All posts by Elaine Leong

Conference announcement: Trading Medicines

Known as a seron in its native Peru, South America, this rawhide bag was used to store and carry cinchona bark. For centuries, local people had chewed or ground up the bark as a treatment for fevers and malaria. As the European powers began to expand both their trade routes and empires, cinchona became a highly important commodity. In the early 1800s, quinine, the primary anti-malarial component of cinchona, was first isolated, allowing the production of more effective drugs to combat the disease. The bag was originally collected by the expedition of Hipolito Ruiz Lopez and Antonio Pavon y Jimienz, which was sent to Peru in 1777 by the Spanish monarch Charles III to explore the region. The bag was later presented to the Wellcome collections by Alfonso XIII, King of Spain (1886-1941), in 1930 © Wellcome Images
Known as a seron in its native Peru, South America, this rawhide bag was used to store and carry cinchona bark. For centuries, local people had chewed or ground up the bark as a treatment for fevers and malaria. As the European powers began to expand both their trade routes and empires, cinchona became a highly important commodity. In the early 1800s, quinine, the primary anti-malarial component of cinchona, was first isolated, allowing the production of more effective drugs to combat the disease. This was originally collected by Hipolito Ruiz Lopez and Antonio Pavon y Jimienz during their 1777 expedition in Peru. In 1930, Alfonso XIII, King of Spain (1886-1941) presented it to the Wellcome Collections. in 1930 © Wellcome Images

Trading Medicines: The Global Drug Trade in Perspective
10th January 2014, The London School of Economics

Organized by Clare Griffin (Cambridge) and Patrick Wallis (LSE)

This half-day workshop examines the supply and reception of medical drugs during the creation of an early modern global market from the sixteenth through to the eighteenth centuries. It addresses a key question in the history of medicine: how did early modern globalisation impact medicine in Europe?

The workshop explores developments across various European nations, their empires, and global trading networks. Papers will focus on the broad sweep of medical commodities that were exchanged, taking a long view and considering as many different substances as possible, in order to build a big picture of developments across the early modern period.

For more information see:
http://www.lse.ac.uk/economicHistory/Conferences/TradingMedicines/TradingMedicines.aspx

To register email: Dr Clare Griffin at cg315@cam.ac.uk

Verse and Transmutation

Anke Timmermann’s monograph on alchemical poetry has just been published by Brill.

Verse and Transmutation: A Corpus of Middle English Alchemical Poetry identifies and investigates a corpus of anonymous recipes for the philosophers’ stone dating from the fifteenth century, some of which may be familiar to readers of this blog from their appearance in Elias Ashmole’s Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum. The critical editions and complex histories of these alchemica, in plain and illuminated manuscripts, as anonyma and in attribution to famous authors, and in historical book collections provide new perspectives on the role of recipes in English culture.

Apart from acquiring a copy through well-known virtual and actual outlets, you may also soon consult the book via Open Access in the Knowledge Unlatched Pilot. Check out the Knowledge Unlatched, the Pilot programme (library subscriptions still available!) and interviews with authors (including Anke Timmermann) for this week’s Open Access week here: http://www.knowledgeunlatched.org/.

Job opportunity: funded PhD studentship at the University of Leicester

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.

More details can be found here.

Reading Riviére in early modern England

By Elaine Leong

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).

Portrait of Lazare Riviere. Taken from his Opera medica universa quibus continentur (Cellier, Patris & Filii: Lyons, 1672) © Wellcome Images

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.[1]

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).

The Practice of Physick, title page (London, 1661) http://www.byassrarebooks.co.uk/bookdescription.aspx?id=6279&paintmode=full&searchmode=live

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.[2] 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.


[1] Laurence Brockliss and Colin Jones, The Medical World of Early Modern France (Oxford: OUP, 1997), 152.

[2] 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.