Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How to Care for Your Hair, 1881

Theatrical Poster, c. 1875 (Library of Congress)
“Not less than a hundred strokes a day should be given to a woman’s hair with a good hair-brush, rather hard, but not so unyielding as to tear the hair when it meets with a tangle… Once or twice a week, if possible, the hair should be allowed to flow loosely about the head for an hour or two, so as to admit of the air circulating freely about the roots… An excellent method is to rub the head thoroughly with a rather coarse towel until the healthy glow and redness ensue. If these fail to result from the rubbing, the head is in a thoroughly unhealthy and unproductive condition... The hair should never be fastened up too tightly by means of hairpins, combs, ties, &c. The sap should be allowed to circulate freely through the hair-tubes, and any cause preventing this acts prejudicially upon the growth." 
Sylvia's Book of the Toilet
Is your hair getting enough fresh air? Go on, let it free. Those hair-tubes will thank you.

Monday, April 13, 2015

How to Cure a Snakebite, 1303

British Library, Harley 3244, f. 57r (13th c.)
"First, bind the extremity with strong and tight bindings. Second, get an old rooster and pluck its bottom and hold it with its bottom on the bite, and if the rooster dies it is a good sign, because it is a sign that the venom has been drawn out of the body, so apply many roosters until you see that the rooster does not die from the venom." 
Bernard de Gordon, Lilium medicinae 
 Does your first-aid kit include a flock of bare-assed chickens? Be prepared!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How to Choose Drinking Water, 1528

Gesner, Nomenclator aquatilium animantium (1560)
"Thou ought to knowe that clere rennynge Waters that ben nyghe to cytees in pure grounde as small brokes be the best and lyghtest. Water that cometh out of stony erthe where as is moche fumosytees is hevy, contagyous, & noysom. Water of puddles or fenne full of frogges, addres, and other venymous worms be unholsom." 
Secretum secretorum 
A little water-quality issue you may have overlooked: poisonous snakes are not potable. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

How to Be a Serious Actor, 1699

Lodovico Burnacini, Nani e maschere ridicole (c. 1680)
"Laughing on stage at the wrong time is a defect. Hence one must remain unperturbed at all times, because laughter is unbecoming when one is playing a serious role... Also, in comic roles, remaining unperturbed moves the audience to even more laughter. Should a smirk escape anyway, one must know how to control it... [Mocking] is done by wrinkling up one's nose, twisting one's mouth, and showing one's teeth... Mocking is also done by stretching out the middle finger and keeping the others folded, which is a great insult... When this occurs while acting, beware of who does it and to whom it is done, because it may at times be permitted to buffoons, whereas it is always wrong in serious roles."  
Andrea Perrucci, Dell'arte rappresentativa, premeditata ed all'improvviso
Excited for your debut as Hamlet? Try not to give Claudius the finger.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How to Fake a Nose Injury, 1635

"How to seeme to cut ones nose halfe off. For the effecting of this feate, you must have a knife for the nonce, made with a gap in the midst of the blade, as it is demonstrated in the following figure noted with the letter A. You must conceale the notch with your finger, and then wring it over the fleshie part of your nose, and your nose will seeme as it were halfe cut off with the knife. Note that in such feats as this, it were necessarie to have a piece of spunge with some sheepes bloud in it to be retained privately."

Hocus Pocus Junior
Ah, the old knife-in-the-nose stunt: a favorite of That Guy since the seventeenth century.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

News from the Past

Good news, book lovers: Ask the Past is now a book! With lots of all-new (well, actually quite old) advice and charmingly curious illustrations from rare books, Ask the Past will finally reveal how to win a legal case, make a love potion, and get rid of mosquitoes. 

Even better news: you can pre-order it now.

US and Canada (Hachette Books): out May 5th. Find it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or IndieBound.

UK (Square Peg): out May 21st. Find it at Amazon or Waterstones.

Advance Praise (Really Far in Advance) for Ask the Past: 

(OK, technically these authors thought they were discussing other booksbut it seems clear in hindsight that they were talking about Ask the Past.)

Benjamin Franklin, 1771:
“I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it.”

Petrarch, 1350:
“I opened the compact little volume, small indeed in size, but of infinite charm, with the intention of reading whatever came to hand, for I could happen upon nothing that would be otherwise than edifying.”

Michel de Montaigne, 1580:
“The knowledge I seek is there treated in disconnected pieces that do not demand the bondage of prolonged labour, of which I am incapable.”

Henry David Thoreau, 1857:
“I am disappointed in not finding it a more out-of-door book.”

William Caxton, 1485:
“And for to passe the tyme thys book shal be plesaunte to rede in, but for to gyue fayth and byleue that al is trewe that is conteyned herin, ye be at your lyberte.” 

Jane Austen, 1814:
“I read it immediately–& with great pleasure.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How to Wash Your Baby, c. 1320

Getty MS 1, f. 29v (c. 1360-70)
"You should wash the baby after he has had a long nap. In warm weather, use tepid water. In cold weather, use warmer water, but never use scalding water. You should wash the baby two or three times a day, but take care not to wash him so long that he becomes red and overheated. When you wash his ears, make sure that the water doesn't get inside him. And if he, on his own, wants to kick his legs in the water, let him do it, because that builds his strength. If it is winter, wash the baby near the fire. Stretch out his legs and feet toward the kidneys. Bend his joints, and grease them with oil. You should also grease his nostrils with oil. Then dry him off with soft cloths, and if he is cold, warm him up first."

Francesco da Barberino, Reggimento e costumi di donna 

It's important to keep a rigorous baby maintenance schedule: two or three baths a day at the least, and remember to grease the joints so they don't squeak.