Temporality in John Dauntesey’s Recipe book (1652-1683)

by Melissa Schultheis

In May and June of this year, I had the opportunity to research recipe books and midwifery manuals at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. One manuscript, inscribed “John Dauntesey 1652,” contains several manuscript copies of printed medical texts, including information on gynecology and alchemy, along with numerous English and Latin recipes in nearly half a dozen hands. While I had anticipated focusing much of my attention on its gynecological recipes, I became fascinated by MSS 2/0070-01’s treatment of time.

The Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Manuscript MSS 2/0070-01 (Signature Page), Photo included with permission.
The Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Manuscript MSS 2/0070-01 (Signature Page), Photo included with permission.

Mastering time to manipulate the material world was a significant component of seventeenth-century recipes when treating and preserving the body, as Wendy Wall has recently considered and as Rachel Rich has discussed in terms of the Victorian kitchen. Recorded in John Dauntesey’s (1629-1693) Recipe Book, an unidentified scribe advises, “Also note that the houres of the planete be different to them of the Clock for the houres of the Clocks be alwais equall of 60 minute” (fol. 9r). That recipes often speak in time—the time to pick particular herbs, the time and duration to perform a step, the time to ingest food or medicament for the body, etc.—is not surprising, yet what I find fascinating here is the scribe’s awareness that recipes employ and distort different types of time: one natural and one artificial in order to preserve the natural world and the human body. To preserve is “to protect or save from (injury, sickness, or any undesirable eventuality)” (“Preserve”). Consequently, to participate in food preservation through recipe writing is to obviate undesirable contamination as to slow entropy and prolong the time that a product can askew the natural growth of bacteria, fungi, or other microorganisms. However, in early modern recipes, food is not the only object being preserved. Understood through Galen’s humoral theory, recipes exist to preserve, sustain, and prolong human life. Controlling Nature’s and human-made temporalities, then, becomes a means of both making recipes and treating the body.

The Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Manuscript MSS 2/0070-01, Personal photo included with permission
The Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Manuscript MSS 2/0070-01, Personal photo included with permission

I’m also interested in MSS 2/0070-01’s own temporality, what it may suggest about early modern medical practice, and how changes in medical practice effected the period’s perception of the body. Compiled from the mid- to late-seventeenth century, Dauntesey’s Recipe book is situated in a time when renouncing Galenic medicine and turning to alternative medical practices became increasingly common. Shortly after the above discussion of clock and planetary time, the manuscript turns to a section titled “12 Celestiall signes,” an almanac that describes the humors and character traits of those born in each month, again reminding us that much of early medicine depended on reading time (fol. 10v).[1] The section incorporates many terms and phrases associated with Galenic medicine: “hot and drie cholericke nature,” “cold & dry and . . . Melencholy meridionall,” “Sanguine of Complexion hot & moist,” “cold moist & waterie fegmatuke of Complexion” (fol 10v, 111r, 112v). Understanding this almanac would have been instrumental, presumably, when choosing and creating recipes to balance the humors and restore bodies to good health. However, after recording only one month, the almanac is interrupted. A second scribe turns to transcribing “An hundred and fourteene Experiments and cures of Phillip Theophrastus Paracelsus” before the first scribe continues the almanac over one hundred pages later (fol. 11r).[2]

The Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Manuscript MSS 2/0070-01 (fol. 11r), Photo included with permission.
The Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Manuscript MSS 2/0070-01 (fol. 11r), Photo included with permission.

Of course, my literary heart fluttered to see two of the century’s most influential medical theories interrupting each other, and as I continue to study issues of chronology, genealogy, and geography present in MSS 2/0070-01, I hope to be able to address the following types of questions: Can MSS 2/0070-01 be used to understand the ideological shift from humoral theory to Paracelsus’ hermetical views? How is the ideological shift manifest in the period’s recipe writing? And what effects did the change in focus from balancing humors to treating symptoms have on the early modern period’s perception of the body?

 

 

 

Melissa is an MA candidate in English at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Her research interests are in early modern English literature, the history of medicine, ecocriticism, and feminist and queer studies. You can follow her on Twitter @MelSchultheis and @Engl3000Omeka.

[1] For more information on early modern astrology and medicine, see Lauren Kassell’s chapter “Astronomy, Magic, and the Mathematical Practitioners of London” in Medicine and Magic in Elizabethan London; for more on almanacs, see Bernard Capp’s English Almanacs, 1500-1800: Astrology and the Popular Press.

[2] Theophrastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541), also known as Paracelsus, was a physician and alchemist known for his rejection of many sixteenth-century medical traditions and his contributions to what we now call toxicology. For more information on Paracelsus’ thoughts on medicine, theology, and occultism see Charles Webster’s Paracelsus: Medicine, Magic, and Mission at the End of Time.


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