Books of Secrets

Books of Secrets: Natural Philosophy in England, 1550-1600

Allison Kavey
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1xcfs0
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  • Book Info
    Books of Secrets
    Book Description:

    The rise of print culture in early modern England is one of the most important and most frequently studied changes of the period. Often viewed as a marker of modernity, this shift provides the starting point for Books of Secrets, which illuminates how sixteenth-century English culture was influenced by one particular type of print matter--"books of secrets." Ranging from alchemy to necromancy, these texts offered medieval readers an affordable and accessible collection of knowledge about the natural world._x000B__x000B_Studying not only the content of these books but also uncovering how readers digested and reacted to it, Allison Kavey delves into several aspects of book production and consumption in early modern England. Books of Secrets examines familiar concerns of publishing--promotion, pricing, audience identification, and manipulation of structure and content--to show how books of secrets were part of a broad cultural effort to make elite knowledge popular and, in so doing, also make it legitimate and acceptable. Citing the importance of printers in choosing and structuring the books' contents, Kavey investigates how print materials record and store prevailing cultural myths and ideas about manipulating nature, while also generating new ones. She points out that books of secrets legitimized this process, thereby expanding cultural categories, such as masculinity, femininity, gentleman, lady, and midwife to include the willful command of the natural world. _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09159-9
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology, History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. viii-ix)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. x-xiii)
  4. INTRODUCTION Telling Secrets
    (pp. 1-8)

    This project began as a quest for the meaning and cultural status of books of knowledge, inexpensive perpetual almanacs that included information on astrology, physiognomy, and medical theory and advice. The original goal was to consider the ways in which these books helped readers reimagine the world around them as predictable and explicable, rather than opaque and chaotic. In the process of researching the works of Erra Pater, the famed wandering Jew of early modern Europe, I stumbled upon two things that sent me in another direction. The first centered on Erra Pater himself—it seemed important to understand what...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Printing Secrets
    (pp. 9-31)

    The second half of the sixteenth century was marked by the formalization of English printing with the 1555 incorporation of the Stationers’ Company. The company proved to be a functional institution around which printers could coalesce and on whose regulations they would base an increasingly vibrant and lucrative trade. Two generations of men printed the majority of texts between the stationers’ incorporation and Elizabeth I’s death in 1603. The first generation included the signers of the company’s incorporation papers, primarily men who already made at least some of their living from printing. They produced, reinforced, and refined the regulations that...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Roger Bacon, Robert Greene’s Friar Bacon, and the Secrets of Art and Nature
    (pp. 32-58)

    To this point, I’ve concentrated on the print marketplace and offered evidence that there was a small group of interconnected printers producing and selling books of secrets. In this chapter, I will develop the role of authors, or more accurately the creation of authority, in cheap print. I will examine the three kinds of external authorities that appear as experts on the title pages and within the contents of these books, and I will link those iterations of authority to broader social and cultural movements within intellectual trends in sixteenth-century England. Finally, I will proceed to examine the collaboration of...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Structuring Secrets for Sale
    (pp. 59-94)

    The last chapter established the creation of authority as a fundamental part of books of secrets, since their appeal depended on readers believing that they contained the knowledge of great masters of the natural world whose wisdom was suddenly and for the first time available at a price they could afford. It also introduced the responsibility given to readers of secrets, using the model reader created inThe Mirror of Alchimyto establish the importance of characteristics such as diligence and patience. This chapter will elaborate on the role of the reader of secrets in two ways. First, it will...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Secrets Gendered: Femininity and Feminine Knowledge in Books of Secrets
    (pp. 95-125)

    In 1573 John Partridge and Richard Jones became the first English Renaissance team of a compiler and printer to create a book of secrets intended for a female audience.¹The Treasurie of commodious Conceits, and hidden Secretsappears to be a rather staid combination of recipes for dinners, desserts, and herbal medicines, but the dedication letter to Richard Wistow, a gentleman and assistant in the Company of the Barbers and Surgeons, the letters from Thomas Curtesye and Thomas Blank who are both identified as gentlemen, praising and defending the author, suggest that creating this book for a general audience was...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Secrets Bridled, Gentlemen Trained
    (pp. 126-155)

    Gervase Markham’s horsemanship and horse care manual,How to chuse, ride, traine, and diet, both Hunting-horses and running Horses. With all the secrets thereto belonging discovered: an Arte never here-to-fore written by any Authorserved as a substantial part of Markham’s empire of practical guides to animal husbandry and gentlemanly occupations. First printed in 1595, it was reissued intact and as parts of other books by Markham throughout the seventeenth century.¹ It represents Markham’s first entry into the market of inexpensive print, and stands as part of a burgeoning collection of books by young gentlemen on the art of horsemanship....

  10. CONCLUSION A Secret by Any Other Name
    (pp. 156-160)

    The books of secrets analyzed here reflect, perhaps more than other forms of cheap print that remained popular for a longer period of time, their cultural and intellectual context. While the knowledge they contained was collected from a variety of sources and presented in the name of different audiences and disciplines, they depict remarkably coherent and unified images of the natural world that represent concerted efforts by compilers and printers to satisfy prevailing questions about the power of art over nature, appropriate uses and users of art, and the systems driving nature and their susceptibility to human manipulation.

    I have...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 161-186)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 187-194)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 195-198)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-201)