Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Princely Sum - A Bookish Excursion into The Treasury of Life

I retrieved this story of mine from the BookThink Archives. They had been kind enough to print it on their site. Now it has languished in the dark for some time,  and I thought to resuscitate it. 

A Princely Sum

What the deuce, one might ask is the decrepit object we see, pictured below, looking like some mummified relic retrieved from Tut's mausoleum? This object - like some chunk of dark debris cast up on a shoreline by the waves, its salt-soaked hide baked and cured by the sun, its innards invaded by sand fleas? Can it be a book? Haw. It can. Indeed it is. Yes a precious book ... cherished, even. But valuable? You be the judge.

It was many years ago, long before many of you youngsters were even born. Antediluvian times ... harrumph ... they were not so antediluvian to us then ... they were times of bookish adventures and hopeful investment. September it was when a colleague and I were out booking.

I remember it well. William Deckle was a colleague, and friend, although our friendship might have looked quite adversarial to any casual observer. We frequently went out booking together across the land, foraging, as it were, through the nooks and crannies of the landscape for bookish goodies. Our tastes were so different we were rarely in competition. An unkind person would have said it was because our purses were so different. Harrumph.

Our temperaments were different. I am - I do not hide it - others insist on it - I am a curmudgeon, a crusty generalist, a populist, if you will, when it comes to books and paper. William was an ... haw! How shall I say it without seeming to denigrate the memory of a close friend? William was an elitist. Yes Elite ... not in any font-ish sort of way, and he only rarely put on a snob's nose in company, but William Deckle was obsessed with what he called The Best. To his very inner depths Deckle was a Royalist - at least when it came to books.
No tawdry paperbacks for Willie. No cheap sensationalist dime novels. No superstitious almanacs. No moldy old journals. Willie's nose was attuned to the smell of leather, the glint of gold, the patina of vellum. He could not resist a book cradled in velvet, set on display like some sort of silent siren. The covers of a beautifully bound book were Willie's Symplegades, and once he had touched the binding or stuck his nose into such an enticing book - to smell the leather, to stroke the snowy white pages, to feel the impress of the type - the book's siren song would cloud all reason and its covers slam shut on his purse like Scylla and Charybdis ... a more willing victim there never was. If a bookshop smelled like a tannery, then William Deckle would spend hours therein and his purse would be appreciably lighter upon exiting.

As I said, it was September - balmy, breezy fall weather perfect for booking; so the two of us set out in Willie's 1905 Rambler. Willie was proud of the car's automatic ignition and loved the fact that the throttle was connected to the steering wheel. He was often heard to say, if a Rambler was good enough for President Teddy Roosevelt it was good enough for William Deckle. Haw. This is all well and fine for those who care about such things. Even I can admit it was a fine vehicle.

We drove into a town .... some small, tony commercial village in the Hudson valley with a variety of shops on the main street. Immediately Willie spotted the sign indicating an antiquarian book shop, housed in an elegant, Federalist style building.

"There you go, Booknoodle, what did I say? A fine establishment! Sable and Savory only sell the finest books. Oh, this is going to be so much fun! Why just a couple of months ago I received their catalog. I must have spent over $3,000 dollars just from that one mailing." He rubbed his hands together in eager anticipation. I swear - William Deckle is the only person outside of a stage drama that I ever saw doing that.

"Harrumph. Please, spare me the details," said I, heading off what could entail a lengthy description of every bit of minutia concerning the books purchased.

"Why, you're just jealous, old boy!"

At that moment I espied a shop down a ways on the opposite side of the street. That building needed a coat of paint. The windows were grimy and one could not see within. This shop had a sign worn with age - faded letters swinging from a rusted iron frame. I could make out the words: 

Shovel and Pile ~ Antiqs & Junke.

"Look here, Deckle, I'm going down to that junk shop to poke around."

"What on earth do you think you will find there? Why they can't even spell. What ignorance to put up such a sign. I can't think why the town allows a building to remain in such seedy condition. Why do you insist on poking around in these grimy places? You always come out covered with dust. And I shan't have you soiling the covers of my automobile seats. Come along to Sable and Savory with me. That's where the real treasures are.

"Blast your seat covers. I intend to have a look around. You go to Sable and Savory and I'll go to Shovel and Pile. I just feel there's something to be found. We'll meet back here."

"Ha! All that you'll find are rags and a bone, flyspecks and mouse droppings!"

"You always say that and I always prove you mistaken."

"Nonsense. I seek and find the real books. You always come up with these objects that are mistaken for books, Booknoodle. Ha, ha, ha."

But I was already striding away. Blast! The man could be so irritating. Shovel and Pile was just what I expected (and hoped for) - piles and heaps of merchandise in all conditions. Objects came here to complete their transition back into their elemental parts. Anything and everything. Yes, my sort of establishment.

Peering into the dark interior, I could just make out a wall of shelves upon which were a large, jumbled assortment of books. There was no sign of a proprietor. A cat lay sleeping on top a huge old steamer trunk. Of course I had to tickle its ears. The shop was silent, but for the loud purring of the cat.

To make my way to the shelves with the books required a bit of contortionistic agility on my part. What passed for aisles were narrow and mined with objects scattered on the floor. They wound between shelves that loomed like mountains - threatening landslides at the slightest disturbance - a veritable jungle of disparate objects. I imagine the town's entire history might be squirreled away in these cast-off articles.

Finally, with only a modicum of difficulty I found myself standing before the books. Behind me loomed a tottery concoction of shelves piled and stuffed with things that seemed likely to topple over on me. It was not possible to back up so as to see the lower shelves of books. To see those required further contortions on my part. One practically had to stand on one's head to read the titles. And it was dark. A single small light bulb hung above, covered with dust - it hardly gave enough light to see. The light that came came through the windows was but a timid affair.

Of course it was a motley, ragged lot. Worn, dusty, frayed, age-darkened ... stained, to say nothing of the mouse nibbles and flyspecks. The books were a mess. Flies buzzed about, as if to be in competition with the cat's purring. Leaning over to read a title I bumped against a coat rack upon which hung an assortment of garments - an old raccoon coat loudly proclaimed its presence with a cloud of dust ... something thumped to the floor.

"Harrumph. Deckle was right," muttered I, sneezing loudly. "Whatever am I doing?"

Then I saw what had thumped to the floor. The dust it had dislodged in a puff was now settling and I could see that it was a book. A leather book. But it's condition! Lying there on the floor it looked like something a dog might have dragged in as something on which to gnaw. More, it looked like something upon which the dog had already gnawed.

I picked it up and blew off the dust. Then wiped the covers on the raccoon coat. The book was so worn that there was no leather left around its edges. The corners had been eroded to a smooth roundness. The spine had been amateurishly, but solidly resewn onto the boards. The leather was covered with scratches and awl holes where someone had once attempted to reinforce a corner. Its shape was amorphous. One could not really call it book-shaped any more. The leather was shiny, the way old harnesses become after years of use. Indeed the book had an aspect of the saddlery about it.

The pages were brown with age and use - worn down - worn down, I was to find by centuries of use. Inside the book was marked by an old damp stain, the tide line of which traveled through the entire volume. What had I stumbled upon? Why it was an old herbal! A Culpeper, in fact. There were no end-papers; the book started right in with the Preface (The PREFACE To All Students in Physick, Chirurgery and Chimistry). Written in ink in a very old hand were discernible marginal notes.

After the Preface was a brief biography of Culpeper and several poems of dubious talent, with Culpeper as their subject. Then came the Title. It read, and I give it in its fullness: CULPEPER'S SCHOOL OF PHYSICK, OR, THE ENGLISH APOTHECARY A Treatise of the Transcendent Sufficiency of our English HERBS, as they may be rightly used in Medicine. BEING a brief and exact Account of the chiefest Concernments of the whole HERBARY ART; as also of the Excellency of our English Home Physick. By NICHOLAS CULPEPER, Gent. Student in Physick and Astrology. London, Printed in the year MDCXCVI.

1696! "Ha!" exclaimed I, "There's your find. Let Deckle crow all he may, but here is a gem, no matter its condition."

I looked around. Still no sign of a shop keeper. Retracing my path back through the store, I neared the sleeping cat. I heard the sound of a chair creaking. Behind the huge steamer trunk upon which the cat blissfully lay was a desk, and at the desk sat the shop owner. An old man, dressed in a dusty cardigan and equally dusty brown trousers - seamed face squinting out through old-fashioned spectacles, the old man spoke in a voice that was as soft as the cat's purring was loud ... as dry as the rustling of old newspapers.

"Find something of interest?"

"Interest depends on the individual," said I. "How much are your books?"

"Price depends on the book, y'see."

"Well, I picked this book up from the floor, and had to dust it off. It is in terrible condition. But I find I still have some small interest in it."

"Let me see. Oh, that there's an old one, that is. Yep. That's a valuable book. Valuable. Look at it. Covered in leather. And it's got that old timey spelling in it. All those funny looking S letters. Yep, it's old. Covered in leather."

"So are shoes," replied I, sagging a bit.

"Yes, but this is book leather. I can't just let this here go for the same price as the general mill of books."

"Well, how much do you need to charge?" I asked

"Wellll ... see, I charge one dollar a book unless it's rare or if you buys a lot, which case I gives a discount. But look here, you're only buying this one book. Only one. And it's old. And it's leather. I have to charge you two dollars. Can't charge less. Nope. After all leather's leather."

"Harrumph. So it is," said I, handing over two bills. "No need to wrap it, I'll carry it just as it is."

"Wasn't offering to," said the proprietor, pocketing the bills.

Back at the Rambler I found William had not yet emerged from Sable and Savory. The deuce if I was going to go in there to cajole him out. Leaving a note on the car, I went over to a restaurant with my prize and determined on a nice hot drink. I perused my Culpeper whilst sipping what turned out to be quite passable coffee.

Eventually Deckle sauntered in, looking very smug and pleased with himself. In his arms was cradled a package, neatly wrapped in creamy paper and encircled by a neatly tied string. He placed the package deliberately but gently on the table, before taking a seat opposite me and beaming at me with a Roosevelt grin.

I said nothing. No need to provoke what would be a tedious shelf-by-shelf account of his browsing and a page-by-page description of what I knew was in the package.

"Well?" he asked.

"Well what?" replied I.

"Aren't you going to ask?"

"Ask what? About the weather? The route home?" retorted I, baiting William.

"I say, Booknoodle, why must you be so damned difficult! You know perfectly well what the question is."

"I see no question at all. There is no doubt. Where there is no doubt there is no question. I see you have purchased something. Indeed it is a book. Imagine that. And it cost you a pretty penny, no doubt! And ... you cannot wait to brag about it to me."

"That's a bit unfair." William posed a pout.

"Brag away," said I.

"Oh, well, if you insist!" my friend said, his demeanor brightening instantly. And he proceeded to delineate in loving detail the discovery and purchase ... discovery, my eye! Harrumph ... the blasted book was probably sitting regally in full sight with a spotlight on it.

"This - this!  has to be the most beautiful book I have ever purchased," exclaimed Deckle. Harrumph.  Every new book purchase is the most beautiful - the most wonderful book he has ever bought.

"I have found a 1574 Libellus de dentibus by Bartolomo Eustachi. It is bound in the most sumptuous red morocco leather. The gold tooling is simply exquisite!"

"Harrumph. Would have been nicer in a contemporary plain vellum," said I dryly.

"But Noodle, old chap, this is a marvelous find! It is beautiful. I had to pay ..."

"Stop! I don't care what you paid." In fact I did, but I was not going to give Deckle such immediate satisfaction of thinking I gave a hoot how much he had squandered. Now I can admit to being impressed, but at that moment I was determined to make Deckle work hard for the praise he wanted.

"So ... you spent a little money on A Little Treatise on Dentistry. Do you have enough left to purchase petrol for the ride home?" Deckle sighed ... impatiently ... I noticed with some satisfaction.

"I didn't spend a little bit of money, I spent a great deal!" he exclaimed. I spent $5,000. After all it is one of the first books on dentistry ever printed.

Inwardly I blanched. $5,000 dollars was indeed an impressive sum.

"Harrumph. John D. Rockefeller spends that much every morning before he gets out of bed," I said.

"You're just jealous."

"I am not. I managed to find something myself in that shop you so hastily dismissed as being nothing but a collection of flyspeck. I happened to find a medical book also."
"You did?"

"I did."


"Well what?" I enjoyed playing this game with Deckle. He was such an easy score.

"That's it?" he said incredulously as he spotted the book lying next to my coffee cup. 

"That's it? Good gracious, Booknoodle, what did you do - browse the dust bin? Rob the dog? That is certainly the most unsightly excuse for a book I have ever laid eyes on. Surely you picked it out of some dog's mouth!"

"Harrumph. I would never take a bone from a dog's mouth," I replied indignantly. "Sneer all you want, but this is a very important title."

"In that execrable condition, it must be the only copy in existence to warrant any value at all."

"I'll have you know I paid dearly for this book."

"Surely you are mad. The junk store owner should have paid you for removing it from his premises.

"I paid the princely sum of $2.00."

"Now you are making fun of me," cried Willie.

"Confound it, I paid two dollars - two whole, hard-earned dollars. That is the cost of two good lunches!

"But ... but - to pay anything at all for such a thing ..."

"It is what is inside that counts," said I. "Would you kick and sneer at your dog just because he had gotten old and scruffy? I tell you, I shall get more pleasure out of this tattered, worn-out book, in one evening than you will out of that rare volume in a life time. Why you can't even read Latin."

"Well, what is it then, that could be worth such a princely sum?" asked Deckle.

"It's a Culpeper."

"Culpeper! Why they are as common - as common - as common as peppers on a pepper plant! I don't see that was worth culling at all. Ha, ha!" Deckle always laughed at his own jokes and puns.

"Yes. A Culpeper, from 1696, and I shall share some of the inner wisdom of this Culpeper with you on the drive home. I will read its entrails and predict you will understand its fascination."

"Since I am to do the driving, I shall then helplessly be your captive audience. I say, that coffee smells good."

Part II: Golden Fragments,
or, Dialogue with an Old Herbal

"Well, Booknoodle, old fellow, that was a very nice repast." 

We had left the restaurant and were happily wheeling down the country road, heading home. Deckle was in an expansive mood, especially since I had capitulated and warmly congratulated him on his find. The copy of Libellus de dentibus, for which he had just paid such a handsome sum, brought his collection of pre-twentieth century books on dentistry to a grand total of 259. This not counting numerous pamphlets, letters and off-prints from journals. His find was securely situated in a box on the back seat specifically constructed to hold and protect books on just such a trip.

I held the Culpeper in my lap.

He flashed one of his toothsome smiles. "See here, Professor, you must admit that that ratty old book you pulled out of the junk shop is in simply execrable condition. I also remember that you threatened to share with me the secrets of your infatuation with that old clinker."

I looked out at the passing countryside - barns, small houses, cows in their fields, apple orchards, folks sitting in rocking chairs on porches, barking dogs ... William's Rambler, with its ability to maintain over long distances average speeds of 30 - 35 mph, imparted an exhilaration to the driving experience. William handled the big wheel with assurance. It was all a pleasant postlude to our booking adventure.

"Harrumph. Clinker indeed. While your volume on dentistry may have a track record in the auction rooms, my little Culpeper has made no less an impact on the world. Probably more."

"Do say? Professor Booknoodle I am your captive audience! Pray, enlighten me." Of course Deckle was no ignorant puppy. He knew full well who Culpeper was and how important the man had been to the field of herbal medicine.

"Well then keep your eye on the road and your ear on what I shall recount," said I.

"In the short space of time between his birth in 1616 to his death in 1654, just 38 all too brief years - but what he packed into those 38 years was quite amazing! Nicholas Culpeper did more, possibly for the arts of herbal medicine than any other single individual. He openly attacked and sneered at the general practices of the physicians of his day, criticizing their methods and, as he saw it, their greed. Of course all the good doctors attacked him right back, calling him a quack, a scoundrel, and worse. He was certainly eccentric, and, by modern minds, some of his ideas may seem quaint, if not outright ridiculous. But he was a man, by jingo, a man full of creative energy, and he went out in to the English countryside where he collected and studiously catalogued hundreds of English herbs. Just think, if his herbal, which first saw the light of day in 1653, has hardly ever been out of print since that time - or at least it has remained a presence in current book lists in one form or another, then it may be considered the most influential herbal ever published. Far more influential than your book of dental wisdom."

Deckle interrupted, "That - right there - staying in print for so many centuries! That's certainly enough to make one take notice."

"Yes! The man had genius, no matter that some of his ideas do not hold up! How many poems do you think have been written about dentists?" I posited.

"Well, let's see ...."

"That's not the point. I'm sure in your collection you could find some. But at the start of this book is a biography of Culpeper and included with it are a poetic epitaph and several other poems written in honour of the man. Just listen to this epitaph - I think it fitting and fine to boot:

Here lies the Doctors' great envy and wonder, 

To th' Empericks and awful clap of Thunder.

Whom he stript and whipt, for wise Men hereafter,

To make them the scorn and scene of their laughter.

To their joy sleeps here our three Kingdoms sorrow,

Till the Resurrection bids him, Good morrow.

"Come, Professor, that's all very pretty and nice, But I don't see anything in that to wax sentimental over."

"Confound it, can't you see? The man was admired and revered, despite the anger and enmity of the members of the medical profession that he showed up as charlatans. The people could see they had lost something good when Culpeper passed on. Just listen:

To Mr. Nicholas Culpeper on His Cheap and Charitable Cures.
Amongst some Charity is slander, sure

They're neither cheap nor speedy in their Cure.

Health is the gift of Heaven, and so to us,

They will have God alone propitious.

Thus some Physicians the Ague turn
 Into a Fever, as they please we burn;

Then sneeze by fits, alas we cannot tell

Without the Doctors Gold how to be well:

They turn Disease into Disease, till we

Worship the Urinals, visit for the Fee.

Whereas throughout the danger of thy Skill

Thou didst retain God and Religion still.

Our Healths are owed unto thy Charity:

Thou spend'st thy self for to do good; and we

Have so our humane Frailties now forsook.

To live to Honour thee, and praise this BOOK.
- F. B.

"Oh really, Booknoodle, that is too much. The things that ... that ... doggerelist conjoins in one poor effort. Too much!"

"Oh really? Prissy niceties from a collector of gum and tooth books? That was a very sincere tribute to a man who spent his life attempting easement of the human condition. There are more-"

"Stop, Professor! Have pity, no more! No more nephrological nuances! I fear I cannot stomach such renal verse. It is all just so much poetic gravel. ha ha!"

I groaned, as I knew he wanted me to. Such low word play, I fear, takes up much of our energy and interaction. Humph. I would give him some poetic gravel, indeed.

"Ahh, but Deckle, don't you see? The felicities of Culpeper's cures were so beguiling and beautiful of form that men could only find in poetry the phrases apt enough and beautiful enough to match Culpeper. He went far beyond your garden variety of yarrow and mugwort or vervaine and boneset and foxglove, far beyond. Nicholas Culpeper opened vistas into treatments for the human body and its cares that conjure a deputation from Bosch. By the way, how's your stomach?"

"My stomach? Why, my stomach is fine."

"Oh? Well I thought I saw you finish off a few extra cookies and you did drink quite a bit of that coffee. It certainly was strong."

"My stomach is as the rock of Gibraltar," boasted Willie.

"Have it as you will. Just listen to this," I said, opening the Culpeper: " 'A Hedge-sparrow is of a notable Vertue for the Guts detracted, and the feathers taken off, and so either kept in Salt, or converted into Mummy and eaten, (the birds I mean, not the Guts nor Feathers) and it will break the Stone, either in the Reins or Bladder, and bring it forth.'"

"I say look there, in that tree, isn't that a scurry of sparrows?" I chuckled.

"Mummy! One can only imagine what is done to make a poor sparrow into Mummy!"

"Yes. Well, how's your stomach? It says right here that 'A green Jasper hung about the Neck of one that hath a weak stomach, so that it touch the Skin near the region of the mouth of the Stomach, doth wonderfully strengthen it.' Oh look, he cites Galen."

"Ha! That is no rotten herb, it is a rock. I see what you're up to, Booknoodle! "

"You do? Say, do you remember that waitress girl in Hudson?"

"What waitress girl?"

"As I thought! Failing memory! I worry about you, Deckle. Well, no fear, for Potion No. 57 in Culpeper's Fragmenta Aurea, The First Golden Century of Chymical and Physical Judicial Aphorisms and Admirable Secrets ..."

"Wait, wait! I thought this was Culpeper's Herbal," interrupted Deckle.

"Don't interrupt. It is, of course - but, you see, it is made up of several excellent smaller books, or parts, not quite a sammellband, since they are all by Culpeper, and all to a single point - but still ... each has its own title page ... any hoooo ... you don't remember that waitress girl? Sad. Look right here - just the thing for you! 'If you anoint your Temples where the Arteries pass, once a Month with the Gall of a Partridge, it mightily strengthens the Memory.' Shall we try it?"

"What gall! Lucky for me there are no partridges about and we have no gun to shoot them."

"Ha! We are passing through the landscape so quickly we might well be passing partridges. There! Wasn't that one? You didn't see it? Did you know, 'Eyebright is an Herb of the Sun, and is a wonderful strengthener of the Eyes?'"

"Oh Really, Booknoodle, you saw no partridge. There were no pear trees and there was no partridge."

"Tut. Tut. Culpeper states that many men are troubled with watery Stomachs..."

"The deuce! There you are on about stomachs again. There is nothing wrong with my stomach. It is not watery."

"This sad plight ('which molesteth thy body') can be admirably remedied. 'Take a little stick and tie some Oaken leaves about the end of it, and cut them pretty round, then put them into your Mouth as far as you can well suffer them and hold the stick fast between your Teeth ...."

"I'd like to take an oaken stick to you!" cried Deckle, "if you were ever to try something like that. That man should have been called Culprit, not Culpeper!"

"Look here", I said holding the book in front of Deckle, open to a page upon which was printed Culpeper's astrological natal chart.

"Tell me you don't believe that nonsense, Professor!"

"Me? But you see Culpeper did. It was quite central to medicine then, as all herbs and medicines were under the aegis of particular zodiacal signs, and Culpeper did not repudiate Astrology, but embraced the actions of the stars and planets on human physique and health. Also, as we saw with jasper and gold, and many other stones, there was a great belief in the efficacy of various crystals and earthen compounds for affect. Take, for example, this," and I proceeded once more to read from Fragmenta Aurea:

"'Take Oil of Crystal, drawn by the Art of the Alchymist, let him that is troubled with the Stone take a Dram of it at a time in a good draught, either of White or Rhenish Wine, and it will break the Stone ....' I won't trouble your delicate ears with how he suggested testing the efficacy of that cure."

"Thanks for small favors," said Deckle. "But there you see, again - white wine. It must have made much that was unpalatable go down easier. What do you think was this Oil of Crystal?"

"I don't know," I replied, owning up to a small area of ignorance. "I must research that. But see, Culpeper states this potion to have been made by the Art of the Alchymist. Chemistry, Medicine, Astrology, Alchymy, - it was all part of the larger world view of the educated man of the seventeenth century. It really does make one think.

"It surely is different from today's world of medicine."

"Oh, I think it is all really much, much closer than one might wish to today's practices.
After all, people go to doctors and accept what is diagnosed and recommended with such blind faith. The common man in the streets, or the rich banker or the college professor all take their medicine with a gulp, a grimace and a little prayer for its efficacy (whether a believer or not)."

"I think there was much more grimacing going on in Culpeper's time," said Deckle.

I laughed. "Oh, for sure. Just listen to these! And I warn, these are not for the easily disgusted! Haw Haw! de gustibus and all that, eh?"

"'For the Sciatica, take a Gallon of Urine, I suppose it were best of the Party that is Deceased [sic], boil it and scum it well till it be clear, then put to it a Quart of black Snails, such as you shall find in the Meadows without shells (he means slugs, haw!) boil them together, till it be thick like a Pultiss, then spread it upon a Cloath, and apply it to the grieved place.'"

I peeked over at Deckle. He was firmly concentrating on his motoring.

I continued. "Snake bites! Yes, an excellent remedy for snake bites. 'The best way that I know for the biting of an Adder is this: Catch the same Adder that bit you, as she is easily caught, cut her open, and take out her heart and swallow it down whole.'" Another peek at William. He was holding up.

I continued.

"Ah, 'tis good we are not plagued so much any more with the plague. Now there was desperation mixed with black hope, indeed! I read on, : 'Take a Cock-Chicken, pull off the Feathers, till the Rump be bare, then hold the bare Fundament of the Chicken to a Plague Sore, and it will attract the Venom to it from all parts of the Body, and die; when he is dead ... take another and use likewise; you may perceive when all the Venom is drawn out for you shall see the chicken no longer pant nor gape for breath; the sick party will instantly recover.'"

"Oh for heaven's sake, Booknoodle, that is really too much! Such twaddle!"

"Yes, it was ignorant, but it was because Heaven beckoned prematurely that they tried such twaddle as you call it. In their mind it was the grave or sitting there with a featherless chicken on their head; maybe it would work, maybe not. What harm? Have you ever tried it?"

"Tried it? Tried it?! Tying a plucked chicken to my body? Even with plague I would not do such a silly thing!"

"I doubt the plague victim was concerned with such trivial matters as his dignity or how buffoonish he looked. It seems that the entire world around man was open to interpretation as a source for cures. Every nook and cranny and every small creature that might hide therein was a possible cure. Earth worms crushed and dried ... sow bugs for a decoction ... spider webs (one sits under a full spider web holding on to a particular thought in one's mind and a particular object in one's mouth) ... dung, snails - the whole biological universe was all one big medicine cabinet. Sure, some of it was confoundedly illogical; but there was logic behind much of it - and observation and experience."

"How much logic or observation could there have been for sitting under a spider's web?"

"A good point, Deckle. That certainly seems to cross the border into sheer quackery. Here's another bit of quaintness - it's one for leg cramps at night: 'If you use (when you go to bed) to rub your Finger between your Toes, and then smell to them, you shall find it an excellent prevention, both of cramps and Palsies.'"

"That's so ridiculous as to beggar belief," sniffed Deckle, indignantly.

"Yes, but it is written right here, see? And I must say, that there are so many marginal notes in the book, it is evident that it was well used - who knows what recipes and cures were suggested by which herbalists. Why, Culpeper even believed in witchcraft, as see this short bit of advice: 'If anyone be bewitched, put some Quicksilver in a Quill, stop it close, and lay it under the threshold of the Door.'"

"You will note a common, steadfast belief in the efficacy of actions that are in this book. Often the actions were combined with the ingestion of some potion or the application of some salve. But some of the actions recommended are, as you perceive, absurd. Haw! It was almost as if the good doctor was having his little joke on irritable patrons, such as this one: 'The Chin-Cough is easily cured, if the party troubled with it spit three or four times into a Frog's Mouth, but it must be into the Mouth of the same Frog, you may easily keep her alive in a little water'"

Deckle laughed loudly. "What's a little spit lost between man and frog, eh? At least he doesn't say to swallow the frog ... or the Quicksilver. How efficacious might that have been for anything? There seems to be a lot of messing about with things that were truly dangerous."

"Well Deckle, life was more precarious. But was it any more precarious than rushing along the highway at 30 miles and hour sitting atop some rattling contraption that might explode any minute?"

"Oh for heavens sake, this fine machine is not going to explode! And it does not rattle! That rattle's probably gravel in your stomach. Ha, ha."

"Well, I tell you, Willie, this bone-shaker seems to hit every hole in the roadway and I am getting a headache, so I shall stop reading these most excellent cures after imparting this last suggestive passage from Culpeper on the headache. It is general advice and one should pay heed."

"'Many Sicknesses, and Impediments may be in a Man's Head; wherefore whosoever hath any distemper in the head, must not keep the Head too hot nor too cold, but in an equal temper, to beware of engendering of Rheum, which is the cause of many infirmities. There is nothing that engender Rheum so much as doth the fatness of fish, and the heads of fish, and Surfeits, and taking cold in the Feet, and taking cold in the nape of the neck or Head; also they which have an Infirmity in the head must refrain from immoderate Sleep, especially after Meat; also they must abstain from drinking of Wine, and use not to drink Ale and Beer, the which is over-strong; Vociferation, Hollowing, Crying and high Singing, is not good for the Head: All things the which are Vaporous or do Fume, are not good for the Head: All things which are of evil favour, as Carrion, Sinks, wide Draughts, Piss-Bowls, Snuff of Candles, Dunghills, stinking Channels, and stinking Standing Waters, and stinking marshes, with such contagious Airs, do hurt the Head, the Brain, and Memory; all odiferous Savours are good for the Head, the Brain, and the Memory.'"

"Well Professor, all that was quite amazing. But first, it seems some three fourths of what Culpeper prescribed was delivered in some liquorous form: Ale, Beer, Wine, Cider. Then he says stay away from such. I must agree about avoidance of noisome and stinky places. But which is it to be? Avoid smells or use them? After all, just what constitutes an odiferous savour?"

"Harrumph. I do not know, and I do not care right now, blast!, but my confounded head is an awful throb. It is this vehicle ... and road, full of potholes. Or it is the vaporous fumes from the engine. Or both. Look there, ahead is an inn; pull in there and we will be able to avail ourselves of some liquorous potion - and caffeine to boot. Sitting warmly in front of an open hearth with some ale will alleviate this ailment!

And so he did; and so I did. I must admit that the ale, combined with the warmth of a fireplace was most efficacious. There were no powdered worms in the ale nor crushed ant eggs in the coffee.

Aside from the title first delineated at the beginning of this reminiscence, the book under discussion contains the following separate but unified titles, all by Culpeper:

 1.    Fragmenta Aurea: The First Golden Century of Chimical and Physical Judicial Aphorisms and Admirable Secrets (with) The Second, Third and Fourth Golden Century &c.
2.    The Garden Plat; or, A very brief Account of such Herbs, &c. that excel, and are some of them most useful in Physical and Chirurgical Cures on emergent and sudden occasions.
3.    The Celestial Governour: or, A Discourse, in which is plainly declared what Members of the Body are governed by the twelve Signs, and of the Diseases to them appropriate.
4.    Cardiac Simplicia; or, A brief Account of some choice Simples, as are chiefly appropriated to the Heart. (Left unfinished by Nicholas Culpeper)

5.    The Chirurgeon's Guide: or, The Errors of some unskillful Practitioners in Chirurgery Corrected.

6.    Plebotomy Displayed; or, Perfect Rules for the Letting of Blood. 

7.    Urinal Conjectures. Brief Observations, with some Probable Predictions on the Sick Patient's Stool or Water.
8.    The Treasury of Life: or, Salves for Every Sore. Experienced and tryed Receipts, for the Cure of the most usual Diseases that our frail Bodies are most subject to, wilst we remain in this Life. (Corrected by Nicholas Culpeper)
9.    The Expert Lapidary: or, A Physical Treatise of the Secret Virtues of Stones.
10.    Doctor Diet's Directory: or, The Physician's Vade Mecum. Being Short, but Safe, Rules to preserve Health in a Methodical way, passing by the Impertinencies and Niceties of former Physicians, treating only of familiar and the most useful things in Diet, such as chiefly nourish and continue Life.
11.    Doctor Reason and Doctor Experience Consulted with: or, The Mystery of the Skill of Physick Made Easie. Short, clear, and certain Rules how to Discern, Judge, and Determine, what any usual Disease is, from the Parts of the Body affected; the Causes, Signs, or Symptoms: Collected and Observed from the most approved Authors, and constantly Practised.
12.    Chymical Institutions, Describing Nature's Choicest Secrets, in Experienced Chymical Practice: Shewing the several degrees of Progression in the Physical Cabinet of that Art.

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1 comment:

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

My husband would have loved to have found Culpepper in this state. That hand-stitched mend in the cover is superb.