Philobiblon: Seventeenth-century Scrooges

Friday, December 23, 2005

Seventeenth-century Scrooges

Complaints about Christmas are nothing new. The puritan Humphrey Howell in an almanac during the Interregnum complained that the feast derived from the pagan Saturnalia was blasphemous towards Christ in its origin and its conduct "for when in all the year is he more dishonoured. What less pleasing to him than swearing, drunkenness and all manner of villainy."

Even more of a Scrooge was another almanac compiler, who argued that the time spent on religious festivals should properly be devoted to work, since God had ordained six days of week for that and "here is no room left for holy days". (p. 152-153)

And I was commenting last night about lawyer jokes. Well the only - that I know of anyway - female almanac compiler of the 17th century, Sarah Jinner, wrote that they:

Have lined their gowns, and made them pistol-proof,
And Magna Carta clad in coat of buff.
And with a bolder confidence can take
A larger fee for Reformation sake" (p. 109)

She also has some comments on useful antiaphrodisiacs - rue "made a man no better than a eunuch", while for women she prescribed a powder made from "a red bull's pizzle". (p. 122)

Pretty bad, but not as bad as Sir Christopher Wren, who claimed to have cured his wife's thrush "by hanging a bag of live boglice around her neck". (Anyone know what boglice are?)

And an interesting tie to a recent post of mine on marriage, which attracted some considerable heat on Blogcritics; Nicholas Culpepper on marriage - "We all know that marriage is a civil thing, therefore ought more properly to belong to the civil magistrate than the clergyman; but the clergy get money by it, that's the key of the business." (p. 155)

From Astrology and the Popular Press: English Almanacs 1500-1800, Bernard Capp, Faber and Faber, London and Boston, 1979.

While astrologers in general and the almanac writers are now little regarded, the book makes an interesting case that they were important in spreading at least elementary knowledge of science and mathematics to the masses. They spread knowledge of the shape and size of the solar system, of the nature of eclipses and other natural phenomena, and assisted in the replacement of Roman numbers by Arabic. Their lists of weights and measures, ready reckoners and tables of simple interest aided in economic development.

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