Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell – The First Domestic Goddess
As the following directions were intended for the conduct of the families of the authoress’s own daughters, and for the arrangement of their table, so as to unite a good figure with proper economy, she has avoided all excessive luxury, such as essence of ham, and that wasteful expenditure of large quantities of meat for gravy, which so greatly contributes to keep up the price, and is no less injurious to those who eat than to those whose penury obliges them to abstain. Many receipts are given for things, which being in daily toe, the mode of preparing them may be supposed too well known to require a place in a cookery-book; yet how rarefy .do we meet with fine melted butter, good toast and water, or well-made coffee! She makes no apology for minuteness in some articles, or for leaving others unnoticed, because she does not write for professed cooks. This little work would have been a treasure to herself when she first set out in life, and she therefore hopes it may prove useful to others. In that expectation it is given to the Public; and as she will receive from it no emolument, so she trusts it will escape without censure.
-A New System of Domestic Cookery by Maria Ketelby Rundell
The following biography of Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell (or Mrs. Rundell, as she was known) appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine* in 1829, just a year after her death. Mrs. Rundell was famous for her runaway best seller, A New System of Domestic Cookery: Founded upon the principles of Economy, and Adapted to the Use of Private Families, which was first published in 1806 by John Murray. (Murray also published Jane Austen’s second edition of Mansfield Park, along with Emma, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. )
Now regarded as the first “Domestic Goddess“, predating the perennial favorite, Isobella Beeton, by nearly a century, Mrs. Rundell modestly claimed that her book was not only essential to the “modern” middleclass housewife (rather than “professed cooks”– note, the difference that a generation makes here between this Hannah Glasse’s 1747 work, which was directed at servants: “…few servants there are, that know how to roast and boil to perfection. I do not pretend to teach professed cooks, but my design is to instruct the ignorant and unlearned (which will likewise be of great use in all private families) and in so plain and. full a manner, that the most illiterate and ignorant person, who can but read, will know how to do every thing in cookery well.”) but a gift to the public. She filled it’s pages with recipes for everything from “Good” Coffee to Bubble and Squeak, along with copious notes about servants, ‘There is a great deal of time, precious to their families, wasted by well meaning and virtuous women in running after charitable institutions, whilst their children are suffering from neglect, or abandoned to neglectful servants…’ to healthy eating, ‘We all of us, and at all times, consume more food than health or prudence would warrant. What gives trouble to one man to digest would maintain three in comfort’, to maintaining linens and setting your table.
Mrs. Maria Eliza Rundell (1745–1828), writer on cookery, born in 1745, was only child of Abel Johnstone Ketelby of Ludlow, Shropshire. She married Thomas Rundell, partner of the eminent firm of Rundell & Bridges, silversmiths and jewellers, which was long established on Ludgate Hill, London. The firm supplied snuff-boxes to the value of 8,205l. 15s. to foreign ministers at the coronation of George IV (Gent. Mag. 1823, ii. 77).
While living at Swansea in 1806 Mrs. Rundell collected various recipes for cookery and suggestions for household management for the use of her married daughters. She sent the manuscript to the publisher, John Murray (1778–1843) [q. v.], of whose family she was an old friend. He suggested the title ‘Domestic Cookery,’ had the work carefully revised by competent editors, among whom was Dr. Charles Taylor, of the Society of Arts, and added engravings. It was published as ‘A New System of Domestic Cookery’ in 1808, and had an immense success. From five to ten thousand copies were long printed yearly. It became one of Murray’s most valuable properties, and in 1812, when he bought the lease of the house in Albemarle Street, part of the surety consisted of the copyright of the ‘Domestic Cookery.’ As the earliest manual of household management with any pretensions to completeness, it called forth many imitations.
In 1808 Murray presented Mrs. Rundell with 150l. She replied, ‘I never had the smallest idea of any return for what I considered a free gift to one whom I had long regarded as my friend.’ In acknowledging a copy of the second edition, Mrs. Rundell begged Murray not to think of remunerating her further, and in the preface to the edition of 1810 she expressly stated that she would receive no emolument. But in 1814 Mrs. Rundell accused Murray of neglecting the book and of hindering its sale. After obtaining an injunction in the vice-chancellor’s court to restrain Murray from republishing the book, she in 1821 placed an improved version of it in the hands of Messrs. Longman for publication. Murray retaliated by obtaining an injunction from the lord chancellor to prevent Mrs. Rundell from publishing the book with any of his additions and embellishments. On 3 Nov. the lord chancellor dissolved the injunction against Murray, but gave right to neither party, declaring that a court of law and not a court of equity must decide between them (Gent. Mag. 1821, ii. 465). After long delay, Mrs. Rundell accepted Murray’s offer of 1,000l. in full discharge of all claims, together with a similar sum to defray her costs and expenses (cf. Moore, Memoirs, v. 118, 119). The book was translated into German in 1841; the sixty-fifth English edition appeared in the same year.
Mrs. Rundell died, aged 83, at Lausanne on 16 Dec. 1828. Her husband predeceased her. Other books by Mrs. Rundell are: 1. ‘Domestic Happiness,’ 1806. 2. ‘Letters addressed to Two Absent Daughters,’ 1814.
A more detailed account of Ketelby Rundell’s life can be found at The Historic American Cookbook Project. Additional information can be found at the Cambridge Library Collection Blog.
* i. 94; Allibone’s Dict. ii. 1890; Smiles’s Memoirs of John Murray, i. 90 et passim, ii. 120–5.]