Basically this book is a romp through an assortment of 17th to 19th century tracts, mostly found in the extraordinary collection of such things held by Manchester Central Library. If this sounds like a dull prospect, a glance through the contents page should reassure the reader that it is actually far from dull. After all, who can resist titles like Pork and its Perils or The Steam Locomotive as Revealed in the Bible? Of course, these things weren’t written to be funny or outlandish – their authors were in deadly earnest – but it is this very earnestness (if there is such a word) which makes them such interesting reading today. Again, there is a strange appeal in reading, nearly three hundred years after its first publication, a tract with the title A Treatise of Buggs  – basically a manual of how to get rid of bed-bugs using a concoction peddled by the author at two shillings a bottle, with a promise of compensation in the event that its “strong and oleous” contents damaged the bed! Likewise a tract with the unpromising title of Rules for the Government of the Lunatic Hospital and Asylum in Manchester , published in 1791, turns out to be highly entertaining for what today would be regarded as its outrageous political incorrectness. Finally, I found it interesting that a murder case of the 1750s, written in the narrative style of time, somehow took on the air of a comic opera, starting with its title page: An Authentick Narrative of that Most Horrid Parricide, committed upon the Body of Mr Blandy of Henley-upon-Thames by his own Daughter

How Manchester Central Library came to have such an incredible collection of this stuff is a story in itself. It was told to me about 25 years ago, when this book was first written, by an elderly librarian there, whose name I believe was Harry Horton, and who knew me from my frequent use of the Central Library. The collection had been put together, he told me, by a dedicated senior librarian there, many years earlier, who had had a particular fascination for these tracts, and as a result had bought them by the dozen for his beloved library – for posterity, in effect. My elderly librarian friend brought out two hefty bound type-written catalogues of them, not normally available for public perusal, and let me go through them at leisure, picking out titles that tickled my fancy – and there were many of them! This book is the result, written in 1987, and left on a shelf thereafter, because not a single publisher back then was intrigued enough to ask even to see the manuscript, something that puzzles me still.

I am putting this stuff out on the internet now, partly because I think there must be many people out there who will be as amused and intrigued by it all as I am, but partly also in the hope that those people will have their own suggestions as regards similar tracts which deserve inclusion. Indeed, when I get the chance, I will myself add others to the list – I have not yet used, for example, J.d’A. Samuda’s Treatise on the Adaptation of Atmospheric Pressure to the Purposes of Locomotion on the Railways (1844), nor A.Gibbs and W.J.Myers’ Peruvian and Bolivian Guano (1844), nor H. Romeike’s The Wife-Beaters Manual (1884), and nor, indeed, Archdeacon Jeffrey’s The Religious Objections to Teetotalism (1840). They are waiting in the wings….

There is some very strange stuff ‘out there’, and this book contains but a tiny sample of it.