Riley’s Picks October 2020

Club Minutes: Mutual Improvement Association, 1896-1900


In the minutes of the Mutual Improvement Association from 1897, Elizabeth G. Thomas provided a wonderful piece of advice that I think is actually more relevant today, 123 years later. She read “an article recommending stillness as a cure for overworked and worn out people who fall into a habit of looking back instead of forward and waste precious hours and nerve tissue by speculating what results might have followed if they had acted differently on various occasions.” I am far from “overworked”, but I fall into the trap of wondering and obsessing about the past, as I think most do. The idea of stillness is harder to come by too, with more things to distract and occupy than can be named. It’s very interesting to me, and kind of comforting, to think that people from generations ago had dealt with these sorts of feelings, much the same as today.

Letter: Ober Hussey to Edward Stabler, March 8, 1855


Everyone knows the awkwardness of trying to convey a delicate statement through indirect means. Be it texting, emailing, or in this case, letter writing, it’s never easy to come across the way you are intending to when you’re not face to face with whomever you’re speaking to. I found myself laughing at this letter as Ober Hussey tries as politely as he can to warn Edward Stabler of the dangers his virtuous son could face by coming to work at his factory in Baltimore, fretting over offending or insinuating with his words.

Cookbook: “Dismal Camp Cookbook,” late 19th century


You can really only expect one thing from a cookbook; recipes. So imagine my surprise when the first thing that greeted me when I looked at this document was a really charming poem by Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton. I ended up searching for the poem and finding that it had more to it, a few stanzas preceding what was copied in the cookbook. A favorite line from those not included would be, “Never, never, oh, never! earth’s luckiest sinner, Hath unpunish’d forgotten the hour of his dinner!” I have to say that this has convinced me that all cookbooks and recipes, included those posted online, should probably feature poetry upfront. One can dream.

Advertisement: Edward Stabler, 1833


Edward Stabler, a man I’ve written several of these reflections about in the past, was a man of many talents but was probably best known for his seal making. This document is an advertisement for his seals, promoting his efficiency and the durability and neatness of his seals. My favorite feature of the advertisement is a Certificate that has previous clients of Stabler’s attesting to the quality of his work. It reminds me of modern advertisements, which often rely on testimonials to sell their product, but way more verifiable and compelling.