Fictions of Disease in Early Modern England: Bodies, Plagues by Dr Margaret Healy

By Dr Margaret Healy

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Additional resources for Fictions of Disease in Early Modern England: Bodies, Plagues and Politics by Dr Margaret Healy (2001-11-07)

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Or out of Schola Salerni . . they will not condemne me of vaine glorie . . I have so enterlaced it with mine owne. (To the Reader, The Haven of Health, f. 4v) Both works were highly esteemed and proved popular: Paynell’s went through nine editions between 1528 and 1634 (if we include the plagiarized versions that omitted his name), and Elyot’s claimed 17 editions between 1534 and 1610 (STC2). Paynell’s book opens with a dedication to the ‘hyghe chamberlayne of Englande’, the Earl of Oxford, which reads like a gentle sermon.

Thus an Edenic countryside is contrasted, suggestively, with a hellish, fallen cityscape of overcrowded ‘foull houses’ surrounded by polluted waters ‘wherinto jakes or stinkes, have issues’ (f. v), complete with ‘wallowing swine’, unburied carrion, ‘sellers, boltes, holes . . walles, joyned together’ (f. v–f. r). Having urged his fellow countrymen to pray to God against this instrument of his displeasure, he advises lighting fires and burning sweet perfumes ‘to purge this foule aire’ (f. v). In the same year that Bullein’s book was first issued, another reformer, Thomas Becon, published The Pomander of Prayer containing ‘spiritual preservatives’ against disease which produced large numbers of imitations throughout the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries bearing similar titles with health-giving connotations (‘godly gardens of herbs’, ‘salves for a sick man’, for example): it is clear from this context that Bullein’s ‘swete perfumes’ (f.

Of melancholie to phrensie? and subtiltie of blood to wantonness? (p. 2) In fact this tract reveals a deeply ambivalent attitude to the body which is, on the one hand, conceived as ‘this rare and wonderfull order of man’ (p. 1), and on the other, as the potential enemy of the soul which resides within it in ‘spirit which is the vapour of blood, and becommeth vitall, and animall’ (p. 4). Regimen is a Christian obligation and has particular implications for behaviour – imbalance leads to sin – and thus for the healthful maintenance, or the degeneration of, the soul: ‘The soule crieth unto thee to correct bad humours, and not admit them to raigne’ (p.

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