OFF THE SHELF / Spiders round the neck: Kenneth Baxter on the Diary of Elias Ashmole, aged 16-70
Saturday 26 September 1992
His The Way to Bliss deals with the elusive philosopher's stone, which he never despaired of finding, but he was more than a dilettantish dabbler. Charles II, whose collection of English coins he catalogued, appointed him Windsor Herald, and he wrote a valuable History of the Order of the Garter. His friend John Tradescant, the celebrated gardener and snapper-of curiosities, bequeathed his collections to Ashmole. He added his own and gave the lot, 12 wagon-loads, to Oxford on condition that a repository be built to house them. Hence the (Old) Ashmolean Museum, opened by the Duke of York in 1683.
As might be expected of such a diligent man, Ashmole kept a Diary. It is not in the same class as Pepys or Evelyn, whom he knew, but it makes fascinating if quaint reading. It begins when he was 16, newly arrived in London and learning to sing and dance, to play the organ and virginals. It ends when he was 70, a well-to-do and respected man much esteemed by his sovereign.
Assemblies of the Commissioners of Excise, Astrologers' Feasts and meetings of the Royal Society, botanical forays and antiquarian excursions kept him busy; but he found time to christen a few children, attend a witch trial and show the king a pair of mummified Siamese twins and 'a male infant cut out of a woman's belly and preserved in liquor'. At the Lord Mayor's Banquet he informed Pepys, sitting next to him, that 'frogs and many insects fall from the sky perfectly formed'.
Comments on the deaths of friends and relatives occur with distressing frequency, as do accounts of his own ill-health - loose teeth and bowels, colics, surfeits, hot and cold agues, gout in the hands and both little toes. He was struck by a coach horse, badly shaken by robbers on Maidenhead Heath and suffered from melancholy vapours. However, blood-letting, possets of thistles, poultices and purges, the application of leeches, holding bryony root and hanging three spiders round the neck proved efficacious remedies. 'I took my usual sweat' is the last entry, though he lived another five years.
A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend
A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Michael Brown shooting: Amnesty International sends team within US for first time as National Guard deployed
- 2 James Foley 'beheaded': Isis video shows militant with British accent 'execute US journalist' – and warns Obama of more to come
- 3 Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad and potatoes for Jagermesiter and vodka
- 4 Here’s the damning letter Robin Williams wrote to his Mrs Doubtfire co-star's principal after they expelled her
- 5 Ferguson protests: 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein ‘arrested’ by police during St Louis demonstrations
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness
JK Rowling releases new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing Celestina Warbuck, the 'Singing Sorceress'
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad and potatoes for Jagermesiter and vodka
Kate Bush: Previously unseen photographs reveal new side to comeback star
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Russell Brand calls for Israel boycott: Comedian urges big businesses that 'facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza' to pull funding
Ukip MEP calls for reintroduction of death penalty on fiftieth anniversary of last deaths
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head