Monday, June 22, 2015

The Complete Vermin-killer

The Complete Vermin-killer (1777)

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How can you resist any pest-removal instructions that start "Spread Gun-powder, beaten small, about the crevices of your bedstead; fire it with a match, and let the smoak in; do this for an hour or more"?

No, I'm definitely not suggesting anybody actually try such a method whether you have gunpowder lying around or not.  But as far as another reminder that the past was indeed a different country this is an interesting trip.  (And I can't help but think that The Complete Vermin-Killer is a great name for a graphic novel.)  Which vermin are covered?  Well in one of those adorably thorough 18th century titles we get a partial list - "bugs, lice, fleas, rats, mice, moles, weasels, caterpillars, frogs, pismires, snails, flies, moths, earwigs, wasps, pole-cats, badgers, foxes, otters" and oh so much more.

Flipping through at random I find that bugs "have been killed by the guts of Rabbits boiled in water, and placed under the bed".  That lice can be destroyed with a salve of butter and pepper while fleas take mustard-seed boiled in water.  Mice can be run away by hog's lard mixed with the brains of a weasel (!) and "distributed about a room".  Field-mice are "very fond of Artichokes".  Moles are apparently the most complicated but there are also instructions for "bat-fowling", teaching birds to talk, a "way to intoxicate water-fowl" and other methods.

The last half is medical advice along the lines of curing headache by "bleed on the temples with Leeches"; instructions for buying and maintaining horses; weather prediction; and garden planning (including preventing mists by hanging eagle feathers at the four corners).

There was a later 1821 edition that lists an author that is a pseudonym for James Sharon who claimed copyright without indicating that this was a reprint.  It's possible but unlikely that he was the original author but I can find no information about him.