Bad Children of History #5

Today’s googly-eyed bad children come from Childe Harold’s A Child’s Book of Abridged Wisdom (San Francisco: Paul Elder and Co, 1905).

What, exactly, were imps and young degenerates doing around the turn of the 20th century? If Harold’s book is any indication, they were pulling lion’s tails, treating chickens with cold disdain, learning bad words from the dictionary, and staring at adults. (One might argue that such outrageous misbehavior merits a book of full-length wisdom rather than the abridged version, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

Here are a few of Harold’s miscreant youth:

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Speak gently to the little birds.

Do not impede their flight

By putting salt upon their tails,

For that is not polite.

Don’t throw your kitten down the well,

Nor yet your little brother.

It is not good for him; besides,

I’m sure ‘twould vex your mother.

(Incidentally, the belief that you can catch a bird by putting salt on its tail dates back to at least the sixteenth century. That said, just because it was persistent does not mean that it was polite.)

Let’s have a close-up of the terrible brother-tosser:

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Cat: alarmed. Mother: alarmed. Little brother: extremely alarmed. Botanically mysterious flowers: possibly alarmed, definitely attentive.

Harold’s book stands out from most of the other bad-child-themed books featured here, inasmuch as nothing particularly tragic happens to any of the young rascals. Instead, the message of the book is simple and clear: don’t do it. Just don’t. It’s bad. You don’t want to be bad, do you? Nope, I didn’t think so.

Magician of the Week #32: Hermann Homar

This week’s magician, Hermann Homar, was a Kansas native who, after traveling the United States, settled in Chicago, where he performed as “The Wizard of the West”.

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The April 1957 issue of M-U-M: Magic, Unity, Might offers a meandering profile of Homar, describing his childhood passing out handbills so that he could get free admission to travelling shows, his adult life as a brakeman on the Santa Fe Railroad, and some lean years touring with a magic show during the Great Depression. (His truck was repossessed en route to Fort Worth, forcing him to put his magic supplies into storage until he earned enough money to continue his journey.)

A favorite tidbit about this Wizard of the West: as a boy, he taught himself how to do magic tricks using books from the public library. (We approve!)

If you’re not yet convinced that Depression-era magicians were tough as nails, listen to this: Homar played a date in Dallas immediately after breaking his right wrist. He brought along a “young friend” to help him get dressed, but his plaster cast didn’t inhibit him from performing the Linking Rings along with the rest of his tricks (although he did recall the show being “less peppy” than usual).

Hermann Homar: a tough, tough wizard.

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Impeccable Science: Finny Tribes, Horse Fishing, and Dental Apparatus

Today’s post highlights science writing which is not only impeccable, but also delightfully florid, with selections from Dr. G. Hartwig’s The Harmonies of Nature, or, the Unity of Creation (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1866). The book itself is an interesting reflection on homeostasis within ecosystems through predator satiation, various instinctual behaviors, and a balance of “passive and active defences“.

The Harmonies of Nature includes some satisfyingly grotesque scientific diagrams, like this cross-section of the “dental apparatus of the Lamprey, & fang fixed to the roof”.

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If that fang fixed to the roof isn’t enough for you, take a gander at this illustration of horses being used to capture electric eels. Hartwig describes it as a “highly entertaining and animated scene”.

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(In the spirit of scientific inquiry/ morbid fascination with this mass of writhing aquatic horses, I had to investigate whether Hartwig’s described equine fishing method was a real thing. Apparently 18th and 19th century scientists were very interested in electrical impulses within animals’ bodies, and did scores of somewhat ghastly experiments including one where the charge from an electric catfish stimulated the sciatic nerve in a recently-amputated frog’s leg, causing the leg to kick a little bell. I can’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, among the electrically-curious minds of history was that of German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, who convinced understandably leery Guayquerie Indians to help him capture electric eels for study and documentation. In his account of this process, the Guayquerie drove about 30 wild horses and mules into the river, where the animals thrashed about, driving the eels out of the mud and subsequently tiring them out by absorbing numerous benumbing shocks. The exhausted eels could then be pulled to shore with small harpoons. You can read the text of von Humboldt’s distressing account of ‘horse fishing’ here.)

Steering our conversation back to The Harmonies of Nature, let me leave you with one of the most impressive and reassuring sentences I’ve read in a good while:

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Under the protection of an Almighty Lawgiver the equilibrium of the inhabitants of the ocean is thus constantly renewed though constantly assailed; and though the scythe of death is indefatigably mowing throughout Neptune’s domain, it is but to celebrate the eternal triumph of life.

From a current perspective, Hartwig’s earnest confidence in the resilience of Nature’s systems is almost touching. Let’s all keep our collective fingers crossed for the oceanic eternal triumph of life.

Bad Children of History #4

Meet John. He’s a fairly nice little boy, but he’s also an apple thief. He couldn’t resist pocketing a few of Butcher Wharton’s “rosy-cheeked apples”. (Better than the pallid apples at home?)

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Here’s a picture of John, the pilfered apples, and the “worthy, though eccentric” butcher (alongside an unidentifiable, suspended piece of meat and a terrifying hatchet).

John’s mother caught him in his fruity transgression and ordered him to return the apples. In a classic whoops-but-I-don’t-want-to-anger-the-guy-with-a-hatchet move, John returned to the butcher shop with the apples, and:

On reaching the door of the shop he noticed some other customers in, and a way of getting out of the difficulty at once occurred to him, and one which would not bring him into contact with the butcher, and this was to roll the apples into the shop from the door. So, taking one of them, he rolled in gently along the floor, and doing the same with the second, he set off home in high glee.

Alas, John’s high glee was short-lived, as his mother did not agree with the genius of his solution and sent him back to apologize– to the eccentric fellow with the hatchet and the sharp hooks.

Yes, it was very hard for little John to face up to his erroneous ways, but as the butcher was, as previously mentioned, worthy, he accepted John’s apology and gave him three apples to take home for himself and his siblings.

Let’s hope they were just as rosy-cheeked as the originals.

(Image and moralistic tale from an 1878 issue of Chatterbox, a weekly illustrated newspaper with stories for children.)

Magician of the Week #31: Frank Mehring

This week’s star magician was selected based solely on the merit of his excellent outfit. Look at this dapper fellow!

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Magician Frank Mehring won 1st place in the Originality Contest at the 22nd Annual Houdini Club Convention. What did he do that was so original? Whatever happened to this guy? Where can I get an outfit like that? Please let us know if you have the answer to any of these questions.

Photo from Vol. 51, No. 7 of M-U-M: Magic, Unity, Might.

Art//Archives Sneak Peek: Gardens Galore!

It’s finally warm outside, and we have gardens on the brain. Accordingly, we’ve pulled a few gorgeous old books about flowers and garden design.

Stop by to see them during Tuesday open visual research hours! They’ll be out in the Special Collections Reading Room from 10:30 – 1:00.

Impeccable Science: Give Your Lungs a Bath

This week’s impeccable science post features one of our favorite texts, an 1839 health tract entitled Thoughts on Bathing.

Thoughts on Bathing is a trove of essential information. For example, bathing of the entire body is important because it cleans your skin and invigorates your circulation. Cold bathing is particularly beneficial, and can even be fun!

A further explanation delves into the specifics of how the skin breathes and helps “renovate” the blood.

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Whatever changes take place in the lungs, by the action of the air upon the blood in the small vessels of those organs, to purify and renovate it, take place also all over the surface of the body; that in this respect, therefore, the skin may be regarded as a sort of appendage of the lungs; and that if the skin be varnished over with a mixture of oil and dust, so that it cannot perform its office, an unreasonable burden will be thrown upon the lungs, which will thereby be weakened, and predisposed to disease.

Not bathing = colds or lung disease. Makes sense, kind of. But to whom is bathing most important? This is where the truly impeccable science kicks in.

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This temporary suspension of the offices of the skin is, however, peculiarly dangerous to those who are of light complexion, slender form, with a long neck, and narrow shoulders projecting almost like wings, indicating a chest whose internal organs as well as external dimensions are comparatively small and feeble, and therefore poorly prepared to do that work which belongs to other parts or organs.

Listen up, thin pale people, you’d better remember your weekly cold bath. Your life could depend on it.

You can see more gems from Thoughts on Bathing in the Spring 2012 issue of Occasional Nuggets, which deals with health and exercise.