One fencing manual above all has a special place in my heart. I found Donald McBane's The Expert Sword-man's Companion from 1728 in the National Library of Scotland back in the early nineties, and persuaded my University tutor to let it onto the course she was teaching. My essay “The Gallant Pander” was in truth the first bit of proper historical swordsmanship research I ever did.
The book is amazing; it details a rather idiosyncratic version of French smallsword fencing, complete with a “boar's thrust”, but above and beyond that it has McBane's autobiography, detailing his outrageous feats, from leaping a gorge while running away from a battle, to fighting a duel on crutches, to making lots of money running prostitutes in army camps at the turn of the 18th century, to his final career as a very successful prize fighter. It is far and away the best, most amusing, autobiography ever written by anyone ever.
My friend Jared Kirby* has faithfully transcribed and published this book, to the extent of making every page look as much as possible exactly the same as the same page in the original. Jared is a stickler for detail, and he's done a remarkable job of making a transcription look like a facsimile. He has also cleaned up the illustrations until they are crystal clear. This edition also includes some very interesting additional information about McBane's many gladiatorial combats in the introduction by Ben Miller. The original is a very rare book, so this is as close as you're likely to come to owning a copy. You can see it here:
Seriously, buy this book. If you don't like swords, swordfights, duels, adventure or history, what the heck are you doing reading my blog?
*in the interests of transparency: Jared and I are old friends, so you might suspect me of bias. Let me put your mind at rest: 1) I loved McBane before I ever met Jared. 2) I would never recommend a book I don't think you'd like and get value out of, no matter who wrote it. 3) This book has a goddamn bigfoot in it. Seriously!