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Books of Secrets

Natural Philosophy in England, 1550-1600

Allison Kavey

Publication Year: 2007

Ranging from alchemy to necromancy, books of secrets? offered medieval readers an affordable and accessible collection of knowledge about the natural world. Allison Kaveys study traces the cultural relevance of these books and also charts their influence on the people who read them. Citing the importance of printers in choosing the books contents, she points out how these books legitimized manipulating nature, thereby expanding cultural categories, such as masculinity, femininity, gentleman, lady, and midwife, to include the willful command of the natural world.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

front cover

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The first and biggest thank you must go to Larry Principe. Without his sense of humor and unflinching support, even in the face of literary theory, this project would have looked very different. He should be hailed as a scholar and a gentleman. ...

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Introduction: Telling Secrets

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pp. 1-8

This project began as a quest for the meaning and cultural status of books of knowledge, inexpensive perpetual almanacs that included information on astrology, physiognomy, and medical theory and advice. The original goal was to consider the ways in which these books helped readers reimagine the world around them as predictable and explicable, rather than opaque and chaotic. ...

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Chapter One: Printing Secrets

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pp. 9-31

The second half of the sixteenth century was marked by the formalization of English printing with the 1555 incorporation of the Stationers’ Company. The company proved to be a functional institution around which printers could coalesce and on whose regulations they would base an increasingly vibrant and lucrative trade. ...

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Chapter Two: Roger Bacon, Robert Greene's Friar Bacon, and the Secrets of Art and Nature

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pp. 32-58

To this point, I’ve concentrated on the print marketplace and offered evidence that there was a small group of interconnected printers producing and selling books of secrets. In this chapter, I will develop the role of authors, or more accurately the creation of authority, in cheap print. ...

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Chapter Three: Structuring Secrets for Sale

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pp. 59-94

The last chapter established the creation of authority as a fundamental part of books of secrets, since their appeal depended on readers believing that they contained the knowledge of great masters of the natural world whose wisdom was suddenly and for the first time available at a price they could afford. ...

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Chapter Four: Secrets Gendered: Femininity and Feminine Knowledge in Books of Secrets

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pp. 95-125

In 1573 John Partridge and Richard Jones became the first English Renaissance team of a compiler and printer to create a book of secrets intended for a female audience.1 The Treasurie of commodious Conceits, and hidden Secrets appears to be a rather staid combination of recipes for dinners, desserts, and herbal medicines, ...

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Chapter Five: Secrets Bridled, Gentlemen Trained

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pp. 126-155

Gervase Markham’s horsemanship and horse care manual, How to chuse, ride, traine, and diet, both Hunting-horses and running Horses. With all the secrets thereto belonging discovered: an Arte never here-to-fore written by any Author served as a substantial part of Markham’s empire of practical guides to animal husbandry and gentlemanly occupations. ...

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Conclusion: A Secret by Any Other Name

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pp. 156-160

The books of secrets analyzed here reflect, perhaps more than other forms of cheap print that remained popular for a longer period of time, their cultural and intellectual context. While the knowledge they contained was collected from a variety of sources and presented in the name of different audiences and disciplines, ...


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pp. 161-186


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pp. 187-194


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pp. 195-197

back cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252091599
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252032097

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2007