Monday, January 27, 2014

How to Handle Books, 1345

Yale, Beinecke Marston MS 67, f. 66r
"And in the first place as to the opening and closing of books, let there be due moderation, that they be not unclasped in precipitate haste, nor when we have finished our inspection be put away without being duly closed. For it behoves us to guard a book much more carefully than a boot. 
But the race of scholars is commonly badly brought up, and unless they are bridled in by the rules of their elders they indulge in infinite puerilities...You may happen to see some headstrong youth lazily lounging over his studies, and when the winter's frost is sharp, his nose running from the nipping cold drips down, nor does he think of wiping it with his pocket-handkerchief until he has bedewed the book before him with the ugly moisture.... He does not fear to eat fruit or cheese over an open book, or carelessly to carry a cup to and from his mouth... 
But the handling of books is specially to be forbidden to those shameless youths, who as soon as they have learned to form the shapes of letters, straightway, if they have the opportunity, become unhappy commentators, and wherever they find an extra margin about the text, furnish it with monstrous alphabets, or if any other frivolity strikes their fancy, at once their pen begins to write it."
 Richard de Bury, Philobiblon (1345)
Hello, reader! This head-cold season, please remember that your book is not a Kleenex. Also, medieval manuscripts and cheese are not a great combination.

Friday, January 24, 2014

How to Make a Rainbow, 1633

Peter Paul Rubens, Landscape With a Rainbow (c. 1638)
"The Rainebow is a thing admirable in the world, which ravisheth often the eyes and spirits of men in consideration of his rich intermingled colours which are seene under the cloudes, seeming as the glistering of the starres, pretious stones, & ornaments of the most beautious flowers... I will shew you how you may doe it at your doore, by a fine and facill experiment. Take water in your mouth, and turne your backe to the Sunne, and your face against some obscure place, then blow out the water which is in your mouth, that it may bee sprinkled in small drops and vapours: you shall see these atomes vapours in the beames of the Sunne to turne into a faire Rainebow, but all the griefe is that it lasteth not but soone is vanished." 
Hendrik van Etten, Mathematicall Recreations (1633)
Did you know that you have a beauteous rainbow inside of you? And that you can ravish mens' spirits with its rich intermingled colors? Just make sure that they are not standing directly in the path of your mouth-rainbow.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How to Succeed on a Business Trip, 1528

Talk to the suit.
Jacopo Pontormo, Portrait of a Young Man (c. 1526)

"Cosimo de' Medici spoke to a friend of his who was very rich but not very learned, and had obtained through Cosimo a mission outside of Florence, and asked Cosimo as he was leaving how he ought to behave to succeed in this mission. Cosimo replied: 'Dress in rose color, and speak little.'"

Baldesar Castiglione, Il libro del cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier, 1528)

Concerned about your upcoming business trip to Milan? Take it from Cosimo: keep your mouth shut and let your pink suit do the talking.

Monday, January 20, 2014

How to Improve Your Memory, 1563

Edward Topsell, The History of Four-Footed Beasts, 1607
"To make one have a good memorie. Take a Tooth or the lefte legge of a Badgre... and binde it aboute youre riggt arme nexte unto the flesh. Take also the gall of a Partrich, and rubbe your temples with it that it maie soke into the skin and fleshe, ones in a moneth, and it will make you have a good memorie." 
The Second Part of the Secretes of Maister Alexis of Piemont (1563)
This is a bit of a Faustian bargain, isn't it? Your improved memory comes at the cost of having to adorn yourself with badger parts and partridge goo. Well, at least others will definitely remember you. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

How to Say it With Flowers, 1881

Edgar Degas, Woman Seated Beside a Vase of Flowers, 1865
"A bouquet of flowers and leaves may be selected and arranged so as to express much depth of feeling -- to be truly a poem. We present herewith a list of many flowers and plants, to which, by universal consent, a sentiment has become attached." 
Acacia--Concealed love.
Bladder-Nut Tree--Frivolous amusements.
Currants--You please me.
Dogwood Flowering (Cornus)--Am I indifferent to you?
Flax--I feel your kindness.
Fuchsia--The ambition of my love thus plagues itself.
Geranium, Ivy--Your hand for next dance.
Pine Apple--You are perfect.
Saffron--Excess is dangerous.
Sorrel--Wit ill-timed.
John H. Young, Our Deportment (1881)
The message I usually seek to communicate with flowers is "Why would you think I bought these at the grocery store?" But why stop there when you could ask someone to dance with a geranium or express charity with a turnip? And, after all, nothing says "frivolous amusements" like the Bladder-Nut Tree.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How to Cure Head Congestion, 1596

"A Medicine for the stopping of the nose and head, which commeth by reason of colde. Take a good quantity of the iuice of Primrose, and blow it with a quill into the Patients nose, and let him keep himselfe warme after it, and it will cleare both his head and nose." 
A. T., A Rich Store-House or Treasury for the Diseased (1596)
Your stuffy patient may be alarmed when you stick a quill into his nose and pressure-wash his sinuses with primrose juice, but he'll thank you later.

Friday, January 10, 2014

How to Make a Snow Pig, 1882

"Snow Statuary. The statuary may be of various kinds. It is very seldom that pigs are sculptured in marble or cast in bronze, and it would be well to make some of snow, so as to have statues not likely to be found elsewhere. An oblong mass of snow forms the body; the legs, nose, and ears are made of sticks surrounded by snow, and a bit of rope nicely curled will make a very good tail. The various parts can be shaped and carved according to the skill of the young artist. A number of pigs, of different sizes, will give a lively and social air to the yard of a snow-house." 
Daniel Carter Beard, What to Do and How to Do It (1882)
It's true that pig statuary is hard to come by, so if your decorating aesthetic tends toward the porcine, winter might be your chance to festoon your yard with a herd of various-sized pigs. Live the dream!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How to Keep Your Hands Warm, 1579

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Hunters in the Snow (1565)
"Whosoever annoynts his feete or hands, with the grease of a Woolfe: he shall not be hurt with any colde of his handes, or feete so annointed." 
Thomas Lupton, A Thousand Notable Things (1579)
Winter inventory checklist: Hot cocoa. Warm hat. Wolf grease.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

How (Not) to Celebrate the New Year, c. 700

Museum Meermanno, MMW 10 D 7, f. 85v (10th c.)
"If anyone does what many do on the first day of January, that is to say, goes around in the costume of a stag or a calf (which still remains from pagan custom), he must do penance for three years, because this is demoniacal." 
Burgundian Penitential (c. 700)
The first decision of the New Year: do you play it safe, or do you have one awesome day of pagan animal-themed revelry and then do penance until 2017? It's your call.