Libations of the Eighteenth Century

Everyday Life in Colonial America

Customs and Fashions in Old New England


THERE lies before me a leather-bound, time-stained, dingy little quarto of four hundred and fifty pages that was printed in the year 1656. Its contents comprise three parts or books. First, "The Queens Closet Opened, or The Pearl of Practise: Accurate, Physical, and Chirurgical Receipts." Second, "A Queens Delight, or The Art of Preserving, Conserving, and Candying, as also a Right Knowledge of Making Perfumes and Distilling the most Excellent Waters." Third, "The Compleat Cook, Expertly Prescribing the most ready wayes, whether Italian, Spanish, or French, For Dressing of Flesh and Fish, Ordering of Sauces, or Making of PASTRY"—pastry in capitals, as is due so distinguished an article and art.

This conjunction of leechcraft and cooking was in early days far from being considered demeaning to the healing art. A great number of the cook-books of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were written by physicians. Dr. Lister, physician to Queen Anne, wrote plainly, "I do not consider myself as hazarding anything when I say no man can be a good physician who has not a competent knowledge of cookery."

The book contains a long, pompous preface, in which it is asserted that these receipts were collected originally for her "distress'd Soveraigne Majesty the Queen"—Henrietta Maria; that they had been "laid at her feet by Persons of Honour and Quality; "and that since false and poor copies had been circulated during her banishment, and the compiler, who fell with the court, was not able to render his beloved queen any further service, he felt that he could at least "prevent all disservices" by giving in print to her friends these true rules. Thus could he keep the absent queen in their minds; and also he could give a fair copy to her, since she had lost her receipts in her flight.

Though Agnes Strickland stated that copies of this Queens Closet Opened are exceedingly rare in England, several are preserved in old New England families, some of them the descendants of colonial physicians; and the book may be shown as a fair example of the methods of practice and composition of prescriptions in colonial and provincial days.

This volume of mine was one of those which were not fated to dwell among "Persons of Honour and Quality" in old England; it crossed the waters to the new land with simpler folk, and was for many years the pocket-companion of an old New England doctor. Two names are carefully written on the inside of the cover of my book, names of past owners: "Edward Talbot, His Book," is in the most faded

These pages are © Laurel O'Donnell, 2005, all rights reserved
Copying these pages without written permission for the purpose of republishing
in print or electronic format is strictly forbidden
This page was last updated on 12 Oct 2005