February 28, 2011

A Defaced Herbal from 1710: William Salmon's Botanologia

A portrait of Salmon from the frontispiece
to his Ars Chirurgica (1699).
The image above is from a copy of William Salmon's Botanologia: The English Herbal, or History of Plants (London: I. Dawks for H. Rhodes and J. Taylor, 1710) which is available for view via Villanova University's digital library. Evidently the nudity of the figure (I suppose either the sun god Helios or Apollo) bothered an early owner of the book, since he or she appears to have obliterated the poor deity's rear quarters and genitalia with a quill pen. Conversely, perhaps someone had drawn something offensive onto the scratched-out area, and the ink was merely restoring modesty? Why is a man pouring a bucket of rain on the god from a cloud anyway?

It is all a bit of a mystery. And indeed, we know little more about the life of the man who wrote the book itself. William Salmon (1644-1713) numbered among the most successful medical practitioners of Restoration-era London but was largely forgotten after his death. Though he was much maligned as a quack doctor or 'mountebank' by eighteenth-century medical authorities, Salmon appears to have won considerable success as a self-proclaimed "Doctor of Physic," apothecary and author of popular treatises on everything from home surgery to figurative drawing, landscape painting and the science of hand gestures. Salmon's practice began in a tavern. Next, displaying a characteristic commercial shrewdness, the doctor rented space immediately opposite St. Bartholemew's Hospital in London and developed a medical practice that treated patients who were rejected from that institution. His specialty was drug mixtures and pills that featured a range of bizarre and exotic ingredients, the sort of thing that would later come to be called 'patent medicines.' (See my previous entry on early modern London's drug trade for some representative remedies, including a medicinal usage of 'Cranium Humanum,' i.e. human skull!).
The full frontispiece of Botanologia.
Little is known of Salmon's life. His Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by Phillip K. Wilson entry notes intriguingly,
"Contemporaries claimed that as a boy Salmon was apprenticed to a mountebank, whom he served as a ‘wachum’ or ‘zany’, and amused audiences by ‘tumbling through a hoop’ or with ‘tricks of legerdemain and slight of hand’; he also ‘made speeches and wrote Panygyricks in praise of his master's Panaceas. He wrote Almanacks to direct the taking of his medicines, and made the stars vouch for their virtue.’"
The same entry notes that "Salmon also created a cabinet of curiosities that included some items he brought back from his travels to the West Indies." Salmon himself referred in print to his travels "some years last past in the American World," noting modestly that he had "but lately returned home to perfect the whole System of Medical Learning." (See Allen Debus, ed. Medicine in Seventeenth Century England [Berkeley, 1974], 144). The nature and itinerary of these travels is still a bit of a mystery though, as far as I can tell.

I've been researching Salmon a bit recently and have noticed that he was a very prescient and effective advertiser. At least one of his books that I've consulted contains embedded advertisements for his medical practice and the 'Salmon's pills' for treatment of venereal disease available there, while a search of London newspapers circa 1660-1720 will turn up numerous notices such as the following, in The Flying Post (February 18-20, 1707):
I note in passing that this newspaper appears, most unusually, to have been published by a woman, one Ann Snowden, who resided "near Doctors-Commons."

For further reading see the discussion in Allan Debus, ed., Medicine in Seventeenth Century England (Berkeley, 1974), Craig Ashley Hanson's The English Virtuoso (Chicago, 2009).

Also worth checking out are "William Salmon, a 17th Century Renaissance Man," an essay on a rare books website by Bruce Tober that contains some interesting details I haven't seen elsewhere; and Phillip K. Wilson's Oxford Dictionary of National Biography piece, the authoritative account of his life. Caroline Rance's fabulous The Quack Doctor blog references and quotes Salmon here. Finally, Brent Elliot has written a very interesting and informative essay on the Botanologia here. I'm indebted to all of these authors for their work in uncovering the shadowy history of Salmon's interesting life.

February 22, 2011

Jahangir's Turkey: Early Modern Globalization and Exotic Animals [Updated Nov. 2017]

The above image is one of my favorite examples of the cross-pollinations that early modern globalization brought about. It is a detail from a lavish watercolor painting created in 1618 by Bichitr for the Mughal emperor Jahangir (1569-1627). Here we find the strange juxtaposition of King James of England alongside a self-portrait of the artist, Bichitr. He is holding a small panel that seems to also depict Bichitr as he bows deeply while surrounded by an elephant and fine horses, probably animals from Jahangir's imperial menagerie.

At left is an official royal portrait of King James that probably served as the basis for Bichitr's more colorful depiction (you can click the image to see a high-res version). I suspect that a copy of this painting was presented to the Mughal court during the 1615-1619 embassy of Sir Thomas Roe, one of the early English emissaries sent to establish trade relations in India, as an attempt to demonstrate the grandeur of the English state.

The Mughals, however, were decidedly unimpressed. This is amply illustrated by Bichitr's full painting (see below) which depicts Jahangir turning away from both James and the Shah of Persia in order to converse with a humble Sufi holy man.

What I find most interesting about this work, however, is the painting of animals that Bichitr is holding. Why are they there?

Another work, by the celebrated Mughal court painter Ustad Mansur, offers an even more intriguing depiction of an animal from Jahangir's court. Jahangir described this creature in the official chronicle of his reign, the Jahangirnama, as an "extremely strange" wonder. The turkey was offered as a mate to a peacock and the bird's exotic looks and behavior became an object of debate among Jahangir's advisors, who couldn't guess where it had come from.

Ustad Mansur. India, Mughul period, 1612 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London).

As you likely have guessed, this is none other than a turkey. A domestic turkey, or Meleagris gallopavo, to be exact – a bird domesticated in Pre-Columbian Mexico and widely distributed throughout the indigenous cultures of North America. Now this iconic New World fowl was sitting in the throne room of one of the most powerful emperors in Asia.

To lock gazes with the turkey as it peers out at us from a Mughal watercolor is to confront a mystery.

By what route did this “true original Native of America,” as Benjamin Franklin called it, happen to arrive in the most powerful imperial court in Asia? In fact, this encounter was not as strange as it may at first seem. Emperor Jahangir (when not on an opium or alcohol binge) was a keenly observant man with an intense interest in nature. He kept an extensive menagerie of exotic creatures and delighted in recording their behaviors in his journal.

It was at Jahangir’s bidding that Mansur produced over one hundred natural history paintings that rival the work of any painter of the European Renaissance.  Two years earlier Mansur had painted a Mauritian dodo that is still cited by biologists as the most accurate surviving representation of the bird. In other words, Jahangir was exactly who a canny merchant or courtier would go to if they came across a highly unusual-looking bird.

From Wikipedia: "Two live [dodo] specimens were brought to India in the 1600s according to Peter Mundy, and the specimen depicted might have been one of these. Other birds depicted are Loriculus galgulus (upper left) Tragopan melanocephalus (upper right), Anser indicus (lower left) Pterocles indicus (lower right)." Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
By the beginning of Jahangir’s reign (1605-1627), Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and English ocean-going vessels were plying the spoils of American nature throughout all the major emporia of the Old World, from Senegal to Japan. Although Jahangir regarded the Portuguese and other Europeans as a negligible presence in his domain, he was well aware that the people he called ‘Franks’ had access to trade networks that were closed off to his own subjects. Indeed, Jahangir’s sole reference to the Portuguese colony at Goa in his self-authored chronicle of his reign, the Jahangirnama, was to note that his turkey had been obtained along with several other exotic beasts by a servant sent to the “vice-rei” at “the port of Goa… to purchase any rarities he could get hold of there for the royal treasury.”

To Jahangir, the Portuguese were simply go-betweens. It was the American animal – and not the European merchant – that interested Jahangir and his court.   Nor was Jahangir the only Asian potentate to be fascinated by the exotic beasts carried by the Portuguese. I've written previously, for instance, about this fascinating Japanese nanban screen from the 16th century that depicts Portuguese creole traders selling animals from faraway lands in a Japanese market:

A detail showing a richly attired Portuguese trader with a shrewd-looking Indian or African monkey.
Jahangir's turkey was, ultimately, a harbinger of great changes. It had been carried to Jahangir's court in Agra by an underling Jahangir sent to purchase 'rarities' from the Portuguese. Although the Mughals were still secure in their power in this period, with Europeans serving as little more than petty traders in the periphery, times would change. By the reign of Jahangir's grandson Aurgangzeb (1658-1707), the British, French and Dutch had made serious territorial gains and were beginning to dominate trade in the Indian Ocean.

Many global trade networks in the early modern period tended to be based around exotica likes gems, drugs and animals, but these trades had very real effects. The appearance of strange objects from unknown lands (from tobacco to turkeys) was often the first harbinger of the epochal changes that brought the colonial powers of Europe into conflict with the vast 'gunpowder empires' of Asia.

The balance of world power was shifting. In its own humble way, Jahangir's turkey had something to do with it.

Further reading:
The history of animals is still a relatively new field, so I don't believe much has been written specifically on exotic creatures and early European empires. Three exceptions I can think of are Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots and The Emperor's Giraffe. Virginia DeJohn Anderson's Creatures of Empire is a very interesting and provocative study of the role of the more prosaic (but perhaps most important) domesticated animals in the service of British imperial expansion. Finally, the British Library's Asian and African Studies blog is a great place to start for those interested in the material cultures of premodern Asia.

Jahangir, The Jahangirnama, (Oxford University Press, 1999), Wheeler Thackston, ed. and trans., 133-4. Som Prakash Verma, Ustad Mansur: Mughal Painter of Flora and Fauna (Abhinav Publications, 1999).

February 20, 2011

Strange Creatures Intermixt with a Spaniard's Voyage to the Moone, 1700

Nathaniel Crouch (c. 1632 - after 1700) was an obscure but most interesting man: a London bookseller, he took the unusual step of authoring his own books on many subjects and publishing them under pseudonyms. Crouch's nom de plume of choice was "R.B." or "Richard Burton." As revealed by the research of Robert Mayer, Crouch attended meetings of the Royal Society and was regarded by contemporaries as an "ingenious man" despite his craftsman's trade and lowly birth as the son of a tailor. Although he has gone largely unstudied by modern scholars, the works of Crouch/Burton were prized by both Samuel Johnson and a young Benjamin Franklin, whose autobiography records his high regard for "Burton's books" (Mayer 393). Today I present some images I came across in a work that Crouch published under the name of R.B. entitled The English Acquisitions in Guinea and East-India (London, 1700). As the full title reveals, this was an expansive work which not only described the new colonial possessions of an expanding British Empire but also offered accounts of "Religion, Government, Trade, Marriages, Funerals, strange Customs, &c., Also the Birds, Beasts Serpents, Monsters and other strange Creatures found there. Intermixt with divers Accidents..."
The woodcut illustrations of English Acquisitions are quite compelling, as they center almost exclusively on depictions of "Monsters and other strange Creatures" that were reported by travelers in the Indian Ocean region and coastal Africa. I suspect that most or all were plagiarized from earlier accounts, a common practice of the era. Here are the images, intermixed with extracts from Crouch's accompanying text:
Creatures of "Guinea," or west Africa.
More beasts of Africa, accompanied in true early modern fashion by an extract from the Roman poet Lucan.
Crouch did not shy away from gory descriptions, and indeed these may have contributed to the popularity of his works. Here he is on the execution techniques of the "Great Mogul" of India:
 And the rather frightening accompanying illustration:
As I read this book I was surprised to find that the middle section was devoted to a description of a voyage to the moon via swans! After reading a bit I realized that this was a reprint from a remarkable work of early science fiction written in manuscript by the Elizabethan bishop Francis Godwin: the Man in the Moone, or a Discourse of a Voyage thither, by Domingo Gonsales (c. 1600). Here's the amazing illustration of the bird-powered contraption created by the ingenious Spaniard Gonsales:

This work is remarkable for the way in which it conflates the voyages of Columbus and otehr New World explorers with space travel. Godwin (and Crouch as well, it seems) reasoned that if 'Moderns' had been able to discover vast and previously unknown new lands across seas, then it stood to reason that similar wonders awaited those who traveled into the sky:
Here  'Gonsales' offers a bizarre description of outer space as imagined in early modern times. This land was apparently haunted by demons and "Wicked Spirits" who spoke Spanish, Dutch and Italian, as well as creatures that his Gansas (swans), could consume as food:
Strange stuff, and all the more interesting because Crouch chose to include it in a book lauding the expansion of the British empire. Was the moon next?

For more on the early modern astronaut Domingo Gonsales, read the original work: The Strange Voyage and Adventures of Domingo Gonsales, to the world in the Moone. For more on Nathaniel Crouch see Robert Mayer, "Nathaniel Crouch, Bookseller and Historian: Popular Historiography and Cultural Power in Late Seventeenth-Century England," in Eighteenth-Century Studies Vol. 27, No. 3 (Spring, 1994), pp. 391-419.

February 16, 2011

Some updates you may have missed

Over the past month I've been updating a few of my earlier posts on Res Obscura to reflect new information or add new links and images. Since these updates don't register as new posts, I thought I'd make a handy list:

• Poorly-written poems about nature by 17th century apothecary James Petiver. These poems are written on scraps of paper in the British Library's Sloane collection, a group of documents amassed by the antiquarian, physician and Royal Society president Sir Hans Sloane (that's his stern visage at left). The February 2011 update included more info on Sloane and some extra images. The poems themselves are worth a look. I like "Of the Pine Apple" myself: "Doe not yr Palates much provoke/ With this sweete Indian Artichoke..."
Pierre Pomet, druggist to Louis XIV, and his Compleat History of Druggs. This is one of the more interesting and best-illustrated guides to drugs and medicines produced in the eighteenth century. My favorite sections have to do with unicorn horns and the edible medicine made from Egyptian and Arabian mummies known as mumia (mummies from Yemen are apparently best for this). The January 2011 update added some new images and links to academic articles on the subject.

Witches and their familiar animals in 17th century Europe. This is a piece on witches' familiars inspired by an account in the witch-finder Mathew Hopkins' bizarre tract A Discovery of Witches (1647). Also includes a short account of the magical war-poodle that accompanied the English Civil War cavalier Prince Rupert of the Rhine into battle. This fearsome dog was finally felled by a "Valiant Souldier, who had skill in Necromancy." The February 2011 update added some new images and links.

February 15, 2011

Happy Lupercalia

Many of us in the western world celebrated (or lamented) Valentine's Day yesterday, that annual rite of socially-determined romance. You may have heard about this holiday's surprising connections to the ancient Roman holiday of Lupercalia. Yet how many know the details of how V Day began as a Bronze Age rite celebrating the primordial power of the wolf?
"Lycaon," 1589. Engraving by Hendrik Goltzius (1558-1617) for Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book I, 209 ff.
The story begins with the legend of King Lycaon ("The Wolfish One"). According to Ovid's Metamorphoses (translator A.S. Kline), Lycaon was a primitive lord of Arcadia in the earliest era in which humans walked the earth, "when the constellations that had been hidden for a long time in dark fog began to blaze out throughout the whole sky" (I: 68). Yet Lycaon was a king of the Iron Age, when "honour vanished" and "pernicious desires" reigned:
They set sails to the wind, though as yet the seamen had poor knowledge of their use, and the ships’ keels that once were trees standing amongst high mountains, now leaped through uncharted waves. The land that was once common to all, as the light of the sun is, and the air, was marked out to its furthest boundaries by wary surveyors. Not only did they demand the crops and the food the rich soil owed them, but they entered the bowels of the earth, and excavating brought up the wealth it had concealed in Stygian shade, wealth that incites men to crime... [I: 125-50]
Lycaon was among the worst of a bad lot. His infamous crime was to attempt to trick Zeus into eating the limbs of a dismembered child in order to test his omniscience. But Zeus was not fooled:
"No sooner were these [limbs] placed on the table than I brought the roof down on the household gods, with my avenging flames, those gods worthy of such a master. [Lycaon] himself ran in terror, and reaching the silent fields howled aloud, frustrated of speech. Foaming at the mouth, and greedy as ever for killing, he turned against the sheep, still delighting in blood. His clothes became bristling hair, his arms became legs. He was a wolf, but kept some vestige of his former shape. There were the same grey hairs, the same violent face, the same glittering eyes, the same savage image. One house has fallen, but others deserve to also. Wherever the earth extends the avenging furies rule. You would think men were sworn to crime! Let them all pay the penalty they deserve, and quickly. That is my intent." [I:210-243]
So how does this macabre tale connect to Valentine's Day? Mount Lykaion ("Wolf Mountain"), the mighty peak in Arcadia where King Lycaon was thought to have been transformed into a wolf, became the site of a secret ritual honoring the "Wolf-Zeus." According to Wikipedia, "The rituals and myths of this primitive rite of passage centered upon an ancient threat of cannibalism and the possibility of a werewolf transformation for the epheboi (adolescent males) who were the participants." Modern archeology has revealed that this mountain was a ritual site long before the name Zeus was even known in Greece: in 2008, it was announced that ritual activity dating from 3,000 B.C. was evident at the site.
A view from the ash-altar on Mount Lykaion, showing temple ruins.
The wolf-rites of Mount Lykaion appear to have been the direct inspiration for the more famous Roman holiday of Lupercalia. This festival, which spanned February 13-15, was a fertility rite intended to purify and protect the city of Rome. The rite centered around the Lupercal, which was supposedly the very cave in which the she-wolf had suckled Romulus and Remus, mythical founders of Rome (as depicted in the famous bronze statue of the 'Capitoline Wolf' below):
"Capitoline Wolf," bronze, approx. 13th century C.E., with figures added in 16th century C.E.
An Italian archeologist announced in 2007 that the remains of the Lupercal were believed to have been found directly beneath the ruins of the palace of the Emperor Augustus.
A 2007 photograph taken by an electronic probe of the lavishly decorated Roman chamber that may be the Lupercal grotto. Via National Geographic.
The priests of Lupercalia were the Luperci, or "Brothers of the Wolf," who Cicero described as "a wild association... both plainly pastoral and savage, whose rustic alliance was formed before civilization and laws" (Cael. 26). These priests were said to smear blood upon the foreheads of the noble youth of Rome and dress them in shaggy wolfskins. The youths were required to laugh, and seem to have gone into a sort of frenzy. The great historian Plutarch noted the connection with the Arcadian Wolf-Zeus ceremonies and added,
At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy. [Life of Caesar, 61]
A modern depiction of Lupercalia, author unknown to me (I found it here.)
Now, at last, we approach the reasons why a Bronze Age wolf-ritual was the direct ancestor of our modern commercialized holiday of love. By the fifth century C.E., the Roman Empire was beset by external foes and had become officially Christian. Lupercalia continued to be celebrated by the populace, but it increasingly became an object of concern from the Christian authorities. Pope Gelasius I (492-496) went so far as to write an epistle mocking and condemning the rites, and was ultimately responsible for their suppression on grounds of improper behavior.
14th century French codex depicting Bishop Valentine of Terni (BN, Codex: Français 185, Fol. 210).
Yet Gelasius was not truly ending the holiday -- only changing it. In 496, the last year of his reign, he announced a new feast day of the martyrs Valentine (two existed, a priest of Rome and a bishop of Terni, of whom virtually nothing certain is known). The date of this feast, February 14, would allow it to replace the pagan holiday of Lupercalia (February 13-15) he had recently denounced.

Valentine's feast day appears not to have acquired romantic overtones until the 13th or 14th centuries, but this is only based on evidence in written texts. Did the celebration of fertility of the Luperci and Lykaon survive among the common folk, later to be revived as a pseudo-Christian holiday of love? It is impossible to say with any certainty, but given what we know about the submerged survival of 'pagan' practices in Late Antiquity and medieval Christianity, it strikes me as probable.

So happy werewolf-day, everyone.

February 9, 2011

Photochroms of the 1890s

The Photochrom photographic process was developed in Zürich, Switzerland in the 1880s by the printing firm Orell Füssli (apparently still in business as a producer of "highly secure banknotes" and "identity documents" -- see link). The famous Detroit Publishing Company (née Detroit Photographic Company) purchased exclusive American rights to the process in 1897, which was highly prized prior to the advent of true color film owing to its ability to yield mass reproductions of tinted black and white photographs. Photochroms sold briskly throughout the 1890s. As you can see below, the most popular images were of exotic tourist destinations, crowded urban scenes and landscapes. Today, they fascinate because of the enormously high resolution of the photographic negatives, coupled with the color tinting of an era that we usually view in black and white. I recommend clicking on the photos to get a better of the enormous amount of detail these images contain.

The Photochrom process involved the transfer of black and white film negatives directly onto a series of lithographic plates, which were then inked with various colors matching the scene. Wikipedia provides some further technical info (perhaps more than you wanted to know). Below are some representative images from Wikimedia Commons and the Library of Congress Photochrom collection:
Mulberry Street in the Lower East Side of New York City, circa 1900.
Belgian milk peddlers, 1890s.
"Bedouin Chief of Palmyra," 1890s, from a photograph by Felix Bonfils.
Since these images are easily accesible on Wikimedia and Library of Congress sites I linked to above, I'll just restrict myself to pointing out a few neat details in larger photochroms:
A beautifully out of focus shot of two young men crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.
Tough-looking children and wagon-drivers in Mulberry Street.
A medieval-era town hall in Saxony - this almost feels like peering into a fifteenth-century city high street.
And my favorite photochrom of all, a wonderfully crisp and evocative portrait of an Irish weaver.
A sampling of more old fashioned, extremely hi-res photographs can be found on the photoblog Shorpy. I've also posted previously about an early color photographic technique that was used to document pre-Soviet Russia to great effect. More technical details on the photochrom process can be found here. Finally, the website of NYC's Museum of Modern Art has an interactive website devoted to explaining the workings of lithography, for those interested in how color images were made before the advent of color film.

February 4, 2011

Smokers and Drunkards in the Dutch Golden Age

I've recently been amassing an image library of paintings by the likes of Frans Hals, Adrian Brouwer, Gerrit Dou, Gabriel Metsu and Jan Steen -- Dutch painters who were contemporaries of Rembrandt and Vermeer and, though less well known, were in my view almost as good. I suspect that Vermeer's popularity has given us a somewhat distorted view of everyday life in the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic (which peaked from the 1620s to 1670s), which, one would gather from his great works, was a place of serene repose at the writing desk and quiet contemplation alongside leaded windows. Yet the works by the artists I've mentioned above tell a different story: one of drunken tobacco-smoking in crowded pubs. Since the Dutch were, after all, famous among their British, French and Iberian contemporaries (and rivals) for their paired addictions to liquor and smoking, I suspect that this latter impression gives a more accurate view of the exuberant, wealthy and self-indulgent era when the Dutch Republic controlled world trade. Below I've cropped some images of the Hollanders enjoying their drugs of choice:
A family enjoying a feast day with a number of spiritous liquors. The corked bottle on the left may well be gin, which was invented by the Dutch in the 17th century. From: Jan Steen, ‘The way you hear it, is the way you sing it’.  (detail). ca. 1665 Oil on canvas. 134 × 163 cm (52.76 × 64.17 in). The Hague, Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis.
Detail from another work by Jan Steen, Argument over a Card Game. Oil on canvas, 90 x 119 cm Staatliche Museen, Berlin
A lower social order enjoying the same vices: Adriaen van Ostade's Carousing peasants in a tavern. c. 1635, Munich.
What has really struck me from looking closely at these paintings of partying Hollanders is the frequency with which very young children are shown smoking tobacco. Evidently it was thought to be perfectly fine for a child as young as 6 or 8 to be given a pipe to smoke on special occasions! See below:

Detail from Jan Steen's The Happy Family. Would any Dutch-speakers care to translate the inscription above the smoking girl? Something about pipes, I gather.
Another detail of a smoking child from the same work.

It would appear that children were allowed to drink as well (although this doesn't surprise me nearly as much):
Detail from Jan Steen's Katzenfamille ("cat family"?). Note the kittens in the upper right corner!
Finally, here are some images of other drugs that may have been available to consumers in the Dutch Republic via apothecary shops and quack doctors or druggists. (My own research suggests that exotica such as cannabis, opium and datura were widely available in the Indian Ocean trade emporia that the Dutch dominated in this period, and quite possibly were consumed in the domestic Netherlands by those who had grown bored with pipes, cakes and ale). These first two details depict quack doctors with medicines, both by the great Jan Steen:

Finally, Adriaen Brauwer's famous painting The Bitter Draught, apparently depicting a man imbibing an odd-tasting medicinal drug.