Monthly Archives: December 2011

Yule smile

Just as we have left behind the Thanksgiving festivities and a Christmas dinner is not far away, we might think of table manners. Most know which fork is used for salad, which for dessert, what glass to use for champagne and what for hot mulled wine, and our children have been instructed what is done at the table and what is not… But it is interesting to see how much in common we have with the mediaeval children who were taught how to behave at the table, or rather how not to misbehave, because learning good manners was considered “better than playing the fiddle, thought that’s no harm”.

Before meals:

Wash your face and hands

Be dressed properly

Make a low curtsy or bow to your parents and wish the food may do them good

Let your betters sit before you

Say Grace before the meal, then wait a while before eating

See others served first

Take salt with your knife

Cut your bread, keep your knife sharp


At the table:

Keep your fingers and nails clean

Wipe your mouth before drinking

Behave properly

Sit upright

Remember: silence hurts no one, and is fitted for a child at table



Pick your teeth, or spit

Don’t fill your spoon too full

Don’t smack your lips, or gnaw the bones

Don’t scratch yourself at the table

Don’t clean your mouth or nose with the tablecloth

Don’t put your elbows on the table

Don’t belch as if you had a bean in your throat

Don’t jabber or stuff yourself

Don’t speak with your mouth full

Don’t laugh too much

After the meal don’t leave your seat before others


Adapted from:

The Lytylle Childrenes Lytil Boke, or Edyllys Be; from The Schoole of Vertue, and Booke of Good Nourture for Children by F. Seager; from The Young Children’s Book, printed  from the Ashmolean MS 61 (Bodleian Library) about 1500 AD, and from The Boke of Curtasye, from Sloane MS (The British Museum), about 1460 AD.

Image from Richard Pynson’s 1526 edition of The Canterbury Tales.

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Mnemonics for Finals Week: Memoria Technica by Richard Grey

If the silent, studying masses in Ellis Library are any indication, MU students are working diligently to improve their memories for final exams.   Of course, Special Collections is always ready to help.  This week, we’re sharing a 280-year-old secret from the Rare Book Collection on the art of making things easier to remember.

Dr. Richard Grey (1696-1771) was a clergyman in the Church of England and had imaginative theories on education.  In 1730, he published the first edition of his Memoria Technica, or, a New Method of Artificial Memory, a treatise on mnemonics partially based on Quintilian’s De oratore.  Special Collections has the third edition, “corrected and improved,” published in 1737.

Grey’s artificial memory system is based on a table that equates letters with numbers.  Best to let him explain himself:

The first Thing to be done is to learn exactly the following Series of Vowels and Consonants which are to represent the numerical Figures so as to be able at Pleasure to form a Technical Word which shall stand for any Number or to resolve a Word already form’d into the Number which it stands for.































In other words, once the learner had committed this table to memory, all he would have to do to remember, for instance, a date and a name, would be to replace the end of the name with the series of letters that corresponds to the date.  Grey offers up a series of historical eras to illustrate how the system works:

The Dioclesian Æra, or the Æra of martyrs [Diocleseko] 284
The Æra of the Hegira, or Flight of Mahomet [Mahomaudd] 622
The Æra of Yezdegird, or the Persian Æra [Yezsid] 632

The words in brackets are the mnemonic devices, with the code at the end that represents the year in letters.  If a student were called upon in an exam to produce an entire chronology of world events (as students often were in the eighteenth century), he could simply remember what Grey calls the “Memorial Line”: Diocleseko Mahomaudd Yezsid.  Grey points out that the system is also adaptable to geography, astronomy, weights and measures, and the study of ancient coins.

Although Grey’s mnemonic devices may seem overly complicated to twenty-first-century readers, his work was hugely popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Memoria Technica remained in print for over 130 years, and was in fact the only pre-1800 book on memory to remain in use for so long.

Learn More

Richard Grey, Memoria technica, or, A new method of artificial memory : applied to, and exemplified in chronology, history, geography, astronomy … London : Printed for John Stagg … and sold by A. Bettesworth and C. Hitch … F. Clay, and D. Brown …, 1737.  The third edition, corrected and improved.
MU Special Collections Rare BF383 .G8 1737

Richard Sharp, ‘Grey, Richard (1696–1771)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 12 Dec 2011]

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New exhibit commemorates 400 years of the King James Bible

400 years ago, scholars from all over Britain came together and produced one of the best, most beloved, and controversial pieces of literature the world has ever seen.  The King James Bible soon became the de facto Bible for countless of evangelists, missionaries, as well as politicians, literary giants, economists, and philosophers, and lest we forget, America’s Founding Fathers.  This exhibit traces the history of the King James Bible, its precursors and the works that have been inspired by it.

Historic bibles and pages from the King James Bible will be on exhibit in the Ellis Library Colonnade through December 2011.  The exhibit is accompanied by a display of religious texts from around the world, ranging from America’s Book of Mormon to India’s Bhagavad Gita to China’s Tao Teh King.

Exhibit curated by Rebecca Vogler and Amy Jones, Special Collections assistants and SISLT graduate students

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