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'Nature concocts & expels': the agents and processes of recovery from disease in Early Modern England

Newton, H. (2015) 'Nature concocts & expels': the agents and processes of recovery from disease in Early Modern England. Social History of Medicine, 28 (3). pp. 465-486. ISSN 1477-4666

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1093/shm/hkv022


The ‘golden saying’ in early modern medicine was ‘Nature is the healer of disease’. This article uncovers the meaning and significance of this forgotten axiom by investigating perceptions of the agents and physiological processes of recovery from illness in England, c.1580-1720. Drawing on sources such as medical texts and diaries, it shows that doctors and laypeople attributed recovery to three agents – God, Nature, and the practitioner. While scholars are familiar with the roles of providence and medicine, the vital agency of Nature has been overlooked. In theory, the agents operated in a hierarchy: Nature was ‘God’s instrument’, and the physician, ‘Nature’s servant’; but in practice the power balance was more ambivalent. Nature was depicted both as a housewife who cooked and cleaned the humours, and as a warrior, who defeated the disease. Through exploring these complex dynamics, the article sheds fresh light on concepts of gender, disease, and bodies.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Early Modern Research Centre (EMRC)
ID Code:45112
Publisher:Oxford University Press


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