Enquire Within, I

I grew up in a household with books. Some were wonderfully dated, with yellowed pages and crumbling binding. One of my favourites of the older books was the Enquire Within. Published in 1894, it promised reliable information on just about anything you needed to know :

Enquire WithinWhether You Wish to Model a Flower in Wax;
to Study the Rules of Etiquette;
to Serve a Relish for Breakfast or Supper;
to Plan a Dinner for a Large Party or a Small One;
to Cure a Headache;
to Make a Will;
to Get Married;
to Bury a Relative;
Whatever You May Wish to Do, Make, or to Enjoy,
Provided Your Desire has Relation to the Necessities of Domestic Life,
I Hope You will not Fail to ‘Enquire Within.’—Editor

My family frequently consulted it and read aloud the instructions. This was usually done tongue-in-cheek, especially with regard to the advice to men and women on courting and marital behaviour or styles of dress suitable for various occasions. However, many of the suggestions just needed a little updating for current mores. And usually the instructions for making home remedies held good.

I no longer have a bound copy of the book but, thanks to Project Gutenberg, I can read all the text. Many are the useful hints that, had they been followed, would have prevented certain public figures from regrettable behaviour and the resulting censure.

If only Conrad Black had taken to heart article 219, Pedantry:

219. Pedantry

Some Men have a Mania for Greek and Latin quotations: this is peculiarly to be avoided. It is like pulling up the stones from a tomb wherewith to kill the living. Nothing is more wearisome than pedantry.

Britney Spears could have staged a much more impressive comeback had she had read articles 217 and 1929:

217. The Woman who wishes her conversation to be agreeable

will avoid conceit or affectation, and laughter which is not natural and spontaneous, Her language will be easy and unstudied, marked by a graceful carelessness, which, at the same time, never oversteps the limits of propriety. Her lips will readily yield to a pleasant smile; she will not love to hear herself talk; her tones will bear the impress of sincerity, and her eyes kindle with animation as she speaks. The art of pleasing is, in truth, the very soul of good breeding; for the precise object of the latter is to render us agreeable to all with whom we associate—to make us, at the same time, esteemed and loved.

1929. Ladies’ Dress

Ladies’ dresses should be chosen so as to produce an agreeable harmony. Never put on a dark-coloured bonnet with a light spring costume. Avoid uniting colours which will suggest an epigram; such as a straw-coloured dress with a green bonnet.

And most of the stars and starlets of movies and music could limit their on-again, off-again liaisons and the consequent unfortunate tabloid coverage if they followed this simple formula:

1978. Love’s Telegraph

If a gentleman want a wife, he wears a ring on the first finger of the left hand; if he be engaged, he wears it on the second finger; if married, on the third; and on the fourth if he never intends to be married. When a lady is not engaged, she wears a hoop or diamond on her first finger; if engaged, on the second; if married, on the third; and on the fourth if she intends to die unmarried. When a gentleman presents a fan, flower, or trinket, to a lady with the left hand, this, on his part, is an overture of regard; should she receive it with the left hand, it is considered as an acceptance of his esteem; but if with the right hand, it is a refusal of the offer. Thus, by a few simple tokens explained by rule, the passion of love is expressed; and through the medium of the telegraph, the most timid and diffident man may, without difficulty, communicate his sentiments of regard to a lady, and, in case his offer should be refused, avoid experiencing the mortification of an explicit refusal.

Household hints: coming next.


4 thoughts on “Enquire Within, I

  1. Shelley: I am glad you asked. Here are some useful rules …

    2186. Advice to Young Ladies

    1. If you have blue eyes you need not languish: if black eyes, you need not stare.

    2. If you have pretty feet there is no occasion to wear short petticoats: if you are doubtful as to that point, there can be no harm in letting the petticoats be long.

    3. If you have good teeth, do not laugh in order to show them: if bad teeth do not laugh less than the occasion may warrant.

    4. If you have pretty hands and arms, you may play on the harp if you play well: if they are disposed to be clumsy, work tapestry.

    5. If you have a bad voice, speak in a subdued tone: if you have the finest voice in the world, never speak in a high tone.

    6. If you dance well, dance but seldom; if ill, never dance at all.

    7. If you sing well, make no previous excuses: if indifferently, do not hesitate when you are asked, for few people are judges of singing, but every one is sensible of a desire to please.

    8. To preserve beauty, rise early.

    9. To preserve esteem, be gentle.

    10. To obtain power, be condescending.

    11. To live happily, try to promote the happiness of others.

  2. I can’t tell you how frequently I turn my thoughts to Rule 2191 whenever J becomes too absorbed in her threads and needles:

    “What though her knitting and crochet seem to absorb too large a share of her attention; depend upon it, that as her eyes watch the intertwinings of the threads, and the manoeuvres of the needles, she is thinking of the events of byegone times, which entangled your two hearts in the network of love, whose meshes you can neither of you unravel or escape.”

    Be it ever thus…

  3. Thank you Anmaru! I will post this very useful list on the fridge, with #8 & 11 highlighted. Do you know where one can obtain a harp (for cheap?)

    It’s too bad that there was no mention of treating the mother with due respect. I feel this is an unfortunate oversight. I think I will add a note to the end of #11. It will say…To live happily, try to promote the happiness of others, especially your mother. (In other words, please clean your room.)

    I believe that a happy mother makes for happy teenagers, don’t you?


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