Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tops, Slings & Kites

Here are three more games/activities that children played during the 19th Century.

Humming-tops are easily used. After the string is wound about the upright piece, one end of it is taken in one hand, and the handle of the fork-piece in the other. The string is then pulled off with force, and the top is set a-going. Whip-top is an excellent amusement. The top is easily set up by twirling it with both hands on a smooth surface, and applying the whip with gentleness at first, increasing the vigor of the blows, as the top gets firm on the peg. The peg-top is spun by quickly pulling away the string wound round it.

To make a sling, you must cut out an oval piece of leather, about two inches wide at the broadest part. At each of the ends, fasten a leathern thong, or piece of cord. One of these cords, or thongs should be longer than the other. Place a stone in the broadest part of the leather, twist the longest thong twice or thrice round your hand, hold the other lightly between your thumb and fore-finger, whirl it round several times, let go the shorter thong, and the stone will be shot to a great distance. Great care should be taken in using the sling, lest mischief is done.

The best form of constructing a kite is the following. The only pieces of wood necessary in the making of this, are a bow made of oak or walnut, and a straight lath. These are fastened together by twine, and when the frame
is completed, it is pasted over with paper. The tail, which should be from ten to fifteen times the length of the kite, is made by tying bobs on a string, with a larger bob at the end of it. Kites may be made of various shapes and sizes. Indeed they probably first received their name from having been originally constructed in the form of a bird of prey, called the kite. In China the flying of kites is much more practised than in this country ; and it is said, that their shape is always that of some bird.
I remember to have seen, some years ago, a kite which resembled a man. It was made of linen* cloth, cut and painted for the purpose, and stretched on a light frame, so constructed as to resemble the outline of the human figure. It stood upright, and was dressed in a sort of jacket. Its arms were stretched out on each side, and its head was covered with a cap. The person who owned this kite could raise it, though the weather was calm, to a great height. The wind gave to it a slight motion, which made it look like a man skating on the ice. It had altogether a very queer appearance, and did not fail to attract a great crowd of spectators.
Kites are often made square, as they are easiest to construct of that form. Boys frequently send up messengers, when their kite is safely balanced in the air. The messenger is a round piece of paper or pasteboard, which on being fixed upon the string, is blown along the line up to the kite.
The kite sometimes pulls so violently that it breaks the string, or twitches away from the hand, and is lost. Dr Franklin has said, that, with a good kite a man, unable to swim, might be sustained in the water, so as to pass from Dover to Calais. I have heard of a man, who travelled many miles along the road in a carriage drawn by two kites.
But the kite has served the cause of science as well as that of amusement. It was by means of the kite that Dr Franklin was able to make his great discoveries in electricity, and to draw it from the clouds.
Did you ever hear the story of the sailors who mounted to the top of Pompey's pillar? If you have, it will bear repeating. Some English sailors once laid a wager, that they would drink a bowl of punch on the summit of Pompey's pillar, in Egypt. Now, this pillar is almost a hundred feet high, and it is quite smooth, so that there was no way of climbing to the top, even for sailors. In this dilemma, they obtained a kite, and flew it exactly over the pillar, so that when it came down on the opposite side, the string lay across the top of the capital.
By means of this string, they pulled a small rope over, and by this a larger one, that was strong enough to bear the weight of a man. A pully was then fastened to the end of the large rope, and drawn close up to the upper edge of the column; and then, you see, they could easily hoist each other up. They did more; for they hoisted a flag on the top, drank their bowl of punch, and won their wager.

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