By Rebecca Laroche with Hillary Nunn
Up until now, Hillary Nunn and I have been conducting our explorations (20/06/2013, 21/05/2013, 09/04/2013, 12/03/2013, 20/02/2013) under the working hypothesis that one of the compilers of the College of Physicians manuscript 10a214 was a mid-17th century divine named Calybute Downing (1606–1644). This hypothesis mainly grew from a simple phrase “probatum per me Cal. Downing” (24) at the end of one of the early recipes in the collection and the inclusion of many recipes attributed to one Elizabeth Downing, the name of Calybute’s mother. There was also a reference to Hackney (20/06/2013), where Downing was once minister. A recent all-too-brief research trip to London has complicated this hypothesis and raised several questions…
With our working hypothesis in mind, I conducted a preliminary search in the online catalogs for autograph evidence of Calybute Downing and was excited to find that the British Library did indeed hold a letter from the minister to a Mrs Barkley. With only two days for library research, I immediately called up the collection in which it was held–and was thankful to find it available.
Imagine my anticipation of its arrival from the vault. Imagine my disappointment when neither hand (the signature being different than the body) in the letter, which was an extended assurance of grace from a minister to one of the faithful in doubt, matched the hand of the Downing recipes in the manuscript.
A few scholars of recipes may recognize this disappointment. Many a mention of historically significant figures are confounded by the presence of secretaries and the accommodation of one collection of recipes into another through copying and gifting. I have come up with two possibilities (and would welcome other suggestions) that explain these non-matching hands:
- The Calybute Downing of the recipes is not the divine, but instead his father of the same name, who would have been married to Elizabeth and who was alive in 1640, the one date in the manuscript. This hypothesis could mean an earlier compilation, but would face some difficulties in explaining the Hackney reference.
- The recipe book and the letter could have been compiled by two different secretaries. The Downing signature in the letter is markedly different than the body, which is a very difficult secretary hand, whereas the recipe book is in an incredibly clear italic.If the Downing recipes were copied out in anticipation of making them a gift for use, their relative legibility would be essential. As a correspondence to be considered closely and slowly, the letter’s cramped hand would not be as much of an issue.
Clearly, as I write this, I am becoming more convinced of the second hypothesis, but:
- if Calybute Downing was prone to hiring secretaries, in whose hand were the original recipes that the secretary then copied out?
- was the original manuscript made by Elizabeth herself, or by yet another member of the household?
Given the proximity of some of the entries to print sources (18/10/2012, 21/05/2013), it seems unlikely that all of these were transmitted orally. However, the inclusion of a “by me” in the recipes implies Calybute’s presence, if not in the immediate transcription, at least in one of the earlier written record of the recipes.
Obviously, further research is needed!
 British Library Add MS 28558 A-R
 See Elaine Leong’s essay on “starter” manuscripts, “Collecting Knowledge for the Family: Recipes, Gender, and Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern English Household,” Centaurus 55.2 (May 2013): 81–103.
This is the sixth of a series of monthly posts on this topic.