This was one of those weeks that the book took precedence, so it was difficult for me to find the time to research a proper #SalemSuffrageSaturday post: it really has been time-consuming to find all those lost reformers, gentle ladies, and entrepreneurs—though the authors and artists are much easier. I have a few more I want to highlight before this commemorative year is over, but this week all I have is book for ladies, written by an Elizabethan author whom I am sure could not have conceived of universal suffrage in his wildest imagination even though he was a relatively progressive fellow for his time. Hugh Plat (1552?-1608) is featured in several of my chapters: his work was very wide-ranging. He wrote about agriculture and gardening, alchemy, engineering, medicine, and all sorts of little inventions meant to improve daily life: an everlasting “tube-like” victual called macaroni for seamen on long voyages, a prototype raincoat, cheaper candles and lanterns for the homes of “the poorer sort”, and even dentures! He was an absolute believer in the art of alchemy, not as some secret enterprise, but as a way to extract the inherent spirits and virtues out of natural substances, and make them more efficacious. He wanted to make English land more fertile, English homes lighter, and English bodies healthier. Plat can certainly be criticized for selling ineffective plague pills during the pandemic of 1593, and I’m still wrestling with that. There are two great books on Plat: Deborah Harkness’s The Jewel House. Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution and Malcolm Thick’s Sir Hugh Plat: the Search for Useful Information in Early Modern London. I’m grateful for both, as they are based on manuscript evidence which I can’t access as well as Plat’s many publications, but I need to find my own Hugh Plat.
Plat’s major work, still being published nearly 50 years after his death.
The Jewel House of Art and Nature was popular, but a book aimed at the relatively new feminine audience was even more so: first published in 1602, Delights for Ladies, to adorn their Persons, Tables, Closets and Distillatories was published in 13 editions up until the middle of the seventeenth century, sometimes bound with a companion text, A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen, or the Art of preserving, conserving, and candying. The original is available here, and two editions were published in the twentieth century: one by the Trovillion Press in 1939 and another edited by historian G.E. Russell after World War II. I have a badly-beat-up Trovillion edition, which still manages to be a beautiful little book, and some day I am going to have a pristine one!
Delights is a book of “still-room secrets” with which women could whip up precious potions and waters to take care of their daily needs and concerns. It is also a rather specialized cookbook, and general housekeeping book: you really understand that word—housekeeping—when you read it, as Plat’s concern here, also evident in his other books, is to preserve foodstuffs and keep them fresh for as long as possible. He detested spoilage and waste. So there are preserves that we would recognize today, including “marmelades” and “gellys” made from fruit, but also instructions on how to keep fish and meat for “many days”. The house also has to be kept clean and well-provisioned with both food, drink, and medicines for maladies minor and major. There is a lot of expensive sugar in this book, which obviously catered to early modern English tastes, but also indicates that this was certainly not a book for the “poorer sort”: Plat’s huswife, a term that came into use during his lifetime, was a “courteous gentlewoman” who could read. And what might be her personal concerns, besides provisioning her house? Something to keep her face fresh, clean, and spot-free, a lovely hand lotion, tooth paste, and a dye to return the chestnut or golden luster to her hair (or her husband’s beard). Something to help the “ytch” and take out stains from her garments and bedclothes. A pomander for the plague-time, and headache powders, and sweet-smelling perfumes for any time. The more things change………….