Ice Skating in the Regency
We did not take our walk on Friday, it was too dirty, nor have we yet done it; we may perhaps do something like it to-day, as after seeing Frank skate, which he hopes to do in the meadows by the beech, we are to treat ourselves with a passage over the ferry. It is one of the pleasantest frosts I ever knew, so very quiet. I hope it will last some time longer for Frank's sake, who is quite anxious to get some skating; he tried yesterday, but it would not do.
Jane Austen, to Cassandra Castle Square, Friday, December 9, 1808
In winter, what outdoor activity is more natural than skating? A popular pastime in Georgian England, it could be practiced by the young and old from all walks of life. A 1772 treatise on skating included an illustration of a skater with arms crossed and a comment that this was "a proper attitude for genteel rolling."
This posture is displayed in paintings of the time (Gilbert Stuart's "The Skater", 1771 and Sir Henry Raeburn's "The Reverend Robert Walker", 1795) In fact, ice-skating was so popular a sport, that in 1809, the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote an essay about it for "The Friend", a magazine of the time.
"The lower lake is now all alive with skaters, and by ladies driven onward by them in their ice-cars. Mercury, surely, was the first maker of skates, and the wings at his feet are symbols of the invention. In skating there are three pleasing circumstances: the infinitely subtle particles of ice which the skate cuts up, and which creep and run before the skate like a low mist, and in sunrise or sunset become coloured; second, the shadow of the skater in the water, seen through the transparent ice; and third the melancholy undulating sound from the skate, not without variety; and when very many are skating together, the sounds and noises give an impulse to the icy trees and the woods all around the lake tinkle."