19th Century and Onwards, Books, Food

John Morrissey’s Three Months Diet, c.1919

I was looking through old scanned health and wellness books on archive.org recently, researching for another blog post, when I came across something so incredible I had to read it three times. And make a blog post about it.

In Edward B Warman’s The Care of the Body, published in 1919, there’s a section that offers opinions from various people regarding good diet. The part that caught my eye was titled “John Morrissey’s Three Months Diet.” There was no preamble or introduction to John Morrissey, but after my own research, and given the reference to prize-fighters in training, I believe he could’ve been the boxer John Morrissey. Even though he died in 1878, this advice could have been compiled by Warman from an earlier source, or perhaps received directly from Morrissey at an earlier time – Morrissey was only 16 years older, and died comparatively young.

Anyway, enjoy:

First—Take a black draught*. Any druggist will put it up. All prize-fighters take this when they begin to train for a fight.

Second—Be sure to get at least seven or eight hours of good sound sleep every night.

Third—In the morning when you first get up drink a glass of hard cider with a raw egg in it. If the cider is not to be had, then use sherry wine, but I prefer the cider. Then start out and walk briskly a couple of miles. When you come back take a sponge bath and rub dry with a coarse towel. Rub until the skin is all aglow.

Fourth—For breakfast eat a lean steak, cooked rare; also eat stale bread. Use no milk, no sugar, no butter and no potatoes, with the exception of about once a week. If you wish you can eat a roast or baked potato in the morning. Drink sparingly of tea and coffee. Tea is better.

Fifth-For dinner eat rare roast beef and stale bread. Use no potatoes or vegetables of any kind with this meal. Change the diet with an occasional mutton chop without fat.

Sixth-For supper a lean steak or mutton chop without fat. Do not eat any warm biscuit or warm bread at any time. Stick to good, wholesome stale wheat bread. Eat no pies, cakes or pastry of any kind. Use salt, pepper and all other seasonings very sparingly.

Seventh—Use no stimulants of any kind. Do not smoke. Drink sparingly of water. Do not eat berries or vegetables of any kind except, occasionally, a raw onion.

Eighth—If you feel weak in the morning before breakfast, it is likely to come from bathing; if so, it should be discontinued a few days.

jimmy clabby boxerThis boxer’s expression is either determination, or he’s feeling the effects of scurvy from the absence of green leafy vegetables!

I really wish Warman had included some sort of individual explanation for this “three months diet.” Based on the intense concentration of protein, I would assume it was intended for men training for some physical activity or to quickly build their muscles (like a prize-fighter). But three months? That length of time makes it seem like a fad diet, which is unusual for a book that seems to focus on overall care of the body. I’d expect something sustainable.

But also, remember everyone – if you feel weak in the morning, it’s probably because you bathed! Not because you’re subsisting on meat, stale bread, and hardly any water.

I do agree that tea is better, though!

* Ed. note: “Black draught” is an anti-constipation aid.

19th Century and Onwards, Books

Etiquette of morning calls and visits of ceremony

victorian visiting

One of the reasons I love reading Victorian/Regency novels is that I get a glimpse of the everyday rituals, strange to us now, that were so important to the people performing them. One of those rituals that always seemed at once charming and terrifying to me was the obligation of the morning call 0r social visit. So much seemed to hinge on those visits!

For example, from Jane Austen’s Persuasion:

“Where shall we go?” said [Mary], when they were ready. “I suppose you will not like to call at the Great House before they have been to see you?”

“I have not the smallest objection on that account,” replied Anne. “I should never think of standing on such ceremony with people I know so well as Mrs and the Miss Musgroves.”

“Oh! but they ought to call upon you as soon as possible. They ought to feel what is due to you as my sister . . .”

And then there was the first call paid to Margaret and Mrs Hale by Mrs Thornton and her daughter in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. Mrs Thornton’s son insisted that she pay this call, and she was not exactly thrilled about it:

As dinner-giving, and as criticising other people’s dinners, [Mrs Thornton] took satisfaction in it. But this going to make acquaintance with strangers was a very different thing. She was ill at ease, and looked more than usually stern and forbidding as she entered the Hales’ little drawing-room.

It ended up being a very tense visit for everyone involved, yet the Hales were still expected to pay a return call to Mrs Thornton.

Of course, obligations were obligations, at least to the people of certain social classes, and according to Daphne Dale, “the etiquette of visiting is not to be slighted.” Paying calls – whether visits of friendship, ceremony, condolence, or congratulation –  was a way to initiate and continue valuable social connections and friendships. They helped make introductions between newcomers to a neighbourhood and the people in the social class they would be expected to know. They were also “a kind of safeguard against any acquaintances which are thought to be undesirable,” in the words of Lady Colin Campbell.


By 1922, “within the walls of society itself, the visit of formality [was] decreasing.” So it was odd for me to find a detailed section on visiting in my c.1938 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Household Management. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Morning calls, despite the name, were made after luncheon, between 3 and 5pm.
  • They were required “after dining at a friend’s house, or after a ball, picnic, or other party.”
  • The visits were expected to last only about 15-20 minutes.
  • Underdressing was preferable to overdressing.
  • Pets were not allowed to accompany you on visits, especially if the person you’re visiting also had a dog, because “anything may happen!”
  • “At Home” Days were special days set aside to receive visitors every week, fortnight, or month.
  • If you received a call that interrupted you in the middle of light needlework, you could keep at it during the visit. All other tasks had to be put aside.
  • Of course, it was on the visitor to gauge the situation and ensure they weren’t intruding on anything important such as a meal.
  • People were encouraged to keep “accounts” of visits given and returned. As expected, this was to help determine whether or not to bother with future visits.
  • Visiting cards with your name and address were left with a servant or in the front hall to act as an introduction, to note that a visit had been made to someone who was not at home, or to signify your condolences.

The rules for cards alone were . . . well, just read this:

In making a first call, if your acquaintance or friend be married, and her husband be alive, your own card and two of your husband’s should be left (your husband’s second card being intended for the husband of the lady visited). Should your acquaintance be unmarried, your own card and only one of your husband’s should be left, unless the father of brother of your friend be living in the same house; then another of your husband’s cards should be left for them.

There were also rules for when a lady stopped leaving two of her husband’s cards and started leaving only one, and what to do with your card if you’re in a “motor or carriage” (the servant will come to you and take it).

There was already so much etiquette in mind when paying the call itself – a lady can offer a gentleman her hand but doesn’t shake it, and she bows to unmarried men only – that I think keeping track of the visiting card rules would be my undoing. I would probably just fling cards down on a table and never be invited anywhere ever again!


  • Austen, Jane. Persuasion. 1818. (Available on amazon.ca and amazon.com)
  • Gaskell, Elizabeth. North and South. 1855. (Available on amazon.ca and amazon.com)
  • Dale, Daphne. Our social customs. A practical guide to deportment, easy manners, and social etiquette. Chicago: W.B. Conkey Company, 1895.
  • Lady Colin Campbell. Etiquette of Good Society. London: Cassell and Company Limited, 1893.
  • Emily Post. Etiquette in society, in business, in politics and at home. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1922.
  • Daisy Eyebright. A Manual of Etiquette with Hints on Politeness and Good Breeding. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1873.
  • Isabella Beeton. Mrs Beeton’s Household Management. London: Ward, Lock & Co. Limited, c.1938.
18th Century and Earlier, 19th Century and Onwards, Books

The finality of history, and escapism

Illustrated History of England 1856

Wow, hi. It’s been a while! I wish I could say I abandoned this blog for a noble pursuit, but truthfully I saw something shiny and got distracted. Sorry about that.

I’ve also been reading a lot of historical fiction, which is something I surprisingly haven’t read too much of in my life. But I’ve been enjoying it, returning to it regularly, with the same urgency I often feel about certain history and biography books I read.

I am indeed an adult who deals with her problems, but at the same time, I’m also quite prone to escapism. Lately I’ve been feeling a bit fatalistic about the state of the world and the direction it’s heading in. One way I can tell that is the sort of books and articles I gravitate towards.

There’s a theory I read once, that skirt hemlines get shorter the stronger the economy is. I notice a similar indicator with me and my opinion of the world: when things seem extra grim to me, my propensity to read history, biography – and, now, historical fiction – grows.

It’s comforting to reach back into history in periods like this. The finality of it. It may be true that what we know as ‘history’ is merely the record of those who won, but in a world that can make you feel helpless, there’s something almost soothing about studying something you cannot change or influence in any way.


Hark, a Vagrant!


My husband bought the Hark, a Vagrant! book recently and insisted I read it too. I’m so glad he did. Not only is it great to read funny things from someone who is also mystified by the “sex sells history” trend (and shares my love of early political cartoons), it’s fun to see Canadian history given the comic treatment.

(I also squealed and clapped my hands when I saw this comic about Napoleon’s height, as my favourite annoying small talk fact is that he was actually 5’7″, bang on average for the time.)