Word cloud

My Wordle cloud (from http://www.wordle.net):

Wordle for 18thcenturyrecipes.wordpress.com

I love the way ‘memory’, ‘alone’ and ‘madness’ seem to fade into the background. ‘Sometimes’ ‘love’ ‘flatter’ is almost a sentence, and is certainly true. Wonderful juxtaposition also of ‘let’, ‘need’, ‘wish’, ‘done’. I could go on for ever…


Not raveing but melancholy

I have been reading today about medical recipes for rabies, which reminded me of an incident in the Madan letters (see previous posts). Judith wrote to her husband Martin (away fighting the War of Austrian Succession) about a dog owned by their son, also called Martin:

I had wrote to you last week but was a good deal alarm’d by an accident, which yet I thank God has had no ill consequences & all my fears are now entirely over, nor should I mention it, but as things never loose in the carrying I was afraid you might hear it with adititions from another hand which is truly this – Martins dog Silver show’d one day at dinner signs of madness – not raveing, but melancholy, which is as bad in its consequences; refus’d meat & shun’d water which confirm’d us he was far gone, on which he was ty’d up in the kennel, & continuing in the same way we thought it safest to have him shot which was accordingly done. After this Pen recollected the morning of the day we observ’d his disorder that he had jump’d up & lick’d her lips & also her head, this frighted us extreamly as not knowing how soon infection might be taken, & some days before he had bit the housemaids hand. So on the whole we thought it most prudent to be most secure, & I made the medicine & Pen & the maid took it the proper time, only I gave Pen in proportion to her age 2 spoonfulls less. It was terrible to take but she had resolution to go thro’ it the full time & is perfectly well, & now I am easy in that respect. Martin says if the dog had been mad there could have been no infection where he did not bite & Dr Lane is of the same opinion but I hope you’l think, as I did, the utmost caution not too much in a case of such infinite importance to so dear a child.

Martin replied, rather severely it might be thought:

you acquaint me with Silver’s madness and his having lick’d Pensy, I yet tremble to think of her danger & the fatal consequences that might have attended a favourite dog’s madness, I have very sincerely return’d God thanks for all your preservation, it was like putting poison in a cup of which you were all to drink had not the Hand of Providence directed you to destroy it. I ever had an aversion to the admission of favourite Dogs into the House, many bad accidents have happen’d from it, & your late escape I hope will be sufficient to present your running any future risks of that sort.

Rabies is still almost invariably fatal, so the hysteria over a lick, let alone a bite is understandable. What is more curious perhaps is that fact that a very large number of manuscript recipe books of the period contain a remedy for it, even though these cannot have worked. ‘Remedy for the bite of a mad dog’ is also a frequently occurring artefact among the papers of the clergy – either they were often bitten when visiting their parishioners, or they thought they were likely to be contacted for medical as well as spiritual succour by the afflicted.

The Madan letters, Bodleian Library, MS Eng. lett. c.285: 140, 4th August 1744; 122, August 1744

An early feminist?

Further to my post yesterday about Judith Cowper, I thought I’d introduce you to her husband, Colonel Martin Madan. This is his description by the family’s biographer, Falconer Madan:

He was a well-bred gentleman, with engaging manners and presence. His Irish descent gave him a cheeriness and good humour which fitted him alike for court life and for the hardships of military campaigning.

I’m smitten already! Born on 1 July 1700 in Nevis, his plantation-owning parents died when he was very young and he was brought up in England by his aunt, Lady Russell. He joined the Coldstream Guards and then the King’s Own Horse, from which he retired as Lieutenant-Colonel on 24 December 1746, after battle honours at Dettingen and Fontenoy. His letters record fascinating details of life at the front:

Our entertainment here is confin’d to military affairs. The ladies shew themselves every evening in their coaches but as to conversation, we have none with them. Where the gentlemen are I know not, for except the Governour I have not seen one since I came here. It is said a company of actors are come to town & that we are to have a comedy thrice a week. I heartily wish it may be so for I very much want some reasonable amusement.

Had I not brought provisions with me from Aix I must have lived upon ammunition bread. As Commandant I’ve had a bed every night & have contributed to the fatt’ning a million of fleas, the greatest part of our officers have lain upon straw the whole march. I am heartily tired but very hungry, I have for dinner eggs & bacon, cold ham, tongue & 100 crawfish & a bottle of Old Burgundy to drink. I’ve invited my Lieutenant & Cornet.

I am possessed of a house where there are many rooms but no furniture except six chairs & a table, what I brought with me you very well know does not contribute to its magnificence. I fancy my self the inhabitant of a mansion recover’d after a twenty years Chancery suit, during which time it was without a master.

He was an Equerry to Frederick, Prince of Wales from 1736-49 and Groom of the Bedchamber from 1749-51, although he wasn’t impressed by court life, recording on one occasion:

The morning I’m employ’d as an Hostler to thirty horses & the afternoon as Valet de Chambre to thirty Boobies…

and on another:

Civilities, from Princes, are very apt to flatter and to dazzle the eyes of most men; but I shall ever put my chiefest trust in what is my own and independant of them.

Crippled by gout (with a diet like that, who’d be surprised?), he died in Bath on 4 March 1756 at the age of 55 and is buried in Bath Abbey.

What is most fascinating about Martin is his apparent freedom from the patriarchal attitude so dominant at the time. While his wife was anxious to appear subservient to his wishes in everything, declaring:

It is not life to me worth having that is not imploy’d in your service, which ever was & ever will be to me, perfect freedom

his frequent absences meant she had no choice but to take decisions herself. Judith made every effort to assure him she was doing as he would want, although one might say she sometimes protested too much:

Lady Russell set out for Stoke this morning, she has been so good to give you 20 Guineas toward furnishing your castle, which I am doing in the plainest & cheapest manner I can, & hope you will approve of what I have done.

I shall do with the supply of money you left me to the last moment possible, & belive I need not assure you of the most strict observance of everything that may conduce to your interest, which is so entirely, & truly my own, that tis scarce a compliment to tell you I shall make it my cheif study.

I have not once made a visit to London, I think it unreasonable for me to be spending yours & your childrens money in the gayities of a town life, whilst you are mortifying your self for their sakes in a country cottage.

But gloriously, to Martin all this was unnecessary. He understood exactly what was going on and, in an early gesture towards feminism, accepted and even welcomed their effective equality:

When I consider the power of women, it is surprising to me that man should imagine himself the first of the creation, that he is the superiour, that he is to be the absolute governour of his help mate woman. How empty & vain is this notion, when a tear from her we love can banish all our boasted reasoning & all our manly arguments vanish at her too deluding smiles. When you flatter us with the confession of our superiority, it is but to entangle us the more in the net, to have us the more in your power…

Notwithstanding all I’ve said, I am pleas’d to confess, that I am entirely yours & that you are my sovereign mistress, to be subject to your charms & sensible of your perfections, I esteem a greater happyness than to be conquerour of the world, & I am in the utmost delight when I can tell you that I am yours entirely & for ever.

I think he could teach something to some men even today… (readers of this blog excepted, of course!).

Quotations from Papers of the Madan family, Bodleian Library; details on request.

The shock of the familiar

A couple of weeks ago, after a night at Harpenden House, husband and I decided to visit Hertingfordbury; my MA dissertation was on the family of Judith Cowper, whose family seat was Hertingfordbury Park, and we took a sneaky peek at the house (it’s privately owned and down a long drive, so we tried to blend into the scenery). On the way we were near Stevenage Old Town, where I was born, so we decided to try to find the street I lived in. Determined to get there from memory rather than via satnav, I was temporarily diverted by the fact they’ve built a dual carriageway across the road I used to walk down to get to the High Street, but we finally found it, Orchard Crescent. I remembered the number but when I saw the house was disappointed that it meant absolutely nothing, didn’t stir any memories at all. We drove to the end of the road, turned round, and stopped outside no. 26 on the way back. Looking back to the main road it was then it hit me, an almost physical jolt of memory – I was 10 years old again, walking down the road and round the sweep of the bend that I could see in front of me.

To me, one aim of good history writing must be to evoke that kind of response in our readers, helping them identify with the people of the past and exploring the universality of human experience across both time and space. You can’t experience my memories directly, but if I describe them in the right way I can enable you to feel as if you are and to recognise parallels in your own life. Similarly, when I write about my research, I need to find a way of conveying what one might call the shock of the familiar. Despite a distance of hundreds of years, so often little has really changed.

For example, when I read from an eighteenth-century husband ‘PS Every letter has promised me to fly to your lips in the shape of a kiss’ it makes me think of phrases like ‘sealed with a loving kiss’ (or even SWALK!). When I read in a letter from a new bride to her mother:

I wait with the utmost impatience till you give me notice of your paying me a visit at Hertingfordbury, yet methinks I still wish to defer that pleasure till I am perfectly settled in my belov’d Dwelling; at present I am far from it & cannot expect to be able to receive you as I ought till Mrs C gone, & I am realy mistress of my own house… we laugh, sing, have musick, walking, punning, and content from morning till night. Mrs C & I have much discourse, and seeming satisfaction on both sides…

the tension between her and her mother-in-law is evident and timeless. Familiar also is the type of gossipy information in letters between mother and daughter, today more likely to be exchanged over the phone:

As to the head dress, it appears in so many various forms tis hard to say what is the fashionable standard – numbers wear their hair very well toopee’d & braded up behind & no cap at all, & everybody that wears any wears very small ones, egretts almost always worn of various fashion & colours…

I have not seen Madm Maintenons letters, but shall take thee first opportunity to read them that I may find out what the world has mistaken as to her character – should be glad in your next of your oppinion…

As you ask me what sugar I give Betty, such as is commonly call’d breakfast lump, all the other servants use our own brown, which is purer sugar then any we buy, & I never use any other for apple pyes, tarts, or anything of that kind, unless on some very particular occasion, I realy then I cant say there is any material difference in any respect – as to Lisbon sugar I never use it, it is a very strong ill-sifted sugar.

And which flouncing diva hasn’t felt like this at the actions of an apparently fickle admirer:

How is it possible for me to fancy you as sencire as I would have you, when an opera, nay one you did not like, could make you leave me? I would not say thus much before you went, because you would then certainly have paid me the complement of staying… Judge then how I can bear to be neglected – I would not have left you – Pope might have talk’d, or Guzzoni sung in vain… I have not seen a human creature since you left me – I have had time for reflection – have you any notion of the pain of doubt? If you have, you may perhaps imagin part of what this melancholy evening gave me… you may perhaps, wish to see me soon – when I may be engag’d – it may be in the vast affair of divertion… Tis now near ten a clock – I shall not sleep to night – write to me in the morning & let me know whether you continue to love me or not.

Don’t you just love it? Translation (probably in a series of text messages): ‘Obviously you found something far more important to do than be with me. How could you do this to me? Next time you want to see me I’m going to be busy enjoying myself. Don’t you love me any more?’ Followed by swift change of Facebook status to ‘I was sooo wrong about you’.

Reading the author notes to Wolf Hall, I was struck by Hilary Mantel’s observation that she’d chosen to write in the present tense because then she was deprived of hindsight, like her characters. As historians we don’t have the same liberties that novelists do – and we also want to try to join the dots, make the connections, set everything in context, use our hindsight to highlight what we’ve learnt. Maybe sometimes we need to stand back a bit more, let the sources speak for themselves and bring the past to life.

Quotes from Papers of the Madan family, Bodleian Library, MS Eng. lett. c.284: 26, 1723; 42, April 30th 1724; MS Eng. lett. d.268: 17, 1750; MS Eng. lett. d.286: 21, January 16th 1752; 25, April 1st 1752.

To do or not to do…

I’ve now been doing my PhD for, ooh, all of seven weeks and I must say it can be a rather weird experience. I suppose this is stating the obvious, but it’s not like a Master’s where at least you have some structure – reading lists, seminars to go to, coursework to hand in – in addition to the dissertation. With the PhD it’s: You want to research xyz? OK, go off and do it then. There’s a few milestones along the way but you’re pretty much on your own.

I know what I do on a micro basis, just about every day:

  • Check Twitter and personal email on iPhone while still in bed and waiting for everyone else to leave so I don’t get in their way (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).
  • Have breakfast and read online news and scan Google Reader, bookmarking to Diigo stuff to read later (I will get round to that, honest…).
  • Fortified by coffee, check work email and deal with anything pressing.
  • Consult to-do list for anything work related that has to be done that day to earn money, otherwise select something academic to read, make notes on etc.

And I know what I’ve done since I started, which is mostly along the lines of getting my head together and sparking my thinking, usually in 25 directions at once:

  • Set up Bookends database (Mac version of Endnote), which currently contains 140 references (articles, theses and books), around a third of which I have written notes on. So, lots of reading!
  • Drew up a list of further references to be followed up.
  • Visited Wellcome Library and looked at several collections of medical recipes in the Rare Materials Room.
  • Began compiling details of primary source materials.
  • Got clear in my head exactly what my research topic is and how I want to research it (no mean feat!).
  • Prepared ‘Case for funding’ statement for AHRC application.
  • Set up RSS feeds for relevant journal contents, blogs, conference details and new books.
  • Attended Roehampton induction weekend.
  • Attended Roehampton Graduate Writing workshops with Kate Williams.
  • Attended Vitae Digital Researcher workshop (on academic uses of social networking).
  • Attending BSHM Poynter lecture, Ruth Richardson, “Promiscuous & Inattentive Proceedings: The ethics and etiquette of patient care in the Georgian era”.
  • Booked on Progress in Medicine conference, Bristol University.
  • Booked on History of Western Herbal Medicine seminars (2), Middlesex Uni.
  • Booked on Digitised History: the impact of digitisation on research into 18th and 19th Century Britain, JISC/British Library.
  • Giving presentation at Roehampton Postgraduate Conference, “From the mundane to the marvellous: Eighteenth-century manuscript medical recipes”.
  • Joined Vitae, Dandelion Network and Graduate Junction (unsure of value of last two, but will see).
  • Began this blog.
  • Developing contacts (and profile) via Twitter (@sallyosborn).
  • Contacted two academics about obtaining their papers for conferences I can’t attend.

I have read a number of books about doing a PhD, I am used to working alone (particularly since I did my undergraduate degree at the OU), I did have an induction weekend at uni, and I do have a responsive supervisory team. I also have an existing network of friends and fellow students which is fast getting bigger and bigger, and that’s a great support in itself. And I’m not complaining, I’m having a ball – it’s just I sometimes feel like I’ve slipped down the rabbit hole and don’t quite know which way is up!

Born digital

(Archivists will forgive me for the title, I know it means something else to you!)

This blog was prompted by a tweet from @ThetisMercurio yesterday: ‘In some strange parallel universe toxic Sue Palmer expects parents to be more media savvy than their teenagers’. Thetis was referring to a webchat over on Mumsnet (I won’t start to comment on that organisation, because I won’t finish) about how modern life is (supposedly) damaging children. I am currently working with futurologist Richard Watson on his latest book on the effects of the digital age, where he talks about the ‘rise of the screenager’ and laments the loss of time and space to think, but he’s raising issues and trends rather than being heavily judgmental, as were so many of the comments yesterday. And he’s well informed.

What does amaze me, as Thetis’s comment implies, is how naive some parents are about what their children know and can do. Along the lines of ‘I bought a new computer for little Jake yesterday, but it’s OK, I turned on the parental controls’. But if little Jake doesn’t know how to bypass those, one of his mates will. Or ‘I watch everything Chloe’s doing on Facebook’. And then you discover that Chloe’s got an iPhone – what does she need a computer for?

Let’s face it, however up to date we think we are with what’s going on in the digital world, in most cases our teenagers have got there first and are far more able to negotiate and manipulate it (and us) than we are. What we need to do is give them strategies for real life that will help them handle danger in whatever form it comes. I well remember a friend of one of my daughters whose parents were incredibly strict and all the way through school insisted on ferrying her everywhere she went, picking her up at 11pm on the dot and even vetting the playlist at her 18th birthday party for such undesirables as Eminem. What happened? She went to university and was pregnant within the first term.

Yes, children shouldn’t spend all day in front of a screen, of the computer or television variety. But if you make something forbidden, they only want to do it more. If you let them loose with whatever the latest fad is, sooner or later they get tired of it in any case and their use reverts to a ‘normal’ level, however that’s defined. And if your children don’t have any knowledge of technology, they will be disadvantaged in both education and the wider world. Help them to use the communications tools wisely, safely and to their benefit, help them be sceptical about whether something’s good just because it’s new, and you’ll turn out happy, well-rounded young adults who’ll be savvy and confident, with an arsenal at their disposal to take on the world.

Rant over – now you can shoot me down in flames if you think my offspring are precocious little brats!

Blogito ergo sum?

Am preparing a list for my supervision meeting tomorrow of what I’ve done since the last one, which of course includes yesterday’s Digital Researcher conference and this blog. Anticipating the inevitable question, I thought I’d try to answer for myself why I’m writing the blog and what I hope to get out of it.

Aside from shameless self-promotion, which of course comes into it, I think the main benefit I anticipate is actually going to come from the activity of writing itself. I may deal all the time with improving other people’s writing, but the discipline of generating something (hopefully) coherent on a regular basis can only be good.

Second is the opportunity to try out some ideas and get feedback on them. You need a network first, of course, but I’m working on that and I know I’ve also got some readers who I met on my degree and MA. I find that for me the best way of developing an idea is to try to get it down on paper and write around it, so the blog can only help in that.

Third is to gain contributions to my thinking from other people, both by feedback to blog posts and by direct appeal if I get desperate! Twitter has already been helpful in that, of course, but the blog is more permanent and gives you the opportunity to be more expansive. I do see definite advantages to combining the two.

Fourth is to establish and enhance my overall web presence. There is more than one Sally Osborn out there, I was perturbed to discover 🙂 So my aim is to so bamboozle Google that I come out on top and am firmly identified with my research.

Fifth and last, but by no means least (can’t always get away from the clichés…), is to expand my existing network and find lots of lovely new people to communicate with, who hopefully are interested in what I’m doing and what I’ve got to say.

It would be useful to hear from other people their reasons for blogging and if I’ve missed anything compelling!