As History Buff informed us on Tuesday, Victorian-era doctors were convinced that reading novels could lead to incurable insanity in women, but that's not the only ridiculous medical claim made in that era about the dangers of reading.
That HB piece happened to mention that John Harvey Kellogg, the doctor who invented corn flakes, did so as a cure for masturbation. I have yet to confirm that urban legend, but while I was looking for proof in the self-help guides written by Kellogg I found other equally hilarious claims.
Kellogg may or may not have invented corn flakes as a cur for masturbation, but he did have an obsession with it. He covers the activity at length in his Ladies' Guide in Health and Disease (Google Books), advising against it and warning parents of the health problems it caused.
There aren't any illustrations in that section, sadly, but it is still worth reading just for the chuckles.
And so is Kellogg's claim that reading novels are "one of the most pernicious habits to which a young lady can be devoted. When the habit is once thoroughly fixed, it becomes as inveterate as the use of liquor or opium:"
When we add to this the fact that a large share of the popular novels of the day contain more or less matter of a directly depraving character, presented in such gilded form and specious guise that the work of contamination may be completed before suspicion is aroused, it should become apparent to every careful mother that her daughters should be vigilantly guarded against this dangerous source of injury and possible ruin. We have dilated quite fully upon this subject in a preceding section, and will not enlarge upon it here. Yet we particularly desire to go on record as believing firmly that the practice of novel reading is one of the greatest causes of uterine disease in young women.
If I may play devil's advocate, I'd like to point out that Kellogg has inadvertently identified a solution for the global population problem.
If we can get more people reading, if we can raise the literacy rate in third world countries, the resulting increase in uterine disease will cause the birthrate to plummet. So support your local libraries, folks, and also support programs like Wordlreader, otherwise we could have another population explosion.
Thank you, Dr. Kellogg, for saving us all!