Writing Question

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Read this extract from Philip Barrough, The Method of Phisicke, London, 1583. This extract is part of the Additional sources for Chapter 4 which can be found under ‘Resources’ on the module website. There the extract appears with the title ‘Melancholy: the view of a sixteenth-century English physician’.

In no more than 1000 words, write your answer to the following question: What does this document tell us about how the body and ill health were understood in the early modern period?

Source: Barrough, P. (1583) The Method of Phisicke, London. Quoted in Elmer, P. and Grell, O. P. (2004) Health, Disease and Society in Europe, 1500–1800, Manchester, Manchester University Press, pp. 241–2. Footnotes omitted.

Melancholie is an alienation of the mind troubling reason, and waxing foolish, so that one is almost beside himselfe. It commeth without a fever, and is chiefly engendered of melancholie occupying the mind, and changing the temperature of it. It is caused thre[e] kind of wayes: for sometime it is caused of the common vice of melancholie, bloud being in all the vaines of the whole body which also hurteth the braine. But oftentimes only the bloud which is in the braine is altered, and the bloud in all the rest of the body is unhurt, and that chaunceth two wayes: for either it is derived from other places, and ascendeth up thither, or els it is engendred in the braine it selfe. Also sometime it is engendred through inflammation, and evil affect about the stomake and sides: and therefore there be thre[e] diversities of melancholiousnes, according to the thre[e] kinds of causes. The most common signes be fearfulnes, sadnes, hatred, and also they that be melancholious, have straunge imaginations, for some think them selves brute beasts, and do counterfaite the voice and noise, some think themselves vessels of earth, or earthen pottes, and therfore they withdrawe themselves from them that they meet, least they should knocke together. Moreover they desire death, and do verie often behight and determine to kill them selves, and some feare that they should be killed. Many of them do alwayes laugh, and many do weep, some thinck themselves inspired with the holie Ghost, and do prophecy uppon thinges to come. But these be the peculiar signes of them that have melancholiousnes caused through consent of the whole body: for in them the state of the body is slender, black, rough and altogether melancholious caused naturally or through certaine thoughtes, or watchinges or eatinges of wicked meats, or through Emeroides, or suppression of menstruis. But they which have melancholia caused of vice in the sides they have rawenes, and much windines, sharp belkinges, burninges, and grevousnes of the sides. Also the sides are plucked upward, & many times are troubled with inflamation, especially about the beginning of the disease. Also there is costivenes of the wombe, litle sleep, troublous and naughty dreames, sweaming of the head, and sound in the eares: Let his dyet be such, as doth not engender melancholie. Therefore let him tary in an ayer hote and moist and let them use meanes of good iuyce, that be moist and temperate, let there bread be well baked & wrought, let there flesh be capons, hennes … and such like. Let the sicke use wyne that is white, thinne, and not very old, and let them eschewe wyne that is thick and black, let there exercises be meane, let them ryde or walke by places pleasant and greene, or use sailing on water. Also a bath of sweet water with a moyst dyet let the sicke use often as one of his remedies, sleep is wonderfull good for them, as also moderate carnall copulation. Let them be mer[r]y as much as may be, and heare musicall instruments and singing. But when the whole body abound with melancholike bloud, it is best to begin the cure with letting of bloud.


TMA 01 is designed to assess your understanding of the evidence historians use to write about the period. It will assess your ability to evaluate and analyse a primary source in a critical manner, demonstrating your knowledge of the material presented in the source, but also setting it into its historical context and thinking about how the source could be of use to historians.

The word count is tight, so you will need to be concise, but make sure to:

  • • comment on the nature, origin, context and significance of the source
  • • use examples from the source to answer the question.

In order to answer this TMA, you need first to consider who wrote it, when, for whom and why. The following information will be useful. Philip Barrough was a physician active in England between the 1560s and 1590s. His work The Method of Phisicke was a popular compendium of Galenic medicine that was reprinted many times. The extract was included in a chapter of the book entitled ‘Of melancholia’. The audience of this book would mainly include physicians, but because it was in English (not in Latin), it may have had a wider readership.

However, the bulk of your answer should be taken up with your analysis of the contents of the document, in answer to the question of what historians can learn from it. The prose is complex but don’t be tempted to just summarise the contents: focus on what the source tells us about early modern understandings of melancholy and, more broadly, of bodies and diseases. To do that you will need to look again at Chapter 4 and consider what you have read about the humoral theory and ideas about the unity of the body and mind. This is your chance to show that you have understood those ideas. When thinking about early modern understanding of melancholy, consider the ways in which this condition might have been diagnosed and prevented. It might be helpful to think about what influenced the creation of this source: consider the education of early modern physicians and reflect on how the source compares and contrasts with other documents on melancholy that you encountered in Chapter 4.

If it is a document, you should think about:

  • • What kind of document is it?
    • Who wrote it?
    • Who were the intended audience?
    • Why was it written?
    • When was it written?
    • What type of document is it (public, private, official, published, etc.)?
    • • What is its historical context? In what circumstances was it written? Who is likely to have read it? How was it received?
    • • What comments can you make on specific points in the text? What information does it provide?
    • • What comments can you make about the way it is written and the kind of language used?
    • • What is its significance for the study of the period?

You will not be asked to paraphrase the document, though you will be expected to show that you understand its content. You will be asked to focus on specific issues in the extract and on how these relate to broader historical points. You will also need to locate evidence from the document text to support your argument.

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