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)


Dosage and the Impact of Age

Increasing medical expertise during the seventeenth and eighteenth-centuries often involved the growing recognition of anatomical differences between adults and children. Despite female author Sarah Jackson’s receipts (in her book The director: or, Young woman’s best companion, 1754 & 1755) being published in a time of anti-dissection, they contain profound examples of the dosage of medication being altered to accommodate the needs of a child. Having previously witnessed the means by which ‘age’ remained an ambiguous (or missing) factor, it is interesting to acknowledge the growing importance of expertise in child-specific dosages.

Historiographical debate has focused on child-specific dosages. Historian Lisa Smith introduces the eighteenth-century concern of raising healthy children. Smith performed an analysis of medical texts in the epistolary format, finding that women were more likely than men to write to doctors concerning their child’s health (1). On the other hand, historian Jonathan Andrews explains how early modern institutions intended to discover ‘how children’s minds, bodies and constitutions were conceptualised’, and ‘why treatments were adjusted and made more specific for children’ (2). Therefore, Smith and Andrews provide contrasting views as to whether we should regard child dosages as maternal responsibilities or empirical and medical expertise.

It is important to acknowledge that we can rarely be sure of the fact that these women wrote their receipts themselves. Despite not explicitly mentioning the contributor, many receipts were copied from elsewhere. However, as ‘compilers’ (i.e. collecting receipts from other texts and compiling their own book), they made the conscious decision to include these receipts for a number of reasons. Jackson’s inclusion of the receipt for An excellent Surfeit-Water states that ‘The Dose for a Man is two Spoons full, for a Child one Spoonful’ (3). In this case, the lack of standardised measurement is immediately indicative of the absence of empiricism. Instead, it appears to be a mere recognition of the necessity to lower the dosage for a child. This could be considered to be simply part of a woman’s maternal responsibility, as supported by historian Lisa Smith. In this case, the receipt book as a whole would support a woman’s role in childcare alongside refining medical expertise. We might depict the likes of Sarah Jackson as ‘medical’ authors or compilers. However, domestic receipts ran alongside medical receipts. If we associate domesticity with the role of the female in the household, this would suggest that caring for children overlapped with both medical and domestic elements of eighteenth-century literature.

An excellent Surfeit-Water – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

Notably, the transmission of receipts from one owner to the next included the intermingling of receipts by both men and women. This means that we cannot know for sure whether the receipts presented in Sarah Jackson’s book were written by a man. If this is the case, the previous statement (suggesting that receipts depicted a woman’s concern for her child’s health) should be re-considered. There are more receipts in Jackson’s book which suggest elements of experimentation are related to the improvement of child dosages. Theories of female ‘concern’ for child health are gradually replaced with the desire for medical expertise in these later instances.

Sarah Jackson only published two editions of her book in 1754 and 1755. Despite only one year’s difference, we witness the disappearance of For a Cough in a Young Child, replaced with An infallible Remedy for the Hooping-Cough in Children, a Day Cold or Cough in the Adult. Notably, the entirety of the ingredients are altered, along with the purpose and versatility of the receipt. This displays the possible role of experimentation in early modern households. Experimentation might have been performed by the author or compiler in order to better understand the anatomical differences and similarities between man and child. To have trialled and modified (in this case – eradication and replacement) proves to us that early modern institutions truly did aspire to gain knowledge on childhood health.

An infallible Remedy for the Hooping-Cough in Children – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)
For a Cough in a young Child – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

This refined medical expertise, proposed by historian Jonathan Andrews, is continued in the receipt for The Red Powder famous for Curing of Fevers of all Sorts, and Agues. The explanation for the administering of dosage is as follows: ‘To a Child fifteen Grains, to a Youth twenty-two Grains, to a Man or Woman thirty, or more’ (4). The introduction of standardised measurements of ‘Grains’ heightens the precision (and empiricism) of the receipt. Moreover, the categorisation of both ‘Child’ and ‘Youth’ as well as adults depicts an awareness of the gradual anatomical changes to the human body. It is therefore evident that Jackson’s choice of receipts, while depicting maternal responsibilities, strongly associate with eighteenth-century medical expertise.

The Red Powder – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

However, when studying these receipts, the latter sheds light on the lack of anatomical awareness of gender differences. The same dosage is to be administered to both men and women. This could be due to issues of anti-dissection. Alternatively, there are receipts in which gender dosages are more specific, however this requires further study.

(1) Lisa Smith, The Relative Duties of a Man: Domestic Medicine in England and France, 1685-1740, Journal of Family History (2006)

(2) Jonathan Andrews, History of Medicine: Health, Medicine and Disease in the Eighteenth Century, Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies (2011)

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

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