Hints for Carrying an Umbrella to Mitigate Its Lethal Potentialities: 1824

Since to-day we enter into the time of “April showers,” it seemed appropriate to share the author’s useful hints. Or—one cannot be certain—perhaps it is all just an April Fool’s Day jape.


“On the art of carrying an umbrella,—humph!” perhaps some one may say, what nonsense to fill up the pages of the Literary Magnet with a discourse on such a foolish subject: now, let me say, it is no such thing; every person finds in this our “cloudy clime,” the great importance of this article; and therefore what is in so general request deserves a consideration equal to its universality. 1 must own that for some time I was fearful of giving my lucubrations on the subject to the public, for fear of being written down alongside with Dogberry, an ass; but the many accidents that have befell me in the course of my walks through this crowded city, and the disagreeable consequences thereof, have induced me at length, for the benefit of all those who would profit by my instructions, to stem the “world’s dread laugh,” and give the rules that I have drawn up to the public.

But in the first place, I think it will not be amiss to give an account of the pains and penalties I suffered, ere I reduced the use of an umbrella to an art; and the disaster that first befell me was this,—walking along with my umbrella tucked under my arm, and the hooked handle turned outwards, it had the misfortune to catch hold of a lady’s silk dress, and made as “envious a rent” in it as Casca’s dagger did in Caesar’s mantle. No words can portray my confusion, for to heighten my pain, it was in one of the most frequented streets of the town. The lady held her skirt, and looked as much as to say, “See what an ugly rent is here!” This expression, viz. of the lady’s eyes, filled some round with indignation big against poor I. In vain did I apologize, and utter “beg your pardons” fast as hail; I was not able to satisfy the lady’s ire, so, burning with blushes, I retired chap-fallen like a cock from a defeat.

In the next place, I was boldly marching forwards, holding my umbrella in the middle, when a man coming briskly on, and I not being able to recover arms in time, gave him, to use Mrs. Quickly’s phrase, “a shrewd thrust in the groin.” The man, “unable to conceal his pain,” writhed and groaned, writhed and groaned, writhed and groaned, and groaned again, until he had drawn a pretty goodly crowd around himself and me. And there was I, wedged in for about an hour, unable to stir, with about a hundred tongues expostulating with me, the man, and one another; some advised liim to take the law against me, ay! marry did they; others said, ’twas only an accident; the man said, ’twas a bad speck; and an old apple-woman, from a stall adjacent, piped out, “arn’t you ashamed of yourself—arn’t you ashamed of yourself?” about fifty times. Having at length succeeded in getting disentangled from the mob, I shot off as quick as possible from the scene of my valour, and on clearing the corner of the street, a loud, ” Arn’t you ashamed of yourself, you sneaking son,” &c. from my old friend the apple-woman, faintly died away upon my ear.

Another time, walking at a brisk rate, having my umbrella under my arm, its point backwards, and inclining some few degrees upwards: my eye having caught a caricature in a window representing a storm of “cats, dogs, and pitchforks,” I suddenly stopped, jabbed the ferule of my weapon into the mouth of a person behind, and sent him backwards on the pavement with a vengeance. If the blow had met his teeth, it would certainly have punched two or three of them clean out, and fearing this was e’en the case, I put the question; upon which he began to curse me up hill and down dale, swore he shouldn’t have cared if I had sent one or two of them flying, for he’d one or two that ached badly, but vowed that I had punched a hole through his throat. Upon his getting up he seemed inclined to show fight, but I, not being in a pugilistic mood, very readily gave him an half-crown, to wash the wound with gin and bitters down.

Another disaster that befell me, was the lugging nearly off, and very much disarranging an old lady’s bonnet, and this was almost the worst misfortune I met with; for she harangued away on my conduct from Cateaton street all the way down Lothbury. Persons might learn to walk, she thought, without driving over folks, but she supposed the pavement was made for me alone—no doubt I was some crow out of a gutter, a dressed up spark without a farthing, &c. Forsooth she’d got more than appeared on her outside; she’d no doubt she could buy twenty such, out and out; but she didn’t like her bonnet spoilt any the more for that, &c. Poor old lady, I never shall forget your “peck o’troubles” as long as I live; as for me, I dived down Copthall-court, as soon as I could, leaving her to her further reflections.

In the last adventure I shall mention, my rain-protector came in contact with a gemman’s “new glossy beaver,” and whirled it off into the mud; for which, as soon as he had picked it up, he whirled its dirty load in my face, discoloured my shirt, my clean cravat, and completely pieballed my white waistcoat. These are some few of the disasters out of my chapter of accidents, but they are not all; many other scrapes did 1 get into, for some of which I was obliged to compound, and in other cases, the sufferers being peaceable creatures, in reply to my expressions of sorrow, only replied, “No matter, sir, no matter,” though very frequently these same had suffered by my awkwardness more than many of those who made the greatest coil and stir.”

And now, having performed the first part of my promise, I shall proceed to lay down some very useful rules, for the guidance of all those who would wish to handle their umbrella with the same ease and skill as the veteran does his firelock. Firstly, then, never let the hook of the handle project outwards, (this was the cause of my first misfortune) but keep the same turned always towards yourself. Secondly, If you carry your umbrella by holding it in the centre, take care the ferule is pointed downwards—look at my second disaster, and be wise by another’s experience. Thirdly, Should you carry it on the shoulder like a musket, do not wave it fore and aft, for else you will, as I did in the days of inexperience, knock off hats innumerable. Fourthly, When your umbrella is open, keep your little finger at the bottom of the stick, while your thumb and other fingers hold it; it will thus revolve as it were upon a pivot, and you will carry it with an elegance astonishing. When meeting with a person who keeps his umbrella tightly clenched, slant your canopy under his, you will thus prevent the wet border of his umbrella coming in contact with your cheek, and pouring its deluging contents within your neckcloth—no pleasant thing. Next, if going through an alley, and before you there should chance be an old lady hobbling in pattens, with an umbrella so held that you vainly attempt to get before, depress your umbrella against her’s, and gently bearing forwards you will improve your pace wonderfully.  I have sent an old woman repeatedly through a narrow passage full trot, and left her at the end, breathless with the augmented speed in which I made her foot it. I also adopt this method (providing it then rains) when walking a narrow pavement behind a person who pertinaciously keeps the centre of the way, and seems determined, if you will get before him, you shall dirt your shoes in the muddy road first. I shall just mention another rule which particularly claims the notice of the gay blood, it is this— when meeting with another umbrella, which, as well as your own, is unfurled, particularly if the bearer is a lady, depress your’s downwards, and with a circular motion of the wrist bring it over your head again; this movement has great beauty, it is the third or fourth cut of the broad sword exercise, according as you make it from right or left. You will thus get noticed, so enviable a thing to the beau.

I could give many other rules, but the above are the principal, a due regard to which cannot fail to make a person thoroughly able to carry an umbrella with ease and elegance.

Since writing the above, I have thought, whether it might not be of advantage to both the public and myself, to open an academy for the teaching this novel, but truly useful, and decidedly necessary art. If upon further consideration I should decide upon so doing, I shall lay my plan before the world, and have no doubt but I should, in a very short time, be as much sought after as the Mounseers who teach grown gentlemen to dance; at any rate, I can calculate upon having the attendance of all the Tom-fools—I mean Toms and Jerrys—in the kingdom; particularly when I acquaint them, that from my mastership over the subject I shall be able to teach the whole art in six lessons only.

L.W. Wy

The Literary Magnet of the belles lettres, science, and the fine arts, edited by Tobias Merton (pseud) 1824

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is not fond of the Kaiser nor his cadre of scar-faced, corseted officers. However, as this squib demonstrates, German discipline obviates much social unpleasantness regarding lethal umbrellas.

The citizens of Berlin have a summary method of stopping the dangerous practice of carrying sticks and umbrellas horizontally. As soon as a man tucks his umbrella under his arm, he will promptly feel a quick blow on it from behind. There is no use in his getting angry with the person who strikes the blow, because public opinion sanctions his conduct. The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 2 May 1898

That same German discipline enjoins a soldier from carrying an open umbrella, unless he is accompanied by a civilian or a lady. This ingenious corporal, in the same spirit that Germany later avoided the Maginot Line, found a way around the regulations.

A worthy corporal, on one occasion, was sent to fetch an Umbrella his Major’s lady had left at a friend’s house, and at the same time took her lap-dog for an airing. On the road home a violent shower came on, and, to avoid committing a breach of the regulations, the Dutchman tucked the dog, as the lady’s representative, under his arm, put up the Umbrella, and marched comfortably to barracks. Umbrellas and Their History, Clyde and Black, 1864

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


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