The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened (1669)

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More About This Textbook


A paperback edition of a classic of 17th-century English writing about food and drink. There is perhaps none more frequently quoted than this, no title more familiar. Its reappearance, therefore, will be very welcome to both the academic market, and the general reader.

Digby was a European figure of some renown in scientific, philosophical and mathematical circles (besides being a military man, a pirate and a womaniser). This recipe collection made by him (in line with similar collections made by male enthusiasts and intellectuals of the time, for example the diarist John Evelyn) was published after his death by his former assistant George Hartman.

It is perhaps the most literate of such cookery books. Digby was a natural writer, as entertaining as instructive. Many of the recipes are for drinks, particularly of meads or metheglins, but the culinary material provides a remarkable conspectus of accepted practice among court circles in Restoration England, with extra details supplied from Digby's European travels. The editors also include the inventory of Digby's own kitchen in his London house, discovered amongst papers now deposited in the British Library, and they have provided a few modern interpretations of Digby's recipes. The work was last printed in 1910, in a sound edition that is no longer easily available. This new version has several improvements. The editors discuss the role of George Hartman in the compilation of the book, and relate its contents to the work that appeared in 1682 under Hartman's own name, The True Preserver and Restorer of Health . There is a full glossary and the reader will be helped by the extensive biographical notes about people named in the text as the source of recipes.

Sir Kenelm Digby (1611-1665) was born of gentry stock, but his family's adherence to Roman Catholicism coloured his career. His father, Sir Everard, was executed in 1606 for his part in the Gunpowder Plot. Digby went to Gloucester Hall, Oxford, in 1618. He spent three years in Europe between 1620 and 1623. Around 1625, he married Venetia Stanley. He had also become a member of the Privy Council. In 1628, Digby became a privateer, with some success, particularly in the Mediterranean. He returned to become a naval administrator and later Governor of Trinity House. His wife died suddenly in 1633. Digby, stricken with grief and the object of enough suspicion that the Crown had ordered an autopsy (rare at the time) on Venetia's body, secluded himself in Gresham College and attempted to forget his personal woes through scientific experimentation. Digby received the regional monopoly of sealing wax in Wales and the Welsh Borders and monopolies of trade with the Gulf of Guinea and with Canada. In the Civil War he went into exile in Paris, where he spent most of his time until 1660. He became Chancellor to Queen Henrietta Maria. Digby was regarded as an eccentric by contemporaries, partly because of his effusive personality, and partly because of his interests in scientific matters. Notable among his pursuits was the concept of the Powder of Sympathy. This was a kind of sympathetic magic to cure injuries. His book on this salve went through 29 editions. He was a founding member of the Royal Society. His correspondence with Fermat contains the only extant mathematical proof by Fermat. His Discourse Concerning the Vegetation of Plants (1661) proved controversial. He is credited with being the first person to note the importance of "vital air," or oxygen, to the sustenance of plants. Digby is also considered the father of the modern wine bottle. During the 1630s, Digby owned a glassworks and manufactured wine bottles which were globular in shape with a high, tapered neck, a collar, and a punt.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781903018705
  • Publisher: Prospect Books
  • Publication date: 12/31/2010
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 329
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

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