Thursday, June 2, 2011

French Medicinal Recipes in Manuscript

Paul Dubé, Le medecin et le chirurgien des pauures. A Paris : Chez Edme Couterot, rue S. Jacques, [1671]. 
2 pts. in 1 v. ;  16 cm (12mo).

Literally translated as "the physician and surgeon of the poor," this book offers vernacular remedies for the indigent sick in seventeenth-century France. Paul LinkDubé was a physician and medical reformer from Montargis, France who specialized in the treatment of the poor—a concentration that earned him the title "Le père des pauvres" (the father of the poor). Dubé disapproved of expensive medical tinctures prepared according to Galenic recipes, complaining about their inaccessibility to the poor and even claiming they had no physical effect in France (as foreign medicines). As an alternative, Dubé suggests physicians concoct their medicines from local plants and herbs, thereby making the practice of physic cheaper and more convenient for physicians. Language was another factor in Dubé's drive for medical reform: rather than disseminating such knowledge in the universal scholarly language of Latin, he wrote his books in French, making the secrets of the physician available to all. 

The Center's copy of Dubé is particularly interesting because of its manuscript content. An early owner in perhaps the late-seventeenth or eighteenth century added manuscript medical recipes to the book's front and rear endpapers, in effect putting Dubé's advice into practice.
My French transcription/translation skills are not great, but I will do my best to at least identify these recipes. The first (shown above) is a recipe for a "Decoction fameuse," which contains elderberry (among other ingredients). 

The second recipe, a "Remede contre l’hidropisie" (remedy against dropsy [edema]), is another botanical remedy, its key ingredient being a half gross of the squill plant infused for a day in white wine ("un demi gros de scil que vous serez infusee pendant
24 heures dans une bouteille de vin blanc"). 

The book's third and final leaf of manuscript notes contains a recipe for a "Potion qui d’esaltére et excite la libertée du ventre" (potion to refresh and stimulate the liberty of the belly), which contains both tamarind and ground barley.

More research (preferably by an expert in French) could reveal the extent to which these manuscript recipes actually follow the advice Dubé lays out in the printed book. While tamarind may have been a rarer ingredient at the time, I'm sure "une bouteille de vin blanc" was on-hand in most French households. 

I'll be away for the next ten days, so expect another entry the week of 6/13.


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