Friday, August 08, 2008

Facts & Hints for Everyday Life in 1872

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 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.


Ed Abbey said...

Finally, somebody pointing out the drawbacks of time traveling to the past!

Saur♥Kraut said...

Ed, I've always said that's ridiculous! Most people have NO idea how badly they lived back then, or what "Guardez l'eau!" meant when you were walking down the street (you needed to duck or run quickly to avoid having chamber pots emptied upon your head, as there were no sewage systems).

Just think: No deoderant, no pain killers, no antibiotics... no thanks!

The Lazy Iguana said...

They had pain killers. Opium is great stuff. At 1875 they also had morphine, derived from opium.

Do some morphine and someone could kick you in the face and you may not even notice.

They also had cocaine. Not as good as opium as it is an upper. But if you need to feel less pain but not become zonked out it is hard to beat cocaine even today.

I would also be interested to know what percentage of the population cold read in 1873. Just how many people could read that book?

Oh yea - about the fillings. That formula is still used today. Elemental mercury is not really as big of a problem as people make it out to be. So why the fuss over mercury poisoning? There are organic mercury compounds (methylmercury) and soluble inorganic compounds (mercuric chloride) that are bad. Your body can readily absorb those forms of mercury.

But mercuric chloride is insoluble in water. This stuff is fairly safe for people. This is the stuff elemental mercury comes from - you heat it then condense the vapors.

Anyhow silver fillings are safe. Only the amount of elemental mercury needed to bond the silver together is used. At that point the metal is fairly stable. To knock the mercury free requires high heat, so unless you catch on fire the mercury remains in place. And if your mouth gets hot enough to break down the fillings I do not think mercury will be your main problem.

I just had some white fillings replaced by silver fillings not too long ago. About 4 months ago actually.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Lazy, funny observation about when mercury fillings would become dangerous. ;o)

Yeah, I had my mercury fillings replaced, too, just in case.

Good question about who could read this book. I'm really not sure! I would imagine that by this time, there would be a large swath of the population that could read, as education was valued at that time (more than it is now, I believe).

However, some men refused to let the women in the family read due to the superstitious belief that it might cause their brain to swell or give them brain fever. A good excuse as any to keep the women under control...

Saur♥Kraut said...

Lazy, P.S. interestingly, I've found morphia mentioned under their medicines category, where it says "Morphia, a drug produced from opium, is said to possess the sedative without the exciting effect."

Bryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Saur♥Kraut said...

Bryan, how very sad. I love what is revealed when we can touch the past.

The Lazy Iguana said...

What does it say for hangovers?

Saur♥Kraut said...

Lazy, I can't think of what they would've called them back then (if they even acknowledged they existed or understood why). They seemed more preoccupied with the lungs and bowels. But...

They recommend musk (yeah, the stuff from male cats), camphire(?), canella alba(?), opium, paregoric (a form of opium), minderus spirit (sounds like something from Harry Potter), and spirit of vitriol(!) for pain.

...and magnesia, calomel, nutmeg, aromatic spices, spirit of ginger, muriated steel or powder of red sulphate of steel, spirit or hartshorn(?), ruhubarb, salt of tartare, salt of wormwood, and tincture of senna, for stomach ache.

The Lazy Iguana said...

Opium huh? Yea, I always figured that would help a hangover.

Was everyone chasing the dragon back then??

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

The old days sucked ass and I'm sure when future people look at what we were up to, they'll shake their head and wonder why we didn't all just get along better.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Lazy, Lots of people were. Cocaine was highly popular (it was Coleridge's demon of choice) and if you recall, it was the drug Sherlock Holmes turned to when he got bored.

As for opium, there were opium dens, and opium was a sure addiction. There were tales of people who would drag their loved ones out of the dens only to have them go back right away.

However, I've never read of any woman being addicted to the stuff. Either they couldn't get it (women weren't as mobile and were under the watchful eyes of their menfolks usually) or if they COULD get ahold of it, it must've become a secret vice.

Daniel, You said it!