By Hillary Nunn with Rebecca Laroche
In recent months, as part of our continuing exploration of an understudied manuscript at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Rebecca Laroche and I have been examining the nature of recipe sources in the collection. The manuscript incorporates references to print authorities like Gerard’s Herbal (21/05/2013) aswell as to domestic practitioners whose expertise is praised but less easily traced (09/04/2013). This month, I’ll be concentrating on the manuscript’s suggestion that a more personal, if not face to face, variety of collaboration might be indicated in its pages as well.
In its first section alone the manuscript names more than thirty-five people as sources for its recipes, and many of those credited are associated with faraway places, at least in terms of seventeenth century English travel. Rebecca’s research (12/03/2013) associates the collection with Calybute Downing, a Protestant minister who, in the years surrounding the manuscript’s composition, lived in London, Essex, and the parish of Hackney on the northern outskirts of London. While it’s currently not possible to pinpoint where he was living when working on the manuscript, the collection’s inclusion of a recipe attributed to “Mrs. Twayne of Hackney” hints that Downing had at least begun to establish himself in that area at the time. It’s curious to note, then, that many of the recipes identified with places far from this suburban location.
Three recipes in the opening section, for example, are associated with “Dr. Waters,” who, in his initial citation, is called “Dr. Waters of Stamford.” Given his title, it’s no surprise that his recipes are among the collection’s most intricate. His instructions for “A diett bagge for any infirmity in the eyes,” for example, require more than ten ingredients to be assembled, then steeped in ale. His treatment to “strengthen the backe and comfort the stomake” involves marinating a leg of mutton in sugar, butter, rosewater and two kinds of wine before eventually squeezing the roasted meat between two plates to extract its medicinal juice. This recipe ends with the notation “probatum per doctor waters /
Eliza: Downing,” thus associating the treatment with Calybute’s mother Elizabeth, and allowing us to picture her as a mediating source for the Waters cures.
How did these recipes from Dr. Waters find their way to Elizabeth Downing and her transcribing son? The town of Stamford is almost a hundred miles from Hackney, using modern highways; even driving at today’s legal limit, the journey takes over an hour, passing through Cambridge on the way. Where (and even if) Elizabeth was living during Calybute’s work on the manuscript is unclear; we do know, however, that her husband was lord of the manor of Sugarswell in Tysoe, Warwickshire at the time of her son’s birth. Yet this does little to close the gap, since Tysoe is almost 90 miles west of Stamford. The recipes could have covered this distance in written form, or they may have been passed from hand to hand as members of households undertook they smaller, more routine journeys.
But digging deeper into Downing history may hold the answer. Elizabeth Downing married her son’s father in 1604 at Tinwell, Rutland, a small town identified as B below, just over two miles from Stamford (E).
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This much-reduced distance lets us see the recipe emerging from a different sort of community, one where face-to-face, local transmission would be far more likely. From its origins in Stamford, the recipe nonetheless has covered a great deal of territory, presumably moving west to Warwickshire with Elizabeth Downing and then back east with her son in the London area. In the process, the journey of Dr. Waters’s treatments shows what we suspect is the case for many such shared cures: that the most direct route of their travels may not be the most likely one.
This is the fifth in a series of monthly posts on the topic.
Barbara Donagan, ‘Downing, Calybute (1606–1644)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2010 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/7980, accessed 9 June 2013]