A tale of successful detection

Lady Elizabeth Hastings (1682–1739), known as Lady Betty,  daughter of the seventh Earl of Huntingdon,  lived at Ledston Hall in Castleford, Yorkshire. She never married (although her letters reveal many persistent suitors) and was a significant donor to various charities and institutions, including Queen’s College, Oxford; indeed, the trust she established continues in operation today (Lady Elizabeth Hastings Charities). She suffered from breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, dying just over a year later.

Ledston Hall

The following account of an attempt at coercion and the apprehension of those responsible was found among her papers:

Last Friday night whilst the servants were at supper a letter was stuck on one of the spikes of the little iron gate which is by the side of one of the porter’s lodges. The contents were summed up on the outside which was, “This is to let you now that your hal shal be bornet doun on Sonda nex if you do not li the mony ther whear this leter tels you.” The inside was much to the same purpose only that £100 which was the sum demanded was to be laid at the heel of the north gate on Saturday night or else the Hall should be blown up and the town set on fire. All possible care was taken to prevent the incendiary putting their wicked threat into execution and to detect the writer of the letter. In order to which the next day warrants were procured directed to the constables of seven neighbouring villages round about with orders to them to keep watch and ward and take up all vagrants that were then within their several constabularies or that might afterward pass through them. And watch was set about the barns it being thought they would be likelier to revenge the disappointment that they would meet with upon the hay and corn, than the house and watch was likewise set by the north gate where the money was ordered to be laid to see if any suspicious people passed that way on Sunday. But there was nobody passed but a young man about two or three and twenty that was the least so. He said he was a tailor and worked near Leeds and was going to a place near Byram where he had before worked and had left some linen which he was going to fetch but coming by again about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and varying in his story (though the first was true) they began to suspect him and pursuing him to Kippax the constable secured him who had a few hours before taken up an old man that sold ballads. The boy and him seemed strangers to each other and but that it was ordered that no person taken into custody should be discharged again without being carried before a magistrate they had both been let go without further examination they seemed so innocent especially the old man. On Monday they were both carried before Justice Ibettson at Leeds where they positively denied writing or knowing anything of the threatening letter being written but the Justice making the old man write part of the letter which he read to him and thinking the hands agreed ordered him to be secured and then tried to make the young confess which at last he did upon oath in substance as follows namely, that on Friday the 18th instant as he was standing at his master’s door at Whitchurch near Leeds the old man came to him with whom he had been before acquainted and told him he designed to leave a letter at Lady Betty Hastings gate to tell her that if she did not lay £100 at the place before named on Saturday he would burn her house and that if he, the said boy would go on Sunday and take up the money (for the old man seemed sure of its being laid) he should half of it for his pains and the boy having so good an excuse as the fetching some linen which would lead him by the place he undertook to do it.

Ledston, 23 December 1730

The first achievement was deciphering the bomb threat itself!

Source: George Hastings Wheler (ed.) (1935) Hastings Wheler Family Letters, West Yorkshire Printing Co.


A begging letter


Portrait of Nicholas Lechmere Pateshall, http://www.royprecious.co.uk

William Pateshall (1779-1832) was the second son of Ann and Edmund Lechmere Pateshall, whose fourth son Nicholas is pictured above. This wealthy family lived at Allensmore Court, 4 miles from Hereford. At the age of 17, William was on his travels and had to write the following letter to his mother:

I have the pleasure to inform you that I arrived here safe yesterday from Birmingham where I slept. I called upon Mr Conquest in the morning who wanted me to stop a day or two with him, but as Mr Rob was going to town, I thought it better not, he desires I will go there, any time I can make it convenient for a day or two. My expences were much more than I or you thought they would be, as you will see by this account

Breakfast at Ledbury                        1/6

Dinner at Worcester                          2/6

Coach from Hereford                        6/-

Coachman &c                                        2/-

Coach to Birmingham                     12/-

Coachman                                             1/-

Supper &c                                             4/-

Breakfast Bd &c                               3/6

Porter                                                     6d

From Birmingham                        11/0

£2 4/0

And after paying out of that which I have remaining 1/16 for my horse & about 15d for washing I shall not have any money in my pocket, leave alone money to pay for a pair of small cloths & waistcoat which I had made & shoemaker for shoes which you may remember I wanted very bad. Therefore I hope you will send me some as soon as you conveniently can (as I am in want of it as you may suppose) & stop it out of that which you promised to give me. I will send those stokins home as soon as I have an opportunity. I hope you will send me some in the place of them. You will excuse the shortness as I have something waiting for me to do in a hurry.

Mr & Mrs Conquest desire to be remembered to you & my brother. I remain your dutiful son

Wm Pateshall

I hope I shall heare from you soon.

Note the typical teenage strategies here – first of all I got here safely and I’ve being paying my respects as you would expect; then a list of expenses, which are noted to be ‘more than you or I thought they would be’; then the other things I’ve ordered that ‘I wanted very bad’, and of course I really need them, don’t I? He remembers his mother has asked him to send some stockings home, so he assures her he’ll do that  as soon as he can, but he doesn’t have time right now as ‘I have something waiting for me’ – something far more important than writing to his parents, no doubt! Finally, the pièce de résistance, ‘I hope I shall heare from you soon’, with the ‘you’ firmly underlined.

But this ‘dutiful son’ was to be disappointed. A small folded piece of paper wrapped inside the letter provides what is presumably a draft of the reply, which you’ll note comes from his father:

The 5 guineas I have here enclosed is cutting into a half yrs allowance Reconing the <illeg> you had before you left home the expences you have been at to <illeg> since the 1st of last June are no less than £100 according to a moderate calculation which she & myself made last night exclusive of Mr Robins’s fee & the fee to government. Mama will allow you what you pay for the horse at some future time.

William evidently survived, and was later to become a solicitor, town clerk and coroner, as well as being Lord Mayor of Hereford in 1820. His role as coroner gave him plenty of opportunity to reclaim expenses, as this extract from a set of contemporary accounts shows:


From little swellings giant problems do grow…

Here is a rather gruesome tale of eighteenth-century medicine making a problem worse. Beversham Filmer was a younger brother of Sir Edward Filmer, 3rd baronet, of East Sutton in Kent. He was a barrister and is described in The Baronetage of England as ‘one of the most able conveyancers this kingdom has produced’. In 1750 he consulted Mr Webb, a London surgeon, about ‘a small swelling upon the buttock’. The story is told in letters to Sir Edward from Beversham and from Christopher Hargrave, his servant.

From Bev. Filmer to Sir Edward Filmer, Oct 6 1750

Dear Brother

… I have consulted Mr Webb the surgeon about my swelling and as soon he saw it he said there matter in it & advised to have opened and as it lay deep he first laid a little caustic to deaden the flesh and then made an incision & lett out a tea cup full of blood & corrupition I am in more pain to day then when the operation was performed you will see by my writing that my hand shakes so I fear you cannot red it therefore I must conclude from your most affec brother & your humble servant

B Filmer

From Chris. Hargrave to Sir Edward Filmer, Oct 9 1750


My Master has just now been fav’d with yours, & is concern’d that his illness has made you & the Family so uneasy, he has been in great pain since he wrote to you, but I think is rather easier, tho’ yet the part that was cut is very painful when ever he stirs, and is oblig’d either to sit on a cushion, with a great hole cut thro’ it, or lye on a couch, the greatest part of the day, but the surgeon assures him, that he is in a fair way of doing well, tho’ it will be some time before he can go about…

From Chris. Hargrave to Sir Edward Filmer, Oct 11 1750

Mr Webb the Surgeon, has assur’d my Master to day, that the part that was cut, is in as fine a way, as he could possibly expect, and that the pain will be less every day, & that the matter will soon thicken, which I shall be very glad of, for my Master was in great pain all yesterday, & is in a good deal now, tho’ I think his Spirits are something better, & if Mr Webb had not found him so, he did design to have had a Physician to day, but now thinks there is no occasion, I hope by next Saturday’s Post, to send you an account of my Master being easier, for till the Pain ceases, & the discharges lessen, he can’t have much comfort from the assurances which Mr Webb gives him, tho’ I really believe he speaks as he thinks, & has assur’d me of the same, when my Master was not present, tho’ he owns that he did not expect him to feel much Pain, & attributes it to some bad habit of the body, for the discharges have been so large, that it supris’d Mr Webb very much & I hope neither you, nor any of the Family will be too much alarm’d at what I have wrote, & you may depend on it, that I won’t deceive you, in the accounts that I send, by making my Master’s case better, than I really apprehend it to be…

Copy of letter from Mr Webb, Oct 13 1750

In compliance with your request, I send you this account of Mr Filmer’s case, who has been so unfortunate to have two complaints unhappily complicated, the first external (and the only apparent one) was a small swelling upon the buttock, which was so situated & of such a kind, as cou’d furnish no occasion for fear, but since that was open’d, a large collection of matter has formed very deep under the great muscles of the thigh, & made it self a passage into the opening that was made to discharge the contents of the little swelling & as the discharge of matter for these two days past is in great abundance & the seat of the mischief very deep, I cannot say that I am without apprehensions, that the case will prove tedious & troublesome. I have therefore desir’d Mr Filmer that some other person of character may be consulted, & Mr Sharpe is the gentleman appointed, who is to meet me to morrow morning.

From Chris. Hargrave to Sir Edward Filmer, Oct 13 1750

As my Master’s pain, has continued as great as ever, I desir’d Mr Webb wd let me know how his case is, that I might acquaint you with it, & this afternoon he wrote to me, & the above is a copy of his letter, I was in hopes to have been able to have sent you a more favourable account, & shall be glad if I can do it by Monday’s Post, please not to take any notice of this letter, nor Mr Webb’s, when you write to my Master, unless he grows better, for fear of affecting his Spirits too much, for the great pain he has endur’d, has made him very low spirited, & indeed wd have done so, by any person…

PS Mr Webb in the morning said, that the matter, “was good matter”

From Chris. Hargrave to Sir Edward Filmer, Oct 15 1750

Yesterday morning before the Surgeons came, my Master found the pain very much lessen’d, & he had continued easier ever since, & can now rise from his chair without pain, which is a happy change – Mr Sharp was here yesterday, & is to meet Mr Webb here again next Wednesday, as they both now very well understand the case, they seem to think that the shall make an entire cure, without cutting again, tho’ they can’t determine that till next Wednesday, Mr Webb said to day, that every thing appear’d better, than he cou’d have expected, I will write again next Wednesday…

Copy of letter from Mr Webb, Oct 17 1750

This day Mr Filmer being inform’d by Mr Sharp & my self, how very improbable it was, that he shd be cur’d without suffering the diseas’d parts to be laid open, submitted to the necessary operation, & behav’d under it with great resolution, tho’ it was severe enough I hope I may now say, that he is in a very said way to be made well, tho’ it must be a work of time, because the wound is very large, we being oblig’d to follow the disease, wch had spread its mischief far and wide

From Chris. Hargrave to Sir Edward Filmer, Oct 17 1750

The above is a copy of Mr Webb’s letter to me this day, wch I am very sensible will make both you & all the family uneasy, & indeed this has been a terrible day, & what I have all along dredded wd be the consequence, but as they have now cut as deep & as wide, as they have occasion, Mr Webb assures me, that there’s no danger of cutting again, Mr Sharp perform’d the operation, & is to be here again to morrow with Mr Webb, soon after the surgeons were gone, my Master was fav’d with your letter, & notwithstanding the fatigue & pain he had undergone, he was chearful when I read it to him… He is now dozing, & I hope to morrow will be much easier, I never thought that he cou’d have gone thro’ such a violent operation, without fainting away…

From Chris. Hargrave to Sir Edward Filmer, Oct 18 1750

My Master has lain pretty easy ever since I wrote last night, nor has he been feverish to day, Mr Webb & Mr Sharp was here this morning, but defer’d undoing the bandage till to morrow, when they both will be here again, they both now assures me, that there’s no danger, of any more of these violent operations, wch are terrible to think on, more especially to feel, nor cou’d I have resolution to see either of ’em perform’d

My Master desires his compliments to you & all the family, is sorry that his illness has made you all so uneasy… he has been wholly govern’d by his surgeons in every thing, & I hope that next Saturday, either Mr F Filmer [Sir Edward’s son] or I, shall be able to send you an account of his being much better, at present he’s oblig’d to keep constantly in bed, which is tiresome to him, but as it’s necessary he submits to it…

From Bev. Filmer to Sir Edward Filmer, Nov 10 1750

Dear Brother

… I thank God I am a good deal better than I have been but very weak so that I can but just make a shift to take a turn or 2 in the square in the middle of the day which I think does me good I have now been confined 6 weeks & doubt it will be a good while yet before the wound is quite healed Mr Webb dresses it every day but Mr Sharp has not been here since Sunday & then he would not take any money but said he came only as a visitor he examined the wound with his probe & said every thing went on as well as he could wish so I suppose he has taken his leave…

From Bev. Filmer to Sir Edward Filmer, Jan 17 1750

… I am able now to walk upon plain ground very well, but in going up & down stairs I cannot move my right thigh with that freedom I used to do, the muscles being I believe contracted for the flesh is not near grown up even with the other…

As a postscript, we know from jottings in Sir Edward’s medical recipe book that he was prone to problems with his uvula, the lobe that dangles down from the rear of the soft palate. In June 1755 Beversham writes to Lady Filmer:

Dear Sister

I am very sorry to hear my brother has been so very much out of order with the same complaint he was troubled with last winter but am in great hopes the discharges the Docter has made by Physick Cupping & blistering will relieve him I sent this morning to young Mr Webb the surgion who assures me there is not the least danger in cutting the uvula…

Whether ‘young Mr Webb’ was the original surgeon or his son, not surprisingly there is no indication that Sir Edward took his brother up on his suggestion.

Source: U120 C29, Filmer Manuscripts, Kent History Centre.

Caroline Powys

This is a modified version of the paper I gave at the Centre for the Study of the Home workshop today.

If you lived during the eighteenth century and you were ill, what did you do? Assuming that you were at least of middling rank so you had money to spend, you had a number of choices. You might call in a physician or surgeon, who would visit you at home, although in country areas he – and it always was a he – might be some hours’ ride away. You might visit an apothecary for some pills or potions. Apothecaries not only dispensed medicine but prescribed it and conducted simple operations, and can be seen as the forerunner of the modern GP. You might purchase a proprietary remedy from a peddler or travelling quack, or you might resort to your medicine chest, stocked with proprietary remedies such as sal volatile or smelling salts and tincture of rhubarb, used as a purgative. Another alternative was what might be considered, after Sara Pennell, a virtual medicine chest: the family remedy book.

Manuscript recipe books have survived from many periods and in many forms. In addition to culinary recipes, in the days before one could easily obtain medicine for almost any complaint off the shelf, people kept recipes for medicines that they could manufacture at home. Some remedy books are beautifully bound, meticulously written out and indexed, and so pristine that they barely appear to have been used; others are little more than scraps of paper or notebooks written in different hands and at different times, with crossings out and markings in the margins. Unfortunately many of these manuscripts have become divorced from any other information about their compilers, so what we have are little more than hints about how they might have been used and why particular recipes were kept, sometimes several for the same complaint.

Most of the work that has been done on manuscript recipe collections has focused on the 17th century or earlier. The 18th century was a time of transition in healthcare, with a greater availability and use of physicians and apothecaries, as well as patent medicines. Nevertheless, many recipe books exist that can be dated to that time, and the aim of my research is to trace their role and usage in the domestic context at a period when there was both greater professionalisation and commercialisation of medicine.

In order to help compile a fuller picture of the use of medical recipe collections, I have identified a number of manuscripts where biographical information and family papers also exist. One such was compiled by Caroline Powys. Caroline was born in 1738, the daughter of John Girle, who was Surgeon in Chief at St Thomas’s Hospital. In 1762 she married Philip Lybbe Powys of Hardwick House in Oxfordshire, who became a JP and Deputy Lieutenant of the county. Caroline was friends with Cassandra Leigh, who became Jane Austen’s mother, and one of Austen’s biographers describes Caroline as ‘short, plump [and] jolly’ and Philip as ‘tall [and] handsome’. They had four children, one of whom died at nine months, and nineteen grandchildren.

Caroline PowysThirteen volumes of Caroline’s journal have survived; a 19th-century edited version contains extracts from a further seven volumes and various family papers, which have since been lost. There is also a bound and carefully handwritten recipe book, which gives us a fascinating snapshot of an 18th-century gentlewoman’s life. The first page of the index includes cookery, especially pastries and preserving; small-scale medical preparations, such as calves’ foot jelly, often served to invalids, and saline draughts; domestic maintenance, for example recipes for grease removal and paint; and decorative arts, including shell work and Japanning. There is no definitive evidence that Caroline herself made up any of these remedies, although there are occasional additions indicating omissions or improvements, one recipe marked ‘most excellent’, and a complicated recipe for lavender drops with the annotation: ‘I have a little of these lavender drops now of my father Powys made by the above receipt which are far superior to any one buys.’ The rest of the recipes are quite simple, so it is feasible that either Caroline or her housekeeper did manufacture them. Most of them are for a limited range of conditions, a number of which are noted in the journals; this contrasts with some other recipe collections that have multiple remedies for every condition imaginable.

The sources of most of Caroline’s recipes are listed. There is a note at the beginning that ‘All the following receipts I had either from the Ladies themselves or from old family manuscript ones’. With the exception of one attributed to her cousin, Mrs Wheatley, the earlier recipes are from people not mentioned in the diaries or a published source (Sir William Temple), while the later ones, most of which are dated, come mainly from friends or relatives whose names occur in the journals. This suggests how the book may have been compiled: Caroline copied out older family recipes first, then added to the book on later occasions as she developed her own social network and was given recipes by other people. Both culinary and medicinal recipes constituted a form of social currency, used for bestowing favours and as gifts.  The origins or donors of the recipes also situate the manuscript socially, among what Caroline calls ‘our most agreeable and sociable Neighbourhood‘ of gentry and minor aristocrats on the Berkshire/Oxfordshire border, where there was ‘a constant repetition of dinners at each mansion within 7 or 8 miles round’.

Reading the journal and the recipe book together enriches the picture of domestic medicine we can obtain. For instance, smallpox was the most dreaded illness at the time: it could be fatal and there was a risk of disfigurement. Philip Powys showed the marks of smallpox, which his wife describes as giving him ‘a good rough manly face’, and in the recipe book there is a ‘Cold Cream for Childrens faces after small pox’.

2 ounces best spermaceti 4 oz (viz 8 tablespoonfulls) Trotter oyl (oyl of almonds much sweeter) 20 grains of Camphire pounded, put these in a silver saucepan when melted pour it into a bason of water, and beat it in different waters full 3/4 of an hour, when it will be a nice cream, pour off the common water and beat it in 4 spoonfuls of orrange flower water put in a deep gallipot leave the orrange flower water at top it keeps it tie it down with a blader and do it over the skin every night with a soft Napkin.

NB never wash childrens faces of a day, but going to bed a soft piece of dry flanel is excellent to clean if hot or dusty. 1/2 oz virgins wax omited above.

Spermaceti is wax from a sperm whale’s head cavity, in contrast to ambergris, also used in medicines, which was from the intestines. Trotter oil is obtained by purifying the shin bones and feet of cattle, and was for dry skin. Camphire is camphor, used to soothe itching. I think the orange flower water was just for perfume, although neroli oil is obtained from the same plant and was used to relieve stress.

Inoculation against the disease was possible from 1718, when Lady Mary Wortley Montagu introduced the practice from Turkey, and had become widespread by the 1740s, although smallpox remained endemic in urban areas. All Caroline’s surviving children and at least three of the grandchildren were inoculated; there is no mention of whether the family switched to vaccination when that was introduced at the very end of the century.

The journal also notes illnesses suffered by various members of the family, including whooping cough, scarlet fever, measles, gout and consumption. Caroline also mentions several times suffering from rheumatism, saying she was ‘so bad with the Rheumatism in my right hand had hardly any use of it for many weeks’ and towards the end of her life it was so bad she was unable to write. The evidence from the diaries thus allows us to be sure that some of the remedies in the manuscript were collected for conditions or illnesses that the family experienced, for instance the various recipes for rheumatism, ranging from mustard whey – made by boiling mustard seeds in milk – to a tablespoon of mustard seeds in wine or water (mustard is anti-inflammatory), or mouthwashes made from guaiacam chips (to stimulate circulation) or bugbane (snakeroot) tea (another anti-inflammatory).

Furthermore, the journal illustrates that given the prevalence of illnesses of all kinds, the predominant concern was to avoid being ill in the first place. In Roy Porter’s apt phrase, ‘People took care before they took physic.’ The proverb ‘Prevention is better than cure’ dates back at least to the seventeenth century and there was a growing tradition of preventive medicine to avoid what might be called dis-ease, including attention to diet, exercise and a healthy environment. That Caroline, herself the daughter of a medical man, was aware this was important is indicated in her description of her father-in-law on his death: ‘he lived to seventy-five years of age without knowing what illness was till that which carried him off, for by great temperance and great exersise, he was certain of a great share of health.’

Caroline’s most frequent complaint was a cold, sometimes described as ‘violent’ and lasting for weeks or even months. She noted down a number of recipes for colds and fevers, coughs and sore throats, one in particular still familiar to us today: ‘a large spoonful of Honey to a pint of water a little lemon juice (& a little rum if liked)’. Mrs Floyd’s remedy for a cold or hoarseness is rather more unpleasant:

two oz of Kidney suet of a weather Sheep shred very fine, put it into a pint of Cold Milk, let it boil a good while, then strain it thr’o a Lawn Sieve, take a few large spoonfulls now & then stirring it, always take some going to Bed.

Caroline did consult physicians, although she was careful to choose one she knew socially: ‘Dr Mapleton who had formerly been a near neighbour to us’. He recommended various treatments, including bleeding and cupping, the latter drawing blood from a particular area. Phlebotomy was a standard and fashionable treatment for many conditions, including fever, headaches and inflammation. Caroline also resorted to blisters, using a hot plaster to cause a blister on the skin, which would then force the illness from the body and could be drained. She writes: ‘I who have terrible Rheumatics was seized with such a violent pain in my face, I could get no sleep for many nights, but at last by a Blister was perfectly cured of the most dreadful I think of all pains.’ However, she most often consulted the family’s apothecary, Mr Coulson, whom she also knew socially, noting in her journal dinners with him and his wife. Coulson inoculated at least one of the grandchildren against smallpox, helped with childbirth and was summoned in emergencies to various family members. Coulson was even taken from Oxfordshire to Southampton when one of the sons-in-law fell ill, because ‘we thought Mr Powys taking the apothecary who he had a high opinion of was the best thing we could do’.

Thus we can see that taken together, Caroline Powys’s journal and her manuscript recipe book offer a glimpse into domestic medicine in a genteel family in the last few decades of the eighteenth century. The journals paint a picture of a woman who evidenced what Amanda Vickery calls ‘loving domesticity’, who ensured that her family and their health were taken care of, who for instance respected her husband’s choice of apothecary but also took an active part in managing both their regimen and their illnesses. The ailments meticulously noted in the journals and the commentary on daily life give us evidence that correlates with the type of remedies that she chose to note down and preserve, in a way that breathes life into what might otherwise be a more mundane document.

Slower social networking

Welcome to all my new readers, thanks to the unexpected success of my previous post! Thank you for your comments and I hope you enjoy what you find here.

There were obviously no blogs in the eighteenth century, but there were still ways of obtaining information. Take the following two letters, found in the miscellaneous papers of Sir John Evelyn of Wotton, a British politician and grandson of the famous diarist:

Moorgate Street, Sept 17 1747


Upon reading your advertisements of to day I

there in found an advertisement for a receipt for one

who hav lost their speech by a cold in which case

I was in my self not long ago and after trying a

great many things the following was the only restoring

medicine that I met with and now I can speake as well

as ever I could in my life. Take two or three handfulls

of bran put it into 3 pints of spring water let it

boil gently till there is near a pint consumed then

strain it of and add some figge sliced with a penny

worth of stick liquorish sliced or minced then boil it

up together strain it off making it a constant drink

till it performe the cure which if its taker affects

will be after drinking about two quarts. So wishing

the person may find the same benefit as did your

and the Publicke Friend

and servant

Another letter in a different hand:

Sept the 15th 1747


Observing in the daily advertisements

of this day, an advertisement, desiring

that if any person, who had lost their

voice by cold, so as to be reduced to

whisper, had found relief by any method

or medicine, they were desired to send

the prescription to you.

A person who had lost their voice

for 4 months, so as to whisper only,

was cured by the following remedy.

Barbados tar, dropped into powder of

liquorice, begun with five drops, &

increased it, by one at a time to ten,

and took that quantity twice a day,

morning & night, washing it down, some

times with a little hysop, & sometimes

with penyroyal water, sweetened with

syrrop of capilare, if it should heat

to much, as in some constitutions it may

it must be left of, it is a slow remedy

but if any can be cal’d sure it may

the person cur’d, had more properly an

extinction of voice then hoarseness, for

they could not form a sound higher

then the softest whisper, & after about

three months use of the above medicine

had the voice perfectly restored, of a

sudden, & tho subject to illness of the

lungs never lost it afterwards.

Upon the truth of this you may depend.


These letters were with a collection of other remedies and physician’s prescriptions, and it can be assumed that Sir John or one of his family had lost his own voice and had advertised in a newspaper or pamphlet to see if anyone could recommend a cure. It’s interesting that they both contain liquorice, which is still used today in commercial cough syrups.

Source: British Library 78529. Evelyn Papers. Vol. CCCLXII.

Playing with edged tools

We all need a bit of advice from time to time, and it was no different in the eighteenth century. Eliza Taylor, who I wrote about in the last post, had a friend Kitty Talbot, who had been going through some unspecified difficulties, possibly to do with a romance. Eliza had been dispensing words of wisdom, for which Kitty was grateful:

You have frightened me my Dear Mrs Taylor by saying so many more fine things than I deserve… Oh dear Oh dear how shall my poor wooden head… dictate any thing worthy of a Lady so Speechified… So what expedient do you think I have fallen upon? Why to run away from my self as far as I can.

In the rest of the entertaining letter she described herself in the third person to try to gain a sense of detachment about her state of mind, which I’m sure all of us can recognise:

Indeed she has been too sad for some weeks past to be tolerable Company even to herself. Yet she thankfully received your kind Advice, acknowledged it to be very wise & seasonable and has endeavour’d she assures me to follow it… Not as one ought to follow good Advice full Gallop over Hedge & Ditch without once looking behind one, but stealing along a Snails trot, & stopping every minute to parley with less wayward fancies. Parlying with a temptation how dangerous! Every one has its plausible Cant, every one its bewitching disguise, & one fancies one is very laudably following good Nature, Compassion, Reason, Friendship, till at once one is stuck fast in a Slough an hundred miles off from the road one intended to have kept. To be cautious in making a Resolution & obstinate in keeping to it is the only rule. But how does this sad Kate practice the Rules she gives? Many a Morning might you, with a shorter Telescope then shows one the people in the Moon, have seen her riding very briskly in gay Sunshine through a Flowery Field determined to be as chearful as the Scene around her, & the next Minute, from some foolish Connexion of Ideas that she was not aware of, her face cover’d with Tears so that she could scarce see her way. But now she is really better. Not that any length of time she says can efface a Remembrance which will ever be most Dear & Valuable to her, but that Reason & Duty (& a little touch of Experience too for we all want that Teacher) have taught her not to play with edged tools any longer.

Fill in the blanks

Eliza Pierce, born in Devon in the 1720s, had a two-year engagement to Thomas Taylor, son of the MP for Ashburton and a serially unsuccessful businessman. They finally married in 1752, after the death of the aunt she had been nursing. She was by no means shy about stating her opinions, as shown by a faintly menacing letter written before their marriage. She quotes Milton’s L’Allegro – “These delights if thou canst give/Mirth with thee I mean to live” – and continues:

I really think I don’t show my Wisdom by this Choice for I believe the Wisest Men for the most part are the most sedate but however that does not prove they are most happy and that I think is the most Material point we have to look after. More wou’d find it then [than] there do if they wou’d but seek for it. It is what I am determined to try for & make no doubt of attaining, if you don’t take care to hinder it, but you had best be cautious, for I may without any Vanity say that by destroying my quiet you will ruin your own. I may Venture also to Affirm that there can be no true happiness in a Married life unless both partake of it. I fancy you are pretty much of the same Opinion, but people often act against their principles.

That’s telling him! Later in the letter she declares with a pout:

As you don’t like the usual Begining of my letters [Sir,] I am determined to leave a Blank which you may fill up with what pleases you best, T’will be altogether as well as if I had done it & as to the conclusion (which you begin to be affraid will never come) I shall use the same method you see I will take care not to be found fault with twice therefore expect to be told no more then that this Letter comes from
Eliza Pierce of Yendacott
in the Country of Devon Spinster
which is good information

Some years later she used a similar conceit with her son, but he had obviously worked out how to handle her. She writes to her husband:

for this twelvemonth past he has always wrote a story of a Cock & a Bull, and never given an answer to any thing I mention’d in my Letter – for this reason the last time I wrote to him, I told him that as he never wou’d give an answer to any thing I wrote, I thought for the future, it would be full as well for me to send him a Blank paper, as he wou’d see by the directions it came from me; and that if he pleas’d he might answer them in the same manner – that after we had carried on this curious correspondence for some time, we would publish a Book under the title, of Letters between a Mother and her Son; in which should not be one wrong expression, one word of bad English, nor one false narration and I added to be sure the World would be in vast admiration at our Genius’es – after this I wrote him a Story of my own invention, applicable to the affair, his answer was as follows – “Dear Mama – I receiv’d your kind Letter last Monday in which was a Story I like exceedingly, I intend to publish it in the Magazine, as I am willing other people should have the pleasure of reading your Epistle as well as myself – When shall we publish these Letters between A Mother & her Son? when we do I hope to get a little Money, for I am sure I want some much” Do you think I cou’d help sending him some? no I am too silly a Mother

Children (and mothers) today aren’t so different…