How to Be a Man – in 1886

Posted: September 20, 2011 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
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Loves corn flakes, hates swearing.

I’m in Minnesota for 12 days. About every six months I make it back to Janesville and spend about a week and a half in my quiet hometown. One of my favorite activities on these trips involves digging through the boxes in my parents’ basement, where my mom has a “junk” room that’s filled with school papers, bills, love letters, toys, golf clubs, horrific art projects and books. Books, books, books. I still have about 10 boxes that I left behind when I moved east and my mom has, well, a lot.

She always has the coolest old books, ones she’s found at garage sales or in the belongings of deceased relatives. There’s a new one that has fascinated me on my last two trips. Her version is from 1886. It was written by Dr. J.H. Kellogg – of the cereal – and is called Man, the Masterpiece or Plain Truths Plainly Told about Boyhood, Youth and Manhood. The old doc had some strange views. Now, in 120 years, I’m sure someone will write a blog about the ridiculous viewpoints in some medical book that came out in 2009. The writer will mock the simpleton who wrote it and those who believed it. But that’s in the future. In the present, let’s look back at the past. Men, you still might learn something.

The book is divided by numerous sections, including: From Boyhood Up, How to Be Strong, Getting a Wife, an Evil Heritage, Stomachs, The Rum Family, Biliousness, Germs, How to Bathe and, of course, Sexual Sins and their Consequences. We’ll get to that one.

Start with the brain, because that’s where everything begins. Intelligence “depends upon the size of the thinking portion of the brain in proportion to its body.” Proportion. So if you have a small brain, it’s fine, provided you’re 4-feet tall. If you’re a 7-foot center, your brain should be the size of a basketball, I guess. Otherwise, you’ll really struggle to pick up the concepts of the motion offense.

Kellogg notes that “A man who has a four-pound brain is more likely to be a philosopher.” Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, all – apparently – possessed four-pound brains. Men with 3.9-pound brains are doomed to a life of pretentiousness and arrogance, played out in college classrooms and dorm rooms where they bore everyone with their pseudo philosophies that are laughable to everyone else.

Ladies, sorry, but you “have smaller brains than men. This fact is often cited by a certain class of philosophers (edit: the ones with four-pound brains?) to prove that woman had a weaker mind than man; but the argument is not conclusive. Those who urge it overlook the fact that woman has a smaller body than man. This fact being taken into account, it is found that the average woman’s brain is larger in proportion to her size than that of the average man.” If I had a heavier brain I’d be better at translating that passage.

Kellogg, like all great philosophers with heavy brains, was not afraid to tackle the toughest subjects. Like puberty. “Boys at this period should not be kept too steadily engaged in hard work, as it may stunt their growth and weaken their constitution.” If I had known of this book’s existence, I would have quoted this passage to my parents when they suggested I work at Birdseye as a teenager. “My constitution will be stunted.” Kellogg wants kids to read, “but too much reading, especially the reading of exciting and fictitious literature, should be avoided.” Whatever you do, do not – for God’s sake, do not – let your teenager read an exciting book.

Today’s parents worry about a lot of thing with their teens – bullying, drugs, STDs, drinking, peer pressure…an endless list. Back in 1886, parents had a bigger concern – swearing. Cursin’ and a cussin’. “Nothing is more shocking than to hear, when walking along the street, most terrible oaths, lisped by lips that are too young to speak distinctly, but already familiar with the vile language of the street. What can we hope of such a boy, but that he will develop in due time into a criminal of the deepest dye, and graduate from the school of vice into some prison or reformatory at an early age?” Kellogg likely went through a lot of bars of soap when swearing youth stayed with him.

But swearing is nothing compared to cigarettes. In an anecdote that I’d have to see to believe, Kellogg writes, “Often have we seen, in large cities, ragged little urchins, scarcely old enough to walk, picking out of the filth the short stumps of cigars cast away by old devotees of the weed, and enjoying them with apparently as keen a relish as the most experienced smoker.” Give Kellogg credit – he could paint an image. When I see my mom smoking now, I’ll picture an urchin – a ragged urchin, probably one with a Cockney accent and a hat – picking up the stump with his dirty hands and enjoying – no, relishing – the nicotine.

All men want to know how to score with the gals. On page 164, Kellogg starts his “Getting a Wife” chapter, a how-to that left me going, “how’s that?” Marriage, according to Kellogg, “is a transaction of no small importance, and demands cool, deliberate judgment, and the careful weighing of numerous considerations, rather than rash obedience to the dictates of a blind and impetuous passion.” What can you say, he was a helpless romantic. Kellogg wanted men to wait until they were 25 to marry. And old men shouldn’t marry. And “nothing is more obnoxious to good sense, and we might perhaps say morality, than the union of an old man just entering upon his second childhood with a young and blooming girl.” Now, there are probably lots of ladies who agree with that. “The old man who contemplates taking a young girl for a wife, should reflect that such an action is contrary to natural instincts, and that it is likely to be prompted by animal desires which, for his mental happiness and his physical and moral safety, should have been long ago extinguished.” I think Kellogg is saying old dudes are risking heart attacks by hooking up with younger women. Otherwise, the picture he paints is not exactly one that will have elderly gentlemen running from young gals.

Also, “a worthless man should not marry.” No argument. “Wicked” men as well. Oddly, “epileptics should not marry.” Because, you know, “an epileptic father or mother begets insane or epileptic children.” And, it probably goes without saying but Kellogg said it anyway, “syphilitics do not have any right to offer himself in marriage to a woman who is not, like himself, contaminated by the physical and moral taint of this disease.” So it sounds like Kellogg was okay with syphilitics marrying syphilitics. What about a matchup between syphilitics and epileptics? No answer from Kellogg.

And what should you look for in ladies? “Do not marry a flirt,” who are, in Kellogg’s eyes, akin to a scorpion. Don’t wed a woman of fashion, for “She knows nothing of the simple arts by which a home is made comfortable and happy.” A nicer way of saying, woman, stay in the kitchen – and don’t wear a fashionable apron while you’re in there pouring your man his Corn Flakes. Kellogg ends the chapter by saying cousins should not marry. Especially, I’m assuming, if one is a drunkard and the other a flirt.

Kellogg devotes an entire chapter to “the rum family.” Obviously Kellogg was opposed to its consumption, probably because you’d start swearing and urchins would feel the need to start smoking stumps.

The book doesn’t simply focus on the insides or the outsides – Kellogg also offers up some fashion tips, which most men probably avoided, provided they came into contact with one of those evil fashionable ladies. He writes that we “need more clothing in summer than in winter.” This remains true.

But let’s get to the sexy stuff.

“Sexual Sins and their Consequences.” Kellogg’s main concern concerned, well, those who were not masters of their domain. “The nature of the practice is unfortunately too well known to require any precise description.” Thank you, doctor. “There are, of course, no accurate statistics wherewith the extent to which this vice prevails may be determined.” We can only assume that thousands – perhaps millions, maybe even billions – of people are guilty of this vice. Kellogg wants readers to know he’s spent a lot of time observing people doing this, an act that could probably get you arrested in 27 states. Kellogg notes that the vice is less common among “the peasantry of European countries, which is perhaps due to the greater simplicity of habits.” Perhaps. “A medical author of some prominence declares that in Russia the practice is universal among the young of both sexes.” Russian women, equally immoral, apparently.

Kellogg solemnly notes that the practice is mostly limited to humans, though monkeys have been known to do it, but it “is doubtful whether in this case the animal has not been instructed by some vicious human being.” Monkey see…monkey do?

Tobacco – again with the tobacco, and those little, wretched urchins – “must be looked upon as a predisposing cause of sexual vice.” That should be on cigarette boxes. Also, “tobacco-using boys invariably have a senile appearance.” Yeah, but they still look cool, especially if they wear leather jackets and swear at teachers. Those who engage in this vice will experience “weakness of the back, feebleness of the muscles, loss of appetite, slow digestion, nervousness, impairment of vision, loss of energy.” No hairy palms?

It also causes epilepsy.

And loss of memory, “especially of names and of recent events.”

Of course, today we know that this vice can lead to a sad life, like the one led by Ray McKigney.

Finally, mercifully, Kellogg turns away from the self and to sex that takes place between at least two people. “No man has a right to treat his wife as a prostitute.” Not even in role-playing or on Halloween? “The man who considers his wife as simply a means of gratifying his animal propensities, is unworthy of a wife. He is worse than a beast.” But is he worse than an epileptic who swears?

Kellogg saves his greatest venom for those who dream. If you’ve ever closed your eyes and pictured a pretty lady, you’re going to hell and might as well get your affairs in order because your life is doomed, and your after-life isn’t looking any better.

“Young man, have you become a slave to a sensual mind? Are you one of those mental adulterers whose lecherous imagination compels every woman to be the victim of his lust, and hesitates not to debauch for his vile pleasure the purest and the best? Do you belong to this horrible class of satyrs, monsters in human shape, moral assassins, cowardly, sneaking, conscienceless invaders of virtue, from whose vile embrace the purest and loveliest have no protection?” Are you? Are you? Are you? Huh? Well, if you are, “Let me say to you that destruction awaits you. Swift retribution will fall upon you. You shall find yourself accursed in this world and the next.”

Kellogg died at the age of 91. When it came to living a long life, the guy knew what he was talking about. Perhaps he made it that long by not swearing, drinking, smoking, fantasizing or self-abusing. Ninety-one. Long life. But I bet he didn’t have much fun.

  1. […] Never marry an epileptic Huh. That search led to this post I wrote, about an old book about how to be a man – in 1886. The author, the famous and eccentric Dr. Kellogg, believed […]

  2. […] trip back home to Janesville, another trip down to the Fury catacombs. Previous excursions discovered books about how to be a man in 1886 and Alex Karras’s sexually disturbing autobiography. This […]

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