Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Old Books

Am I on a roll, or what??

I mentioned the old books I'd brought back from my mum's, which had originally belonged to my grandma. There were a couple which caught my eye, and I'd thought I'd share them with you.

The first one is A New Family Herbal, or to give it it's full title: "A New Family Herbal; Or A History And Description Of All The British And Foreign Plants, Which Are Useful To Man, Either As Food, Medicine, Farming Purposes, Or In The Arts And Manufactures. Compiled From The Works Of Hill, Woodville, Don, Culpepper, And Other Botanists, By Richard Brook." A quick google suggests it may have been originally published around 1847, but this is the 4th edition, which may be from 1851.

The title page
By the way, you'll have to excuse fingers on these photos - the books didn't really want to stay open on their own, so I was holding them with one hand and taking the photo with the other.

As previously mentioned, it seems that my grandma was into her natural remedies, as there are lots of handwritten 'recipes' for various ailments. The front inside cover especially is devoted to asthma and how to deal with it, such as having very strong coffee for breakfast, and the last substantial meal should be taken no later than 5pm.

The book has several colour plates of plants and flowers, like this:

The picture in the top right is the Lime Tree, so I thought I'd share what the book has to say about it:

"A tree common enough in parks and gardens, and when in flower very beautiful and fragrant; the trunk is thick, and the branches grow with a tolerable regularity. The leaves are short, broad, of a figure approaching to round, but terminating in a point, and serrated about the edges. The flowers grow on long yellowish stalks, with a yellow, oblong, and narrow leaf upon them. They are themselves also of a yellowish white colour, and extremely delicate and sweet smell. The fruit is roundish and small.
The flowers of the lime are useful in Epilepsy, and nervous fevers, made into a decoction, or infusion they will be found serviceable in asthma, or irritating coughs; as the whole tree, but more particularly the inner bark is full of a soft mucilage, it is exceedingly serviceable in burns, scalds, and gouty swellings, or inflamatory rheumatic affections of the joints. The powdered leaves may be taken in doses of half a drachm, to relieve urinary heats. The juice as obtained by tapping the tree near the root, is considered of great use in the falling sickness. The following preparation will be found useful for all the purposes for which lime is applied.
Take of Lime flowers.......... four drachms
Liquorice Root....................four drachms
Boiling Water......................three pints

Infuse for a quarter of an hour. A pleasant and wholesome drink for asthmatic people; to be taken warm."

So there you go, if you have the falling sickness, you need to go and tap a lime tree! Speaking of which, I was going to post the video to one of my favourite Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds songs, Lime Tree Arbour, but for some reason when I embedded it it just kept causing my internet to freeze, so I won't bother, because I wouldn't want it to cause the same problems to anyone else. It's probably just a problem with my laptop, but better safe than sorry. Shame, cos it's a gorgeous song.

Anyway, back to the book. At the back are a couple of line drawings of human anatomy - they haven't shown up very well in the photo as they are so finely drawn, but I like how the skeleton appears to be just leaning nonchalantly against a sideboard!

In the front cover my grandma has also issued the following warning:

Steal not this book
For fear of shame
For in this book
You see the owner's name
For when you die
The Lord will say
"Where is that book
You stole that day?"
And if you say
You do not know,
The Lord will say
"Go Down Below".

You wouldn't mess with that, would you? It's similar to another that I must've seen somewhere and which I used to write in my own books when I was younger:

Steal not this book
My honest friend
Or fear the gallows
Will be your end
Up the ladder,
Down the rope, 
And there you'll hang, 
Until you choke!

Somehow the punishment seems a bit excessive for the crime!

The second book which caught my eye is "The Natural History Of All The Most Remarkable Quadrupeds, Birds, Fishes, Reptiles & Insects, Abridged From Buffon, Goldsmith, Cuvier, And Other Eminent Naturalists, By C. Mackenzie, Esq." which may have been first published around 1860:

Again, it has some lovely drawings in it, although these are not in colour, and there are descriptions of almost every creature you can think of, and some I've never even heard of:

If you want to hear what Charles Mackenzie has to say about any of the above, let me know in the comments and I'll either photograph it or write it up, but I thought I'd leave you with his very last entry, on The Common Ear-wig:

"Is too well known to require description. the wings of the Ear-wig are of a curious and beautiful construction; they are very large, in proportion to the size of the animal, transparent, and slightly varied with the colours of the rainbow; they are most wonderfully folded under their short sheaths. The Ear-wig flies only by night, and can hardly be made to open it's wings by day-light. The female deposits her eggs in a place where they will be secured from too great heat or moisture: the larvae are very small, and very little different from the parent; after growing, and many times changing it's skin, the likeness becomes complete. The female Ear-wig is said to guard her young with all the assiduity of the mother hen; covering them with her own body, &c. The Ear-wig feeds chiefly on decayed fruit and vegetable substances; but when in want, it will devour it's own species. It is now considered as certain, that the Ear-wig has no propensity to take up it's abode in the human ear."

So rest assured, your ears are safe!


  1. Oh, I love old books, and yours seem interesting especially the herbal remedies one. I did a course on the Bach remedies, goes alot into trees and plants. I have a book of old remedies to cure this and that and one of the items is for verrucas, you are suppose to put a banana peel up against the infected area. Can you imagine walking around with a banana peel on you foot!

  2. I love old books too, can waste a lot of time in a secondhand bookshop and I like that slightly musty smell of old books, not everyone's cup of tea I know but I just think they're books that have lived a bit! What lovely finds x

  3. Hi Gail, the remedies in this book are certainly quite strange, I'm sure there's something similar to a banana peel on the foot!
    Sandra, I know what you mean. I've definitely got a bit of a thrill thinking that some of these books might date from around the 1860's! And I'm a bit like that with paperbacks - I don't mind if they look a bit dog-eared and well-thumbed, as long as they're clean!


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