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"Enquire Within..."

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149298.  Tue Feb 20, 2007 8:24 am Reply with quote

Now, esteemed colleagues. This could be a winner. It could perhaps sustain the whole show?

The point is: “Enquire Within upon Everything” is a direct Victorian forerunner of both “QI” and “The Book of General Ignorance”. I happen to have one of the book's first editions (1861 – the very first came out in 1857!) in my collection. Browsing through it routinely yesterday, I thought that it would be a good idea to build one whole show on asking the contestants the OLD VICTORIAN QUESTIONS from the book. The challenge would be to provide a new perpective on old things/concepts/ideas. Plus – as you will see below – the questions open unlimited possibilities for the participants' wit. Last but not least – the book's title starts with “E”!

To me, it looks like an unusual, pioneering show, and I would be happy to script it.
Another great plug: this year (2007) is the 150th anniversary of the book's first publication! It makes every sense for "QI" to mark it!

Some examples:

Q: Why does a polished teapot make the best tea?
A: “/number 1990/ As polished metal is a very bad radiator of heat, it keeps the water hot much longer; and the hotter the water is, the better it 'draws' the tea.” (Nice and simple – VV)
Q: Why should a meat cover be made bright?
A: /1999/ “If the cover be dull or scratched, it will absorb heat from the food, and insted of keeping it hot, will make it cold.”
Other questions from the book: “Why do rain drops vary in size?”; “Why is a bushel of dust worth of King's ransom?”; Why does an old saucepan boil quicker than a new one?” etc. etc.

The following sound rather dubious in modern terms and would allow for funny answers:
Q: “Why are damp beds dangerous?”
A: /295/ “Because the evaporation absorbs the heat so abundantly from the surface of our body, that its temperature is lowered below its natural standard' inconsequence of which health is injured (this also explains why it is dangerous to sleep in a damp bed).”
Also: “Why do lamps smoke?”, “Why are wools and furs used in winter?”, “Why will not a dull teapot make a good tea?”; “Why do aged cottagers prefer the Eastern teapot?” etc, etc (I am not quoting the answers deliberately here. Any ideas???)

Below are some more details about this Victorian book – a real conrnucopia of information and wisdom, most of which is still amazingly up-to-date!

In the wake of the Industrial Revolution the population swiftly developed a thirst for knowledge about the myriad of new goods and ideas that were becoming available. But before the days of television, newspaper advertising and junk mail how did people get to know about everything? Over a million people solved the problem by buying a copy of this book which caused a publishing sensation in Victorian Britain. Because it explained so much about so many different aspects of life it continues to provide a very enjoyable and informative peep into the lifestyle of our forebears. In 2775 entries the enquiring Victorian learns how to tell if food is fresh and when it is in season; how to dance; the difference between local dialects; correcting grammar and spelling; the rules of games and puzzles; hints on etiquette; kitchen and household hints and recipes; cures for scores of ailments including rheumatism and baldness; the origins of Christian names; first aid; employment and rental regulations; keeping fit; dressmaking and embroidery; births, marriages and deaths; personal conduct as well as scores of others. We know when and where the Victorians lived. This fascinating book explains much about how they lived.

Enquire Within Upon Everything was primarily a reference book, which set itself the somewhat immodest task of providing
‘… A vast Fund of valuable Information, embracing every Subject of Interest or Utility… a merely nominal Cost.' (page v).
It provided guidance to our forebears on a great variety of everyday topics, with material ranging from short, moralising epigrams to household hints and recipes, and legal advice. As such it offers the modern reader an insight into nineteenth century life. To give you some idea of the range of the content, I shall quote a few examples from a more up-to-date 1891 (edition of which I've got a facsimile).
I think that many parents may relate to the following extract, from Page 103:
‘Allowing Children to Talk incessantly is a mistake. We do not mean to say that they should be restricted from talking in proper seasons, but they should be taught to know when it is proper for them to cease.'
I'm sure my grandmother would have approved of this archetypically Victorian advice, which is very much at variance to modern thinking on the treatment of children.
This item appeared on the same page as a series of ‘Hints for Home Comfort', which contains the information that will interest all Migraine sufferers -
‘Keeping the feet warm will prevent headaches'.
Pages 152 to 155 contain information that will be of great interest to family historians, as they contain listings of christian names and their meanings. People who know me will, no doubt, be amazed to discover that Geoffrey means joyful!
There is a lengthy section on cookery, which tells us such things as how to bake ‘Pure and Cheap Bread' (page 159), and also how to make Calf's Head Pie (page 190). I wonder when you last enjoyed this dish? The fact that this recipe was included in the book reminds us that it was compiled in times when no food was wasted ….
As we move on through the book, we come to a section that dealt with financial and legal matters. The procedures in force for dealing with cases of bankruptcy were explained (pages 226 – 228), and these were followed by a description of the then current law relating to marriage and divorce (page 228-232).
Any late nineteenth century family historians would have been grateful for the full description of how to search for Wills (page 232), which includes the following advice:
‘…your best course is to go to “The Wills Office” at Somerset House, Strand, have on a slip of paper the name of the testator – this, on entering, give to a clerk whom you will see at a desk on the right. At the same time pay a shilling, and you will then be entitled to search all the heavy Index volumes for the testator's name. The name found, the clerk will hand over the will for perusal, and there will be no difficulty whatever, provided you know about the year of the testator's death .'
Sounds simple, don't you think?

I think the possibilities here are huge. Can't wait to hear your comments/suggestions.

149325.  Tue Feb 20, 2007 8:58 am Reply with quote

That sounds like a brilliant source, Vitali. As you say, this sort of book (of which EI was the leading brand) was very popular for quite a long time. I’ve got a minor descendent of EI, called something like “Did you know?” which I think was published in the 1930s, probably aimed at boys. It is very much of its age: it has items of perfectly rational, up-to-date science, geography and history, natural history and so on ... and then you turn the page and there’s an essay explaining, with diagrams, why Negroes are less intelligent than white chaps.

Are there many jaw-dropping moments in the book you’ve got - things that seem amazingly absurd to us nowadays?

149334.  Tue Feb 20, 2007 9:08 am Reply with quote

John Mitch has got a similar book, though I think he may have given it to Dan for Christmas. I seem to remember it having loads of hilarious debunkings of things no-one has thought true for around 200 years, if ever.

149346.  Tue Feb 20, 2007 9:22 am Reply with quote

I think this is a great idea - an entire Victorian show would suit Stephen particularly well, and the other can have fun twirling their watch chains...

Are there many jaw-dropping moments in the book you’ve got - things that seem amazingly absurd to us nowadays?

I've got a copy of the Daily Mail, which sounds somewhat similar.

149357.  Tue Feb 20, 2007 9:35 am Reply with quote

Another random quote from "Enquire", 1861: "When a new visitor enters a drawing-room, if it be a gentleman, the ladies bow slightly; if a lady, the guests rise (!-VV)". A Victorian answer to political correctness!

So, if we all agree that a Victorian episode is OK, where do we go from here? Who has to give it final approval? Sorry for asking, but as a newcomer, I am not yet aware of the exact procedures...
The fact that "Enquire within..." is 150 years old this year is also a powerful argument in favour, don't you think?

149364.  Tue Feb 20, 2007 9:41 am Reply with quote

I think those questions will be answered at the meeting Vitali, generally we'll all murmer our approval or indifference to an idea then Flash will make the final decision.

149400.  Tue Feb 20, 2007 10:23 am Reply with quote

Vitali is like a muscular champion Ukrainian greyhound.

Sinews flexed, straining at the leash to get out of the starting gate...

I could see this stuff sitting nicely under the broad umbrella that is Eccentrics.

149404.  Tue Feb 20, 2007 10:25 am Reply with quote

"When a new visitor enters a drawing-room, if it be a gentleman, the ladies bow slightly; if a lady, the guests rise (!-VV)"

Funnily enough, this is how I was brought up. I will actually also rise if a gentleman with whom I'm not familiar enters the room too.

Anyone else? Anyone?

149406.  Tue Feb 20, 2007 10:27 am Reply with quote

I'll take my headphones out if someone walks in. If i'm trying to impress, that is.

149414.  Tue Feb 20, 2007 10:34 am Reply with quote

Bunter wrote:
"When a new visitor enters a drawing-room, if it be a gentleman, the ladies bow slightly; if a lady, the guests rise (!-VV)"

Funnily enough, this is how I was brought up. I will actually also rise if a gentleman with whom I'm not familiar enters the room too.

Anyone else? Anyone?

Quite right, Bunter. Manners are not eccentric, nor should they be sexually discriminatory; I will hold a door open for a man as automatically as I do for a woman. You have to be careful, though; shy people might find the “standing up” rule attracts attention to their arrival, and makes them uncomfortable; perhaps eye contact, a discreet nod of greeting and a welcoming smile are safer modern options.

149439.  Tue Feb 20, 2007 11:13 am Reply with quote

That's precisely what I meant, MatC: political correctness in reverse. I would normally "rise" myself - be it a lady or a gent...
Am still of the opinion that an "Enquire within" episode would be both timely and worthwhile...

170827.  Mon Apr 30, 2007 7:14 am Reply with quote

This book, interestingly enough, lent its name to the first incarnation of the World Wide Web:

The underlying ideas of the Web can be traced as far back as 1980, when, at CERN in Switzerland, the Englishman Tim Berners-Lee built ENQUIRE (referring to Enquire Within Upon Everything, a book he recalled from his youth). While it was rather different from the Web in use today, it contained many of the same core ideas (and even some of the ideas of Berners-Lee's next project after the WWW, the Semantic Web).

170980.  Mon Apr 30, 2007 2:18 pm Reply with quote

There are various earlier handbooks of wide reference called things like The Gentleman's Vade Mecum, and a satirical version - The Country Gentleman's Vade Mecum, published in 1699 - which might be worth checking out.


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