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The Ephemeral History of Perfume

Scent and Sense in Early Modern England

Holly Dugan

Publication Year: 2011

In contrast to the other senses, smell has long been thought of as too elusive, too fleeting for traditional historical study. Holly Dugan disagrees, arguing that there are rich accounts documenting how men and women produced, consumed, and represented perfumes and their ephemeral effects. She delves deeply into the cultural archive of olfaction to explore what a sense of smell reveals about everyday life in early modern England. In this book, Dugan focuses on six important scents—incense, roses, sassafras, rosemary, ambergris, and jasmine. She links these smells to the unique spaces they inhabited—churches, courts, contact zones, plague-ridden households, luxury markets, and pleasure gardens—and the objects used to dispense them. This original approach provides a rare opportunity to study how early modern men and women negotiated the environment in their everyday lives and the importance of smell to their daily actions. Dugan defines perfume broadly to include spices, flowers, herbs, animal parts, trees, resins, and other ingredients used to produce artificial scents, smokes, fumes, airs, balms, powders, and liquids. In researching these Renaissance aromas, Dugan uncovers the extraordinary ways, now largely lost, that people at the time spoke and wrote about smell: objects “ambered, civited, expired, fetored, halited, resented, and smeeked” or were described as “breathful, embathed, endulced, gracious, halited, incensial, odorant, pulvil, redolent, and suffite.” A unique contribution to early modern studies, The Ephemeral History of Perfume is an unparalleled study of olfaction in the Renaissance, a period in which new scents and important cultural theories about smell were developed. Dugan’s inspired analysis of a wide range of underexplored sources makes available to scholars a remarkable wealth of information on the topic.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

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Introduction: Strange, Invisible Perfumes

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pp. 1-23

The mysterious power of smell to evoke a “remembrance of things past” (or what scientists now term a “Proustian” or “involuntary” memory) was recently revealed. On October 4, 2004, Dr. Richard Axel and Dr. Linda B. Buck were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their groundbreaking discoveries of “odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system.”1 ...

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Chapter 1: Censing God: Frankincense, Censers, Churches

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pp. 24-41

On June 17, 1440, eighty-year-old Richard Wyche was burned alive for heresy near the public execution scaffold on Tower Hill in London. Long associated with Lollardy, Wyche, an Oxford-educated priest, was tried and imprisoned for preaching Wycliffite doctrines as early as 1401; though he ultimately recanted, Wyche continued his preaching in the north during the early fifteenth century. ...

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Chapter 2: Casting Selves: Rosewater, Casting Bottles, Court

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pp. 42-69

According to Edward Hall’s The Union of Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre and Yorke (1548), 1522 was a particularly trying year for King Henry VIII, though you would not know it from the staged courtly pleasures held that year. In January, a “great pestilence and death” ravaged London “and other places of the realme,” from which, Hall emphasizes, “many noble capitaines died.”1 This must ...

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Chapter 3: Discovering Sassafras: Sassafras, Noses, New World Environments

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pp. 70-96

Sir Humphrey Gilbert, knight, merchant adventurer, veteran of English wars in Ireland, and an important early proponent of English colonization of the Americas, argued strenuously that English success in the new world required blind faith in the endeavor. In his widely read Discourse of a New Passage to Cataia, which circulated in manuscript form for almost a decade before it was published ...

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Chapter 4: Smelling Disease: Rosemary, Pomanders, Shut-in Households

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pp. 97-125

Despite its title, Thomas Dekker’s The Wonderfull Yeare suggests that 1603 was anything but. After a description of the funeral of Elizabeth I, the famous plague pamphlet provides a “picture of London, lying sicke of the plague.”1 It is a gruesome picture, to be sure. The outbreak of the plague in 1603 was virulent and swift; in a few short months, more than thirty thousand Londoners were dead. ...

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Chapter 5: Oiled in Ambergris: Ambergris, Gloves, London’s Luxury Markets

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pp. 126-153

In 1633, after a decade of success divining for London society about the fertility of Queen Henrietta Maria, Lady Eleanor Davies was fined and imprisoned for comparing King Charles I to the biblical tyrant Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, and prophesying his death.1 Almost a year later, while still in prison for treason, Lady Eleanor Davies’s spirits were fortified by an angelic visitor, who, ...

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Chapter 6: Bowers of Bliss: Jasmine, Potpourri Vases, Pleasure Gardens

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pp. 154-181

In his preface to his poem “The Garden,” published posthumously in Thomas Sprat’s widely read Workes of Abraham Cowley (1668), Cowley declares that what he desires most is to be the master of a “small house and a large garden.”1 Such desire, at least according to the preface, was never fulfilled. Cowley’s spatial yearning, “so strong, and so like to Covetousness,” remained frustrated by his ...

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Conclusion: Ephemeral Remains

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pp. 182-189

In his 1751 treatise Philosophia Botanica, Carl Linnaeus introduced a radical new system for classifying botanical material that allowed him to attend to both generic and specific qualities of vegetative matter. His system involved surveying a plant’s reproductive organs and classifying them through binomial nomenclature; the inclusion of the secondary “diagnostic” term enabled botany to unfold, ...

Notes

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pp. 191-249

Index

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pp. 251-259


E-ISBN-13: 9781421404226
E-ISBN-10: 1421404222
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421402345
Print-ISBN-10: 1421402343

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 15 b&w illustrations
Publication Year: 2011