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.
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 2 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 3 Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations
- 4 Sir Winston Churchill’s family begged him not to convert to Islam, letter reveals
- 5 UK weather: 'Coldest night of the year' tonight as freezing temperatures plummet to -10C
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
Exodus: Gods and Kings banned in the UAE for 'religious mistakes'
Game of Thrones is most-pirated TV show of 2014
Doctor Who and the BBC 'promoting a gay agenda', viewers complain
Millions of Britons struggling to feed themselves and facing malnourishment
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Nigel Farage: Ukip leader named 'Briton of the year' by The Times
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk