Monday, March 2, 2015

How to Prepare for Spring, 1528

Walters Art Museum MS W.195, f. 4r
"Of prymtyme, and what it is. The prymtyme is hote & moyst temperatly as the ayre. This season the blode moeueth and spredeth to all the membres of the body, and the body is parfyte in temperate complexyon. In this season chekyns, kyddes, and poched egges ought to be eaten, with letuses & gotes mylke in these thre monethes. Prymetyme begynneth whan the sonne entreth the sygne of Aryes and lasteth .xcii. dayes, an houre and a halfe fro the .x. day of Marche to the .x. day of June. In this season is the best letyng of blode of ony tyme. And than is good to trauayle and to be laxatyfe. And to be bathed. And to eate suche thynges as wyll purge the bely." 
Secretum secretorum, tr. Robert Copland
Are you ready for primetime? Nothing makes for a festive spring like lettuce, bloodletting, and laxatives. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

How to Dress (Teen Girl Edition), c. 1500

British Library, Harley MS 4425, f. 37v
"I counsel you not to wear anything outrageous, either too tight or too trailing, nor should you resemble those women who think they are very fashionable when their clothing is low-cut and very tight and they attract attention; they think their dress is admired, for which they are mocked and rightly reproved by those who hear the talk. Nor, my daughter, should you be like those who, to seem more fashionable, dress themselves so scantily in winter that they are freezing with cold, their complexions often sallow and without color, until, either because of the cold they suffer in private or from being too tightly laced, they endure many grievous illnesses, and many even die – never doubt that this is a great sin because they have killed themselves." 
Anne de France, Lessons for My Daughter
The Past would like you to know that you are NOT leaving the house dressed like that, young lady, or you will DIE of frostbite. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How to Schedule Your Child, 1695

“As soon as they are up in the Morning, they shall spend one Hour in Reading, and then eat their Breakfast: After which, such as love Musick, shall play and practice one Hour, and those that are for Painting, the like: The others shall walk in Gardens for the same time with their Tutors, and discourse of the Nature and Vertues of Herbs, Plants, and Flowers, and of the Art of Husbandry and Gardening, all in the Language they then learn; then they shall all return into the School, and learn their Books for one Hour. After which, they shall be instructed in the Business of the House, and the Art of Oeconomicks; also the Manner and Preparation of the Food they have each day for Dinner, and have the Reasons of every thing discovered to them. Then they shall all go to Dinner; after which, in the Summer time, they shall rest an Hour and a half, sitting silent in a Chair, where they may sleep... After which, they shall read half an Hour, or an Hour, and then such for Painting or Musick, must spend one Hour in the Exercise of those Arts, and in the mean while the others shall be employed in Writing; Arithmetick, and Accompting. When this is done, they shall be employ'd again in Gardening, Planting, Sowing, Weeding, Digging, &c… After which, they shall walk, run, and play about for half an Hour.” 
Thomas Tryon, A New Method of Educating Children 
The 17th century would like you to know that its children discourse cheerfully on herbs in foreign languages and nap in a chair on command. Don't yours?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

How to Write an Essay, 1886


"Topics Suitable for Composition" proposed by Thomas E. Hill, Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms
  • The Bachelor's Home.
  • Discoveries of Galileo.
  • People whom we Meet.
  • Pleasures of Suburban Life.
  • Love Conquers Selfishness.
  • Things in a Country Store.
  • The Books we Ought to Read.
  • A Bar-Tender's Fearful Dream.
  • Home Amusements Considered.
  • My Garden, and What was In It.
  • Going to Visit Mother Next Week.
  • A Drunkard's Fate.
  • Beauty at Seventy-Five.
  • Adventures in a Snow-storm.
  • Description of a Spelling-Bee.
Need to produce some winning prose on a deadline? Try one of these topics, or mix and match. Discoveries of Galileo in a Country Store? A Drunkard's Suburban Life? I'd read that.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How to Live With Cats, 1607

"It must be considered what harmes and perils come vnto men by this beast. It is most certaine that the breath and sauour of cats consume the radicall humour and destroy the lungs, and therefore they which keepe their cats with them in their beds haue the aire corrupted and fall into feuer hectickes and consumptions. There was a certaine company off Monkes much giuen to nourish and play with Cattes, whereby they were so infected, that within a short space none of them were able either to say, reade, pray, or sing, in all the monastery... the haire also of a cat being eaten vnawares, stoppeth the artery and causeth suffocation... to conclude this point it appeareth that this is a dangerous beast, & that therfore as for necessity we are constrained to nourish them for the suppressing of small vermine: so with a wary and discreet eie we must auoyde their harmes..."

Edward Topsell, The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes


A little-known health risk: cats breathing in your bed.

Friday, February 13, 2015

How to Maintain a Relationship, 15th century

Walters Art Museum MS W.166, f. 118r
"If a woman places feathers from a capon that has hatched young chickens in her husband's ear as well as hair from the right leg of his dog and from the tip of his cat's tail, he would never forget his love for her." 
The Distaff Gospels
The secret to a lasting relationship: just empty the vacuum cleaner in your partner's ear and you'll live happily ever after.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

How to Sweet Talk Your Man, 1713

Lewis Walpole Library
"Complemental Expressions towards Men Leading to the Art of Courtship": 
Sir, I am daily in disquiet, and shall be, till some occasion be offered me suddenly wherein I may appear to You to be more than Verbal.
Sir, Your good Goodness wants a resident.
Sir, I shall study to Chronicle Your Vertues.
Sir, You are so highly Noble, that Your Purse is my Exchequer.
Sir, Be confident of my Affection, while I have room to lodge You in my Bosom.
Sir, Sleep is not more welcome to the wearied Traveller, than thou art to my House.
Sir, Without you, the State's necessities increase.
Sir, my appetite is sick, for want of a Capacity to digest your Favors. 
Charles Sackville, The New Academy of Complements, excerpts
Looking to get more than verbal with a special guy? A few of these lines in quick succession will have him lodging in your bosom in no time.

(Need to impress a lady? No problem. How to Sweet Talk Your Lady, 1656 and How to Compliment a Lady, 1653.)