Thomas Tryon’s A Dialogue Between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman Concerning the Present Affairs of Europe (1683)

This 22-page tract was published anonymously in 1683 (reissued in 1691 and 1697), and was the first of Tryon’s cross-cultural dialogues wherein he used his ventriloquizing powers to promote sociocultural reforms.

facsimile of late-17th-century title-page

^ Facsimile of title-page for Thomas Tryon’s A dialogue between an East-Indian brackmanny or heathen-philosopher, and a French gentleman concerning the present affairs of Europe. London: Printed and sold by Andrew Sowle at the Crooked-Billet in Holloway-Lane, in Shoreditch, 1683.

A “brackmanny” (from the Latin brachmani, brachmanes, and medieval Latin corruptions) was a 17th-century term for a member of the highest or priestly caste among the Hindus, also known as a Brahman (Brâhman or Bráhman) and Brahmin.
   Tryon’s Dialogue also refers to Indian Bannians, the early-modern term for a Hindu trader, used here by Tryon, and elsewhere in 17th-century texts, to designate all Hindus in Western India, especially in and around the province of Gujarat.
   The “East Indies” was Europeans’ name for India and the adjacent regions and islands of South-East Asia. Variations of “India” were used allusively to name any region of the world, rich in natural resources and/or merchandise, to which profitable voyages could be made. Thus, the name “West Indies” was loosely applied to those lands of the Western Hemisphere discovered by Europeans in the 15th and 16th centuries.
   As Peter Heylyn (1599–1662) explained it: “This great tract of Land is most aptly called the NEW WORLD, New for the late discovery; and World, for the vast spaciousnesse of it. The most usuall and yet somewhat improper name is AMERICA, because Americus Vespuccius discovered it: but sithence Columbus gave us the first light to discerne these Countries, both by example and directions: and Sebastianus Cabot touched at many parts of the continent which Americus never saw: why is it not aswel called Columbana, Sebastiana, or Cabotia? The most improper name of all, yet most usuall among Marriners is the WESTERNE INDIES: Western because of the West situation; and India, because by that one name they expresse all wealthie (if remote) Countries.” (P. Heylyn, Microcosmus, or a Little Description of the Great World: a Treatise Historicall, Geographicall, Politicall, Theologicall, 1621, 400)

Tryon also ventriloquized the Other (birds of North America) in Part 2 of his The Planter’s Speech to his Neighbours & Country-Men of Pennsylvania, East & West-Jersey ... (1684), and he made significant use of the technique again that same year in one of the earliest anti-slavery tracts published in English, with a descriptive title which reads in full:

Friendly advice to the gentlemen-planters of the East and West Indies in three parts. I. A brief treatise of the most principal fruits and herbs that grow in the East & West Indies; giving an account of their respective vertues both for food and physick, and what planet and sign they are under. Together with some directions for the preservation of health and life in those hot climates. II. The complaints of the negro-slaves against the hard usages and barbarous cruelties inflicted upon them. III. A discourse in way of dialogue, between an Ethiopean or negro-slave, and a Christian that was his master in America. By Philotheos Physiologus. (London, 1684)

In Tryon’s Friendly Advice to the Gentlemen-Planters of the East and West Indies in Three Parts, a black African slave appeals to white European sensibilities using arguments which reflect such European values as feminine empathy:

These things [pertaining to the inhumane treatment of black women and children], though our hard-hearted Masters regard not, yet methinks, our Mistrisses, if not out of Christianity or good Nature, yet out of respect to Woman-hood, and their own Sex, and by a Compassion raised from their own experience of the difficulties of Child-bearing, might be induced to prevail with their Husbands to be more tender in such cases [e.g., abuse of pregnant slave women], but so far are even these counted of the softer Sex, from any such commiseration, that when they alone have the sole command, as when they are left Widdows, or the like, many of them are more fierce, dogged, pinching, oppressing and severe than the men themselves.

(T. Tryon, Friendly Advice to the Gentlemen-Planters of the East and West Indies in Three Parts, 1684, 105–6)

and just punishment:

... one Widdow Woman above all the rest, (as we have heard) burned her Negro for running away, and saying, that, Where-ever he met her, he would Kilt her: So when she caught him, she was Judge, Jury, Executioner, and all, though at the same time she might have sold him to be transported to Mevis [i.e., rather than having him burnt to death].
     Here was (as doubtless ’tis true) Revenge in the highest degree! If she had only threatned him, as he threatned her, she would have been even with him, but nothing would satisfie her Malice but to Roast him. O thou most just and eternal Lawgiver, and Perswader of all Creatures! Do these things taste or favour of Christianity?

(T. Tryon, Friendly Advice to the Gentlemen-Planters of the East and West Indies in Three Parts, 1684, 111–2)

and financial gain:

For the Tyranny, ill Usage and Improvidence of the generality may further appear by the great Numbers of our Country-men and Women that are brought every Year to America, and the Isles thereabouts, which shews the vast Consumption or Destruction that is made of us in those parts; we shall only give one Example; in the small Island of Barbadoes there are supposed to be commonly resident, forty or fifty Thousand of our Country-People, that are Slaves; and though we have our Custom of Plurality of Wives, and are naturally as fruitful as most Nations, yet our Off-spring will not maintain the Number, but they are forced yearly to bring in by Shipping, several Thousands more of our Country-men, as fresh Supplies, and to maintain the old Stock or Number; so that it looks like the Fields of Mars, where often Recruits are required to supply the place of the slaughtered Soldiers. Now would not any rational man conclude, that if One Thousand Men and One Thousand Women, (most of them young, and capable of Generation) lived in a separated place or Isle, where they want for no Conveniencies, for a matter of ten or twenty Years, who, (I say) could but in reason expect these two Thousand to be multiplyed at least to four Thousand, or more, and that they would encrease so fast as to grow rather Superfluous and Super-numerary, than that there should be any occasion to purchase more at dear Rates, from remote Regions: For thus it usually happens in other parts of the World, as England ... does not it spare every Year great Numbers of Men, which of late Years have settled several Colonies, and peopled divers Countries and Islands in America, which are like to become very numerous, and yet still their own Country rather over-stockt, than wanting of men to carry on their Affairs ....

(T. Tryon, Friendly Advice to the Gentlemen-Planters of the East and West Indies in Three Parts, 1684, 141–4)

On paper, at least, Tryon’s righteous and eloquent slave makes a persuasive case against the sort of double consciousness that excused Christian slave-owners engaged in human trafficking.

But it was Tryon’s A Dialogue Between an East-Indian Brackmanny ... and a French Gentleman ... which first represented the so-called “heathen” as embodying the core principles of “true Christianity,” in contrast to his European brethren, among whom “the general Practice now-a-days runs quite contrary.” (Dialogue, 20 and 3)

During the course of their Euro-Hindu dialogue, Tryon’s inquisitive French gentleman admits that “nothing is more frequent among us than Contentions, Controversies and Wars.... Some for Empire, some for Glory, but most about Religious points, and the nearest way to Heaven.” (Dialogue, 2) In addition, the very “Life of Religion” (Dialogue, 3) is threatened in Europe by state-sanctioned (and in England’s case, state-imposed) restraints on “Liberty of Conscience”:

... to make all mens Understandings of a size, our Church-men prepare Moulds for them, viz. Creeds, Liturgies, Systems of Divinity, and the like, wherein they cast and fashion all mens Understandings, so that none but must own these, though he do not understand a Word of them; nor must dispute them, though his Heart and his Brain tell him they are false and impious.

(T. Tryon, A Dialogue Between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman Concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 12–13)

As Tryon’s cultured “negro-slave” would do in 1684, Tryon’s Brahman spokesman of 1683 used European-style “Civilities” to persuade his French interlocutor of the need for reform and religious tolerance within the Christian community, by posing such rhetorical questions as:

Can any thing be more absurd than to turn Earth into a kind of Hell, under pretence of driving men to Heaven? and to commit Murders and Cruelties for the sake of the God of Life and Love?

(T. Tryon, A Dialogue Between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman Concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 3)

In this book, and throughout Tryon’s oeuvre, the contradictions between professed principles and actual practice are laid bare, leaving the French gentleman to conclude:

You [i.e., his Brahman interlocutor] have not only gratified my Curiosity, but in several things informed my Understanding. And I heartily wish that your Virtue and Morality were crowned with true Christianity, and our Christianity embellisht with the real practice of your Virtue, Temperance and Moderation.

(T. Tryon, A Dialogue Between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman Concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 20)

Tryon’s original essay at interfaith dialogue was an indicator of things to come.

The long-term effect on Christianity in Europe of the contact with other religions was of great importance, though difficult to define with precision. It led to a more relaxed view of dogma, a concentration on the promise rather than on the law of Christianity. It was realized that all men, however remote or primitive, had a religious sense that led them to worship something outside themselves and their immediate environment. This led to tolerance, in extreme cases to the vague pantheism which was so widespread in the 18th century; the belief that God dwells in everything and every man, and has not declared Himself exclusively to any one nation or sect. As it came to be seen that the world was hugely populous, the idea of a personal God who scans the actions of each individual became harder to accept. He moved further from the day-to-day affairs of every man. He became more a source of distant inspiration than of watchful judgment. Morality itself became less a clean-cut issue of right or wrong when it was seen that non-Christian moralities could produce upright and responsible conduct.
     In fact, as an anthropological point of view developed, God became less anthropomorphic....

(The Age of the Renaissance, ed. by Denys Hay, 1967, 343)

From page 1 of A Dialogue Between an East-Indian Brackmanny ... and a French Gentleman ..., Tryon’s attraction to Brahman teachings and lifestyle is apparent. As a cosmopolitan London merchant who travelled abroad and spent 5 years in the Anglo-American colony of Barbados, Tryon shared with the Brahman spokesman of his 1683 Dialogue a heartfelt openness to and appreciation of human variety:

And we Bannians scarce know any thing that is a greater Evil, than for men to Contend, Hate, Envy, Oppress, Fight and Destroy one another, because they are not in all particulars like themselves: For men naturally are as various in their Intellects, as in their Shapes, Forms and Complexions; for the Shape and Form of every Body is according to the Nature, Equality or Inequality of the Spirit. The Lord hath made all things to differ; there is not any two things in the four Worlds alike in all particulars; therefore whosoever is offended with another, because he is not perswaded, or does not understand just as he does, is in truth offended with his Maker, who is the author of that Variety .... If there were not Variety there would be no Motion, for it is the various working Power, and as it were Strife between the Properties that causeth all Vegetation and Manifestation; if there were but one thing, there would be nothing, or a standing still, which the Jews great Prophet seems mystically to shew, when he saith, God made all things out of Nothing: For there was no Manifestation or Appearances before God moved himself on the Face of the Waters; which moving, seems to signifie the Strife of the various Forms, Qualities and Properties of the hidden Nature, without which nothing could be generated. But here I must be silent, for we are counted Heathens already, and I do not know what worse Censures may pass upon us, if we too far explain those Notions, which though founded in Nature, are yet so disagreeable to the Conceits and Practice of the Multitude.

(T. Tryon, A Dialogue Between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman Concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 12–14)

Nor was Tryon alone in this seminal understanding of human difference. A wide range of European theosophists, natural philosophers (early-modern cosmologists), alchemists, and mystics — from “the lowest of men,” “tinkers, cobblers, weavers, and poor beggarly fellows” who learned Hermetic philosophy from Dr. John Everard, translator of The Divine Pymander of Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus from the original Arabic in the 1640s ... to the high-ranking duchess of Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish, who also argued that “it was impossible for all Mankind to be of one Religion, or Opinion” — embraced what Cavendish called in her scientific works the “infinite,” “Miraculous,” and “glorious or beautiful ... variety” of the divine creation.

Such beliefs concerning divinely-inspired variety derived, in part, from Pythagorean science, and Tryon repeats the 17th-century claim that Hindus, too, were influenced by the Greek philosopher, Pythagoras of Samos (b. c. 570 BCE–d. c. 480 BCE), about whom Tryon’s Brahman spokesman comments:

... this great man travelling for the acquest and diffusion of Knowledge into divers parts, left not our India unvisited, and there planted this wholsom Doctrine, which ever since hath not wanted Observers, derived down by a continual Succession to our Times.

(T. Tryon, A Dialogue Between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman Concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 18)

In sum:

our well-advised Fathers commanded us, our Wives and Children, to abstain from all kinds of Violence and Oppression, especially to those of our own Species, that thereby our Souls might be preserved from being precipitated into Wrath, and so retain Humanity, and the more noble Faculties of our Souls unspotted, as well as our Bodies rendred wholsom, clean, and fit to be Temples for the divine Spirit, esteeming Abstinence, Cleanness and Separation to be the true Paths that lead to all external and eternal Bliss.

(T. Tryon, A Dialogue Between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman Concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 16–17)

Tryon, speaking elsewhere in his own voice, makes much the same argument over and over throughout his works, including in The Planter’s Speech to his Neighbours & Country-Men of Pennsylvania, East & West-Jersey ... (1684).

Here in his Euro-Hindu Dialogue, Tryon is intent on overturning “that common Error of thinking, that out of Europe or the Pale of Christendom dwells nothing but Rudeness and Barbarism.” (Dialogue, 1) Upon hearing from the Frenchman that Europeans “are told by our Learned, that you are meer Heathens, Infidels, Idolaters and Worshippers of the Sun, Moon, and all the Host of Heaven,” Tryon’s enlightened Brahman replies:

I nothing wonder that you Europeans should be mistaken about us, who live so remote, since you seem so little to understand the Opinions of each other amongst your selves, every one misrepresenting the Sentiments and Doctrines of all that differ from him. ’Tis true, we do highly esteem and admire all the heavenly Host, and those Refulgent Quires of the Coelestials, especially that glorious Eye of the World, the Sun, as being the Handy-Works and Wonderful Powers of the incomprehensible Creator, and think it part of our Duty to express our Gratitude and Veneration to the one only Fountain whence all those amazing Wonders proceed; for he that contemns the Streams cannot truly honour the Fountain. Do not your own Prophets teach you to Honour Rulers and Governours, because they derive their Government from God? And if you do not only worship and bow the Knee one to another (who are at best but brittle animated Dirt) but also reverence the Works of your own Hands, as a man cloathed in goodly Rayment, and the like, how much more ought we to have in high Veneration those wonderful Fountains of Light, Heat, Motion and Vitality, which are the manifested Powers of God, and his upper Vice-gerents and Lieutenants over the lower World? Did not you tell me but now that you esteemed your Hugenotes worthy of Death or Persecution, because they would not pay Esteem and Adoration to a few painted Clouts, the Pictures of their fellow-Creatures, which you call Saints, not knowing whether they be truly so or not; and yet you will condemn our Brachmans, for directing their Esteem to these glorious Master-pieces of the Creation? If you count such lifeless pittiful things, as Wood and Stone, or things painted and fashioned by Man, fit to be Representations of your Godds, and means whereby to enliven your Phantasies and Minds to an higher degree of Devotion (which was the sole intent of the first Inventers of those things) what regard then ought we not to have of those living Powers of God, the Coelestial Bodies, by whose sweet and friendly Influences all created Beeings are preserved and nourished? What is more exciting to a well-disposed Mind than to behold that glorious Body the Sun, with the innumerable Train of Stars, and the various Species in the four Worlds? or what doth more ravishingly declare the Greatness, Goodness, and eternal Wisdom of the immense Creator? This is a Book we study, in which the grand Charter of Nature, and the holy Mysteries of God are recorded, and we think do not Err in preferring it before the endless and contentious thwarting Volumns of the Talkative Philosophers and Wrangling School-men.

(T. Tryon, A Dialogue Between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman Concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 14–16)

This speech revealed an alternative spiritual path, more or less in line with his own, that would intrigue Tryon for the rest of his life. He continued to explore Hinduism’s contours and depths, publishing, in 1695, a new work on the subject, this time ventriloquizing Averroës, Pythagoras, and “the King of India,” who converse about a wide range of topics, mostly medical.

facsimile of late-17th-century title-page

^ Facsimile of title-page (marred by staining and print show-through) for Thomas Tryon’s Averroeana, printed at London in 1695.

The letterpress title-page reads in full: [Averroeana.] Being a transcript of several letters from Averroes an Arabian philosopher at Corduba in Spain, to Metrodorus a young Grecian nobleman, student at Athens, in the years 1149, and 1150. Also several letters from Pythagoras to the King of India, together with his reception at the Indian court, and an account of his discourse with the King, and his gymnosophists, and his rules and precepts: his account of the power and efficacy of numbers, and magical uses thereof. To which is prefixt, a Latin letter by Monsieur Grinau, one of the Messieurs du Port Royal in France, to the ingenius Monsieur Gramont, merchant at Amsterdam, concerning the subject of these papers, and how they came to his hands. The whole containing matters highly philosophical, physiological, Pythagorical and medicinal. The work having been long conceal’d, is now put into English for the benefit of mankind, and the rectification of learned mistakes. London: Printed and sold by T. Sowle, in White-Hart-Court in Grace-Church-Street, 1695.
   This work was printed by the successful businesswoman Tace Sowle Raylton (b. 1666; fl. 1691–1735), an eminent Quaker bookseller, printer, and compositor who, along with her father Andrew Sowle (1628–1695), produced most of Tryon’s publications.

In the book’s “A Letter Prefatory to the Ensuing Discourse,” dated April 1687, Averroës is described as a great philosopher

who is acknowledged by all that have the least Relish of Physick, to have very well deserved from that Art, he having laid down Excellent Rules, built upon sound Reason for the Preservation of Health, encouraging, and commending Temperance to all his Disciples.

(T. Tryon, Averroeana: Being a Transcript of Several Letters from Averroes an Arabian Philosopher at Corduba in Spain, to Metrodorus a Young Grecian Nobleman, Student at Athens ... Also Several Letters from Pythagoras to the King of India ... To which Is Prefixt, a Latin Letter by Monsieur Grinau ..., 1695, A5v–A6r)


being a severe Searcher, and diligent Enquirer into the Secrets of Nature, he never rashly past Judgment upon things: And being an Arabian, and having a nearer Communication with Phoebus, whatsover there is of Secret in this Business, that has created so much trouble to our Modern Physicians, could not be unknown to him.

(T. Tryon, Averroeana: Being a Transcript of Several Letters from Averroes ... to Metrodorus ... Also Several Letters from Pythagoras to the King of India ..., 1695, A6r)

The pseudonymous “Monsieur Grinau” emphasizes in his preface that Averroës’ doctrine concerning “the Menstruum [i.e., digestive juices] of the Stomach” (a favorite topic of Tryon’s) is not only well known to the learned of his day, but “an Original Manuscript Writ in Arabick” (presumably on a related subject) is held by the Library of the College of Physicians in London. And, he opines, it is to be expected that Averroës studied the writings of Pythagoras, since “their Sentiments are so much alike, that none can doubt but that there was an Intercourse and Correspondence betwixt their Souls.” (Averroeana, A6r)

As for Pythagoras,

Mankind with one consent agree that he was a Person endued with Antient Morals, and Sincere Fidelity, affecting neither the Applause nor Estimation of the Vulgar, having only a particular regard to the Welfare of Mankind, not stuffing his Writings with Rhetorical Flights to captivate the Understanding of the Ignorant, always commending many wholesom Rules, and useful Notions, to the Service of the World. So that it seems he was altogether bent to promote the Health and Welfare both of Body and Mind. What need is there to say more, so many Excellent Things have been Written by him, and with so many Praises have all the Learned in former Ages extolled him, that it would be highly unreasonable to suspect the Reputation of so great a Man.

(T. Tryon, Averroeana: Being a Transcript of Several Letters from Averroes ... to Metrodorus ... Also Several Letters from Pythagoras to the King of India ..., 1695, A5v–A6r)

The 1695 Averroeana (probably written in the late 1680s) is in three parts: Part 1 is formatted as an epistolary exchange between Averroës and Metrodorus, in which Arabic philosophy and Brahman culture are explored; Part 2 is formatted as an epistolary exchange between an Indian King and Pythagoras, in which Pythagorean doctrine is explored; and Part 3 is formatted as a third-person “Account of a personal discourse between Pythagoras the Indian king and his gymnosophists, asserting the truth of his doctrine, [as] found in an ancient Latin manuscript, attested by Averroes own hand.”

The book’s authorities assert, as does Tryon throughout his works, that “a due and sober moderation in Eating, Drinking and Exercising” (Averroeana, 51) is the key to good health and well-being. Doctors and apothecaries, along with their “inhumane” treatments and expensive medications, are for the most part dismissed. And Tryon’s Averroës promotes instead the traditional healing practices of “the Indian Brachmans. They are a sort of Philosophers, for whom I have ever had a great Esteem.” (Averroeana, 51)

Of note, Letter 8 in Tryon’s collection of Averroeana describes the state of women’s reproductive medicine in early-modern India (“the Method they use with their Women, during the time of their Impregnation, Lying in, and giving Suck, &c. in respect both to Mind and Body”). Here we learn that pregnant women of the Brahman caste drink nothing but pure spring water; that they are “very Exact and Punctual as to the quantity and quality of their Food”; that they fast regularly; that they “Labour and Exercise gently, Morning and Afternoon”; that they are ideally silent (“It makes the Mind sedate, grave, and thinking, strengthening all the Powers thereof, whereby they become more considerate, and better able to endure the Inconveniences they may meet with. For the Spirits of Women are naturally more Volatile than those of Men; so that much Talking doth spend and wast them, weaken the whole Constitution, and beget swelling, angry Humours, equally prejudicial to the Child, as to the Mother.”); that they are ideally cheerful (“Pleasantness both of Mind and Manners”); that they use music, taught to them by priests, to regulate (moderate and compose) their passions (“the Composition of the Elements in Women are of a more fine and softer Nature than in Men, for which cause they are more subjected to Passions, apter to Love or Hate, and consequently sooner, and more deeply wounded both in Mind and Body”); and that they use an herbal poultice for any tumors and distempers they develop.

Unfortunately, the passage that I think has to do with Hindu medicine’s treatment for breast cancer is badly stained, obliterating some of the text:

facsimile of page from late-17th-century printed book

^ Facsimile of page 58, from Thomas Tryon’s Averroeana: Being a Transcript of Several Letters from Averroes ... to Metrodorus ... Also Several Letters from Pythagoras to the King of India ... (1695).

The recipe for the herbal poultice traditionally used to treat Hindu women’s breast tumors is badly marred by staining and print show-through in the one copy of Tryon’s Averroeana which I have viewed, and reproduce here.
   This is a common problem with Thomas Tryon’s works, some of which are exceedingly rare today. Cheaply printed to begin with, so as to be affordable by those of the middling classes — farmers, housewives, domestic workers, professionals, tradeswomen and tradesmen on both sides of the Atlantic — Tryon’s plain-spoken and practical works had popular appeal, and are well-worn after centuries of use and abuse by readers.
   Should anyone have access to a better copy of Tryon’s text, and be able to fill in the words missing from my transcript below, please contact me. (I would also welcome any information people may have about the “bitter Herb called (Tantaraboys)” in the 17th century, which I have not yet been able to identify, and would like to know more about.)

My transcription of the Hindu “Receipt to Cure Swelled Breasts” — part of a letter supposedly written by Averroës to Metrodorus — follows, with underlined spaces in place of the printed text which I can’t quite make out:

If any of their Women chance to have [hard ?] [swelling ?] ___ or Tumors, they ___ them to make this following Poultice, which they esteem to have an Universal Tendency and Effect. Viz. Take Rice and boil it in Water, and when it becomes thick and soft, they take a bitter Herb called (Tantaraboys) cut it small, and mix it with the Rice, adding to a Quart of this Two Ounces of good Sugar, and apply it to the Sore Ten or Twelve times in Twenty-four Hours, which gives ease the first time, and in a few Days heals the Distemper. They have a great Opinion of Sugar, taking it to be one of the greatest Balsams in the World, if mixed with proper Ingredients, and will often apply it alone to Cuts, Sores and Wounds.

(T. Tryon, Averroeana: Being a Transcript of Several Letters from Averroes ... to Metrodorus ... Also Several Letters from Pythagoras to the King of India ..., 1695, 58)

Tryon’s source for this ancient medical recipe is not known.

Perhaps he learned of it from Hindu traders of his acquaintance in London or Amsterdam.

Or perhaps he found it among Averroës’ MSS. in the collection at the Library of the Royal College of Physicians of London.

However he came by it, Tryon deserves credit for “Well-doing” (T. Tryon, A Dialogue Between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher, and a French Gentleman Concerning the Present Affairs of Europe, 1683, 12) in publishing it, “to the Honour and Glory of God, the Improvement of our own Understandings, and rational Faculties, and the publick Benefit of the Creation” (T. Tryon, The Country-Man’s Companion, 1st edn., 1684, 89).

A firm believer in the efficacy of poultices, Tryon was always on the lookout for additional cataplasm recipes, regardless of national origin. In 1696, he published an English prescription for “An Excellent Poultis to Cure Sore Breast’s”:

facsimile of page from late-17th-century printed book

^ Facsimile of page 4, from Book 1 of Miscellania: or, A collection of necessary, useful, and profitable tracts on variety of subjects, which for their excellency, and benefit of mankind, are compiled in one volume. By Thomas Tryon physiologus. London: printed and sold by T. Sowle, in White-Hart-Court in Grace Church-street, 1696.

This was another of Tryon’s popular titles printed and published by the businesswoman Tace Sowle Raylton, whom Tryon acknowledged in his discussion of “Pithagoras’s Method and Advice to his Disciples”: “... And if you would know more of this, Read Pythagoras’s, Letters (lately Printed by T. Sowle, in White-Hart-Court) and observe the Methods and Numbers there treated [of] at large, and your understanding will be enlightened, if you are in good earnest, and live in the Fear and under the Dominion of the Fountain of Benignity whose Signal Character is plainness, Simplicity and Innocency.” (T. Tryon, Miscellania, 9 books, 1696, 1.11–12) The reference is to Tryon’s Averroeana: Being a Transcript of Several Letters from Averroes ... to Metrodorus ... Also Several Letters from Pythagoras to the King of India ..., printed the year before by Tace Sowle.

My transcription follows:

An Excellent Poultis to Cure Sore Breast’s.
     Take one Quart of Rain or River Water, some Sorrel cut small, half an Ounce of Coriander Seed beaten to Powder, two Ounces of good brown Sugar, as much Bread as will make it into a Poultis, make it Boyling hot, stirring it all the time, then it is done,-----Apply this every Hour, or every two Hours as warm as your Blood on a Linnen Cloath for two or three Days more or less, as you see occasion, and remember to wash your Breast with good Water and fresh Butter beaten together, every time you apply the Poultis, and you need not doubt but with God’s Blessing the Cure will be Effected in a short time.

(T. Tryon, Miscellania: or, a Collection of Necessary, Useful, and Profitable Tracts on Variety of Subjects ..., 9 books, 1696, 1.4)

The ancient practice of using hot poultices of various sorts (heat therapy or hyperthermia) has been rediscovered by modern medicine as a cancer therapy. According to Tryon, hot herbal poultices such as this, and the ancient Hindu treatment for cancerous breasts, are “noble” since “all the Ingredients do cast a friendly aspect to each other, being of a cleansing mild Balsamick Nature and Operation.” Most important, they are “cheap and easily Come-at-able” remedies for the poor, who would otherwise be dependent upon “the tedious methods of some unskilful Chyrurgeons, together with their improper Compositions and unatural Applycations, which do not only Ruin and Undo many poor necessitous People, but to the losing of their Limbs and sometimes their Lives too” (T. Tryon, Miscellania, A4r).

Thus, instead of

... running presently to Chyrurgions, who for gain put them to much pain and misery, or otherwise tampering therewith, so far encrease those Maladies, that many times they grow to Gangreens and Mortifications, and their Fingers, Arms, Legs, are often forced to be cut off, and not a few have their Lives thereby shortened ...

Tryon recommends a more “natural” remedy for “Wounds, Cuts, Pricks of Thorns, and other Accidents” whereby “any part of the Body or Flesh be Poysoned”: suck the “envenomed” flesh “with your Mouth, and spurt out what you draw from it” (and for “great or dangerous” hurts, “put Milk, or Milk and Sugar in your Mouth” before sucking out the poison), then “lay a Poultice of Bread and Milk on the place” “till you come to suck it again”; and repeat as necessary, alternating between sucking and poulticing the wound until a cure is effected. Despite having “been proved by manifold Experience, Tryon recognizes that such “an easie ready Course of Remedy, without any Charge, Trouble or Hazard” will be slighted by some “for its plainness and meanness”:

But because this Remedy here prescribed [sucking on a wound, and binding it with a poultice of bread soaked in milk], is so easily procured without Money or Price, and so truly Natural, I am still afraid that not only the Learned, but many of the Vulgar will despise this simple way: For, Man is so depraved, from the innocent Ways of God and Nature, that he despiseth all in comparison of his own Art; and most men esteem and give place to those things they do not understand; and on the contrary despise and slight the things that they do know; and so long as any particular things remains a Mystery, they admire; but as soon as they come to know it, they trample it under their Feet with disdain. Therefore all the Phylosophical Ancients hid the Divine and Natural Reasons of Things, because they could not find any, or very few capable of [believing in] that Doctrine.

(T. Tryon, The Way to Health, Long Life, and Happiness, 3rd edn., 1697, 431–435)

In keeping with his vegetarian principles, Tryon did not use “the fulsom Grease of Swine and other Fats” in his poultices, as was then customary for Europeans. For example, a mid-17th-century manual of popular medicine, printed twice by Gertrude Dawson, recommends treating “the Imposthume [sc. purulent swelling or cyst] of the Breasts” using a conventional-style plaster made with pork fat:

A Plaister of marsh-Mallowes, Mallowes, Wormwood, Mugwort, and Swines greace, made up according to art is very profitable; when the swelling is come unto the height, lay Nut kernels bruised to peices unto it: And if the Imposthume break not, let it be launced with a Launcet or Pen-knife, and squeeze it a little, least by the suddain evacuation a worse mischeevious Imposthume may come upon it; and when it is broken, put in a linnen cloth, twice or thrice a day, smeared with the yolk of an Egg and Turpentine, which strengtheneth exceedingly: And if the Imposthume chance to passe into a Fistula, put into it a root of black Hellebor dipped in Oyle or Honey; or sprinkle powder of the colt-Bur [sc. clot-bur, the burdock plant, Arctium Lappa] upon it, for with these is every Fistula purged and destroyed, so as it be not between the bones; wherefore these Medicines are so long to be administred, untill it dye, and be dried up, and afterward the Ulcer be cured.

(A. M., A Rich Closet of Physical Secrets, Collected by ... Four Severall Students in Physick, 1st edn., 1652, 25–26)

Many at that time confused fistulas — “A long, narrow, suppurating canal of morbid origin in some part of the body; a long, sinuous pipe-like ulcer with a narrow orifice.” (Oxford English Dictionary) — with cancers. According to the duchess of Newcastle, who was at pains to distinguish the two,

Cancers and Fistula’s are somewhat alike, in that they are both produced from Salt, or sharp corroding Motions: but in this they differ, that Cancers keep their Center, and spread in streams; whereas Fistula’s will run from place to place: for if it be stopt in one place, it is apt to remove and break out in another. Yet Cancers are somewhat like Gangren’s, in infecting adjoining Parts; so that unless a Cancer be in such a place as can be divided from the Sound Parts, it destroys the Human Life, by eating (as I may say) the Sound Parts of the Body, as all Corroding, and Sharp or Salt Diseases do.

(Margaret Cavendish, Grounds of Natural Philosophy, 1668, 144)

In addition to treating breast disease with plasters made from animal fats, A. M.’s popular health handbook advised treating severe vaginal itch with an ointment mixed with the adipose tissue of an animal:

If those parts itch, so that women by scratching take away the skin, whereupon blysters arise, which greatly molest and trouble them, they ought to be annointed with the Ointment prescribed for burnings.
     Take an Apple, Bole armoniack [sc. ammoniac], Mastick [sc. the aromatic gum of the mastic tree], Frankincense, Oyle, hot Wine, Wax, and Tallow [sc. animal fat], and thus you may prepare it. Purge the Apple from the outward rind, and the core, and put it in a pot to the fire, with the Oyle, Wax, and Tallow, and when it shall be hot, the Mastick and Frankincense, being reduced into powder, must be put in, and then being mingled strained through a cloth.

(A. M., A Rich Closet of Physical Secrets, Collected by ... Four Severall Students in Physick, 1st edn., 1652, 23)

Anticipating his critics, Tryon argued that the added animal fats undermined the remedial powers of fomentation (“those Poultices wherein Fats are mixed, the fine Spirits and Vertues thereof do not so easily nor powerfully penetrate the Wound”), and were not the only means of preventing a poultice from “sticking to the Sore or wounded part.” This, argued Tryon, was better accomplished by “often repetition” (frequently changing a poultice): “every fresh Application of this Homogenial Poultice to the grieved part, do add new fresh Supplies of Vertue.” (T. Tryon, Miscellania, A5r) As “all Brewers and good House-Wifes are sensible of,” leaving one “applycation” on another for too long “will soon awaken another Quality of a gross harsh sour ... Nature, which with a rapid motion, tinges or transmutes all the fine sweet healing Vertues into their own Qualities.” In like manner, leaving a poultice on a wound for 12 or 24 hours, as was also common practice, causes it to “smell sour and stink” and “puts the patient to great Pain and Torment, and often the limb is cut off, and sometimes the Life too.” (T. Tryon, Miscellania, A6v)

Tryon concludes the preface to his Miscellania by advising his critics, “therefore despise not our method, nor our plain home bread Poultices”:

I could produce many living Testimonies of ... Success, but it is needless, since every Man’s Experience that tries it, will soon confirm the Truth of what is here delivered, nor am I not much Solicitous whether I am credited or not; it is the consideration of the publick good it may do to many poor People, [prompts] me to publish it, whether you will follow the forementioned Rules [e.g., constantly “stirring” the heated ingredients; and concocting “thin,” not “thick,” spoon-meats] or not, I have done my Duty in offering it, and therefore am satisfied.

(T. Tryon, Miscellania: or, a Collection of Necessary, Useful, and Profitable Tracts on Variety of Subjects ..., 9 books, 1696, A7rv)

This was sound advice for those who did not have access to, or could not afford, the services of a truly accomplished surgeon like Marie Colinet:

The great Marie Colinet, whose work spanned the late 16th and early 17th centuries, originally worked as a midwife in Geneva, but became more noteworthy in other fields. She married the renowned surgeon Fabricius of Hilden, who taught her surgery. By his own admission, she excelled him. In one especially difficult case, of a man with two shattered ribs, she had to open his chest and wire together the fragments of bone. On redosing the wound, she covered it with a dressing of oil of roses and a plaster of barley flour, powdered roses, and wild pomegranate flowers, mixed with cypress nuts and raw eggs; then bandaged it with padded splints. Afterwards, she regulated his diet, staying with him for ten days. He was well in four weeks.

(Autumn Stanley, Mothers and Daughters of Invention, 1995 rpt. by Rutgers University Press, 102)

**  N O T E  **    For more about Anglo-American slaveowners’ blatant disregard for black lives, and our long, ignominious history of unequal medical care for African-Americans, see this website’s introductory essay on Henry Stubbe (1632–1676) — polymath physician who served briefly in Jamaica, radical Independent & republican polemicist, author of one of the earliest appreciations in English of Islam, and the first writer on human-induced climate change to be published (1667) in a scientific journal.
     For more on Thomas Tryon’s Pythagorean values, see the Editor’s Introduction for this website’s digital edn. of Thomas Tryon’s The Planter’s Speech to his Neighbours & Country-Men of Pennsylvania, East & West-Jersey (1684), and its appendix regarding the Pythagorean practice of “Medicine by Musick.”
     There are more 16th- and 17th-century recipes for treating breast cancer (digital facsimiles, plus HTML transcriptions) in the appendix on black letter for’s webessay entitled “The New A Note on Site Design.”