Grappling with Hoops of Steel

Joanna here, talkingRemoir Girl_with_a_Hoop 1885 about the history of hoop chasing and the many misconceptions we nourish about this.
Right off, let me explain how chasing or bowling or driving or rolling or trundling a hoop came about.

About seven minutes after the invention of the wheel, some bright young lad standing in the back of the cave noticed you could roll the thing and chase after it.  It probably took a half hour's experimentation to discoveNeandertal wikir you could roll it even better by knocking at it with a short stick.  You could make it go fast or slow, turn, even spin backwards.  A new human activity — part sport, part contest, part art, part meditation — was born. 

It proved amazingly popular.  There's something in the human race that wants to chase a rolling object.  We're like golden labs. 

I want to claim Classical sources for my subject.  And, indeed, the Classical Greeks were great hoop trundlers. 

Oh.  Let me digress.  The word 'trundle', which we'd use in 1800 when our characters are talking about rolling a hoop, means 'to push or propel on wheels or rollers. As in,

"I doubt if Emerson could trundle a wheelbarrow through the streets."

That is a quote from the redoubtable Thoreau where he is very likely criticizing Emerson. 

Trundle also means 'to spin or twirl' and you can see how that would neatly fit in with what we do to hoops.
Like so many of our most robust words, 'trundle' comes to us from Middle English where 'trendle' meant 'wheel'.  We use the word trundle, nowadays, mostly in the concept of 'trundle bed' — which is a little bed with wheels that goes under the main bed for anyone who may not happen to know this. 

Ganymede with cock louvre smudged Back to the Greeks. 

Yes.  They rolled hoops.  We see this represented on vases and bowls and the odd mosaic.  One common representation of boy-with-a-hoop is Ganymede, whom we see over to the left, with hoop and live chicken.  The rooster in this picture is symbolic and represents an appropriate gift from a homosexual lover to the beloved.  It should not be taken as an indication one carried around poultry as part of the sport of  hoop bowlingChild_playing_with_hoops_mosaic C6 wiki detail, in case you were wondering.

To the right we got a boy rolling, not hoops, but wheels in this mosaic of Sixth Century, AD. 

Small wheels are very popular during hoop-time, and make an interesting toy, requiring more skill to guide than the ordinary hoop. To trundle a wheel the boy uses a long stick, one end of which he places under the hub, and with which he both pushes and guides the wheel in a very interesting and skilful manner, as he runs after it.
Outdoor Handy Book  By Daniel "Dan" Carter Beard, 1896

The hoop is apparently the superior instrument for racing, as per this contest in 1807.  Hoop versus wheel.  Do not bet on the wheels.

A wager between Mr. Bennet and Mr. Parkbouse was decided on Friday morning, 1st inst. on the Clapham road, from the third mile stone on the common to the fifth, Mr B. who trundled the hoop, having gained the contest by some distance. We understand another wager, of 200 gs. has been offered by Mr. B. to trundle a hoop for five miles against any man that can be found to run a wheel the like distance.

Breugal children's games detail2 Bruegel, when he paints his Sixteenth Century panorama of children's games, puts the hoop bowlers right up front and center. 

Historically, well into the Twentieth, hoops were made of two materials. 

One sort was forged in a blacksmith's shop from iron.  I imagine the construction was pretty much like that of barrel hoops.  In fact, I suspect a good many of the hoops rolling the streets were popped off a barrel someplace.  Hoops were also similar to the metal rims of wooden wheels — another likely source of hoops for the disenfranchised poor. 

MOLENAER, Jan Miense a quack andhis assistant C17 detail Hoops might have pairs of tin squares nailed to the inside of the circle, that clattered back and forth against each other and jingled as the hoop was rolled.  This goes right into the Twentieth Century.  See it there at the left along with the sarcastic hound and the rack of rats, also in the Bruegel painting above.  (Click on either of these to increase size.)  

Martial, the Classical Roman writer, says, of a similar setup.  "Why do these jingling rings move about upon the rolling wheel? In order that the passers-by may get out of the way of
the hoop."

Myself, I suspect the tin janglers served the same purpose as those playing cards I used to attach to the wheels of my bike.  (With clothespins.  Remember clothespins?) 
They were there to make a nifty racket, and they did.Afonso prince of brazil 1846 detail

The other kind of hoop I said there were two — was made of ash wood, rounded on the outside, carved flat on the inside.  Looks like they were made from a single piece of ash, soaked and shaped, bent and fitted.     

Dorothy Palmer reminisces about life in the 1920s:   

Boys_with_hoops_on_Chesnut_Street Toronto 1922 We also had hoops, which were often old cycle wheels minus the spokes. To be very grand was to have a wooden hoop purchased from Perkins Penny Bazaar in the Market Place at Oakham or a steel hoop with a trundle made by the blacksmith.

The boys in the picture to the right are very obviously using bicycle tires with the spokes removed.

One variation it seems to be Nineteenth Century were hoops with the driving A c19 hoop sketch1 stick fitted permanently.  Maybe it was intended for small children.  A c19 hoop sketch1 detail The idea never really caught on.
A case of 'Not Clear on the Concept'.

In the interests of fairness, I have to add some contemporary anti-hoop propaganda in here.
Cruikshank grievances of london british museum detail

The practice pursued by boys in trundling their hoops on the streets and footpaths has become a dange rous nuisance. The other day a gentleman was riding a rather spirited horse in Macquarie-street when a careless urchin drove his hoop against the animal's legs, when it instantly reared and plunged, and would have thrown its rider had not his good horsemanship enabled him to keep his seat . . . the boys ought to be compelled to quit the public thoroughfares, and to resort to places where no injury could arise from the pursuit of their pastimes.
The Hobart Town Daily Mercury; 18 August 1858

Hoops were the skateboards of their day.

So the burning question of the hour is did girls bowl hoops, or was it only a sport for boys?

Anytime after about 1830, we see girls depicted with a hoop and stick.  An example is the charming Renoir at the top of the page.  In the last half of the Nineteenth Century, hoop rollers are as apt to be girls as boys.  Victorian moralists and physicians considered it wholesome, healthy exercise for young girls.  

Girls to the age of thirteen may be permitted to indulge at pleasure in play and exercise proportionate to their strength, with as little restraint as their brothers.  We would not send them into the cricket ground nor initiate them in at football, because there is a sociality of intercourse in such plays that is not feminine in nature; but we would not preclude them from exercise as strong and as unrestrained merely because it implied an effort of physical power; nor would we shut them out from the boys of their own age who are usually brothers or near relatives on any principle of precocious prudery, so long as such games are not dangerous or indecorous, if they are they are as unfit for the brother as for the sister.
We love to see girls of eleven or twelve trundling a hoop or running a garden-face in rivalry with Tom just returned from Eton.
George Stephen, A Guide to Service: The Governess 1844.

Steinlen, Théophile-Alexandre 1895










But what about in the Regency?  What about the Georgian era? 

I have no evidence one way or the other.  There's no indication girls didn't play with hoops.  But hard proof they did starts emerging in the teens of the Nineteenth Century.  And when it does, it's treated as a commonplace. 

Amusements there are which properly come under the denomination of sports, in which a little girl or boy may partake. The hoop, battledore, drum, kite, bat and ball,etc.
Early education, 1821

. . . and saw, at the farthest end of the terrace, a young girl, of about fifteen, running very fast, with a hoop, which she was keeping up with great dexterity for the amusement of a little boy, who was with her. The governess no sooner saw this, than she went in pursuit of her young ladyships calling after her, in various tones and phrases of reprehension, in French, Italian, and English; and asking, whether this was a becoming employment for a young lady of her age and rank. Heedless of these reproaches, Lady Julia still ran on, away from her governess.
Tales of Fashionable Life: Vivian, Maria Edgeworth, 1812

Whenever the lessons of her childhood had been concluded, she had always been permitted, and even encouraged, to join in many of those games and exercises, that are usually appropriated to the amusement of the other sex. Often has she quitted an abstruse book, or a beautiful drawing, to trundle her hoop, or run races with her playfellow Augustus. And when other girls have trembled under the rod of the dancing master, she has been gaining health and activity together,
Manners: a novel,  Frances Brooke, 1817

I can't end without admitting that long, long ago in the foolishness of youth, I attempted to trundle a hula hoop.  It was not a great success.  Perhaps I just lack the knack, but I think Hula Hoops are too light for the purpose.

The Black HawkI suspect the world would be a better place if kids still bowled hoops through the public streets. 


I wonder —  What 'olde tyme' toys have you played with.  Did you find it a satisfactory experience? 

Some lucky winner from the comments trail will receive an early, fresh-off-the-press copy of my new book, Black Hawk, though they will have to wait for about a month till I get some author copies.



All that glistens is not . . . goldfish

Joanna here, talking about English Goldfish. 

You've probably asked yourself, from time to time, if there are any Shakespeare  Thomas Benjamin Kennington quotes about goldfish. 

Did Shakespeare say, "That which we call a goldfish, by any other name would be as bright"? 
Or insult some catiff with a, "Thou wimpled, reeling-ripe goldfish-licker!" 

He did not. 
Goldfish didn't make it to England till nearly a century after Shakespeare's death.  We got Shakespearean dogs and cats, camels, carp, marmosets, mackerel, and whales . . . but no goldfish. 

Basically, the goldfish is the carp who made good. 

The carp is a wide-spread, useful and tasty fish that's been domesticated for a couple millennia in China.  While the Chinese were raising carp for the table, they'd noticed a common mutation that threw an orange or gold fish Grabbing_for_goldfishin among the ordinary ones. 

After centuies of noticing that, about a thousand years ago, the Chinese set down to the serious business of breeding these bright-colored fishes as garden ornaments.  The women of the imperial court doubtless engaged in a little friendly rivalry as to the beauty and vigor of their particular line of goldfish.  They'd bring them inside in big porcelain basins to enjoy.  Especially favored courtiers would be invited over to watch the fish swim, this being before TV and Wii.

When trade routes opened in the 1600s, goldfish were freed from their splendid isolation in the Mandarin's garden and went travelling the world.  Japan first.  Then southern Europe, coming in through Portugal.  Then just about everywhere.

The Japanese Kanji characters for goldfish are 'gold' and 'fish'.  'King yo'.  In Dutch, goldfish is goudvis.  French, poisson d'or.  Spanish, carpa dorada.  Goldfish tend to be called 'goldfish'. 
When goldfish hit Europe, it settled a bit of an artistic conundrum.  Chinese  paintings had been arriving in Europe with representations of goldfish.  "Pooh," said some.  "Mythical animals." 

Turned out it wasn't artistic license. 
It was fish.

Legend has it goldfish were brought to France as a present for Madame de Pompadour.  In Russia, Prince Potemkin gave goldfish to Catherine the Great. 

Goldfish were the Tiffany trinket of the Eighteenth Century.

And across southern Europe in those years, it became a tradition for husbands to give their wives a goldfish on the first anniversary as a symbol for prosperous years to come.

1800boillyjfillesafentre crop1800boillyjfillesafentre 

Here's a pair of impeccable French goldfish from 1800 in an impeccable period fishbowl. 

Goldfish moved into England in 1728, brought over to a Sir Matthew Dekker who handed them out to his friends and neighbors in London. 

They were, when first introduced into England, considered rare and fragile.  As late as 1821, a naturalist could write,

"Great care is necessary to preserve them; for they are extremely delicate, and sensible of the least injuries of the air; a loud noise, such as that of thunder or cannon; a strong smell, a violent shaking of the vessel or a single touch, will often destroy them."

Admittedly, the survival of a goldfish in the care of a ten-year-old boy is somewhat of a crap shoot.  But it's not as bad as that.

The most illustrious patron of goldfish in Georgian England was Horace Walpole, who kept a pond of them at his home, Strawberry Hill, bred them and gifted them about Europe. 

Horace walpole  Said Walpole: 

"I have lately given count Perron some gold-fish, which he has carried in his post-chaise to Turin: he has already carried some before. The Russian minister has asked me for some too, but I doubt their succeeding there . . ."

Goldfish:  Eighteenth Century baksheesh, greasing the wheels of international diplomacy.



Walpole tells the story:  

"I Was prevented from finishing my letter yesterday, by what do you think ? By no less magnificent a circumstance than a deluge  . . .  About four arrived such a flood, that we could not see out of the windows: the whole lawn was a lake . . .  I had but just, time to collect two dogs, a couple of sheep, a pair of bantams, and a brace of gold-fish; for, in the haste of my zeal to imitate my ancestor Noah, I forgot that fish would not easily be drowned.

The goldfish by henri matisse In short, if you chance to spy a little ark with pinnacles sailing towards Jersey, open the sky-light, and you will find some of your acquaintance. You never saw such desolation ! A pigeon brings word that Mabland has fared still worse."

I can see Walpole, retreating from his flooded house with his 'brace of goldfish'.  (ETA:  This is Horace Walpole, not Robert Walpole, as I originally wrote.  Jeesh.  Pay attention, Joanna.)

That's Strawberry Hill somewhat far above, Walpole's magnificent Gothic madness.  To the left and slightly above is an entirely unrelated set of Matisse goldfish.

Elsewhere Walpole says,

"You may get your pond ready as soon as you please; the gold fish swarm: Mr. Bentley carried a dozen to town t'other day in a decanter.
You would be entertained with our fishing; instead of nets and rods and lines and worms, we use nothing but a pail and a basin and a tea-strainer, which I persuade my neighbours is the Chinese method."

It's not impossible your goldfish — if you have one — is descended from the adventurous fish of Walpole's pond at Strawberry Hill.

By the Regency, goldfish were a commonplace in the parlor, kept in goldfish  bowls that looked exactly like the modern variety.  Goldfish seem to have made 'unexceptional', affectionate presents.

In Maria Edgeworth's novel, Belinda, goldfish are sent to an invalid. — "I have  some gold fish, which you know cannot make the least noise: may I send them to her?"

This picture to the right is Kitty Fisher, Eighteenth CenNathaniel Hone portrait of Kitty Fisher, her cat, and the goldfish bowltury courtesan, with goldfish bowl and cat.

Developing on the courtesan theme, below Kitty is the courtesan Wakamurasaki playing with a goldfish.  

Folks tended to moralize about the whole 'gold' thing.  In Thomas Gray's poem, The Cat and the Gold Fish, the poor cat falls into the goldfish vase:

No master came, no servant stirr'd;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard :
A fav'rite has no friend!

Learn hence, ye fair ones, undeceiv'd,Chokosai-eisho-a-bust-portrait-of-the-courtesan-wakamurasaki-of-the-tsunotamaya-playing-with-goldfish
False steps are hard to be retriev'd,
And be with caution bold.

Not all that tempts your wand'ring eyes,
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
Nor all that glisters gold.

In Regency England, if you weren't lucky enough to be gifted with goldfish, you might buy your own from the itinerant goldfish peddler.  The Regency was a great time for merchandise coming to you instead of t'other way round. 

George Dunlop, R.A., LeslieThe Goldfish Seller

In the interests of providing a full audio-visual experience, I'm going to wander far afield from the Regency and bring in Debussy's piano piece, Poisson d'or

Poisson d'or — 'Goldfish', of course.   Debussy's work was inspired by this particular lacquer artwPoissonsD'Or+19thCenturyJapaneseLaquer+MuseeClaudeDebussy+Saint-Germain-En-Layeork here to the right.  It hung in his study. 

You can listen to Poisson d'or here.  That's Magda Tagliaferro playing, and she's 92.

Debussy used to call the times when inspiration ran dry, his 'factory of  nothingness."

While you're listening to that goldfish music . . .

I became interested in the question of Regency and French Revolutionary goldfish, (allow me to pause while I rid my mind of the image of small revolutionary fish carrying banners,) because, in my book, The Forbidden Rose, my heroine keeps fish.
Well . . . she kept fish.

In this scene her chateau has been burned and looted, and naturally no one thinks about the fish in a situation like this.  It's always the innocent fish that suffer.

***** ***

Aaajapanese fb He stood, looking formidable. Behind him, dawn curved like a shell.

The wide granite pool was white as the moon.  It was cold as the moon when she dipped her hand beneath the surface of the reflection. “Will you tell me what you plan to do with me? I am naturally curious.”

“We’ll talk about it when we’re on the road. I want to get away from here. Soap.” LeBreton laid it beside the towels.  A metal box of soft and greasy-looking soap. “Probably not what you’re used to.”

“It is lovely. Thank you.”

“Don’t get any in the pool.”

Fish were poisoned by soap. She liked it that LeBreton knew that, and cared. It is in such small things that men reveal themselves.

Goldfish came and nibbled at her fingers. She had named them all when she was a child. Moses—because he parted the waters—and Blondine and fat, lazy Rousseau.  Once the noisy Jacobin riffraff took themselves off, Mayor Leclerc would come from the village with tubs to steal her fish for his own pond. He had coveted them for many years.  She hoped he would hurry. They should not be neglected in this fashion.

. . . (and later) . . .

She wore nothing at all. It was strange to be unclothed under the open sky. 

Her reflection looked up at her from the fish basin, more pale than the sky, rippling in the circles that spread where fish came to lip at the surface. The rim of the basin was gritty under her, with little puddles in every unevenness. The wind of the new day scraped her skin like a dull knife. She put her feet in the water. The slippery film of mud at the bottom of the pool crept up between her toes.

Cold. Immeasurably cold.

Quickly, before she lost her courage, she wet half the towel, rubbed water down her arms, over her stomach, hissing every breath in and out. Then up and down her thighs. She washed every scratch, every cut. There was not one of them without a sting. It was not helpful to remind herself that she was the descendent of warriors.

Moses and Rousseau and the other great rulers of the pool held themselves aloof, but many small fish came to nibble at her calves and ankles and the knuckles of her hands with little bites, like kittens.

*****  ***

Author anecdote here:  My aunt had a goldfish named Moses who lived in a big ornamental pond behind her house.  He used to come up to the top and blow bubbles when she rang a bell.  When you write your own books you get to name the fictional goldfish after goldfish you have known personally.

Anyhow . . . While goldfish were swimming happily about in English drawing rooms in 1730-ish, they didn't arrive in America till about a century later.  They showed up sometime in the early years of the Nineteenth Century.  No one knows just when.  Actress Fanny Kemble recounts finding goldfish in a pool at a florists in New York in the 1830s.

Which brings us at last to the vexatious question of goldfish versus koi. 
The cagematch.

Koi to the left.  Goldfish to the right.   

Both g-Koi_wiki commonsoldfish and koi were bred from wild carp Goldfish bfraz licence cc by nc sapopulations.  
Goldfish started out in China, a thousand years ago.  Koi arose from a different breed of carp, in Japan, in the mid Nineteenth Century. 

Koi are Johnnies-come-lately.  No Regency koi, alas.

Since I cannot resist talking about koi anyway:  The Japanese word 'koi' means simply 'carp'.  What we call koi the Japanese call 'nishikigoi'.  'Brocaded carp'. 
By chance, the Japanese word, 'koi', is a homophone  for another word that means 'affection' or 'love'.  Koi are therefore symbols of love and friendship in Japan.

In celebration of the goldfishes Blondine, Rousseau and Moses, I'll be giving away a copy of either The Forbidden Rose or the trade paperback of Spymaster's Lady, (your choice,) to one lucky poster in the comment trail.

So — what pet should the Romance heroine, (or hero,) keep?  Monkey, hedgehog, ferret, hummingbird?  Maybe an attack dog?