Thursday, January 5, 2012

Advice for the Independant Age, in two parts

Our Dear Newbie is ready to branch out and explore a bit. She'd like to know what her household would be like in the mid-19th century. Her mentors, like their mid-19th century counterparts, are quick to offer a dizzying array of advice manuals from the period. ...but which one to trust? In the first part of this series, we'll look at why advice manuals became popular and some of the various types of advice manuals. In the next part, we'll take one selection "domestic medicine" and trace the factors in selecting which manual your impression likely consulted.

Why advice manuals rather than consult a professional? During the Jacksonian Era, America was caught up in an independent spirit. Authority was distrusted. The Common Man doing for himself and his family was held to the highest standard. Education and knowledge was not just for the elite few, any person with the desire to know could explore for themselves. Anyone with the desire to share information could write a pamphlet, treatise, or text... and many did just that.

What types of advice manuals were written? Many of the most well-known today include the "Every Man His Own..."  and the "Beadle's Dime Guide to..." books. From such booklets, the Jacksonian man or woman could learn the basics of a variety of professional and artisan skills including law, medicine, tailoring, dress-making, shoe-making, veterinary medicine, brokering, gardening, brewing, horse training... to name a few. (See the links to Google Books below)

Many women lent their pens to the trend in recipe books and cooking manuals in this era. These often included not only recipes for every day meals but fancy meals, entertainment advice, household cleaners, caring for household items, caring for sick persons, caring for and feeding children, and even governing servants. Even Robert Roberts, an African-American butler, in 1827 thought to advise fellow servants in his work, "The House Servant's Directory."

Medical practitioners got in the act, too... and home medical guides were very well received by the public. (more on that in the second part of the series.)

In an age where success in society was based on present behavior rather than accident of birth, folks wishing to be successful depended on etiquette advice manuals to avoid a success-killing faux pas. In these books the lives of society persons were dissected for how to dress for every occasion, how to write communiques and to whom, how to pay calls, how to walk in the street, how to talk to people and who not to, how to mourn beautifully, how to select staff and how to let them go... even how to conduct oneself in business.

Thus we see that a spirit of independence  and DIY ambition led to advice manuals being written on almost any topic one cared to explore. When we continue, we'll use domestic medicine guides to explore which manual Dear Newbie's impression might reference.

Some of the varied "Every Man His Own..." books:
Every Man His Own Trainer, or How to Develop, Condition, and Train a Trotter or Pacer 1889
Every Man His Own Art Critic 1888
Every Man His Own Cattle Doctor 1825
Every Man His Own Brewer 1768
Every Man His Own Gardener 1841
Every Man His Own Gardener 1813
The Family Physician, or Every Man His Own Doctor 1835
Every Woman Her Own House-Keeper 1796

"The House Servant's Directory" by Robert Roberts

A few of the earliest American recipe books and domestic advice manuals:
 Feeding America, The Historic American Cookbook Project

Etiquette Manuals:
Rules of Etiquette and Home Culture, or What to do and how to do it 1889
Self Instruction in Practical Business Qualifications 1890
The Gentleman's Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness 1860
Etiquette: Social Ethics and the Courtesies of Society 1854

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