Maria Rundell was the original domestic goddess, an elderly
widow whose best-selling book on cookery, medicinal remedies and
household management defined the perfect home.
She was the original domestic goddess, an elderly widow whose
best-selling book on cookery, medicinal remedies and household
management defined the perfect home. Maria Rundell taught her
readers how to cook a goose, brew beer, make ink and cure baldness.
Fame and obscurity
A New System of Domestic Cookery was a publishing
sensation in the early 1800s. It sold half a million copies and
conquered America, and its profits helped found one of the Victorian
era's most influential publishing empires, one which boasted Lord
Byron, Charles Darwin, Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, Benjamin
Disraeli and Arthur Conan Doyle among its authors.
Yet the most famous cookery book of its time and its author
disappeared into obscurity. This week, nearly 180 years after her
death, her rehabilitation will begin when the National Library of
Scotland in Edinburgh opens one of the most significant single
collection of papers on 19th century literature to the public, with
a new exhibition.
The John Murray Archive, compiled by the seven generations of
Murrays who ran the family-owned publishers, was recently bought by
the library for £31m (45m euros), chiefly with lottery money. It includes
150,000 pages of letters, manuscripts and documents from some of the
most significant thinkers, scientists and writers of modern history.
Scholars have largely ignored Mrs Rundell, a friend of the
Murrays and the widow of a surgeon from Bath, and overlooked her
remarkable role in the company's success - a success soured by a
Earliest manual of household management
In 1805, aged 61, she had sent the second John Murray,
the son of the Scottish printer who set up a small publishers in
London in 1768, an unedited collection of recipes, remedies and
advice on running a home. She had compiled it originally for her
seven daughters, and offered it to Murray free of charge.
Murray recognised its potential. It was some sixty years since the
first English cookery book had been written by Hannah Glasse, and
Mrs Rundell's New System of Domestic Cookery, "formed upon
principles of economy and adapted to the use of private families by
a lady", was about to become the bible for Britain's 19th century