Bibles and Umbrellas

The stereotypical picture of an English businessman is someone in a dark suit, wearing a bowler hat, and carrying an umbrella, but it wasn’t always that way. In the early 1750s, Jonas Hanway began carrying an umbrella around the streets of London. He had just returned from a trip to France where the carrying of a parasol was the fashion.

In the early 1700s, an ingenious Parisian merchant waterproofed the parasol and invented a folding version. Thus, the umbrella was born. Impressed Hanway brought the practical contraption to England. No one else was impressed. People jeered, made fun of him, and called him a French effeminate. Michael Waters explained:

Jonas Hanway, always stubborn, paid little attention to the social stigma. An eccentric man, he was no stranger to controversy—he fervently opposed the introduction of tea into England, at one point penning an “Essay Upon Tea and Its Pernicious Consequences” (1756). He published four books on the development of British trade in the Caspian Sea, leading 20th-century scholar Charles Wilson to call him “one of the most indefatigable and splendid bores of English history.”[1]

Undeterred, Hanway continued to carry his umbrella, but soon incurred the wrath of hansom cab drivers whose business boomed on rainy days from patrons trying to seek shelter from the rain. One driver tried to run Hanway down, but Hanway used his umbrella to “give the man a good thrashing.”

Waters concluded, when Hanway died in 1786, “The rain-repelling revolution had begun, with the dearly departed Hanway as its pioneer. Not all heroes wear capes, but some carry umbrellas.”

I wonder if we can learn a lesson from Hanway as Christians. Are we ever afraid of being labeled because we are Christians? Are we fearful of sharing the good news because we are afraid of what other people will think? Friends, stand tall, carry your Bible, and, on a rainy day, don’t be afraid to take an umbrella!

  [1] Downloaded from https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-public-shaming-of-englands-first-umbrella-user March 29, 2021

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