Sometime last year I was mooching around the Todmorden antique / bric-a-brac market, and I happened upon a book. I picked it up and flicked through it, and couldn’t quite believe my eyes.
The title is “Everything Within”. They weren’t kidding. Ronseal titles FTW. The intrepid editors have put a little bit for everyone in here, from bringing up baby to funeral etiquette, passing through cookery, DIY and Empire geography on the way. After standing and gawping for way too long, flicking from random section to random section – I figured I ought to ask how much and was chuffed when the stallholder only wanted a solitary single squid for it. A pound! Bargain.
When I got home, I looked it up – and suddenly it all became clear. Apparently, Tim Berners-Lee (yes, him) named the forerunner to the WWW “ENQUIRE” – after the earlier title of this book, “Enquire Within Upon Everything”. That’s where I knew that time devouring sensation of fascination, flicking from one interesting but largely trivial thing to the next, suddenly looking up, pink eyed and hungry, at 3 in the morning. The Interwebs! Wow. The Net in book form.
This is no simple encyclopaedia. They have sense and structure. This is an information goldmine. It calls itself “A library of information for the home”. – and really, I can’t see anyone needing any other reference books with this on hand. (when it was published. Obviously. There’s not much in the way of commentary on trends in Hip-Hop or space travel.)
I’m not sure exactly which edition this is – the first edition was in 1856, but this is definitely 20th century – 1932-33 at a guess (1932 is mentioned in some general knowledge entries – and there is an entry for President Field-Marshall Paul von Hindenburg of Germany, but no nasty Mr Hitler.)
As well as the sheer randomness of some of the sections, there’s some really useful stuff in here – and it is a magical insight into the world of the inter-war years. Where motor cars, telephones and electricity even were still relatively new innovations, enjoyed by the wealthy in society. The several sections on letter writing go to show that it was still the main medium for communication. Where today we’d pick up the phone, send a text, a tweet, a status update or an email – notes, letters and telegrams were still de rigueur even then. Maybe even right up to the sixties? As someone who enjoys reading the letters and diaries of the people I am interested in (published, – i’m not sneaking into my friend’s desk drawers for a nosey) – I worry what legacy will be left for generations to come when all of our communication is done electronically, and not always archived or kept at all. But that’s a tangent.
I thought it might be fun to share some of the gems in this book with you, maybe one a week, see just how Internet-like it is. While there are definitely cute animals:
I couldn’t find a picture of a cat – (thought my Poppy obliged with this one for you)
Nor do I think there is any of the less savoury content of the Internet. Though there is a section called “Too much fondling” – I think this is considered a bad thing. Anyway. Who knows what we’ll find.