Antimonial cups

by Nick

It seems to be common now for scholars to lament the loss of serendipity that digital sources can bring: the stumbled-upon discovery replaced by the accuracy of the Boolean search. But actually I increasingly think that digital sources simply bring a different type of serendipity. Keyword searches and the like can just as easily throw up things that you were not looking for, but which rapidly become more interesting than your original topic. Here is an example.

With the online version of the English Short Title Catalogue, it’s very easy to discover everything that an early modern author wrote. At least, it’s easy to discover everything to which they put their name or which has been attributed to them. What is less easy is finding out what other authors wrote about them. Sometimes authors made it easy: the culture of animadversion in early modern texts means that the titles of contemporary books often reference those which they were refuting. Although this made for unwieldy titles – Animadversions upon A Reproofe to a Rejoinder to An Answer to… , etc – it does make it easier to trace the reactions to books. What is much harder is finding references within texts to other works. These are often coded or implicit, so even assuming the texts you want have been digitised, a keyword search often isn’t enough.

Still, enough early modern texts are still awaiting digitisation that even blunt searches are an order of magnitude more efficient than the tools scholars have previously had at their disposal. I was reminded of this tonight when browsing through Early English Books Online. It occurred to me that I haven’t actually run keyword searches for any of the names of the authors I’m researching, to see if their names appear in other authors’ works. I hit the search button and found lots of responses I was aware of, but also one I wasn’t.

The universall medicine, or, The virtues of the magneticall, or antimoniall cup (London, 1651), was effectively an advertorial for a product being sold by John Evans, a preacher who had been William Lilly’s tutor in astrology. Evans was selling a small cup lined with antimony. By filling it with wine, the metal reacted with tartaric acid in the wine to form tartarised antimony, which is an emetic. Here is Evans on how to use it:

Take a well glased earthen pot or Pipkin with a fit cover, then put this Cup therein, and powre within and round about it as much White-wine, Claret wine, Muskadine, or Malmesie if it may be gotten for it is best of all, or else Ale or Beer, a sufficient quantity to fill and plentifully to cover, and to be above the Cup, an Inch or two or more, that it may stand in full infusion; then set the Pipkin upon or by a gentle fire, and let it boile gently for two houres, and afterwards remain in the same order covered in a temperate digesting heat, such as you might endure your finger in, the residue and remainder of 12 hours from the time you began; yet admonishing you to spare the curiosity of some that sit up to attend the same all night; place it neer the hot hearth, where fire hath been kept all day, & it is sufficient, for a small heat will serve to keep it in good digestion; being thus used before & standing covered, then one hour or two before you doe take it, or administer it to another, remove it from the fire, and set it to coole if need be, not taking off the cover whereby the spirits might evaporate away; Afterwards a Cupfull or more taken fasting cold, purgeth the body from whatsoever is offensive to Nature, the operation is safe and gentle, and without any violence or danger, as hath been oftentimes proved.

The first edition had appeared in 1634, at which point Evans was censured by the College of Physicians as a quack, while the work burnt at the instructions of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Another edition came out in 1642, then a third in 1651. By this time the book had grown from 16 pages to 64. Much of the bulk of the third edition of the book was taken up with case studies from satisfied customers. Here is one from the Cornish gentleman Francis Godolphin Esq.:

Kinde Mr. Evans, had I been at home, at Farnbies last departure hence towards London, I should have shewed my selfe willing to have re-saluted you by my letter, having formerly received yours: be pleased now to accept the acknowledgement of my hearty thanks for your imparting unto me, the happy Cures done by your Magneticall Cup, and the more perfect use of it confirmed by daily experience: And now giving God the Glory, and you many thanks for the Cures wrought by my Cup (the Childe of your happy Invention, I thought good to acquaint you that there came to my house a poor begger woman of the parish of S. Paul about the age of 44. years, and at my doore fell into a pitti|full fit of the falling sicknes and continued long in that fit: but after the fit was past, and she began to recollect her sences; by questioning with her, I found that her disease had continued on her three or four years, and that she much desired to take any thing that would ease her, and that her fits sometimes took her twice in one day, here upon I gave her the next morning white Wine orde|red according to your direction, and it wrought effectually with her, and neither that day nor the day following wherein shee took not the Cup had she any fit or the least symptome of it, the third day I gave it her again, but then it wrought not with her neither upwards nor downwards, but onely by sweat, but sithence the first time of the taking of it, she hath not had any one fit, which is now a quarter of a year past, and now she goes to her daily labour, as she was wont to doe; once of late I caused her to take it againe to prevent a relapsing into the former griefe, but I am confident that she is perfectly cured. Another young man aged 28 or 30 years, of mine own parish being much troubled with that griefe hath by the use of your Cup (God blessing the means) per|fectly recovered his wonted health: And now lately one John Heckes a Souldier at Pendinas Castle neer Penrynne, who for three or foure, or more years was taken so ill, as he had a continuall hysking and stopping of his breath, & was not able to goe without a staffe and that to his great pain, and was by as many as daily saw him thought to be in a deep Consumption and not to be recovered by Physick, intreated me to send him Wine prepared in this Cup, which I did, and he took it twice according to your direction, and within two or three dayes after the taking of it, recovered his health, used no more his staffe, but grew to such jollity of strength as that he was able to cary and mannage his Musket, and doth now serve in his armes, and doe his duty as ably as any Souldier in that Castle: Many other helpes this Cup hath done to divers that have made use of it, I pray God to blesse you in the well composing of many more such Cups, and to continue his blessings upon those you doe compose, to the health of such his servants as shall make use of them; thus tendering unto you my hartiest love, thanks and well wishes, I rest your assured loving friend.

Another reason for the massive expansion in the book’s length was the list of those who endorsed the product. These included knights, gentry, merchants and citizens of London. But Evans also listed various divines who had ‘by their own Experiments and Observations… confirmed the same, as by their severall Certificates may appear’:

  • Daniell Featly, D. of D.
  • Moegan Wynne, D. of D.
  • Richard Naper, D. of D.
  • Nicholas Page, D. of D.
  • M. Henry Walker, B. of D.
  • M. Hugh Maurice, B. of D.
  • M. John Vicars, B. of D.
  • M. Aynscombe, B. of D.

This is something of a hodge-podge of a list. I found it by typing Walker’s name into EEBO, but there are various people on the list who make uneasy bedfellows with Walker. Daniel Featley was a hardline Calvinist who nevertheless backed the established church and fell into difficulties with Parliament by the early 1640s. Morgan Wynne was a fellow of All Souls, Oxford who seems to have been active in Lincolnshire. Richard Napier was another astrologer and minister, like Evans. Nicholas Page seems to have been vicar of Bloxham in Oxfordshire. Hugh Maurice I can’t trace at all. John Vicars was a Laudian who had travelled extensively visiting libraries in France and Italy, to such an extent that he was considered a Roman priest when he was hauled before the Essex county committee in 1644. Thomas Aynscombe seems to have been rector of Cowden in Kent. It is a curious mix of the famous – well, by the standards of English ministers anyway – and the obscure. There is also the slight problem that at least two of them were dead by 1651. There were obviously some things antimony couldn’t cure.

Quite how they got involved with Evans and his business enterprise isn’t clear, although the obvious answer is that they had tried his product and found it satisfactory. From the divergence of their beliefs, I can’t see that it is a plausible list of like-minded theologians who all happened to know Evans. Walker for one seems to have suffered from the stone in later life, and if this was a problem earlier on, he may have tried an antimonial cup. Amongst the uses Evans claimed for it was to effect a cure for the stone:

Antimony is a most excellent, and never-sufficiently praised medicine: for the restauration and renovation of the body of man, the infusion or tincture thereof purgeth black blood and choller, and every corrupt humour, and that both by manifest evacuation and correction of evill humours: It helpeth against all obstructions of the Liver, and of the Spleen; disperseth the Dropsie; cureth the Jaundise; procureth cheerfulnesse and gladnesse of the heart; restoreth the Leprous to perfect health, and is the best preservative of the lungs: It is a perfect and effectuall cure for Morbus Gallicus; and the chiefest secret against Leprosie, for that nothing is found to be more excellent against that foule disease: It rectifieth the Spleen; asswageth the griefes of the Mother; procureth the monthly tearms; preserveth and increaseth Nature in strength; cureth the Morphew; healeth the Scurvy; expelleth both black and yellow choller out of the body; breaketh and expelleth the stone: purgeth the head and brain; helpeth against the falling sicknesse, and al convulsions: and, to conclude; It is a chief and an excellent Medicine against all desperate and dangerous diseases.

These words must have been cold comfort to two of Evans’s customers, Sir Nathaniel Kitch and Lady Amy Blunt. Both had died after drinking wine from one of Evans’s cups: this had been one of the key incidents which triggered his punishment by Archbishop Laud. By the 1640s, though, Laud was gone and Evans seems to have picked up his trade once more.

Meanwhile I have found out something more about Walker: that he may have been taking medicine for some kind of ailment during the 1650s. It’s obviously not the kind of discovery which will transform my understanding of his life. However, there is not a chance in a million I would ever have found Evans’s book had it not been digitised. Nor would I have known about this particular remedy.