1800s Cure for Deafness and Other Maladies

Sunnispace has posted some excerpts from a book published in 1852 that she recently bought called Ladies’ Indispensable Assistant, which claimed to help women of the time with everything from caring for canary birds to curing cancer (a recipe which called for the patient to drink a concoction made from, among other things, the very poisonous plant, hemlock). 

Here is the cure for deafness, according to the author:

Take ant’s eggs and onion juice, mix and drop into the ear; or, drop into the ear at night six or eight drops of warm chamber lye.

This becomes even more disturbing when you realize that “chamber lye” is actually urine.

Read the entire post titled Advice from the 1800’s at Sunnispace’s blog.  It’s a very nice little blog, mostly about family life, and you can visit the homepage here.

Reading Advice to Ladies in 1869, Part 2

This is a continuation of the advice regarding reading which appeared in the book from the late 1800s, What Now? For Young Ladies.  Apparently, women from this era were advised not only on what to read, but how to read it…

Read slowly.  If physical dyspepsia is caused as much by rapid eating as by a multifarious diet, so may an intellectual dyspepsia be superinduced by bolting your mental food.  The books you read are the pabulum of your mind.  You eat to live, not live to eat; so you must read to live, not live to read….

Read for use, and use what you read.  There is such a thing as intellectual wine.  You may perpetually be stimulating your mind with intoxicating reading.  The reaction must be mental depression, and the longer the stimulus be kept on, and the longer the return to a natural healthful state be postponed, the deeper will be the depression and the more weakened will be the intellect when it wakes up from this unhealthful dreaming.  There are those who are thus driven again and again to the stimulant until a mental delirium tremens sets in on them, or they are reduced to a drivelling idiocy.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that although his work appears here, the author would not have liked A Bunch of Wordz at all.  Until next time, my fellow drivelling idiots, happy reading!

Reading Advice to Ladies in 1869

The book, What Now? For Young Ladies, was written in 1869 to give advice to women who had just graduated college but could not enter the workforce as their male counterparts did.  The author is Charles F. Deems, D.D., Pastor of the “Church of the Strangers” in New York.  Pastor Deems had some very specific instructions on what and how a lady should read…

You must read.  You will read.  The habits already formed will lead you to this.  The danger is that you may read the wrong kinds of books, or read the right kind improperly.  Upon these points a few suggestions are affectionately addressed to your understanding.

1) Be content not to read every thing.  You cannot go over the whole field.  Make a selection.  Not because it is a book has a volume claims upon you.  You would not allow every kind of man to talk to you for hours.  Be as choice of books, for books are men’s minds made portable.  As there are so many good books in each department of learning, and whereas your time is short, select the very best.

2) Be sure that you never read a sentence in a book which you would not be pleased to have your father or your brother know to be engaging your attention.  Never read a book which you must peruse in secret.

3) Beware of new books.   Let them take their place in society before you admit them to your library.  They will do you as much good five years hence as now, and then those assayers of books, the critics, will have passed tehm through the fire, and the great public of reading persons, often forming a safer tribunal for the trial of books than even the critics, will have stamped the mark of an approximated true valuation.  There are enough books which have survived three generations, to engage your attention while the books published this year will be running the gauntlet.

4) Beware of books with colored paper covers, the cheap thin issues of a depraved press, the anonymous nouvellettes, and tales and stories.  Better never read than peruse such trash as these contain.  Be sure that the man who wrote the book you are reading is really a great man in his department.  Do not be ashamed of being ignorant of the productions of the modern, flippant, bizarre writings, while you are unfamiliar with Milton and Shakespeare, Spenser and Ben Jonson, the men that “built the lofty rhyme,” and the grand old fathers of our noble English tongue.  If you read the modern books of such men as Macaulay and Hazlitt, and Leigh Hunt, read with them the older and the greater men, to whom they make constant reference, and from whose “well of English undefiled” they drew the water sparking in their shallower channels.

5) Make yourself a small good library to begin on.  Let it embrace the works of a very few of the greatest poets, the greatest historians, the greatest essayists, the greatest metaphysicians, and the greatest religious writers in the language.  Of course THE BIBLE will lie at the foundation of your studies.  These, with a very few books in each of those departments of physical science with which a woman should be acquainted, and the best dictionary of the language, and, if practicable, an encyclopedia, will make you such a beginning as will give strength and breadth and consistency to your self-cuture.  If you have been styding other languages let the same rigid rule be applied to the literatrue of those languages.  The careful reading of one book will show you what you further need in that department; and so you will pass over the field of English literature, omitting much, but short as life is, and many as may be your cares, you will doubtless by perseverance obtain all that is necessary.

6) You will also have your periodicals.  Few things produce superficiality more than a promiscuous reading of our current periodicals.  You will have two selections to make; one from the mass of such publications soliciting your attention, and another, from those which you take, the articles proper to be read.  It is one of the necessities of successful editing of our monthly magazines that so much useless matter must be introduced to make them popular enough to render them profitable to their proprietors.  There is no monthly magazine in existence, with which I am acquainted, which should be read in all its articles by an intellectual young lady seeking a high and large cultivation of mind.  Your own judgement must guide you in this.  A very few of the best monthlies and quarterlies should be suffered to enter our families, and from these a young lady of refinement may select, perhaps, all the light reading necessary to mental recreation.  It is painful to observe how low the standard of mind among our ladies is, judging from the contents of the most popular magazines for ladies.  In your measure do what you can to correct this evil, by laboring to enlarge in your sex the class of more elevated readers.

The author then goes on to make recommendations about the proper way to read.  I will share the funnier points in my next post.

Attention Book Hoarders

Are you a book hoarder, like me?  Do you own more books than any single human being could possibly read in one lifetime?  Do you surround yourself with stacks and piles as if you were trying to build a fort in your office or bedroom?  Do you read in bed, even after you fall asleep, dreaming that you’re reading in bed?  Do you like the musty smell of books that were printed many years before you were even born?  Do you SMELL like those very same books yourself?  Do you get a thrill when the spine of book crackles for the very first time — a sense of excitement at all that promise, but also at the same time a very guilty frisson that you might just have ruined the book somehow?  Do you find yourself using words and phrases like “TBR pile” more often than the common man?  Do you eschew “book trading” sites because you can’t let go?  Do you own multiple copies of the same book, because you firmly believe that one copy “reads better” than the other?  Do you borrow books and never return them (sometimes because you really really really want to finish reading them some day; sometimes because you’ve lost track of them in the infinite recesses of your personal library)?  Do you love to shop at bookstores, always at bookstores — and when you find yourself elsewhere, do you go hunting for books?  Do you wear gloves when you read some books, afraid of soiling the pages?  Do you have any books bound in anything other than hard cardboard, like, say, pure silver or lizardskin?  Do you buy books that you can’t read, because they’re in a foreign language, but you must have them anyway?  When you’re in a furniture show room do you often fawn over the fake books that they have out on the tables and lined up pertly on the shelving?  Do you go to thrift stores like Goodwill and St. Vincent DePaul, to load up on the unbelievable throwaways of other people?  Do you get envious when walking inside a public library?  Do you go straight to the Bargain Bin at every other used bookstore and blow your entire paycheck because you got such a great deal?  Do you troll amazon.com and ebay.com and half.com, looking for steals, only to pay billions in postage just to acquire them so cheaply?  Do you have pet books that you treat like ancient relgious relics, wrapped in plastic or secreted away in a stash that no human hands will ever touch?  Do you buy books ABOUT books?  Are you still reading this, simply because it’s describing your obsession, even though, really, you’d rather be flipping through the pages of a book?

If so, then maybe you need help.  Nah…you just need an outlet for your compulsion.  So get yourself a subscription to Library Thing already.  I joined up earlier this year — you can freely visit my profile if you wish — and while I’ve only scratched the surface of what it is they have to offer, I geniunely love what they’re up to at this site. 

LibraryThing is basically a database, like a virtual card catalogue for your own collection.  You can use it to organize your library and also share it with others online.  You can browse libraries of strangers (for a voyeuristic thrill) or search the book collections of special interest groups and even “regular” libraries online.  But best of all you can chat with others about all things bookish, finding a network of chatter surrounding any given title in your library — and if chatter doesn’t exist yet, you can strike up a conversation or post a review. 

It’s like myspace.com for bookworms.  Only better.  You might discover your favorite writer there, sharing their research or favorite texts as an “lt author.”  I think it’s really cool to have discovered like-minded folks on the site — I even found out that my editor at Raw Dog Screaming Press has a page there, and that we happen to share many of the same books in our collections…it’s uncanny that we have such similar literary tastes.  I also think it’s really cool to click on a link that takes me to a page of photos of all the writers in my book collection (…man, some of those writers are more freaky-looking than I ever imagined.) 

If you’ve got the booklust, allow me to be your enabler.  You can join LibraryThing for free, but you’re library is limited to a certain number (a generous 200) book titles.  After that, you have to pay a reasonable fee.  I ponied up for the lifetime membership right away (cheap at $25).  This post wasn’t intended to be a sales pitch, but I might as well let you know:  I still have a few “one year free” subscriptions to LibraryThing (a $10 value) to giveaway to subscribers to my author newsletter, The Goreletter.  Drop by my website at gorelets.com and sign up to claim your yearlong addiction enabler before I run out of memberships to giveaway.


Guest blogger Michael A. Arnzen is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the flash fiction collection, 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories, and the novel, Play Dead.  His most recent project is a spoken word cd called Audiovile.  A collection of his best fiction and poetry to date — called Proverbs for Monsters — is due soon from Dark Regions Press.  You can find out more about him by subscribing to his award-winning newsletter at gorelets.com.

Secretaries: Part of the Office Equipment

I have in my possession a book called “The Efficient Secretary” copyright 1916.  Much of the advice is still relevant today — be organized, have the proper supplies on hand, familiarize yourself with the rules of spelling an punctuation, etc.

However, in a book of advice that has outlasted the era for which it was intended, there is always some funny bit of writing that jars with our modern views.  In light of that, I bring you the section called “Dressing for Business”:

“It is but natural and right for a business man to want a good-looking, healthy secretary.  Not strictly beautiful, for those endowed with physical beauty who do not look neat and well-dressed are not as pleasing to the eye as are some who have no actual good looks, yet who present a favorable appearance by always dressing well.

You know that you would want the best-looking desk and the newest machine you could get, and to the business man his secretary is merely a part of the office equpiment.”

When I first read this, I wondered if it would be considered offensive to women of the time.  But then I looked at the author’s name, Ellen Lane Spencer, and realized it was written by a woman.

Non “P.C.” Rules for Voting, 1890

Another find from my pile of old books, this one a small, blue, cloth-bound book, about the size of my hand, called “Edison’s Handy Encyclopaedia of General Information and Universal Atlas,” original copyright 1890 and latest reprint in 1896.

What caught my attention was the section called “Qualifications for Voting in Each State of the Union,”  specifically, the many and often surprising things which prevented people from being allowed to vote.  The section begins:

In all of the States the right to vote at general elections is restricted to males of 21 years of age and upward.  Women are entitled to vote at school elections in several States.  They are entitled by local law to full suffrage in the Territories of Utah and Wyoming.  (See article entitled “Woman Suffrage.” 

(Note:   the capitalization and punctuation were kept he same here, and there was no end parentheses for the paragraph.)

Okay–1890–the whole women not being allowed to vote thing was expected.  I was a bit surprised that the minimum age was 21.  But where it really got interesting was the column titled “Persons Excluded from Suffrage.”

There were many and varied reasons for people to be banned from taking part in elections.  Again, some were expected, such as being convicted of a crime, with each state having their own wording and specifics.  Previously accepting bribes in exchange for votes is commonly mentioned as a disqualification.  But many of the things that would disqualify a person from voting were a surprise and some not very “P.C.”  Here is a list:

Idiots and insane (appeared as an exclusion in many state laws and usually listed together, although Missouri specified “persons in asylums at public expense” – I’m not sure if this meant that if you were in a private asylum at your family’s expense you could possibly still vote?).

United States soldiers and sailors (also very common; I’m not sure what the reason is behind this–perhaps because they usually weren’t stationed in their home state?  Or perhaps they were considered too poor to vote? [see “Paupers” below]).

Chinese (California, Oregon).

Convicted of dueling (Connecticut, South Carolina); Sending, bringing, or accepting dueling challenge (Florida); duelists and accessories (Michigan); duelists and abettors (Virginia).

Paupers (Connecticut, Maine, Missouri, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia); paupers except honorably discharged U.S. soldiers and sailors (Massachusetts, New Hampshire).

Rebels (Kansas); Unamnestied Confederates who bore arms against the U.S. (Nevada).

Indians not taxed (Maine, Mississippi).

Indians (Michigan).

Persons excused from paying taxes at their own request (New Hampshire).

I like that last rule; I think I would have moved to New Hampshire.

Nonfiction Poem Recounts Tragic Deaths in Early America

The following is taken from an article called “Sixty Years Ago, Recollections of New England Country Life” from my copy of “New England Magazine” published in March 1892 and is a record, in poetry form, of a real event that took place in the mid 1800s.

“…the great cooperation work was the raising of buildings.  After the timbers were prepared, the number of men necessary were notified, and during the afternoon, under the direction of the carpenter, were put in place, and the skeleton prepared for its covering.  An especially appetizing supper was provided, and in some cases the too liberal distribution of liquor during the work endangered the building and the builders.  This was thought to be the cause of a tragedy in Wilton, which was duly recorded in the poetry of those days, and which exhibits a curious mingling of old-time theology and quaint lamentations:

‘All on a sudden, a beam broke,
And let down fifty-three;
Full twenty-seven feet they fell,
A mournful sight to see.

‘Some lay with broken shoulder bones,
And some with broken arms,
Others with broken legs and thighs
And divers other harms.

‘One instantaneously was killed;
His soul has taken flight
To mansions of eternal day
Or everlasting night.

‘Two more in a short time did pass
Thro’ death’s dark shady vale,
Which now are in the realms of joy
Or the infernal hell.

Two more in  a few minutes’ space
Did bid this world adieu,
Who are rejected of their God
Or with his chosen few.”

I was able to find one online source that lists the entire poem (42 stanzas) as it appeared in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1868.  However, the introductory paragraph from the New England Magazine source shown here on the A Bunch of Wordz site is not published elsewhere on the internet as of the date of this posting (at least not that I could find). 

It’s interesting to note the mention of alcohol as a probable cause in the New England Magazine, whereas the cause is implied to be something more supernatural in the earlier publication. 

The author is not credited in my magazine that I can see but is sited in the Register as being Nathaniel Allen.

Green Spectacles are an Abomination

We all know that Edgar Allan Poe wrote wonderful stories and poems, but did you know he also wrote articles for the magazines of the time?  One such piece, widely believed to have been written by Poe, was published in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1846.  It’s entitled “A Few Words on Etiquette” and, although appearing in a women’s publication, looks to be more along the lines of advice to young men of the time.

Some of the information could be relevant even today, as exampled in this somewhat comical section on how to conduct yourself when seated at the table next to a lady, who perhaps is not as familiar with etiquette as the reader of the article:

“If the lady be something of a gourmande, and in over-zealous pursuit of the aroma of the wind of a pigeon should raise an unmanageable portion to her mouth, you should cease all conversation with her and look steadfastly into the opposite part of the room.”

Other advice is somewhat harsh:

“Familiarity of manner is the greatest vice of society, and when our acquaintance finds himself entitled to say, ‘Allow me, my dear fellow,’ or any such phrase, cut him directly.”

“Dance quietly but gracefully, moving only your legs and feet, not your body to and fro like a pendulum. If you have no ear for music, or a false ear, never dance at all.”

Much of his advice reflects the age in which it was written:

“If you have remarkably fine teeth, you may smile affectionately upon the bowee without speaking.”

“Never enter your own house without bowing to any one you may meet there…”

Can you imagine entering your house today and bowing to your spouse or sibling?  They would think you were off your rocker.

Poe certainly does not express any hesitance in offering his very definite opinions:

“Punning is now decidedly out of date. It is a silly and displeasing thing…”

“Green spectacles are an abomination, fitted only for students of divinity; blue ones are respectable and even distingué.”

You can read the entire article at the wonderful Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore site.


I collect old books and magazines and am especially interested in material from America in the early 1900s and the 1800s.  I’ll be going through my collection from time to time and posting work, some of which may have been out of the public eye for decades, or possibly more than a century in some cases.  Look for these postings in the antiquarian category on this site.

One such piece is a short short called “Consecration” by Fiswoode Tarleton.  Published in a magazine called Overland Monthly in July of 1920, this story is so well written that  I could easily see it being published in any number of 21st century literary magazines.  Following is the story in its entirety.

When I was a boy of ten or thereabouts, he sat in front of the cemetery gates, as he does yet, on nice days to see that no one trespasses on the grounds.  But sometimes he would fall asleep in his chair, and then we would steal past his motionless form and make for the nut groves within to fill our sacks.  His hair was white, even then–twenty or more years ago–and his back quite stooped from age.  When he walked, a twisted cane helped along his withered body.  Usually a clay pipe stuck from his mouth and he smoked in long puffs.  In bad weather, a little house, that was set aside for his use, protected him from the rain and cold, and by means of a rope, he could open and shut the gates from the inside.  Sometimes when a funeral party approached he would examine their permit through the window, and if it was all right, nod for them to enter.  On Sundays and holidays when th people flocked to the Cemetery to look after their lots, he would put on a white shirt, and a black tie, and limp about from one end of the cemetery to the other.  Such was Uncle Henry as I have always known him.

One day–about the end of November, last year–a hike, undertaken primarily for some rabbit shooting, brought me, toward evening, to the cemetery gates.  Winter had already taken hold.  The trees were bare, and birds, there were none, except a few jays tht fluttered about among the branches.  The wind was bitter cold and sent the dead leaves flying through the air; this way and that, until they banked up against the fence in high piles.  On the road, a man was walking behind a creaking wagon and swinging his arms to keep warm.  A party of mourners, wrapped up to their chins, were filing slowly down a path between the graves; the women weeping; the men bowing their heads from grief.  One of the party (She must have been the widow) often paused to look back at a new grave, which two men were closing over; their spades ringing against the hard earth, and their bodies bending backward as if worked by springs.  My dog, hot on the trail of a rabbit, began to yelp in a near-by wood.

Smoke was pouring from the chimney of the old Keeper’s house and I stepped in to warm up my numb feet and to chat.

With his usual greeting, “Glad to see you, son,” he pushed a stool toward me and with it, his tobacco box.

We talked of the weather, and the chances for a long, severe winter; the strikes that were tying up the mills in the city; and at last the high cost of living, which led him to compare, the conditions with what they were in seventy or seventy two.  Even a grave cost ten times as much, he declared as it did in “sixty-six.”  After a while he pointed out of the window to a large sycamore which had been badly damaged by a recent wind.  “I’m afraid,” said he, “that tree is going to die,” and it has stood for fifty years.”

“Uncle Henry, what has kept you here, so long–among the dead?” I asked.

He only puffed at his pipe the harder and looked out of the window–at nothing of course, while I sat there turning the logs ith the toe of my shoe.  Outside it was growing dark.  You could no longer see the wagons that squeaked and rumbled along the road.  The wind howled down the chimney and around the eaves of the house like the voice of a drifting soul.  The old keeper’s dog in the corner, a fine mastiff, raised his head and growled.  Then as if to make sure that no one was prowling about, he paced the floor and sniffed the air before stretching himself out again.

At last when I got up and put on my hat, as if to go, the old keeper took a lantern from the wall, and motioning for me to follow, led me out doors and up a path between the graves.  The dog trailed at my heels.  Over rock by-paths, for a considerable distance, I followed the limping form.  Now and then a stone, unseen in the dim light almost sent me stumbling to my knees.  Suddenly the light from the lantern splashed the rusted, iron door of a tomb, which the old keeper, without any fumbling, unlocked and pulled open with a grating sound.  Then we stepped in and stood before a crypt, and this is what was chiseled in the stone:–

“Amelia, the betrothed of Henry

Died March 15, 1860″

Beneath this inscription, was another one, carved evidently, by a rough hand:

Henry, the betrothed of Amelia

Died March 15, 1860.

I kept the punctuation exactly as it appeared in the original, even where there might have been small errors.  As of this posting, I was unable to find any other occurrence of this story on the internet.  If you’re interested in reading more, I did find a brief overview of Fiswoode Tarleton’s life, as well as a complete copy of his book of short stories, “Bloody Ground, A Cycle of the Southern Hills,” thanks to the wonderful Google Books Library Project.