“How to Carry a Walking-Stick” (1889)

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Saturday, 22nd April 2017

Words of warning from the Pall Mall Gazette of 2 September, 1889:

THE art of carrying a walking-stick, or even an umbrella, properly, is one that has to be acquired, and does not come by any intuitive sense to the majority of people. To carry a stick in a manner that will not only look graceful, but without danger and annoyance to others, requires both thought and practice.

The primary use of a walking-stick, we may take for granted, is to give assistance in walking, or as a means of assisting our locomotion, and not to poke our neighbour’s eye out, or do other grievous bodily harm. The evolution and development of the modern walking-stick is an interesting subject in itself, but into which we must not digress, beginning with the good old times when the quarterstaff was carried for the purpose of defence, down to the beau’s tasselled cane, and from the “crutch” of the more modern masher, down to the later “tree-trunk” or “clothes-prop” period.

Certainly we have sadly degenerated since the days of Brummel, when every dandy used and carried his walking-cane with as much grace as a lady manipulated her fan. Now, as a rule, it is a mere thing of fashion, being oftener carried for ornament than practical use; but that it is undoubtedly a considerable source of danger, the cause of numerous accidents in the crowded streets of our large cities, mostly due to the thoughtless way in which it is carried, is a matter to which public attention should be drawn.

Having had a front tooth knocked out, and been severely prodded about various parts of the body, we can speak from painful experience as to this danger in our midst. The first of these modern nuisances is the man who carries a gigantic stick with a formidable knob or projection at one end. He usually carries this article by grasping it in the centre, in a horizontal position, and naturally swings his arm backwards and forwards as he walks. He may be unconscious that he forms a sort of perambulating battering ram, but woe betide the individual who may unknowingly approach too near him from behind.

Another man thinks proper to carry his stick under his arm in a similar position, projecting about two or three feet out at the back. Beware of him. If he should happen to stop suddenly, or turn to look into a shop window, as we have often seen him do, he kindly upsets the equilibrium of your hat, or you narrowly escape having your eye cut out; and we may remark in passing, a “Beg pardon ” won’t restore sight to a “blind optic.”

Who has not come across those people who will gesticulate and point at various objects, emphasizing their remarks with their walking-stick or umbrella, to the imminent danger of those in their vicinity; and it is extraordinary to what extent this habit is carried. It was formerly thought peculiar to the Briton, but he is gradually being educated or growing out of it; and the very necessary precautions the custodians of our art galleries were formerly obliged to make, in taking charge of walking sticks and umbrellas, before admitting such visitors, are gradually being relaxed. It is quite impossible for these people to inspect any object, from a valuable picture to a ‘bus conductor, without poking or prodding at it.

We must not forget to mention the man, probably of buoyant spirits, whom you may notice walking on his stick in a proper and sedate manner, suddenly commences swinging it round and round like a wheel, describing circles with the greatest velocity, to the risk of any unconscious person who may be close behind.

On the flights of steps running up from our undergound railway stations, the walking-stick demon is very much in evidence (what a pity Mr. Gilbert didn’t “have him on his list”); with his stick thrust under his arm, he is a frightful source of danger to women and children. Notice how he will perform progressive gyrations up the flight of steps, dodging from one side to the other, in order to get up quickly; and when he is suddenly brought to a standstill by a block in front, those who are behind him run the risk of having their front teeth knocked down their throat, or other serious injury.

We must confess the male sex are usually the greatest delinquents, although the ladies are not always faultless. How many long-suffering creatures of the male sex have not been prodded on the toe, or had the lower part of the trousers marked and torn, when walking beside a lady, who is carrying one of those atrocious long-sticked sunshades or parasols, and all owing to the manner in which it is carried. Then the lady who rushes blindly down the street during a shower of rain, with umbrella unfurled and lowered to the charge, is a thing of absolute danger, and should be avoided as a mad bull; especially if you happen to be of somewhat corpulent proportions and not very agile. She makes straight for you, and the result of such a collision is decidedly unpleasant.

Now, as to the carrying of a stick or umbrella from an artistic or graceful point of view very little can be said, as neither of those articles can be called artistic objects in themselves. Perhaps the most natural and easy mode is either to use it as an aid to walk with, as the walking-stick was intended to be, or, if carried, it should be held in a sloping position, with the handle lowered towards the ground. In adopting either of these positions we shall not prove a source of danger to others. If every one would only give a little thought to this matter, it would prevent many accidents which occur daily, and do away with an increasing danger which besets our crowded streets and thoroughfares.

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