Monday, April 14, 2008

The Book Of Sports: IT'S NOT FOR GIRLS!

Just posted on Project Gutenberg is a British book from 1852 called The Book of Sports, by William Martin. Of course these are all games intended for boys. Victorian girls didn't play sports, you jerk. They were busy embroidering or learning the pianoforte or some such nonsense. Sure, the crazy ones wrote stuff like Wuthering Heights, but that's why a strong upbringing in rigid gender roles was necessary, dammit. And I'll bet they didn't eat Yorkie bars, either.

Some of the entries are interesting for telling you the early history of familar games. (Did you know people used to call tug-of-war "French and English"? Does the French side not pull? Haw haw.) It's also absolutely hilarious how what are now the most popular sports in the world are brutally and dispassionately dispatched. For instance, this is the entire entry for golf (or "bandy ball"):

"This game is played with a bat and a small ball; and the game consists in driving the ball into certain holes made in the ground. Sometimes these holes from first to last, are at the distance of half a mile or even more from each other. There are many intervening holes. Those who drive the ball into the greatest number of holes, of course win the game; but the ball must never be driven beyond a hole without first going into it. If the ball passes in the way beyond a hole, the player is out."

I can't help but think they left something out. Football is in and out in half that space.

Even better, under the catnip-to-kids heading of "Dangerous Games", is the entry for Hopscotch(!):

"This is a silly game. It is calculated to wear out the shoes."

Can't argue with that logic. Mr. Martin also describes a version of follow-the-leader where the kid who trips up is called an "ass" and some other kid is supposed to hop on his back and ride him. If you call a modern kid an "ass", chances are you're about to invent a new type of dangerous game. Especially if he can find something heavy to hit you with.

The section on carpentry (CARPENTRY IS A SPORT! ADMIT I'M RIGHT!) is just breathtaking. The author is good enough to tell what tools you need to stock your workshop and what each is used for. Then, after the boy has begged all this stuff off his folks, when it comes time to put all this stuff to work, the chapter just stops. You turn the page and suddenly the book comes over all OOOOO, LET'S RAISE CHICKENS! CHICKEN FARMING IS A SPORT! ADMIT I'M RIGHT! What to do with all those tools and lumber the book just talked you into? Well, you can't expect it to tell you everything. Figure a few things out for yourself. Can't be a slug all your life.

There's also a section on gardening, which arguably is a national sport in England.

The whole thing makes me wonder if William Martin (or 19th century Britain, for that matter) took a suspicious view of idle amusement. Too much free time, sonny boy? Build us an end table. Instructions? That's a laugh. But you're a bright lad. I'm sure you can figure it out on your own. And if you can't, we'll apprentice you to the man down the road. No tears, now...we'll still see you at Christmas.

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