Monday, June 05, 2017

Lady Jane Gerard ‘the most Ingenious and true vertuosa'

The Bodleian library has just announced the purchase of this letter sent by the enterprising Edward Millington to Lady Jane Gerard in 1673:

I really haven't very much to add to what the curators announce at the URL above. But here's my go at a full transcript of the letter:

In Pursuance of my promise of giving an exact account of all the English authors of Witchcraft both for and against I gave you when I was last with you  & Sold you a parcel of books <I gave> an imperfect one) to which may be added these that follow.
Vid[elicet] Dr Dees relation of his actions with spirits - - -  in a folio
[margin] price 12 shillings
Ady’s Candle in the Darknes 4mo
[margin] 2 shillings and 6 pence
Lavater of Walking Ghosts & spirits 4mo fo[lio]
[margin] 2 shillings and 6 pence
with 2 other movd of the Same Subject w[hi]ch, if your Ladyship be desirous to see I shall send or bring

From your humble Servant Edward Millington at the bible in Little Brittain
Lond Novemb[er] 29 1673"

It is of course fascinating to see a woman collecting "English authors of Witchcraft both for and against". In the Restoration period debate was intense: for the sceptical side, works by Thomas Ady, the 1665 reprint of Scot, John Wagstaffe's The question of witchcraft debated with its expanded second edition both published by Millington (1669 and 1671), while the veracity of witchcraft was asserted by Casaubon, Glanvill, Drage, and in R. T.'s answer to Wagstaffe, The opinion of witchcraft vindicated. Jane Gerard clearly wanted to apprise herself of both sides of the question. If only we knew what conclusions she came to, and why.

My title comes from her chaplain Samuel Gilbert's Fons sanitatis (1676). This is the full context:

"This Spring was first taken notice of, and several experiments tryed with it, by the most Ingenious and true vertuosa, that Right Honourable Lady Jane Gerard, Baroness of Bromley, of Sandon in Staffordshire, whose Charitable care and charge, in damming it out from the common Water, into which it delivered it self, (a large Pool through which the River Terne runs, taking its beginning about half a mile above it,) causing it to be divided into two large Baths; the one for Men, the other for Horses."

Gilbert lists alphabetically the cures effected by the spring, and stresses that "there is no price taken for any quantities at the Well" and that, while it was better to drink the water direct at the source, Lady Gerard had authentic water from her spring bottled and sealed with the coat of arms of her son, to prevent cheats selling adulterated, mixed, or common water to the sick.

So, Lady Jane Gerard sounds open-minded, intellectually active, and keen to promote the therapeutic waters she had discovered without seeking to profit from them. In a way, to be a woman who thinks she has discovered a remarkable cure for the sick - both men and horses - goes with having a wary interest in what was being said about witchcraft. New forms of cure, be they by stroking, 'warming stones', or sympathetic magic, were always liable to denunciation as diabolic in origin and as products of a lack of acceptance of God's will or distrust in the power of prayer (etc.). Looking out healing springs to rival the waters of Bath, as John Aubrey busied himself doing, was more innocuous. Even so, Lady Gerard's public-spirit and refusal to profit is strongly emphasised, she is a 'vertuosa' who has tried experiments on the efficacy of the spring.

Her chaplain's word for her, 'vertuosa' is in the OED as (sense 1) "A morally virtuous or highly esteemed woman" from 1652. Samuel Gilbert wants this association, but has developed the meaning towards OED sense 2, "A female virtuoso (in various senses); esp. a woman who is highly accomplished in music or other arts" from 1754. His precise intermediate sense, to suggest a female member or associate of the virtuosi, is not recognised in the dictionary, but was in use. Talking about static electricity in women's hair, Robert Boyle wrote of a very fair lady who helped his observations with her own that she was "no ordinary Virtuosa" (1675); the absurd Lady Vaine in Shadwell's The Sullen Lovers offers various potential cures to the atrabilious Emilia, while complacently calling herself "a Virtuosa".

So, at a time when as the virtuosi of the Royal Society were discussing witchcraft, so the virtuosa Lady Jane Gerard wanted to make herself informed of both sets of arguments. It was not always easy to source books: "I pray you lay hold on Dr Dee for mee", John Beale implored Samuel Hartlib in 1658.

Millington himself was a smart operator. In this letter, he is indeed sourcing second hand books, but soon he would be leading an operation that bought "the libraries of ... eminent persons deceased". The practice he finally settled on was then to distribute a free catalogue to selected coffee houses, and then conduct the announced auction himself. The EEBO copy of his catalogue for the sale of the books of Gijsbert Voet in 1678 is the most meticulously annotated text I have seen, a collector or perhaps collector's agent noting prices from other auctions in his (or indeed her) copy (figures in a box or circled denote other auction prices):

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