Alchemia Dimicandi: Some observations on language and possible date of origin

smallsword rostock 2As indicated earlier, we are preparing a recently rediscovered short text for publication:

The Alchemia Dimicandi is a problematic document, both in regard to provenance and chronology of creation. The following provides an attempt at dating its origin.

One of the limited biblio-chronological contexts of this document is Die Entwicklung der europäischen Trutzwaffen kit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Sportwaffen by Karl E. Lochner, self-published by his widow Anna Lochner in Vienna in 1968.

That book’s copyright notice indicates that the manuscript was concluded by 1949, four years before Lochner (also self-)published Die Entwicklungsphasen der europäischen Fechtkunst (1953), and eleven years before his Waffenkunde für Sportfechter ind Waffenliebhaber (Vienna, 1960). (These titles are still available here.)

While the latter two titles are brochures rather than books, totaling 41 pages and 67 pages, respectively, Lochner went to the trouble of having them professionally typeset and printed.

Despite its girth of 330 pages, however, the 1968 volume is really properly called the reproduction of a manuscript rather than a book: It was typed on a manual typewriter (and rather inexpertly at that). It is loosely unformatted, with stray tabs, migrating margins, and super-imposed letters where a typographic error had occurred in the pre-White Out era. Its format is DIN-A4 (i.e., slightly larger than the U.S. letter) standard, with a beige cover on card stock, and bound with textile tape. It was probably reproduced in a very small quantity of possibly only a few dozen copies.

Anna Lochner’s note indicates that she undertook the typing herself, based on her by then late husband’s handwritten manuscript, whose first efforts, she indicates, dated back to the 1920’s.

Who was Karl Lochner?

The Austrian Lochner identifies himself as a “Diplomfechtmeister”, an accredited fencing master. According to his wife’s preface, he was born in Prague on May 25, 1900. In 1927, he underwent the fencing master’s exam under the supervision and chairmanship of Adam Ritter von Sokolowski, then docent of fencing at the German university of Prague. Lochner also founded the Barbasetti-Herren-Fechtclub (“Gentlemen’s Fencing Club “Barbasetti”) right after World War I and taught fencing until the end of World War II.

The programmatic name of the club leaves no doubt what fencing method Lochner was trained in. Lochner “arrived in Vienna in 1946”, during the expulsion of everyone and everything German from what first was to become Czechoslovakia and, later, the Czech Republic.

Anna Lochner calls Vienna “die Stadt seiner Ahnen”, the city of his ancestors. A brief note in the curriculum for fencing instructors of the Austrian fencing academy indicates that he “carried with him the last coat of arms of the Federfechter”, which was adopted by the Akademie der Fechtkunst Österreichs. In the following decades, Lochner was involved in the reconstitution of the Akademie in Vienna in 1950, whose president he was until 1960. In April of 1962, he attended the foundation of an International Fencing Master Academy in Basel, Switzerland. He may have died shortly after, as Frau Lochner refers to his bad health at that point in time.

This little bit of biographic information offers plenty of speculative potential. Did Lochner (if it indeed was him who transcribed the original) encounter the text of the Alchemia in Prague, possibly where he found the “last coat of arms of the Federfechter”, as the Akademie claims? See, Laszlo, Herbert and Sonia Lehr- ind Prüfungsstoff für die Übungsleiter-Ausbildung im Fechten, Graz: Akademie der Fechtkunst Österreichs, n.y.). Probably not, because otherwise he may have referred to it in either his own works. (He did not.)

However, since the manuscript of his larger work was finished in 1949, and, according to his wife, his later brochures were “excerpts” from it that he published for the very specific audience of Sportfechter (sports fencers)—a group generally not overly interested in the arcana of fencing history—he may have encountered it in Vienna or possibly Graz after 1950 and not bothered including or integrating it via reference or annotation. Possibly, his widow included a photocopy of his transcript in a copy of the 1968 work (which she herself had produced and almost certainly distributed herself) before she mailed it to a colleague or other associate of her late husband who she knew shared his passion.

All these propositions are, of course, the most speculative of all speculative hypotheticals. Other alternatives are possible. The Xerox may have been put inside the pages of my copy of the book by any other previous owner, probably Austrian, possibly German, maybe even Swiss. Where the original transcript came from, who made it, and who created the original text will probably never be cleared up. In addition to the text, the Lochner provenance should be regarded under the Italian motto of se non è vero, è ben trovato. I’ve attributed it to him to honor his now mostly forgotten efforts as a fencing historian.

 The Language

As a native German and a long-time collector of old fencing literature, I am very familiar with German-language texts on the art and science of fencing. I have read and analyzed many dozens of them, and am knowledgeable enough to be earnestly compiling a concise and inclusive concordance and German-English dictionary of the German fencing Kunstsprache. However, I am not by any means an academic expert on historical German speech patterns and dialects, especially those reflected in the pre-orthographic phonetic, ideosynchratic and woefully un-edited handwritings of anonymous authors of early modern eras.

Therefore, I cannot offer any scientifically supported opinion on the hodgepodge of terms and turns of phrase I’ve encountered in this text. All I can proffer by way of insight is that the author certainly was educated, if not exactly a scholar. The copy identified him as “Juncker von A—”, Junker being a lesser and politically mostly insignificant German noble, much like the English “squire”.

A’s abundant use of Latin clichés and phrases indicates that he had some training as a jurist or perhaps cleric, an impression reinforced by his contemplation of the practical legal consequences of “winning” a duel—execution, incarceration, or exile—insights not encountered in many contemporary works on the art itself, but more so in legal and theological treatises.

His advice not get involved with frivolous affairs of honor derives from the moral same sentiment as Abraham a Sancta Clara’s “Fecht-Narr” (1709):

Aus der vermeinten Fecht-Kunst aber erwachsen nichts als Duellanten, wozu sich gleich schlagen liederliche Bechanten, mancher kann kaum ein Maas Wein ohne Raufen aussaufen (…)

The author’s use of fencing terminology indicates that he was well-versed in the Italian and perhaps French methods of fencing as they are reflected in the fencing literature of the 17th and early 18th centuries.

However, it is difficult to pinpoint where his knowledge originated. Von A. compares the art of fencing to a craft (Handwerck) and then decides it is not, but rather an obscure science comparable to alchemy. He indicates that there are no “recipes” or Zedel that could assist in the mastering of the craft. This term refers to the brief written texts included in medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts and drawings that explain what is depicted or said, much like modern comic book “speech bubbles”. Of course, the ancient illustrated manuals of Talhoffer contain just such Zedel or Zettel, and there are plenty of mnemonic rhymes in the Medieval and Renaissance German sources whose purpose was assisting medieval students of the fighting arts to memorize important technical or perceptive aspects of that art.

If von A. is unaware of these ancient methods of knowledge transfer, his own training may not have involved masters or instructors trained in the old, imperially privileged brotherhoods of the Marxbrüder or Federfechter. Indeed, his references to those fencing and teaching under the coat-of-arms of the lion and the quill, are downright derisive: In his eyes they are Schelme, i.e., scoundrels or rascals, and their Master Liechtenauer is “the greatest rascal of them all”).

This said, his dismissive references to fencing masters in general, and some French and Kreußlerian mannerisms in particular, lead me to believe that he had hands-on experience with both. He anticipates (or possibly echoes) Friedrich Anton Kahn, who in 1739 wrote about the quite literally misguided fencing student, whose

voriger Lehrmeister hat ihm einen unfehlbaren Stoß, Volten, Paßaden, Rumpaden, Glißaden, Falcaden, und wer weiß was mehr vor Kunststücke gelernte  Anitzo aber höret er von dem zweiten  daß dieses alles meistens nicht besser zu achten sey, als in der Medicin das trinkbare Gold, die Panaceen, das Seegensprechen und alle die Künste, womit die Marktschreyer das gemeine Volk zu bezaubern pflegen.

It is his reference to “einge Jentscher” (“some people from Jena”) in the context of the forward inclination of the upper body, sub-headed [Vorbeugen des Oberkörpers] by the transcribist, which may indicate his familiarity with the Kreußler school in Jena.

This would put the origin of this writing into the latter half of the 17th century. Von A.‘s other clues toward a proper dating remain equally inexact and vague, although they provide a speculative glimpse into the author’s awareness and judgment of contemporary social conditions: In particular, his reference to the Principes und Fuersten, so sie denn wenig halten moegen vom Leben der canaille wen sie in den Krig ziehn und ihre battaillen schlagen auff den Feldern und äkern der gemeinen Bürgersleut und Pauren, in its critique of prices laying waste the cities and fields of their subjects during their wars and battles, is reminiscent of the much earlier era of the Bundschuh and the peasant revolts.

It perhaps reflects a general and critical weariness of the squabbles of princes and sovereigns after the end of the Thirty Years War, which had devastated Germany from 1618 to 1648, and could indicate that von A. may himself have experienced the effects of that war, even if only in his youth.

The unflattering reference to Princes and their inconsiderate habits toward the lower orders makes it unlikely that von A. wrote this text with the intent to dedicate it to a princely benefactor, unlike, for example, Siegmund Carl Friedrich Weischner (1702-1774), who authored two printed books, published in 1764 and 17659, that were based on an illustrated manuscript of his fencing techniques that, in 1731, he had created for his patron, Duke Ernst August I von Sachsen-Weimar ind Sachsen-Eisenach. (That manuscript has survived , thanks in part to it being properly bound in book form and placed into the care of the prince’s library in Weimar. It is still located at the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek in Weimar.)

The Alchemia lacks any of the servile and sycophantic dedications that are the hallmark of those aspiring to or engaged in princely service and patronage. It labels the masters teaching at Court Fecht=Affn, “fencing monkeys”, a moniker not designed to make friends in high places. It might have been a private memorandum of technique, or the instructions of an uncle or godfather to his nephew or ward heading out to university.

Von A.’s allusions to the penal consequences of dueling are reflected in the Hals- oder peinliche Gerichtsordnung of Charles V..

Under Chapter CXL, that legal code specifies, “Was eine rechte Notwehr ist”, explaining the basic doctrine of what Anglo-American jurisprudence calls “Perfect Self-Defence”, which, if reasonable under the circumstances, is still considered an excuse for homicide under most modern American criminal statutes: If one carrying a deadly weapon or arms attacks, looks and hits, and the one under attack cannot escape without danger or injury of his body, life, honor, or good reputation, then the latter may save his body and life with proper defense without penalty. Even if he kills the attacker, he is not guilty, and he is not required to wait until he is actually being beaten before fighting back, no matter if it is contrary to written law and usage.

Under that penal code, however, self defense still had to be proven. If the circumstances did not justify the killing—and engaging in a duel arguably did not indicate spontaneous self-defense but the deliberate consensual choice of using deadly weapons and deadly force in circumvention of the law—the one responsible for the homicide “sol als ein Todschläger mit dem Schwerd zum Todt gestrafft weren”—shall be punished with death by the sword (i.e., beheading) as a murderer.

Much like today, “imperfect self-defence” carried with it the very real danger of capital punishment or, if mitigated, life-long incarceration. In the alternative, the remaining option was flight and exile from the jurisdiction where the homicide occurred.

In summa, the oblique and direct references to the cultural, legal, and spiritual environment would place the origins of the text into a somewhat unique context, close to the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries. Given the paucity of fencing-related publications in Germany between the 1630’s and the 1650’s and, after Paschen had rattled off his multitude of titles into the void, again from 1670 to the first years of the 1700’s, this would make the manuscript an important “missing link” and gap filler for fencing historians.


One response to “Alchemia Dimicandi: Some observations on language and possible date of origin

  1. Dear Sir, thanks for sharing this discovery. I look forward to hearing more about this. Of particular interest to me, is the “last known” wappen of the Federfechter.   The original had three compartments, whereas the latest one of I was aware of (post 1688)  added a fourth compartment, and the description does not fit with this latest one you have shared.  I have long suspected that Vienna is where both Guilds ended up, and that in Vienna, there is potentially more data about the Marxbrueder and Veiterfechter guilds. Thanks again Sir, for sharing this, I really wish I had a more high definition image of the Wappen.  But just seeing this one is very exciting!     SincerelyKevin MaurerMFFG Research 

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