Encouraging Experimentation: Anne Battam

Anne Battam’s 1750 The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table contains two receipts for the treatment of palsy (involuntary tremors and paralysis). As a female compiler, her choice to include corresponding receipts can be likened to compilers in both the seventeenth and eighteenth-centuries, including Sarah Jackson (Encouraging Experimentation: Sarah Jackson). We previously suggested that corresponding receipts are an attempt (by the compiler) to encourage their readers to participate in experimentation. Battam’s book was released in printed editions in 1750 and 1759. Similarly, Jackson’s book was released in printed editions. Therefore, the argument from our previous post is resonated here, in that printed editions of receipt books were largely directed at a wider audience, rather than for personal use. Meanwhile, we should not discount the suggestion that the author or compiler might have also trialled these receipts. It is possible that compilers strategically placed receipts lacking in trial results together to encourage experimentation. With this in mind, we also intend to identify possible reader-based experimentation in Battam’s book, in that a lack of efficacy statements means the reader is unaware of what the results might be. This means that the reader (rather than the author or compiler) might choose to experiment with both receipts to find the most successful outcome.

Battam’s inclusion of two receipts targeting palsy are significantly different in both their methods and ingredients. This leads us to challenge the extent to which these duelling receipts actually encouraged experimentation. As we previously discovered, problems such as the ability to purchase or source certain ingredients might stop the reader being able to produce more than one medicine (Ingredients and Self-Treatment). Battam included An excellent receipt for the palsy, in which the only ingredients are mustard seed, juniper-berries and white wine. These are accompanied by instructions to ‘let it stand three days, shaking it three or four times a day’. Therefore, it would appear that this receipt was directed at a reader as a staple medicine, rather than a desire for perfection or medical expertise. There would be little pressure on the reader with regards to the availability of ingredients and medical ability. In order for this receipt to encourage participation in experimentation, a statement of efficacy must be absent. With this being the case, the receipt gives little insight into the outcome of administering the medicine.

An excellent receipt for the palsy – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

Palsy water is an entirely contrasting receipt when compared to its counterpart. The ingredients appear more problematic, particularly with heightened costs and numerous preparation methods. The reader must acquire spirits of wine (fermented and distilled liquor), sage and rosemary (essential oils), and ambergreece (ambergris). The receipt is written with the assumption that the reader can produce spirits of wine through the alchemical process of distillation. Historian Alisha Rankin states how ‘the tacit knowledge of how to do the hand-work provided the true means of turning recipe into remedy’ (1). This would suggest that this receipt is directed at an audience whose intentions would be to refine their medical expertise. Historian Pamela Smith labels this as ‘artisanal epistemology’ (2). This is in contrast to the previous receipt, in which the ingredients and methods suggest a lack of time, availability, or desire for medical expertise.

Ambergreece (or ambergris) is produced in the digestive system of sperm whales. Not only is it very rare, it is also extremely expensive. Historians including Patrick Wallis have emphasised the changing role of the apothecary. Wallis argues that ‘apothecaries stocked spirits, chocolates, perfumes and tobacco – they shifted from stocking medicine ingredients to stocking luxury items’ (3). We might find that ambergris is one ingredient to fall under this purview, making the receipt both elaborate and expensive. Therefore, this is another example of the way in which corresponding receipts might not be used to encourage experimentation. By remembering that Battam’s book was released in printed editions, we return to the concept of public versus personal motives. Due to Battam’s printed book being more likely to be used by the public, she might have felt it necessary to include receipts that were practical for both the gentry and the less well-off in society. On the other hand, this receipt (along with the previous one) also lacks an efficacy statement. If the receipt is part of a compiled collection, experimentation becomes part of the receipt rather than something that the author or compiler has participated in. A reader would again be faced with the problem of not knowing the outcome of administering the medicine. If a reader was able to produce either of the two medicines, this might be the key indicator of the encouragement of experimentation.

Palsy water – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

If a reader had the ability to produce and/or afford either of the palsy receipts, they might question the efficacy of each remedy. As has been shown, neither of the receipts for palsy provide a statement of efficacy. This is parallel to Sarah Jackson’s receipts, in which we discussed how the absence of efficacy statements might encourage experimentation. Therefore, this issue predominates the reader’s choice as to which receipt to use and shows a clear trend between both female compilers and their strategies. Trial and error plays a significant role in the production of domestic medicines. By disregarding the obvious contrast of availability and knowledge, the two receipts mirror each other; they provide nothing regarding the outcome of administering these medicines. Therefore, we think it is likely that corresponding receipts with no efficacy statements did encourage experimentation.

(1) Alisha Rankin, Becoming an Expert Practitioner: Court Experimentalism and the Medical Skills of Anna of Saxony (1532-1585), Isis (2007)

(2) Alisha Rankin (2007)

(3) Patrick Wallis, Consumption, Retailing, and Medicine in Early-Modern London, Economic History Review (2008)


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