'Omero Ferrarese," describing the duel between Ruggiero and Mandricardo?
Tasso's duel between Tancrede and the "fero Argante" (vi., 42) is also perfect, and in Canto xix., 11, he shows all the finesse of art:
Nemica, e'n disviaria usa ogni prova.
Dove non minacciò, ferir si vede;
E di man velocissimo e di piede
Sovrasta a lui con l'alto capo, e molto
Di grossezza di membra Argante eccede.
La destra, ai guardi l'occhio, ai passi il piede;
Se reca in atti vari, in guardie nove;
Si fa la pugna: e spada oprar uon giova
Dansi co' pomi, e infelloniti e crudi.
To resume our notices of the schools. Concerning the "Scherma Settentrionale," we read:
Close at his surest ward each warrior lieth;
He wisely guides his hand, his foot, his eye;
This blow he proveth, that defence he trieth;
He traverseth, retireth, presseth, nigh;
Now strikes he out, and now he falsifieth (feints);
This blow he wardeth, that he lets slip by;
And for advantage of the lets some part
Discovered seem; thus art deludeth art -- FAIRFAX,
Raised with his voice his sword aloft -- BOHN,
Tancred of body active was, and light,
Quick, nimble, ready, both of hand and foot,
But higher by the head the Pagan Knight
Of limb far greater was, of heart as stout.
Tancred laid low and travers'd in his fight,
Now to his ward retir'd, and now struck out.
Oft with his sword his foe's fierce blows he broke.
And rather chose to ward than bear his stroke.
-- FAIRFAX, xix., 11.
No room have they to foin, no room to lash;
Their blades flung back, like butting-rams they bound,
Fight with the hilts, wild, savage, raging, rash,
And shield at sounding shield, and helm at helmet dash. -- BOHN, xii., 56.
In his frankness and good faith he falls into the opponent's snares, and thus he loses the meed of subtlety, of "foiling art by art." Finally, considered with respect to the prettiness of its movements, the rhythm and mannerism of its practice, and the attitudes of its guard and other actions, his assaults, instead of imaging the duel, resolve themselves into a gallant show of ceremony which borders upon the ridiculous.
Ma di leggier poi langue e si reprime
There are phases in the modern French system which require some allusion. The first is fencing considered in the light of a graceful rather than a manly exercise; "a school of deportment," as were the universities, the lineal offspring of the salle. I have seen old Angelo [FN38] at Oxford bring his foil to the salute, and bowing profoundly to some undergraduate wild from the woods, pronounce with magisterial emphasis, "This, sir, is an academy of politeness as well as of arms!" Fencing was considered an "elegant" appendage to a gymnasium. It had its rules like the country dance or the quadrille, and all écarts were put down as bad taste. Indeed, its nature was almost choreographic, its combinations and interlacing movements, purely artificial and inartistically showing art, made the glorious exercise look trivial and effeminate. Its highest developments always suggested a terrific combat de théatre on the French stage -- for the English, with rare exceptions, have preferred the hanger, used like a walking stick, for "thrashing" purposes. How popular the same "Judicum Dei" still is in Paris, we may judge from the fact that M. d'Ennecy, who writes dramas for the Porte saint-Martin, concludes 198 with sword, 168 with pistol, ten with hatchets, and eight with knives, thus showing the comparative favour and disfavour of the weapons; and when a Frenchman would describe angling, he naturally represents it as "a duel between the man and the fish."
"At any rate," interrupted Seaton, "it does their artists a good turn. See the perfect truth of "A Duel in the Snow.' Our poor fellows must draw upon a not too lively imagination. In one of the illustrateds I actually saw two men represented at the Bois de Vincennes, where there is less police than in the Bois de Boulogne, preparing for business. And how do you think they stood on guard? In prime, faugh!"
This was spoken with ineffable contempt. I resumed. As in the rhythmical theatrical duel, the expression of fencing was found in a series of familiar passes, parries, and ripostes; in methodical advancings and retirings, and generally in profound veneration for academical legends. The first principle was the elevation of the hand -- la main haute -- in order that the forte of the blade might theoretically command the foible of the adversary's. If you "buttoned" your opponent a dozen times, carrying the hand in lunge lower than the head, you war a tireur à main basse et à bras raccourci. Another Medo-Persian law was never to touch above the shoulder blade nor below the waist; you passed what would have been a mortal thrust to the throat or to the stomach; the adversary said, not "touché!" but "trop bas!" or "trop haut!" I shall return to this "precious ridicule."
"Which is the essence of first-rate swordsmanship," said the indignant Seaton, who could no longer keep silent.
The second aspect of fencing represents it as a science to be studied in all its details, to be questioned for all its secrets, to be reduced into a regular system. Like all sciences, this demands special gifts, and without a peculiar organisation and a grace of intuition, the privilege of the heaven-born swordsman, aided and worked out by conscientious study and imperious labour, constant withal and uninterrupted, no man can expect to arrive at real and remarkable force. Fencers of this calibre have at all times been, and will ever be, rare; some incontestable superiorities show like great constellations amongst those stars, the jolies forces courantes, the average first-raters. The last generation of Frenchmen probably carried their art to its apogee, and it would be easy to quote a number of unprofessional men, who held their heads high amongst the masters of the world.
The third aspect is fencing considered purely as the art of defending oneself, and of offending the enemy. Here the traditions of the salles are valued only as they suit the student's individuality; he modifies them for and to himself, instead of doing, as his father did, the reverse. He ruthlessly sacrifices ornament to utility; he rejects complication and combinations, the superfluities introduced by time and professors, which are admirable with buttoned foils, but which fly from the point. The play becomes a serious and threatening struggle; its characteristic is the unforeseen, l'impréru, to which the first Napoleon attributed such mysterious powers, and which has ever since been the characteristic of French -- I may say European politics. Instead of graceful pass and learned parry, blade meets blade with rude vigour, bent only on finding an unguarded spot. It is the fray, not the sport. It is a fight, the more impressive because science offers her omnipotent aid, and her myriad resources are accepted only so far as they add to the power and efficiency of the man.
"It is strange," objected Lady B., "that you Englishmen brought up abroad can hardly speak of a foil without taking off its button -- mentally and instinctively."
Hence, I continued, acknowledging the remark with a sal'am, the difference between the two methods, the ancient and the modern French system, we will call them.
The one would preserve intact and pure of alloy, as of progress the academical traditions of bygone days; and would touch or be touched, would win or lose, like the old Austrian marshals, by norm and rule. It reposes upon authority; it has, like other matters which shall be nameless, an infallibility of its own. It begs the world to stand still, because movement is irksome to it. Its motto is, "Thus far you shall go, sir, and no farther." Like Free Trade, it would be a benefit to one and all, if one and all would only adopt it -- unfortunately they will not.
The other flies to the opposite extreme, and to
a certain extent does well, because extremes define the so-called "golden
mean." It would change everything, the bad to the good, the good to the
better, despite that subtle suggestion of Satan -- Oh, excuse me! -- le
mieux est l'ennemi du bien. It looks upon all that is old with suspicion,
as fitted for its own day, unfit for ours. It believes in realism, utilitarism,
progress, development, and its device is "Sic itur ad astra."
Thus was the fencing room a picture of modern society, a miniature of the world. From the days of Locke [FN39] the great modern school of thought, which practically makes actual sensible experience, with its legitimate inferences, the sole sources of human knowledge, though exceedingly repulsive to the majority of mankind, has steadily gained ground. The labours of Hume, Adam Smith, Bentham, and John Stuart Mill are gradually establishing utility as the test of morals, and therefore of law, and therefore of fencing. An ever-increasing success tends to weld into one mass our knowledge of physical nature and our acquaintance with the moral world, fencing included. France has brilliantly opposed it with the epithets of ignoble and one-sided; Germany has severely denounced it and scientifically attempted refutation. In England also it has seen many reactions, and even within its limits there are mighty controversies as to the true nature and application of its principles. Its best supporters own that it has never been, and never perhaps will be, popular; and yet, strange to say, it advances with giant strides, and it threatens to make experimentalism and utilitarianism the faith of the civilised world.
Solemn silence No. 2. It was not perhaps the "perfectest herald of joy."
"My opinion is," quoth Seaton with extra assertion, "that the art of arms is another king retired from business -- a poor old Lear stung by his serpent's teeth. The throne is a new Tower of Babel -- all talk and bustle and no understanding. This one wants to speak a private and particular language. The gentle legends and testaments of our great men only warm up this modern vanity. We change about and wheel about, and call it progress; it's the progress of the blinded camel turning its mill. This decline and fall of swordsmanship is greatly the fault of the professors. At first they disdained the movement, and then burst into rage when too late, somewhat like poor Colonel Sykes and the India House. It'll be the ruin of the art, and now every man'll be his own artist."
Surely you go too far, I interposed when my sanguine and choleric friend stopped to recover breath after his comma-less burst of eloquence. You speak true, but not the whole truth. Even in the mania of revolution, had you looked into the salle of my old professor Pons [FN40] you would have found a group of amateurs who combined with the energy and individuality of the new system the tastes and the traditions of the old. The moderate party in life is far more numerous than you men of extremes suppose. For one who, like Dr. Chalmers, held humanity a little higher than the angels, or one who, as did a writer that shall not be specified, believed him to be much lower than the devils, there are millions that place him in the intermediate rank.
I might dispute on metaphysical grounds (a manly murmur of "don't") the implied and usurped superiority of idealism over realism. For me there is no reason why the dream should be the type of perfect beauty, the wakening state that of homeliness and deformity. But I will return to the sword ("Thanks" in a more audible tone).
Meanwhile, by the side of the venerable retrogrades -- I thought this fair and of the madcap progressionists who wish only to enthrone their extravagances, there is a third body, which is carrying everything before it. These are the experienced swordsmen, whose judgment and practice have been matured by study and science. They not only accept the position of things, the revolution, in fact, for it is nothing else; they demand it, they hail it. They say to the older school, you are an academy, a sort of "elegant exercise"' you have carried to excess your agility, your address, your artificiality; you read like a book.
But what remarked the Fox about the tragic mask? However fair be the front, there is nought behind; it is an absolute "dickey," a hole where we expect a hill. You have prescribed, nay you have issued, your syllabus, your anathema-maranatha against the individuality of man, against that imprévu upon which every strong man relies. We want a larger arena; we want elbow room for our own natures. You must clear the way or --
Seaton groaned aloud, and I respected his emotion.
There was a dead silence -- No. 3. I resolved to remain voiceless till called upon to speak.
"Can you not," Lord S. said, "put the question before us in calmer terms than these?"
"Yes. Do mix a little water with all that wine!" suggested Shughtie, who disliked "volcanic language" from anyone but himself.
I will do my best. The modern system claims to have reason on its side. It aims rather at reconstructing them than at abolishing; it would not suppress, it would supplement.
Hear the voice of one of its masters: [FN41]
The true strength of a swordsman consists less in the charm of his manner, in the academic grace of his pose, in the magisterial regularity of his movements, than in his judgment, his spontaneity, and his quickness of attack and defence.
When a fencer has once mastered the few fundamental rules upon which his science, like all others, is based;
When his hand and arm, in perfect unison with his body, have acquired the proper degree of muscular equilibrium;
When his sinews have learned the difficult task of applying the exact force required, neither more, which would throw his sword out of line, nor less, which would deliver him into the hands of his enemy;
When he appreciates the full significance of what can be effected by a step forwards or a step backwards;
When he is aware of the danger incurred by compound attacks, and can rely for simple attacks upon his hand and his coup d'oeil;
When he has learned what nature has given to him and what she has refused, where he is likely to fail and how he is likely to succeed;
Then, I say, allow him to take the path to which his instincts tend, and to use according to his inspiration the fruit of his studies.
On the other hand, do not say to him:
Here is the narrow circle beyond which you shall not stir, the fatal bourne of all your actions, of all your ideas.
You find it easier, for some physical reason -- I hope not hepatic -- to attack, parry, and ripost, with the body bent forwards from the waist. No matter; sit straight upon your haunches like a military rider. Allons, redressez vous! The Academy says: "Je n'admets pas que dans un coup d'armes inutile pour atteindre son adveersire, et défavorable pour se relever de la jambe droite après avoir attaqué." What can be more contrary to common sense?
This was more than impatient Seaton could bear. "The Academy," he cried, is not half severe enough upon your mad freaks. This is a French Revolution you propose -- a mere rationalism without tradition, a breaking with the past and no eye to the future. In practice we all have the fault of leaning the body forward. Look at the mass of evidence collected by Capt. George Chapman (Foil Practice, &c., pp. 14-16). You would raise this vice into a virtue, you would teach it to your pupils -- you are immoral, you are dangerous!"
We must both keep our own opinions. But to resume my quotation: --
You prefer to keep out of distance, and you find that a closer approach preoccupies your mind, embarrasses your thoughts, and subjects you to the surprise of a swift lunge, which comes upon you like a flash of lightning. Not at all; you must take your place within the recognised limits -- that is; within reasonable reach of the opponent's weapon.
You feel yourself overweighted in the match; your adversary has the better of you in straight thrusts, in dégagements, in upper-cuts (coupés), and in the more complicated attacks; your sole defence is to withdraw your blade from his, so as to leave him no base of operations, as it were. On the contrary, you must offer him your sword, il faut donner le fer. Such is the rule, such is the law; only bad swordsmen and ferrailleurs, who thrust wildly right and left, attempt to do otherwise.
Your hand has not the height of the classic fencer, you sometimes thrust with a bent arm, and you even strike low -- in the stomach, for instance. Certainly in a duel nothing could be more fatal, yet the salles d'armes tell you that it is bad form. Therefore the mistake must not be repeated.
"Amen!" quoth Seaton.
I suppress the discussion which took place upon
this occasion, and I shall do the same whenever the debates, which were
ever recurring, failed to fix themselves upon my memory whilst writing
out my notes next morning.
All these are prejudices, pure and simple. The assault is the image of the fight; it is what drill is to battle. Only your artificial systems of arms allow one style in the fencing school, another in the field. Such "company manners," as my nurse called something of the kind, are not admissible. They are shams, they are snares, they are delusions.
The natural system, based, as I have said, upon utility and experiment, allows every man his liberty of action. It does not pretend nor attempt to teach him grace and neatness of execution, if his instinct and his individuality find these qualities factitious and foreign. Let your pupil form himself after his own image as far as you can with conscience. If you force him to copy, to resemble you, it will make him only an easier victim to all the originals of your traditional system.
As a master, if you fence with him, take advantage of his faults -- 'tis the readiest way of correcting them.
As an adversary, if you find his play dangerous, without being pleasant to the eye, try to combine both advantages; perhaps he may be induced to imitate you.
The student of arms should at once be encouraged by the amplest liberty in choosing the style which suits him best. You will see it dawn during the first hour after he has held a sword in hand, and it is so little possible for one man to take the just measure of another man! How often we confound with wild hobbies and eccentricities that which does not satisfy our ideas, although it has been founded upon the truest science; how often we despise as the merest ignorance the fruit of intelligent study. Someone has called individual man the microcosm and the rest of creation the macrocosm. I feel myself the macrocosm.
"Rank metaphysical heresy," quoth Shugtie.
When you, O Seaton, find yourself hand to hand with these sons of the new system, you doubtless know that they belong to one or the other of two species.
The first. Your adversary has adopted his own and peculiar form of attack and defence; after a course of reasoning and of self-examination he has found what is best for himself and what is worst for you. He may have been nursed and fledged in the salle d'armes, but he has whetted and sharpened his own beak and talons, and if you oppose him with any academic banalities you must expect to suffer from peck and tear.
The second. Your opponent acts without judgment, beating, as it were, the blades, whipping the air, making futile half attacks; lunging when out of distance; stopping you at the moment most dangerous to himself; parrying, now dully, then with a convulsive force; unsteady in the left leg and nervous with the right foot. In dealing with such pupils of the modern or individual method you will have no difficulty. The practised chess player, however third rate, is always master of uninstructed genius, however lofty. With your experience and dexterity you probably lead the silly bird into the first gin which you draw from your pocket.
"With your system," cried Seaton, "I shall find nine of the latter to one of the former kind."
'Tis the same with yours! But beware of my
Here, then, ladies and gentlemen, is the disputed question, the great quarrel of the two systems, the Artificial and the Natural. It is as inveterate as the Wars of the Red Rose with the White Rose, and it much reminds me of the oft-quoted Shield with the gold and silver sides. I might on a former occasion have fitted it into its own little niche of our nineteenth century edifice, but that you will do more satisfactorily for yourselves.
This time the expressions of gratitude were warmer and more marked. The hour hand approached midnight.
I have not spared details which fix facts and theories upon the memory; and allow me to thank you for the exemplary patience and long-suffering shown this evening.
"What will there be to-morrow?" Lady B. asked.
I can hardly say. It is impossible in such matters to follow out a regular order, and there are certain digressions which have legal rights upon a speaker. And after saying so much upon the principles of the schools, the logical sequence would be their practice.
"What! Logic even in fencing!" said Lady Margaret reproachfully.
Logic in everything; only let us be careful to set upon a basis of its own the logic of things as distinguished from the logic of words.
An "Oh!" like a sigh welcomed this unhappy but emphatic observation.
"I see," remarked Lord B., "that to-morrow evening it will be man's fate to be alone."
Solemn silence number four. The consensus of those
concerned was stronger than any expressed assent.
"At any rate, I shall hope before long to hear something about your regiment of [Dahomeyan] Amazons," said Lady Mary, the blonde, by way of softening the blow. But the faces of Seaton and Shughtie were sore to look upon.
The cosmopolite, after the candles were lighted and the door was closed, growled thrice, picked out a briar root, and retired to the darkest corner, promising to turn off the gas within a quarter of an hour. I left him alone without the Amazons.
To be continued.
FN15. Boëssiere (M. La): Traité de l'Art des Armes à l'usage des Professeurs et des Amateurs. 8o. 1818. Paris. (Twenty plates.)
FN16. Possellier, A.J.J. (dit Gomard): La Théorie de l'Escrime, ensignée par une méthode simple, basée sur l'observation de la nature, &c. Paris. 1845. Twenty plates. (With an historical introduction.)
FN17. Augustin Grisier: Les Armes et le Duel. Paris. 1863. With a preface by Alex. Dumas. Drawings by E. de Beaumont, and portrait of author by E. Lessale. (1st ed. 1847.)
FN18. Alberto Marchionni: Trattato di Scherma sopra il nuoro sistema di giuoco misto di scuola italiane e francese. 8o. 1847. Firenze. (Lithographs and woodcuts.)
FN19. This is one of the practical differences between foil play and the épée de combat.
FN20. Burton requires a little correction. The title of the first edition was not l'Arte de l'Armi, but this was the author's description of himself, Maestro generale de l'arte de l'armi. The title being Opera nova chiamata duello, o vero fiore dell' armi, &c.
FN21. Camillo Agrippa (Milanese): Trattato di Scientia d'Arme, con un dialogo di filosofia. 4o. 1553. Roma. 2nd edition, 1568. (Portrait of author and fifty-five copper-plates in text.)
FN22. Ciacomo di Grassi (da Modena): Ragione di adoprar sicuramente l'Arme si da offesa come d ifesa. 4o. 1570. Venetia. Translated into English by J.G., 1594.
FN23. Salvator Fabris: Scienza e Practice d'Arme. Fol. 1606. Copenhagen. (Portraits of Christian IV. of Denmark and the author, and 190 copper-plates in text.)
FN24. Nicoletto Giganti (Venetiano): Scola orero teatro nel qual sono rappresentate diverse maniere e modo di parere e di ferire di spada sola, edi Spada e pugnale. Obl. 4o. 1606. Venetia. (Portrait and forty-two copper plates.) 2nd edition. 1608.
FN25. Henry de Sainct-Didier (Gentilhomme Provençal): Traité, &c. 4o. 1573. (Portraits of author and Charles IX. and sixty-four woodcuts.)
FN26. Wernesson de Liancour: Le maistre d'Armes, ou l'exercice de l'espée seuele dans sa perfection. Obl. 4o. 1686. Paris. (Portrait of author and fourteen copper-plates by Perelle.)
FN27. This was a quarto published at Leipzig, but it had been preceded long before in Germany by the earliest treatises on fencing, Talhoffer's Fechtbuch aus dem Jahre, 1467, Gerichtliche und andere Zweikämpfe darstellend. Edided by G. Hersell (Prag. 1887). With 286 plates. Fechtbuch aus dem Jahre, 1459, from the Ambraser Codex, with 160 plates, were published in 1889 by the same editor. Other very early German works are Andrea Paunfeindt's (Freyfechter zu Wien) Ergrundung ritterlicher Kunst der Fechterey (1516, Wien), treating of the two-handed sword, and translated into French in 1538 under the title of Noble Science des Joueurs d'Espée; and Hans Lebkommer's (i.e., Lecküchhner's) work Der alten Fechter gründliche Kunst (1531), with engravings by Has Brosamer, after the drawings of Albert Dürer; and Joachim Meyer's (Freyfechter zu Strasburg) Gründliche Bescribung der Freyen, &c., Kunst des Fechtens (4o. 1570. Strasburg), introducing the rapier, with numerous woodcuts. [For further bibliographic discussion and partial translation of some of these texts, see www.aemma.org and www.thehaca.com.]
FN28. Angelo's L'Ecole des Armes was first published in London in 1763, with forty-seven copper-plates.
FN29. Burton would scarcely have written thus after reading Mr. Edgerton Castle's Schools and Masters of Fence, wherein the Spanish school occupies sixteen pages; but Mr. Castle's opinion of it as having no permanent influence on the art of fencing does not differ substantially from Burton's. The Geometrical School of Fence, greatly as it affected and exercised our Elizabethan ancestors, has now completely passed into oblivion, except as a matter of history and except in so far as it may survive in Spain or Italy, as suggested by Burton.
FN30. Such as those of Carranza, Don Luis Pacheco de Narvaez (continually alluded to by Ben Jonson), and last and greatest in its futile magnificence, the Académie de l'Epée of Girard Thibaust, based upon its mysterious circle. The link between the last named and the present work is that Thibaust first speaks of "le sentiment de l'espée."
FN31. "Rhumbs" or "rhombs" were the lines of navigation drawn on maps and charts by early geographers.
FN32. This anticipates the "pointe d'arrêt" introduced a few years ago by the French into the épée competitions in Paris, and since universally employed, in various improved forms, to assist the judges in scoring encounters with the épée.
FN33. Fencers of our generation will remember the admirable exposition of "mixed play" made by the Cavaliero Pini in the Empress Rooms against Kirchhoffer, the French champion. The foil the Frenchman broke on Pini's breast is preserved in the Sword Club, in Durham-street, Strand. A fragment of it fell at the King's feet in the heat of their assault.
FN34. The works and editions of this writer between 1820 and 1866 fill one and a half pages of Mr. Carl Thimm's Bibliography of Fencing and Duelling (1896). Burton quotes from his Discorso sull' utilita della Scherma (1st edition, 1825). La Scienza della Scherma appeared in 1844.
FN35. Scorza Rosaroll, author (with Pietro Grisetti) of La Scienza della Scherma, 4o, 1803, Milano (ten folding plates), and of Trattato della Spadancia o sia della Spada Larga, 8o, 1818, Napoli.
FN36. The following are translations of the most important of the above passages from Gerusalemme Liberata:
Still parrying stroke with stroke, he tried
All points of skill to turn the assailing sword aside.
-- J.H. Whiffen (Bohn.), xix., 11.
FN37. We travel into Italie to learne the art of fencing, and practise it at the cost of our lives before e know it; it were requisite, according to the order of true discipline, we should preferre the thorike before the practike. We betray our apprentissage. -- Florio's Montaigne, ii, 37.
FN38. This would be Henry Angelo the younger (1780-1852), fencing master and superintendent of sword exercise in the army, son of Henry Angelo the elder (1760-1839), author of the Reminiscences (1830) and Angelo's Pic-nic (1834), and head of the academy from 1785, and grandson of the original Angelo (1716-1802), alias Dominico Angelo Malevolti Tremamondo, who opened his fencing school in Soho (1759) and published in 1763 L'Ecole d'Armes. In 1770 the salle d'armes was at Carlisle House, overlooking Soho-square; then was moved to Opera House-buildings, Haymarket, next to Old Bond-street; and finally, by Henry Angelo the younger to St. James's-street (1830-1896), the premises now occupied by [bodybuilder Eugen] Sandow.
FN39. The following is the locus classicus upon fencing from the great Utilitarian's work Of Education (§ 199). [This is presumably Some Thoughts Concerning Education, first printed in London in 1693.] On the whole, he seems rather to discourage the art for fear of fomenting quarrels and duels, and the last paragraph shows that he did not foresee fencing would survive dueling:
Young men in their warm blood are forward to think
they have in vain learned to fence, if they never show their skill and
courage in a duel; and they seem to have reason. But how many sad tragedies
that reason has been the occasion of, the tears of many a mother can witness.
A man that cannot fence will be more careful to keep out of bullies' and
gamesters' company, and will not be half so apt to stand upon punctilios,
nor give affronts, or fiercely justify them when given, which is that which
usually makes the quarrel. And when a man is in the field, a moderate skill
in fencing rather exposes him to the sword of his enemy than secures him
from it. And certainly a man of courage, who cannot fence at all, and therefore
will put all upon one thrust and not stand parrying, has the odds against
a moderate fencer, especially if he has skill in wrestling. And therefore,
if any provision is to be made against such accidents, and a man be to
prepare his son for duels, I had much rather mine should be a good wrestler
than an ordinary fencer; which is the most a gentleman can attain to in
it, unless he will be constantly in the fencing school and every day exercising.
But since fencing and riding the great horse are so generally looked upon
as necessary qualifications in the breeding of a gentleman, it will be
hard wholly to deny anyone of that rank these marks of distinction. I shall
leave it, therefore, to the father, to consider how far the temper of his
son, and the station he is like to be in, will allow or encourage him to
comply with fashions, which, having little to do with civil life, were
yet formerly unknown to the most warlike nations, and seem to have added
little of force or courage to those who have received them; unless we will
think martial skill or prowess have been improved by duelling, with which
fencing came into, and with which, I presume, it will go out of the world.