Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Old Advice, Mostly Useful

Recently, I've been bombarded with information about how wasteful, indebted, and damaging our culture is. On the flip side, I've also seen a lot on people who are trying to do their part to change that, to help Americans see that they can live frugally and happily without buying into consumer culture. Are people waking up and realizing that buying tons of stuff isn't so good?

This weekend, Lance's mom brought out an old book (possibly from 1889 or 1892, but certainly from before 1908) called The Every-Day Cook-Book by Miss E. Neill. It's a neat volume, with interesting recipes and home health remedies, as well as sound advice. Take this passage, for example, listed under "ITEMS WORTH REMEMBERING":
Pictures are both for use and ornament. They serve to recall pleasant memories and scenes; they harmonize with the furnishing of the rooms. If they serve neither of these purposes they are worse than useless; they only help fill space which would look better empty, or gather dust and make work to keep them clean.

A room filled with quantities of trifling ornaments has the look of a bazar [sic] and displays neither good taste nor good sense. Artistic excellence aims to have all the furnishings of a high order of workmanship combined with simplicity, while good sense understands the folly of dusting a lot of rubbish.

A poor book had best be burned to give place to a better, or even to an empty shelf, for fire destroys its poison, and puts it out of the way of doing harm.

Better economize in purchasing of furniture or carpets than scrimp in buying good books or papers.

Our sitting-rooms need never be empty of guests or our libraries of society if the company of good books is admitted to them.
I love the last bit about books. But the part that caught my eye was the emphasis on not having things if they serve no purpose. And not cluttering up the home with "trifling ornaments". I've been on a quest for some time to shed some of my more useless belongings, so Neill's words resonate across a century. Good sense is good sense, no matter the time I suppose.

I'll talk about The Every-Day Cook-Book more because it contains some gems of good sense, and some passages that are mildly amusing as relics from a time gone by. It's also a book repair project for me, since the volume I have is falling apart. I have plans to read it all, though, and maybe find someway to make an academic paper out of it...and try a few of the recipes.


bockstark.knits said...

Sounds like a great book! I suffer from too much clutter and have to learn to let go! If only knitting and spinning didn't take up so much of my time! :)

Kerry said...

*gasp* Burn a book?? Never. Give it to a library, donate it the the hospital auxillary for raising funds, give it to a battered women's shelter. Burn it?? Though a book may not be to my taste, it may very well have inspiration for another. I think of all the Nag Hammadi library that was lost. Burn a book? I shudder.