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.

Exploring CPP 10a214: Who is “Me”?

By Hillary Nunn with Rebecca Laroche

In her last post about our work with College of Physicians manuscript 10a214, Rebecca Laroche reported her discovery that the handwriting in the text’s early pages did not match that of a letter at the British library attributed to Calybute Downing .(06/08/2013)[1] The mismatch at first led us to doubt whether the CPP manuscript note “probatum per me Cal. Downing” (24) could point to the mid-17th century divine Calybute Downing (1606–1644) as a compiler. The extreme clarity of the CPP manuscript’s italic hand, however, has raised for us the possibility that a scribe might have been involved in its production, thereby explaining the recipe book’s contrast with the British Library manuscript.

The situation, however, raises a larger question: How confident can we be in identifying who a manuscript’s “me” is? In the case of the CPP’s “probatum per me Cal. Downing,” there initially seemed no reason to doubt that “me” is indeed Downing. But does that mean that Downing had to write “me” on the manuscript page himself?

Other recipe books support the notion that a scribe may have put these words on the page for Downing, adopting his voice. Lady Anne Fanshawe’s book, for example, begins with this explicit note from a scribe: “Mrs: Fanshawes Booke of Receipts… written the eleventh day of December 1651. by Me Joseph Auerie”.[2] This note changes the way readers interpret the collection. When readers turn the page, they see the beginning of a recipe “For Melancholy and heavenes of spiretts,” in Avery’s hand, attributed to “My Mother”; underneath that marginal note appears a second name, “A Fanshawe,” in what seems to be different script (4r).[3]

FanAttrib1
Wellcome Western Manuscript 7113, fol. 4r.
© Wellcome Library

But whose mother? The phrasing suggests that Avery identifies the source from Anne Fanshawe’s viewpoint, or as she had written it down in a previous copy; the “my,” then, is likely Fanshawe’s even though her pen does not touch the paper. That raises the question, however, of who writes “A Fanshaw” as the second attribution. Luckily, page 2r offers an answer through another inscription (in a hand that matches the second attribution) which reads “K: Fanshawe. Given mee by my Mother March th 23. 1678.” In the volume’s opening, then, we have three instances or “me” or “my,” each pointing explicitly to a different person. Most importantly, these pages suggest a method of indicating explicitly who “me” and “my” refer to — within at least this portion of the manuscript.

Yet Fanshawe’s manuscript is not always so explicit. The profusion of unidentified hands certainly contributes to this confusion, but it seems a tendency toward exact copying may be to blame as well. See, for example, Fanshawe manuscript’s “An Oile for a Bruise in ye Eye, or for any other bruise proved by Me of a woman, that had lost her Eye by a bruise, and recovered it againe” (30v).[4]

FanshaweEye
Wellcome Western Manuscript 7113, fol. 30v
© Wellcome Library

The “me” here could certainly be Anne Fanshawe, and the “lady who her lost her eye by a bruise” could be Lady Butler, whose name appears in the margin as an attribution. Then, the note in Katherine Fanshawe’s writing could be indicating that she associates the recipe with her mother.

But it is worth noting that the Townshend family manuscript (Wellcome MS.774), dating between 1636-47, records a very similar recipe, with the same use of “me,” on 88v:[5]

Townshend
Wellcome Western Manuscript MS 774, fol. 88v.
© Wellcome Library

There is no Lady Butler here, and neither Fanshawe appears either. So who is the “me” to whom the recipe is recommended?

The appearance of the same rhetoric in both appearances of the recipe – one certainly recorded by a scribe, and the other in a volume with multiple hands – makes determining this particular “me” a hazardous proposition. Conscientious copying of personal testimony, from a source that seems impossible to determine, thus obscures even more thoroughly the identity of the manuscript’s compiler, burying the “me” in multiple levels of vagary.

The “me” in “probatum per me Cal. Downing” need not involve so many people. Luckily, it is the only instance of pronoun in the opening section of CPP 10a214. The seeming lack of other potential compilers in this section keeps the pool of potential referents narrow, allowing us to continue our investigation into which Calybutes could be involved in the manuscript’s creation.

This is the seventh of a series of monthly posts on this topic.

[1] Other earlier blog entries on this topic appeared on 20/06/2013, 21/05/2013, 09/04/2013, 12/03/2013, 20/2/2013.

[2] Wellcome MS.7113 http://archives.wellcomelibrary.org/recipebooks/MS7113/MS7113_0004.pdf

[3] http://archives.wellcomelibrary.org/recipebooks/MS7113/MS7113_0005.pdf. Elaine Leong blogged about the manuscript’s different compilers, the scribe and Fanshawe among them, on 11/09/2012.

[4] http://archives.wellcomelibrary.org/recipebooks/MS7113/MS7113_0023.pdf

[5] Wellcome MS.774. http://archives.wellcomelibrary.org/recipebooks/MS774/MS774_0088.pdf

A New Direction for The Recipes Project

The Recipes Project now has a Facebook page for lovers of old recipes!

Come see us there, as Laura Mitchell magics up bits and bobs from around the interwebs.

WellcomeLibraryWMS4171_fn28
An eighteenth-century book of charms. MS 4171, Wellcome Library, London.

Recipes… in the news!

Stories about recipes… from other blogs!

And sometimes pictures, too!

If you’re on Facebook, please give us a like and join our conversations–or suggest recipe-related links of your own.

Metallic cures: antimonial wine and mineral kermes

By Marieke Hendriksen

In my previous post, I wrote about the ubiquity of mercurial drugs in the long eighteenth century. Mercury is a metal we are all quite familiar with, yet a variety of cures was based on metals and metallic compounds well into the nineteenth century – some of which we hardly hear of anymore today. Drugs based on antimony, a lustrous grey metalloid often found in ores together with either sulfur or mercury, and mineral kermes, a compound of antimony trioxide and trisulfide, were very popular. In universal encyclopedias from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century for example, we find complicated recipes to create mineral kermes, which involve repeated distilling of a mixture of sulfur of antimony, fixed niter or potassium carbonate, and river- or rainwater.[i]

Antimony ore, antimony cup and Basilius Valentinus, Triump-Wagen Antimonii, Leipzig 1604. From: C. van Heertum, Alchemy on the Amstel. On Hermetic Medicine. Amsterdam: In de Pelikaan, 2012.
Antimony ore, antimony cup and Basilius Valentinus, Triump-Wagen Antimonii, Leipzig 1604. From: C. van Heertum, Alchemy on the Amstel. On Hermetic Medicine. Amsterdam: In de Pelikaan, 2012.

Although it unlikely anyone tried these recipes at home, the use of antimony and its derivatives had a long tradition. Antimony cups were used since antiquity to make antimonial wine by soaking regular wine in it for one or more days.[ii] The fact that antimony frequently occurred together with mercury or sulphur appealed to alchemists, apothecaries, and other medical men and women, as sulphur and mercury were considered the basic alchemical elements. Moreover, as antimony could cleanse the most precious metal, gold, from impurities, alchemists reasoned it could also cleanse and cure God’s most precious creature, created after his own image: man. Hence Paracelsus (1493-1541) and many of his followers advocated the use of small amounts of antimony in iatrochemical drugs, although they were well aware of the fact that it is highly poisonous.

Antimonial wine thus was a tried emetic, yet antimony cups were forbidden in England and France for much of the seventeenth century, as the use of a wine too acidic would result in a lethal concoction. This prohibition was sometimes circumnavigated by creating antimony cups from tin with a small amount of antimony.[iii] In France antimony cups became legal once more in 1658, after Louis XIV was cured from typhoid fever with antimonial wine.[iv] After this royal endorsement of antimony, men of science started to investigate it more closely than ever before. Between 1700 and 1707 the French chemist Lemery wrote an extensive series of articles on antimony and its medicinal uses for the Académie des Sciences, culminating in a book describing all the changes it underwent by chemical procedures, and how the resulting substances could be used in medicine.[v] The Leiden professor of chemistry Gaub too devoted a substantial part of his lectures on metals on antimony and mineral kermes, extensively discussing the chemical procedures that should be applied to create effective medical materials.[vi]

French Apothecary Bottle: Kermes Mineral, 1880s. Courtesy of Dr Jack Fincham.
French Apothecary Bottle with traces of Kermes Mineral, 1880s. Courtesy of Dr Jack Fincham.

The recipes in the encyclopedias show that mineral kermes was one of the most important medical materials that could be created through chemically treating antimony. As can still be seen in a late nineteenth-centruy French apothecary bottle, it is a reddish brown powder. The powder does not dissolve in water and, like mercury, had a reputation for cleansing the lymphatic vessels, and was also used as an emetic and diaphoretic. The name was probably derived from the Arabic name for a similarly coloured crimson dye made from insects, al-qirmiz. The use of mineral kermes as a drug was apparently first mentioned by Glauber (1604-1670), but how to successfully create it remained a subject of debate into the nineteenth century, even after an official recipe was published by the king of France in 1720.[vii]


[i] De Felice, Fortunato Bartolomeo, Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire universel raisonné des connoissances, (Paris, 1773), Vol. 25, p. 345. Wilkes, John, Encyclopaedia Londinensis, or, Universal Dictionary of Arts (London: J. Adlard, 1810), Vol. iv, p. 277.

[ii] Also see one of my previous blogs on The Medicine Chest.

[iii] StClair Thomson, “Antimonyall Cupps: Pocula Emetica or Calices Vomitorii”, Proc. Roy. Soc. Med., Vol. XIX, no. 9, 1925, 123-8.

[iv] C. van Heertum, Alchemy on the Amstel. On Hermetic Medicine. Amsterdam: In de Pelikaan, 2012, 49.

[v] Lemery, Nicolás, Traité de L’antimoine (Paris: Jean Boudot, 1707).

[vi] Gaub, H.D., ‘Chemiae Praxis. Notes of Lectures by an Unnamed Student. Produced in Leyden.’, Closed stores WMS 4  MS.2479, Wellcome Library Manuscripts, p. 593-685.

[vii] Willich, A.F.M., A Domestic Encyclopedia Or A Dictionary Of Facts, And Useful Knowledge, 3 vols. (London: B. McMillan, 1802), p. 46.

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