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Medicine out of Mole-Hairs in Jane Dawson’s Manuscript

By Ashley Gonzalez

Though all of Jane Dawson’s recipes are fascinating, perhaps one of the most curious ones involved the medical use of moles for hair loss and hair growth. This interest was noted by multiple people during the Fall EMROC transcribathon: 

Why this connection between moles and human hair? I decided to look a little deeper to see what I could find out. 

My transcription of the two mole-based recipes, which you can see on the manuscript page here, consists of the following:

to Expell haire in any part of the bodey

Take a mole & lay her in water to be soaked so long till, she shall have noe hair is Left on her; wththis water anoint [the] place from wchyou would expel [the] haire & afterwards wash it with Lye maid of Ashes, & then rub it with a linen cloth, if you shall see [the] haire retorne; wash twise or thrise in [the] aforesaid manner & it will [illegible] expel [them] & by noe means can be maid to renew againe. 

            To recover Haire in any part of the body

Take [the] blood of a mole & anoint the part; two or 3 times therewith that you wod have the haire to increase on; [the] blood being warme; as it comes from [the] mole being newly killed; it will wond[er]fully renew & bring hair to the admiration of all men (Dawson 21)

The first recipe implies a distinct link between the removal of the hair of the mole and the removal of human hair, which suggests that the recipe works according to the doctrine of sympathies. Connections such as these between the ailment and the cure for said ailment were common in the seventeenth century:

In the tradition of seventeenth-century herbalists … there was a sympathy between certain plants and certain ailments, or parts of the body, which could be recognized by its distinctive ‘signature’. Thus any herb which resembled the form of eyes, for example – such as eyebright, the scabious or the marigold – was said to be useful in the healing of eye complaints. Such connections were part of a complex web of correspondences and sympathies connecting macrocosm to microcosm. (Harrison 41)

If early modern herbalists connected the characteristics of ailments with the physical appearances of herbs, the same thinking might apply to animals. Just as herbs resembling eyes were said to treat blindness, so too might the hair of a creature be said to assist with ailments concerning the hair of humans.

Perhaps the most notable feature of a mole is its blindness. Edward Topsell in his 1658 book The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpentsincludes a segment on moles in which the following visual can be found on page 388:

Though this illustration implies that moles have easily visible eyes, they would have been hidden under a layer of fur:

Muséum de Toulouse [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)] Talpa europaea MHNT

Despite the mole’s eyeless appearance, it seems to have been relatively well-known that moles possessed eyes underneath their fur, as evidenced in Topsell’s illustration. The fur covering the location of the eyes might have been viewed as excess. Thus, it follows that individuals wanting more hair might look to the mole to inspire their own hair growth. Similarly, the process of removing the mole’s hair could become associated with the removal of hair in general, resulting in a ritual wherein the human hair is “anoint[ed]” with the removed mole hair in hopes of stimulating the expulsion of excess hair.

As for the origin of Dawson’s recipes, one likely source is Topsell’s aforementioned book, which includes Dawson’s cure for excess hair almost word for word. The similarities suggest that Dawson directly came into contact with Topsell’s book herself or through a source that had copied from the book. Unlike the resemblance in the hair removal texts, the recipes concerning hair growth show significant differences. Topsell’s book utilizes the burnt skin of the mole rather than the blood: “For the renewing, and bringing againe of those haires which are fallen or decayed, take a mole and burne her whole in the skin […]” (Topsell, 502). This use of burnt skin may ultimately refer back to Dioscorides, who originally used porcupine and hedgehog skin in his recipes for hair growth. Though there are other differences in components, Topsell’s version keeps the idea of using a creature’s skin as a main ingredient.

Medicinal recipes are changed as they pass from one individual to another, with information being added, removed, or altered. It is therefore likely that Dawson’s curt recipe may have originally been a part of a longer one that was altered as time passed—perhaps passing through word-of-mouth, or being copied from an acquaintance or friend’s own personal medicinal cookbook. It is evident that Dawson pooled together knowledge from multiple people, suggesting that the medical care they could expect had a direct correlation to both the knowledge and the quantity of the people they knew. 

Interestingly, there is one source that includes both of Dawson’s recipes. Joannes Jonstonus’ 1678 book reads: “the [mole’s] blood brings hair … the water wherein a Mole hath been, and left hair, restores hair.” (Jonstonus 91). There is one crucial change from Dawson’s version: the fur of the mole is said to promote hair growth rather than hair loss. An intriguing dilemma would arise if an early modern person came into contact with these two recipes claiming opposing results.  Though the publication status of Jonstonus’ book would imply that it was Jonstonus’ version rather than Dawson’s that would have been in more frequent use, this would likely depend on a variety of factors, including the book’s distribution and popularity. 

Though an analysis of the mole recipes mentioned beforehand allows for a better understanding of Dawson’s own recipe, it should be noted that these recipes are likely only a fraction of early modern recipes concerning moles and hair. Numerous others exist, and further analysis of those versions could bring to light a more thorough and complete understanding of this unique remedy.

Works Cited

Dawson, Jane. Cookbook of Jane Dawson. Folger ms. Vb.14.

Harrison, Mark. “From Medical Astrology to Medical Astronomy: Sol-Lunar and Planetary Theories of Disease in British Medicine.” The British Journal for the History of Science,vol. 33, no. 1, Mar. 2000, pp. 25-48. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4028064

Jonstonus, Joannes. A description of the nature of four-footed beasts with their figures en[graven in brass] / written in Latin by Dr. John Johnston ; translated into English by J.P. Translated by J.P, Amsterdam, 1678. Early English Books Online, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=eebo;idno=A46231.0001.001

Topsell, Edward. The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents. London, 1658. https://archive.org/details/historyoffourfoo00tops/page/388

Ashley Gonzalez recently graduated from The University of Akron, where she undertook this research in ENG 489: Disease in Literature.

Jane Dawson Cook-Along

During the transcribathon, the Medical Heritage Library came up with a genius idea: would we do a Jane Dawson Cook Along? The answer to that is a resounding YES!

So, here’s what we’re going to do. Over the next week (22-30 September), some members of the EMROC Steering Committee will try out this recipe for Lemon Wafers.

Take duble refined Suger beatt & dryed & sifted and mix with
it Juce of a lemmon let it be of the thickness of huney & take some
of it in a Spoone & heatd it over a chafin-dish of coles till it be
crisp on th​e​ side of the spoone let it not boyle: when itt is melted
Spred it on a paper out 4 Square: & then pin two Corners together
that it may bend like other wafers; & so lett it dry when you take
them of wett th​e​ rong side of the papers with watter

Jane Dawson, V.b.14, p. 47.

Our assignment will be to take notes of how we decide to interpret the recipe, the ingredients we select, the modern tools we use, the weather conditions (temperature, wind, barometric pressure), the altitude… and anything else that might be relevant in how our recipe turns out. We’ll also taste test (of course!). You can follow our experiments on Twitter as we do them (#EMROCcooks), though we’ll also do an easy-to-read round-up for you afterwards.

Would you like to be involved in the Jane Dawson Cook Along?

We’d LOVE for you to join in. There are three ways to participate in our cook along over the next week:

  • try the same recipe for lemon wafers;
  • test out another one of Dawson’s recipes that intrigues you (full book here);
  • join in the discussion of the EMROC community’s cooking experiments.

Let us know about your kitchen project on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blog comments, or e-mail (lisa.smith@essex.ac.uk). Our hashtag for all Dawson Cook-Along projects will be #EMROCcooks.

We can’t wait to see what you cook up!

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who participated in our Transcribathon this week. You are all amazing. When everyone finished the Dawson manuscript with about two hours left to go (!), we decided to open another nearly-completed manuscript–Margaret Turner. And we finished that one, too!

The EMROC community is awesome, in both the modern and early modern senses of the word.

If you’re missing the Transcribathon, keep your eyes peeled for further details. We’ll be hosting a Jane Dawson Cook Along (as suggested by the Medical Heritage Library, @MedicalHeritage on Twitter) next week.

Thank you so much for being a part of our community!

The EMROC(K) Playlist

By Jennifer Munroe

Hurricane Florence, 16 September 2018. Credit: NASA, via Wikimedia Commons.

Last week, Rebecca Laroche and Hillary Nunn suggested in jest that we should build a soundtrack to mark this year’s more-eventful-than-usual travel to DC.  So… here is just a little fun I had on the train! You can either click on the hyperlinks for added fun OR check out the Spotify playlist that Mark Gudgeon (@gudge75 on Twitter) has assembled for us.

In September 2018, EMROC was planning our fourth annual Transcribathon and Steering Committee meetings at the Folger Shakespeare Library. To our chagrin, also in the mix was Florence, a formidable storm that originated in Africa. After days of anticipating the storm, and just when we thought the Waiting was the hardest part, Florence hit the North Carolina coast with a fury, leaving poor Maggie in Raleigh (though inland) blowing in the wind and being rocked like a hurricane. It really was nasty. In fact, poor Maggie said it shook her all night long. And just when it seemed things might clear, it seemed, here comes the rain again.

Meanwhile, Rebecca and Hillary decided to hold on and see if they would make it to DC, even though Florence’s track kept changing.  Will Florence disrupt things all the way to DC? And Jen, in Charlotte, remained in the danger zone. Elaine Leong, thankfully, arrived in the States in advance of the storm, and it looked like she would be able to take the downtown train from Baltimore to DC without trouble. Maggie Simons and my flight plans remained uncertain, so we both tried to book trains in vain and waited to see if the airports would stay open. While those of us in Charlotte and Raleigh worked on alternative plans to Skype in for meetings, in the sights of the storm, we were also worried about losing the power. We were all under pressure.

Just when things looked really bad, Florence decided to beat it and head south just enough that Raleigh’s airport could open, and Maggie saw the sign that she could get to DC. Likewise, it appeared Hillary and Rebecca could see clearly now that they too would make it to the DC area. But Florence had Charlotte in her sights, and Jen kept going back and forth about whether her flight would be canceled, whether she would drive. “Should I stay or should I go?” she wondered. In the end, she decided to push it and drive to Richmond on Saturday, then a crazy train to DC Sunday morning. 

Finally, things were looking up. Everyone (except Lisa Smith who was unable to leave London, home of the brash, outrageous and free, for family reasons) would make it. So thrilled, all we could do is shout and jump around. Truly unbelievable! It looked like we might be gettin’ jiggy with it after all. Tomorrow won’t be such a manic Monday. We will be together from 9 to 5, making plans for EMROC’s next few years and enjoying each other’s company. We’ll see Sarah (Powell) smile when we meet her at the library. It appears now that at least by Tuesday, we will all be walking on sunshine here in DC. And, of course, Heather Wolfe and Lisa will be London calling, leading an enthusiastic group of transcribers at the Wellcome, helping to make our dreams come true. Wednesday, we will all be on the road again, and it will seem the longest time before we meet again. But for the next few days, we have each other, and nothing’s gonna stop us now.

The moral is: don’t stop believing

Getting into the groove, seventeenth-century style! Credit: Christoffel Jacobsz. van der Laemen (1615-1651), Dancing Party in an Interior, ca. 1640s (Wikimedia Commons).

Welcome to Transcribathon 2018!

Excerpt from Jane Dawson’s book. Credit: Folger Shakespeare Library.

Thank you for stopping by our transcribathon today. We’re so glad that you’ve decided to join us.

We’re kicking things off at the wonderful Wellcome Library in London at 10:00 UK time. The Library is kindly allowing Heather Wolfe (Folger Shakespeare Library) and I to use their Viewing Room for a pop-up event. Have digitized documents, will travel!

There are a few details about today that you might find useful before getting started.

  • Throughout the day, we’ll be posting and answering questions here, on our Facebook page, on our Twitter account, and our Instagram account.
  • The hashtag on Twitter and Instagram is #EMROCtranscribes.
  • If you’re not on social media, you can just leave your question as a comment on one of today’s transcribathon posts or email Lisa Smith (lisa.smith@essex.ac.uk).
  • How to find the book we’re transcribing and how to select a page to transcribe…
  • What we know about Jane Dawson.
  • A FAQ page that covers everything from whether you should modernise the English (no) or moving the transcription box around to how to represent what you see on the page (e.g. page breaks, symbols, and more).
  • A miscellanea of what the buttons on the transcribing platform (Dromio) mean, what a transcribed page would look like, and more.

Don’t worry about making mistakes or putting in all the fiddly coding. We’re triple-keying for accuracy (which means three people will do the same page) and will edit for a final version.

The most useful thing for us is that you write what you see on the page. In terms of the coding, it’s especially helpful if you capture the basics (line breaks, page breaks, thorn (often appearing as a y instead of th, as in ye) and expand certain words (see the section on semi-diplomatic transcription here).

If you’re a novice to early modern handwriting, my top tip is beware of the long s! It looks like an f, but should be transcribed as an s. You can read a bit about the history of the long s here. You might also be interested in learning more about the type of transcription we’re doing: semi-diplomatic.  The Early Modern Manuscripts Online project at the Folger has a good information page on it.

Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, keep in mind that all questions are good questions. If you’re having technical troubles or can’t understand our guides (user-related or platform-related), it’s helpful for us to know. If you’re having trouble deciphering a word, a community of fellow transcribers is here to help. If you want to know what a mystery ingredient is, the fun is in the discussions as others try to help.

One of the great delights of a transcribathon is people sharing the things they spot when transcribing. So please drop in to introduce yourselves, share your interesting tidbits, ask questions, and share your wisdom.

Jan Brueghel the Elder, Bouquet, 1603. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

We have a quick request before you start transcribing: would you fill in a very short pre-transcribathon survey? It will take no more than five minutes. Out goal is to learn a bit more about our transcribers and their knowledge before the event. (There will be a follow-up survey post-transcribathon, too.) The survey is here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/THN8DZS .

Thank you for your help–both participating today and filling in the survey! We are so delighted that you’ve decided to work with us today and look forward to hearing more about it.