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Amusements

The Season: Winter

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The Skiing Party, Wengen, Switzerland by Sir John Lavery

For much of the nineteenth century, it was customary for Society to spend the winter months in warmer climes such as the Riviera, where the capricious weather of England or Russia was forgotten amongst the charms of sun, warmth and gambling. Some time during the mid-1890s, as the craze for outdoor sports gripped English and Continental society, a few intrepid sportsmen took up skiing. The sport was not wholly unfamiliar, as Switzerland was a somewhat popular destination for invalids and others on the European spa tour, but the concept of sports created solely for the winter season was largely unknown in England. Skiing, however, did not become overwhelmingly popular until the late 1900s, when Society discovered the Swiss Alps. To the horror of the French, wealthy Europeans and Americans deserted the Riviera by droves, to patronize such places as St Moritz or Davos or Caux, to learn to ski, to ice-skate, or to toboggan down the slopes. Almost overnight, the quiet invalid resorts nestled amongst the snowy downs of the Swiss Alps transformed into smart, chic places where society could mingle with their like against a background no different than that of Paris or Vienna.

Further Reading:
Switzerland in Winter by Will & Carine Cadby
The Exploration of the Alps by Arnold Lunn
Edwardian Promenade by James Lavery
Belle Epoque: Paris in the 1890s by Raymond Rudorff

The Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes

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Sherlock Holmes bartitsuContrary to popular belief, Sherlock Holmes was rather a cutting-edge Victorian gentleman. Guy Ritchie’s version of Conan Doyle’s immortal sleuth does err on the side of too much physicality, but otherwise, Holmes was a fighter as well as a deducer. The sport in which he indulged was bartitsu (Doyle misspelled it as “baritsu”, though scholars have yet to deduce whether this was intentional), a style of martial arts devised by Edward Barton-Wright around 1898. Having spent the previous three years in Japan, Barton-Wright developed his method for self-defense from the various styles of jiu-jitsu, from boxing, from Swiss wrestling, from a French kick-boxing style named “Savate“, and the stick-fighting method created by Swiss master-at-arms, Pierre Vigny.

Barton-Wright spent the next four years promoting and developing this new sport (a portmanteau of jiu-jitsu and his own surname) in London by opening up a school devoted to bartitsu, holding public demonstrations, conducting interviews, and writing copious articles and a book expounding on the physical and mental benefits of the sport (this was the era of “Muscular Christianity”). The school, named The Bartitsu Academy of Arms and Physical Culture, but known informally as the Bartitsu Club, was located at #67b Shaftesbury Avenue in Soho. In an article for Sandow’s Magazine of Physical Culture vol. 6, (January 1901), journalist Mary Nugent described the Bartitsu Club as “… a huge subterranean hall, all glittering, white-tiled walls, and electric light, with ‘champions’ prowling around it like tigers.” Barton-Wright brought Japanese jiu-jitsu masters to train and fight at his club, and it soon became a hub of extreme physical culture. Nugent, however, also shared that despite Barton-Wright finding “their inclination to haggle over lesson prices ‘a little tiresome;, women were actually welcome to train at the Club. The memoir of another of the instructors, the Swiss wrestler Armand Cherpillod, includes a very cloak-and-dagger tale about his teaching a wealthy woman at the Club, only to later discover that she was a “plant” who was passing his wrestling tricks on to his opponents in forthcoming matches.

BartitsuThe fame of bartitsu and the Bartitsu Club grew quickly, and gentlemen as far abroad as India rapidly acquired the skills Barton-Wright wrote of in his books, interviews, and articles. Barton-Wright’s prowess became legendary, and his claims to have defeated seven men within three minutes during a public match caught the eye of the Prince of Wales, who ordered a personal demonstration. What made the sport so quickly popular was its relative ease of adoption; much of the moves involved ones own body and more likely, one’s cane or walking stick. Since the late Victorian/early Edwardian era was the heyday of the walking stick, the claim that a single gentleman, skilled in bartitsu, could beat away a band of ruffians armed with “cudgels, knives, shillelaghs, bonkers, batons, and even truncheons,” was immensely appealing. The combat was extremely simple to pick up, as it was remarkably similar to fencing:

First, as regards clothes : all that is required is a suit of flannels and a pair of shoes without heels; the masks should be of cane similar to the pattern used for single stick and well padded over the cheek. Gloves are not generally used to guard the hands as there is no need for them when a man is fairly proficient.

It is taken for granted that the reader is familiar with the ordinary attitudes adopted in fencing; that is, as regards position of the legs at ”the engage” and when lunging.

First Position.

“On guard”-~ Assume the position of the fencing engage but with the right hand raised slightly above the head, arm nearly straight, keeping the stick nearly horizontal point to the front, left arm hanging down behind and kept well out of the way.

Note: After making hits, guards and points always return to this position as soon as possible, and remember that all the positions described apply equally to the left hand as well as the right.

Guards.

Head,—Keeping the arm nearly straight hold the stick horizontally a few inches above the head, hand slightly forward, and well away to right to avoid being hit on the knuckles.

Face.—Drop point of stick over to the left hand and elbow nearly level, stick perpendicular and three or four inches away from the left cheek.

Face sideways.-Without changing position of the body move stick across to the right, so that it falls perpendicularly down close to right cheek, elbow well up.

Body.—Drop right hand and move stick across front of body keeping elbow level with the shoulder : let the stick fall perpendicularly close to left side.

Flank.—Move the hand across so as to let the stick similarly guard the right side; keep elbow, hand and shoulder level as possible.

Leg.—The leg is guarded simply by moving it back about 12 inches behind the left, retiring a pace, or bringing left foot back to right, both legs straight.

Police learn jiu jitsuiRear guard.—Stand equally balanced on both feet, left foot about 18 inches in front of right, toes pointing to the front, right foot pointing to the right, holding the stick as before described, raise the right arm over the head so as to keep it a few inches above the forehead, point of the stick inclining forwards and downwards, left arm stretched out in front, back of the hand to the left, fingers extended.

Hits.

1. When making a hit at an opponent’s head, always keep the fingers uppermost, back of the hand underneath.

2. Care must be taken in making all hits, never to check the blow, but carry it through, i.e., disengage continually and then return immediately to the ” on guard;” if the blow is checked, you cannot be in time either to guard yourself or to make a riposte.

3. The hit is made by a sort of circular sweep of the arm, fingers uppermost, and for loose play and practice the blows dealt should be extremely light ; this is done by loosening the fingers slightly.
Head.—From ” on guard ” hit opponent’s head, follow through and return to ” on guard.”

Face.—Keeping stick horizontal hit left side of opponent’s head, either head, cheek or neck.

Face sideways.—Same as above but hit right side.
Body.~-Hit opponent’s body on right side.
Flank.—Hit opponent’s body on left side.

Leg.—Hit inside of opponent’s leg ; the most useful places are just above the ankle, inside of the knee and shin.

Points.

1. Points are made as in sword play, also by throwing the stick forward with the right hand and allowing it to run through the other, as the stick strikes the opponent both hands will be grasping the stick ; knuckles of left hand uppermost.

2. Points are made with the butt end of the stick at any part of the body, the most favorable places being at the throat and ribs.

3. For obvious reasons pointing is not resorted to in loose play as it is too dangerous, but it can be practiced when learning.

Women safe with jiu jitsuUnfortunately for Barton-Wright, bartitsu declined in popularity by 1903 and was actually eclipsed by jiu-jitsu, as taught by the Japanese martial artists he invited to England. Though bartitsu was adopted by women, jiu-jitsu was taken up by women and children with alacrity, and the former in particular were avid martial artists, as newspapers and periodicals expressed the need for unprotected women to arm themselves in case of assault. Indeed, after bartitsu’s decline, a woman, Mrs. Edith Garrud, established her own dojo, which became a haven for suffragettes, who took on the sport to defend themselves during their violent clashes with police (Tony Wolf has written a book on Mrs Garrud and the “jiujitsusuffragettes,” available here). After the closure of his school, Barton-Wright turned to physical therapy, and if not for the mention (though misspelled) of this short-lived fad by Conan Doyle, bartitsu would have remained a footnote in history. Today, the Bartitsu Society, founded in 2002, revives this long-forgotten sport, and combines historical martial arts with modern martial arts, making a complete and attractive bridge between us and our Victorian forebears!

Hallowe’en In the Gilded Age

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Comb-and-MirrorDespite its roots in European paganism, Halloween is a thoroughly American holiday. During the Gilded Age, Americans took Halloween quite seriously, even going so far as to celebrate it wherever they happened to be–as German society soon discovered when the expatriates residing in Berlin shook up the Kaiser’s capital with “games, Jack-o-lanterns, mince pies, and other Hallowe’en hijinks.” Americans of this time spread their Hallowe’en celebrations from the 31st of October until the morning of the 3rd of November, a period know as Allhallowtide.

Bobbing for ApplesDuring the Colonial era, only those who kept the customs of England celebrated Hallowe’en, partaking of such amusements as apple-ducking and snapping, and girls trying the apple-paring charm to reveal their lovers’ initials and the comb-and-mirror test to see their faces. Otherwise, ballads were sung and stories told–for the dead were thought to return on Hallowe’en. However, the customs did not take root in American culture until the late 1840s, when the widespread migration of the Irish to the United States, and the immigration of the Scottish after the 1870s, solidified the popularity of the holiday. Hallowe’en was initially a home celebration, where Irish- and Scottish-Americans hosted parties and balls, with perhaps a recitation of Robert Burns’ poem “Halloween” or a telling of Irish legends.

By the turn-of-the century the holiday was thoroughly commercialized. Halloween postcards, and decorations were soldby Dennison Manufacturing Company (which published its first Halloween catalog in 1909) and the Beistle Company. It could also be thoroughly unsafe. Now vandalism and violence in the streets terrorized the holiday, and by the 1910s neighborhood organizations came together to encourage a safe Halloween. Rather than playing tricks on their neighbors, children went from door to door receiving treats. By the 1930s, “beggar’s nights” had become very popular, and the concept of “trick-or-treating” rose in popularity and became the practice for Halloween celebrations after WWII.

Halloween Party

As for traditional celebrations: bobbing for apples, carved pumpkins, and candy corn (The Wunderle Candy Company of Philadelphia was the first to commercially produce candy corn in the 1880s) commemorated the harvest season. While it was not unusual for the children to be put to bed and the adults to depart for riotous Hallowe’en parties, the holiday became one of the few occasions where people of all ages could celebrate with one another.

Further Reading:
The book of Hallowe’en by Ruth Edna Kelley
Games for Hallow-e’en by Mary E. Blain
Food Timeline: Halloween foods: Traditions and Party Menus
Wikipedia: Halloween customs
Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History by Lesley Bannatyne
Death Makes A Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween by David J. Skal