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)


Evaluation of Methodology: Editions and Standardisation

One issue that has predominated our work so far is that we have very little definitive proof of the extent to which these female compilers trialled and experimented. It needs to be acknowledged that outside sources (contemporary to the period) played an influence on the work of these compilers. We know, for example, that Sarah Jackson often combined a number of contributions in her book, particularly from newspapers. There are ways to avoid being conjectural by looking at the ways female expertise was refined through edition alterations and the inclusion of certain receipts.  Historian Laura Knoppers refers to Heidi Brayman Heckel’s comment on marginalia, in that ‘it is not only what books do with readers, but what readers do with books’ (1). If we are to believe that Sarah Jackson and Anne Battam were active readers and users of these receipts, then we can apply Heckel’s argument to the diverse changes to editions.

We have previously concentrated on the removal / replacement and introduction of new receipts in Sarah Jackson’s 1754 and 1755 editions in our work on Dosage and the Impact of Age. Alternatively, modifications to more than one receipt book are largely identified through statistical analysis, particularly of standardisation. Both ingredients and dosages were either standardised (e.g. drams, ounces, pints, gallons), or non-standardised (e.g. handfuls, spoonfuls, ‘as much as the glass will hold’ (2)). The use of standardised measurements conveys the refinement of female medical expertise because:

  • It allows for easier amendments to dosages – medicines can be modified with less chance of serious consequences.
  • Increased focus is placed on empiricism, experimentation, experience and less reliance upon perception.
  • Women have the ability to reproduce medicines and maintain consistency; the dosages became universal. This made the probability of the receipt being successful higher because the instructions about administering dosage and quantities of ingredients are clearer and more standardised.
Palsy water, ‘as much as the glass will hold’ – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

There are some recognisable differences between female compilers Sarah Jackson and Anne Battam regarding changes to standardisation in editions. Despite both women only releasing two editions each, the changes show both the progression and complexity of refining medical expertise. Jackson’s editions are a particularly prominent example of rapid progression. It is harder to argue that we witness conscious decisions to alter receipts in Battam’s book because of her death in 1755 (in-between editions).

Jackson’s editions, released in 1754 and 1755, have an increase from 56 to 62 receipts. In the 1754 edition, 33 contain standardised measurements. In the 1755 edition, 41 contain standardised measurements. This is an increase from 58% to 66%. Therefore, this could be an attempt to make medicine more universal. In particular, the receipt For the Yellow Jaundice states that the size of certain ingredients could be problematic and require modification (e.g. woodlice). This might therefore explain the improvements in the standardisation of both ingredients and dosages in the 1755 edition. Examples of receipts containing standardised measurements include To kill and bring away all Sorts of Worms(pints, ounces), and Brandy Elixir (ounces).

To kill and bring away all Sorts of Worms – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

However, this elixir also features the non-standardised measurement of spoonfuls. Notably, Jackson’s 1755 edition witnesses a minor increase from 23 to 25 receipts containing non-standardised measurements. This conflict with the previous statistics somewhat complicates an argument that these women were entirely progressive towards expertise.

Due to Battam’s death in 1755, midway between the publication of the first and second (also last) editions in 1750 and 1759, complications arise regarding standardisation in her compilation. While she may have made some contributions to modifications between 1750 and 1755, she is not entirely responsible for the disparities in standardisation between editions.

In Battam’s 1750 edition, 23 of 25 receipts (92%) contain standardised measurements. In her 1759 edition, 46 of 51 receipts (90%) contain standardised measurements. Hence, there is a very small decline in standardisation despite the increase in receipts included. Additionally, the number of receipts containing non-standardised measurements increased from 8 in 1750 to 14 in 1759. Looking at these figures alone would depict a decline in the importance of encouraging female expertise. However, by using the small amount of information found on Battam’s year of death, we can question the extent to which she is responsible for the collection of receipts included in the second edition. Although it is likely that Battam played a part in editing the second edition, we can’t be sure which receipts were picked by a third party source. This brings our statistical analysis of the receipt books into question. Nevertheless, by comparing the two editions we can suggest a lack of consistency in terms of standardisation across eighteenth-century receipt books.

While it is arguable that Battam had no intention to increase her medical expertise, we cannot disregard the fact that there are a surprising number of additional receipts four years after her death. We should therefore take into account these numerous contributions. In 1750, Battam’s book featured 7 named contributions. In 1759, this number had increased to 16, meaning 31% of the receipts explicitly claimed alternative ownership. Typically, the majority of contributions were made by the gentry, family, or local physicians. The inclusion of receipts from other collections was a staple of eighteenth-century receipt books. Despite only 31% of receipts being explicitly named as contributions we will never know the exact number of receipts that were from alternative sources. This issue becomes even more difficult in Battam’s case due to her death in-between editions. Post-death, Battam obviously could not approve (or disapprove) of certain receipts.

 It is therefore evident that changes to editions provide one of the clearest pictures of the conscious decisions made by these female compilers. Arguably, this can be categorised as experimentation; these women actively engaged with and most likely trialled the receipts they included, while making appropriate modifications. However, as these two examples of female compilers show, medical receipts in the eighteenth-century varied from book to book.  When looking at printed books, we also face issues of ownership; as we can’t be sure which receipts (if any) were chosen by the compilers. This makes attempts to collect and analyse data challenging as we can only make assumptions about their motives for including certain receipts.  The data we collected points to an increase in standardisation in Sarah Jackson’s compilations. Nevertheless, some examples are more complicated than others.  Battam’s collection of receipts contrasts noticeably with Jackson’s in our study of attempts to refine medical expertise.

(1) Laura Knoppers, Opening the Queen’s Closet: Henrietta Maria, Elizabeth Cromwell, and the Politics of Cookery, Renaissance Quarterly (2007)

(2) Anne Battam, The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table: a collection of scarce and valuable receipts (1750/59)

Treating the Bite of a Mad Dog

By the mid-eighteenth-century, women had already begun to experiment with treatments listed in receipt books. This can be evidenced through the introduction of efficacy statements. From the seventeenth-century onwards, they showed that treatments had been trialled and were successful. Clearly, the importance of emphasising an efficacious result is something which had been recognised as a required aspect of a receipt throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth-centuries.  One notable way which can be used as evidence of experimentation is the number of different receipts for the same illness contained within one receipt book. Historians such as Raymond Anselment have previously argued that the cure for a mad dog’s bite was ‘an expected part of any collection’ (1).  When conducting our own research, we found this to be the case with Anne Battam’s collection of receipts containing two receipts for the cure of a mad dog’s bite. Through a comparative study of experimentation, dosage, standardisation and ingredients, we will reflect on female expertise on domestic medicine in the eighteenth-century.

The 1759 edition of Battam’s compilation contains two receipts: A receipt for the bite of a mad dog and An infallible cure for the bite of a mad dog, brought from Tonquin. Battam’s decision to include two receipts for the same illness can perhaps be explained in line with Alisha Rankin’s argument. She suggests that women ‘made attempts to modify established recipes […] and frequently experimented with new medications’ (2).  In this sense, experimentation could be seen as the process of testing new treatments to determine which were the most effective in different circumstances.  In both receipts, experimentation can be seen through the N.B.’s at the end of the instructions.  In A receipt for the bite of a mad dog, the N.B. reads ‘it is good for cattle, as well as the human species’ (3). By engaging with Galen’s theory that humans and animals have similar anatomical structures, the receipt demonstrates a clear understanding of contemporary principles of medicine. Alternatively, in An infallible cure for the bite of a mad dog, brought from Tonquin the N.B. gives further information on the dosage required as well as an efficacy statement. The statement explains that ‘this medicine has been given to hundreds with success’ (4) which shows that the receipt has been tested. This acts in a similar way as annotations and cross outs (found in many early modern manuscripts); these were a recognised part of eighteenth-century receipt books. Therefore, both receipts present an awareness of the importance of experimentation. 


mad dog .jpg
A receipt for the bite of a mad dog – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

An infallible cure for the bite of a mad dog, brought from Tonquin  Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/ BAT)

Not only do both receipts follow the trend of experimentation, they also contain advice about how to alter dosages given.  Both receipts advise the reader to repeat the dosage after a thirty-day period. A receipt for the bite of a mad dog suggests the dose should be repeated ‘the next new or full moon after the first’ while An infallible cure for the bite of a mad dog, brought from Tonquin recommends ‘a second dose of the same must be repeated thirty days after’ (5). As discussed in a previous post, this is a common aspect of Galenic principles which were based on cycles within the body. By giving clear instructions about when to give the patient the repeat dosage, the reader could administer the treatment more confidently.

The final point of comparison between the two receipts focuses on standardisation of measurements and ingredients used. From our statistical analysis of Battam’s compilations of receipts, we found a decrease in the number of receipts containing non-standardised measurements from 32% in 1750 to 27% in 1759. This suggests a gradual transition towards more precise measurements, which could be used as evidence of attempts to make receipts more reproducible and therefore more successful. Both receipts for the mad dog’s bite in the 1759 edition of Battam’s collection follow this trend by using standardised measurements. In A receipt for the bite of a mad dog, standardisation is used in relation to pre-processed ingredients with the receipt instructing the individual to use ‘five pints of ale’ (6). This suggests that the receipt has been tested with different quantities to achieve a successful treatment. However, the receipt still uses non-standardised measurements for ‘natural’ ingredients such as the rind of an elder tree, showing a lack of consistency in terms of measurements used. Contrastingly, An infallible cure for the bite of a mad dog, brought from Tonquin uses standardised measurements for pre-processed and natural ingredients. The receipt says to take ‘twenty-four grains of native cinnabar’ and ‘twenty-four grains of factitious cinnabar’ (7).  Perhaps this receipt is more concerned with standardisation as it has been contributed to the collection from Tonquin. However, this requires further study.

A comparative study of the two receipts for a mad dog’s bite presents a number of insights into domestic medicine in the mid-eighteenth century. The N.B.’s suggest a number of revisions had been made to the receipts included in the collection and add further information connected to principles of medicine, dosage and efficacy. Equally, repeat dosages ensure that the patient is relieved of their symptoms while standardised measurements led to a reproducible receipt.

(1) Raymond Anselment, The Wantt of Health: An Early Eighteenth-Century Self-Portrait of Sickness, Literature and Medicine (1996)

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

(3) Anne Battam,The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table: a collection of scarce and valuable receipts (1759)

(4) Battam (1759)

(5) Battam (1759)

(6) Battam (1759)

(7) Battam (1759)

Experimentation and Preventative Medicine

Having only focused on the administering of medicine, we decided to search for other examples of refined medical expertise. Interestingly, several of the receipts included by female compilers Sarah Jackson and Anne Battam focus on preventative techniques. It is hard to define a category under which this form of medical expertise falls. However, it is likely that mid-eighteenth century women and/or their readers participated in some form of experimentation surrounding preventative medicine. This might appear insignificant when compared with later discoveries of causation. Yet, the continuing use of preventative medicine shows us the prevailing desire to refine medical expertise.

In these instances, receipts containing statements of efficacy (displaying the success of the remedy) are the key identifier of female medical expertise. It is likely that these female compilers chose their receipts based on a number of factors, one being the likelihood of success. Due to these statements of efficacy being our main focus, this relates closest to the category of experimentation. Despite not knowing if these women wrote their own receipts, a statement of efficacy means someone has had to test the receipt and display its results.  Perhaps the decision to include receipts containing preventative techniques within their efficacy statements shows their conscious decisions to engage with Galenic principles and move away from relieving symptoms.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth-century, discoveries of the cause of an illness was scarce. Diagnosis was unintended and, instead, a desire to be cured of the symptoms was sought. The analysis of symptoms predominated the field of medicine. Historian N. D. Jewson elaborates on this, explaining how ‘symptoms were not regarded as the secondary signs of internal pathological events, but rather as the disease itself’ (1). It is unsurprising, then, that when contemporary physicians such as Dr Sydenham instructed others to ‘cure the disease, and do naught else’, the obligation of the doctor was to simply cure the symptoms (2). This means that we are unlikely to find many examples of treatments which cure the ailment rather than relieve the symptoms or even attempt to prevent them.

Sarah Jackson includes a receipt that engages with the prevention of symptoms as opposed to relieving them. Despite including receipts by eminent physicians such as Sydenham, Jackson’s The director: or, Young woman’s best companion contains statements of efficacy in which certain symptoms are prevented prior to their occurrence. One example of this Galenic principle is the inclusion of Howe’s Water for the Stone. Under the circumstances in which there is a ‘Fit of the Stone’, the receipt claims that the medicine ‘will prevent the Fits’ (3). Similarly, The Yellow Salve claims to be efficacious in that it will ‘prevent proud Flesh’ (4). In both instances, the analysis of symptoms and preventative techniques are employed by the writer. Nonetheless, it does not yet treat the cause of the ailment (nor identify the cause of discomfort). Therefore, this is an example of Jackson’s involvement in female medical expertise. The likelihood of her having any involvement in the authorship of these receipts is slim. Despite this, she has actively chosen to include receipts that feature efficacy statements (a strong indication of previous experimentation). They are also examples of the successful prevention of symptoms, something which Jackson might have chosen to focus on when displaying receipts with effective results.

Howe’s Water for the Stone – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)
The Yellow Salve – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

Notably, Jackson’s 1755 edition of receipts features one in which the title reads To prevent vomiting after Meat. The purpose of the receipt is clearly to focus upon the reader’s symptoms (as a result of eating meat). Noticeably, preventing the symptoms is not the most significant step away from orthodox medicine (particularly when compared to developments surrounding aetiology). Instead, Jackson perhaps included a receipt which conformed to symptom-based treatment because identifying a cause was (and still is) intensely complex and significantly costly.

Nevertheless, the receipt uses assertive language in its conclusion, which is a shorter version of an efficacy statement. By including yet another receipt proven to be successful at preventing illness, Jackson again becomes involved in medical expertise through experimentation. Not knowing whether she claimed authorship to this receipt does not take away the fact that Jackson has read and identified a receipt that outwardly displays its success as a result of experimenting.  

To prevent vomiting after Meat – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

There is a sense of disparity between both Sarah Jackson and Anne Battam in their approach to preventative medicine. Battam’s The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table contains receipts with a more complex and refined approach to preventative medicine. In Battam’s inclusion of Locatelli’s balsam (in the 1750 edition), the efficacy statement maintains that the medicine is ‘good for inward bleeding’ (5). Initially, it can be observed that this receipt is conforming to orthodox medicine by relieving symptoms and following Galenic principles involving preventative medicine.

Additionally, by treating inward bleeding, the balsam treats the cause of further symptoms. The discomfort associated with internal blood loss is being prevented. While this is not identifying the cause of inward bleeding, it is preventing the cause of further illness. This is very similar to Sarah Jackson, in that both women appear to be actively choosing receipts that have been experimented on and their results displayed. Both women engage with female medical expertise not only through distant experimentation, but also through their focus on the medical treatment that was desired at the time. The symptoms associated with each ailment are relieved and prevented, proving that both Jackson and Battam resolved to find receipts that were desirable to their readers.

Locatelli’s balsam – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

Furthermore, the inclusion of the receipt To make and use the antiscorbutick juices is the most noteworthy illustration of Battam’s engagement with preventative medicine. The title itself informs us of the purpose of the receipt, antiscorbutic being the adjective for ‘preventing scurvy’. During the 1730s and 1740s, developments were made towards identifying the cause of scurvy. Though it was not yet labelled as a Vitamin-C deficiency, it was argued that the illness was caused by a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. Consequently, Battam (or her predecessor post-death in 1755) might have chosen to include this receipt in her 1759 edition because of the use of ingredients such as ‘sea-scurvy grass’, ‘horse-radish roots’, and ‘Seville oranges’, all of which conformed to contemporary ideas of the prevention (and aetiology) of scurvy (6). There is no efficacy statement accompanying this receipt, meaning we might doubt whether Battam (or her predecessor) chose a receipt that had previously been experimented on. Having said this, adjectives such as ‘antiscorbutick’ would advertise to the reader that this female compiler might have consciously decided to include a receipt whereby the experimentation is evident in the title.

To make and use the antiscorbutick juices – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

Overall, both Sarah Jackson and Anne Battam convey female medical expertise through experimentation. The use of efficacy statements requires trialling in order to publish results. It is likely that these women acknowledged the experimentation involved in producing efficacy statements. This means that the receipts would have been perceived as highly reliable and effective in their preventing of symptoms. Circulating the importance of relieving and preventing symptoms was a well-grounded theory by the mid-eighteenth-century. Therefore, these women engaged with medical expertise by both highlighting the importance of experimentation and the outcomes of this, namely preventative medicine.

(1) N. D. Jewson, Medical Knowledge and the Patronage System in 18th Century England, Sociology (1974)

(2) Jewson (1974)

(3) Sarah Jackson, The director: or, Young woman’s best companion (1755)

(4) Jackson (1755)

(5) Anne Battam, The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table: a collection of scarce and valuable receipts (1750/59)

(6) Battam (1750/59)                                                                 

Dosage and the Impact of Circumstance

We decided to start our research by concentrating on the modification of dosages in varying circumstances. This might bring forward instances of what we have labelled ‘female medical expertise’, whereby women chose to acknowledge the importance of receipts that focus on conditions affecting dosages.

Despite placing the focus of our research upon female medical expertise, the following receipts are likely to have been passed from one generation to the next by both men and women. This problem of authorship and ownership (showing the strong likelihood of overlaps between male and female involvement), means we have to decide how we wish to define female medical expertise. We have chosen to outline ‘female medical expertise’ as:

  • The way in which these women consciously decided to include particular receipts in their books.
  • The heightened likelihood of receipts being experimented on by both the female compiler and the reader.
  • The way in which alterations between two editions of the same book display the revisions made by these women to their medical literature.
  • (In relation to this post) Female compilers engaging with receipts that contain empirical and precise methods (e.g. standardised measurements).
  • Any other factors we might discover while conducting this research.

During the mid-eighteenth-century, the modification of household medicines was particularly prominent. Historian Elaine Leong proposes that household drugs were impacted upon by customisation. The variation of ‘strength according to their own requirements’ plays a central focus in the study of dosage alterations (1). Using the argument proposed by historian Leong, we might begin by suggesting that female medical expertise is, in this case, categorised as the conscious decision to include receipts that encourage customisation. Alterations of dosages relied upon three dominant factors: age, gender and circumstance. Circumstance-based dosages are associated with terminology such as ‘strength’ and ‘constitution’. Consequently, the dosage administered is impacted upon by the individual’s perception of their patient’s build, framework, and existing state of health. This is particularly prominent in Anne Battam’s 1750/1759 The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table, in which there are two receipts relating to the alteration of dosage. The following examples are heavily based on inference and judgement; the reader must choose how many dimensions they wish to modify.

Battam chose to include the receipt To make the famous friar’s balsam, whereby the dosage must be altered ‘either by outward application, or taking it in drops, according to the age and constitution of the patient’ (2). Firstly, the method for administering the dosage is an added dimension – the reader is given a choice. The recommendations depict the writer’s presumption that the reader can determine the most effective way of administering the treatment as well as the dosage required. The methods are impacted directly by both ‘age’ and ‘constitution’. Despite these being vague judgements based purely on two factors, it is important to acknowledge that the receipt encourages methodological experimentation based on the perceived wellbeing of the patient.

To make the famous friar’s balsam – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

This is mirrored in Battam’s inclusion of Dr Willis’s Spring-ale, in which the dosage is administered ‘according to your age and strength’ (3). This receipt also adheres to the trend of relying on the reader’s perception of their patient’s health, followed by a mere estimation of the dosage that their ‘age’ requires. The lack of categorisation regarding age and different levels of ‘strength’ provides implications as to how both doctors and their followers (such as Battam) regarded dosage as important but not yet precise. Therefore, the ambiguous and unspecific instructions given by people whose advice was sought and respected suggests an incomplete understanding of the implications of altering dosage.

Dr Willis’s Spring-Ale – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

Notably, Sarah Jackson also conforms to this contemporary interest in the impact of circumstance on dosage in her 1754/1755 book The director: or, Young woman’s best companion. Similar to Anne Battam, Sarah Jackson’s inclusion of the receipt for Elixir Salutis, or never failing Cordial administers the dosage ‘according to the Constitution and Strength of the Patient’ (4). The use of ambiguous adjectives such as ‘constitution’ and ‘strength’ is again evident. This leads to the persistent problem of inference; the imprecise vocabulary relies on the reader’s perception of the literary meaning as well as their existing medical knowledge.

Elixir Salutis, or never failing Cordial – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)


Nevertheless, Sarah Jackson includes a receipt which introduces new circumstances with the alteration of dosage, such as the likelihood of gaining successful results under varying conditions. This is prominent in To help delivery, in which the likelihood of success might be impacted by a change of circumstance, in this case a stillbirth. Whilst still relying on the midwife’s judgement, the receipt explains how ‘half a Dram’ of the ingredients must be given ‘in a little warm Ale’. However, ‘if the Child be dead give a Dram of it’ (5). This significant change in circumstance is mirrored by a change in dosage, suggesting the receipt has been tested prior to publication. Therefore, it is evident that early modern households recognised the necessity to increase the dosage to match the increased discomfort of the patient. Interestingly, this is the only given example of a circumstance-associated dosage in which a standardised measurement is provided. The ambiguity of administering medicine based on singular descriptions such as ‘strength’ and ‘age’ was no doubt a recurring issue.

From this, it would be of benefit us to study examples of receipts in which ‘age’ is more specifically addressed. This would lead to a better picture of female medical expertise in the mid-eighteenth-century.

To help Delivery – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)


(1) Elaine Leong, Making Medicines in the Early Modern Household, Bulletin of the History of Medicine (2008)

(2) Anne Battam, The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table: a collection of scarce and valuable receipts (1750)

(3) Anne Battam, The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table: a collection of scarce and valuable receipts (1750)

(4) Sarah Jackson, The director: or, Young woman’s best companion (1755)

(5) Sarah Jackson, The director: or, Young woman’s best companion (1755)