Thomas Tryon

Thomas Tryon's regimen for women:
sectarian health in the seventeenth century

by Ginnie [Virginia] Smith

Originally published in 'The Sexual Dynamics of History: men's power, women's resistance' by the London Feminist History Group (eds), published by Pluto Press, London, 1983. Chapter 3, pp47-65.

One of the strengths of women's history has been the necessary discovery and use of new sources. We know of women's physical and legal subordination from 'value-free' sources such as mortality rates, wage indices, commercial and legal records, etc. Just as frequently, however, we are faced with what seems an impenetrable barrier of social and cultural attitudes stacked against women – the ideology of gender divisions, patriarchy, as written out by men. These are the 'value-laden' social sources – fiction, prose, most social reading matter – which categorize women in the public mind. So total has this consensus been made to appear, especially from the nineteenth century onwards, that we can even have great difficulty as seeing it as 'history' at all. But all objects, even the printed word, lie in some concrete historical situation, and language itself has been called 'structural'.(1)By deconstructing and reconstructing the meaning of words, symbols, images, patterns of logic by investigating philosophies and those who wrote them, the theory of patriarchy can be traced to its social and economic base.

When we talk about the language of patriarchy, we are talking about a theology, a belief system grounded in the religious observances and doctrine associated with a male God. What we call 'domesticity' is a way of life based on this original gender division – the sexual division of labour. For women it meant in effect domestic seclusion and their withdrawal from the public trades and professions. So powerful was this social phenomenon in the nineteenth century that it has attracted a mass of historical rumour and generalization, with male historians being primarily interested in its function rather than its cause.(2)The more detailed work being done by women historians is beginning to correct this imbalance; and what evidence there is suggests that religion, not economics, has to be seen as the key.

In order to look at what she calls 'domestic ideology', with its constant nineteenth-century image of the 'angel in the house', Catherine Hall has found a rich source in the letters and activities of the Evangelical 'Clapham Sect'.(3)These were the influential families who bridged Old Dissent and orthodox Anglicanism, and they successfully publicized a new model morality. They wrote and preached, but above all lived, the ideal of the family life. Their powerful influence in social and political matters came directly from their religious faith and they regarded the home as the centre of their spiritual inspiration. Catherine Hall concludes that they helped to establish the crucial 'middle ground' of Victorian liberalism by putting religious interest above both class and gender – these were sunk into the doctrine of personal salvation harmonizing with the common good. Refined domesticity, however, meant a sufficient male income – doubled at least – to support the woman who had become the consumer rather than the producer of goods and services. Hence the economic riddle – which came first, function or belief? Catherine Hall suggests that while domestic ideology was indeed 'partly a response to the development of productive forces', it primarily consisted of beliefs which had their own internal logical history. It was these, rather than a desire to stimulate the Industrial Revolution, that created the 'angel in the home', and ordained the separation of the spheres.

As Catherine Hall notes, Evangelism and the idealization of family life were not new to the nineteenth century. We cannot realize the depth and influence of domestic ideology unless we trace its origins to an earlier Protestant or Puritan world view. Its reforming strength lay in the ideals of sanctity and anti-materialism which were first heard in the aftermath of a far more radical period of religious revolution. The seventeenth century in Britain was a ferment of religious ideology that between 1640 and 1660 quite literally 'turned the world upside down'.(4)The Protestant belief in individual revelation shattered the fixed idea of hierarchy and energized every area of social life. Amongst other things, it attempted to revolutionize the sexual relationship by replacing property marriage by the spiritual bond of love, celebrated in its most radical form outside marriage.(5)An unknown number of Puritan women were active revolutionaries, asserting their individual rights at the same time as forwarding the political and religious cause. After the Restoration, however, the political tide turned against all radical activity. Led by the example of the Quakers, many sectaries forswore the world and turned inwards towards 'quietism' and the communities of fellow-souls, living together in strict religious observances, i.e. the sects 'became sectarian'.(6)Two things happened as a result. First, the public withdrawal reduced their numbers steadily thoughout the eighteenth century. Old Dissent (Quakers, General Baptists, Presbyterians and Unitarians) disappeared even more rapidy from public view alter 1750, when their religious influence was challenged from below by the new 'enthusiasm' of the Methodists, then by the sects of New Dissent, and later by Evangelism within the Anglican Church. Second, their exclusivity made them wealthy. By the nineteenth century, Old Dissent had become 'more and more disproportionately represented in the upper middle classes, and among the wealthier merchants and manufacturers of industrial England'.(7)The political troubles of Dissent following the failure of the Glorious Revolution had created a new urban middle class that rivalled the landed wealth of the Anglican squirearchy. The same religious cohesion that made them a financial force (no Quaker was allowed to go into debt – therefore they could get endless credit, and many of them went into banking, e.g. Barclays, Lloyds), also ensured the survival of a strong moral code which deliberately bound together the sect, the family, and individual. The protective, inward customs of the old dissenting sects provided some of the most extreme examples of the philosophy and practice of moral domesticity (one of which was the puritanical household of John Wesley's Presbyterian mother). Here the distinctions between New and Old Dissenters breaks down, for in practice they were all sectarian in the same sense of shared and codified values.

Even more importantly, however, with regard to the long-term influence of Puritan beliefs, were those who refused to join anything – the sectaries who vanished after 1660, the groups of the population who provided the surge of revivalism between 1750 and 1850. Their public beliefs were either hidden or transferred publicly to orthodox Anglicanism; we can only guess at their private beliefs, which are historically far less exposed even than those of the sects. We can assume that they helped make up a large reservoir of religious belief after 1660, stretching across class boundaries, that became apolitical on principle, and directed its energies instead towards economic survival and the perfection of domestic life.

We know that between the late sixteenth century and the early nineteenth century the life of the formal religious groups was one of emigration and financial consolidation. For those that stayed 'at home' we know as yet little in detail about their impact on social affairs. We know that groups were centred in particular parts of the country, and that they formed social circles which relied heavily on inter-marriage and kinship ties.(8)The practical reason for this protective network was that they could be self-sufficient, since as non-conformists they were officially barred from a range of supportive state and local activities. Some clue to their history may be found not only in records of their activities, but in books which hint of their beliefs and goals. Dissent had long claimed the right to publish, with the aim not only of essential self-enlightenment, but of breaking the monopolistic grip of Latin on the professions and sciences. They believed in education, and they were not shy of authorship – in fact, they were probably also disproportionately represented in the growing book trade. Intellectually, they were represented at all levels and in all areas, but especially in those areas which directly involved religion and belief. One of the areas which they considered to be closest to their interests, and which reveals a great deal about them, was medicine.

Within the range of medical publications there was a type of work in which dissenting views are strongly stated. These were the medical advice books, containing recommendations and advice on health for the lay reader. They were a separate genre from the medical textbooks or specialized treatises addressed to the profession. In market terms they had something in common with etiquette books and domestic manuals, with which they were often but not always associated. Their history runs from the widely circulated hand-written texts of the medieval period, to the mass publication of books on 'domestic medicine' from the end of the eighteenth century. The advice they contained formed the core of what came to be called 'preventive medicine'; from the beginning they were concerned with the prevention of disease or ill-health, rather than the cure of a disease in progress, or the mending of shattered limbs. Built into the function of these works were the practicalities of self-care, where specialist aid was non-existent, insufficient, or simply disliked. Their recommendations were based on the Greek preventive health code known as 'regimen of the non-naturals'. Regimen was a precise 'ordering' of the six non-naturals of air, food and drink, sleep and watch, motion and rest, evacuation and repletion, and passions of the mind.

A strongly political view of health and medicine emerged, however, from the religious revolution. Dislike or suspicion of the medical profession became an increasingly important feature of medical advice books in the seventeenth century, when doctors, and their theories, came to represent the caste-ridden old order. The religious view emphasized the idea of self-help and responsibility for self as a personal and spiritual duty; and through publication, the populist 'empirics' could attack orthodoxy and publicize new and distinctive alternatives. This took the form not only of slating the medical profession, but of propounding radical, Utopian visions of health.(9)

It was at this time that Greek ideas were inspiring all areas of science, via natural philosophy; the problems and possibilities of Nature dominated eighteenth century thought. Nature also had a particular meaning for believers. Those dissenters who looked to science to support their beliefs recognized them in the naturism of the early Greek science of hygiene. They were among the main promoters of the simple natural therapy of Hippocrates, which reduced 'artificial' medical interventions (drugs, surgery) to a minimum.

The main contribution of the religious view to preventive medicine was that health ensured the perpetual state of well-being neccessary to ensure salvation. This 'total' and continuous health philosophy was well known to the ancient Greek sects and priest-physicians. Between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries the preventive ideal became slowly more scientific, and less spiritual, less a question of faith. However, the religious beliefs involved in health care were so comprehensive that to many, academic 'proof', though desirable, was not really required. Amongst the many dissenting medical advice books the works of Thomas Tryon stand out.

I came across Thomas Tryon (1634-1703) during a wide-ranging study of medical advice books in circulation between 1770 and 1850. His books were immediately obvious because of their sheer quantity. In content they were even more intriguing, because at first sight they appeared to be entirely miscellaneous but amongst them all were constant references to women. The twenty separate titles(10)gave advice on every area of life, from metaphysical philosophy to housecleaning. But it soon became clear that his main preoccupation was the particular type of ascetic health that was attuned to the spiritual existence, and that the extensive advice to women was not simply coincidental. The fundamentalist and mystic interpretation of health that Tryon presented, I subsequently found recurring in dissenting or 'alternative' medical writers up to the nineteenth century and beyond. What is interesting to us in this purist version of sectarian health was the way in which women were being defined as sect members, and their activities programmed to fit the needs of the sect.

The 1680s and 1690s were still a lively intellectual period for the sects, at a time when they were reorganizing themselves and seeking new certainties. What Tryon said, and what was being absorbed by his wide audience of readers in the late seventeenth century, is best described by looking at the content of some of the works in detail.

Tryon clearly was a popular writer of some influence. In a comment written in 1805 he was described, a century after his death, as 'one of the most extraordinary self-taught geniuses, and original writer that ever existed in this country, particularly on the subject of health and Temperence, to which all his writings allude.' A contemporary writer in 1692 listed his sect as one of 45 different orders of religious opinion existing at that lime – 'Tryonists are such as forbid eating of Flesh, Fish, or anything that is killed, as contrary to Scripture.(11)

Tryon was a lapsed Anabaptist who moved from the West Country to settle on the outskirts of London, and he was certainly known and respected amongst the Quakers, who published his work on their presses. His self-taught, broad, empirical philosophy would have appealed to a range of seventeenth-century sectaries; and there is evidence that he was particularly popular in America. Benjamin Franklin read Tryon in his youth, and Franklin was later celebrated for his radical views on health care (mild vegetarianism, and bathing). A volume of memoirs brought out after Tryon's death, in 1705, treated him as an exemplary prophet figure – 'patriarchal, primitively good'. Tryon himself hoped that his work as a sect leader would be continued by a 'Society of Clean and Innocent Livers'. But his real influence would have come, not from any band of obedient followers but from the twenty-odd works, several of which were republished in his life-time, and which were available split up into cheaply produced tracts or bound in book form. Many Puritan writers felt the urge to write at length, but Tryon must have dominated the advice-book market during the 20 years he was writing. It started after his call from God in 1682 to 'recommend to the world temperance, cleanness, and innocency of living'.(12)

'Temperance' and 'cleanness' were two key words for Tryon. He was an ascetic, and the strength of his faith came through rigorous self-denial – or as he called it, 'temperance'. Asceticism was an ancient tradition which had been practised amongst others by the Greek sect of the Orphics, the Roman Stoics, the medieval monastics, and which had been revived in Tryon's time by the radically anti-materialist Anabaptists. Like other Puritan fundamentalists, Tryon looked to Scripture, and admired the life and spiritual values of the wandering Hebraic sect or tribe. To him and to others the simple, hard, ascetic life was Innocency before the Fall; the Fall was encapsulated by the filth and corruption of the modern world.

Tryon, who wrote approvingly of 'labour hard, cloathing thin, open Air, cold houses, small fires, hard beds',(13)had no doubt that this type of innocency could be perfected only by a pure 'cleanness' of the actual internal and external body – 'for by thoroughly cleansing the outward court of terrestrial nature, it opens the windows of the inward senses of the soul.'(14)For spiritual or psychic purity, Tryon's advice was to quite literally cleanse the body of all gross matter, i.e. of fat, and filth. This was done by vegetable diet, and simple drinks which cleansed inwardly; plenty of cool fresh air, bathing, and exercise in rural surroundings; and simple clean clothes, rooms, and bedding. The effect he found was that he was 'more nimble, brisk, eesie [sic] and lightsome'.(15)

Tryon had spent 20 years on the study of astronomy, chemistry, philosophy, and 'physic'. It enabled him to build in a persuasive 'scientific' structure to support his personal experience of revelation. His own intellectual turning point, when he rejected fashionable radical Paracelsian chemistry in favour of the Greek God of Nature, was actually described by him as a dream. Dreams were important to Tryon – he specialized in interpreting them. The Greek philosophy of medicine with its ideas of physical and metaphysical harmony leading to unity, were obviously congenial. Through the system of regimen or regulation of the six non-naturals in accordance with the four natural elements (earth, air, fire, and water – translated as hot, cold, moist, and dry) the Greeks harmonized body and soul with the natural environment. Temperance was to them the balance of opposites, the 'mean' between extremes, and the reconciling of all elements. Tryon approved of the order, regularity and self-discipline. He likened temperate regimen to the pruning or training of a tree – it would 'suffer no superfluous branches to grow but would cut them off in the bud; and inform man, in all the particulars of his life, which is right and the contrary.'(16)

Asceticism pushed the connection with the natural world much further through symbolism. A pristine state of Nature as he knew it was to Tryon symbolic of Heaven – a cool countryside, pure and unsullied by human destruction. If Heaven was cool. Hell was hot. The Tryonite vision of the world was guided by this ancient distinction between temperatures – a bio-moral polarity which had also been emphasized by the Greeks. They had described heat as the centre of the passions ('vital heat') and of life itself ('animal heat'). To sublimate the gross and terrestrial animal passions the body heat must be cooled, moderated, and kept in check. The moral qualities of hot and cold, and their physical link with the (sinful) passions are one of the most familiar themes in medical advice books, particularly those at the turn of the eighteenth century. Through a complicated process it left the legacy of hygiene as we know it, but the symbolic ramifications of the idea went far wider than that. In Tryon (and others) the distinction produced a didactic version of regimen which cited quite precisely all the paraphernalia of a higher standard of living as belonging to the 'soft' life, or 'hot' regimen – such as an increased and richer diet in food and drink, especially 'hot meats', better clothing, more comfortable housing, the congregation of people in towns, the reduction of physical labour, and the new imported luxuries of hot tea, coffee and tobacco. It was a truism amongst Puritans that these produced unnatural heat, and the poisonous dirty vapours of diseases. By the mid-eighteenth century, cool regimen was being widely used by doctors for treating infectious disease.

The vegetarianism that Tryon was famous for was not as he stated it so much to do with the sinful taking of life, but was because vegetables were overwhelmingly cool, clean, and natural. If romanticism is the attribution of all that is good, then Tryon was supremely romantic about Nature, and her works. It is easy to argue that he was as romantic about women. Yet his widely publicized views on the godly way of life contained many explicit condemnations of the conduct and status of women. Taken together, they represented a strong critique (again, one shared by other male authors) of the misuse of female authority in household and family affairs. The answer was that women, like Nature, had been corrupted. The impure woman was unnatural, the pure woman was 'natural'. Women, like men, were natural objects to be slotted into Tryon's patterned and logical spiritual schema, though women were naturally more 'inanimate' than men. Once women had been identified with Nature, the symbolism was endless. The reason for women's supreme naturalness was according to Tryon, quite simple – women looked after the bodily needs of the spirit. The customary special responsibilities of women in family health, birth, education, dress, and houswifery were all to be included in the 'authorized' regimen. Tryon's miscellany included detailed advice on all these subjects. Thus in his second work, Health's Grand Preservative, or the Woman's Best Doctor (1682), Tryon outlined the theme of cold regimen as 'highly fit to be pursued and observed by all that love their Health, and particularly necessary to the Female Sex'.(17)Women had control of the 'natural' areas:

The whole preservation of Men's Health and Strength does chiefly reside in the Wisdom and Temperance of Women . . . Also Women have the entire management of all things that concern our health, during the whole time of our lives.(18)

He clearly recognized women's power in their customary roles, and expressed some resentment against what he saw as the matriarchy of the household:

Whatever women do or say touching the Preparation of Food, and other ordering of their families for Health, most men believe, not making the least scruple or question thereof. As well they may: For the chiefest doctors of our times do bow before them, and are altogether as subject to the Rules and Directions of women as other Men.

He upbraided men: 'There is not one man in a hundred that understands or takes any notice whether his Food be well prepared or not; and if his Bed stinks, he is used to it, and so counts it all well.(19)This could not be said of Tryon, who prided himself on his cooking, brewing, and bed-making. Again, he drew out the moral distinction between hot and cold. Women were the dispensers of a destructive 'hot' regimen which wasted the bodies of men, children, and themselves in pregnancy. The life-style of the leisured, housebound, consuming woman was an obvious target – 'warm clothes, hot Houses, an idle soft life, and the like effeminacies'. Thus corrupt, women were weak, soft, idle and (unfortunately) warm. Tryon cited as scientific evidence the evils of heat in fevers and child-care, in a call for Cold Regimen:

A great part of the Children that die, especially in Towns and Cities, is occasioned either by the Intemperance of their Mothers, during the time they go with child, or afterwards by their unnatural and badly prepared food . . . also by their keeping them too warm, and too close from the Air, and lapping them up in several Double Clothes and Swathes, so tight that a Man may write on them, and putting them into warm beds . . . Besides, the Window-curtains are drawn, and also the Curtains about the bed; by which means the Air become hot and sulpherous, that it causes great Disorders to attend both Mothers and children. This ill kind of management does also cause such a Tenderness . . . that on every small occasion they are liable and apt to get colds, and divers distempers.(20)

This is an early reference to the swaddling issue, which medical historians have long seen as a turning point in hygienic child-care.(21)Tryon was, however, not concerned with professional rights and privileges – he wanted the reform of the woman herself, by herself, guided by the truth of male Reason.

Science to Tryon was a useful aid, but his Voice of Wisdom came directly from a mystic God whose rites and observances were to him paramount. Clearly women were not being accused of simple neglect. Tryon's concept of proper health overlay a fear which he expressed frequently, both obliquely and openly – that of women's propensity to passion, or love, leading to intemperate sexual release and spiritual defilement. Hot regimen was not confined to externals; it included the psychology of the passions. Tryon had a constant objection to maternal affection and warmth, specifically the

Common and frequent kissing of children by Mothers, Nurses, and all ... by which use and continual custom as it were forced thereto; which sort of Carriage and behaviour hath Originally sprung from Mothers and Nurses Foolish Hot Fantastick Passions of Love.(22)

Children should not be hugged, but coolly rested on the knee. Another godless habit was the drinking of Cherry Brandy which heated and inflamed the passions and filled women with 'Fury and Madness, and many other indecencies which are no less pernicious than shameful in a woman'. She was then the scarlet woman, or the harlot. Only women had proper 'shame' from heated sexual activity, for according to religion, men were free of this moral burden. Underlying Tryon's theory of the double standard was the old ghost of chastity, and religious purity. The act of birth and everything associated with it was the physical cause of the patriarchal view of women's weakness and dependency; but added to this was a spiritual impurity which male cultists ascribed to 'pollution'.

In many respects, Tryon's conception of the cleansing of the body of gross humours emerges as a seventeenth-century version, in full religious mystical language, of what has been described as 'cult hygiene', and which has been broken down from ethnographical evidence by Mary Douglas.(23)In this 'pollution theory', regular or ritual bodily purification and dirt avoidance can ensure divine favour as the symbolic expression of deference and commitment, a continual and repeated affirmation of the permeability of spiritual boundaries – the idea that bodily impurites contaminate or pollute the spirit. The ritual of bodily boundaries (i.e. salival, nasal, genital, menstrual, vaginal, or anal bodily excretions) involves cleansing, eating, and food preparation; and has a particular application in the sexual entry of women. Women, who were more fundamentally interdependent in their body were therefore more 'unclean'. In many societies these emerge as a set of 'purity rules', often associated with a cult, such as the hygiene observances of Judaism, or the purity rules of Greek Orphism. Other anthropologists and historians note that women were and are frequently connected in various societies with an inauspicious sexual polarity; i.e. male/female, right/left, light/darkness, good/evil.(24)

These traditions were maintained in Greek science and society, which was firmly patriarchal, through such theorists as Pythagoras and Aristotle.(25)The religious sexual polarity was redefined by them primarily through physiological description. Women were not so much a mystery or a danger (as represented by many of the ancient matriarchies scattered about the Greek hinterland) merely a weaker animal. In the medieval period, religious supernaturalism was re-established, and with it some of the polluting fear of women, who were believed to be sexually irrepressible. The permanent sexual separation and inferior moral position of women was confirmed both by hierarchical theological doctrine, and the uncritical absorption of Greek physiological theory.

Tryon wrestled with these ideas in a long passage where he attempted to persuade men – 'though many men do believe the contrary' – of women's 'natural chastity'. His 'Rules of Cleanness' frequently included the sexual reference. The mind could either have 'clean inclinations' or become 'a cage of unclean thoughts'; the body should be 'clean, chaste and healthy', a 'well-prepared Temple to receive the sweet influence of God's spirit and company of good angels'.(26)Guiding his readers scrupulously through the complex intellectual arguments, Tryon described the moral and medical constitution, and the regimen, of pure natural womanhood:

Their spirits and Balsamick body, whence their true life shines, is more volatile and tender than Men's, and their natural heat is not so strong, for this cause Women cannot bear or endure any extremes, either in Meats, Drinks, or exercises, without manifest danger to their Healths, they being naturally more sanguine than men, and their Central Heat weaker, therefore all kinds of inequality make a deeper impression on them, and they are sooner moved to all kinds of Passion; for Women in their Radix are compounded more of the sweet friendly Sanguine Nature, their dignification being chiefly the element of water, but the Root of Men's Nature is from the strong might of Fire. And for the same cause Women are more chaste than men, and of colder natures, though many men do believe the contrary, but they are greatly mistaken in this particular, having no true understanding of Nature; they have judged thus hardly of women because many of them are so easily drawn into inconveniences by the pretended friendship of Men, but I do affirm, that their being so easily overcome, is not from their unchaste desires, but chiefly from their Friendly, Courteous, effeminate Natures, being of yielding temper, which is essentially at the root of their Lives, and when a Man has once awakened in them the 'Love-string', which is quickly done, he may command them as he pleases; now finding that they comply, they imagine that of them which they find in themselves. Not but that some Women are as unchaste as men, but then such, through the power of their depraved free wills and wanton imaginations, have forced Nature out of her simple innocent ways, compelling her often to do that which she perfectly loathes. The Wise Ancients understanding this Nature and Constitution of Women and considering that the whole welfare of mankind depended chiefly on their Temperance and descreet Conduct, did therefore direct them to a higher degree of Temperance, and thought it requisite, and so absolutely necessary, that both the Drinks alotted to Women in most countries, was, and is to this day, 'pure water', and their Food as innocent and natural; they eat Flesh sparingly, living much on raw and boiled herbs, Fruits, and Grains, which is a most sublime diet.(27)

The passage is worth quoting in full since it sums up Tryon's various preoccupations, and gives a view of his words and language in context. The problems he had making the abstract constructs of science and religion fit apparent reality are reflected in the buoyant but anxiously hectoring assertions.

It did, however, take the form of a lengthy defence of women. These were Tryon's idealized, romantic women who 'like a good angel', lived on a 'sublime diet', suppressing the inchastity which she 'perfectly loathes'. The sexless physical purity of the monk or nun was not ordained for the Protestant priesthood of believers living in tribal and sectarian groupings. The Puritan woman was not to be physically locked away from the world; but from the mystic view her neccessary purity could only be ensured by the regular practice of asceticism. Innate chastity can be seen as an attempt to resolve pollution fears; theologically it was of great importance in redefining and spiritualizing women's role within the sect. Those who had judged 'indeed thus hardly of women' could be reassured that women were naturally godly companions, fit keepers of the Temple, and 'clean' Vessels for the Seed.

We do not know whether Tryon's 'Society of Clean and Innocent Livers', or its followers, ever existed except on paper. But there is evidence that he attracted support not only from male sectaries, but from women themselves. The clue lies in the appeal to the intellect. In his early works he apparently addressed himself to the families of independent labourers and craftsmen from the cities and the countryside, similar to those of his own experience. Religious or 'sober' women from the diligent and dissenting lower middle classes were themselves intelligent and literate, and they might well have been receptive to Tryon's religious authority, as well as to the practicalities of his attacks on sloppy and inefficient household management. Tryon's contempt for women's customary illiteracy was, however, barely concealed. By the end of his life he had abandoned the task of persuasion and simply issued his Society's sectarian Laws with its list of 'Rules and Orders proper for women to observe'. The earthy style gave way to prophet-like commandments, strong paternalism, and a form of religious romanticism that traded on the intellectual life of religious fantasy. In particular, Beauty appeared as a positive and virtuous part of Nature; although (equally naturally) Beauty might also lead to sin, and be a further constraint on women.

There were apparently middle-class women intellectuals to whom the leisured aesthetic appeal of such things as Beauty was a liberation. Such women as the radical playwright and poet Aphra Benn seem to have regarded Tryon as an inspiration rather than a threat. There are traces of Aphra Benn's link with Tryonism in a poem handwritten onto the flyleaf of an edition of his Way to Health, and inscribed 'Mrs Ann Behn'. In the midst of her struggles as a professional writer, and regardless of the implications for female doctoring, and feminine authority in the home, 'Mrs Ann Behn' saw at least part of herself as a philosophical, enlightened, Tryonite woman. In a lyrical hymn of praise to Tryon and his vision of Beauty before the Fall she wrote of

that blest Golden Age when Man was Young ...
When Nature did her wonderous dictates give
When every sense to innocent Delight
Th'agreeing elements unforc'd invited
When Earth was gay and Heaven was kind and bright
And nothing horrid did perplex the sight;
The unpruned roses and jasmine grew,
Nature each day drest the world anew
And sweets without Man's aid each moment grew;
Till Wild Debauchery did Men's minds invade
And Vice and Luxury became a Trade.(28)

In the glory of primitive Nature Aphra Benn's poem highlighted not only Beauty but sexual innocence. To her Tryon was the 'learned Bard' and 'saving angel' who held out the hope of a sexless cerebral purity existing beyond the decadence and crude sexual divisions of the contemporary world. By surpassing their sexuality, Tryon prophesied that women could gain

A new Earth and a new Heaven; new senses and a new understanding. Those are the blessed fruits of adhering to the Voice of Wisdom, in self-denial and separation; for they are the only inlets to all true knowledge, whether it be of God, of Nature, or our Selves.(29)

Nevertheless, the physical constrictions of self-denial and separation which Tryon proposed were very real, and so demanding that they excluded the majority of working and middle class women simply on practical grounds. In her ideal form the Tryonite woman could only exist through the support of others, and all dirty work should be done by others. The precise Orders which he issued posthumously to his Society are revealing. They show a Puritan woman of almost Asiatic caste – separated, beautified, and saved from contaminating work. As a high-caste woman, she spent her leisured time on religious study, children's education, and the supervision of the household. Her practical economic contribution was limited to needlework, though she should be 'busy' in all other domestic affairs so that they were well conducted. It is hard to imagine the itinerant Puritan woman of the revolutionary period being bound by this fastidiousness.

It is less hard to see it as advice which fitted the life of women closed within sectarian groups driven under after the Restoration (and it also seems to fit the later Amish doctrines in the USA, remarkably closely). Physical retreat, physical moderation, self-help, and education combined virtue with necessity. Historically, in its most extreme form, sectarianism in Britain was inevitably moderated by a period of prolonged economic expansion. But while the purist religious meanings of the Orders gradually became obscured, the principle of physical segregation survived. These were some of the base-line instructions which Tryon issued in 1705:

15. You shall not read any books, but such as tend to the praise of your Creator, and the building you up, and confirming you in Temperence, Cleanness, Innocency, and Vertue; and the Improvement of Innocent Arts and Sciences.

16. You shall keep one fashion in your garments or Apparel, which shall be grave, decent, easie, and convenient for Travel, Labour, Work, and Business, either for within or without Doors. You shall use no superfluous Trimmings, nor Fantastick Ornaments ...let all your words and Discourse be clear, free, mid mellow, spoken from the Throat or Breast, as Musick-masters teach ...

17. All Women above the age of seven years, shall be veiled when they go abroad. This will not only mightily preserve the Female Beauties Power, but advance the Natural Esteem, and render them more valuable.

18. No Girl, Maid, nor Women, shall carry Burthens, do any Field Labour, sell nor cry anything about the Streets, nor do any dirty work. All Robustick Labour shall be done by Men: the Fair Sex are naturally unfit for dirty mugling [sic] Imployments. Besides, the Preservation of Mankind principally depends on the good education, and discreet conduct of Women; whose Noble characters of Beauty, Innocency, and tender affection are sullied; and as it were obliterated in many of them, by their being employed about unclean things, and hard and dirty slavish labour. And therefore Women should be allotted all clean, easie, Imployments, as the making of all Sorts of Garments, Dresses, Beds, and the like; All things that are performed with the needle, for Men, Women, or Children.(30)

This lengthy statement is partner to Tryon's earlier view of the natural and scientifically 'healthy' woman. It is entirely non-medical in intent and language, but the two clearly relate to each other. It's social description sums up in accurate detail the image of nineteenth-century Victorian womanhood, particularly those enshrined in fiction. This, as Catherine Hall has shown, derived its strength largely from Evangelical example; they were the womenfolk of the 'new rich' emerging from old Dissent.

Much of the detail of Evangelical sectarianism is more fully illustrated by reference to their fundamentalist past. Wilberforce's statement on women, that 'We would make them as it were the medium of our intercourse with the heavenly world, the faithful repositories of the religious principle, for the benefit both of the present and the rising generation,(31)makes the seventeenth-century framework leap from the page; it is just one of many points of similarity.

Tryon, of course, was only one part of this strongly patriarchal Dissenting tradition, but he illuminates it. Because of his intellectual range, his accessible and powerful prose style, and the spectacular amount of information he put out on all subjects, he must be considered to have been an enduring influence in sectarian ideology. Not least, he was capable of attracting and inspiring women as an educationalist. We should also note that the Greek physiology that he used was not scientifically fully undermined until the late nineteenth century, so that, in this sense, his works were 'valid' for at least two centuries. However rough and ready he might have appeared to the refinement of the Evangelicals, our understanding of their world is enhanced by the fine detail of Tryon's medical and moral description of women in their 'protected space'. It was a powerful individual contribution to a mythology and ethic of female domesticity.


1Most vividly shown in Michel Foucault's historical works. For an introduction to Foucaultian structuralism, see Alan Sheridan, Michel Foucault: The Will to Truth, London: Tavistock Publications 1980.back

2See Neil McKendrick, 'Home Demand and Economic Growth: A New View of Women and Children in the Industrial Revolution', in N. McKendrick, ed., Historical Perspectives: Studies of English Thought and Society, London: Europa Publications 1974. Also: N.McKendrick, J. Brewer, J.H. Plumb, The Birth of a Consumer Society, London: Europa Publications 1982.back

3Catherine Hall, 'The Early Formation of Victorian Domestic Ideology', in Sandra Burman, ed., Fit Work for Women, London: Croom Helm 1979.back

4See Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1980.back

5Ibid. chapter 15; see also E.S.Morgan, The Puritan Family (first edn. 1944), New York: Harper and Row 1965.back

6Christopher Hill, op. cit. p.376.back

7A.D.Gilbert, Religion and Society in Industrial England, London: Longman 1976, p.40; see also chapter 2. 'Patterns of Religious Practice 1740-1914'.back

8The results of a long study on gender and the English middle class in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are due to be published by Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall during 1985-6. See also Davidoff and Hall, 'The Architecture of Publicand Private Space; English Middle-Class Life in a Provincial Town 1780-1850', in A. Sutcliffe and others, eds., The Pursuit of Urban History, London: Edward Arnold 1983.back

9For revolutionary Puritan medical ideas see Charles Webstrer, The Great Instauration, London: Duckworth 1975.back

10These are listed in Sir J.Sinclair, Code of Health and Longevity, vol. 2, Edinburgh: 1807, p.297. They can be found in the British Library and Wellcome Institute collections.back

11Alexander Gordon, A Pythagorean of the 17th century, Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society 1871, p.5.back

12Thomas Tryon, Memoirs, London: 1705, pp.26-27.back

13Thomas Tryon, Health's Grand Preservative, London: 1682, p.7back

14Thomas Tryon, Memoirs, pp.29-30.back

15Ibid. p.37.back

16Ibid. pp.1-3 (35-37).back

17Thomas Tryon, Health's Grand Preservative, titlepiece.back

18Thomas Tryon, A Treatise of Cleanness, London: 1682, p.4.back

19Thomas Tryon, Memoirs, pp.4,14.back

20Ibid. pp.13-14.back

21See on male professional rivalry, Jean Donnison, Midwives and Medical Men, New York: Schocken Books 1977.back

22Thomas Tryon, The Knowledge of a Man's Self, London: 1704, p.131.back

23See Mary Douglas's works Purity and Danger, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1966, and Natural Symbols, London: Barrie and Jenkins 1973.back

24G.E.R.Lloyd, Polarity and Analogy, Cambridge University Press,1966, gives an analysis of symbolism in Greek science and other early cultures.back

25Maryanne Cline Horowitz, 'Aristotle and Women', Journal of the History of Biology, vol.9, no.2,1976, pp.183-213.back

26Thomas Tryon, Pythagoras His Mystic Philosophy Reviv'd: The Mystery of Dreams Unfolded, London: 1691, p.43.back

27Thomas Tryon, Health's Grand Preservative, pp.11-12.back

28Prefixed to the Wellcome edition of The Way to Health, London: 1683back

29Thomas Tryon, Memoirs, p.32.back

30Ibid. pp.92-198.back

31C.Hall, The Early Formation of Victorian Domestic Ideology ', p.26. Quoted from W.Wilberforce, A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes of this Country, 1797, p.453.back