Movember: Men’s Health in Eighteenth-Century Recipe Collections

By: Katherine Allen

November (or ‘Movember’) is men’s health  awareness month, and it focuses on prostate cancer and depression, with the added bonus of moustaches. Movember didn’t exist in the eighteenth century, but I’m curious about men’s health awareness from a recipe book perspective. What can recipe books tell us about the family’s role in providing care, and recording remedies for men?

movember-moustache
Movember: Men’s Health Awareness Month

The manuscripts I consult contain mostly non-gender specific illnesses (e.g. coughs and stomach complaints), and many include recipes for women and children; this is because these manuscripts were written by women and were family collections. There are, however, occasional references to men’s illness experiences.

Remedies for the prostate gland/ cancer don’t exist in recipe books (at least not in modern terminology). The prostate was not anatomically-defined until the late eighteenth century, and the medical interventions that developed were surgical, with John Hunter’s use of catheters being an example of treatment for an enlarged prostate.

If we look broadly at urinogenital recipes, we find men’s illnesses (on male infertility see Jennifer Evans). Urinogenital remedies were standard in domestic recipe books. These include recipes for bloody urine, stones, and difficulty urinating. In Esther Hanmer’s mid-century recipe book[1], a recipe titled ‘Given my Father. For one yt cannot make water either child or Old body’ said to take bees and stamp them, then add them to white wine and posset ale. Although it is unclear if it was used by the father, his donation of this remedy indicates a man’s awareness of urinogenital issues and potential treatment, and his sharing of medical advice with his family.

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For one yt cannot make water. MS. 2767. Image Credit: Wellcome Library

Similarly, Sir Thomas Mannering sent the compiler’s grandfather a remedy for sharpness of urine where a piece of antimony was infused in ale. This sharpness could be any infection, but the term frequently appeared in medical literature as a symptom of gonorrhea. Esther Hanmer’s family recipe collection thus documents men acquiring medical advice from their networks and subsequently sharing it as a component of the family’s health record and for potential future use.

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Against Sharpness of Urine. MS. 2767. Image Credit: Wellcome Library

Though the grandfather’s recipe does not specifically mention gonorrhea, venereal diseases were a pervasive complaint for eighteenth-century men. The absence of explicit venereal disease remedies in domestic collections is partly due to the immorality and stigma associated with the disorders. Lisa Smith has noted that recipes for ‘weak backs’ and ‘running of the reins’ (genital discharge) were linked to venereal diseases and genital ‘leakage’, suggesting that treatment for sexually transmitted infections was present in recipe books, but catalogued under more ambiguous names.[2] For instance, a late seventeenth-century collection cites a water-based remedy for a canker ‘in the yard of a man’, indicating that recipes books had remedies for suspected venereal disorders, though they were not labelled as such.[3]

Manuscript recipe books were important for documenting the whole family’s health, and the family played a central role in communicating, preserving, and utilising medical knowledge when caring for male members. Baron James Everard Arundell’s and his wife’s recipe collections are two of the few family manuscripts I have looked at that were compiled by a male family member. Many of the recipes are recorded as being specifically for Arundell, including a recommendation for Dicherion’s white Drops for Palsy, which was given to him by Lady Arundell, and which he purchased from Mr Collins – a bookseller at Salisbury.[4]

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Drops for James Arundell’s Palsy. MS 2667/12/40. Image Credit: Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre

Royal gardener Henry Wise corresponded regularly with Dr. Cheyne (see Spa post) and one of his recurring health conditions was  sickness when travelling. One recipe was to ‘Stop Purging when upon the Road from Bath’ from Dr. Cheyne[5], while the family’s other manuscript has a record of Mr Southill’s directions for him for ‘occasion of motion extraordinary’.[6]

Eighteenth-century elite men were invested in maintaining their health and seeking treatment– this is no surprise given the wealth of sources documenting men consuming medicine and their seeking advice from the medical professions. What is significant is that recipe books served as important records for men’s medical interactions and medical knowledge for treating men as part of the domestic medicine tradition. Some men recorded their experiences directly; in other cases it was female relations who documented their experiences and wanted (or were expected) to be knowledgeable in maintaining their men’s health as part of family care.

[1] Wellcome Library, MS.2767. Esther Hanmer and others, ‘Receipt Book’ (c. 1750–1825), pp. 17, 29.

[2] Lisa Wynne Smith, ‘The Body Embarrassed? Rethinking the Leaky Male Body in Eighteenth-Century England and France’, Gender & History, 23 (2011), pp. 26–46.

[3] British Library, Add MS 38089. Collection of Medical Recipes, p. 108v.

[4] Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, 2667/12/40. Mrs J.E. Arundell, ‘Book of medicinal recipes’ (1786), Arundell of Wardour, p. 111.

[5] Warwickshire Record Office, CR0341/300. Wise family, ‘Volume containing assorted Wise family records and recipes’ (1716–8), Wise family of Woodcote, p. 119.

[6] CR0341/301. Mary Wise, ‘Recipe book of Mary Wise’ (18th C.), Wise family of Woodcote, p. 86.

 


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