Category: Family

A Peculiar Postscript

Eighteenth-century letters generally contain an excess of politeness, even when one correspondent rebuked another. But every now and then, letter recipients must have been left scratching their heads—and not because of head lice…

In 1732, the Dowager Countess of Ferrers wrote to Mrs Hinde, asking her to take the letter along with payment to Sir Hans Sloane for advice on an eye problem. The letter begins with an apology for not writing to Mr Hinde. This the Countess blamed on her eye trouble, which “render’d it [writing] so uneasy to me that I now never attempt it but when forced by Business of necessity”. The Countess then found the energy to write a lengthy letter (about 1200 words) on her eye problem. Well then, that put the Hindes in their place: she was only writing because she wanted something.

Of course, there was an obvious status difference between writer and recipient here. The rules for polite behaviour that were so integral to the Republic of Letters (or when a lower-ranking person wrote to a higher-ranking recipient) did not apply when the letter writer was the social superior. The Hindes probably thought nothing of this particular comment.

But still, the real charm clincher comes in the postscript.

I am glad yr young baby and misses have so much Health & strength & gives so much entertainment to ye whole Family, I cannot say that I ever could give into ye amusement of being able to divert my self with little Children but I have often envy’d those that found pleasure in them & therefore give Mrs Hinde Joy upon that occasion.

Two mothers with crying babies and one in a walking frame; comparing the human infant's helplessness with the self-sufficiency of newborn animals. Engraving by P. Galle, c. 1563. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Two mothers with crying babies and one in a walking frame; comparing the human infant’s helplessness with the self-sufficiency of newborn animals. Engraving by P. Galle, c. 1563. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Righto. And this is what I hear it as:

Congratulations on the birth of your baby, if that’s what makes you happy. I hate small kids. And I’m sorry not sorry that I never liked them.

Anyway, social status notwithstanding, the Countess’ somewhat peculiar (if unintentionally hilarious) postscript surely must have left the Hindes wondering how long they could reasonably wait before passing on the letter to Sloane. And given that the Countess had sent the letter from France, there could have been any number of possible reasons for a delay.

Looking after your family until the end: the cost of caregiving in historical perspective

A very old man, suffering from senility. Colour stipple engraving by W. Bromley, 1799, after T. Stothard. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A very old man, suffering from senility. Colour stipple engraving by W. Bromley, 1799, after T. Stothard. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Another day, another governmental exhortation that families just aren’t doing enough to keep society going… This time, it is Simon Hughes (the UK coalition’s justice minister) who suggested that British people had lost a sense of duty to care and were neglecting the elderly. Caregivers regularly bear the brunt of governmental disparagement, especially at a time when an ageing population puts increasing stress on limited resources. The solution, Hughes proposes, is that we look to immigrant cultures who understand the necessity of sacrifice for the good of elderly family members.

Gee, that’ll do the trick… (There’s a thorough dissection of Hughes’ statements  over at (Dementia Just Ain’t) Sexy.) But what I want to discuss here is the problematic view of the past underpinning Hughes’ assertions. He ignores the daily experience of modern caregivers and instead assumes that British family responsibility was much more important back in the halcyon olden days.

Let me introduce you to the Meure family in the early eighteenth century, whose case suggests the high costs of caregiving at a time when there were no other options. The Meures were naturalized Huguenot immigrants who had moved to London shortly after Louix XIV had revoked the Edict of Nantes in France. The family’s immigrant status is worth noting, given that the myth of dutiful families relies on the belief that they remained in one place.

The location of the French Academy, where a different sort of dancing now takes place. Image source: my own photograph.

The location of the French Academy, where a different sort of dancing now takes place. Image source: my own photograph.

Abraham Meure (senior, hereafter “Meure”) established a boarding school for French Protestants in Soho, but the school—which taught fencing, dancing, drawing and languages—quickly attracted of the English nobility. Times must have been good for the family, as Abraham Meure (junior, hereafter “Abraham”) styled himself as “Gent.” when he married Elizabeth Newdigate in 1707.

Somewhere around 1708, Meure’s son-in-law Moses Pujolas wrote to Hans Sloane. Sloane had previously acted as a legal witness on behalf of Meure who suffered from dementia and senility. The father’s need for care was not disputed within the family; rather, this was a matter of ensuring that Abraham could take over his father’s interests. Unsatisfied with the facts of the case, the jury at the Court of Chancery wanted Meure to attend court. Moses worried that ‘he isn’t in a fit state to conduct himself without embarrassment’ and hoped that Sloane would attest to treating Meure’s senility over time.[1] The family appears to have been protecting Meure by preserving his dignity. The Court treated the debility as temporary, but then removing Meure’s power irrevocably wasn’t the family’s goal, either. The Meures delayed three more years before seeking a permanent ruling.

Meure’s last will dates from 1703 and was proven in 1716.[2] Although it’s hard to know when exactly Meure’s dementia began, the will makes it clear that his daughter Magdalene Pujolas and her family were living with him. According to the will, Abraham received the bulk of his father’s estate, but was to pay Moses £500 as specified in the marriage articles and, within six months of Meure’s death, Magdalene would receive a further £500. Meure declared:

Further, I give my daughter Magdalen Pujolas her board for all the time she lived with me since her marriage, and for three months after my decease, as alsoe the Board of her Husband Moses Pujolas his Children, and servants, and I doe prohibite my Eldest son or his Executors ever to make any demand thereon upon any amount whatever.

In addition, Moses could take back everything in his two furnished chambers and any Pujolas possessions elsewhere in the household. There were bequests to other family members: Robert Pujolas (Magdalene’s son), £500; Andrew Meure (son), £450; and Magdalin Meure (Andrew’s daughter), £100. The particularly generous bequests to the Pujolas family hints that Meure expected them to remain with him indefinitely and that they may already have been providing him with domestic assistance. The Meure family was not wealthy, although the school provided a sufficiently comfortable living to remunerate the Pujolas family for their long-term assistance.

The evidence is, admittedly, patchy. No family records or other letters to Sloane refer to Meure’s deteriorating state, though Moses’ reference to Meure’s likely embarrassment in court suggests that he was in a bad state a mere five years after writing the will. It must have been agonizing for those closest to him who continued to care for him until his death circa 1714, which was when Abraham took over as ratepayer for the property.

Moses and Abraham for many years had a friendly relationship. For example, Moses was Abraham’s guarantor in his marriage settlement of 1707. Not long after Meure died, there were growing tensions within the family. And it is these letters that suggest what the real cost of long-term caregiving was for Magdalene.

In 1719, Abraham wrote to Sloane to question Moses’ treatment of his sister:

I beg the favour of you to lett me know when you saw my sister Pujolas last, and how you found her, her husband saith that he locked her up by your advice.

Sloane replied that he had not treated Mrs Pujolas for several years, but had looked into the matter for Abraham. Magdalene had, apparently, ruined her health, by ‘coveting and drinking large quantities of hott liquors’.

The case must have been severe. Sloane was concerned enough to advise Moses to consult a lawyer about locking Magdalene up in order to limit the quantities of alcohol that she consumed.


[1] British Library, Sloane MS 4060, ff. 142-3. Pujolas thanked Sloane for an affidavit in BL MS 4060, f. 141,

[2] London Metropolitan Archives, PROB 11: Will Registers – 1713-1722 – piece 554: Fox, Quire Numbers 173-208 (1716), Will of Abraham Meure.

Nursing Fathers, Slacking Dads and False Assumptions

Things I learned on the weekend… Slacker dads watch sports instead of read their children stories. They avoid housework and childcare as much as possible. They prefer work-life to domesticity. And above all, they look upon “Wet Wipe” daddies—those who are prepared with things like spare nappies and who concentrate on what their children are doing—with contempt. Or so claims Alex Bilmes, editor of Esquire, who shared his “Confessions of a slacker dad” in The Guardian. Bilmes wonders when being a good father became so complicated, concluding that “[t]he expectations of fathers have changed. More is demanded of us.” Righto. And off he went at speed, riding on his false assumptions about fatherhood in the past!

A father feeding his infant whilst the mother attends to domestic jobs and a small child plays with its food. Etching after A. van Ostade, 1648.  Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A father feeding his infant whilst the mother attends to domestic jobs and a small child plays with its food. Etching after A. van Ostade, 1648. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Joanne Bailey, author of the excellent Parenting in England 1760-1830, certainly has much to say on the complexities of fatherhood, identity and parent-child relationships. Being a dad was not, historically, exactly a walk in the park (with or without a Scandinavian buggy). As Bailey points out in one of her blog posts, Georgian fathers experienced (and were expected to experience) a profound range of postive and negative emotions.

In another post, she explains that Georgian society expected men as well as women to be emotional beings, resulting in an ideal that fathers should be “tender” or “nursing” or—to use a modern term–“involved”. Victorian and mid-twentieth century fatherhood, by contrast, emphasised less emotional expression (particularly in men), shifting the cultural focus to fathers’ roles as breadwinners.

The anti-Wet Wipe father Bilmes would, I expect, be surprised by (what I now call) the Medicinal Plaister Papas of the early eighteenth century: the men who performed a wide range of caregiving roles within the household, including nursing and remedy preparation. The Sloane Correspondence is filled with concerned fathers who oversaw the health care of their children.

Many fathers provided detailed reports of their children’s health and administered treatments. In a letter dated 1 February 1697, John Ray grieved for his daughter who had died of an apoplectic fit after three days of delirium. He blamed himself for giving her one of his own remedies, only to see it fail on this crucial occasion.

William Derham was concerned about his “little daughter”, aged nine, on 3 November 1710. She had been “seized immediately with a great suffocation like to have carried her off divers times”. Derham reported his daughter’s symptoms (sore throat and lungs, heart palpitations and blindness) and described her treatments, including the use of a microscope to examine her eyes. It is possible that a local physician had undertaken the microscopic examination, as the language is ambiguous. But knowing Derham’s scientific interests, it seems more likely that Derham examined his daughter’s eyes himself.

Others were concerned that their own sins might be visited upon their offspring with terrible consequences. Edward Davies, on 8 July 1728, was worried that his son’s joint pain might affect his head. In addition to reading up on John Colbatch’s remedy for convulsive distempters ( A Dissertation Concerning Mistletoe, 1723), Davies had treated his son with Daffy’s Elixir. Davies had two main questions. First, he wondered if his own past mercury treatments (for venereal disease?) had caused his son’s ill health: “my blood was poyson’d in my youth with a Quicksilver-gird & I wish my off-spring do not suffer that”. Second, he was also unsure whether teaching his son Latin to prepare him for public school would do him more harm than good in his condition. Raising a child was a fraught venture, from passing on one’s own health problems to training them well for the future. In any case, Davies was deeply involved in his son’s upbringing.

Fathers also exchanged useful medical knowledge. In August 1723, Mr. Townshend wrote to Sloane that his daughter Ann had been on her way to visit Sloane about her blindness, but  Townshend had such trouble parting with her that she would be “14 days longer”—and he would have preferred it if Sloane could come to Exeter! A month later, Townshend expressed his gratitude for Sloane’s help, although Ann was no better. Townshend had, nonetheless, suggested that Mr. Farrington and others contact Sloane for assistance.

Sure enough, that same day, Mr. Farrington had written to Sloane about his daughter’s eye problems. Farrington noted that when his daughter (now 21) was ten, she’d suffered from such violent head pain that she was expected to die. She eventually lost sight in both her eyes and although she was able to move around the home and gardens, she was unable to travel beyond them. Farrington described the nature of her limited sight, as well as the treatments and diagnosis that she had received. By the next month, Farrington waivered between hope and despair based on Sloane’s (unknown) response, but he sent Lady Yonge to collect Sloane’s remedies. As of 23 November 1723, Farrington noted that Sloane’s treatments seemed to be working “and the load she hath had above the eyes taken off”.

These last two cases reveal two worried fathers, both of whom were familiar with the details of their daughters’ treatments. Townshend’s recommendation of Sloane’s assistance to his friends also suggests a network of fathers who exchanged medical knowledge—in the case of Townshend and Farrington, about their daughters’ shared problem.

Distant dads? Not at all! These early eighteenth-century Medicinal Plaister Papas who wrote to Sloane had far more in common with the modern Wet Wipe fathers than Bilmes and his Slacker Dad ilk.

Sloane Family Recipes

In his Recipes Project post, Arnold Hunt focused on the recipe books owned by Sir Hans Sloane. The Sloane family may have had an illustrious physician and collector in their midst, but they, too, collected medical recipes like many other eighteenth-century families. As Alun Withey points out, medical knowledge was of part of social currency. Three Sloane-related recipe books that I’ve located so far provide insight into some of the family’s domestic medical practices and interests.

Elizabeth Fuller: Collection of cookery and medical receipts Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Elizabeth Fuller: Collection of cookery and medical receipts
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Two books are held at the British Library, donated in 1875 by the Earl of Cadogan. A book of household recipes, primarily for cookery, was owned by Elizabeth Sloane—Sloane’s daughter who married into the Cadogan family in 1717 (BL Add. MS 29739). The second book, c. 1750, contained medical, household and veterinary recipes (BL Add. MS 29740), including several attributed to Sir Hans Sloane. A third book, which belonged to Elizabeth Fuller, is held at the Wellcome Library (MS 2450) and is dated 1712 and 1820. Given the initial date and name, it is likely that the book’s first owner was Sloane’s step-daughter from Jamaica, Elizabeth Rose, who married John Fuller in 1703. Sloane’s nephew, William, married into the Fuller family as well in 1733.

Elizabeth Sloane, of course, compiled her collection long before her marriage; born in 1695, she was sixteen when she signed and dated the book on October 15, 1711. This was a common practice for young women who were learning useful housewifery skills. The handwriting in the book is particularly good, with lots of blank space left for new recipes, suggesting that this was a good copy book rather than one for testing recipes. There are, even so, some indications of use: a black ‘x’ beside recipes such as “to candy cowslips or flowers or greens” (f. 59), “for burnt almonds” (f. 57v) or “ice cream” (f. 56). The ‘x’ was a positive sign, as compilers tended to cross out recipes deemed useless.

The Cadogan family’s book of medicinal remedies appears to have been intended as a good copy, but became a working copy. In particular, the recipes to Sloane are written in the clearest hand in the text and appear to have been written first. Although there are several blank folios, there are also multiple hands, suggesting long term use. There are no textual indications of use, but several recipes on paper have been inserted into the text: useful enough to try, but not proven sufficiently to write in the book. As Elaine Leong argues, recipes were often circulated on bits of paper and stuck into recipe books for later, but entering a recipe into the family book solidified its importance—and that of the recipe donor—to the family.

Sloane’s recipes are the focal point of the Cadogan medical collection. Many of his remedies are homely, intended for a family’s everyday problems: shortness of breath, itch, jaundice, chin-cough, loose bowels, measles and worms. There are, however, two that spoke to his well-known expertise: a decoction of the [peruvian] bark (f. 8v)—something he often prescribed–and “directions for ye management of patients in the small-pox” (f. 10v).

Elizabeth Fuller compiled her book of medicinal and cookery recipes several years after her marriage and the book continued to be used by the family well into the nineteenth century. The book is written mostly in one hand, but there are several later additions, comments and changes in other hands. The recipes are  idiosyncractic and reflect the family’s particular interests: occasionally surprising ailments (such as leprosy) and a disproportionate number of remedies for stomach problems (flux, biliousness, and bowels). The family’s Jamaican connections also emerge with, for example, a West Indies remedy for gripes in horses (f. 23). There are no remedies included from Sloane, but several from other physicians.

This group of recipe books connected to the Sloane Family all show indications of use and, in particular, the Cadogan medical recipe collection and the Fuller book suggest that they were used by the family over a long period of time. Not surprisingly, the Fuller family drew some of their knowledge from their social and intellectual networks abroad.

But it is the presence or absence of Sloane’s remedies in the books that is most intriguing. Did this reflect a distant relationship between Sloane and his step-daughter? Hard to say, but it’s worth noting that his other step-daughter, Anne Isted, consulted him for medical problems and the Fuller family wrote to him about curiosities.

Or, perhaps, it highlights the emotional significance of collecting recipes discussed by Montserrat Cabré. Sloane was ninety-years old when the Cadogan family compiled their medical collection.

Hans Sloane Memorial Inscription, Chelsea, London. Credit: Alethe, Wikimedia Commons, 2009.

Hans Sloane Memorial Inscription, Chelsea, London. Credit: Alethe, Wikimedia Commons, 2009.

It must have been a bittersweet moment as Elizabeth Cadogan (presumably) selected what recipes would help her family to remember her father after he died: not just his most treasured and useful remedies, but ones that evoked memories of family illnesses and recoveries.

Timing is Everything

William Cadogan, 1st Earl Cadogan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

William Cadogan, 1st Earl Cadogan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Uploaded by: Materialscientist.

By Matthew De Cloedt

Hans Sloane received many gifts from myriad places and numerous people. The two books that Edmund Gibson, the Bishop of Lincoln, sent on 24 July 1722 were different. The titles might not have been noteworthy, or even mentioned in his letter, but the thanks they represented were deeply personal. Edmund’s uncle, Dr Thomas Gibson, had recently passed away and Sloane had been the attending physician during his final days. The care and treatment made an impression on the family and they greatly appreciated his service.

But before Sloane had a chance to read Edmund’s thank you letter, he had three requests for recommendation letters to respond to: all wanting to replace Dr Thomas Gibson who had been the physician to William Cadogan, 1st Earl Cadogan.

As both a court physician and the President of the Royal College of Physicians, Sloane ordinarily attracted a great number of such recommendation requests. In this case, however, Sloane was an even better connection than unusual; his daughter Elizabeth had married the Earl’s younger brother Charles in 1717. The post was prestigious, for Earl Cadogan had served with distinction during the War of the Spanish Succession under John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. This was the opportunity of a lifetime and the competitors wasted no time in petitioning Sloane for support.

The applicants for the position were strong and each was aware of the need to secure Sloane’s assistance first. Philip Rose urgently wrote: “Dr Gibson being dead… I thought it improper to loose time”. Frank and to the point, Rose assured Sloane that he was worthy of the post and would forever remember whose patronage secured the job for him. Unfortunately, he had a black mark on his record–an outstanding debt with the Royal College of Physicians. It was not until 1728 that the debt was settled and this no doubt hindered his chances of preferment.

John Woodward was a noted physician, natural historian, antiquary, and active member of the Royal Society and Royal College of Physicians. He hoped to see Sloane at a dinner in Greenwich with apothecaries, where they might discuss the job, among other things. Woodward’s chances might have been hampered by the fact that he and Sloane had a spat over a decade before. During an argument over the nature of plant physiology and respiration Woodward insulted Sloane, refused to apologize, and then attempted to remove Sloane from his post at the Royal Society. This bad blood between the two led to Woodward’s absence from actively engaging in the Royal Society business. It, perhaps, would have taken a considerable amount of charm and interesting table talk to overshadow their previous conflict. (That said, Woodward–himself a collector–did write Sloane several other letters about their mutual interests after the dispute of 1710!)

Sir Richard Manningham, the celebrated man mid-wife, claimed to be embarrassed to ask Sloane for his support because of the “Considerable salary” attached to the post. He asked Sloane to “forgive this rash weakness and folly” on his part. Manningham was well qualified. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians in 1719, then was knighted in February 1722. There were no significant blemishes on his record to this point in his career, save his self-confessed boldness in contacting Sloane in the hopes of his support.

Each of the hopefuls vying to replace the late Dr Thomas Gibson recognized the importance of reaching Sloane first. The competitiveness of the medical profession required well-connected contacts like Sloane to gain the positions with the most prestige and largest remuneration. It is not clear whether or not any one of them got the job, but a cursory vetting of the candidates nearly three hundred years later suggests some had more faults than others. As Sloane was the late Dr Gibson’s physician, it might have helped their chances to lament the fact he had passed away instead of immediately requesting Sloane’s backing.

Close Call at Bloomsbury Square

By Matthew De Cloedt

Hanging Outside Newgate Prison. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When John Ray received Hans Sloane’s letter of 6 April 1700 he could not help “but be moved with indignation”. He was livid that four “vile Rogues, who when they failed in their attempt of breaking open [Sloane’s] house… set it on fire.” Ray believed it was by God’s grace that Sloane, along with his residence at Bloomsbury Square, were not consumed by the conflagration.

The event took place on 5 April 1700 and was a close call for the Sloane family. During the night a group of three or four men snuck into Sloane’s backyard, which was backed by a field. After failing to open the back door they proceeded “by Instigation of the Devil… to set the House on Fire in several places”. They planned to force the family to evacuate the premises and “under the pretence of Friendly assistance they were to rush in and Robb the House”. Using splinters cut from the door the men set the window frames on fire, which were “of a thin and dry” board that sparked easily. The pantry window “burnt with great Violence” and all seemed to be going according to plan.

What the robbers did not count on was Elizabeth Sloane’s alertness. Smelling the smoke, she sent the servants downstairs to investigate. Upon coming to the pantry a male servant opened the door, “was almost Chok’d, with the violence of the Smoke and Flame… [and] Cry’d out Fire”. Instead of panicking the household took to action and immediately set to extinguishing the fire with water collected for washing the linens.

When the back door was opened to let the smoke out the men had already fled. The culprits had not expected the fire to be put out so efficiently and ran when they realized their plot was foiled. Luckily the neighbours had noticed a group of strange men waiting in the backyard and reported their number.

Sloane offered a reward of one-hundred pounds to anyone who could catch the arsonists, but he did not have to pay up. One of the men was arrested for another “Notorious Crime” in Westminster and, to secure his release, gave up the names of his companions. John Davis and Phillip Wake were apprehended and incarcerated at Newgate shortly thereafter.

Both men were repeat offenders and had a laundry list of previous offences. Had they been successful, it was suggested, the “Docters Family who went to Bed in peace” would have “miserably Perish’d by the merciless and devouring Flames”. For this reason Davis and Wake faced the death penalty. At the Old Bailey the man who identified his two accomplices testified against them and assured a conviction. Nothing is mentioned of Sloane participating in the trial.

On 24 May 1700 Davis and Wake, along with six others, were executed. Wake “seemed very Penitent” while Davis” seemed very much Concern’d and Dejected… They both desired all Persons to take warning by their shameful and deplorable tho’ deserved Deaths.”

Sloane and his family were lucky to survive their ordeal for, as Squire Aisle’s servant’s experience made clear, it could have unfolded in a much more unpleasant manner. Near Red-Lyon Square, where the man resided, his house was broken into, his wife murdered, and the house set ablaze, “wherein she was Burnt to Ashes”.

Had Sloane’s family been subjected to a similar fate the fire would have consumed his library and collection (not to mention the potential loss of life. It might be worth reiterating that Elizabeth Sloane’s concern alerted the rest of the household. In saving the house she not only rescued her family and servants but all of the possessions in the household. Perhaps the smoke woke her up; maybe she was having difficulty getting to sleep. Whatever the case, it might be worth considering her an important guardian of the things that would later form the collections of the British Museum and Natural History Museum.

Stay tuned for part two on the trial at the Old Bailey!


An Account of the apprehending and taking of John Davis and Phillip Wake for setting Dr. Sloan’s house on fire, to robb the same, with their committed to Newgate… London: Printed by J. W. in Fleet Street, 1700.

An Account of the actions, behaviours, and dying vvords, of the eight criminals, that were executed at Tyburn on Fryday the 24th of May, 1700… London: Printed by W.J. near Temple-Bar, 1700.

Both texts available at Early English Books Online

The Sad Kiss of 1722

Today is National Kissing Day in the U.K.  I’m not normally in favour of faux holidays, but there’s nothing wrong with a day that “spreads a bit of joy” (as one of the organisers puts it). It also inspired me to wonder: did any of the people who wrote to Dr. Sloane about medical problems ever mention kissing? One thing I learned from my investigation: any kisses in medical letters are unlikely to spread joy…  I want to consider the saddest kiss of all that appears in Sloane’s correspondence: one between two of Lord Lymington’s children in 1722.

The dance of death: the family and children. Two children kissing on the right. Thomas Rowlandson, 1816. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

The dance of death: the family and children. Two children kissing on the right. Thomas Rowlandson, 1816. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Dr. John Hughes wrote to Hans Sloane for advice about Borlace Wallop, aged two. The young lad suffered from a “tettering humour” in his face and stomach, along with coughing and fits. When you read “tetter”, imagine a skin disease with clusters of pustules in clusters that would harden and become scabby. It must have been painful: or, as Dr. Hughes described it, “very sharp and blistering”. Borlace remained, nonetheless, a lusty lad with a good appetite.

The family believed that Borlace had become ill after kissing his baby sister, Mary, who had also had similar symptoms. The real worry, though, was the prospect of death. Wee Mary had just died from the ailment, aged only eight months. Lord Lymington had a high opinion of Sloane and wanted to know how they could keep his son from dying, too.

Sloane prescribed an uncomfortable treatment of bleeding and purging. It might seem torturous to us to inflict further pain on the child, but the goal of the treatment was to remove the foul humour causing the problem. There wasn’t really much else that could be done apart from palliative care. The good news is that Borlace recovered.[1]

The letter itself is short, but it evokes a series of poignant images: the sweet affection of two infants; the suffering of small children; the fear and desperation of a loving family. A sad kiss, indeed.

[1] Borlace was still destined to die young, at the age of twenty-one from a fever caught after the attack on Fort San Lazaro.

Sloane: Part of the Family

By Alice Marples

When thinking about famous figures in the history of science, it can sometimes be easy to forget that they were not working in isolation. A lot of recent research has focused on exploring the domestic contexts of scientific production, and paints a picture of kitchen table-top experiments and hoards of curious visitors mucking up the carpet. Men of science were the heads of households, supported (and, likely, just about tolerated) by their families and servants, who were often called in to help.

Yet, when I first began reading through Sloane’s correspondence, I was still surprised by the extent to which wives and children featured in the letters. The broad geographical shape and intellectual form of the international Republic of Letters, linking scholars who had often never met, necessitated a certain contractual form of conduct in epistolary exchanges: elevated, polite and very, very formal. Though the letters in Sloane’s collection are polite, the business discussed within them flows easily from formal to familial, with the knowledge exchanged alternating between the scientific and the social.

John Smybert, The Bermuda Group (1728-1739), Yale University Art Library. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The first letter from John Ray (1627-1705) – a naturalist-parson and patron of Sloane’s, easily the single person with whom he corresponded the most – concludes his discussion of the state of the scientific community with the request that Sloane should come visit Ray in Black Notley, as he and his wife would love to see him. There is a great deal of affection communicated through these letters, giving the impression that Sloane was very much part of the furniture within the Ray household.

Sloane’s increasingly long absences as he became busier and more successful as a physician and collector are mourned by Ray, his wife, and their daughters. After a relatively big gap in their communication in which Sloane is almost entirely taken up with administering to the rather-troublesome Lady Albermarle and her frequent health issues, we have this from Ray:

Monday last I received your kind letter attended with a rich Present of sugar to my Wife: They were both very gratefull & acceptable…. You have so highly pleased & obliged my Wife, that she is much in commendation of your generosity, & returns you her humble service & hearty thanks; wishing that you were here to partake of some of the effects of your kindnesse.

This present of sugar to the Ray family to make up for his absence was one which Sloane returned to again and again:

My little family are, I thank God, at present all in health…. We often tast of your kindnesse, & as often remember you, & talk of you. My wife salutes you with the tender of her most humble service. (Sloane MS 4036, f. 256)

Certainly lots of letters were written by current or future members of the Royal Society on account of the health of their family, such as Sir Godfrey Copley’s wife or William Sherard’s mother. Similarly, Sloane’s wife is present in many of the letters, with doctors, botanists and lords courteously asking after her whenever she is ill.

But networks built by demonstrable medical expertise and social power did not exist within a void. They were supplemented by personal connections maintained through everyday exchanges among friends and associates, and their families, all of whom were present within the learned community. For example, Sir Godfrey Copley felt compelled to beg on behalf of his wife that Sloane send her the reciept of Making Bacon like that of Westphalia. (Sloane MS 4036, f.188)

Wives swapped housemaids, passed on recipes and recommendations, and actively sought positions for friends and servants through the epistolary exchanges. Sons began working for individuals and companies after being recommended to them by those who knew their parents. Daughters were introduced to improving elder ladies, and written about fondly in letters between fathers. All these interactions appear in the letters as part of the scientific and scholarly information. These letters offer rewarding traces of domestic life, friendship, the role of women in patronage, and the familial world of natural history.

Sloane existed at the centre of a world-wide network of letter-writers, yet it is important to remember that often Sloane’s correspondence was not quite the same sort of exchange as that of the virtuous Republic of Letters. Time and again, there is evidence within the letters of the personal, informal and integrated worlds of families and friends behind this polite language and professions of worthy enterprise.

On this note, I leave you with the warm but exasperated postscript written along the edges of Sir Arthur Rawdon’s letter to Sloane, dated 30th March 1692:

My wife has made me open my letter agen to tell you that she is much troubled that you should write word that you were afraid the cause of my silence was that you had disobliged either her mother or her, she hopes you have a better opinion of them. (Sloane MS 4036, f.115)

Sloane was sometimes so deeply involved with the extended families and friends of his correspondents, that even his patron’s mother-in-law (assisted by his wife) was able to tease him.

Doctor Sloane and His Patients in Eighteenth-Century England

In April, I received the good news that the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada had decided to fund my project “Reconstructing the Lives of Doctor Sloane and His Patients in Eighteenth-Century England” for three years.This may have resulted in an impromptu dance around the room, but fortunately the walls won’t talk…

The dance of death. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

The dance of death. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

This is in many ways a project born of snoopiness. I have always loved to read about the mucky details of daily life, and the letters written to Sloane offer much by way of gore, suffering and family quarrels. But one thing has always frustrated me in my research: the size of Sloane’s correspondence (upwards of forty volumes, depending on what is counted). So many letters, so many stories, so often hard to find!

The goal of this phase of the project is to complete the database, Sir Hans Sloane’s Correspondence Online, and to produce a series of microhistories about Sloane and his patients. While the collection remains indexed only by author (as it largely is still), it is difficult to navigate. The purpose of my database is to make it possible to search Sloane’s correspondence for details, such as people mentioned, social occasions, or specific illnesses. The database also makes it easier to find all references to a patient, whether made by a medical practitioner, friend or parent. This is when, to my way of thinking, things start to get really interesting.

The family records of the Newdigates, for example, show that Sloane treated several members of the family. Elizabeth Newdigate’s letters to Sloane reveal a troubled young woman, beset by family strife that included two siblings with insanity, a lawsuit by the eldest son, and the daughters’ mysterious suit before Parliament (which was dropped) for their father’s “unnatural acts”. Reading the family references in Sloane’s letters alongside the Newdigate papers will be useful in uncovering the family’s dysfunction and the wider context of Elizabeth Newdigate’s illness letters. Gender, age and status all played key roles in the disputes. By reading cases like these alongside available family archives, I can use the medical letters as a point of entry into understanding the moments of illness within the wider context of patients’ and families’ lives.

The database can also be used to trace relationships. Consider, for example, Sloane’s relationship with the Duchess of Albemarle.  Although Sloane went to Jamaica with the Duke of Albemarle, he remained the Duchess’ household physician when he returned to London and even after the Duchess remarried the Duke of Montagu. The Pierreponts were the Duchess’ birth family, while the Cadogans were related to the Duke of Montagu: both families were regular patients of Sloane’s. In 1719, Sloane’s daughter even married into the Cadogan family. The letters from this group of related families provide insight into the workings of patronage, kinship, and Sloane’s career, as much as their collective health.

Sloane himself is a fascinating subject of study. There are only a handful of letters about Sloane’s family and business in the correspondence, but there are also many small bits of scattered information: what he prescribed, others’ attitudes toward him, references to his opinions, details about property management, clues to his family and social life…  His family life, too, was important for his career. He married Elizabeth Rose (née Langley), who was from a well-to-do London family and a widow of a wealthy Jamaican landowner; her wealth aided his ability to maintain the appearance of a gentleman (important in attracting wealthy clients) and to collect objects from around the world (which reinforced the image of him as a man of science). At the height of his career, Sloane was President of the Royal College of Physicians, President of the Royal Society and a royal physician—a man very much at the centre of the medical and scientific community, with opportunity to influence the health of the nation.

Case histories such as these will allow me to examine the way in which social and political networks, state-building and power structures were reinforced in the everday life of the early modern household.

And, of course, maximise my snoopiness.