The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down

There is a place in the north Atlantic Ocean where emerald waters and sandy shores await your toes—at least, according to a 2015 holiday brochure on Barbados. The royalist Richard Ligon scarpered there in 1647 after backing the losing side during the English Civil wars (1642–1649) and finding himself a “stranger in my owne Country.” Three years later he returned to England and wrote about his escapades in A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados, first published in 1657. The words in this month’s crocodile challenge are Ligon’s (from page 96 of his account) but they come to us via the secretary hand of Henry Oxinden on the verso of the back endleaf of his miscellany (ca.1642–1670; V.b.110).

the May crocodile (click on the image to see the full, zoomable page)

The Folger’s transcription of these lines reads:

Sugar as itt hath a facultie to preserue. all fruits that grow in the
world from corruption, & putrefaction, so it hath a vertue being
rightly applyed to preserue men in their healthes.

Well done to all the Collation readers who came close with their transcriptions. In addition to what was transcribed in the comments section, we also noticed a second “t” on “itt” and a period between “preserue” and “all.”

And a spoonful of sugar goes to Stephen Ferguson who noted that Oxinden is paraphrasing Ligon’s sweet prescription for good health and long life: 

Richard Ligon, A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados, (pg 96); Internet Archive (click to view more).
Richard Ligon, A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados (p. 96); Internet Archive (click to view more).

After these lines, Oxinden continues to paraphrase Ligon:

Oxinden's continued paraphrase of Ligon (back endleaf 2v)
Oxinden’s continued paraphrase of Ligon (back endleaf 2v)

If Sugar can preserue both pears & plums
why can it not preserue as well our lungs

was the saying of Butler one of the most learned, & famous Physitians
that this Nation, or the world euer bred. hee alwayes drank in his
claret wine great store of refined sugar : prescribed in seuerall
wayes to his patients for Colds, Coughs & Catarrs . . .

Ligon’s A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados goes on to touch on a range of topics. These include the planting, growing and harvesting of sugar, English herbs and roots, and even a “Survey of the pleasures and profits, commodities and incommodities, sicknesse and healthfulnesse, of this Iland, ballanced with those of England.” Writing during a sugar boom, he also made calculations on the future values of cane sugar in Barbados twenty months hence. The English coveted sugar when it first came to their shores from the New World. It quickly became the sweetener of choice. Today, when sugar is often considered an enemy, it may seem bizarre to hear it being recommended as a remedy for coughs and colds. But sugar was often included as an ingredient in common medicines from the 17th century onwards.

manicule-71744Before the bit for the crocodile challenge there are two medicinal recipes using sugar, dated 1670 and 1667. The first involves salted snags (snails) and bruised herbs, claiming to aid consumption and weakness. The second is for a cold or a cough. Then we have a rather interesting manicule, with a very long finger, introducing our challenge.

Oxinden (1609–1670) was a letter writer, poet, and country squire. In his later years he compiled this approximately 540-page miscellany. The book was later owned by Henry Huth (1815–1878). Huth’s leather armorial book plate is on the cover along with the name Lee Warly (Oxinden’s great-grandson), and Latin mottoes warning us of time’s fleeting nature. The Folger acquired the miscellany in 1917.

the cover of Oxinden's miscellany
the cover of Oxinden’s miscellany

A semi-diplomatic transcription of selections from Oxinden’s miscellany completed by participants at the 2014 Mellon Summer Institute in English Paleography led by Heather Wolfe can be found through this Folgerpedia article. Oxinden’s hand can be troublesome (hence our Collation readers debating whether that scribbled word is “being” or “long”), but it is rewarding when you crack it! (If you want some help developing your skills, there’s also a list of online paleography resources, including tutorials, on Folgerpedia.)

We hope to make more use of your grey matter in the coming months as EMMO steams ahead. Every week the EMMO team will be tweeting a tricky word or phrase for you to puzzle over. You can find these at noon every Wednesday on Twitter from @FolgerResearch with the hashtag #FolgerEMMO. Tweet your answers to us and join in the fun of deciphering early modern hands—as the new EMMO Paleographer I very much look forward to your input.

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