I’ve been fascinated with Generoso Pavese since first finding his picture in an antique store many years ago. Looking at it, I can’t resist the tug on my brain that makes me wonder about the comparison between fencers and other prize fighters like boxers and wrestlers. The reason is plain enough:
It’s the belt. On top of that, just like a boxer or wrestler, Pavese solicits any and all to come and try to win it. Enter, Louis Tronchet.
Tronchet taught fencing in San Francisco at the Olympic Club from 1888, having been hired after a famously victorious performance against Regis Senac. The Olympic Club touted Tronchet as the first “classic” and only officially recognized fencing master on the West Coast. Indeed, Tronchet was a graduate of the master’s school at Joinville-le-Pont, on the outskirts of Paris.
Pavese’s challenged, as put forth in the photo above dating from 1908, was apparently one of long standing. Pavese was President Teddy Roosevelt’s personal fencing master:
Roosevelt was President from 1901 to 1909, but the Pavese vs Tronchet match took place in San Francisco in 1899, so clearly Pavese was looking for ‘victims’ prior to his time at the White House.
It seems that Pavese was traveling the country and stopping in big cities long enough to put a letter of challenge in the local paper and wait for someone to take up the gauntlet.
So it was that on Nov. 2, 1899, the two met to have it out. The match took place in the afternoon, with the editor of the local Italian newspaper acting as umpire. The foils match was first and was described as “furious” and must have been, as the umpire at one point stepped in to stop the action and wound up with a gash on top of the head. At the conclusion, Tronchet was awarded the victory, 14 hits to 13. Pavese immediately appealed in Italian that he had been robbed and proceeded to challenge Tronchet to a match with broadsword, the heavier cousin to the modern fencing sabre. Pavese set to work with three immediate hits to Tronchet that apparently raised welts. Tronchet returned with hits to Pavese’s head, body and glove. The last touch to the glove gave Pavese some reason to object and after he began haranguing Tronchet, the official and the audience, Tronchet threw off his gear and refused to continue. That drew the event to a close, even though Pavese had two additional challengers that he refused to face.
After the event, Pavese claimed that he had scored 18 foil hits to Tronchet’s 2, called Tronchet “no gentleman” and offered to meet him in mortal combat, saying he had already killed two Frenchman and would like to make it a third.
In fact, this was the title of the article written the day following the encounter:
It would seem that Pavese didn’t ease off his hot-headed ways anytime soon, as I found this from 1906:
Still and all, it sounds like it was a fairly standard foil match.