“Steward’s Healing Art”: A Proper Introduction

I was quite excited when I stumbled upon my new “pet” and opened up the buckram box it lives in. Admittedly, I was interested in this book because of its contents as I find old remedies for disease fascinating. Then I became more invested in its physical characteristics as I began my preliminary observations and things began to take on the shape of a story. As a relatively modest, travel-sized companion, it appears quite simple. The brown leather on the cover is worn and pockmarked with light scars and holes from burrowing insects or “bookworms” that ate away at the paper. There are smudges on the back cover where the leather had been rubbed black and the hide that wraps the spine is cracking. I could not make out but a few of the faded gilt words “Healing Art” on the chapped lettering piece.










Additionally, both boards are squared and the corners are tattered where the leather has broken and the board material can be seen. The binding is strong and I was not afraid to gently comb through the pages, which are cut to be smooth and rounded. The hinges are also frayed but intact. The leaves are composed of thin yellowing paper, likely not expensive. They are bound with a simple white string in sections that can be seen in the gutter at times.

While flipping the first blank leaves I came across an inscription of a nearly illegible cursive name and a date. I determined that the full inscription is “Arthur Bea[ce] Jan 9 1928” or something close to that. This gentleman was most likely the last owner of the book and donated it to Colby’s Special Collections, indicated by the bookplate just inside the front cover. The two-line inscription was written in thin black ink that bled through to the other side of the blank leaf.

My eyes roved to the page directly across from the inscription. What juxtaposition from the following page. I met with a jarring collection of italics, fonts, bolding, sizes, and spacing preferences all joined together on the title page. This collage of garish styles spelled out in clear English the name that my “pet” was given: The First Edition of Steward’s Healing Art, Corrected and Improved by the Original Hand. To Which He Has Added, All His Late Improvements and New Discoveries, Both in Physick and Surgery, from the Year 1812, to the Year 1826, Including His Whole System upon Physick and Surgery. To Which He Has Added, a Concise Herbal, Containing a Full Description of Herbs, Roots, Barks, and Plants both in Their Simple and Compound Use; with a Description of Their Soils, and the Countries Where They are Generally Found. Written and “corrected and improved” by Dr. William Steward, D.D. of Bloomfield, Maine.

Not a title I would have given. Seeing as this title took up half the blog post already, I have decided that an abbreviation is necessary when referring to my “pet” further along in this post and future posts. “Steward’s Healing Art” seems more appropriate. Below the elaborate title is the publisher’s imprint in an “Old English” font, a bit like what the signature New York Times title is written in. Steward’s Healing Art was published by Putnam and Blake in 1827 in Saco, Maine.

As the title suggests, the contents of the book are focused on the methodology of healing maladies and illnesses. Most of the pages possess clear signs of use and water damage. There is also an unknown, staining material, which is stuck to some of the pages and leaked a red-brown residue into the paper. The type used within varied from italics to capitalization depending on the subtitles. Also, the margins are not large and the type is easily read even though the text is compact.

The book itself is broken up into sections. It begins with the copyright page and then the title page. An introduction follows on pages 3-6, located at the top of the page, which also includes a running head. The running heads stop after this section. Pages 7-126 are filled with Steward’s Healing Art, or Botanical Dictionary, Corrected and Improved. The title goes on in a similar manner to that of the main title. This section has capitalized alphabetical subheads indicating what malady Dr. Steward will discuss the cure for. Then a second section starts where the ailments are not alphabetical because, perhaps, they were additions to the original list. Each primary section begins with fancy section breaks and then goes into simpler section breaks that separate each malady description. This first section also ends in an index.

The second section restarts the page numbers, from 1-40, and, ironically, is titled A Concise Herbal…which then continues into another elaborate title. Then there is an advertisement, which I personally found quite amusing, especially the last line. Dr. Steward writes, “I further observe, that the Manuscript is still in my possession…which is now at my option, either to sell to certain proprietors…or to burn and destroy at the close of my life, if I please” (page 40). The book ends with an appendix, renumbered again, on pages 1-22 and an erratum on page 18, which is a footnote list of errors that were not corrected before printing.

Lastly, there are two doodles. Both are scribbled with a pencil and by the simplistic nature of the drawings, I assume they were made by a child. Perhaps the doctor was treating an ailing parent and the child got ahold of the medical volume. Trying to glean a story from a mute and mysterious subject is both frustrating and intriguing. For example, one doodle is not discernable. It is a small drawing of a box within a looping sort of cloud. This one I found on page 13 wedged between a section about preparing “eye-water” and a section “of stipticks”. The second doodle is on the inside of the back cover. This doodle appears to be a tall thin house or church but looks mildly phallic.