“A medicine to Clarifye the Eyesighte.”

By Monterey Hall

In my previous post, I discussed Mistress Vernam and her contribution to Lady Frances Catchmay’s Booke of Medicins (https://f.hypotheses.org/879).  I had run across a single possible match for Mistress Vernam in the genealogical database Ancestry.com: the search pointed to Jess Cox, a woman who was married to John Vernam in Hardwicke, Gloucestershire in 1613 (Ancestry.com).  Despite this find, however, I was hardly closer to discovering her connection to either Lady Catchmay or seventeenth-century medical practice.

I used the result from Ancestry.com to try and locate Mistress Vernam in other contemporaneous medical books.  Unfortunately, her lack of genealogical records makes Jess Vernam’s possible medical connections difficult to pinpoint.  There are quite a few references to various doctors named “Cox” in several early modern databases; but without a record of Jess’s birth, there is no way to know if these doctors were related to her.  Rather than continuing to search for Mistress Vernam by her name, I decided to look for her through her recipes.

At the present moment, searching for recipes across texts is a messy and imperfect process due in part to the fact that we as a scholarly community are still in the earlier stages of transcribing and coding these early modern books.  As this process comes closer to completion, it will be much easier to search through them in a thorough and efficient manner.  What the Wellcome Library has transcribed into their database thus far, however, is absolutely invaluable: I was able to look for Mistress Vernam’s recipes via their titles by breaking each title into its keywords and searching for their variant spellings.

My search revealed a link between the penultimate recipe within Mistress Vernam’s medicines and a recipe in MS 373.  Mistress Vernam’s “A medicine to Clarifye the Eyesighte” instructs to “Take the gaules of swine, of an eele, & of a cocke, temper them well together with honney & fayre water & keape it in a cleane glasse, for your vsse: when you haue neade annoynte the eyes therwith” (MS184a/34)

Wellcome MS 184A/34.

Wellcome MS 184A/34.

MS 373/121 contains a nearly identical recipe called “To Clarifie the Sight”:

Wellcome MS 373/121.

Wellcome MS 373/121.

MS 373 belonged to and was written by Jane Jackson in 1642 (MS 373), meaning that it was compiled almost twenty years after Lady Catchmay’s Booke of Medicins.  Unfortunately Jackson does not give any attribution for this recipe, nor does the book contain any of Mistress Vernam’s other medicines.  Still, this find suggests one possible connection between Mistress Vernam and the wider medical community.  With this new insight, the next step would be to find out who Jane Jackson was and whether or not she was connected to Lady Catchmay and Mistress Vernam.  And if she was not, then what might Jackson and Vernam’s common source have been?

This line of inquiry is outside the scope of this post, although it is certainly one that should be pursued at some point in the future.  For now, I will leave you with this: it is likely that I missed several matches for Mistress Vernam’s recipes and thus I likely also missed several connections.  Although I only found two iterations of the above recipe in my own searches, it is quite possible that versions of “A medicine to Clarifye the Eyesighte” appear in other manuscripts beyond the two mentioned here.  I encourage my fellow scholars to look for this recipe elsewhere so that we can discover more connections between Mistress Vernam and the medical community.

As evidenced by the two recipes above, titles can vary between sister recipes both in terms of spelling and phrasing; it is simply not possible for a single person to account for every variation.  A much more detailed method of search would look not only for titles, but also for ingredients.  Searching for uncommon ingredients would help scholars to find connections between medical texts, their authors, and their contributors.  This type of search will not be possible for several years yet.  When it is possible, it will be a powerful tool for piecing together an accurate picture of the vast early modern medical community.  Searching for recipes in addition to names will allow us to see connections and relationships within the medical community that might not have been apparent otherwise.  And it will hopefully some day allow us to find out the true identity of the mysterious Mistress Vernam.

Monterey Hall, is an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and is a student of Rebecca Laroche.

Works Cited

Ancestry.com. Ancestry, 2015. Web. 10 Dec 2015.

Catchmay, Lady Frances. A Booke of Medicins, preserues and Cookerye. 1625. Wellcome Library MS 184a. Web. 2 Nov 2015

Jackson, Jane. Booke of Medical Receipts. 1642. Wellcome Library MS 373. Web. 16 Dec 2015.

Monterey Hall is a student at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She worked with Professor Rebecca Laroche in an independent study on the Catchmay Manuscript in Fall 2015.