I just happened to recently acquire an old edition of Facts & Hints for Everyday Life, published by Cassell, Petter, & Galpin in 1872.
It's amazing to see how much our views and understanding of the world differs from the supposedly knowledgeable person of that day.
For instance, in their description of "consumption" (which we know as tuberculosis - a contagious airborne lung disease), they write that consumption is caused by
"...improper diet, impure air, deficient exercise, injudicious clothing, a want of cleanliness, drunkenness, or anything which tends to deprive the body of its due nutrition, is an active agent in producing scrofula or king's evil [this refers to any type of skin ailment. For more info, go here.], which is now identified with consumption."
They also give great advice for self-dentistry. Under "Decayed Teeth, Stopping for," they advise:
"Take quicksilver and fine silver filings (a small quantity of the former in proportion to the latter), and mix them together to a stiff paste, or as much of the filings as the mercury will hold together. Scrape away the decayed part of the hollow tooth, and wipe it dry, then press the paste into the cavity. At night after supper is the best time to do it, as by the next morning it will have hardened without interruption."
If that isn't a poisoner's delight, I don't know what is.
There are also interesting recipes for Eel Pie, Derby Cakes, something called Bakewell Pudding, Lobster Soup, Minced Fowl and Cucumber, Mince Pies, Calf's Head Pie, an article titled "Australian Meat", directions on how to make beer, and more (including formulas for a variety of pen inks).
However, they recommend against fish, writing
"Fish affords comparatively little nourishment, and their fat is more insoluble and indigestible than that of any other animal, and turns rancid with peculiar readiness."
They ominously warn against keeping plants in bedrooms, writing
"Plants should never be kept in bedrooms. Gardeners who are compelled to remain for some time in hot-houses where a number of plants are collected together, are very subject to painful headaches, in consequence of being compelled to breathe an atmosphere loaded with this destructive agent."
They conclude their warning with a cautionary tale:
"The following instructive fact was recorded in the Times of Oct. 17th, 1814: - "Mr. Sherbrook having frequently had his pinery robbed, the gardener determined to sit up and watch. He accordingly posted himself...in the greenhouse, where...he fell asleep, and in the morning was found dead upon the ground, with all the appearance of suffocation, evidently occasioned by the discharge of mephitic gas from the plants during the night."
Although it's rare, sometimes they're right! Under "Liver", we read
"The livers, especially those of full-grown animals, are very undesirable as food, although they afford nourishment. Serious obstructions and gross humours have been traced to indulgence in such things as food, and we counsel our readers to avoid them."
They do, however, supply recipes which use kidneys.
Interestingly, they fall for the "earwig in the ear" old wives' tale, and write "If one of these insects should crawl within the ear, and a piece of apple is applied to the ear the insect will crawl upon it, it being fond of apples..."
The recipe for Queen Victoria's Favorite Soup (a type of cream of chicken soup) is opposite an article on rats and mice and another article on perspiration. Incidentally, this particular article must be the origin of the mistaken belief that gilding your skin will kill you. These originators of this urban legend write of
"...the case of a child in Florence whom Pope Leo X. caused to be gilded to represent the golden age in a pageant which celebrated his accession to the Papal throne. The result of this piece of ignorance was that the poor child died in a few hours."
Maybe they misunderstood and the child was gelded, not gilded (a far more likely occurrence).
They recommend ammonia gum for asthmatics (the thought makes me shudder). The highly poisonous vitriol and foxglove are recommended for stomach ailments. Opium is recommended for pain. Hemlock is prescribed as a sedative. However, they correctly say that ipecac should be used as an emetic, and magnesia is used for heartburn.
So go back in time, come up with your favorite ailment or problem, and ask what they advised in 1872. I'll do my best to share some of their "wisdom" with you.