The Strange and Unusual from Garrett Scott

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The Strange and Unusual from Garrett Scott


By Michael Stillman

Garrett Scott, Bookseller
, seems to specialize in the odd and unusual. That's not to say every book in his 17th catalogue, Spring Miscellany, is strange. It is just that there are many quite odd works to be found here. Strange science, unusual theology, medical advice you would not want to follow, and the like can be found, along with some sensible treatises thrown in to bring us back to the path of reason. Scott's catalogues are always entertaining and if you would like to own some of these amazing works, the good news is there is little here that will break the bank. Here are some of the books you will find inside.

This is a most odd book from one of America's more respected observers and writers. The title is Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life... by George Catlin. This is an 1870 fourth edition of a work originally published under the title "The Breath of Life." Catlin was obsessed with the importance of breathing through the nose, rather than the mouth. Certainly, there are benefits in terms of filtering germs to this habit, but he does get a bit carried away. Catlin had undertaken much observation of the American Indians while they were still relatively untouched by western civilization, and concluded that such maladies of civilization as hunch-backs, paupers, and idiocy could be attributed to breathing through the mouth. "And if I were to endeavor to bequeath to posterity the most important Motto which human language can convey," Catlin concludes, "it should be in three words -- Shut-your-mouth." This bequest has been forgotten, but Catlin is remembered for leaving us his "North American Indian Portfolio," a collection of Indian drawings that would cost you more than everything in this catalogue combined. Item 21, $100.

Item 108 is a spirited defense of the drinking of alcohol in the army by none other than the Secretary of War. Secretary Peter Porter's defense is contained in Spirituous Liquors to the Army. Letter from the Secretary of War in Reply to a Resolution of the House of Representatives Inquiring What Beneficial Effects, if any, Have Arisen, or Are Likely to Arise, from the Daily Use of Spirituous Liquors by the Army... Seems that in 1829 a prudish House of Representatives was questioning the Army practice of distributing liquor to its soldiers. Porter responds that the use of liquor is so widespread in the country "that there is not, it is believed, one man in four, among the laboring classes, who does not drink, daily, more than one gill; and it is from these classes that our Army is recruited." He goes on to say that depriving these people of the drink to which they are accustomed would impair their health and lead them to consume amounts beyond the modest quantities distributed by the government. I wonder when this entirely rational practice was discontinued? $50.