Sunday, June 26, 2016

Worth Its Weight?

I like books. I collect them and I organize them by author and publication date. I'm a bit obsessive about the organization thing, which may come as a surprise to anyone who has stepped foot in my bedroom. There are clothes on the floor and underneath the clothes are older clothes and underneath those clothes are very large bunnies of the dust. But books? They're safely situated on shelves galore.

I rarely read them, but they're there.

I collect all kinds -- movie tie-ins, series, cover variations of ones I adore, and -- my personal favorite -- vintage books. Anything from before 1960, and it's old, in my mind. My mother will kill me for saying that. Before 1945? My eyes light up. Before 1930? Holy crap! Before 1910? GIMME.

Unfortunately, the older a book is, the more likely it is to be mysteriously tattered and stained. Sometimes that adds to the book's charm; if a book is all dog-eared, I can imagine that it was once loved by its owner. Loved... or yanked off the shelf and stepped on, left out in a treehouse one rainy night, used as a booster seat before phone books were invented... whatever.

Today I have a fun book to show you -- the "Revised Edition" of Edison's Handy Encyclopaedia of General Information and Universal Atlas, which claims to be "worth its weight in gold" and has strange, bullet-like holes going through some of the pages. It was originally published in 1890 (though the edition I have is from 1906). It's chock full of valuable tips for making your turn-of-the-century life much, much easier. Every home in America should have one; but since they don't, I'll post some of the information here for you to enjoy.

So stick around.

Learn something new.

Page 228 -- "How to Remove Warts"
"A daily application of either of the three following remedies is effective in dispersing warts: Touch the wart with a little nitrate of silver, lunar caustic; or with nitric acid or aromatic vinegar. The lunar caustic produces a black, and the nitric acid a yellow stain, which passes off in a short time; the vinegar scarcely discolors the skin. Sparks of frictional electricity, repeated daily, by applying the warts to the conductor of an electrical machine, have been also successfully employed as a cure for these troublesome and unsightly excrescences." 

(So, in short: pouring chemicals on yourself and watching your skin change colors can be fun & useful! And hooking yourself up to a machine is a jolly good sport. Give yourself a nice electrocution, and you won't have to worry about warts anymore, that's for sure.)

Page 147 -- "How to Tell Any One's Age"
"Girls of a marriageable age do not like to tell how old they are, but you can find out by following the subjoined instructions, the young lady doing the figuring. Tell her to put down the number of the month in which she was born; then to multiply it by two; then to add five; then to multiply it by 50; then to add her age; then to subtract 365; then to add 115; then tell her to tell you the amount she has left." 

(And by this point, the girl has keeled over and died from mathematical exhaustion, you heartless jerk. You just couldn't leave well enough alone, could you? You HAD to know.

"The two figures to the right will denote her age, and the remainder the month of her birth. For example, the amount is 822, she is twenty-two years old and was born in the eighth month (August). Try it." 

Slightly more useful than knowing the key to figuring out a marriageable lady's age... 

Page 189 -- "Antidotes to Poisons"

"In nearly all cases of poisoning the first thing to do is to excite copious vomiting by means of a powerful emetic" (Jessica Simpson music videos?) "the action being promoted by large draughts of lukewarm water, tickling the throat with the finger, etc.... After the vomiting has removed the poisonous substance, a mild aperient draught may be given, and nervous exhaustion allayed by very small doses of either ammonia, or draughts of wine or hot spirits and water. Generally speaking, a tablespoonful of the flour of mustard mixed with warm water will serve as an effective emetic." 

(And you wonder why the death rate sucked back then.) 

Page 256 -- "A Woman's Chance to Marry"

"One quarter of 1 per cent., from fifty to fifty-six years of age.
Three-eighths of 1 per cent., from forty-five to fifty years of age.
Two and a half per cent., from forty to forty-five years of age.
Three and three-quarters per cent., from thirty-five to forty years of age.
Fifteen and a half per cent., from thirty to thirty-five years of age.
Eighteen per cent., from twenty-five to thirty years of age.
Fifty-two per cent., from twenty to twenty-five years of age.
Fourteen and a half per cent., from fifteen to twenty years of age."

(It's good to know I have a better chance now than I did at fifteen. 

And I love how there is just NO chance for you after 56. 

Maybe that's when everyone died back then.) 

Page 142 -- "Cost of Children"

"The average cost of bringing children to maturity is $600. To bring a child to the age of five years requires on the average $300. In the United States 35 per cent of the males fail to reach the age of 20 years. Of course, the mortality among infants is much higher than among older children or adults. For every person dead there are two persons sick. It costs less to develop a Norwegian than to raise to adult years an individual of any other nationality. There is less general sickness in this country than in centuries past. Where the average age of a citizen is now 50 years, in the days of Ancient Rome the citizens lived but thirty years. As many live now to be 70 years old as three centuries ago lived to reach the age of 50 years."

Page 100 -- "The Fastest Trains In The World"
"The fastest regular express trains in the United States are now in transit daily between Philadelphia and Washington. They run an average speed of nearly forty-five miles an hour covering the entire run. Of course a part of the distance is made at a much higher rate of speed -- not less than sixty-five miles an hour. There is no comfort, not to speak of safety, in traveling faster than sixty miles an hour." 

Page 146 -- "Duration of Dreams"

"It is very certain that the majority of dreams are only of momentary duration, though extended occasionally to the length of a minute. 

In proof of this Dr. Sholz tells the following story from his experience: After excessive bodily fatigue and a day of mental strain of a not disagreeable kind, I betook myself to bed after I had wound my watch and placed it on the night table. Then I lay down beside a burning lamp. Soon I found myself on the high sea on board a well-known ship. I was again young, and stood on the lookout. I heard the roar of water, and golden clouds floated around me. How long I stood so I did not know, but it seemed a very long time.

Then the scene changed. I was in the country, and my long-lost parents came to greet me; they sent me to church, where the loud organ sounded. I was delighted, but at the same time wondered to see my wife and children there. The priest mounted the pulpit and preached, but I could not understand what he said for the sound of the organ, which continued to play. I took my son by the hand, and with him ascended the church tower, but again the scene was changed. Instead of being near my son I stood near an early-known but long-dead officer. I ought to explain that I was an army surgeon during the maneuvers. I was wondering why the major should look so young, when quite close in my ears a cannon sounded.

Terrified, I was hurrying off, when I woke up and noticed that the supposed cannon shot had its cause in the opening of the bedroom door through some one entering. It was as if I had lived through an eternity in my dream, but when I looked at my watch I saw that since I had fallen asleep, not more than one minute had elapsed -- a much shorter time than it takes to relate the occurrence.

(I'll say. I find it funny that this doctor's one experience is accepted as solid proof that no dreams last for longer than one minute. Ookay. (Research in the later part of the 20th century proved him wrong.)) 

Page 206 -- "Dying Sayings Of Famous People"I have no idea who most of these people are, but they sure said some amusing deathbed stuff.

Arria: "My Paetus it is not painful."

(Your what?)

Byron: "I must sleep now."

(You do that.)

Charlemagne: "Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit."

Charles IX (of France): "Nurse, nurse, what murder! What blood! Oh, I have done wrong. God pardon me!"

(I could be off, but Charles seems to be feeling a little guilty about something.)

Chesterfield: "Give Day Rolles a chair."

(...and be quick about it!)

Columbus: "Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit!"

(Somewhere in the Afterlife, Charlemagne is kicking Columbus's dying-saying-plagiarizing butt right now.)

Crome (John): "Oh, Hobbima, Hobbima, how I do love thee!"

(Hobbima loves you too, John.)

Haller: "The artery ceases to beat."

(Little premature, don't you think?)

Hunter (Dr. William): "If I had strength to hold a pen, I would write down how easy and pleasant a thing it is to die."

(He still had the strength to babble, that's for sure.)

Louis XIV: "Why weep ye? Did you think I should live forever?" Then, after a pause, "I thought dying had been harder." 

(Just die, already!) 

Socrates: "Crito, we owe a cock to AEsculapius." 


Page 88 -- "Is the Moon Inhabited?"

"From what is now known of the moon it is certain that if that body is inhabited it must be by beings organized very differently from the human race or any animals on the earth. The moon is without water and without atmosphere; and, owing to the fact that it revolves on its axis but once a month, so that the lunar days and nights are each nearly thirty times as long as our days and nights, the extremes of heat and cold range every month from 400 degrees Fahrenheit above zero to 300 below." 

Page 226 -- "How to Cleanse Feathers"

"Feathers are prepared by exposing them to sunshine or in a stove until perfectly dry, and then beating them to remove dust and loose dirt. When carelessly collected and dirty, they may be cleansed with lime-water, or, still better, with a weak solution of carbonate of soda, or with water containing a little solution of chloride of lime; after which they are rinsed in clean water, and dried as before. Old feathers are purified and cleansed the same way." 

Page 228 -- "How to Destroy Bed Bugs"

"Rub the bedsteads in the joints with equal parts of spirits of turpentine and kerosene oil, and the cracks of the surbase in the rooms where there are many. Filling up all the cracks with hard soap, is an excellent remedy. March and April are the months when bedsteads should be examined to kill all the eggs." 

Page 316 -- "What A Lemon Will Do"

"Lemonade made from the juice of the lemon is one of the best and safest drinks for any person, whether in health or not. It is suitable for all stomach diseases, excellent in sickness, in cases of jaundice, gravel, liver complaint, inflammation of the bowels, and fevers. It is a specific against worms and skin complaints. The pippin crushed may be used with sugar and water, and taken as a drink. Lemon juice is the best antiscorbutic remedy known. It not only cures the disease, but prevents it. Sailors make daily use of it for this purpose. We advise every one to rub their gums with lemon juice to keep them in a healthy condition. The hands and nails are also kept clean, white, soft and supple by the daily use of lemon instead of soap. It also prevents chilblains. Lemon is used in intermittent fevers, mixed with strong, hot, black coffee, without sugar. Neuralgia, it is said, may be cured by rubbing the part affected with a cut lemon. It is valuable also to cure warts. It will remove dandruff by rubbing the roots of the hair with it. It will alleviate, and finally cure, coughs and colds, and heal diseased lungs, if taken hot on going to bed at night. Its uses are manifold, and the more we employ it internally the better we shall find ourselves. A doctor in Rome is trying it experimentally in malarial fevers with great success, and thinks that it will in time supersede quinine." 

Page 257 -- "Hot Water For Inflamed Eyes"

"Hot water is now a remedy so popular and varied in its applications that it is not surprising to hear it recommended for the treatment of inflamed and aching eyes. An American writer, a woman whose eyesight was wonderful, considering her age and the immense amount of labor she performed, attributed it mainly to the custom of bathing her eyes freely in water as hot as could be borne, night and morning, a habit continued for many years."

Well, it's official. In 1906, the Internet was called "Books." 

Or... just "Book"... this book, which may not be worth its weight in gold, but is sure worth its weight in amusement. That is... if amusement could be weighed. Which it can't. Well hell, where was I? Oh yeah... sure, this book contains practical advice... yet it also includes some advice so stupid, if you follow it, it'll pretty much guarantee you'll never make it past the marriageable age of 56.

One thing that's fascinating to me is that, while reading this, I can imagine that I'm living in 1906, faced with ailments that only medicine invented in the later 1900's could cure... so I'd have little choice but to try these deadly household remedies. I wonder what things we do regularly in 2006 which will, in 100 years, be universally known to be dangerous? People of 2106 will look back on us and go "I can't believe they actually used hairdryers, how could they not know they contained electric force fields known to cause dementia?" Or something.

While many of the sections do provide laughs for a savvy 21st-century reader, a lot of the articles explain scientific principles that we still know to be true today. If this book wasn't so damn old that it crumbles into dust every time I touch it, I'd read it cover to cover and soak up all the valuable information. I'd learn how to properly care for brooms. I'd learn how you can tell about someone's personality just by looking at their fingernails.

And it's much better than the Internet, because there are no pop-up ads.

It just has pages that fall entirely out.

Gotta love it.

This article was originally published on my old website on March 18, 2006.

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