The Poor Man’s Physician

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This venerable book dates from 1731. It is in excellent condition, binding intact, cover somewhat scratched, pages complete, printing clear. It is a sort of 18th century Doctors Book of Home Remedies, containing hundreds of ‘cures’ for 18th century ailments.

The Authors

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It is credited to John Moncrieff, with an addition to the Appendix by Archibald Pitcairn. Thomas Heriot is the bookseller who funded the publication. The Heriot family were well known in Edinburgh. An earlier Heriot, George, founded a school in the 17th century that continues to this day.

The following is from The House of Moncrieff of 1890, which I found on archive.org.

John Moncrieff of Tippermalloch, the son of Hugh Moncrieff (a younger brother of Sir John Moncrieff, first Baronet), by his wife Isabel, daughter of Hay of Megginch, who thus became fifth Baronet. He succeeded to the estate of Tippermalloch under a conveyance by William Moncrieff of Tippermalloch, who, according to Playfair, died without issue about the year 1655.

Besides being distinguished as a medical practitioner, he was the author of a work entitled ‘ The Poor Man’s Physician, or Receipts,’ of which the only edition now to be found appears to have been printed from a copy delivered by himself to the Marchioness of Atholl. He married, about 16S0, Nicholas, daughter of Moncreiff of Easter Moncreiff, by whom he had a numerous family of sons and daughters, of whom (according to Playfair) all the former, except Hugh, died before himself.

The second contributor, Archibald Pitcairn, was an eminent doctor in Edinburgh; perhaps, in his time, the pre-eminent doctor in Scotland. He is credited with being a founding father of the famous Edinburgh Medical School. He died in 1713, some 18 years before the publication of this book. He has an extensive entry in Wikipedia, and a number of his books are still in print in facsimile.

The Treatments

The treatments indicate how far medicine has progressed in 300 years. Occasional glimmers of sense appear amid the horrendous prescriptions. For example, in the treatment for scurvy below, two or three ingredients actually contain vitamin C, which is the known cure for scurvy, but the preparation almost guarantees that none will be left in the final decoction.
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The wort is a barley mash, the precursor for beer, guaiac is a tree resin, sarsa is the flavouring of sarsaparilla, antimony compounds are mostly poisonous, and the ‘sclaters’ referred to are woodlice, which are said to taste of strong urine.

Next, part of the treatment for smallpox:
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And a few treatments for colic, some of which (the herbal ones) are still used for gastric disturbances.
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And consumption, or TB, as we now know it. Click on the image for a detailed view.
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Conclusion

An interesting book, with some application to medical history, but the prescriptions are taken at your own risk, as the authors cannot now be sued for malpractice.

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The Imitation of Christ – Miniatures #2

ioccover Another miniature, though not as small as the Complete Shakespeare set, The Imitation of Christ was written anonymously in the Netherlands in about 1420. Though anonymous, it is usually attributed to Thomas à Kempis. It is a book of spiritual guidance to inspire the inner life of one who wishes to follow Christ. Humility, purity of heart and silence are strongly advised.

The edition here is a facsimile of the first edition in English, translated in about 1450, and printed in 1504 in London. The introduction to the edition reads:

This is a reduced facsimile of the first English translation (William Atkinson’s). The reproduction was made from the edition in the British Museum, printed by Wynkyn de Worde. The little book has therefore a double interest. It is the earliest translation into our language of a world-famous devotional classic, and it is at the same time a specimen of the work of one of our most famous early printers.

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The original was printed by Wynkyn de Worde, who had worked with Caxton in the late 15th century, and who took over his printing press after Caxton’s death. The majority of the book was printed using movable type, with a number of woodblock illustrations and decorative drop capitals.

To the modern reader, at first sight, the text appears totally unreadable, but close inspection reveals that it is indeed written in English, an English whose spelling is mighty peculiar, but which contains many recognisable words. In my opinion, it is clearer than Chaucer’s language in the Canterbury Tales – a work which predates this translation by about 70 years. No-one nowadays, however, would read this book for its spiritual content. Many relatively modern translations of The Imitation of Christ are available. The book is, as the printer’s introduction implies, more an exemplar of the printer’s skill and a source book of medieval English.

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This book is just 11 cm (4.5″) by 7.5 cm (3″) in size, less than 2.2 cm (⅞”) thick. Physically, it is clear that the binding is modern. It was, in fact, printed in 1921. I cannot find any other copy for sale anywhere on the internet, from which I must assume that it was not published in large quantities.

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And the remains of its dustcover reveal that it was on sale in Britain at a cost that, compared with average wages, would today be about £12.

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Shakespeare. Miniatures #1.

 The Works of Shakespeare in Miniature.

The Works of Shakespeare in Miniature.

It’s many months since I last wrote a book review, but my interest was revived recently when I visited an exhibition of illuminated and miniature manuscripts and books.

I inherited my father’s 40-volume miniature collection of Shakespeare’s plays, plus the sonnets, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. The set, with the remains of its bookcase, was stored in a shirt box for years. A year or more ago, I repaired the tiny 3-shelf bookcase. The eighty-year-old glue had crystallised and crumbled. I stuck it back together with modern glue.

Each page of each book is 50 mm by 35 mm in size, the thickness of each volume varying, but averaging 15 mm including end boards. The plays are printed on very thin paper. Sixteen sheets – i.e. 32 double-sided pages – are just a millimetre in thickness. So although the printing is perfectly readable without a magnifying glass, the whole of Macbeth, at 314 pages, is just a centimetre thick, plus end boards.

The bindings on many of the books are in a poor state. The collection accompanied my father from Scotland to Spain to Italy to India to Malaya to Brunei and back to Scotland over a forty year period. It is hard to say whether travel, tropical conditions, or the icy draughts of Edinburgh wreaked the greatest harm. It was probably a combination.

The text, however, seems physically intact. I cannot detect any missing pages, though a few are loose.

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You might think that the set had been made in, say, the 19th century or earlier – the heyday of miniatures. However, they were actually mass-produced in 1932 by Allied Newspapers of Gray’s Inn Road, London. Nevertheless, there must have been considerable hand work in the bindings, and I hate to think how much it would cost to repair the bindings today. Sets and individual volumes appear from time to time in auction rooms and eBay, though most do not appear to be in their original bindings. Certainly, my set is the only complete set I’ve seen which is bound in the original red, lettered in gold.

Is my set complete? Yes. It is the complete set as published. Is it a complete collection of Shakespeare’s plays? Yes, indeed, it is. All thirty-seven plays, plus the Sonnets, plus Venus and Adonis with The Rape of Lucrece in a single volume. The fortieth volume is a biography and glossary.

As to the works themselves, they were edited by J Talfourd Blair, a reputable Victorian editor, responsible for many popular editions of Shakespeare around the turn of the nineteenth century. I think the little library has achieved its objective just by being published. Actually reading them is certainly possible, as the print is not excessively small. The small size of the little books is the chief obstacle to the reader. I attempted The Scottish Play today, and it was a severe challenge to one’s dexterity in page turning.

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Mythaxis Issue 18 – The August 2016 issue

Yet another star-spangled edition of Mythaxis has hit the Web’s virtual news stand.

Stories from a number of regulars, and a comic strip from Liam Baldwin.

Our Master Index of Stories has been updated. Readers new to Mythaxis can access all our previous issues from the Mythaxis website.

New writers are always welcome. Submission details are here. We do not pay for stories, but successful authors are awarded a prize on publication.

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Mythaxis – The Stats

We are proud of our performance as an e-zine:

  • 145 items have been published in Mythaxis Magazine since 2008
  • 17 issues of the magazine
  • 30 different authors
  • [viewed traffic] 4500 unique visitors in 2015
  • 30,000 page views in 2015 (one story per page)
  • over 10,000 page views in 2016 already

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Mythaxis Issue 17

Mythaxis Issue 17 is now available at the Mythaxis website.

One of the items is a comic strip from Liam Baldwin.

Another is a cyberpunk interactive adventure, playable in your browser.

For those who would like indexes of all stories by title and by author, the complete index is in the Mythaxis blog.

 

 

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Anathem by Neal Stephenson

anathemAnathem marks Neal Stephenson’s return to ground-breaking sf, after the rather strange and lengthy Baroque Cycle.

It is again a very large book, and there is again a preoccupation with appropriate language for the setting, which preoccupation, as in the Baroque Cycle, becomes less strictly observed as the book continues.

The basic setting is that, on the planet Arbre (which may be an alternate Earth), philosophers and scientists, rather than monks, are walled up in monastery-like institutions called concents. Religious practices take place in the outside world, not in the concents. Extreme conservatism and ritual characterise life in these institutions. Stephenson engages in considerable discussion of logic, cosmology, mathematics, set theory, and philosophy, which make the start of the book rather slow, and a number of the complex concepts are consigned to Appendices.

The pace speeds up when visitors from another cosmos appear in a spacecraft that looms rather threateningly, and the story sets off in a new direction.

Eventually, parallel worlds become the theme of the book, and provide its (quite convenient) denouement. But the journey to the end of the book is an entertaining mix of mind-bending concepts and well-described action. Above all, the book is crammed full of cool new ideas.

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