f. Chapter 6 : The Universal Self-Instructor and Manual of General Reference.

Lorraine has loaned  me one of Margaret Fegan’s books to write about.  It is like an education syllabus, with all manner of information.  I am going to attempt to do justice to it’s extensive range and beauty in this post.  There is no publishing date but we guessed about 1880 and it was published in Australia.

IMG_3803                IMG_3760

The cover of the book is hard backed                   A fairly risque picture inside the front

canvas with Gold embossing.                               cover

The Editor Mr Albert Ellery Berg in his preface declares

“It has been the aim of the Publishers to produce a work that will become a standard authority on the matters it contains and no labor or expense has been spared to make it the most attractive and useful book of its kind ever published.  The illustrations are artistic, appropriate and original; while the literary features have been made entertaining as well as instructive.  The Publishers feel confident, therefore that the book will meet with the great success it deserves, and that there is no home in the land where the introduction of the UNIVERSAL SELF-INSTRUCTOR will not be welcomed as a course of immediate gratification and a source of lasting pleasure.”

A tall order perhaps but definitely there is a phenomenal range of subject matter covered.  I wonder whether it held pride of place in Margaret’s home and when she received it? She was about 10 when it was published and certainly there is a wealth of information within.  Perhaps it supplemented her education?


The educational aspects include extensive information on grammar and the English language, penmanship, subjects for essays, and elocution. Then follows a large section devoted to business transactions, writing monetary documents, banking, currency, and book keeping.   This is then followed by discussion of commerce, transportation  and agriculture all over the world.


There is a history of all the kings and queens of the world, discussion on law, mining regulations, and various reference dictionaries.  One of my favourites is the “Dictionary of Familiar Allusions – names of persons, places, pictures, buildings, streets and Monuments, also words Phrases and c, frequently used in Literature and Conversation.  Some of the finer examples from this section include:

 “Apples of Sodom –  Lovely fruit, but within full of ashes”

 “Philistine  – Narrow-minded person; in common use in the German Universities to designate tradesmen, etc” (a favourite phrase of Barbara Pavone, I wonder where she got it from?) 

and  “Yahoo – A rowdy; brutal, ill-bread man.  The Yahoos in Swift’s Gilliver’s travels are brutes with the shape of men.”

Some of it is not easy to read and was indicative what was accepted attitudes at the time.


There is very little on health in the book which I found disappointing, – only one page in fact with directives such as:

 “The Bath. This is a valuable adjunct to health, and should be taken cold during the summer months, and with the chill taken off for the remainder of the year.” 

“”Eat regularly, keep the feet warm. Get the utmost amount of sleep.  Have one daily action of the bowels.  Spend one or two hours in cheery out-door activities.” (sounds pretty good to me!)


I found it interesting that the Health contributor stated:

 “Marriage is the natural condition of man, and without it no man or woman ever feels settled in life.”

 Yet the next writer praised “The single Daughter” – as very useful and comforting to her parents and being lucky to have possibly missed a bad husband!   There are also some fun descriptions of “types” of husbands and wives,  naggers, slovenly, stingy, reckless and of course “good”!


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Probably the best fun in this book is found in the etiquette section covering all “The Rules of Good – breeding and the Customs of polite society.”   Reading about “introductions”, leaving of Cards and of visiting takes me back to reading Jane Austen.  There are outlines for appropriate conversation :

“Death is not a proper subject for conversation with a delicate person, or shipwreck with a sea captain’s wife, or deformities before a deformed person, or failures in the presence of a bankrupt.”

Dinner etiquette:

“The man who picks his teeth at table, talks with his mouth full, breathes hard as he eats or drinks, smacks his lips, uses his own knife instead of the butter knife, or eats too rapidly, should be kept on bread and water till he learns better.”  (How many of those sins have you committed?)

The old book has 800 pages and the binding is falling apart.  I hope to be able to have it repaired.  I hope you have enjoyed a wander through it’s pages.



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