Thursday, May 24, 2007

How To Do

A friend loaned me this remarkable book, called How To Do, by L.W. Yaggy. It was published over 100 years ago in 1903. The book is full of practical information on how to do all kinds of things that might be useful in a World Without Oil.

It is full of surprising things -- surprising not just because I don't know how to do them, but because the thought of doing them would never have even occurred to me. For example, there is an entry on how to make a baseball. Make a baseball? But that would take a long time, and baseballs come from the store, right?

The writing style is also very entertaining. For example, from the entry on Furs -- Domestic Manufacture of:

"The skins of raccoons, minks, muskrats, rabbits, foxes, deer, cats, dogs, woodchucks and skunks are all valuable. Handsome robes may be made from the skins of the last two animals and the writer has seen fur coats made from the skins of woodchucks, well tanned, dyed and trimmed, which were elegant as well as comfortable, and no one but a connoisseur would be able to guess their origin."

Some of the differences between 1903 and today are striking. Consider this passage:

"Very handsome floor mats are made by tanning sheep pelts, and dyeing them some bright color, which is done with very little trouble, the art of dyeing is now so familiar to almost every household."

I can't imagine that many American households in 2007 are at all familiar with the art of dyeing.

There are entries on making your own paint, gunpowder, parchment, and perfume. Reading through this book made me feel inferior to the people of 1903. I'm not sure whether they would be impressed by my video gaming skills, or laugh at what a waste of time it is.

Maybe the future will look like the past. Maybe we will learn to make things again. As the book says:

". . . and who would not feel a greater satisfaction in wearing a nice article, from the fact that it was something of his own manufacture, a product of his own taste and genius?"


YuckyMuck said...

Oh man, you have struck a nerve with me, totally aside from the fact that I love books from this period, it's just that the arts and sciences these days are so disconnected from everyday life. Sure, we use them (we got TV, computer 3D, moon walks) but hardly any of us DO them anymore. And add to that the fact that our country rose out of the the enlightenment, that our most famous figures like Jefferson and Washington were natural philosophers and artists. Skills like these are easily learned and the learning and mastering can bring huge pleasure and insight. I could go on and on, but let me just say thanks for posting this wonderful, wonderful reminder.

Shannon said...

Wow, I had a sort of modern version of a book like that when I was younger; I think it was called How To Do Just About Everything, and it talked about planting gardens, and fixing washing machines, and whittling, and all kinds of things I had never heard of. This sounds even more interesting, and equally useful.

Keep posting excerpts from it!


Shannon said...

This got winner-ed! Congrats.