Thursday, October 4, 2018

How to Survive a Mermaid Attack, 1527

British Library MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 97r
The mermayde is a dedely beste that bringeth a man gladly to dethe. Frome the navyll up she is lyke a woman with a dredfull face, longe slymye here a grete body & is lyke the egle in the nether parte, havinge fete and talentis to tear asonder suche as she geteth. Her tayl is scaled like a fisshe and she singeth a maner of swete song and therwith deceyveth many a gode mariner for whan they here it they fall on slepe commonly & than she commeth and draweth them out of the shippe and tereth them asonder... but the wyse maryners stoppe their eares whan they se her for whan she playth on the water all they be in fear & than they cast out an empty tonne to let her play with it tyll they be past her. This is specifyed of them that have sene it.  
Laurence Andrew, The Noble Lyfe and Natures of Man of Bestes, Serpentys, Fowles and Fisshes
The bad news is that the slimy-haired mermaid of dread wants to tear you asunder with her talons. The good news is that you can distract her with an empty barrel.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

How to Treat the Freshmen, 1367

Luttrell Psalter, f. 157v
“We have learned from certain important and noteworthy persons...  that there are some students who compel (or try to compel) the new students arriving at the university... – both by brazen and evil seizure of their books and other belongings, and by threats and other scams they have devised – to pay, against their will, a penalty for their freshman state (their recent and happy arrival at the aforementioned university!)... by taking them to the tavern and, as a sheep is led to the slaughter, compelling them to join in. And so the decency of conduct which should flourish in the studious, and their gravity of manners and integrity of reputation, is defiled shamefully, and carousals, inebriations, disgusting words, promiscuities, all-nighters both in taverns and around the city at night, housebreakings, and other things we will not mention, ensue. And the reputation of the whole school and all its students is tarnished among prelates and princes and other good and honest people... Let them cease hereafter and utterly, under penalty of excommunication.”

Statute of the University of Orléans
Say it with me now: I will not ransom the freshmen’s books to make them pay for parties.

Monday, August 6, 2018

How to Make Cold-Brewed Coffee, 1850

Coffee plant (c. 1823)

"Take four ounces of good coffee, properly roasted and ground. Dilute it in two glasses of cold water with a spoon. Let it steep all night, covering the vessel which contains it. Next day, pour the pap with care on fine linen placed in a glass funnel in a bottle... One part of this infusion, and two parts of pure water... gives a coffee of a superb colour and perfect taste... How can cold water draw from coffee all that can be obtained from it? I answer, yes! approved by experience... I am astonished that so simple a process has not been adopted."  
P. L. Simmons, Coffee as it is, and as it ought to be
The artisanal, cold-steeped, linen-filtered coffee of your dreams has been around since 1850? I answer, yes!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

How to Spend July, 1612

Wenceslaus Hollar, Summer (1644)

"In July. Now arrives the Sommers Solstice, which with the fiery Dogge turnes the moisture of our bodies into parched exhalations, which we commonly call cholerick symptomes. And therefore shunne roast or broyled meates. Shunne salt meates, Bacon, and strong Beefe. Spare not to drinke Ptizans, Endive, or Succory waters, which coole the liver. Now you may boldly sleepe in the after noone, so that it be not presently after dinner, and not above an houre. Beware of bloud-letting, Physick, and venerous acts. When you are emptie, bath your selfe in colde water, for that recreates the animall powers."  
William Vaughan, Approved Directions for Health
It's July, and you know what that means: no grilled burgers, no sex, just cold baths and endive water.

On second thought, just boldly sleepe until August.

Friday, June 29, 2018

How to Drink Beer, 1725

J. Nothnagel, Man with Beer (1772), Wellcome Library
“I have not known Thirst since I have used hot Beer: Let the Weather be never so hot, and my work great, yet have I not felt Thirst as formerly... But some will say, Cold Beer is very pleasant to one that is Thirsty: I answer it is true: But pleasant things for the most part are very Dangerous. Cold Beer is pleasant when extream Thirst is in the Stomach, but what’s more dangerous to the Health? How many have you known and heard of, who by drinking a cup of Cold Beer in extream Thirst, have taken a surfeit and killed themselves? ...Therefore we must not drink cold Beer because it is pleasant, but hot beer because it is Profitable.”  
A Treatise of Warm Drink
Reminder: cold beer is pleasant but like most pleasant things it brings death. Cheers!

Monday, June 25, 2018

How to Picnic, 1387

Getty MS 27, f. 60v (1430-1440)
"The place where the assembly will be held should be a beautiful green meadow, with beautiful trees all around, well separated from one another, and a clear fountain or some running water... And they should spread out towels and cloths everywhere on the green grass, and put out various meats in great abundance according to the power of the lord. And some people should eat sitting, some standing, some resting on their elbows; and some people should drink, some should laugh, perform and tell stories and play, and in short all the festivities and delights." 
Gaston Phoebus, Livre de chasse
Picnic success checklist:
well separated trees
abundant meats
elbow resters
designated drinkers

Friday, June 1, 2018

How to Remove Wrinkles, 12th century


BL Harley 4425, f. 114r
For treating the wrinkles of old women, take a stinking iris, and extract the juice, and smear the face with that juice in the evening, and in the morning the skin will be raised, and it will crack. We treat the eruption with the aforementioned ointment which contains lily root, and by peeling off the skin, after it has been washed, it will appear very fine.  
The Trotula
Who needs Botox and chemical peels when you've got stinking iris?

Friday, May 4, 2018

How to Eat Bread, 1567


Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg, Amb. 317b 2, f. 85r (1607)
Nobles, who are bilious by nature, have both crusts removed from the bread, both the upper and lower crust. And the preeminent leaders of the church and more fastidious gourmands do likewise. So you should choose the inner part of the bread, because it provides better, more substantial, and faster nourishment than the crust. For people who are healthy but have a humid stomach, or people who want to lose weight, it is sometimes permissible to eat crusts after other foods. 
Johann Curio, De conservanda bona valetudine 
Just as you suspected: your crust-rejecting toddler is actually a bilious Renaissance lord.


Monday, March 26, 2018

How to Choose Tinted Glasses, 1653


Cornelius Meyer, Nuovi ritrovamenti (1689)
"Of Spectacles of pleasure. Simple Spectacles of blew, yellow, red or green colour, are proper to recreate the sight, and will present the objects died in like colour that the Glasses are, only those of the greene do somewhat degenerate; instead of shewing a lively colour it will represent a pale dead colour, and it is because they are not dyed greene enough, or receive not light enough for greene... all colours are not proper to Glasses to give colour..." 
William Oughtred, Mathematicall Recreations
Your choice: the spectacles of pleasure, or the shades of pallid death.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

How to Survive Cold Season, 1761



Giovanni Battista Ferrari, Hesperides (1646)
Fever: To prevent catching any infectious fever, do not breathe near the face of the sick person, neither swallow your spittle while in the room. 
Cold in the Head: Pare very thin the yellow rind of an orange. Roll it up inside out and thrust a roll up each nostril.  
Cough: Drink a pint and a half of cold water lying down in bed... Or, make a hole thro' a lemon, and fill it with honey. Roast it, and catch the juice. Take a tea-spoonful of this frequently.  
The Country Gentleman, Farmer, and Housewife's Compendious Instructor 
What, you don't want to spend the winter with a cocktail garnish up your nose? Maybe you shouldn't have swallowed your spittle, my friend.