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- Umbrellas and their History - 1/9 -

Preservation Department Digital Library




"Munimen ad imbres."
















Can it be possibly believed, by the present eminently practical generation, that a busy people like the English, whose diversified occupations so continually expose them to the chances and changes of a proverbially fickle sky, had ever been ignorant of the blessings bestowed on them by that dearest and truest friend in need and in deed, the UMBRELLA? Can you, gentle reader, for instance, realise to yourself the idea of a man not possessing such a convenience for rainy weather?

Why so much unmerited ridicule should be poured upon the head (or handle) of the devoted Umbrella, it is hard to say. What is there comic in an Umbrella? Plain, useful, and unpretending, if any of man's inventions ever deserved sincere regard, the Umbrella is, we maintain, that invention. Only a few years back those who carried Umbrellas were held to be legitimate butts. They were old fogies, careful of their health, and so on; but now-a-days we are wiser. Everybody has his Umbrella. It is both cheaper and better made than of old; who, then, so poor he cannot afford one? To see a man going out in the rain umbrella-less excites as much mirth as ever did the sight of those who first--wiser than their generation--availed themselves of this now universal shelter. Yet still a touch of the amusing clings to the "Gamp," as it is sarcastically called. 'What says Douglas Jerrold on the subject? "There are three things that no man but a fool lends, or, having lent, is not in the most helpless state of mental crassitude if he ever hopes to get back again. These three things, my son, are--BOOKS, UMBRELLAS, and MONEY! I believe a certain fiction of the law assumes a remedy to the borrower; but I know of no case in which any man, being sufficiently dastard to gibbet his reputation as plaintiff in such a suit, ever fairly succeeded against the wholesome prejudices of society. Umbrellas may be 'hedged about' by cobweb statutes; I will not swear it is not so; there may exist laws that make such things property; but sure I am that the hissing contempt, the loud-mouthed indignation of all civilised society, 'would sibilate and roar at the bloodless poltroon who should engage law on his side to obtain for him the restitution of a--lent Umbrella!"

Strange to say, it is a fact, melancholy enough, but for all that too true, that our forefathers, scarce seventy years agone, meekly endured the pelting of the pitiless storm without that protection vouchsafed to their descendants by a kind fate and talented inventors. The fact is, the Umbrella forms one of the numerous conveniences of life which seem indispensable to the present generation, because just so long a time has passed since their introduction, that the contrivances which, in some certain degree, previously supplied their place, have passed into oblivion.

We feel the convenience we possess, without being always aware of the gradations which intervened between it and the complete inconvenience of being continually unsheltered from the rain, without any kind friend from whom to seek the protection so ardently desired.

Fortunately a very simple process will enable the reader to realise the fact in its full extent; he need only walk about in a pelting shower for some hours without an Umbrella, or when the weight of a cloak would be insupportable, and at the same time remember that seventy years ago a luxury he can now purchase in almost every street, was within the reach of but very few, while omnibuses and cabs were unknown.

But, apart from considerations of comfort, we may safely claim very much higher qualities as appertaining to the Umbrella. We may even reckon it among the causes that have contributed to lengthen the average of human life, and hold it a most effective agent in the great increase which took place in the population of England between the years 1750 and 1850 as compared with the previous century. The Registrar-General, in his census-report, forgot to mention this fact, but there appears to us not the slightest doubt that the introduction of the Umbrella at the latter part of the former, and commencement of the present century, must have greatly conduced to the improvement of the public health, by preserving the bearer from the various and numerous diseases superinduced by exposure to rain.

But perhaps we are a little harsh on our worthy ancestors; they may have possessed some species of protection from the rain on which they prided themselves as much as we do on our Umbrellas, and regarded the new-fangled invention (as they no doubt termed it) as something exceedingly absurd, coxcombical, and unnecessary; while we, who are in possession of so many life-comforts of which those of the good old times were supremely ignorant--among these we give the Umbrella brevet rank--can afford to smile at such ebullitions as we have come across in those books of the day we have consulted, and to which we shall presently have an opportunity of referring.

We can happily estimate the value of such a friend as the Umbrella, the silent companion of our walks abroad, a companion incomparably superior to those slimy waterproof abominations so urgently recommended to us, for, at the least, the Umbrella cannot be accused of injuring, the health as _they_ have been, as it appears, with very good reason. In fact, so long as the climate of England remains as it is, so long will Umbrellas hold their ground in public esteem, and we do not believe that the clerk of the weather will allow himself to be bribed into any alteration, at least for trade considerations.

Another remarkable proof of the utility of the Umbrella may be found in the universality of its use. It has asserted its sway from Indus to the Pole, and is to be met with in every possible variety, from the Napoleon blue silk of the London exquisite, to the coarse red or green cotton of the Turkish rayah. Throughout the Continent it forms the peaceful armament of the peasant, and no more curious sight can be imagined than the wide, uncovered market-place of some quaint old German town during a heavy shower, when every industrial covers himself or herself with the aegis of a portable tent, and a bright array of brass ferrules and canopies of all conceivable hues which cotton can be made to assume, without losing its one quality of "fast colour," flash on the spectator's vision.

The advantages of the Umbrella being thus recognised, it must be confessed that it has hitherto been treated in a most ungrateful and step-motherly fashion. We fly to the Umbrella when the sky is overcast--it affords us shelter in the hour of need--and the service is forgotten as soon as the necessity is relieved. We make abominable jokes upon the Umbrella; we borrow it without compunction from any confiding friend, though with the full intention of never returning it--in fact, it has often been a matter of surprise to us that any one ever does buy an Umbrella, for where can the old Umbrellas go to? Although that question has often been asked concerning the fate of pins, the fact as regards the former, looking at their size, is more curious--and yet, for all that, we treat it with shameful neglect, as if ashamed of a crime we have committed and anxious to conceal the evidences of our guilt.

Let us then strive to afford such reparation as in our power lies, by giving a slight description of THE UMBRELLA AND ITS HISTORY, making up for any deficiencies of our pen by the assistance of the artist's pencil.



The Umbrella is derived from a stately family, that of the Parasol, the legitimate use of the Umbrella, though sufficiently obvious, being almost ignored in those countries whence it derives its being, since it was as a protection against the scorching heat of the sun

Umbrellas and their History - 1/9

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