There is no New Thing Under the Sun (1868)

There is no new thing under the sun. The velocipede mania which is new at its hight in France was very violent in England fifty years ago. A coloured engraving published by Ackermann in Febuary, 1819, shows the “Pedestrian Hobbyhorse, now exhibited at 377 Strand, Mr Johnson, patentee, 75 Long-Acre.” It is identicle with the two-wheeled velocipede now to be seen all over Paris (where it has penetrated to the stage in “Hop-o’ my-Thumb,” at the Athenee), except that it was worked not by treadles attached to one of the wheels, but by putting the feet to the ground on each side, just as the present French velocipede has to be started. The description given on the engraving says: –

“This machine is of the most simple kind, supported by two light wheels running on the same line; the front wheel turning on a pivot, which, by means of a short lever, gives the direction in tuning to one side or the other, the hind wheel always running in one direction. The rider mounts it and seats himself in a saddle conveniently fixed on the back of the horse (if allowed to be called so) and placed in the middle between the wheels; the feet are placed flat on the ground, so that in the first step to give the machine motion, the heel should be the part of the foot to touch the ground and so on with the other foot alternately, as if walking on the heels, observing always to begin the movement very gently. In the front, before the rider, is placed a cusion to rest the arms on while the hands hold the lever which gives direction to the machine, as also to balance if it is inclining to either side when the opposite arm is pressed on the cusion.”

As was the custom of the day, a cloud of coloured caricatures at once appeared, the legend beneath one of which, published by Tegg, representing a race between a horse and the velocipede, carries the original of the machine farther back. This famouse Hobbyhorse was bred in Germany; after winning everything there, was shipped for Long-acre.” Another, published by Jno. Hudson, of Cheapside, is a fierce veteran mounted on a velocipede which is called “The Dandy-Charger.” One of Tegg’s shows Richard III. Offering his kingdom for a horse, and Sir William Catesby, instead of replying, “withdraw, my lord, I’ll help you to a horse,” says, “my liege, here’s a swift hobby that will convey you from the field as fast as your legswill permit you.” The following weak lines appear on another of Tegg’s engravings: –

You have heard of old Pegasus flying, no doubt,

But our Hobbies now beat him, good luck,

For when you are tired of riding about,

You may carry your horse on your back.

Curiously enough, these rhymes have almost an exact counterpart in “Le Petit Poucet,” where the actor who enters on the velocipede makes his exit carrying it over his shoulder.

The Pall Mall Gazette, December 14, 1868


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