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.
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)