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'I fell into a looseness', 1684
Look away if squeamish.
Here in the midst of the school summer holidays, with work piling up and children needing attention, forgive me for some shorter pieces here for a few weeks. (Side note: all of the links below are to previous Histories pieces you might enjoy discovering.)
But sometimes, the diarists, autobiographers and observers of past times that I feature here are as interesting or entertaining in their brevity as their prolixity.
Today I give you the entirety of diary entries for August 1684 by Elias Ashmole – antiquary, astrologer, alchemist and acquirer of curiosities, many of which helped to form the basis of the collection that created the Ashmolean Museum, one of the world’s oldest (and most wonderful) museums and which is not far from me, in Oxford.
Ashmole (1617–1692) was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire (where Samuel Johnson was born a century later). He qualified as a solicitor and supported Charles I in the Civil War, for whom he became an ordnance officer based in Oxford. He became a great collector of artefacts, also befriending fellow antiquarian kleptomaniac John Tradescant, and was a co-founder of the Royal Society. Ashmole intended to write an autobiography based on his diary entries, but never did – if you read the sample below you might see why perhaps (like Pepys was, he is quite preoccupied with his bodily functions). His diary – kept from 1633 until 1687 – was first published in 1717, and the text below is from a 1774 reprint.1
4. Several French gentlemen, and Johannes Serenius Chodowieskey, a Polander, came to visit me. [J.S. Chodowiecki was a Polish schoolmaster and Protestant theologian.]
6. I rubbed the skin near my rump, whereupon it began to be very sore.
8. I purged.
9. I took leeches.
10. I purged again.
12. I applied a plaister to it.
15. Mr. Agur applied a balsam.
17. The sore began to break.
18. Dr. Plott, sent from Oxford to visit me, came to me. [Robert Plot was a naturalist and chemist whose major work was The Natural History of Oxfordshire – he also became the first keeper of the Ashmolean Museum.]
19. I fell into a looseness, which continued for two days.
24. Mr. Agur lanced the sore.
26. Being hard bound, I was two hours I before I could go to stool, and then with exceeding great trouble.
31. I was lanced again, to prevent a fistula.