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This article, reprinted from a British source, would have resonated with readers of the Halifax Morning Sun in January 1864. The British writer complains about the nuisance caused by rowdy hockey players, who interfere with pleasure skaters on the Serpentine Pond at London's Hyde Park.
I do believe that skating is the nearest approach to flying of which the human being is as yet capable. Gravity, which to a man in boots seems to fetter him to the earth, becomes to a man in skates the instrument of propulsion. A skater flies over the ice as if by pure volition, the impetus being obtained, not so much by the stroke of the feet as by the judicious sway of the body. Therefore, to a bystander, a good skater seems to keep up his graceful circles simply by his will, the gentle oscillations of the body appearing to be, not the cause, but the consequence of his movements.
The true carriage of the body is the great criterion of a skater, and is one of the last accomplishments that is learned. Books are mostly wrong on this point. They tell us that our right or left arms are to be raised or depressed in unison with the corresponding feet, and give illustrations which, to the real skater, afford only food for ridicule. You may as well say that in walking, the hands are to be lifted alternately over the head, as to make that movement one of the rules in skating. I know that at the early part of the present century one admirably elegant skater was in the habit of so using his arms. But even in the master of his art, the waving of the arms had a decidedly affected aspect, in an imitator the effect is simply ridiculous. No one ought to see that the skater is using any effort whatever, and the arms should hang easily and quietly by the side. Should the performer be afflicted with mauvaise honte, and feel himself embarrassed with his arms, perhaps he cannot do better than clasp his hands, letting them fall loosely, and at full length.
No stick should be carried; the effect is as absurd as wearing spurs to in order to ride in a cab.
No one can want a stick while skating, except, perhaps, for the purpose of castigating the tiresome boys with whom the ice is mostly infested, and who mar its bright surface by throwing stones, or deliberately break holes in it with the butt ends of their hockey-sticks. Still, I have always found that boys are much more frightened by being run down than deterred by the fear of a stick; and if you dexterously cant a boy's head into the hole he has just made, and wet him to the skin with the splash, he will be a beacon and a warning to his companions to let the ice alone for the future.
Nor let the skater fancy that he will fall while he knocks over his foe. It is most curious, but not the less true, that as soon as the skates are firmly set on the ice, that substance is no longer slippery, but affords a firm hold which would astound a novice, who holds his feet wrongly, and feels them sliding away on two different errands. For it is only the edge of the skate that touches the ice, and any one can see how firm is its hold by pressing the edge of a knife against a piece of ice.
The various games that are played on the ice are mostly unworthy of a true skater's attention, and have the further drawback of seriously annoying those who use the skate for its legitimate purpose.
Hockey, for example, ought to be sternly forbidden, as it is not only annoying but dangerous. In its right place, hockey is a noble game, and deserving of every encouragement, but on the ice it is in its wrong place, and should be prohibited. Any weak place in the ice is sure to give way if the ball should happen to pass over or near it; for the concourse of fifty or a hundred persons all converging upon the same point is a test which no ice, save the very strongest, is able to bear. Even the 'express trains,' so popular on the Serpentine, on a fine frosty night, are not nearly so dangerous as hockey, because they distribute the weight over a large surface with tolerable equality.
Moreover, when a mass of human beings precipitates itself recklessly in any direction where a ball may happen to run, accidents are certain to follow. The indifferent skaters, or those who are only walking on the ice, are knocked down, and often severely injured by others falling on them; and if the ice should give way, as is likely to happen by reason of their accumulated weight, a fatal result is almost a necessary consequence. The unfortunate man, whose sad death I have lately mentioned, was knocked down during one of these hockey matches.
The game, moreover, is by no means what it ought to be, inasmuch as it is impossible to enforce the rules in such a miscellaneous assembly. No one keeps to any particular side, or aims at any particular goal; and any one who happens to have a stick, hits the ball in any direction that seems easiest. I should be truly glad to see the police interfere whenever hockey is commenced.
Again, when a party of really good skaters are indulging themselves with a quadrille, and performing the many graceful evolutions of which this charming art is capable, it is more than annoying to have the whole proceeding broken up by the interruption of a disorderly mob armed with sticks, and charging the circle of skaters and spectators, to the imminent danger of all.
Cricket, again, the king of British games, is simply degraded by being transferred from summer and fields to winter and ice. I have seen several cricket matches played on the ice, and must acknowledge that the game was the veriest farce imaginable. The bowler seems to be the only player who has a chance of doing his duty. The batsman can do little but block the balls, or just draw them away, or perhaps make a feeble spoon of a blow without the least energy. He cannot shift a foot, he has no firm basis on which to poise himself, and cannot possibly deliver the free and dashing cuts that delight the heart of a cricketer. As to fielding, it is almost out of the question, as far as stopping the ball is concerned, and the ice is so smooth that the ball goes shooting over its polished surface as if fired from a cannon.
Such games as 'touch' and 'warning' can, however, be played on the ice with excellent effect; and as they tend to the separation rather than the convergence of the players, they are not so liable to break the ice as hockey, or even cricket. It is true that in some very cold seasons the ice is so strong that almost any liberties may be taken with it; but this is seldom the case, and it is always better to be on the safe side when the question may be one of life or death.