When in Rome...

Ok, I have to make a confession...

You've been reading some incredible guest posts from my history of medicine students. And while you've been doing that, I've been in Rome. Roma.

I was doing detective work on a few of the Italian surgeons who make an appearance in my next book. And, I'd better come clean on this one too: I brought my husband and daughter with me. Hey, with all of the amazing trattorie, I needed some dinner company! We explored the city together over the weekend and made some amazing memories. More on that another time.

I spent the bulk of my days in the Biblioteca Casanatensa.
The library was founded by Cardinal Girolamo Casanate in the late 17th century, with the purpose of serving public readers. However, the soaring ceilings,the detailed frescos, and wealth of the collections do make me wonder just who would have had access to this magnificent library.

Now, I'm no newbie to pouring over old--very old--books. I'm actually something of a junkie in that regard. But there is something so humbling about being cloistered away in reading rooms that are older than the 350 year-old books. Each book has its own story, each folio its own identity.

This time around, I was focusing on pamphlets published in the 1660s. These publications were ephemeral and usually circulated unbound, something like a newspaper. Readers would collect a group of about 15 pamphlets or so and then eventually have them bound in vellum. So, it's not unusual to find a hodgepodge of texts in these "vol. misc.": illustrations and descriptions of Roman emperors, debates on the eucharist, and then a random treatise on whether dogs can get kidney stones. (The verdict: they can.)

Some pamphlets look like they had never been opened; their pages creaked and crackled as I opened them delicately. Others looked like they had been soaked in dirty water and were as soft as flannel bedsheets.

Each text represented something of a victory. To get access to the early printed books, you have to pass the inquisition. In some libraries, it is a grueling process that requires documents of all sorts. In my early years at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, I had to present a letter signed by the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin. It was full of flowery French prose accompanied by a seal and ribbon. In recent years, they've either relaxed things a bit--or I just seem more trustworthy and knowledgeable now. (Or, ok, I'll admit it...maybe it's because I look about, well, about 15 years older than I did back then.) Either way, you have to be prepared to make a convincing case about why you should be allowed access to their bibliographical sanctum.

I've worked at libraries in Paris, London, Dublin, and many places in between. But this is the first time I've had to do things in Italian. Believe me, I was sweating bullets when I was brought to the office of the head librarian. She looked at me with her steely eyes over the top of her glasses, perched on her nose. She examined the texts that I had requested. She breathed deeply and with sadness as she noted a loose folio--and then looked me over to be sure that I meant her baby no further harm. She asked in staccato what my research was about and why I wanted to look at these texts in particular. Never did I have a harder time finding the words I wanted. And for those of you who know me well, this doesn't happen often!

Now, this probably had something to do with the fact that--yes--all of this was in Italian. I can read Italian no problem. Undergraduate studies and my grad reading exams help with that. But speaking? Not on your life!

Somehow I passed the test. I was even granted a reader card for manuscripts. Now that's a badge of honor for a real academic. But I do have to say that I was less than thrilled by the, err, affectionate goodbye that one of the guards tried to give me as I was leaving the library. Maybe I made some horrific error as I was muttering semi-comprehensible things in Italian?

Old books are a heck of a lot easier to deal with than men!

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Once Upon a Time...

by Sandra Beckett

“Little Red Riding Hood” is the world’s most popular fairy tale and a childhood favorite, but it was once a ribald, grisly tale, whose bawdy tone and course language is not the stuff of nursery tales.

In oral versions of the tale, such as “The Story of Grandmother,” a young girl, with no distinctive red cap or hood, generally meets a bzou" or werewolf en route to Granny’s. He poses a seemingly nonsensical question, asking the girl if she is taking the path of needles or the path of pins. It is now widely believed that the path of pins symbolizes a girl’s coming of age, while the path of needles implies sexual maturity, as threading the eye of a needle was a sexual symbol in the folklore of seamstresses. By choosing the path of needles, as the heroine does in some variants, the young girl appears to assume prematurely the sexuality of an older woman.

At the grandmother’s, the wolf offers the little girl the flesh and blood of the old lady, in a cannibalistic meal that becomes a rite of passage in this initiation tale. In many versions, an animal calls the girl a “slut” for her cannibalistic act. Whereas the wolf devours the grandmother raw, the girl generally eats her cooked. Sometimes the little girl drinks the blood as wine, but often it is added to the cut-up meat to create a grandmother fricassee.

The meal is followed by a lengthy, ritualistic striptease, in which the little girl removes her clothing one item at a time and throws them into the fire, before climbing into bed with the wolf. A more risqué climactic dialogue begins with the girl asking about the wolf’s hairy body, to which the wolf sometimes replies: “It’s from old age.” The confusion of granny with the wolf is explained by equating the postmenopausal woman with a hairy male.

Realizing her danger, the girl tricks the wolf by pretending she has to go outside to relieve herself, a scatological scene that has numerous variations. The wolf often ties a woolen thread to the girl’s foot, and when she doesn’t return, he asks her repeatedly if she is “making a load”. Unlike her helpless successors in the classic Perrault and Grimms’ tales, the heroine generally escapes by running away, seeking help, or courageously confronting the wolf.

Sandra L. Beckett is the author of numerous books including Recycling Red Riding Hood For All Ages: A Fairy-Tale Icon in Cross-Cultural Contexts (just out), Recycling Red Riding Hood, and Crossover Fiction: Global and Historical Perspectives (also just out).

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Syphilis in Early Modern Europe

by Jamie Whittenberg (Vanderbilt University)

Syphilis, a highly infectious sexually transmitted disease, sparked fear among the early Europeans. And for good reason.

Syphilis has three stages, the last being deadly and untreatable if advanced enough. First recognized as an outbreak in 1494 in Naples among the French mercenary troops, it quickly spread to all parts of Europe. Faced with such a contagious and disfiguring disease, the early Europeans quickly blamed one another or attributed it to external forces such as interspecies sex, the planets, or witchcraft (1).

Often, the men were most often depicted as victims of syphilis. The course of the disease: a woman, the carrier of death. The case of Bellina Loredana exemplifies this attitude. She was accused of inflicting the disease on a prostitute through witchcraft, until she was (partly) exonerated due to the prostitute's obviously promiscuous behavior. Still, the idea that women spread the disease by seducing men was prevalent (2).

As the disease spread, early modern Europeans began to turn to more naturalistic causes for syphilis. This evolved into two theories: Pre-Columbian and Post-Columbian. The former operated on the belief that syphilis was always present in Europe, possibly misdiagnosed as leprosy. Although the surge may have been noticed after contact with the New World, this theory states that it is just a coincidence. The Post-Columbian theory suggests that syphilis was a disease brought over from the Indians and that no European country was to blame, no matter how much they bickered among each other (1).

No consensus was reached on who was correct in this matter. Many seemed to offer contradictory views on the subject, such as John Smith. He at once called syphilis the "French pockes" as well as the "Indian disease" within one sentence. Both theories are present in his statement. Even looking retrospectively, bio-archaeologists have found it impossible to determine which theory is correct. They studied for syphilitic lesions on the bones in pre-contact Europe and America (1). Although they did find evidence of syphilis in early America, it does not have the characteristic dental pathology that is typical with syphilis. Therefore, it is still undetermined to this day whether syphilis came over from the New World, or if syphilis exploded into a potent form during the siege in Naples in 1494 (1).

Image: Gilman, Sander L. "AIDS and Syphilis: The Iconography of Disease." October (1987): (43) 87-107.

(1) Qualitiere, Louis F. & William Slights. "Contagion and Blame in Early Modern England: The Case of the French Pox." Literature and Medicine (2003): (22) 1, 1-24.

(2) McGough, Laura J. "Demons, Nature, or God? Witchcraft Accusations and the French Disease in Early Modern Venice." Bulletin of the History of Medicine (2006): (80) 2, 219-246.

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Book of the Week: Recycling Red Riding Hood

Our book this week is on a subject near and dear to my heart: the history of early fairy tales.
My first book was on the childbirth and the fairy tale (
Pregnant Fictions), and I've actually taught a semester-long course on tales several times. It's a lot of fun--but students are always so surprised how complicated the tales are, and how intense the course is.

Recycling Red Riding Hood for All Ages: A Fairy-Tale Icon in Cross-Cultural Contexts is a beautiful book, with eye-popping illustrations. By way of disclosure, I had a chance at an early copy of the book because I sit on the editorial board for the series. It's a great gig to have!

Here's some book jacket prose for you:

Red Riding Hood for All Ages
investigates the modern recasting of one of the world’s most beloved and frequently told tales. Author Sandra L. Beckett examines an international selection of contemporary fiction for children, adolescents, and adults to find a wide range of narrative and interpretive perspectives in the tale and its revisions. Beckett shows how authors and illustrators from around the globe have renewed the age-old tale in a range of multilayered, sophisticated, and complex textual and visual Red Riding Hood narratives.

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The Chamberlen Family Secret

by Lani Goodman (Vanderbilt University)

In the 17th century, forceps were a new tool in obstetrics that were, interestingly enough, kept a secret for over 100 years by the Chamberlens, who invented them.

There were eight Chamberlen men, divided into five generations. Some speculate that William Chamberlen (first generation) was the family member to first develop the forceps during his stay in Amsterdam, while others consider his son, Peter Chamberlen II, to be the inventor. In either case, all following members of the Chamberlen family practiced obstetrics, attended to the Royal Family of England, and used their secret instruments in cases of difficult deliveries.

The forceps were revolutionary instruments in that they significantly reduced the mortality rate for women and their fetuses in difficult deliveries by changing the position of the fetus in the uterus, making the delivery safer and easier. Before the invention of forceps, difficult deliveries generally ended with an abortion of the baby, or the death of both mother and fetus. In very rare cases, Caesarian-sections were performed, which typically meant death for the mother.

In order to preserve their secret, the Chamberlens adopted a very particular method of delivering babies. They would arrive with a beautifully carved, extremely heavy wooden box that encased the secret instruments. Once entering the patient’s room, the Chamberlen would ask that everyone leave, so that only he and the pregnant mother were left. He then blindfolded her, and she would remain blindfolded throughout the delivery to guarantee she would never see the forceps. After delivering the baby, he would clean the instruments, replace them in the box, and only then could family and friends enter the room to see the baby.

It is unknown exactly which of the Chamberlens was the first to leak the family secret, but it is generally thought to be a member of either the fourth or fifth generation. Another theory is that one of the craftsmen who constructed the forceps for the family was the person to let the secret out.

Prioleau, William H. "The Chamberlen Family and the Introduction of Obstetrical Instruments." Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain & Ireland 27.5 (2002): 705-714.

Rushen, Joyce. "The Secret 'Iron Tongs' of Midwifery." Historian (1991): 12-14.

Dunn, P. M. "The Chamberlen Family (1560-1728) and Obstetric Forceps." Archives of Disease in Childhood : the Journal of the British Paediatric Association : Fetal and Neonatal Edition. 81.3 (1999): F232-F234.

Richardson, Ruth. "Chamberlen's Forceps." From the medical museum. Lancet 358.9289 (2001): 1279.

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To the Moon!

by Matthew Goodman (guest post)

In the early decades of the nineteenth century, most astronomers believed that intelligent life existed throughout the universe. The basis for this notion was less scientific than theological in nature: that God would not have created distant worlds without also placing intelligent beings there to appreciate them.

Given the widespread belief in extraterrestrial life, it was inevitable that a certain amount of attention would be devoted to imagining what such far-flung creatures might look like. According to one supposition of the time, inhabitants of planets such as Saturn and Jupiter might have eyes with enlarged pupils and highly sensitive retinas, to compensate for the reduced light from the sun. Asteroids, with their low gravitational forces, might be the home of giants (a notion contributed by the eminent British astronomer Sir John Herschel. The Scottish astronomical writer Thomas Dick suggested that creatures living on comets might have eyes with the power of telescopes, and--owing to their ceaseless travels through the universe--could well turn out to be a race of astronomers.

Still, as these questions were (at least for the moment) unanswerable, the astronomers of the time tended to fall back on the useful axiom that God would adapt his creatures to the conditions in which they had been placed. "Is it necessary that an immortal soul should be united to a skeleton of bone, or imprisoned in a cage of cartilage and of skin?" asked Sir David Brewster. "Must it see with two eyes, and hear with two ears, and touch with ten figers, and rest on a duality of limbs? May it not reside in a Polyphemus with one eyeball, or in an Argus with a hundred? May it not goven in the giant forms of the Titans, and direct the hundred hands of Briareus?".

"Of such speculations," noted John Herschel, sensibly enough, "there is no end."

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Colonial Midwifery

by Heather Whaley (Vanderbilt University)

Colonial Midwifery began with the Mayflower's journey in 1620. Bridget Lee Fuller delivered three babies during the two months long voyage and continued practice as a midwife in Plymouth for 44 years until her death in 1664. In addition, it is documented that one birth took place aboard the Arabella by a midwife that was brought on board from the Jewel. (1)

Among the many women pioneers in Colonial Midwifery a handful stand out. Anne Hutchinson was both a pioneer in civil liberty and religious toleration and a well respected midwife. One of her students, Jane Hawkins, delivered a "monster" baby and was suspected to worship the devil and practice witchcraft. Jane was later exiled along with Anne who was ultimately massacred by Native Americans. (2)

Many less known midwives were highly respected by their communities and their services were greatly appreciated. Ann Eliot was not known for anything new or controversial; however, she birthed over 3,000 children and garnered the respect of her community resulting in eight families making her the executor to their estates as they felt so indebted to her. Her epitaph reads "be ye blessing of God,…brought into this world above three thousand children." (3)

The first to employ a town midwife was New Amsterdam in 1660. The midwife was paid 100 guilders per year for attending the poor. In the south, plantations usually had a slave that acted as a midwife to both black and white mothers. As time went on, in the south, the majority of midwives were black. The further north, the more white midwives there were serving both the upper and lower classes. If she was a paid community employee she was given a house but could not refuse to help anyone who called upon her. (1)

Many of the midwives in early America acted under the supervision of Protestant bishops. This was considered important with the high infant mortality rate of over 50% in order to baptize the infant before its passing. Complications with childbirth were quite common and survival with some was rare. Puerperal fever was the most common, and became increasingly common as men entered into Obstetrics. This was because men employed more interventions and vaginal exams. In a time before the germ theory this was the cause of great infection. In the 18th century the only relationship that was made was that hemorrhage led to the Childbed fever. This was in fact happening as materials that were not clean were used to stop the bleeding. Another common complication, "milk leg," was swelling in the leg of the mother that happened on the third of fourth day and was thought to be caused by "bad" milk coming in; as women were confined to bed for up to weeks after their birth they were actually developing clots in the legs that caused them to swell.

Going into the 19th century, midwifery was dominated by men in America. In the late 18th century William Shippen established the first lying-in hospital in America in Philadelphia. He also participated in the founding of the University of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine, becoming their first professor of anatomy, surgery and midwifery, quite a mix!

The beginning of formal instruction geared towards men led to the swift demise of women in midwifery and the dawning of a more scientific era in healthcare. (4)

Image: John Ashton, Chap-books of the Eighteenth Century (1882). Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

1 Chaney, Judith A. "Birthing in Early America". Journal of Nurse-Midwifery March/April 1980: 25(2) p. 5-13.

2 Litoff, Judy B. American Midwives. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1978

3 Packard, Francis. History of Medicine in the United States. New York: 1931.

4 Donegan, J. Women & Men Midwives. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1978.

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Book of the Week: Sun and the Moon

This week's featured read is Matthew Goodman's The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York.

The book received a nice review in the LA Times this weekend. "Goodman's book," writes Jim Ruland, "is more than the story of a good leg-pull. He explains not only the details of the hoax, but also the circumstances that made it possible."

We'll have a guest post from Matthew on Thursday. In the meantime, be sure to sign up for this week's drawing for a chance at an autographed copy of The Sun and the Moon.

To enter, just click HERE.
Deadline: Saturday, November 22 at Midnight [CST]. Winner will be announced on December 1.

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Childbirth Mortality Rates

This was a guest column that I did over at Catherine Delors' Versailles and More. Just in case you didn't see it, I'll boldly repost.

Early-modern obstetrical manuals contained a detailed inventory of the many things that could go wrong in the birth room. And for good reason. It is estimated that one of ten women could expect to die from childbirth related causes in the Old Regime. A married women would become pregnant, on average, five or six times.Given that up to 10% of the labors were fatal, this means a woman had a 50% to 60% chance of dying during her reproductive life.

Of course, these are estimates. It is very hard to estimate death rates with precision because fertility and mortality were variable across regions and socioeconomic groups. The statistics I cite here are from Jacques Gélis et al., Entrer dans la vie: Naissances et enfances dans la France traditionnelle (95). If you’re interested in knowing more, you might take a peek at Dobie and Wilmott’s An Attempt to Estimate the True Rate of Maternal Mortality, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries. Medical History 26.1 (1982): 79-90.

Another favorite of mine is by Lianne McTavish, Childbirth and the Display of Authority in Early Modern France.

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Makeup Tips for Ancient Egyptian Gals

Guest Post by Michelle Moran

We tend to think of cosmetics as feminine perks of the modern life. Women treasure their favorite lipstick colors like gold, protect their skin with anti-aging creams, and spend countless hours in front of the mirror getting their eyeliner just right.

It surprises many people to know that ancient Egyptian women were just as fanatical about their cosmetics. Take a look at the portraits of ancient Egypt and you would be hard-pressed to find a woman (or a man) whose eyes aren't perfectly lined with kohl, whose lips aren't perfectly painted with ochre, or whose long tresses aren't protected from the harsh desert sun by wigs.

A wealthy woman's typical beauty regiment might begin with her waking in the morning and applying incense pellets to her underarms as a form of deodorant. Then, she might sit herself in front of a "mirror" (which was really polished bronze), and call for her servant to bring applets and grinders necessary for applying her daily makeup. Once the pallet was brought, she would watch her servant mix malachite with an oil derived from animal fat to create a eye-shadow. She would close her eyes as her servant applied the green power with sweeps of a small ivory stick carved on one end to look like the goddess Hathor. Then, when the eye-shadow was finished, the lady of the house would sit perfectly still while her servant lined her eyes with black kohl.

While these applications resulted in the beautification of the wearer, they had practical purposes as well. When applied above and beneath the eye, kohl served to protect the eyes from the intense glare of the sun. In fact, the Egyptian word for makeup palette appears to have been taken from their word to protect, which may reference kohl's usefulness outdoors, or may even refer to the belief that outlining the eyes protected the wearer from the dreaded Evil Eye.

Once the lady of the house had on her protective kohl, she might then decide to use red ochre on her lips or dab her wrists and breasts with perfume. Having completed all of this, the lady would then dress for the occasion.

Michelle Moran is author of The Heretic Queen (which is just out!), Nefertiti, and Cleopatra's Daughter (release, 2009).

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Girls will be...boys?

Well, this one will certainly test the sensibilities of our gentle Wonders and Marvels readership! Remember: It's important to look history straight in the eye.

Or in this case, the private parts.

From Antiquity and well into the late eighteenth century, humoralist modes of anderstanding dominated medical practice and anatomical theory.
Humoralism was associated with Galen, a second-century ACE Greek physician who lived in Rome. His work was substantially influenced by his predecessor Hippocrates.

Galen held that the body was governed by a system of fluids, of "humors": blood, phlegm, yellow bile, black bile. Each body had a "complexion" that was specific to the individual--and reflected a greater tendency toward one of the four humors. Men had a humoral complexion that tended toward "hot and dry." Women considered humorally "cold and wet." They were also seen as defective version of a more perfect male body.

Because a man’s body was hotter, his reproductive organs stayed more comfortably outside his body. Colder, female reproductive organs were instead tucked inside the body to maintain warmth. The vagina was therefore often represented an inverted penis and the ovaries as "female testicles" or "stones" in early medical illustrations.

For more on humoralism and the facts of life, be sure to head over to this post.

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Thomas Laqueur wrote the seminal work (I couldn't resist) on the One-Sex Model: Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud.

But academics love a good fight. And the reception of Laqueur's book started one of the best professorial boxing matches around about whether the one-sex model was as dominant as Laqueur claimed. So be sure to take a look at these:

Michael Stolberg, "A Woman Down to Her Bones: The Anatomy of Sexual Difference in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries." Isis 94 (2003): 274-299.

Winfried Schleiner, "Early Modern Controversies about the One-Sex Model Renaissance Quarterly 53 (2000): 180-191.

And Laqueur's response...
"Sex in the Flesh." Isis 94 (2003): 300-306.

Image: Andreas Vesalius, De Humani corporis fabrica, 1543 (courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London).

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Book of the Week: The Heretic Queen

It's my treat to profile Michelle Moran's books this week. Michelle is author of The Heretic Queen and Nefertiti.

She has a guest post for us this Thursday on Kohl Pots and early Egyptian makeup. Something no self respecting Queen (or Pharaoh) should be without!

Michelle's author website is a delight for the eyes and candy for the curious. Her Q&A on The Heretic Queen is great. It is clear that she is very thoughtful about finding a knowledgeable balance between historical fact and narrative fiction.

It's not early Europe, nor is it early medicine...but Michelle Moran's work is among those wonders and marvels that we love to profile here!

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On Marvels and...Mustaches

They say that there is a person out there for everyone, you just have to know where to look. Well, we might also say that there is a blog out there for everyone.

Interested in mustaches from the 19th century? Passionate about facial hair? This blog's for you: Mustaches of the Nineteenth Century.

Now for an early-modern contribution to hirsutism...I was tempted to post the most endearing mustachioed image of Moliere by Charles-Antoine Coypel.

But I'll offer up instead Valentin Conrard. He may not be as well-known as our Moliere. However, he and his facial hair were legendary in seventeenth-century French theater. Conrard was Perpetual Secretary of the Comedie Francaise from its beginnings in 1634 until 1675. All official business of the country's most important theater passed through his meticulous hands. Oh the things he saw!

Many thanks to Early Modern Notes for the hairs, heads up.

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Through the Looking Glass

If the 17th century is notable for the huge leaps that were made in optics, it is mostly because the art of lens griding improved dramatically between 1610 and 1660. Until this happened, telescopes were used mostly for terrestrial purposes: for naval exploration and spying. Astronomers like the Dutchman Christiaan Huygens was persistent and outspoken in his quest for the perfectly crafted lens. During a trip to England in 1661, Huygens was so determined to perfect his telescopes that he skipped the event of the year--the coronation of Charles II--in order to spend the day in the workshop of John Reeves, a top telescope maker.

With improvements in lens quality, telescopes got much longer and much more effective. Between 1645-1650, a "good" telescope measured 6-8 feet. By 1660, they had grown to about 25 feet. And 1670, upwards of 40 t0 50 feet.

For great overview of the history of early telescopes, see: Albert Van Helden, "The Telescope in the Seventeenth Century."
Isis (1974): 38-58. Older, but very informative.

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Veuve Clicquot 1893: This One’s Really Vintage

Guest post by Tilar Mazzio
The BBC reported this summer that the owner of a castle in Scotland discovered a bottle of unopened 1893 Veuve Clicquot champagne, the oldest known to exist. The lucky laird gave the bottle to the champagne house, where it is now on display as part of their historical exhibit.

And since much of the value in this special bottle is the fact that it was preserved unopened, chances are slim that this bubbly will ever find its way to a glass. But if it were poured, what would nineteenth-century champagne look and taste like?
Veuve Clicquot champagne started using its trademark yellow label sometime in the mid-1860s, and, since it was used exclusively in the beginning to advertise a drier style of champagne to the English market, chances are the wine in this newly discovered bottle is brut champagne.

The term is a bit relative. Today, brut champagne is a dry wine. But, in the nineteenth century, folks drank their bubbly cold and sweet. An average bottle of champagne for the Russian market, for example, had as much as 300 grams of residual sugar—which is about twice what we find today in sweet dessert wines.

And since champagne then was almost always a dessert wine and not an aperitif, that makes sense. Most champagne at the time was made in the style known as blanc de noirs—a white wine make with a mixture of red and wine grapes. But, in fact, calling this bottle a white wine is probably something of a misnomer. Imbibers expected their champagne to have a rosy tinge, something a quick trip to the Oxford English Dictionary will confirm.

There are early records showing that bubbly was often served as something resembling frozen slush, with that same viscosity that comes after a good bottle of vodka has been sitting the freezer for weeks. So we’d try it cold, something that’s not ideal for bubbles, of course. On the other hand, champagne then didn’t have the same sort of aggressive bubbles we find today in commercially produced sparkling wine either. The quality of the glassware wasn’t strong enough to withstand the intense pressure created by strongly carbonated wines.

We’d probably serve it in those shallow champagne goblets known as coupes and modeled, or so the legend goes, on the much-admired breasts of Madame de Pompadour. Until the Widow Clicquot discovered remuage—a system for efficiently clearing champagne of the yeasty debris that is a by-product of those bubbles—sparkling wine was often served in small, opaque V-shaped pilsner glasses, meant to disguise the floating sediment. By the middle of the century, champagne was reliably clear, and, although flutes existed, the preference was for coupes well into the mid-twentieth century.

Even if someone opens this newly discovered rarity, we won’t be among the lucky few to taste a drop. But what good historian doesn’t want to imagine this kind of first-hand research?

Tilar J. Mazzeo is the author of The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It (HarperCollins 2008) and the forthcoming travel guide to The Back-Lane Wineries of Sonoma (The Little Bookroom / Random House 2009). She teaches English at Colby College.

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The Eyes Have It

There was no such thing as a optometrist in early Europe. Spectacles were invented late in the thirteenth century. But the study of optics and lenses as a formal field, did not happen until after the 17th century.

Glasses did not have side pieces to clip around the nose as they do now. Instead, spectacles balanced--teetered really--on the nose.

Interestingly, it's hard to find references to the use of lenses to correct near- or farsightedness until about 1604. And this is only in passing, a brief mention by Kepler. So I'd be curious to know more about just how effective vision correction was between the thirteen and eighteenth centuries. When I find out something, I'll let you know!

For more on glassmaking, glasses, and telescopes in the seventeenth century, see Albert Van Helden, "The Telescope in the Seventeenth Century." Isis, 1974: 38-58.

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Image: 16th Century Spectacle Maker's Catalogue, German

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Book of the Week: The Widow Clicquot

I am delighted to announce our book of the week --The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It
by Tilar Mazzio. It's a fascinating read that situates the history of champagne-making in the context of the Napoleonic Wars. How did a newly widowed woman bring champagne to the courts of France, Britain, and Russia during a time of political and economic upheaval?

It's a fabulous book; I had a chance to read it while it was still in galleys. And I'm not surprised that Amazon has included it among its best books for October.

We'll have a guest post from Tilar on Thursday. In the meantime, be sure to sign up for this week's drawing for a chance at an autographed copy of The Widow Clicquot.

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Of Bloodletting and Birthdays

While Monday's are normally reserved for the Book of the Week, I'll break tradition in order to call the Wonders and Marvels group to order for a birthday party. Mine!

I won't divulge my age, but I will mention that a birthday on November 3 makes me a Scorpio.

And because this blog is about the history of medicine and not me, I'll use this opportunity to transition into a discussion of bloodletting. How's that for a fluid transition?

Astrology and astronomy were not two separate fields in the early-modern era. In fact, astrology and medicine were also inextricably linked. While most bleeding was done from the arm, it was sometimes thought advantageous to bleed from other parts of the body depending on the ailment.

The bleeding chart above shows the places of the body that are governed by specific star signs. The heart is connected to Leo. The feet, Pisces. Libra, the gut. And Scorpio, well, ouch!

A barber-surgeon would do well to consult this or any of the many, many charts like it before bleeding. Any bleeding from the body part that matched the current star sign was ill-advised.

I'm sure men everywhere are relieved that the stars are in Scorpio right now.

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Review Round-Up

I just discovered the book review summaries that the Historical Novel Society distributes each week (excerpt below, with titles of interest to W&M readers). It's a great way to keep your "to be read list" up-to-date. You'll also find information about how to subscribe to this fantastic group at the end of the post. And don't forget to look at their fiction listings, too! Happy Reading!

Image: Pieter de Hooch, "Woman Reading a Letter" (1664).

ISSUE 22/2008: November 1 2008

Editors: Kelly Cannon Hess, Karen Wintle and Gordon O'Sullivan


13th Century
The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the 14th Century by Ian Mortimer, The Guardian, 25 October 2008, Kathryn Hughes

14th Century
The Fears of Henry IV by Ian Mortimer, The Guardian, 21 June 2008,
Vera Rule. I picked this up just after my umpteenth RSC history play cycle,which made me wonder for the first time: what if Shakespeare had endorsed Henry of Lancaster, John of Gaunt's son, as being virtuous and wise for overthrowing the arbitrary and absolutist tyranny of Richard II? Ian Mortimer asks exactly the same question in this exciting biography.,,2286732,00.html

The Man Who Believed He Was King of France by Tommaso di Carpegna
Falconieri,The Telegraph, 16 October 2008, Noel Malcolm. Monday, 19 September, 1356 saw one of the most dramatic turning-points in the Hundred Years' War. At the Battle of Poitiers, an English cavalry squadron (led by the Black Prince) penetrated so far into the ranks of the retreating French that it came up against the unit commanded personally by King Jean II of France. Heroically, the French king waded into the fray with his battle-axe; but he was forced to surrender, and would spend the next four years as a captive in English hands. This was not a good time for the French royal family. The ancient line of descent to the crown had come to an end with the death of the infant Jean I. Another branch of the French family, the kings of Navarre, also had claims to the crown; their head, the concisely named Charles the Bad, was himself a prisoner in French hands. And then, just a few weeks after the Battle of Poitiers, there came from the distant city of Siena the sound of a small political bombshell. It was announced that the true king of France, Jean I, had not in fact died in infancy all those years ago.

16th Century
Henry: Virtuous Prince by David Starkey, The Observer, 26 October
2008,Michael Hirst. In a curiously revealing introduction to this book, the first of two on Henry VIII, David Starkey tells us: 'Henry and I go back a long way.' This note of familiarity is, of course, proprietorial, and Starkey writes throughout with the assurance of someone who knows the king better than anyone else - and certainly better than other historians.
See also:
The Guardian, 18 October 2008, Hilary Mantel
The Independent, 19 October 2008, Ronald Hutton
The Telegraph, 22 October 2008, Jerry Brotton

17th Century
Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland's Glory by Lisa Jardine,Washington Post, 19 October 2008, Kathryn Shevelow. Lisa Jardine, a professor at the University of London and prolific author, has now written the revelatory backstory of the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688-89.

Soul of the Age: The Life, Mind and World of William Shakespeare by
Jonathan Bate, The Sunday Times, 26 October 2008, John Carey

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell, Christian Science Monitor, 22
October 2008k Heller McAlpin. Sarah Vowell offers her witty take on the Puritans who settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630.
See also: San Francisco Chronicle, 19 October 2008, Kevin Smokler

Florence Nightingale: The Woman and Her Legend by Mark Bostridge, The
Observer, 19 October 2008, Lucy Lethbridge

The Historical Novel Society was formed in 1997 and is devoted to historical fiction of all forms. Members receive our quarterly Historical Novels Review and twice yearly magazine. You can become a member or sign up for one of our discussion groups via the HNS Website at Http:// Subscription to the HNS Newsletter is free. To subscribe, send a blank email to:

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Just What the Doctor Ordered

Chocolate is a New World marvel. It did not show up in Europe until the late sixteenth century. Some people speculate the Columbus brought back chocolate for Ferdinand and Isabelle, but that seems to be a contested fact among some historians.

Chocolate was sought out especially for its medicinal properties. It was combined with vanilla (another discovery) with loads of suger to create a syrup. Two spoonfuls would help ease a cough or a sore throat. Other recipes used the lovely bean to decrease bile and heartburn, as well as to ward away diarrhea.

But by far, the most favorite use was as an aphrodiasiac. In fact, I have stumbled on a good number of stories about women who stock up on chocolate in order to perform their wifely duties, or of men who claim the "Chocolate defense" when caught with another woman. Less appetizing however is the recommendation that chocolate be used to treat venereal diseases--particularly on oozing sores. Lovely.

Reference: Nicolas de Blegny, Le Bon usage...du chocolat. (1687)

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