A recent gloriously sunny morning at the Columbia Road Flower Market yielded not blooms but a book. Forgive my unctuous and outdated verbosity. My prose style has been contaminated by a little red book I found at an antique stall among the flowers. Published in 1890, it’s called Everybody’s Scrap Book of Curious Facts – A BOOK FOR ODD MOMENTS. This afternoon I have spent some very odd moments indeed with its compiler, Don Lemon.
His argument on his book’s behalf is this: ‘I have often found that when the mind was so wearied that even a sensational novel failed to fix the attention, short paragraphs about unusual things in science, art, or literature, were interesting enough to divert my thoughts from cares of business.’
Mr Lemon thus conveniently liberated himself from any editorial scruples or considerations other than shortness and diversion. His book is of its time. So to our time, it is imperialist, racist, sexist, credulous and rather humorous.
Here are a few things I learned from Mr Lemon:
The mostly costly leather in the world is known to the trade as piano leather. The secret of tanning piano leather is known only to a family of tanners in Thuringia, Germany.
Wednesday and Thursday are especially lucky for weddings in Bulgaria.
The well-proportioned woman wears a shoe one half the size of the glove her hand calls for.
The thin angular ear is said to denote bad temper and cruelty … Great philosophers and statesmen have been noticed to have large and sloping ears.
When to Pare the Finger Nails (not on Sunday)
In the Arctic region, a man who wants a divorce leaves home in anger and does not return for several days. The wife takes the hint and departs.
That the colon was introduced in about 1485 and the comma 35 years later
In the month of February 1866, there was no full moon.
The stork is partial to kittens as an article of food, and finds them an easy and wholesome prey; and the cats reciprocate by a love for young storks.
It may be consoling to red-headed people to read that out of 165 patients at the Kirkbride insane asylum only one has read hair.
Among Things that Never will be Settled: ‘whether a long screwdriver is better than a short one of the same family’.
Fair Rosamund was not poisoned by Queen Eleanor, but died in the odour of sanctity in the convent of Godstow.
A centipede is afraid of a tarantula, and when he lies down to sleep he always takes the precaution to build a cactus fence about him. A tarantula will never crawl over cactus.
It has been estimate that we get a complete new outfit of brains about every two months.
The list of thing that can be eaten from the fingers is on the increase. It includes all bread, toast, tarts and small cakes, celery and asparagus.
We must all make our apologies to the pig, who has been grossly maligned in regard to his food. Instead of being ready to eat anything, he turns out to be the most fastidious of animals.
Of all quarrels, the most senseless, the most bootless, the most worrying, is a quarrel with your circumstances.
The Guanches, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands, rudely embalmed their corpses, drying the bodies in the air and covering them with varnish.
In 1695 Limerick and Tipperary, Ireland, had many showers of a soft, fatty substance resembling butter. It was of a dark yellow colour, and always fell at night. The people gathered it and use it as an ointment, reporting many astonishing cures.
The Fijian cannibals’ emotions have reference for the greater part to food, so he worships the god Matawaloo, who has eight stomachs and is always eating.
Australia is a country full of absurdities in animal, vegetable and human life.
When I started to write this post, I typed in some of the ‘anthropology’ but found that I could not dare to propagate Mr Lemon’s observations of the Chinese, the Indo-Chinese, the Australian aborigine and the ‘Peruvian’.
Otherwise, I found the Scrapbook quite fascinating and fairly authoritative, and certainly an index of knowledge and attitudes if I need to set another book in the late Victorian era.
Meanwhile, if anyone needs to know anything about anything – or feels an odd moment coming on -I am happy to lend out my Everybody’s Scrap Book of Curious Facts, for the price of postage.
Michelle Lovric's website
What a find! A book for much more than odd moments, though "odd" is the right word!
It reminds me of an evening I spent with some friends, where we ended up (for reasons which now escape me) reading through an old book of household and etiquette tips, which we think was published shortly before WW1, and which was full of interesting advice, including a lengthy section for young ladies about what articles it is appropriate to knit for young gentlemen of your acquaintance, depending young your relationship with him, and what you would wish the relationship to be. (you start with scarves and work your way in. Knitting him a bathing dress is acceptable only if you are engaged, or possibly amounts to becoming engaged, as I recall.)
Did Mr Lemon have anything to say on the subject of knitting?
Well, this seems to me to be essential reading. What a fortunate, nay, invaluable find!
I guess you would need to be on terms of some intimacy with a man in order to knit him a bathing costume, Marjorie. No, nothing on knitting as far as I can see. shame!
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