Intriguing Old English Books From Bernard Shapero Rare Books
By Michael Stillman
Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books has issued a catalogue of "English Books and Manuscripts to 1800." It is a collection of items that is not only old, but most interesting and entertaining as well. Many of the items give us a look at old beliefs and disputes that are most amusing with the benefit of hindsight. Perhaps our serious thoughts today will one day similarly amuse our descendants. Here are a few of the items Shapero Rare Books is offering.
Item 1 offers an unusual set of economic and social proposals from A Lover of His Country in 1673. Some of the proposals from this anonymous Londoner follow. He would ban brandy, chocolate, coffee and tea. However, not for the moral reasons you might expect. He wanted people to drink beer, which used native grown ingredients, instead. He also felt too many people were distracted from their businesses by hanging around coffee houses. Take that, Starbucks! The author wanted to cut down on stagecoaches, because he found riding in them, as opposed to on horseback, "effeminate." He was concerned that this was harming clothing manufacturers. The reasoning here was that when you rode on a horse, dirt and mud would be thrown up on you as you traveled, necessitating that riders bring a change of clothes with them to be worn on arrival. In a stagecoach, you remained clean, requiring only one set of clothes. For the poor, he proposed a form of "workfare." They would be put to work making fishing tackle. Other sections of this book call for a stop to further building in London, that all foreign Protestants be naturalized, and that the gentry be required to live part of the year in the country. This interesting collection of ideas is priced at £2,000 (British pounds, US dollar equivalent of $3,674).