Tuesday, October 22, 2013

John Brown

I picked up this book last week: Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War.

I enjoying reading 19th century history because the world was just so damned bizarre. And it wasn't that long ago--I think my great grandmother would have been alive in 1850, and that's not many generations removed from me.

I'm barely a third of the way through the book, but I've already run across two incredibly strange bits of history. The first:
In the early 1800s, roughly a third of Americans died before reaching adulthood. Early death was so common that parents recycled their children's names; the Browns, having lost a Sarah, Frederick, and Ellen, named three newborns Sarah, Frederick, and Ellen.

Think that's strange? Try this passage:
Smith profitably managed his family's estates while cycling through the many reform movements of the early 1800s, including temperance, women's rights, vegetarianism, and sexual "purity" (a creed advocated by Sylvester Graham, who claimed his coarse-grained crackers curbed lust and masturbation).

Wait--a guy named Graham, who had crackers?

So I looked up Sylvester Graham, and here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry:
Grahamites, as Graham's followers were called, accepted the teaching of their mentor with regard to all aspects of lifestyle. As such, they practiced abstinence from alcohol, frequent bathing, daily brushing of teeth, vegetarianism, and a generally sparse lifestyle. Graham also was an advocate of sexual abstinence, especially from masturbation, which he regarded as an evil that inevitably led to insanity. He felt that all excitement was unhealthful, and spices were among the prohibited ingredients in his diet. As a result his dietary recommendations were inevitably bland, which led to the Grahamites consuming large quantities of graham crackers, Graham's own invention.

If you're wondering, the original Graham crackers were apparently incredibly bland and nothing like the tasty bit of delicious we have today (the cinnamon version, in particular).

Here's two more strange and amusing excerpts.

First, this is an actual medical diagnose from 1860: "A scrofulous humour seated in her glands." I've never heard of the word "scrofulous" (a disease with glandular swellings) before, so I'm glad that's been remedied.

Next, a complaint (a very long story, but it involves a very obese person who was unproductive in their salesmanship task): "I spent so much money in transporting so much inert adipose matter."

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