The University of Leicester is advertising three funded PhD studentships as part of a new project on the Boughton House estate and the Montagu family called ‘The English Versailles: Refashioning the Eighteenth-Century Landed Estate’. The lucky candidates get to work with Professor Roey Sweet, Professor Pete King or Dr Elizabeth Hurren. Dr Hurren, in particular, is for someone to study ‘Household Cures and Female Charity: The Welfare and Well-being of the Estate’. The student will examine, amongst other things, the financial accounts, personal papers and recipe books of the Montgue family in order to further understand healthcare in the 18th century country house.
I recently started work on a case study for my second book project Reading for Cures in Early Modern England. We all encounter and obsess about particular historical curiosities. For a while now, I have been pondering on The Practice of Physick, the English translation of Lazare Riviére’s Praxis medica (Paris, 1640).
For those of you who might not know it, The Practice of Physick is the product of the Peter Cole/Nicholas Culpeper partnership which also brought to English readers translations of the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis and of the works of European medical writers such as Felix Platter, Daniel Sennert and Jean Fernel. It seems, after the phenomenal success of Culpeper’s translations, upon his death, Cole decided to continue going at it alone (with a little help from his friends Abdiah Cole and William Rowland).
The Practice of Physick was one of the most successful of Cole’s later medical translation projects. Cole himself published several editions (though one or two of those might just be re-issue of old stock) and the title was taken over in 1668 by John Streater who continued to print new editions until his death in 1677. The work was not only popular in English but more than ten Latin editions were issued in various European printing centres and it was translated into French in 1682 where it contained to be re-printed and reissued well into the mid-18th century.
For those who know me, it might not come as a surprise that my fascination with The Practice of Physick originated with a recipe collection. Deep in the National Library of Medicine, is a manuscript dear to my heart. Anonymous but with the cryptical inscription: ‘this was my Cosin Greenwayes book he died in yre 86 yeare of his age ye 30 of January 1701’ (NLM MS B 261) the book repeatedly cites ‘River’ and River Ob’ (in various forms and with page numbers). Some digging revealed that the recipe compiler copied information from the 1661 edition of The Practice of Physick which offered English translations of both Riviére’s Praxis medica and Observationes medicae (Paris and London, 1646).
Greenway read Riviére’s works alongside John Woodall’s The Surgeon’s Mate, William Langham’s The Garden of Health, most of Culpeper’s works (The English Physitian, The School of Physick, The London Dispensatory), William Salmon’s Polygraphice or the Art of Drawing, John Gerard’s herbal and more. At first, I just thought that it was Greenwayes’ peculiar interests and deep purse which lead him to purchase Riviére’s hefty folio-sized tome. (I say purchased for why else note page numbers if you don’t intend to return to the book?)
But, as I began to systematically examine annotations in vernacular medical books, I discovered that copies of The Practice of Physick often contained ownership marks–including one written by a Mary Burbidge in 1721 in the Folger–and annotations. The title also cropped up in other medical notebooks and it soon became clear that The Practice of Physick, once Riviére’s practica lectures at the University of Montpellier and read in Latin by physicians all around Europe, was eagerly devoured by English householders.
Peter Cole clearly knew his market much better than us modern historians. From the start, the work was geared towards elite, wealthy audiences. (Witness the decision to issue in folio as opposed to the measly or um…portable octavo of the continental editions. ) Cole’s letter to the reader explicitly explains the utility of the work to ‘many of the Gentry’ and repeatedly sells the book to ‘Ladies and Gentlewoman’. From where I stand, Cole’s marketing strategy clearly worked.
A closer look at our readers’ annotation and note-taking strategies suggest that while they might peruse Riviére’s tome and presumably learn about the causes and signs of different diseases and ailments, what they marked and copied out were the cures: that is, recipes. Therapeutics, of course, formed the core of the practica genre and, thus, it is perhaps not surprising that Riviére’s work received such a warm welcome from both learned and lay readers. Can we, somewhat anachronistically, even consider it a ‘crossover’ sensation? It’s still early days for my reading Riviére project, which focuses on tracing and contextualizing the multiple instances of knowledge transfer, appropriation and codification that a text goes through as it makes it way from lecture halls to studies, closets and stillrooms. I hope to report more as it progresses, watch this space.
 Laurence Brockliss and Colin Jones, The Medical World of Early Modern France (Oxford: OUP, 1997), 152.
 I talk at length about this manuscript and the compiler’s reading practices in my D.Phil. thesis ‘Medical Recipe Collections in Seventeenth-Century England: Knowledge, Text and Gender’ (Oxford, Unpublished D.Phil. Thesis, 2006), chapter 4.
The Getty Research Institute harbors an artisan’s recipe book for dyeing wool, ca. 1680, with supplementary papers that date from 1653-1762. The book contains 135 leaves, it is illustrated, and it is written in German. What is particularly interesting is its internal structure: this book is arranged alphabetically by the names of colors, and it contains the original samples of dyed wool. “Each section is ornamented by large calligraphic initials and there are other watercolor devices and drawings throughout. The first part of the volume contains recipes for making grey, blue, yellow, orange, red, purple, brown and black, with dyed samples of raw wool affixed by means of red sealing wax. The second and third part of the volume contains recipes for dyeing felt and woven wool cloth, with samples. The manual was probably used in a shop producing and selling heavy woolen cloth for cloaks and overcoats.” Also contained in the volume is a recipe for black ink which will not fade, 1682, and instructions on how to play the lute, with musical scores included (there is a musical scholar interested in exactly this question: when and where are musical scores integrated in recipe books? Please do let us know about other examples). Miscellaneous papers include an example of calligraphy, two bills for herbs used in dyeing, 1677, 1679, and genealogical papers and correspondence of the Brinck and Zillessen families of Gladbach, 1762, who were still in the textile dyeing business in 1908. The torn front page conveys the fragments of the compiler’s name (“Abraham Dederix”) and the date (“Anno 1653”).
From the start of the book, a black raven features in an elaborate, though amateurish illustration. This motif accompanies the reader throughout the book, at some point turning into an allegory of “autumn” (“Der Herbst”) itself, close to an instruction on “How to dye ash color” possibly indicating an alchemical interpretation of color generation and chromatic change that ranges between black and white (fig. 2). This drawing is accompanied by a depiction of two pilgrims wandering through a bleak landscape and an inscription linking to the expectation of death and the day of the last judgment (“Jüngste Tag”). The book itself is compiled “Zur Ehren deßen, der da is […], und der dasein wird das alffa und omega, der anfang und das Ende. Hosianna in excelsis“ („In honour of who is […] the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. Hosianna in excelsis”) (fig. 3).
An alphabetical register, cut into the pages, structures the entries throughout, so that several pages remain blank, while others convey not only detailed instructions on how to achieve specific colors in wool dyeing but also contain original samples – many of them have kept their original freshness, as can be seen in the example of “How to achieve orange color” (“Vor Oranien zu farben”, fig. 4).
Most interesting are entries that demonstrate the change of color hue and saturation when textiles are dyed for one, two, three or four hours respectively (fig. 5). Additional papers supply a list of herbs and plants used as colorants, with their names listed both in German and in Latin. A crucial next step in studying the manuscript would be to organize art technological tests of the samples and then compare the results to the information about the ingredients and chemical instructions provided by the recipes themselves.
All images in this post are taken from Getty Research Institute Library Manuscript 910012 ‘Artisan’s recipe book for dyeing wool, ca. 1680, and other papers, 1653-1762’ and are reproduced with kind permission from the Institute.
This week I have the honour of giving a talk at Lydiard House and Park near Swindon. Until the beginning of the 20th century, Lydiard House and Park was the country estate of the St. John family. Regular readers of this blog are, of course, already familiar with Johanna St. John and her late-seventeenth century recipe book.
In the fall of 2012, Lisa Smith’s students at the University of Saskatchewan spent part of their semester transcribing Johanna’s book. You might recall reading some of their blogposts in December. Over the last year or so, Lydiard House and Park’s archivist, Sophie Cummings, and her team of volunteers have also been hard at work transcribing Johanna’s book and in bringing Johanna’s medical activities to a modern audience through a play staged by a youth theatre group, family education events and evening talks. At this point, you might well ask, who is this Johanna St. John and why does she merit so much attention?
Johanna St. John, or Lady J as she is nicknamed by the Lydiard group, was the eldest daughter Oliver St. John, a prominent Parliamentarian and supporter of Oliver Cromwell. Johanna (1631-1705) married her distant cousin Sir Walter St. John, MP for Wootton Bassett and Wiltshire. Their grandson, Henry the first Viscount Bolingbroke was a well-known politician, diplomatist and author. During their marriage, Sir Walter and Lady Johanna divided their time between their mansion in Battersea and their country estate, Lydiard House near Swindon. Remarkably, an extensive set of correspondence between Johanna and her Lydiard steward Thomas Hardyman has survived. These letters indicate that Lydiard Park, far from being simply a summer home for the St. Johns, supplied them with all sorts of foodstuffs from fruits, herbs and flowers grown in the gardens to cheeses, butter and poultry from the nearby farms.
Johanna’s letters are a fascinating read and provide a rare glimpse into the housewifely concerns of a late seventeenth-century gentlewoman. They paint a picture of an active household manager who expressed great interest and concern in various foodstuffs and homemade products (from butter to cheese to beer to distilled medicines) produced at Lydiard. Not one to shy away from micromanagement, Johanna instructed Hardyman when to start fattening the turkeys and geese for Christmas feasts, berated him when he dared to send up unripe cheeses and gave him precise barley malt to hogshead ratios for the brewing of beer. Most interestingly, the correspondence also reveals that Johanna was in the habit of sending recipes gathered from her London acquaintances to be made up at Lydiard Park where she relied on a team of expert distillers and herb gatherers. Johanna’s detailed instructions, including specific directions to contact local experts for particular ingredients, give a clear picture of how one gentlewoman can ‘make’ medicines via ‘remote control’.
When taken together, Johanna’s recipe book and letters reveal both complex networks of contemporary lay medical knowledge amongst family members and paints a vivid picture of medical activities in an early modern English country house. Our collective transcription of Johanna’s book renders the work electronically searchable and (very soon) widely available. We hope that it goes one step towards analyzing and acknowledging the complex set of activities taken on by early modern housewives and, in Johanna’s case, her large crew of ‘helpers’.