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English Department | University of Texas | Arlington

Juxtaposition as a Tool for Inquiry: A Reading of the Baumfylde Manuscript

Nancy Simpson-Younger, Pacific Lutheran University

Early modern recipe manuscripts provide a unique opportunity to study epistemological practices. Because each manuscript can include medicinal recipes, culinary recipes, penmanship exercises, poetry, signatures, and/or financial accounts, written by different hands in close proximity to each other, these collections are a key source for asking how early moderns used juxtaposition as a tool of meaning-making.[1] At the same time, because we lack substantive data about book use in many cases, it’s impossible to assess the full net effect of juxtaposing a biscuit recipe with a poem or an ointment recipe in a given manuscript. In other words, we have examples of small, individuated genres that are bound together into a physical unit, and we can describe these genres through the process of cataloguing, but we can’t make definitive claims about the implications of their nearness. Moreover, the process of textual accretion over time means that later generations often add to a collection (or subtract from it), affecting the locations and contexts of previous texts in ways that could not be anticipated by their original transcribers or composers. Still, I argue, the proximal relationship of poems, medicines, food recipes, writing practice, signatures, and accounts needs to be acknowledged and reckoned with, since recipe books–like bodies–are made up of both discrete parts and larger wholes. One way to do this is to examine the layers of juxtaposition in a particular manuscript. (Here, and in what follows, I use the term “juxtaposition” to signal both the relationship between part and whole, and the relationship between individual parts.) Using juxtaposition as a methodology, as well as a subject of inquiry, this essay explores the potentialities of interpreting neighboring parts and wholes in light of one another, using the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Baumfylde ms (V.a.456, c. 17th-18th centuries) as an example text. The essay’s acts of interpretive exploration highlight the necessity of viewing recipe books as not only conveyors of textual snippets, but sites of encounter between genres, which come together to form larger units of meaning. Without paying attention to the whole book, and to the situational contexts of each smaller unit, critics can fail to account for the processes of juxtaposition that characterize and animate domestic epistemology.

Here, my conception of domestic epistemology has been influenced by two ideas in particular. First, Wendy Wall notes that early modern domesticity is far from a “trivial” household matter. Instead, the domus is “the nerve center of economic production,” in ways that make the household itself a center of knowledge and intergenerational pedagogy.[2] As Valerie Traub points out, though, some types of domestic knowledge are sharable only to a limited degree, whether in writing or other forms of communication.[3] This is true for both early modern interactions–between household members or generations of a family–and more historically distanced ones, like those between early modern recipes and modern critics. When written down, domestic knowledge can be rendered opaque or ambiguous because of unwritten steps or quantities in a recipe, or secret ingredients, or even coded words. While Wall is absolutely right to point out the simultaneously comforting and uncanny elements of domestic practice overall, Traub’s idea of opacity invites a corollary investigation of what exactly we can (and can’t) know about these practices, and why.

In this light, the opacity of household instructions can demand new approaches to epistemology–particularly when compilers are not available for consultation. One possible approach is to analyze artifacts that were deliberately juxtaposed, and to ask how these juxtapositions might have originally created meaning. According to Juliet Fleming, some written and material artifacts were designed to be juxtaposed in the early modern period, and to signify in light of this juxtaposition. In domestic settings, for example, there were not only posies inscribed on plate and pottery, but specific posies designed to be posted on walls in specific rooms of a house.[4] In other words, the domestic environment itself trained its inhabitants to see writing in relation to its surfaces and neighboring artifacts. Linda Woodbridge expands this idea, noting that principles of collection, aggregation and (re)framing structured both the physical London cityscape and literary genres like the sonnet sequence, emphasizing the cultural power of recycled and re-placed artifacts.[5] At another level, juxtaposition was also a methodology for early modern readers to use as they processed and parsed the ideas housed in quotations. The practice of commonplacing collected similar ideas under similar headings in a notebook, implicitly demanding comparisons between different perspectives and genres in the cultivation of memory or reasoning skills.[6] Early modern diarists or advice-writers could even juxtapose their own reflections with citations or excerpts from Scriptural sources, linking their experience, advice, or prayers to sacred texts and illuminating both in the process.[7] If this technique of comparative textual juxtaposition was taught to domestic practitioners in all of these ways, it was available as a strategy for compiling and navigating recipe collections, as well.

Building from this idea, for modern critics, juxtaposition could be a tool for confronting and processing our own gaps in knowledge about the early modern period. If we proceed by asking about neighboring texts within a manuscript, and the effects of their proximity, we not only acknowledge the early modern practice of juxtaposition, but we foreground the methodological procedures that we ourselves can use (sometimes silently) to draw conclusions about the past. We also acknowledge and confront the modes of historical accretion that shaped a collection over time, framing and re-framing the contents with each subsequent addition to the text, or even with each subsequent generation. For modern critics, actively using juxtaposition as a method means underscoring that our own knowledge of the domestic past is constructed, in part, through the ongoing process of putting pieces of writing in conversation with each other, and then drawing larger inferences about procedures or standards based on the results–always acknowledging that opacity both drives and conditions the outcome of that process.

In this light, this essay wants to ask the following: how do individual, particular meetings between texts of different genres in recipe books affect the process of gathering or creating domestic knowledge, for both early moderns and modern critics? And how does the process of accretion lend new layers of meaning to both individual parts and a collection as a whole? Below, by discussing particular confluences in the Baumfylde manuscript, I hope to provide an illustrative case study. For this manuscript–and for others that combine multiple genres of more and less overtly domestic writing– the juxtaposition of different pieces, with their different genres, can train readers in the epistemological methodology of comparing parts with parts, and parts with wholes. This process not only shapes domestic knowledge itself, but updates and nuances past constructions of household meaning, in a cumulative way that builds over time and generations.

Manuscript Background

On April 26, 2016, the Folger Shakespeare Library published a digitized copy of manuscript V.a.456.[8] According to Elisa Tersigni, who has examined V.a.456 in person, the manuscript’s “watermarks are consistent throughout the book, and so the paper all appears to be from the same time and place.” Tersigni also notes that the binding is likely original, and that the final gatherings feature some missing leaves, as well as some leaves that have potentially been glued in. Still, with UV lighting, Tersigni “detected a stain that extends throughout the last gathering(s), which means that the paper at the end of the codex has been folded and sewn/glued in that configuration for some time.”[9] All of this means that the physical corpus of the manuscript was mostly set early in its history, although there have also been some probable minor physical alterations (the extraction and addition of individual leaves in later sections, for example). In other words, the ‘whole’ of the physical book was assembled near the start of its life and has remained largely intact, though alterations to particular parts changed the overall contents and their signification.

In the cataloguing materials for the manuscript, the Folger provides additional information about the book and its history. The Folger has titled the manuscript “Medicinal and Cookery Recipes of Mary Baumfylde and others”–linking the work to the first contributor, while situating her in a longer line of writers. Baumfylde (active in June 1626) was the first author, and remains the only one cited by name in the “author” category of the manuscript’s entry in Hamnet, the Folger’s online catalogue. In the next century, the Hamnet entry notes, Katherine Foster–likely the same person as Catherine Thatcher, a name that also appears in the book–was active between 1702 and 1758, adding two poems on leaves 10 and 61v.[10] Although neither the Folger’s physical card catalogue nor Hamnet mention the names of the other contributors or signatories, who add further words to the pages, the opacity of past domestic practice means that it can be quite difficult to catalogue all of the contributions within a chronological narrative. Still, to portray its structural and genre-based diversity, driven by the process of accretion over time, the manuscript carries three genre tags in Hamnet: medical formularies, cookbook recipes, and poems.[11]  With their descriptive catalogue entries, both Hamnet and the card catalog seek to provide a broad, general, historical narrative of accretion, and to signal the presence of some notable contents, without necessarily analyzing their contexts or juxtapositions.

Building on the work of the Folger, the Manuscript Cookbooks Survey has micro-categorized the recipes in the Baumfylde piece, separating them according to hands and likely time periods.[12] In this account, Baumfylde’s hand is responsible for “only six recipes, written on leaves 3r-7r: ‘To make biskett,’ ‘To make almond cakes,’ ‘For a canker in the mouth,’ ‘To stop bleeding at the nose,’ ‘To make white hippocras,’ and ‘To make white leach.’”[13] Based on this description, the earliest copyist–presumably Mary Baumfylde or her scribe–has moved from two culinary recipes to two medical recipes and then back again, without attempting to categorize or separate her work based on the genres that later cataloguing materials emphasize. The mode of recipe juxtaposition, however, changes in the later portion of the manuscript, as the Survey goes on to observe: “The recipes on leaves 8r, 9r, and 14r through 40r are primarily medical, interspersed with a few recipes for drinks and fruit preserving. The remaining recipes, written on leaves 41r through 60r, are predominantly culinary.”[14] By emphasizing what’s “predominantly” and “primarily” linked to a particular genre in the later portion of the manuscript, the Survey implies a kind of organizational planning (or, at least, an inadvertent genre-based focus) on the part of post-Baumfylde manuscript contributors–a focus that mirrors the two clearly delineated genres, “medical” vs “cookery,” that the Folger includes in the manuscript’s modern title.

Here, things become a bit tricky. As Katherine Field notes, while the idea of two bifurcated “medical” and “cookery” genres might be very useful to modern scholars, that genre split might not reflect the early modern humoral idea that all food is implicitly medicinal–and it might not take into account how humoral epistemologies were shifting between 1626 and 1707, or even 1756, another key date mentioned for the manuscript in the cataloguing materials. In other words, the categories of “medical” and “cookery” here may reify a juxtaposition that signifies in the modern era, but might not previously have obtained in the same way.[15] At the same time, in a slightly different vein, the Survey’s description of how a few ‘culinary’ recipes permeate the ‘medical’ section imposes a kind of majority-focused narrative that minimizes the presence of other genres, and the potentiality of juxtaposing them. (This applies to other sections, as well. In the grouping the Survey describes as “predominantly culinary,” there’s a recipe for plague water sandwiched between a lemony fish sauce and “How to Collar Eels” [54r-57r]. All three are in different hands.) Here, I want to be clear that, for the purposes of cataloguing and describing data, it makes absolute sense to characterize manuscript sections based on trends or prevailing commonalities–and this is important work for making these texts accessible to scholars and members of the public. Still, a focus on just the culinary vs medical applications of the Baumfylde manuscript doesn’t ask how excerpts of poetry, or mathematical exercises, or seemingly random pieces of writing are all participating actively in the larger manuscript, with the potential to reinflect the other contents in both intended and unintended ways.[16] But when individual parts are placed next to other individual parts, the impact of these juxtapositions can be crucial: they can alter the way that each part makes meaning, and they can shift the signification and the resonance of the whole.


In the Baumfylde manuscript (Folger V.a.456), juxtaposition begins in the first opening:

[Figure 1: Baumfylde, Mary, et al. The Medicinal and Cookery Recipes of Mary Baumfylde. Inside front cover and 1r. V.a.456. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons License.]

And here is a close-up of the upper left-hand corner of the inside front cover:

[Figure 2: Baumfylde, Mary, et al. The Medicinal and Cookery Recipes of Mary Baumfylde. Inside front cover. V.a.456. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons License.]

Here, the word “hand” has both a biological and a book studies meaning: it is the body part that a person writes with, and also the handwriting that is produced.[17] In the corner of the inside front cover, the phrase “many/ hands[’]/ hands” begins, potentially, as handwriting practice–practice in creating a neat or regularized “hand.” (The varying amounts of space between the letters h-a-n-d-s, for example, show that the writer’s movements may not yet have been quite uniform, or that new styles were being tested out.) The phrase could also be a note, or a coded jotting; it could be an attempt to trace or replicate the style of a previous writer. No matter which of these is true, the phrase also reflects the work of a plural consortium, prefiguring the collaborative accretion that will create the book we read today.[18] After all, we know that the Baumfylde manuscript did not only belong to Baumfylde. There are many hands, many hands’ hands, contained in the pages that will come. For now, at the beginning of the text, one writer is writing by hand, and by processing the phrase “many hands” through a single quill.

This writer’s knowledge–her ability to label the contents of the book, at any rate–exists not as a palimpsest, writing over the tops of others’ words, but as an act of juxtaposition that reframes the other contents of the page. On the recto side of the opening, on November 28th, other hands were tallying records of the amounts owed to a dyer, and for tape, and for lace. Someone else (or the same person with a slightly larger quill?) has noted the worth of a salver; someone else has done some addition, upside-down, on the lower left-hand portion of the recto side.[19] Below “many hands hands,” lower down, Katherine Thatcher has signed her name at a ninety-degree angle to two large pencilled numbers, in 1712, on the verso side of the cover. In the larger context of this full opening, the words “many/ hands/ hands” are a simple statement of truth, reframing what might otherwise have seemed like widely divergent moments. Under this label, each set of words or numbers can illustrate a signifying multiplicity, a kind of corporate and many-bodied authorship–and one that is present whether “many/ hands/ hands” was written before or after 1712. As an opening, then, this pair of pages sets a tone that demands the juxtaposition of the part and the whole to become fully legible. In other words, the opening here is an implicit argument for noting the cumulative contributions of many, and for rooting domestic knowledge in the accretion of words and numbers together, in the hands of a plural group.


[Figure 3: Baumfylde, Mary, et al. The Medicinal and Cookery Recipes of Mary Baumfylde. 1r V.a.456. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons License.]

Based on angle and letter formation, the hand that wrote “many/hands/hands” on the front inside cover did not necessarily sign the second recto page of the manuscript. Instead, four hands or proxy hands sign names: Mary Baumfylde’s (presumed) autograph of 1626, Katherine Foster’s autograph of 1707, a crossed-out autograph that might also be from Foster, and a “p[e]r Mr. Abraham Somers.” Here, each hand does not seem to have equal authority. Foster’s early hand may have been eschewed in favor of her later one. Somers’ hand is only “through” another’s. Perhaps he is a scribe (“per,” prep., OED 3b)– or perhaps Somers has provided recipes, or transmitted them, without having the same kind of ownership stake reflected in “Mary Baumfylde her booke.” Still, later contributors chose to sign below Baumfylde’s name, in order to establish their succeeding ownership or participation, and to create a list of influential reader/compilers who shaped the volume over time. Epistemologically speaking, though this is only one example, it suggests that early modern signers understood their work in light of the collaborative processes of accretion and deletion.

It is helpful to note here that the phrase “many hands hands” comes on the previous opening–not this one. In other words, “many hands hands” was not written as a label simply to describe these signatures. Instead, whether by design or cumulative happenstance, that phrase is juxtaposed most directly on the previous page with only one signature (Katherine Thatcher’s of 1712), as well as the accounts and other marks discussed above. While the spirit of “many hands hands” does expand to cover the signatures on 1r, in my view, that spirit also cannot be limited to the signatory act, or to the juxtaposition of ownership marks with other ownership marks alone. “Many hands hands” needs to be read, I argue, as both a key to its own local opening and a portable idea–one that proposes the collectivity of the whole manuscript, and the reader’s resulting ability to juxtapose all of its pages, signatures, and elements in ways that create narrative potentialities for epistemological investigation.

This is important, in part, because not all signatures in the manuscript are contained on the same page, or even directly juxtaposed with the same types of content.

[Figure 4: Baumfylde, Mary, et al. The Medicinal and Cookery Recipes of Mary Baumfylde. 53r. V.a.456. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons License.]

Thomas Thatcher’s name–perhaps in an autograph signature–is recorded on 53r, in large letters, underneath a recipe for stewed carps (which he does not seem to have written). The note “sculp” is located directly underneath the name. As a critic, I will admit, my first impulse is to try to create a narrative that explains the positioning and comparative juxtapositions of this outlier signature. Did Thomas Thatcher really like stewed carp? Did he want to mark himself as more of a local observer than a participant in the full manuscript, signing below a specific recipe instead of laying claim to the whole collection? Could the signature even be a way for a child to insert himself into his mother’s recipe book, with or without her knowledge? (Katherine Thatcher signs her name again on 10r, for example).

Here, I note my own impulse to use comparative juxtaposition in order to craft possible explanations–explanations that may or may not establish a correct historical narrative, or even account fully for all of the variables in play. Because of historical gaps and lacunae (what Traub would call the opacity of past domestic practice) it is impossible to pin down the precise reason why this signature is in this location, and I acknowledge that. But as an epistemological methodology, the act of wondering why a name is found in one context and not another has an unexpected consequence: it reinforces that the collection should be considered as a collection, in which every feature can reframe and recontextualize the others. In fact, the very act of asking about the relationship between 1r and 53r can emphasize the need to read and analyze the full manuscript, not just isolated parts or pages–even if the questions about signatures themselves can never be fully answered. At the very least, the hand of Thomas Thatcher needs to be considered in any analysis of the manuscript’s signatures, since its placement and contexts invite further study of hands and the way that they signify in the full collection.



[Figure 5: Baumfylde, Mary, et al. The Medicinal and Cookery Recipes of Mary Baumfylde. 2r. V.a.456. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons License.]

Some juxtapositions in the text have less to do with signatures, and more to do with the content and genre of neighboring elements. On 2r, in the book’s third opening, at the top, there is an early seventeenth-century hand, recording the recipe “For sore eies & to cleere the eie sight.” To address ocular soreness, the text advises, a person should select a house snail, prick its lower part, and apply the resulting thin trickle of liquid: “drop into your eie.” The word “probatim” has been recorded at the bottom of the recipe, in the same hand. This likely signals that the author has tried the recipe, and found it good, or that a copyist transferred this seal of approval from a source text: “probatum est” means “it is tested” in Latin.

Below, on the same page, an eighteenth-century hand writes the name of her “dear Aunt Cotterell.” Aunt Cotterell is aged 81, and her day [“dy”] is March 29, 1758. (The spelling of “dy” is suggestive here: this note may record a date of death.) The two hands on the page are visibly different, trained to write in different eras–but the eyedrop recipe and the date of Aunt Cotterell’s day are recorded on the same leaf, and this choice must have been made by the later writer. This could have been deliberate, or it could have been accidental: this paper might simply have been the nearest writing surface available when she heard the news and wanted to record it. Either way, accretion has created a thought-provoking overlap between genre and content. Sore eyes that seek this page must also see Aunt Cotterell’s name and age, after the eighteenth century. Could there be a link? Did Aunt Cotterell supply, or test, or prove, or need, or even write, the recipe? Or is the link one of primacy: both the eye remedy and Aunt Cotterell must be the first things seen, upon opening the recipe portion of the book? If the second writer is from the eighteenth century, and she has the entirety of the manuscript to work with, why else might she celebrate the dearness of an elderly relative on 2r, when there are two fully blank openings coming up in about ten pages?

Here, we have another series of narrative potentialities, which are activated through the juxtaposition of two pieces of text, but which can never be directly confirmed or foreclosed. On the one hand, by constructing a potential narrative, an observer could construct meaning(s) from this juxtaposition, even if that meaning was not intended by the eighteenth-century writer, or even linked to the factual history of the family. On the other hand, by acknowledging the potential of multiple narratives (or, even, no narrative at all), the viewer must reckon directly with the opacity of the situation: this is a moment when domestic knowledge cannot be fully discerned. Still, any attempts to limn it will both fail (in deciphering the true original intent) and simultaneously illuminate the epistemological processes–from comparing hands to juxtaposing content to putting eyes in context–that establish both our own knowledge and its shadows, its acknowledged absences that cannot be fully recovered. If we never ask the unanswerable questions, in other words, we fall back on reading textual parts in isolation, in ways that lose the vibrancy and signifying potentiality of their contexts.


While recipes can be directly next to recordings of life events in this book, they are also juxtaposed–somewhat less directly–with poetry. There are two poems or groups of poems linked to the eighteenth-century activity in this manuscript. One of them is a set of original verses, written underneath the word “Stoc,” which is (again) in an earlier hand. The verses are signed by Catherine Thatcher from St. Mary @ Hill, Billingsgate, in 1707:

[Figure 6: Baumfylde, Mary, et al. The Medicinal and Cookery Recipes of Mary Baumfylde. 10r. V.a.456. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons License.]

On 9r, in the opening before this one, two distinct earlier hands offer three methods to stanch bleeding. (The outlines of these recipes are visible on the verso side of this opening. The ink, interestingly enough, is bleeding through.) “Stoc,” as it appears on 10r, could be an error for “Stop,” a key word in two titles on the page preceding it. In other words, the earlier hand may have decided to abandon this relatively blank sheet and start again, in another opening. (Or, perhaps, a fourth recipe with “stop” as a keyword was planned, but never completed.) If this is the case, Catherine Thatcher did not decide to cross out the earlier writing, or to seek a totally fresh page. Instead, she wrote her poem, about seeking happiness in new spaces, underneath someone else’s old four-letter mistake. The poem concludes with the speaker resolving to “Enjoy the good [of a new situation], or bear its ills/ With a Submissive mind.”

As Jayne Archer points out, the domestic practice of recipe-writing helped to “legitimize” women’s literary ventures, since poetry and recipes were both viewed as texts that “expressed the human desire to remodel the material world.”[20] This is certainly the case for Thatcher, who sites her poem in the context of a recipe collection, and who integrates the experience (and even the mistakes) of her predecessors directly into the framing of her page. But the second juxtaposition of the poem’s text is equally important, because it exposes a further paradox through its proximity. On 11r, in the opening immediately following Catherine Thatcher’s original poetry, is a list of four phrases. (The top portion of the page has been sliced off, directly above them.)

[Figure 7: Baumfylde, Mary, et al. The Medicinal and Cookery Recipes of Mary Baumfylde. 11r. V.a.456. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons License.]

It is possible that these phrases have nothing to do with the original poetry in the previous opening, or with the idea of stanching blood flow from two openings prior.

It is possible that the idea of recursivity here links to household tasks, which must be done and redone in a regular cycle. Some of these domestic duties relate to the dosage of medicine, food, or medically-administered food, either for prevention or for cure.

It is also possible that Thatcher’s idea of submission, either in mind or in body, involves the question of recursivity: of revisiting medicine, concepts, or pages on a regular and set routine. Certainly, routine forms the heart of early modern domestic practice. The preventative blood-stanching recipe on 9r, for example, involves a posset that must be consumed “every morning & evening” (9r); elsewhere in the collection, an “excellent wine” must be stirred “every day” for twelve days (52r), and pickled walnuts must be shifted to a fresh saline marinade “every day” for nine days (59r).[21] The poem, though, takes another stance. It rejects the idea of domestic routine in its opening lines, which imply that the speaker is seeking to spend time abroad, in another setting: “But why (you’ll say[)] should I abroad/ For happiness repair[?]” (10r). The poem’s speaker does not agree with the listener, the “you,” who implies that happiness can be found in a domestic setting at home–or who, at least, implies that cares and worries will also be present in other locations. This speaker wants to leave, in order to cultivate a “Submissive mind.” Like the next page itself, the poem wants to make a clean break, to create a discontinuity. And yet, the speaker is sandwiched between three recipes and four phrases that demand the repetition of a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly routine. If escapism is possible in a cookbook, and if the mind can be encapsulated in verse, then the poem’s locational context can be either liberating or confining here: either tied to contextual strictures, or endowed with the possibility of repeated alterations. Either way, both time and activity must be reckoned with as cyclical, recursive phenomena. The task of both a writer and a domestic practitioner might be to confront these cycles in their contexts, and to explore contextual modes of opting in–or opting out.



[Figure 8: Baumfylde, Mary, et al. The Medicinal and Cookery Recipes of Mary Baumfylde. 61v. V.a.456. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons License.]

The other poetry copied into the Baumfylde manuscript is a group of three extracts from the work of Alexander Pope. One of them is pictured above. It reads:


In Wit, as Nature, what affects our hearts

Is not the exactness of peculiar parts;

‘Tis not a Lip, or Eye, we beauty call

But the Joint Force & full result of all.

The other two excerpts on the page, directly below this quotation (and separated by partial lines), are also from this poem: “‘Tis with our Judgments as our watches, none/ Is just alike, yet each believes his own” and “At every trifle scorn to take offense/ That allways shows great Pride, or little sense.” All of these excerpts deal with the capacity to assess or judge a situation, but the first deals most directly with questions of parts, wholes, and their juxtaposition.

For Pope, beauty is a collective concept, and it demands a consideration of the human body as a whole, as more than a series of parts. Meaningful aesthetics result from the “Joint Force and full result of all” the subordinate units of the body, not just the isolated “Lip” or “Eye.” At the same time, the outcome of this forceful and holistic beauty is to affect the “hearts” of the perceivers–a plural phrase, but one that is rooted in the idea of a singular and isolated body part (the heart) all the same. This portrayal creates a double standard by establishing separate rules about parts and wholes for viewer and viewed. Viewed subjects are totalities, but ones that simply create an overall aesthetic picture or effect, for someone else’s enjoyment. Perceiving subjects are instead metonymized into a single body part that stands for a corporate and corporeal whole–indeed, a whole that is aligned with a vast group of other judges, who share definitions of wit, beauty, and even nature.[22] The viewer is an acting heart, a judge, and a community member; the viewee is a composite effect.

What does this poem excerpt do as part of the Baumfylde manuscript? I argue that it sets up a series of questions about the part and the whole (and their relationship) that enable new kinds of domestic epistemologies in this text. After all, this manuscript itself involves two distinct types of part and whole: those linked to bodies, and those linked to writing. As a medical manual, the book offers recipes that address the problems of both specific body parts (like the eye, discussed above) and general systemic physical wear and tear (as discussed below.) But, as a miscellany, the book can also be separated into parts–poetry, accounts, jottings, etc–that come together into a whole. The two ideas map onto one another. For the eighteenth-century transcriber of Pope, the parts of a perceived object (like this book) must be viewed not simply as parts, but as a signifying totality. Implicitly, this happens in ways that both celebrate the collection, framing it as a successful aesthetic object, and subordinate it to the status of a viewed, potentially feminized artifact. (This would be particularly true if it were originally the closing epilogue to the collection, finalizing it on 61v. With accretion over time, though, the poem has also been nudged to a place between recipes, subtly reinflecting its position within the manuscript whole.)

There is another potential implication of this poem–which is not copied here in its entirety, but only as an excerpted part of Pope’s larger work “An Essay on Criticism.” As Jayne Archer points out, the “Essay on Criticism” also contains a couplet that prioritizes poetic creativity above more formulaic, recipe-linked template structures: “Some drily plan, without invention’s aid/ Write dull recipes how poems might be made.”[23] Here, Pope links recipe-patterned writing to dry, dull text, and–by extension– to uninspired poetry. But in the process of being excerpted here, in a recipe collection, Pope’s own work becomes fragmented and deployed to help shape new holistic contexts. It becomes just one ingredient in a much larger recipe. As such, Pope’s poetic voice is no longer simply part of the “hearts” group, a detached and impartial judge of others’ beauty. Instead, it becomes a part of the accretion that creates a sense of the whole of this manuscript. There are implications here for both gender and genre, through the language of embodied parts and wholes. If anyone’s poems can be partitioned, and contribute to other wholes for onlookers to view, then they are more like recipes–and less exempt from gendered assessments of surface “beauty”– than Pope might care to admit.


Between the two poems copied by the eighteenth-century hands, in a loose chain during the middle of the manuscript, are three recipes that revisit the relationship between bodily parts and bodily wholes. Each is directly linked by name to Abraham Somers, the second person listed in the front matter of the manuscript. But Somers is an interesting case. He is not quite a contributing author, as Baumfylde and Foster/Thatcher frame themselves to be, because of the “per” that precedes his name on the signature page (and once again after a recipe). At the same time, other people have been named as sources for recipes in the book, including Mrs. Kirby (for pickled walnuts, in 1712, on 60r) and even Mistress Reason (for “the biting of a mad dogge”–presumably a rabies remedy– on 41r). None of these other authoritative recipe-providers are given credit as a collaborator on the opening page. In light of this, how do Somers’ recipes contribute to the whole of the collection, as Baumfylde’s initiating text or Foster/Thatcher’s extended additions might be considered to do? And what do Somers’ pieces imply about the conceptual links between parts and wholes, more broadly?

Although many of the recipes in this section are transcribed by a similar hand, Somers is only linked by name with three of them: “A powder for the wormes” (26r), “To make a purgative whey” (38r), and “A Secrett Quintessence” (which takes up the full recto sides of three successive openings, from 36r-38r). At first glance, he seems to be an expert in stomach ailments. In the third recipe, though, he begins to provide an authoritative, practical guide to the care of a patient as a whole, embodied person, by explaining how to contextualize a particular treatment with others–like sweating or clysters, with specific timetables for administration (38r). In other words, the third Somers recipe moves more overtly into the theory and praxis of maintaining a whole body.

It also hints that the same mixture can affect multiple parts or ailments simultaneously. In a section on the virtues of the quintessence, Somers describes its multifaceted efficacy: it “easeth the paine of the goute and collicks, it stayeth the bloody fluxe, woemens flowers, and the runnynge of the Reynes, it stoppeth… Vomitinge, it provoketh Sleepe and cooleth in burninge Fevers, it taketh away the palpitations or tremblinge of the hearte and being put into the nostrill it easeth all the paine of the heade” (37r). Medically, the mixture of opium, henbane, and poppy can target and mollify any symptoms of illness: it can reach parts (the kidneys, the head) or it can act on wholes (provoking sleep or cooling the entire organism). The flexibility of the quintessence relies not only on the dose (“from 4 graines to 12”) or the administration mechanism (a “pill,” or dissolution in “any… Cordiall as is fitt for the nature of the disease”) (37r). Instead, the quintessence is effective only when the caregiver has prepared the whole patient properly–when the entire body, purged and rested to particular specifications, has been primed. At one level, these purgations involve the relationship between the part and the whole: “if the bodie be bound, you must prepare itt with some opening Clyster sirrups or potion,” such that the whole organism is prepared by a part-focused intervention, focused on a particular orifice (37r). At another level, the concept of humoral balancing means that the orifice and the whole not only interact but merge into each other. If the orifice is first the gateway to the body, but also a co-participant in the body’s treatment, then the distinction between the sub-unit and the collective begins to break down.

Clearly, gender is an important consideration here. Somers has produced three authoritative recipes that claim praxis-based knowledge about parts and wholes, and his name is attached to all three. If Thatcher/Foster signs her own original poetry, and Somers is linked by name with bodily remedies, there is a hint of the specialization and masculinization of medical knowledge here. (Even though other recipes in the collection are linked to women’s domestic experience and practice, there are few extended recipes for sovereign remedies in V.a.456.) Somers’ work here echoes the tropes of the Pope poem in some ways, positioning him as the elite perceiver of a bodily whole, and also as an agent who can intervene in holistic questions of health. In other words, he is both cited and positioned as the male writer of a quintessence recipe. At the same time, this genre is often linked to feminine creativity through the intersections of huswifery and authorship, as Jayne Archer has argued.[24] In this light, his citation here both confirms his agency and nuances the gender dynamics in play, disrupting one potential narrative about quintessence and gendered creativity in the period. Somers’ quintessence recipe, in other words, aligns a ‘masculine’ mode of theory-linked praxis with concerns about the quotidian care of the whole patient, linking both medical efficacy and creative domesticity to an understanding of body parts in their larger physical and situational contexts.

Given these ideas, it might become difficult to conceptualize a miscellany like V.a.456 without taking Somers into account. Without being mentioned in detail in the Folger catalogue entry, Somers’ work nevertheless adds to the fabric of the whole text, and it takes up and advances the questions of part/whole relationships that are threaded throughout the piece. Processes of accretion have positioned these recipes near the literal center of the collection; more abstractly, they are central to the concerns and questions of treatment and praxis throughout the larger manuscript. For Somers, as well as Thatcher, as well as the transcriber of Pope and the writer of “many hands hands,” parts can only be approached in context–with an awareness of their neighbors, their predecessors, and their cumulatively building nature. Without taking parts and wholes into consideration, the pieces in the collection lose some of their potential as both medical and literary signifiers–and the contributions of some authors become either isolated or dropped.


Every recipe book is an invitation to question how individual units interact with others, not only to create or cure disease, but to constitute (or fracture) a unified corpus. Here, the idea of the book is mapped onto the idea of the body, in language that subconsciously creates knowledge for modern critics through juxtaposition. Books, like people, have parts–openings and spines, for example. They are also whole, biologically-derived artifacts, and they store ideas for later retrieval. Unlike a person, though, an early modern recipe book maintains knowledge across many generations, accumulating layers of juxtaposed content over time. Such a book is therefore both a record of individual embodied humans, preserving some of their knowledge, and a collective entity, accruing its own cumulative corpus. It demands strategies for reading that are conscious of both roles.

Early modern recipe collections not only describe the tensions between part and whole, but enact them. Then, they capitalize on those tensions as a foundation for domestic knowledge of medicine, literature, and daily praxis, compelling writers and readers to ask questions. Are routines productive, or stultifying? Can an illness be treated only at the level of the part, or is the whole body necessarily involved? What does it mean to sign a poem, or to put a poem about parts next to recipes that try to affect the health of an organism? Can a single person write and control the contents of a domestic miscellany–is individual knowledge sufficient? As modern critics encounter the acts of juxtaposition in a collection like V.a.456, we are forced to reckon with not only the questions and knowledge-seeking methodologies of the early modern writers, but with our own questions and methodologies, as well. If we try to draw conclusions from the proximity of signatures, recipes, or even different genres, we sometimes encounter the opacity of the past, bodied forth in trace remnants of previous practices that can no longer be definitively interpreted. On the other hand, the multiplicity and potentiality of juxtaposition make it a vibrant technique that can tell modern critics much more about our own approaches to opacity in the first place–offering us questions to think with, and modes of comparison that echo early modern epistemological praxes in their own right. Even the acts of identifying an early modern juxtaposition, describing the accretion that surrounds it, and asking a question can acknowledge the links between part and whole, past and present–allowing us to translate an early domestic mode of inquiry into our own lives, and into our work.


Nancy Simpson-Younger writes about gender and consciousness, with a particular focus on the early modern period in England. After earning her PhD in Renaissance Literature from the University of Wisconsin in 2013, she joined the faculty of Pacific Lutheran University, where she has taught courses in medieval literature, Shakespeare, International Honors, and Gender, Sexuality and Race Studies. Her work has appeared in the academic journals Shakespeare, Studies in Philology, The Sidney Journal, and Women’s Writing, as well as the edited collections Staging the Blazon and Forming Sleep (which she co-edited with Margaret Simon).



[1] On questions of juxtaposition, meaning-making, and intellectual history as they link to both receipt books and the tradition of commonplacing, see Katherine Field, “‘Many hands hands’: Writing the Self in Early Modern Women’s Recipe Books,” in Genre and Women’s Life Writing in Early Modern England, ed. Michelle Dowd and Julie Eckerle (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 49-63 as well as Lucia Dacome, “Noting the Mind: Commonplace Books and the Pursuit of the Self in Eighteenth-Century Britain,” Journal of the History of Ideas 65, no. 4 (2004): 603-625.

[2] Staging Domesticity: Household Work and English Identity in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 9; see also Jayne Archer, “The Quintessence of Wit: Poems and Recipes in Early Modern Women’s Writing,” in Reading and Writing Recipe Books, 1550-1800, ed. Michelle DiMeo and Sara Pennell (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 117.

[3] While Traub focuses primarily on the “opacity” of sexual relationships to others, the concept of domestic opacity in general is key to considerations of epistemology, which she goes on to discuss. See Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 4-5, 8-9.

[4] Graffiti and the Writing Arts of Early Modern England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), e.g. 29. William Sherman tells a similar story of Lady Anne Clifford, who posted particular sayings on “‘her Walls, her Bed, her Hangings, and Furniture,’” according to Edward Rainbowe (qtd. in Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 65).

[5] “Patchwork: Piecing the Early Modern Mind in England’s First Century of Print Culture,” English Literary Renaissance 23, no. 1 (1993): 15, 21-22, 33.

[6] On the evolution of commonplacing and its goals into the era of John Locke, see Lucia Dacome, “Noting the Mind,” 604, 610-12.

[7] See, for example, the work of Lady Grace Mildmay, discussed by William Sherman in Used Books on 63-4.

[8]New in Luna.” Folgerpedia Entry. April 26, 2016.

[9] E-mail communication between Elisa Tersigni and Hillary Nunn, 27 August 2019. I am very grateful to Dr. Tersigni for examining the manuscript and passing along this information!

[10] The Hamnet entry is available online. I am grateful to Erin Blake at the Folger for sending a .pdf of the original card catalog entry, and for all of her helpful information about the manuscript!

[11] Another part of the mission, of course, is to post high-resolution images of each part and page of the book online, making them publicly accessible, and enabling viewers to see the full text and context of the work. I’m particularly grateful to the Folger for allowing scholars to reproduce these images under a Creative Commons license, and I’ve added images from V.a.456 to illustrate my work below.

[12]Receipt Book of Mary Baumfylde, 1626, with Culinary Recipes 1702-1712.” Manuscript Cookbooks Survey. The Pine Needles Foundation of New York. 2017. n.p.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Receipt Book of Mary Baumfylde,” Manuscript Cookbooks Survey. The Pine Needles Foundation of New York. 2017. n.p.

[15] “‘Many hands hands’:” e.g. 53.

[16] While the Survey does acknowledge the poetry in the ms, it views the lines as a means of investigating the identity of an individual hand: “Katherine Foster is probably the same person who wrote verses on leaf 10r, which are signed “Catherine Thatcher Verses 1707 St. Mary @ Hill, Billingsgate [London].” She may also have written the verses on leaf 61v.”

[17] For the epistemological, anatomical, and theological overtones of hands in the period, see Katherine Rowe, ‘God’s handy worke’: Divine Complicity and the Anatomist’s Touch,” in The Body in Parts, ed. Carla Mazzio and David Hillman (London: Routledge, 1997), 290-91.

[18] See Katherine Field, “Many hands hands,” 54; Wendy Wall, Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern Kitchen (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 113.

[19] Wall cites Jane Tutoft, a sixteenth-century letter-writer, who asks her cousin to train her daughter to “write and to read and to cast account and to wash and to brew and to bake… and so I trust she shall prove a great good houewife” (ibid, qtd. in 118; I’ve silently modernized the spelling.)

[20] “Quintessence of Wit,” 129, 121.

[21] Given the impetus of domestic routines, Hillary Nunn wonders if the list “once a Day…” could be the start of a potential index of recipes to be made and/or administered with these relative frequencies. According to the search engine in Luna, the keyword “day” occurs five times in the full manuscript, while “week” and “year” don’t occur outside of this page; still, the idea of organizing domestic praxis in an index according to repeated cycles is an intriguing possibility, given the context.

[22] In claiming its group affiliation, and in learning to judge other bodies, each individual heart–as Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky writes elsewhere of the eye–must figuratively detach itself from the physical body that it participates in, learning to predicate its judgment on its membership in a social, not individually embodied, totality. See “Taming the Basilisk,” in The Body in Parts: Fantasies of Corporeality in Early Modern Europe, ed. Carla Mazzio and David Hillman (Routledge: 1997), e.g. 196.

[23] Qtd. in “Quintessence of Wit,” 120.

[24] “The Quintessence of Wit,” 116.