What a Young Boy Ought to Know, by Sylvanus Stall (Part One)

In order to immerse myself in this project once again, I thought I would begin where I began the first entry – with sexual education (or lack thereof). I began with “What a Young Girl Ought to Know” by Dr. Wood-Allen, and, as I never got the flipside of the pubertal story, I turned to “What a Young Boy Ought to Know” by Sylvanus Stall.

Stall was a doctor as well, but of divinity, not medicine. Perhaps this is why he also felt the need to begin his book with “Commendations from Eminent Men & Women.” Joseph Cook, a fellow doctor of divinity, believes the book to be “suggestive, inspiring, and strategic,” and wraps up his review thusly: “Its wide circulation ought to fall on the hearts of the young in their thrifty and jubilant vernal season as a divine benediction of light and heat and rain.” I honestly have no idea what the hell that is supposed to mean! And I don’t think he does, either. Moving on . . .

Dr. Kate Waller Barrett (who, in the fashion of the time, has the married salutation first and the doctor after her name) finds the book to be “verily scientific and yet [is] as readable as a fairy story.” I highly doubt this, but at least he solicited recommendations from both sexes, so kudos?

Quite a few more commendations follow, including one from Anthony Comstock, yes, he of the law that made it illegal to send “obscene” materials through the mail, including contraceptives and birth control information. Most of these use similar phrasing, such as “lucid,” “scientific,” and “delicate.”

Sylvanus Stall has the standard preacherly look, with the round spectacles and kindly mien. This book was also published by Vir Publishing, the same as Wood-Allen’s, but this one came out first, in 1897. The dedication is the same as Dr. Wood-Allen’s, except to the boys rather than the girls.

The preface notes that when Mr. Stall was a boy, he wished for a book such as this to answer his queries. He advises parents to place this book in the hands of a boy who is old enough to read by himself, or who can be read to, and that there will be a book for each stage of life through which he will pass. Reading ahead is baa-aad, mmkay?

And now, the introduction. Mr. Stall is sending each of these lessons/chapters in the form of a phonographic cylinder to his little friend, Harry, whose parents entreated Mr. Stall to teach the boy about sexual matters. So, the set-up is a little different, but since this book came first, what does this tell us?

Dr. Mary Wood-Allen is a copier! She stole all the man’s ideas and made them look like her own! And isn’t that just like a woman?

Cylinder 1. The Question of the Origin of Life, et cetera. “How do people come to be in the world?” Every intelligent person, young or old, has asked this question at one time or another, Stall says, and a boy who receives an honest and satisfactory answer is fortunate, indeed. If one were to ask about the origins of the telephone or locomotive, the fullest and best way to answer such a question is to begin at the beginning. So it is with humankind. One should go back to the first man and woman, Adam and Eve.

So Sylvanus natters on for a bit about God creating the world and basically retelling the creation of the world as described in Genesis. He explains the difference between organic and inorganic objects. He winds up with the fact that God gave certain objects a power, not to create, but to “impart” life, to beget others just like the creature in question.

Did this answer your question, little Harry? No? Tune in tomorrow night, when we will study the Bible more closely for the knowledge that you seek!

(This might be hard to make amusing; I apologize in advance).


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Filed under sex ed books, sex education

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