In 1794 Bernard Christian Faust (1755-1842), the court physician in the German principality of Schaumberg-Lippe, published a book designed to teach children the principles of healthy living. Its title was Gesundheits Katechismus zu Gebrauche in den Schulen und beym häuslichen Unterrichte. The same year it was translated into English by John Henry Basse under the title A Catechism of Health. A Dublin edition also came out in 1794. An Edinburgh edition was issued in 1797 with a commendation by the eminent physician James Gregory as the best extant popular work of medicine he had seen. The translation also quickly found a receptive public in America.
Cotsen has just acquired a copy of the first English translation. It is illustrated with the frontispiece of a boy wearing what looks like a long night shirt. A garment like this, Faust contended, was less confining and better for growing bodies than the usual corseted bodice and skirts. He claimed that “The body will become healthier, stronger, taller, and more beautiful; children will learn the best and most graceful attitudes; and will feel themselves very well and happy in this simple and free garment.”
Faust had equally strong opinions about what children should eat and drink. Or not drink. Notice that Faust drops the question-and-answer format the better to deliver a lecture to children about the dangers of consuming strong spirits. His vehemence on the subject of alcohol makes one wonder just how widespread underage drinking was during the late Enlightenment…
Some of Faust’s other recommendations seem downright peculiar today. For example, he did not consider potatoes nutritious, cautioning his readers that “when eaten too often, or immoderately, prove hurtful to health, and to the mental faculties.” But undoubtedly plenty of advice in twenty-first century books on childcare and parenting that will strike later generations as just as ill-informed or quixotic!