Category Archives: Emotion

Cooking With Anger

By Rob Wittig and Mark Marino

A frontal outline and a profile of faces expressing anger, by Charles Le Brun, 1713. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

As part of the ‘What is a Recipe?’ Virtual Conversation, we’re pleased to introduce a story-telling game, called Cooking with Anger. And you can play it in the comments below!

We’ll keep bumping the post up so you can play from now until the end of the Virtual Conversation.

This is a creative game modelled on TV cooking competitions. Cooking with Anger is a netprov where storyteller chefs improvise a tale and a recipe from a given basket of ingredients. Many have written about cooking with love; now it’s time for all the other emotions.

How to Play

  1. Get a basket from the Protag-o-Matic ingredients machine.
  2. Copy and paste your basket at the top of your tale.
  3. Create a small dish of a stirring story — 300 words or less — using ALL the ingredients from your basket. Use people places and things as narrative; use food items for a recipe folded into the fiction. Season the tale with the emotional spice packet.
  4. Post your delectable concoction in the Comments section below.

To enjoy other story/recipes from last April’s version of this netprov, visit the Cooking With Anger website.


‘Recipes for Relationships’: Food, medicine, families and cultural engagement

By Leah Astbury

"Chocolate," in Johanna Saint John, Commonplace/Recipe Book, 1680, MS 4338, fol.46r, Wellcome Library, London.
“Chocolate,” in Johanna Saint John, Commonplace/Recipe Book, 1680, MS 4338, fol.46r, Wellcome Library, London.

Anne Dormer wrote a series of letters to her sister Elizabeth Trumbull between 1685-1691 about her health and unhappy marriage to the widower Robert Dormer. She described how ‘I apply my self to tend my crazy health, and keep up my weake shattred carcase broken with restless nights and unquiet days.’ She reflected in one letter that her body was ‘like a horss [horse] to tug through all I have endured of illness and childing.’ She was overwhelmed by her troubles and worried that she could not ‘write of my affaires so freely as I would and has kept me from writing many times when it would be an ease to my heart to taulk to thee.’ Dormer, like most early modern English middling and upper sort women, self-medicated. Kings Dropps ‘alwayes relieiue me’, she described. She also, however, sought to ‘divert’ herself by playing with her two ‘sweete children’, thinking of her ‘kind friends’ and ‘a dish of chocolate’. This latter indulgence she found the ‘ greatest cordiall and revivieing in the world.’

Dormer’s approach to restoring her health was tripartite: she took, purchased, or prepared remedies, took comfort in the presence of friends and family, and consumed chocolate. Such reflections are the central historical interest in the AHRC Cultural Engagement project supporting collaboration between medical historian Leah Astbury and the artist Emma Smith, alongside several Cambridge community groups. ‘Recipes for Relationships’ seeks to explore the connections between food, medicine and the household in seventeenth-century England and the current practices of Cambridgeshire residents through a series of workshops led by Leah and Emma.

In March we had The Recipes Project’s very own Dr Lisa Smith talk to us about ‘Recipes to Improve Your Love Life: Advice from the Eighteenth Century,’ which attracted a diverse crowd of interested university and non-university members. The discussion was diverse and engaged. Through workshops and at the talk, we have been collecting recipes and ingredients that people use to strengthen and ease relationships, from aphrodisiacs, to foods to quieten small children, or in the case of Anne Dormer, things we use to self-medicate during times of distress.

Unsurprisingly chocolate continues to be a source of solace in times of stress. Interestingly, what our workshops have revealed is that although household routines shift and change with age, food continues to be personally medicinal in the same way that Dormer describes.

As medical historians we are constantly reminded of how central age and the life-cycle was in determining diet and regimen in early modern culture, and community members similarly reflected on how their domestic routines and habits had changed with age and different family structures. We recently met with a knitting group. Most of the members are 70+ year old women who now live alone. This change in circumstances has meant fewer laborious family sit-down meals – or at least this is limited to one day a week when children and grandchildren visit. Food, however, continues to play a personal and restorative role in these women’s lives even when preparing meals for one. For one woman, a simple dinner of poached eggs on toast was a tonic. For others there was nothing sweeter than a glass of wine in the evening.

Anne Dormer’s dish of chocolate, and the knitting group’s eggs on toast, will form part of the ‘Recipes for Relationships’ recipe book we are compiling. This book will be shared at a four course banquet on 29 April in Murray Edwards College, Cambridge to thank contributors and share our findings.

If you have a recipe you would like to contribute, please email: or visit

Leah Astbury has recently completed her PhD on maternal and infant health in seventeenth-century England. She is currently a Research Associate at the Department of History & Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, working on marriage, health and domestic medicine. 

All in the mind? Competing models of hysteria in John Ward’s Diaries

By Alanna Skuse

French female figure modelled in wax, parts removed to show heart and uterus, c. 1760. By Anara Morandi Mazzolini of Bologna. Image Credit: Wellcome Trust Images Collection.
French female figure modelled in wax, parts removed to show heart and uterus, c. 1760. By Anara Morandi Mazzolini of Bologna. Image Credit: Wellcome Trust Images Collection.

In my previous post, I introduced the diaries of Reverend John Ward, the seventeenth-century vicar of Stratford-on-Avon and sometime medical practitioner. Among Ward’s vast collection of notes on medical and scientific topics were many on sexual behaviour and biology. In this post, I will show how Ward applied his curiosity to the problem of hysteria, aka ‘fits of the mother’ or ‘suffocation of the matrix’.

This topic loomed large in the notebooks, both because Ward sought to better treat the condition in his parishioners, and because he was intellectually interested in the causes of the disease.

Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it was commonly believed that hysteria was caused by the womb ‘wandering’ within the body, impinging on the liver, diaphragm, and other organs. This movement indicated that the womb was quasi-independent of the body; as Jean Riolan put it, ‘a furious Live-wight in a Live-wight’.(1)

Proponents of this theory also believed that the womb could be manipulated back into the proper place using sweet or foul smells. At points, Ward must also have credited this idea, since he recorded (vol. 12, f.107r/v) in the late 1660s that

There is nothing better for a married woman in case of suffocation of the matrix t[ha]n for her husband to anoint the topp of his yard with a litle oil of Cloves-gylliflours and Sweet Almonds together and so ly with her, for this will assuredly bring down the Matrix againe.

Interestingly, however, Ward’s understanding of hysteria and the properties of the womb was not static. Only a few years earlier, he had been impressed by arguments which declared that hysteria arose not from any intrinsic property of the womb but rather from air entering that organ:

I have heard one yt denied utterly yt in hysterical fits ye womb rise at all, only attributed all to wind (vol. 8, f.136r).

In his 1663-5 notebook, he advanced the idea again, this time speculating that wind was one of a number of possible causes of hysteria–which also included ‘ye suffering of ye matrix, either by emptying of a great Burden as after child bearing, or by doing it wrong in wounding itt in bringing forth ye child’ (ibid).

A representation of the nervous system from Carolus Stephanus, De dissectione partium corporis humani (Paris, 1545), p.59. Image Credit: Wellcome Trust Images Collection.
A representation of the nervous system from Carolus Stephanus, De dissectione partium corporis humani (Paris, 1545), p.59. Image Credit: Wellcome Trust Images Collection.

Ward chopped and changed between theories, and his ideas do not show a clear evolution. Interestingly, however, in both the 1664-6 and 1666-9 diaries, Ward wrote with interest about a neurocentric theory of hysteria, which located the cause of the disease in the brain rather than the womb. ‘Dr. Elyot’, wrote Ward, ‘hath this Conception that hysterical fits have their rise from the Brains; and hee illustrates itt thus, pull a Cord, you shall discerne the first straining and breaking at the other end’ (vol. 12, f.95v).

Crucially, this theory implied that hysteria was largely psychological in origin. Indeed, given the right pressures, hysteria could even occur in men (vol. 7, f. 26v):

Some Drs especialy in Oxford now are of opinion that histerical fits are caused by the disposition of the Braine most in Oxford as Mr. Francis said are of this opinion: and that men have the same thing, which some women have, and that Dr Elyot had a patient that had it: and was cured by antihisterical things though hee was a man.

The impact of the neurocentric model on treatments for hysteria is striking. Where the wandering womb was to be lured into place, and the windy womb cured with pills and potions, neurocentric hysteria called for different methods. Ward recalled how one patient patient had her lower legs tied ‘hard with her Garter’ before being made to sneeze (vol. 7, f.47r).

In another case (vol. 9, f. 3v),

Dr Trig cured a woman yt was troubled with hysterical fits thus: hee laid her uppon ye ground with her face downwards yn took up her Coats and gave her 3 or 4 good Claps on ye Arse and thus cured her but I was informed yt hee did this before much Companie wch I scarcly believe.

Did the neurocentric model help women with hysteria, or harm them? On one hand, this approach made hysteria a potentially unisex complaint rather than a symptom of women’s defective bodies. On the other, the treatments inspired by neurocentric theories show a distinct lack of sympathy for, and even humiliation of, the hysteric, who was now treated as psychologically rather than physically ill.

Ward’s diaries provide frustratingly little detail about how Dr. Trig’s patient may have felt about her unorthodox treatment. They do show, however, how an apparently more ‘enlightened’ understanding of hysteria might be made to work against vulnerable patients.

(1) Jean Riolan, trans. Nicholas Culpeper, A sure guide, or, The best and nearest way to physick and chirurgery (1657), p. 85.

Lustful looks: Signs of Venery in John Ward’s Diaries

By Alanna Skuse

Engraving by Martin de Vos showing the ‘Sanguine’ temperament as a man woos a woman in a garden. 16th century. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London.
Engraving by Martin de Vos showing the ‘Sanguine’ temperament as a man woos a woman in a garden. 16th century. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London.

John Ward, of Stratford-on-Avon, was a vicar, not a doctor. His notebooks, housed in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, were acquired by that institution largely on account of three references to Shakespeare and his plays therein (12 of the volumes are reproduced here). However, the Reverend’s writings are also a rich and largely untapped resource for early modern medical historians. In 17 volumes, they span the years 1646 to 1668 , though not in strict chronological order (Robert G. Frank’s 1974 article details the periods covered by each volume).

While Ward ultimately chose an ecclesiastical life, his interest in medicine and science was intense, and omnivorous. As a student, he attended Oxford and rubbed shoulders with Thomas Willis, Robert Hooke, and Richard Lower. During his later residences in London, Oxford and Stratford, he remained fascinated by physic and surgery. He practised physic on his parishioners – though to what extent is unclear – corresponded with other doctors, conducted experiments, and read widely from the latest medical texts. His notebooks are stuffed with snippets of information from all these sources, as well as history, geography, and gossip. One of Ward’s favourite topics, upon which he collected hundreds of snippets of information, was sex. He wrote widely on sexual dysfunction and diseases, generation and childbirth. He also took careful note of the ways in which a tendency to excess venery could be predicted in either sex.

Sexual appetite was believed to be directly influenced by the humours. It therefore made sense that a hot complexion, with larger amounts of choler and blood, would produce a lusty individual. These people could be identified by the other tokens of their complexion. Ward recorded that

Albertus Magnus gives ye Characters of such women as are potent venerie: as such as have Loud shrile voices: 2ly : such as have blacke or red hair: (vol. 7, f.26v)

Red hair was clearly linked to the heat of the humors, and a ‘loud shrile’ voice indicated both a (literally) hot temper and an unwillingness to conform to the subservient female ideal. Other signs of lustfulness were less straightforward. Though paleness and thinness were often associated with a melancholic complexion, Ward thought them likely to indicate too many ‘goatish (i.e., lascivious) late nights:

A blew Circle about ye eyes of some lean persons is a peculiar signe of a goatish extenuation or signifies yt leanes to proceed from too much venerie:’ (vol. 11, f.49r)

In fact, just about any physical trait could be indexed to sexual appetite by a determined writer, since ‘hot’ symptoms indicated a complexion fit for lustfulness, and ‘cold’ ones could be read as the subject having used up their vital heat in lustful acts. Even chapped lips ‘in women is a sign of their prones to venerie, because itt discovers ye heat of ye Matrix:’ (v7, 13r). These readings were clearly motivated by a desire to regulate female sexuality as well as by scientific curiosity. However, signs of lustfulness could also be detected in men. In a lengthy section on male sexuality, Ward observed:

The left veine in ye preparing vessels hath this prapentia to draw from ye emulgent ye more serous and less pure blood to ye intent yt ye serous humour might stirre up venery by its soft substance and therfore itt is observed yt such as have ye left stone bigger are most full of seed and most prone to vennerie :/ (vol. 7, f.15v)

What did Ward want with this information? The Reverend’s notebooks show a fairly laid-back attitude toward sexual morality. Hearing of a Scottish bachelor who had 22 sons, he coolly observed that ‘itt seems hee was none of the chastest.’ (vol. 16/ 1179). On another occasion, he recollected –with a certain degree of admiration – that ‘My Lady Wick was in a Seraglio at Constantinople and then shee thought to have seen all but was found out by search by the Eunuch being unshaven for itt seems the custome of the Turkish women in the Seraglio is to be all shaven on their Genitals’ (vol. 12, f.53r). The notebooks also contain many cases of and cures for sexually transmitted diseases, so Ward might have used these signs to help him judge whether a disease was likely to be related to venery. It seems most likely, however, that he collected these snippets of information as part and parcel of his overwhelming lust for knowledge. As my second post on this topic will explore, Ward studied his fellow men with a curiosity that was part medical, part anthropological, and partly motivated by the straightforward love of gossip.

Alanna Skuse is a Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Reading, where she works on early modern surgery and disability. Her first book, ‘Constructions of Cancer in Early Modern England: Ravenous Natures’ is available open access via Palgrave Macmillan.