When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. Today's 'buried treasure' is a piece called "The Pleasures Of Skating" which appeared in the December 1889 edition of "Puck's Library". The author, novelist Charles Morris, released it under his pseudonym Paul Pastnor. I think you'll find that this particularly delightful piece really captures the essence of pleasure skating during the Victorian era.
"THE PLEASURES OF SKATING" (CHARLES MORRIS)
Lives there a man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said: "I'll go a-skating?" Probably not. At some period of our lives we have all us done more or less ground and lofty tumbling on Nature's polished winter floor. It may have been so long ago that we have almost forgotten how we used to bind on the dear old-fashioned steel blades, with the ends curled up in front like a banker's signature; or perhaps, we are just out of our halcyon days, and have no more complicated process to recall than the deft snap with which we attached our "Ice Kings" to our shoes, and sped away on the instant.
But, whether tied with twine, strapped, screwed or clamped, it was all the same when our skates were once on our feet. Oh, the bird-like delight of skimming over that broad, glistening expanse of ice! How the blood leaped in our veins, and the glorious exhilaration tingled to the very tips of fingers and toes!
And then it was such fun to watch the beginner - the tyro in the art. With what infinite caution he raised himself from the friendly bank; and, then, with what wild consternation he found himself mysteriously slipping away, with no power under heaven to stop that insidious motion which seemed to possess him as the magnet possesses the steel. Bending fearfully forward, with arms abroad, and eyes riveted upon the gleaming ice, so he slid, until his feet parted and flew from beneath him, the force of gravity seized him by the back, down he came, wild-eyed and sprawling, while his head smote the frozen expanse with a far-resounding thud. Up again in an instant, upon foot and knee, he surveyed his laughing companions with a sickly smile, and gladly accepted the proferred assistance which got him upon his treacherous skates again, and sent him bowing and balancing away, beating the air like an animated windmill.
But the fun was soon over; for in less than an hour the tyro had mastered the first principles of the art, and was darting hither and thither like a squid, with quick, uneven strokes, ending in a triumphant glide that rejoiced his soul to the very core. Those were the days when we had our little loves, as sweet and innocent as spring flowers. Who can ever forget the thrill of ecstasy with which he strapped his sweetheart's skates to the trim little foot resting on his knees? And then the unspeakable pride and pleasure of clasping those two red-mittened hands in one's own, and "sculling" backward, while one initiated the fair beginner in the mysteries of the forward stroke.
Do you remember, reader, those long hand-in-hand expeditions along the wooded river shore? How she laughed when the shell-ice tripped her, and she swayed into your arms for a sweet instant, knitted hood and flying hair brushing your cheek! Such roses as bloomed in those happy days will never bloom again - the glow of health and the flush of young romance. Do you not sometimes find yourself wondering whether there will be skating in paradise - and red-cheeked, red-hooded, laughing girls?
It was a magnificent thing, too, that skating by firelight! The great bonfire on the shore, leaping and crackling; the reflection of the blaze on the glare ice; the shadowy figures gliding in and out like spectres; the ring of the "shinny" stick, and the wild shouts of the players; the dim white fields and hills, melting away into night; the hoot of the troubled owl; the far-off, silvery sound of sleigh bells — what boy or girl of the olden time can not call up such a picture as this in memory?
Far into the night we played our weird games, and glided away on our winged flights into the gloom. Then some impatient horn would blow from a distant farmhouse; the fun would stop; little groups would melt away, chattering, into the darkness; and by-and-by only a few reckless enthusiasts would remain, silently swinging up and down the ice in the pale glimmer of the dying blaze.
Alas! but the choicest pleasures of skating are so evanescent - confined to the brief holiday of youth! Men and women, it is true, find a sober delight in sweeping around the rink, or launching out on the blue-black lake for a two and a half hours' spin. But what becomes of the red mittens, and the knit hoods, and the young mirth, and the "shinny" sticks, and the bonfire, after thirty? Grim old Father Time takes the raisins out of the pudding, then. We have had our romance; more's the pity if we did not make the most of it! But Father Time can not take away memory- that lingering taste of the good things of life.
Ye who have skated, away back in the first and second decades of your existence, hail! Let us sit down together, in this Midwinter twilight, and barter a smile for a tear.
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