Curiosities of Olden Times

I can’t help it.  When I go into Powell’s Books, I have to look, which (more often than not) leads to buying.  Today I picked up a real gem: a quaint artifact, published in 1895, that is the former property of the Gloucestershire County Libraries, donated to said library system by Mrs. A. G. Hartland of Hardwick Court, Chepstow in 1936.  It was checked out once, stamped with a due date of June 8th, 1948.  I can’t help but wonder if the book was that unpopular, or if the first person to check it out simply never gave it back.

All of the library labels and bookplate announcing its provenance are in near-perfect condition.  The book itself is marred by a little foxing on the title page and a tear on the first page, but it is otherwise in excellent shape.  I was surprised to find the print date was 1895.  I have a sort of fascination with the 19th century, and a half-baked theory that everything we’re trying to grapple with now as a society has its origin in that century.

Having only obtained this treasure eight or ten hours ago, I haven’t yet read enough of it to tell you what I think of the whole.  I have perused it, however, and found the section called “What are Women Made Of?” very interesting.  While the whole book is filled with racist, sexist and social darwinist sentiments that were common in the era it was penned, my favorite passage thus far is this:

But the Rabbis are equally unsparing.  They assert that when Eve had to be drawn from the side of Adam she was not extracted by the head, lest she should be vain ; nor by the eyes, lest they should be wanton ; nor by the mouth, lest she should be given to tittle-tattle ; nor by the ears, lest she should be inquisitive ; nor by the hands, lest she should be meddlesome ; nor by the feet, lest she should be a gadabout ; nor by the heart, lest she should be jealous ; but she was drawn forth by the side ; yet, notwithstanding these precautions, she has every fault specially guarded against, because, being extracted sideways, she was perverse.

-S. Baring-Gould, M.A.; “What are Women Made Of?”, Curiosities of Olden Times. Edinburgh: John Grant, 1895, p. 103.

He continues, in that chapter, to rough-out the general myths of how woman was made according to various traditions.  None of them are particularly flattering thus far, though some are more imaginative than I expected.

I like physical books that I can hold in my hand and turn the pages of, but this text is available as an e-book from Google Books if you’re terribly curious.  I’m sure that some libraries still have this book, though this copy managed to escape from Gloucestershire County.  Here is a link to the chapter on women:

While I’ve been entertaining myself with the bit about the origin of woman, I actually bought the book for the chapter “The Meaning of Mourning”.  Victorian mourning rituals have interested me for several years now.  It’s a theme that pops up in my artwork from time to time, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, though all the history I read of them are contemporary.  While this book has many charms, it was the idea of reading about mourning mythology and symbolism from a 19th century author that most captivated my interest.  That, and the sense of humor in the style of writing.

Really, I just went in to Powell’s to use the ladies’ room.  On my way back out, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to pop into the myth section and see if they had any good copies of Joseph Campbell’s books.  And there, on the shelf above Joseph Campbell, was the aptly titled Curiosities of Olden Times.


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