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September 5, 2012 / Louisa Yates

‘How to be Beautiful’ (1889) – via Feministe

Your tea break this morning should really be spent in horrified contemplation of this blog post from Feministe.us, which details some of the recommendations made by Barkham Burroughs in his Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information. Burroughs exhorts women to put soapsuds in their eyes, bathe in ammonia (probably best not to confuse those last two suggestions), briskly brush themselves down with stiff bristled brushes and  – last but not least – dance naked in the sunshine.

Burroughs is inexplicably silent on what men should do, but I can think of a few. Bleach their moustache tips, perhaps?

You can get the full text – and why would you not want to do that? – from archive.org. You will have instantly at your fingertips solutions for almost every problem that may beset the human, such as ‘serpent bites’ and ‘bleeding’ from almost every orifice and organ. A personal favourite is the entry on ‘How to Distinguish Death’ which is included due to the many many instances of ‘parties being buried alive, they being to all appearance dead’. No ride on the Necropolitan Line for you, you ‘imaginary dead’! Only the ‘truly deceased’ get to go!

On a more serious note, the Encylopaedia functions as an excellent guide to the many solvents, poisons, ‘medications’ and other chemical wonders to which the Victorians clearly had access in liberal quantities. Anyone who winces at The Crimson Petal and the White‘s homemade abortifacent of zinc sulphate, among other nasties not intended for vaginal douching, would do well to consult Burrough’s loving catalogue of the endless ways in which you can do yourself harm.

And on that note, a little bit of dancing naked in the (much wished-for, late-but-still-welcome) sunshine is clearly required!

 

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