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Healthy Reading

Curated by Johann Gregory

School of English, Communication and Philosophy

 

  Detail of exhibition

 

Charles Knight (ed.) (b. 1791, d. 1873). The pictorial edition of the works of Shakespeare Tragedies Vol. II (1839)

This edition includes a transcription of the publisher’s blurb of the 1609 Troilus and Cressida quarto. The enigmatic quarto preface is unique, being the only publisher’s blurb published for a Shakespeare play during the playwright’s lifetime. Showing an elitist attitude, the preface states that the play was never “staled by the stage”; it emphasises the “salt of wit” apparent in Shakespeare’s Comedies, and comments on the poor “wits’ health” of those who will not praise this play.

 

William Shakespeare (b. 1564, d. 1616). The works of Mr. William Shakespear. Volume the sixth consisting of tragedies. Plays contain'd in this volume - Troilus and Cressida, Cymbeline, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Othello (1724)

The footnote in this 1724 edition alludes to the second state of the 1609 quarto which included the epistle or publisher’s blurb as well as a new title page which suggested that the play had never been performed; the first title page had suggested that it had been performed. W. R. Elton explains that Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida “has been estimated [to contain] twice as many images of food, cooking and related matters as in any other of its author’s words”. At the beginning of the play, Pandarus and Troilus read the latter’s situation in terms of hunger and bread baking.    

 

John Dryden (b. 1631, d. 1700). Troilus and Cressida, or truth found too late, a tragedy (1679)

Dryden rewrote Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, and in this preface he dedicates his play to Lord Sunderland. Like Shakespeare’s preface writer, it seems, Dryden enjoys employing digestive language and is concerned about matters of taste.  

 

William Langham (b. ? d. ?). The garden of health (1597)

This book provides guidance on the use of herbs, fruit and vegetables – these are listed alphabetically, with an indexed commentary for each one. One of the four copies held has suffered from a different kind of healthy reader. Shakespeare’s contemporary, Ben Jonson, is attributed (by the OED) with the first printed use of the expression “bookworm” in the play Cynthia’s Revels. Crites, who “smells all lamp-oyle, with studying by candle-light”, is described abusively as “a whore-sonne booke-worme, a candle-waster”, which (among other things) suggests the reader is a consumer.

 

William Langham (b. ? d. ?). The garden of health (1597)

 

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (b. ca 1525, d. 1569). The Ass in the School (1556)

Bruegel’s pen and ink preliminary drawing for an engraving by Pieter van der Heyden wonderfully displays people’s curiosity in writing and social aspects of reading. The inscription translates as “Although the ass goes to school to learn – this one here is (nevertheless) an ass and will never become a horse” (Tolnay’s translation). There appears to be a certain witty snobbery at play here, not unlike that in the preface to the Troilus and Cressida quarto (1609) which states that some have felt in Shakespearean comedy “an edge of wit set upon them more than ever they dreamed they had brain to grind it on”.

 

Samuel Annesley (bap. 1620, d. 1696). The first dish at the Wiltshire feast, November 9, 1654 or, a sermon preached at Laurence jury to those that there offered their peace offerings, and went thence to dine at the marchants-taylors-hall (1655)

Samuel Annesley was a Presbyterian with equivocal relations with those in power. This sermon, apparently commissioned on short notice, would have been preached before the dinner of a county feast held in London. The sermon was interestingly considered as a dish; in the preface the clergyman cannot resist using gastronomic language.  

 

Thomas Coryate (b. ca. 1577, d. 1617). Facsimile of the engraved title-page from Coryat’s Crudities (1611)

Thomas Coryate was a travel writer and associate of Shakespeare’s contemporary, Ben Jonson. His publications are a supreme example of the way that early-modern writers (and publishers) imagined their work being digested by readers. The title continues: “Hastily gobled up in five Moneths travels in France, Savoy, Italy, Rhetia commonly called the Grisons country, Helvetia alia Switzerland, some parts of high Germany and the Netherlands; Newly digested in the hungry aire of Odcombe in the Country of Somerset, and now dispersed to the nourishment of the travelling members of this Kingdome”.   

 

John Taylor (a.k.a the Water-Poet) (b. 1578, d. 1653). All the workes of John Taylor the water-poet, being sixty and three in number, collected into one volume by the author (1630)

John Taylor, a Royalist and Thames wherryman, was literally and metaphorically larger than life. At the age of 74, for example, he undertook, with his trusty steed, a journey from London around Wales of nearly 600 miles, often relying on his reputation and strangers’ hospitality. His “Laugh and be Fat” enjoys ridiculing Thomas Coryate, the more learned traveller, and his rather pompous use of gastronomic terms. Not surprisingly perhaps, Coryate arranged for earlier copies of the original publication of “Laugh and be Fat” (1613) to be ordered burned.

 

John Taylor (a.k.a the Water-Poet) (b. 1578, d. 1653). All the workes of John Taylor the water-poet, being sixty and three in number, collected into one volume by the author (1630)

 

Nicholas Culpepper (b. 1616, d. 1654). Two books of physick: viz 1. Medicaments for the poor; or, physick for the common people 2. Health for the rich and poor, by diet, without physick ([1656] 1670)

In keeping with his republican values, Culpeper enjoyed publishing books for “the common people”. Another of his works, a translation A Physicall Directory, or, A Translation of the London Dispensatory (1649), was seen as a deliberately political act by those practitioners who benefitted from the guidebook remaining in Latin.

 

John Denison (b. 1569/70, d. 1629). The heavenly banquet or the doctrine of Lords Supper set forth in seven sermons (1619)

The Christian association of the word of God with nourishment is plain in this publication where the sacrament is described as “sincere milke of the Word”. Denison was apparently a highly regarded preacher with eminent patrons, such as Lord Chancellor Ellesmere.

 

Andrew Boorde (b. ca. 1490, d. 1549). The breviarie of health ([1547]1598)

Andrew Boorde’s household medical book was quite possibly “the first medical book, by a medical man, originally written and printed in the English language” (Douglas Guthrie). As the preface explains, Boorde deliberately tried to make the words used as comprehensible as possible, often translating physicians’ jargon, so that “every man openly and apartly may understand them”.  

 

Thomas Muffet (b. 1553, d. 1604). Healths improvement: or rules comprizing and discovering the nature, method, and manner of preparing all sorts of food used in this nation (1655)

Muffet was a prominent physician, although he also displayed a certain literary aptitude publishing The Silkewormes and their Flies in 1599; his patrons included the likes of Philip Sidney, Francis Walsingham, Henry Herbert and Mary Herbert. Health’s Improvement was published posthumously. “It has been supposed, on the basis of Muffet’s interest in spiders, that [his daughter] was the ‘little Miss Muffet’ of the nursery rhyme” ODNB.

 

Thomas Muffet (b. 1553, d. 1604). Healths improvement: or rules comprizing and discovering the nature, method, and manner of preparing all sorts of food used in this nation (1655)

 

Anon. The assize of bread. Together with sundry good and needfull ordinances for bakers, brewers, inholders, victualers, vintners, and butchers (1636)

The assizes of bread sought to regulate the price of bread. Examples of the maxims – full of wordplay – above the images of bakers include “Dine not at thy pleasure | but in true honest measure” and “Be watchful and wise | in goodness to rise”.

 

Thomas Vaughan (b. 1622, d.1666). A hermeticall banquet : drest by a spagiricall cook for the better preservation of the microcosme (1652)

The preface title “Symposiates to his Sympotae” plays on the association of a symposiast being a member of a symposium, and a diner or member of a drinking party. This construction of the reader as a diner and guest continues in the text. The author was a philosopher and alchemist, although he also wrote poetry in Latin and Welsh. He was the younger twin of the poet Henry Vaughan. Both brothers fought for the Royalist cause during the Civil War.

 

Leonard Lessius (b. 1554, d. 1623). Hygiasticon: or, the right course of preserving life and health unto extream old age ([Latin 1613] 1634, 2nd edn.)

Lessius was a Flemish Jesuit and theologian. This edition included a witty poetic prefix, a dialogue between a Glutton and Echo; it begins, “Glutton: My belly I do deify. Echo: Fie”. This may have made the book more palatable, and certainly acted as healthy reading. It is not clear who “S. J.”, the author of the poem, refers to.

 

Leonard Lessius (b. 1554, d. 1623). Hygiasticon: or, the right course of preserving life and health unto extream old age ([Latin 1613] 1634, 2nd edn. )