Encouraging Experimentation: Manuscripts

Both Anne Battam and Sarah Jackson have demonstrated the encouragement of experimentation by including receipts with little or no efficacy statements. As part of printed books, these receipts were likely to be marketed at a public audience. It would be interesting to use manuscripts such as A book of culinary and medicinal recipes in various hands (1767-69) to trace a trend, particularly with manuscripts being predominantly used for personal benefit. Despite this difference between printed and manuscript books, both types of literature face the same problem of challenges to authorship and ownership. The books are compiled from receipts circulated between gentlewomen and homosocial groups, challenging historian Monica Green’s argument that receipt books were the first genre of women’s medical knowledge (1). We could support these claims though, by focusing on experimentation as part of the receipt.

‘Mary Leigh’, the supposed owner / compiler of the manuscript, might have shown her female medical expertise by encouraging the reader to participate in experimentation. If we were to find corresponding receipts with no statement of success, then experimentation is encouraged as part of the receipt because the reader needs to discover the outcome. Efficacy (or success) statements were a continuation from the seventeenth-century, so to find them absent in the manuscript from 1767 would suggest that the reader is in charge of obtaining results.

The manuscript contains two corresponding receipts called A receipt for the bite of a mad dog and Dr Mead’s receipt for the bite of a Mad Dog. Both receipts require a somewhat similar level of knowledge on the anatomical differences of men and women by referring to different dosage administrations. However, the first receipt requires the purchasing of Venice treacle, a significantly costly and complex ingredient (Ingredients and Self-Treatment). At this stage, this appears to be the only obstruction which might cause a reader to consider only experimenting with one receipt. In our previous post (Encouraging Experimentation: Anne Battam), we discussed the hindrances caused to experimentation by expensive ingredients. However, when discussing motives surrounding expenses and ingredients, the nature of a manuscript is more personal compared to that of a printed book.  Therefore, ‘Mary Leigh’ might have chosen receipts knowing that she can afford the ingredients involved.

Interestingly though, neither of the two receipts provides a statement of efficacy. This is resonated in our two previous posts, where we suggested that the reader might experiment to discover which receipt provides the best results. Unusual in this instance is the absence of any personal annotations, which were popular in manuscripts where owners had trialled receipts. Therefore, it becomes more difficult to argue that the manuscript, when compared to the printed books, encourages reader participation in experimentation.

Having already acknowledged the likelihood of the transmission of receipts, it is normal to notice the inclusion of a receipt by a doctor. Historian Leigh Whaley gives examples of eminent physicians who published material in the eighteenth-century, for example, Dr William Buchan’s Domestic medicine, or the family physician (1769) (2). Though the example provided is post-1767, it highlights the likelihood of women compiling receipt books by dipping in to material published by physicians (something we discussed in our previous post Evaluation of Methodology: Editions and Standardisation).

Straying slightly from the theme of experimentation, we come to historians Pennell and Leong’s focus on the notions of trustworthiness attached to domestic medicine versus physicians. If compilers wanted to encourage experimentation, then perhaps they did so by giving readers the opportunity to compare domestic medicine with that produced by the physicians. Dr Mead’s receipt for the bite of a Mad Dog might be trialled first by the reader. This is because of its methods (including bloodletting, a Hippocratic technique encouraged by Galen) and descriptions of how to prepare ingredients provide the reader with a detailed and informed medical treatment.

It might also be a chance for readers (and compilers) to experiment with receipts and make comparisons based on which receipt might be perceived as ‘superior’ in knowledge and whether this is reflected in the results. Historian Seth LeJacq argues that receipts by orthodox physicians were included to provide ‘evidence of fruitful interactions with the medical men and interest in their knowledge’ (3). This is reflected in Hannah Glasse’s 1780 edition of her receipt book Art Cookery Made Plain Easy which also includes Dr Mead’s receipt.

However, compilers and authors of receipts were ‘domestic’ as well as ‘medical’ writers. By including receipts by physicians alongside domestic receipts, they might intend for domestic medicine to become superior post-experimentation. We expect this type of rivalry was not uncommon, with LeJacq stating how ‘in early modern recipe books, these stories often serve to show laypeople beating physicians at their own game’ (4). This means that both physicians’ and authors’ receipts (absent of efficacy statements) faced experimentation by readers not only for desired results, but also possibly through rivalry.

It cannot go unmissed that domestic medicine authors and compilers faced elite class rivalry with physicians. Historian N. D. Jewson explains how ‘in spite of their genteel status and pre-eminence among medical practitioners, physicians did not occupy a place of precedence within the ranks of the upper class. In general, physicians came near the bottom of this hierarchy’ (5). Therefore, if we look back at corresponding receipts, it is possible to suggest that female compilers such as ‘Mary Leigh’ encouraged experimentation as a form of competition.

Overall, there are several components to these corresponding receipts that suggest the encouragement of experimentation took place. Though this manuscript tells us nothing of ‘Mary Leigh’s’ motives, we can expand on the receipts by applying a range of contextual possibilities. A trend can be traced between all three sources (by Sarah Jackson, Anne Battam, and ‘Mary Leigh’) in which no success statements are displayed. Therefore, the reader is encouraged to experiment and identify the most successful medicine. Furthermore, it could be argued (if more evidence was to be gathered) that compilers of domestic receipt books encouraged experimentation as a form of competition and rivalry.

(1) Monica Green in Elaine Leong, Collecting Knowledge for the Family: Recipes, Gender and Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern English Household, Centaurus (2013)

(2) Leigh Whaley, Women and the Practice of Medical Care in Early Modern Europe, 1400-1800, Chapter 8: Motherly Medicine: Domestic Healers and Apothecaries (pp. 150-173), Palgrave Macmillan (2011)

(3) Seth LeJacq, The Bounds of Domestic Healing: Medical Recipes, Storytelling and Surgery in Early Modern England, Social History of Medicine (2013)

(4) LeJacq (2013)

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


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 Gender


Following on from our last post on Dosage and the Impact of Age, we have decided to focus on alterations of dosage based on gender. Historiographical debates have so far centred around dissection and the limited opportunities for formal education for women. According to N.D Jewson, dissection in the early modern period was ‘widely regarded as an insult to the body’ (1). This means that domestic medical healers, who were often women, would have had limited knowledge about the workings of the body due to a lack of dissection. Further research on women’s lack of knowledge can be found in Doreen Evenden’s work which suggests that it was ‘unthinkable’ for women to attend dissections held by the Barber-Surgeons company (2). This could be because in 1745 the Company of Surgeons became a separate organisation from the Barber-Surgeons. Making the distinction between the two companies more formal could have made it harder for women to access professional medical education due to contemporary ideals about gender roles. Both arguments make alterations of dosage based on gender, such as those found in receipt books compiled by Sarah Jackson (The director: or, Young woman’s best companion published in 1754 & 1755), surprising. These receipt books counter the arguments historians have proposed on formal medical knowledge by giving advice to readers (who were most likely women) about how to alter dosage based on gender without professional medical expertise.

Jackson’s compilation of medical and culinary receipts includes one noticeable medical receipt which mentions altering the dosage based on gender. The receipt For the Yellow-Jaundice is interesting because it recommends altering the amount of ingredients in the treatment based purely on gender. The advice of ‘eleven sows, or Wood- Lice if they be large, (if small, thirteen)’ for a man and ‘nine large Wood-Lice, or eleven small ones’ for a woman shows an understanding of the differences between male and female anatomy. This contrasts Jewson’s argument that there was a lack of understanding about the body (3). By acknowledging that the receipt may need altering for men, it assumes that the reader has basic knowledge about the human anatomy. The inclusion of this receipt could suggest that domestic healers (notably women) were, by the eighteenth-century, becoming more aware of the need to experiment with the quantities of ingredients used in treatments.


Notably, alongside recommendations to change the quantity of ingredients based on gender, the receipt also gives instructions about the size of woodlice needed. If this alteration is read in line with Alisha Rankin’s argument that writing a receipt ‘encompassed the knowledge of all the properties of a remedy’s ingredients’, it seems the Yellow-Jaundice receipt can suggest more about knowledge of dosage and measurements than first appears (4).  We could see the inclusion of precise, standardised amounts of ingredients and dosage as evidence of attempting to create an efficacious result. After undertaking a comparative study of the 1754 and 1755 editions of Sarah Jackson’s book, we found an increase in the number of standardised receipts from 58% in 1754 to 62% in 1755. Equally, there was a decrease in the amount of non-standardised measurements used in receipts from 42% in the 1754 edition to 40% in 1755. This illustrates progression to a more standardised set of receipts with measurements such as ounces, drams, grains, pints and quarts becoming more commonly used in the 1755 edition. Despite appearing in both editions of Jackson’s compilation, the receipt doesn’t follow this trend of increasing standardisation. Perhaps this is because the receipt instead gives instructions on the size of ingredients rather than giving a standard measurement. Just like standardised measurements show concerns about the receipt being reproducible, the alteration based on size shows an understanding of the problems the receipt could cause to readers trying to follow the instructions.

The clear instructions given in terms of ingredients can also be found in advice on dosage. The receipt recommends taking the treatment for three days, ‘then forbear three mornings, and then do it for three mornings again’ (5). The cyclical nature of the dosage repetition could be linked with Galenic principles which show a connection between bodily cycles and astrology. Taking a more straightforward approach, we could simply see the cycle of dosage as a way to advise healers to alter the dosage as they see necessary. This links with ideas already covered in Dosage and the Impact of Circumstance.

By looking at alterations in ingredients and dosage based on gender, the receipt For the Yellow-Jaundice shows that formal medical education was not required to administer effective medical treatments. In the receipt books we have chosen to study, Jackson is unique in recommending different dosages based on gender. Even though, as Doreen Evenden states, ‘licensed women were expected to only practice on women’, the receipt shows a basic understanding of how to treat both sexes (6).  This could be down to an increase in female participation in medical experimentation.

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

(2) Doreen A Evenden, Gender Differences in the Licensing and Practice of Female and Male Surgeons in Early Modem England, Medical History (1998)

(3) Sarah Jackson, The director: or, Young woman’s best companion (1754)

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

(5) Jackson (1754)

(6) Evenden (1998)