Friday, February 28, 2014

How to Tell if Someone Is or Is Not Dead, c. 1380

He's not dead yet.
BL Harley 3140, f. 39r (14th c.)
"Moreover, if there is any doubt as to whether a person is or is not dead, apply lightly roasted onion to his nostrils, and if he be alive, he will immediately scratch his nose." 
Johannes de Mirfield, Breviarium Bartholomei (c. 1380-95)
Don't bother looking for a pulse. The onion reflex is the only reliable sign of life.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How to Groom Your Eyebrows, 1563

Christoph Amberger, Portrait of a Young Woman

"Take the galle of a hee Gote or of a she Gote, but the hee Goate is better, and doeth it soner, and rubbe youre eye browes, and the heare will shortly fall awaye."

The Second Part of the Secretes of Maister Alexis of Piemont (1563)

Why bother with plucking or waxing when you could have your eyebrows digested by goat enzymes? Just make sure your salon uses the superior he-goat gall.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How to Care for a Newborn, 1254

Queen Mary Psalter, BL Royal MS 2 B vii, f. 314v (1310-20)
“After the woman has delivered the child, you should know how to take care of the child. Know that as soon as the child is born, it should be wrapped in crushed roses mixed with fine salt… And when one wishes to swaddle [the baby], the members should be gently couched and arranged so as to give them a good shape, and this is easy for a wise nurse; for just as wax when it is soft takes whatever form one wishes to give to it, so also the child takes the form which its nurses give to it. And for this reason, you should know that beauty and ugliness are due in large measure to nurses. And when its arms are swaddled, and the hands over the knees, and the head lightly swaddled and covered, let it sleep in the cradle.” 
Aldobrandino of Siena, Regimen for the Body (1254)
Don’t worry: caring for a newborn is as easy as curing a ham. Just salt it with some aromatics, arrange it nicely, and wait for it to age.

Monday, February 17, 2014

How to Bathe in Snow, 1837

Edward Robert Hughes, Heart of Snow (1907)
"Many people who have not fairly tried it know not the value of snow for washing the face and hands. It is a genuine cosmetic prepared by Madame Nature without a particle of any poisonous vegetable, and offered to the public more from benevolence than any pecuniary motives, and particularly designed for the relief of all who are afflicted with an ugly skin. Try in the next light snow that falls. First rub the hands with a piece of bar soap till a sufficient quantity adheres, and then taking up a little snow, rub the hands with the snow and soap until the water drops so pure as not to stain the snow where it falls. Then proceed to the face, and if it does not procure the pure blush of health, you may rest assured there is nothing in the apothecary's shop... that will do it." 
New England Farmer and Gardener's Journal (1837)
Do you have an ugly skin? Are you worried about poisonous vegetables in your cosmetics? Do you have access to some snow? Then this snow cleanse is for you! Hypothermia is also for you.

Friday, February 14, 2014

How to Sweet Talk Your Lady, 1656

"Instructions for Lovers: teaching them, how to demean themselves towards their Sweet-hearts. You must not accost them with a shrug, as if you were lowsie: With, 'your Ladie', 'best Ladie', or 'most super-excellent Ladie': neither must you let your words come rumbling forth, ushered in with a good full mouth'd, Oath, as 'I love you'... But you must in fine gentle words, deliver your true affection: Praise your Mistress Eies, her Lip, her Chin, her Nose, her Neck, her Face, her Hand, her Feet, her Leg, her Waste, her every thing." 
Cupids Master-piece, or, The Free-school of Witty and Delightful Compliments (1656)
Some dos and don'ts for addressing your most super-excellent lady! Don't say "I love you." Do praise her various body parts. (Careful with that 17th-century spelling, though: it's her waist you want to praise.)

See here for more amorous compliments.

Monday, February 10, 2014

How to Speak French, 1694

Antoine Watteau, La Boudeuse
Model dialogue from Abel Boyer, The Compleat French-Master (1694):
Que faites vous?                                  What do you do?
Je ne fais rien.                                       I do nothing.
Que dites vous?                                   What do you say?
Je ne dis rien.                                        I say nothing.
Taisez vous.                                         Hold your tongue.
Ne dites mot.                                       Say not a word.
Demeurez en repos.                          Be quiet.
Ne faites pas du bruit.                      Don't make a noise.
Quel tintamarre faites vous la?   What a thundering noise you make there?
Vous me rompez la tête.                 You break my head.
Vous m'étourdissez.                        You make my head giddy.
O! que vous êtes incommode.     Oh! how troublesome you are. 
On second thought, the Compleat French-Master suggests that you just keep your troublesome mouth shut while in France. Vous me rompez la tête!

Friday, February 7, 2014

How to Discuss Meat Carving, 1673

Unknown, The Chef (17th century)
"In cutting up all manner of small Birds, it is proper to say, Thigh them; as thigh that Woodcock, thigh that Pidgeon; but as to others say, Mince that Plover, Wing that Quail, and wing that Partridge, Allay that Pheasant, Untach that Curlew, Unjoint that Bittern, Disfigure that Peacock, Display that Crane, Dismember that Hern, Unbrace that Mallard, Frust that Chicken, Spoil that Hen, Sauce that Capon, Lift that Swan, Rear that Goose, Tire that Egg. As to the flesh of Beasts, Unlace that Coney, Break that Deer, and Leach that Brawn. For Fish; Chine that Salmon, String that Lamprey, Splat that Pike, Sauce that Plaice, and Sauce that Tench, Splay that Bream, Side that Haddock, Tusk that Barbel, Culpon that Trout; Transon that Eel, Tranch that Sturgeon, Tame that Crab, Barb that Lobster." 
Hannah Woolley, The Gentlewomans Companion (1673)
How many times have you found yourself at a loss for words while cutting up a bittern? Or unsure whether it's appropriate to disfigure a peacock? Now you can prepare dinner with confidence in your linguistic integrity.

Monday, February 3, 2014

How to Make White-Out, 1563

"For to make a water that will take out incontinent letters from the Paper. Ye shall take a pound of blewe vitrioll, three pound of salt peter, and four unces of Vermillion and fyve pounde of Alome, and stampe them all together, and make thereof a pouder, & stille it in some vessell of glasse with a small fire, & there will come out two manner of waters the first white, & the second greene. If you take a little of the first & laie it upon the lefe of Paper written, rubbing it with a greene clothe somewhat course or roughe, it will take away the letters from the Paper, & leave it as white as yf there had never bene incke upon it." 
The Second Part of the Secretes of Maister Alexis of Piemont (1563)
The secret that celebrity scribes don't want you to know! This scribal error correction fluid will make your manuscript appear effortlessly flawless even after an episode of literary incontinence.