Dear Athenian Mercury
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The Fumes Of The Wine Do Ascend, And Other Pieces Of 17th-Century Drinking Wisdom

If you've never considered drunkenness a sign of loyalty, or sobriety as treason, it's unlikely you will ever understand the English. In England, toasts, the time-honored tradition of watching hapless well-wishers fail at stand-up comedy, were once serious affairs. So intense were the feelings inspired by what one drank and why that during a brief but sober period, toasts were legally banned.

In this edition of John Dunton's "Athenian Mercury," which, as the first advice column in English, was once the go-to source for wisdom for many a muddled 17th-century Londoner, the city's citizenry writes in with booze-related questions. Why red eyes? Double vision? How does God [...]

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The Mouse That Crawled Up Inside A Man, And Other Urban Legends Of The 17th Century

The Internet, Preserver of Our Fleeting Shames, also resurrects the lovely (because distant) indignities of the past. Prominent among these is the Athenian Mercury, the semi-reputable 1690s London advice column—put out by a group of misfits who called themselves The Athenian Society—to which many a citizen turned when wondering why people swoon at the sight of cats or laugh in the presence of pork.

A column about familiar fears and off-kilter folklore, the stuff the embarrassed children of a generation decided to forget, is built on the backs of modern-day Bartlebys who scanned and transcribed reams of faded, brittle, near-illegible paper objects. Anyone [...]