Enquire Within Upon Everything

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I don’t know about you, but as I carry out my family history research I try to find out as much as I can about the ways in which our forebears went about their lives. This involves finding out about their physical environment – locality, housing etc, and also how they dressed or what they ate, and so on. I like to think that the sum total of all this information enables me to better know and understand the people I am researching.

I want to tell you about a source of everyday information about my ancestors that I find extremely entertaining and informative. It is a publication called Enquire Within Upon Everything . Although this book is fairly well known, I am writing this article in the belief that there are probably some of our members who have not yet had the pleasure of browsing a copy, who would like to know what they are missing.

Enquire Within Upon Everything was a reference book, which set itself the somewhat immodest task of providing

‘… A vast Fund of valuable Information, embracing every Subject of Interest or Utility…..at a merely nominal Cost.’ (page v).

It provided guidance to our forebears on a great variety of everyday topics, with material ranging from short, moralising epigrams to household hints and recipes, and legal advice. As such it offers the modern reader an insight into nineteenth century life. To give you some idea of the range of the content, I shall quote a few examples from the 1891 edition.

I think that many parents may relate to my first extract, from Page 103:

‘Allowing Children to Talk incessantly is a mistake. We do not mean to say that they should be restricted from talking in proper seasons, but they should be taught to know when it is proper for them to cease.’

I’m sure my grandmother would have approved of this archetypically Victorian advice, which is very much at variance to modern thinking on the treatment of children.

This item appeared on the same page as a series of ‘Hints for Home Comfort’, which contains the information that will interest all Migraine sufferers –

‘Keeping the feet warm will prevent headaches’.

Pages 152 to 155 contain information that will be of great interest to family historians, as they contain listings of christian names and their meanings. People who know me will, no doubt, be amazed to discover that Geoffrey means joyful!

There is a lengthy section on cookery, which tells us such things as how to bake ‘Pure and Cheap Bread’ (page 159), and also how to make Calf’s Head Pie (page 190). I wonder when you last enjoyed this dish? The fact that this recipe was included in the book reminds us that it was compiled in times when no food was wasted ….

As we move on through the book, we come to a section that dealt with financial and legal matters. The procedures in force for dealing with cases of bankruptcy were explained (pages 226 – 228), and these were followed by a description of the then current law relating to marriage and divorce (page 228-232).

Any late nineteenth century family historians would have been grateful for the full description of how to search for Wills (page 232), which includes the following advice:

‘…your best course is to go to “The Wills Office” at Somerset House, Strand, have on a slip of paper the name of the testator – this, on entering, give to a clerk whom you will see at a desk on the right. At the same time pay a shilling, and you will then be entitled to search all the heavy Index volumes for the testator’s name. The name found, the clerk will hand over the will for perusal, and there will be no difficulty whatever, provided you know about the year of the testator’s death .’

Sounds simple, don’t you think?

According to The Economic History Website – How Much is that Worth Today (http://eh.net/hmit/ppowerbp/pound_question.php) – a shilling in 1891 was roughly the equivalent of £3.05 in today’s money, so the charge made in that year does not seem unreasonable.

In addition to the many hints and pieces of advice in the book, many pages were headed by a moralistic epigram:

‘To-day he’s clad in gaudy, rich array,

To-morrow shrouded for a bed of clay’ (pages126-7).

‘Bustle is not Industry

Nor is Impudence courage.’ (pages 36-7)

‘Eating and drinking shouldn’t keep us from thinking’. (page 350).

The didactic tone of the book may appear quaint to the 21 st century reader, but it seems that it went down well with the reading public of the day. The title page stated that this was the eighty-fifth edition, and boasts that the ‘total issue’ to date of this book was ‘one million one hundred and thirty four thousand copies’. It was, apparently, out-selling its competitor publications.

I do not know when Enquire Within ceased to be published, but it evidently continued well into the twentieth century. I have a copy which does not bear a printing date, but the handwritten inscription on the front cover is dated 1931, so I assume that it was published c1930. Interestingly, although the information in the book had been updated, the layout was precisely the same as the 1891 issue. It even contained the moralistic epigrams!

So when you see a second-hand bookstall in your local shopping centre, look to see whether you can find a copy of this excellent book. I have bought a copy for as little as £2.00, and you are sure to be rewarded handsomely for such a small outlay.

I have come across two Internet websites which are devoted to this splendid publication, and display extracts from nineteenth century issues:

1884 edition

1894 edition


Enquire Within Upon Everything,
85th Edition (1891), Houlston & Sons
Enquire Within Upon Everything, 116th Edition (c1930), Herbert Jenkins Ltd

Geoff Culshaw

Published in Shropshire Family History Society Journal, September 2004, pp 118-120. External links updated December 2010.

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  • This page was last updated on Saturday July 2nd, 2011.