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Popular Superstitions - Ancient Book Of Medical Recipes

( Originally Published 1884 )

About twenty years since, I procured several curious MSS. from a mass of papers which had belonged to Mr. William Pickering, an apparitor of the Consistory Court, at Durham ; and among these was a neatly written folio book, with the title-page, " EDWARD POTTER. ijs. iiijd. HERE BEGINNETH A Booke of Phisicke and Chirurgery, with divers other things necessary to be knowne, collected out of sundry olde written bookes, and broughte into one order. The several things herein contayned may bee seene in the bookes and tables following. Written in the year of our Lorde God, 1610." The work commences with a list of the " thirty-three evil days " of the year, and a general calender ; and on folio 2 has " A catalogue of all my books, and the prices they cost me, taken by me, Edward Potter, ye 30 of November, 1594 This catalogue is in a different hand and ink to the rest of the book. Then follows seven folios, under the running title of " A Prognostication," which is a curious medley of rules about the weather, and astronomical calculations. " The first booke " begins on folio I I, a. and has this title " A coppye of all suche Medicines wherewt the noble Countisse of Oxenford most charitably, in her owne person, did manye great and notable Cures upon her poore Neighbours." "The second booke," beginning on folio 19, is entituled, " Here beginneth a true copye of such Medicines wherewt Mris. Johan Ounsteade, daughter unto the worshipfull Mr. John 0lliffe, Alderman of London, hath cured and healed many forlorne and deadlye diseases." "The thirde booke " begins on folio 48, b. and consists of " pretty conceates of Cookery, as baked meats, gellies, conserves, sugar plates, and others." "The fourthe booke," on folio 60, is headed, " Here followeth a booke which was founde in the Parson's study of Warlingham, written in the Roman bande, and it wanteth both the beginning and endinge." " The fifthe booke- contains " Certayne medicines which were taken out of the vicar of Warlingham's booke, beinge, as he sayde, taught him by the fayries;" and as specimens of the whole, I have, Mr. Urban, made the following extracts, supposing that many of your readers, unacquainted with the practice of medicine in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, may find amusement, in perusing and contrasting them with the science that guides the medical practitioners of the present day.

"There were three Maryes went over the floude ; The one bid stande, the other ftente [sic] bloude : Then bespake Mary that Jesus Christ bore,

Defende gods forbod thou shouldeste bleede anye more."

The three Marys here named were probably the Virgin Mary, the Egyptian Mary, and Mary Magdalene. Whether this is to be spoken as an exorcism, or worn as a charm, is not mentioned. The custom of wearing charms was probably adopted by the Christians from the phylacteries of the Jews, which were little cubical boxes, or as the word means, conservatories, of a cubical form, sewed upon long fillets, at given distances, each made of parchment, and containing a roll with portions of the law written upon it. They were worn chiefly on the left arm, or wrist, and wound round and round it.

I formerly knew a Dutch Jew, who left his lodgings, and staying from them a more than usual time, his hostess sent for another Jew, his friend, who, knowing that he had been dispirited on account of the embarrassed state of his circumstances, immediately began to dread, that in his despondency, he had destroyed himself, and was soon con-firmed in the conjecture, from finding that he had left his philactery behind him a thing a Jew never does. His body was found a few days after in the river Wear. The philactery and his Bible I purchased, and found the former all made of parchment, as I have described. I loved the man for his most amiable, charitable disposition, as well as from his critical knowledge in the Hebrew language; but I will not mention his name, lest some one, consulting a disciple of the magicians of Egypt, take upon him to call upon his name, and disturb the repose of his soul:

3. To take awaye frekels. Take the blonde of an hare, anoynte them with it, and it will doe them awaye.

Either hares are scarce in the Highlands of Scotland, or this remedy is unknown there, or the Gaelic beauties find freckles killing, for certainly they seem to take little pains to remove them. The fairies delighted in the crimson drops i' th' bottom of a cowslip; and of the fairy queen we are told that;

" The cowslips tall her pensioners be ;

In their gold coats spots you see ; Those be rubies, fairy favours ;

In those freckles live their savours."

The Highland shepherd sees as many captivating charms in the freckles of " the lonely sun-beams " of his love, as the queen of the fairy troop, that built the magic hill of Tomnaheurich in a night, saw in the sun-spots of her favourite flower, before the unhallowed plough tore up the meadows of her pride on the northern border of the Ness.

4. For a man or a woman that bath lost theire speeche. Take wormewoode, and stampe it, and temper it with water, and strayne it, and with a spoone doe of it into theire mouthes.

How many men would like to be in a condition to try the efficacy of this remedy, with the hope that it might prove unsuccessful ! Lay an ointment on a speechless woman's tongue Who dares to stand the torrent of eloquence it would most certainly produce ?

6. A verye sure and perfect remedye to cure a man, etc., of the pestilence ; and some there hath bene that have bene cured in a nighte ; the same remedye is allso good for God's markes, boyles, carbuncles, blotches, etc. and such like, as St Anthonye's fire, etc. Take the seed or berryes of ivye that groweth on trees or walls, and not of that which is founde lowe by the grounde : you must gather the sayde berryes very ripe, and of those that growe towards the north, if it be possible ; if not, then take them as you can get them, although they be not verye ripe ; dry them in the shadowe, and keepe them in a boxe of wood, as you do presious things ; if any bee infected with the pestilence, take of the sayde berries, and beate them to powder in a fayre morter, and then give the sicke of the sayde powder in a glasse of white wine, so much as will lye on a groate or more ; then rub him in his bed, and make him sweate well ; this done, change his sheets, shirte, and other coverings of his bed, if it may bee ; if not, let him at the leaste change his shirte and sheets. Some have taken of the sayd powder overnighte, and have founde themselves in the morninge very well, so that they rose up, and clothed themselves, and walked about the house, and finally were throughe cured.

To these wonder-working properties of ivy berries, we may add some of the plant, from " Bartholome," a Franciscan friar, of the family of the Earls of Suffolk, who set forth his book " De Proprietatibus Rerum," in 1360 ; and he says that it " is full wonderful) in knowledge and assaieng of wine ; for it is certain yt if wine meddled with water be in a vessel of ivie, ye wine fleeteth over ye brink, and the water abideth." " And there is a manner ivie, and deaw falleth on the leaves thereof, and waxeth gleymie, & turneth to glewe ;" concerning which, Batman, in his additions to the text of our author, says, "the gum of ivy killeth lice and nits, and being laid to it, taketh away hair. It is unwholesome to sleepe under the iuie, or in an iuie bush. It maketh the head light and dizzie." Malkin, in his "South Wales" [1804, 4to], says that the stem of the ivy, on the north side of the castle of St. Anthan's, is five feet in girth, and in some years yields large quantities of gum ; so that it may be certainly had of size sufficient to make vessels for assaying wine, and its gum, if of any use, obtained. Its berries have long held some repute as sudorifics ; and I have seen it somewhere said that the powder of them was actually given with great success in vinegar, or white wine, in the great plague in London ; though it may be doubted whether the healing virtue was not more in the vehicle than in the powder of the ivy-berries. Bartholomew's account of ivy-vessels being used for assaying wine is from Pliny, who says if the wine be mixed with water, the wine sokes through the wood, but the water remains.

8. To make a pretious water that Doctor Steuens did greate cures with, and kepte it secret tyll a little before his death, then taughte it to the Archbishop of Canterburye. Take a gallon of white Gascoigne wine, ginger, .gallingall, cynamon, nutmegs, graynes, cloves, annis seeds, fennell seedes, carraway seedes, of every of them like much, viz., a dram of each ; then take sage, red mintes, red roses, time, pellitory of the wall, rosemarye, wilde time, and gromell, lavender (the flowers if you can get them), of every of them an handfull ; then beate the spices small, and the hearbes allso ; then put them all in ye wine, and let it stand therein twelve houres, stirringe it divers times ; then still it in a lymbecke; and the first water being greene, put it by itselfe, for it is the best; the second water being white, is good, but not so good as the first ; put that by itselfe ; it is good for all manner of diseases, to drinke it fastinge, and at nighte laste, at every time a spoonefull; it is a presious and noble water, for a spoonefull is a preservative.

This, no doubt, was a precious cordial for the days it was in use. But we question whether water made of wine and spices, however skilfully combined, or slowly or coldly drawn, was half so exhilarating as ratafia or golden cordial, or eau-de-Cologne, or Geneva's famous water of juniper. We have never yet discovered the recipe for making the water of the gods, or seen a diagram of the "lymbecke" in which it was distilled ; but we are certain that the Moors did no good to the beverage of Western Europe, when they brought with them into Spain the Egyptian art of distillation. Henry Earl of Cumberland, who was born in 1517, and died in 1564, was, according to the Pembroke Memoirs, " much addicted to alchemy and chemistry, and 'a great distiller of waters." Pindar was very right when he said "Water is the best."

13. To make an akeing tooth fall out. Take wheate meale, and mixe therewith the milke of the hearbe called spurge, and make there-of past or doughe, with which ye shall fill the hollowe of the tooth, and let it be there a certayne time, and the tooth will fall out of it selfe. Allso, if you washe your month and teeth once a mouth with wine wherein the root of this hearbe bath bene sodden, you shall never have payne in your teethe.

There can be no doubt but the caustic quality of the juice of almost every species of spurge, especially of Euphorbia peplus, applied to the human teeth, will corrode them rapidly. From its likeness to cream and its severely acrid nature, the Irish call the plant that produces it the "devil's churn." In England, from its being used to destroy warts, it is called wart wort. Turner, the father of English botany, uses the name under peplis, and speaks of the burning taste of the sea-wart-wort which he saw growing in an island near Venice. Gerard also, who built his Herbal on foundations laid by Turner, tells of the horribly acrid quality of sea-spurge, which he experienced in company with Turner's ancient friend, Master Rich, in a walk along the sea-coast, near Lee, in Essex.

15. For him that bath naturally a red face. Take foure ownces of the kyrnells of peaches, and three ownces of gorde seedes, and make thereof an oyle, wherewith you shall anoynte his face morninge and eveninge ; this will kill and destroy e all redness. A thinge founde true by experience.

This recipe, if it was intended for the benefit of the fair sex, as well as of the gentlemen, might be found to furnish a very acceptable cosmetic for the toilettes of the blooming beauties of the country, who long to exchange the rosy hues of Hebe for the wan enchantments that lighten in the smiles of loveliness in fashionable life. We doubt its efficacy in removing the roseate hues that the liquor of cogniac suffuses over the face, much less in dimming the splendour of the crops of jewels that brandy produces on certain promontories, and, as their name implies, " shine in the dark, like a lighted coal."

19. To make the face fayre. Take the blossomes of beanes, and distill them, and wash the face in that water, and it will be fair.

" The blossoms of beans!" Who that is enamoured of the fields and nature, has not inhaled their delicious Persian perfume; and has not been struck with the blackness of the beauty spot on their corollae? We certainly recommend a place on the toilette of the fair for this delicious water, as the perfumer, on distillation, will really find that it retains the fragrance of the flower; which we, however, do not suspect of yielding an essential oil, and consequently are not sanguine in our hopes of seeing the water of bean-flowers rivaling the ottar of roses.

21. To take away wartes. When you kill a pigge, take the hot bloude, and washe the wartes, and let it drye on them ; then presentlye after wash them, and they shall be whole.

Whoever practised this receipt with success, mixed the pig's blood with some matter, which he kept a secret; for, though we never tried the experiment, we are sure that blood, as it flows warm and unadulterated from an animal, can have no manner of effect in removing warts, or any other schirrhous tumour; but warm blood is a convenient vehicle for a quack to use in working medical miracles.

22. To remedye baldnes of the heade. Take a quantitye of Suthernwoode, and put it upon kindled coales to burne ; and being made into powder, mix it with the oyle of radishes and anoynte the balde place, and you shall see great experiences.

What is here meant by "experiences ?" Changes ? A new growth of hair, or a natural wig? Johnson is not quite right when he says that whey is one of the meanings of whig He should have said sour whey; for till within the last forty years we remember a very agreeable summer beverage called whey whig, being used by the people of Westmoreland, and made of whey with savoury herbs, such as mint, balm, and time, steeped in it, till it became slightly sour, and impregnated with the essential oil of the herbs. Of milk and whey they also said that it was gone, wented, whigged, or changed when it had turned sour. The word wig, as applied to an artificial covering of hair, has also that application, from a wig being a substitute or change for natural hair. And wig and wigh, in composition in the names of towns, means new or changed, and in some instances, as in its application to the Godmundingaham of Bede, Wighton means the idol's town, because idols were substitutes. If ointment of the oil of radishes, and the ashes of southern, should be found still to possess the virtue of covering bald heads with a crop of natural hair, how many elderly gentlemen, dear Mr. Urban, will be congratulating them-selves with its delightful " experiences," after you kindly communicate to them this charming prescription !

30. A good drinke for them that are bewitched or forespoken. Take rosemary three braunches, two leaves of comfrye, halfe a handfull of succorye, halfe a handfull of tyme, three braunches of hearbegrace, a quarte of running water, and seeth it tyll it be half consumed, and then strayne it. And then take one nutmegge, and one race of ginger, one pennyworth of mace, and two pennyworth of suger, and put them into the water, and drinke thereof first and laste a quantity at a time, warme ; and eate five almondes everye time after you have drunke of the water.

Fasting, they say, makes men acquainted with the unseen world ; and no necromancer can have communication with the spirit of the dead, or do his unearthly works of witchery, without both he and the persons who employ him have spent a long time in fasting. We can-not tell how the wizzards do, but many believe that no man will see ghost or spirit, or think himself bewitched or forespoken, who is in health to eat and drink as he ought; and as the stomachic here recommended may have the effect of producing a healthy digestion and sound sleep, it is possible that it may he good for persons who think themselves possessed and bound in the spells of witchery. The accounts we hear of the command that the magicians of Egypt have over the spirits of the dead, and the communion that the fasting seers of Thebes enjoy with good spirits, will, we houe, be soon given to the world through the press. We will, however, briefly tell some few particulars, which we have heard respecting a magician at Cairo, and he and many others in that ancient country are now well known to many travellers both from England and from France. He came to any place he was sent for, and performed his feats in a private room, or in the open air, as he might be requested. He had no machinery or apparatus of any kind with him, except a fire and incense. His first request was that you would bring him a boy of twelve or thirteen years old any that you chose ; and he poured upon the palm of the boy's hand a blotch of common black writing ink. He then muttered certain prayers, and threw perfumes into the fire ; and said to the boy, " Call the seven flags," which being done, he asked, " Now how many do you see ?" Perhaps " None," was the answer. " Look again." " Oh, I see one, two, three, four." What is their colour ?" " Red, blue, etc." " Now I see one, two, three more." This preparatory ceremony being completed, the prayers were renewed, and fresh incense cast upon the fire. "Now," said the magician to the boy, " Call the sacred bull." " The sacred bull," the boy exclaimed, and he was asked what he now saw. " I see a great many people leading forth a bull. Now they are preparing to sacrifice him. Now they are eating him." This procession being past, the boy was told to call for the Sultan. The Sultan at the call appeared, attended with a troop of horsemen, and himself riding upon a splendid black charger, from which he alighted, and ascended a throne, his court falling off on each side in the form of a crescent. All these preparatory incantations being duly performed, the conjurer said to me, " Now ask for what you choose, for anything lost, or any person dead or alive, and the boy will see them on the ink-spot in his hand and describe them to you." One of the party had lost some jewelry, and on asking for it, the boy said it was on the person of one of the party, who confessed he had it, and that he had taken and kept it by way of a joke. Many illustrious dead were invoked, and the boy invariably described them as appearing to him in the costume of the age and nation to which they belonged. One of the party asked for a friend who had been some time dead ; and he was described as appearing with both his arms, of which the magician was told he had lost one long before he died. " That might be," was the answer ; "but all who come at our command, come perfect persons, as God created them." We cannot lengthen this note, except by exclaiming —Happy long forgotten dead, who escaped from this world in that blessed obscurity which exempts your repose from being disturbed by the earthly agents of evil spirits ! Wretched, ye wise and mighty of the dead, whose names are emblazoned on the pages of history, and whose spirits are subject to be touched with madness, and tormented with devils, to gratify the curiosity of those idle and unfeeling, who not only ransack the graves, but harass the souls of their forefathers ! What would Henry Cornelius Agrippa say to all this ? Formerly men went to get instructions in magic of the devil, in certain caves in the neighbourhood of Toledo, in Spain. Now it is found that the art, as known in the first stages of the world, was never lost in Egypt.

54 A medicine against all manner of infirmitys. Take and drink a cupfull of the juice of betonye, the first Thursday in May, and he shall be delivered from all manner of diseases for that yeare.

An annotator on the margin calls this " a piece of foolish witch-craft."

63. A confection for one that cannot eate well. Take the juice of fennell two partes, and the third of honye, and seeth them together tyll it be as thick as honye, and put pepper to it, and take everye day fasting two or three spoonefulls thereof, etc.

71. For to get a stomache. Take rosa solis halfe a pinte, rose water halfe a pinte, a quarter of a pinte of. dragon water, and two spoonefulls of sallet oyle, and halfe a pinte of wormewood water, and one nut megge beaten to powder ; boyle all these together a little while, and after that take five leaves of liverworte, of lungworte three leaves, and two races of ginger beaten to powder, and put these to the foresayde and drinke of it, eveninge and morninge, twoe spoonefulls at a time, five dayes together.

Indolence and sickly constitutions gave people bad appetites formerly as well as now. The prescriptions for getting a good appetite abound in the manuscript we are quoting from. But beside the indolent, who will not take exercise to create a desire for food, and the sickly, to whom Nature has denied the pleasure of eating, how many gourmands are there who, instead of eating to live, live to eat, and are constantly exciting the rapacity of medical advice by fees for tonics, stimulants, and dinner pills ?

78. For one that is or will be dronken. Take swallowes, and burne them, and make a powder of them; and give the dronken man thereof to drinke, and he shall never be dronken hereafter.

We recommend this recipe to the consideration and patronage of the Temperance Societies. What the appearance, the constituent parts, or the taste of the ashes of a swallow may be, we know not, for we have neither seen, analysed, nor tasted a specimen of them. But if they would cure drunkenness, the swallowers of drink would certainly decrease, however gnats might increase in the fens of England, or midges in the moors of Scotland, by the increased demand for swallows. Man settles in marshes, and takes drams and tobacco to correct the effects of the bad air he lives in ; and swallows haunt fens and water-sides for the winged insects they produce, so that for a considerable part of the year, from the latter end of April to some time in September, the sots that inhabit straths, and moors, and marshy sea-side countries, may easily obtain ashes of swallows to cure them of the malady of drinking.

102. To cause hair to growe. Take the water of flower-de-leuce, and washe thy heade therewith, and it shall cause hayre to growe. Also the water of rosemary hath the same vertue. If thou wash thy head with the same water, and let it drye on agayne by itselfe, it causeth hayre to growe if thou he balde.

This may prove a desirable cosmetic to elderly dandies. We can, however, safely aver that the fairies communicated no piece of idle superstition to the Vicar of Warlingham when they affirmed that water of rosemary was good for the hair, for it nourishes and refreshes it much.

104. For one that hath loste his minde. Take and shave off the hayre of the moulde of his heade, then take archangell and stampe it, and binde it to his heade where it is shaven, and let him take a sleep therewithall, and when he awaketh he shall be righte weake and sober enoughe.

Philips gives as one meaning of mould, "the dent in the upper part of the head ;" and Ainsworth renders in Latin, " the mould of the head," by Sutura. Johnson had not found an example of the word. It were well if shaven scalps, covered with a plaster of arch-angel, were for a while made fashionable in certain political circles.

114. To do away the webbes in the eye. Take cuttelbanus and put it in an earthen pot full, and stoppe it rounde aboute with claye, and burne it tyll it be powder, and then breake it and serge it small, and put it into the eye, and it breakes awaye the webbe : and it cleares the eyes : this hath bene proved.

What is Cuttelbanus ? the bones of the cuttle fish.

119. To comforte the braine. Take and drinke one ounce and an halfe of rosewater mixed with white wine, both comforteth and strengtheneth the brain, and maketh it courageous, and comforteth all the substance of the harte.

This is a harmless dram, better far for the health than "the water of life," compounded of wine and spices, which in the 3rd book is directed to be stilled in a lymbecke " well polymed," and with a softe fire.

145. A good oyntment against the vanityes of the heade. Take the juice of wormewoode and salte, honye, waxe, and incens, and boyle them together over the fire, and therewith anoynte the sick heade and temples.

I wonder under what meaning Johnson would have classed the " vanityes " for which this receipt proposes a remedy, for he defines vanity to be " emptyness, fruitless desire, trifling labour, falsehood, empty pleasure, ostentation, and petty pride." When the fairies proposed to the parson of Warlingham a remedy for the "Vanities of the Head," they were certainly intending a cure for some malady of man's mind, among which vanity in all its varieties may well be reckoned. " Vanity of vanities," saith the preacher, " all is vanity !" How well Seneca agrees with Solomon " Leve est vanumque totum hoc quod felicitas dicitur !" Few coxcombs, dandies, and heads filled with fine poetic conceits, would like to be anointed with this bitter cure for self-sufficiency. The wax might make the plaster stick, but it may be feared that the honey and the incense would neutralize all the good effects to be expected from the wormwood and salt.

"The sixthe booke" begins on folio 9I, and is called "an excellente booke of playsters, salves, diet drinks, purgations, potions, etc." The "seaventh book " purports to be " taken out of a booke intituled A Thousand notable thinges of Sundrye sorts," and has four pages written in the same neat hand as the preceding parts of the volume ; but the rest of it, extending from folio 107 to folio 144, is in different hands. It cannot be asserted that this concluding part of the manuscript is in any degree exceeded in wonderful and miracle-working nostrums and compositions by the fairy-imparted cures derived from the study of the Vicar of Warlingham ; but a very slight inspection is sufficient to satisfy us that our ancestors did not live in enviable times, nor were under the influence of enviable prejudices or opinions. The most disgusting filthiness, the most debasing credulity, abound both in the cookery and medical departments of the volume. The extracts we have made from the revelations of the court and council of Queen Mab, are polite and rational in comparison with the strange and unspeakable things that are related even in that and other parts of the book. True it is, that here and there we find good useful compounds, and prescriptions founded upon experience and pure induction from Hippocrates and Galen, as well as extracts from Pliny and Tricenna ; but the collection in general teems with ignorance, superstition, astrology, and magic ; and one quotation from the seventh book, in addition to those we have already given, will, we think, be sufficient to convince the reader, whose curiosity has never led him back to review the medical science of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, upon how much better time "his lot has fallen," than men enjoyed even in the boasted " golden days of good Queen Bess."

6. To get a pretious stone out of a snake. If a water snake be tyed by the tayle with a corde, and hanged up, and a vessell full of water set below the snake, after a certayne time he will avoyde out of his mouth a stone, which stone being taken out of the vessell, he drinkes up all water : let this stone be tyed to the bellye of them that have the dropsye, and the water will be exhausted or drunk up, and it fullye and wholelye helpes the partye that hath the sayd dropsye. —Jacobus Hollerius.

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