Chymicall Extractions

Page from Natura Exenterata with Chymical Symbols

After the long list of medicines for various illnesses, Lady Arundel turns to the basics of chymistry. A list of symbols for quantities common among physicians is followed by a series of “Chymical Extractions”, which, unlike the previous recipes, contain numerous technical terms and are thus rather difficult to understand. These instructions are obviously aimed at an audience of more experienced women having no problems with understanding the obscure symbols used, the concept of quintessence or how to make use of a pelican.

The recipes for the production of aurum potabile, drinkable gold, of various essences, of antimony as well as the instructions for the production of a diaphoretic from antimony and mercury ascribed to Walter Raleigh, involve a wide range of expertise. Knowing the various symbols around aqua regis or the process of balneo was a fundamental requirement. Even if the glossary of the Chymicall Characters explains some common symbols, the many symbols and special terms make it difficult to read the recipes for, among other things, laudanum and Oyl of Tartar. The easiest to understand are the instructions for making Chymicall Oyles in the Alambik simply stating that essential oils can be made from all aromatic plants.

On page 384 follows is a list of Secrets of Hearbs, explaining the medicinal uses of various plants. Together with the previous alchemical part, this list provides the basis for the reader to make their own medicines. The collection follows a reverse logic, starting with the finished, tried and tested recipes, which the reader can recreate step by step, moving on to an understanding of the processes and ingredients enabling readers to experiment independently.

Page from Natura Exenterata with Measurements and Chymical Extractions

Logically, this part is then followed by instructions for seasonal gardening so that the ingredients to be processed can also be produced independently. The change in focus is also evident in the changed header, which now instead of Selected Experiments in Physick and Surgery refers to Selected Experiments in sowing and setting Hearbs and then from page 394 to Experiments in Distilling Severall Waters.

In addition to medical recipes, recipe collections like Lady Arundel’s book often contained instructions for various areas of daily life. As Lynette Hunter and Sarah Hutton have shown, these collections of practical experience played a decisive role in an experimental culture, even if instructions such as Lady Arundel’s Selected Experiments have little in common with today’s understanding of scientific experiments (Lynette Hunter and Sarah Hutton, Women, Science and Medicine 1500-1700: Mothers and Sisters of the Royal Society 1997).

The recipe collections show that women, and especially aristocratic women, were among those who, through their way of practicing, collecting, verifying and disseminating knowledge, laid the foundations for a new form of science. The contribution of kitchen physick to the development of empirical experimental research has recently been thoroughly examined by Simon Werrett in his study on Thrifty Science.


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