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

By Dr Margaret Healy

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C4r). Bullein’s is a truly eclectic brand of medicine (this will be discussed in detail in the next chapter) which concerns itself with, and moralizes about, other forms of behaviour construed as detrimental to health, besides the traditional gluttony: There are many idle people in citees, and in noble houses, dooe thinke the chief felicitie onely, to bee from bedde to bellie . . to bedde again: none other lives thei wil use, then Cardes, Dice, or pratlying title tatle excepted . . slepyng, eatyng and laughyng .

20r). But, in this airy, mysterious world, man is continuously beset by ‘externall spirites recoursing into his body and mynde’ (f. 21v) – ‘good Angels and the badde’ – which, being ‘without bodies slyly and secretly glyde’ into their unsuspecting host ‘like as fulsome stenche’, intermingling with the humours and spirits and pricking him forward to ‘grace’ or, more problematically, to ‘mischeife . . & drawe him from God as farre as may be’ (f. 22r). Abundance of bad spirits and ‘dullness’ (f. 8v) of the better ones through poor regimen has such deleterious effects because it is ‘by the mynisterye and ayde’ of ‘the Spirite’ that ‘the Soule .

Three prime rules are continually restated: first, ‘to lyve joyfullye: for joye & myrthe cause man to be yonge & lustye’; secondly, to maintain ‘tranquillitie of mynde’; and thirdly, ‘moderate diete’ (sig. B2r–v). The emphasis on ‘myrth’ being healthful and mental disturbances (especially sadness) being detrimental to corporal well-being had both Hippocratic and Galenic foundations and a humoral explanation: ‘greatte charges, thought & care . . drieth up mans body’ (sig. B1r). Mirroring its own aphorisms, perhaps, this medical regimen is characterized by a cheerful and optimistic tone as it proceeds to discuss aspects of daily hygiene (washing, sleeping, eating), and to detail at length the digestive qualities of various foods and drinks before considering the most suitable times to bleed and purge the body.

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