The Folger Manuscript V.b.400 Project

The Transcribers

Folger Manuscript V.b.400 is the subject of EMROC’s fifth annual international transcribathon.

Biographical and Contextual Information

Folger Manuscript V.b.400 is unique among the manuscripts chosen for EMROC’s annual international transcribathons in several aspects.  First, and foremost, it is the only anonymous manuscript to be thus selected. It is thus not affiliated with a known household, or even a person of a specific gender. As a result, outside of references within the recipes themselves and the nature of the handwriting, it is difficult to place this manuscript in a particular time. What is more, it is a manuscript that includes only medicinal recipes, whereas the other books highlighted in EMROC’s annual events have included a mixture of medicinal and culinary receipts. This contextual essay aims to provide some ways of thinking about this collection given how little we know about the compiler and given the particular focus of its compilation.

While we do not know the compiler’s name or social status, the collection consists of one hand and is organized in a deliberate manner around groupings of recipes for certain ailments or conditions. This consistent hand and purpose seem to point to a work of intention, one that implies perhaps a draft manuscript before it and a careful, if not professional, hand in the composition. That is, given the mixed-secretarial elements within the manuscript, the involvement of a household amanuensis is possible. At the very least, great care was taken with its compilation, as evidenced in its neatness and relatively few erasures.

When the Folger Shakespeare Library purchased the manuscript, the dealer’s notes were invested in pointing out a clear seventeenth-century source for at least one of the recipes, “Doctor Burges his Receipt / Against the plague.” 

“Dr. Burges his Receipt Against the Plague,” Folger Manuscript V.b.400, p.202

Yes, the dealer makes a concrete connection to a print text, Stephen Bradwell’s Physick for the sicknesse, commonly called the plague (London: 1636; see OCLC) from the first half of the seventeenth century, but another connection, found in a manuscript collection also transcribed by EMROC members, the Granville family manuscript dated ca. 1640–ca.1750 shows that this recipe was circulating throughout the late seventeenth century.

Another example of Dr. Burges’s recipe, this one from the Granville manuscript. Folger V.a.430.

Indeed, a fruitful EMROC blog topic may be comparisons with the Bradwell and Granville versions of the recipe, and others that emerge in the data set, to look for the processes of revision that occur as these texts circulate. What is more, as the book is transcribed, we will be better able to determine what other sources, both in print and in manuscript, inform this collection.

The arrangement of this collection by disease demonstrates a relationship to print texts in two ways. For one, many print collections of medicinal works are arranged by disease as this one.   Secondly, this organization indicates a clear conception of readership. A manuscript thus organized will be easier to negotiate once it is out of the compiler’s hand. This awareness of audience, along with the neatness of the hand, may even suggest a presentation copy, such as we have found in pursuing the Corlyon project.  Mrs. Corlyon’s collection at the Folger (MS V.a.388), one of three so compiled in exquisite hand, clearly denotes the collections status as gift.

The medicinal content of the collection also raises other important contexts found throughout early modern medicinal recipes: namely humoral theory and medical symbols.  The four humors – choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholic – are ubiquitous themes in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century medical treatises and cultural discourses, and this book contains several references to such imbalances, such as a recipe for “Balme water Against the wind mellancholly / To comfort the head, heart, and stomack” (p.6).  Such instances give us particular insight into early medical care as the recipe calls for “the red blossomes of the most sweet and / tender aples,” ingredients at once appropriate in their warm and moist properties (against the cold and dry humor of melancholy) as well as in their springtime, sanguine associations.

The use of medical symbols for measurements is common practice in the early modern period, as we have found in several of the projects undertaken by EMROC.

A table of symbols used to denote measurements and ingredients in recipes, from MS V.b.400, p. 21

A notable aspect of Folger Manuscript V.b.400 is the inclusion of a table of “Medicinal Characters” on page 21, but such tables are regular, if not common in collections as we discovered during our first transcribathon around Rebecca Winche’s manuscript (Folger MS V.b.366).   What is unusual about this chart, even perhaps unique, is the inclusion of symbols not only for ounce and dram as seen elsewhere but also for common ingredients such as salt and water as well as some more precious, even alchemical, such as gold. Another aspect of the text, which may be a random secretarial flourish or may be related to the umlaut-ys in the Baker Project, is the use of a backward c above some of the vowels in the text.  We have decided to note these additions here but omit them from the transcriptions. 

So while this manuscript may seem to diverge from those pursued in previous transcribathons, this manuscript brings all together and in many ways pushes us forward.  After all, the fifth transcribathon is the first undertaken with Luna manuscripts available for searching, and the context that we have been working to develop is now available. The text is now searchable in the LUNA Folger Manuscripts Transcriptions Collection.


Anonymous.  Receipt BookFolger MS V.b.400.

Bradwell, Stephen.  Physick for the sicknesse, commonly called the plague. London, 1636.

Corlyon, Mrs. A booke of such medicines as have been approved by the speciall practize of          Mrs. Corlyon, ca. 1606Folger MS V.a. 388.

Grenville Family. Cookery and medicinal recipes of the Granville family [manuscript],  
      ca. 1640–ca. 1750. Folger MS V.a.430

Winch, Rebecca. Receipt book of Rebeckah Winche [manuscript], ca. 1666.
       Folger MS  V.b.366.


Original Contextual Materials composed by Rebecca Laroche, October 2019