“On Customs and Traditions in the Reign of Augustus III” [excerpts] by Jedrzej Kitowicz (1728 – 1804)

This week’s article is by Daria Izdebska, who translated these excerpts as part of her research into Polish sabre.

(Sas w stroju polskim [Augustus III in a Polish costume] by Louis de Silvestre (half of the 18th century), currently at the Wilanów Palace Museum.)

Translator’s Notes:

I have selected the following excerpts from Kitowicz’s work because, in one way or another, they refer directly to Polish sabre (szabla) or to Polish stick-fighting (palcaty). Kitowicz presents a colourful picture of life in 18th century Poland, under the reign of King Augustus III of Poland (r. 1733-1763), who was the penultimate king before the fatal Partitions in 1772, 1794 and 1795, which marked the end of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Kitowicz’s text is one of the earliest descriptions of sabre- and stick-fighting that we have – apart from various diaries and anecdotal mentions from the 17th century. We may assume that, although undergoing many subtle (or even not-so-subtle!) changes over almost 230 years of the Commonwealth’s existence, some traditions of sabre- and stick-fighting would remain relatively constant or at the very least, the stories about them would be passed down via word of mouth. Whenever Kitowicz speaks of “old-fashioned”, he probably means the state of affairs in the late 17th century. Kitowicz’s unfinished work describes various parts of Polish society (children, soldiers, nobility, peasants, lawyers, priests, etc.) and goes into detail about the customs and traditions typical for these groups. His description of the Polish military is also quite extensive and is an invaluable resource for reconstructing not only the structure of the armed forces, but also the more elusive social and cultural relations within the army.

I have indicated the chapter titles in bold and the sub-chapter titles are underlined. There are many more in the book, but most of them either do not mention sabre at all, or just enumerate it as one of the weapons that formed part of a soldier’s gear.

At the end of this translation there is a small glossary of Polish terms with pronunciation notes.

The Polish original is freely available on-line, for instance here: http://literat.ug.edu.pl/kitowic/

with a short biography in English accessible here: http://literat.ug.edu.pl/autors/kitow.htm

Daria Izdebska,

9th October 2012

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HEMA poster

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