A Brief History of Homoeopathy or Unorthodox Medicine

One of the most striking features of unorthodox medicine—variously described as quackery, irregular medicine, fringe medicine, or complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)—has been its ability to survive for centuries in a very wide variety of forms. Although it has changed enormously with the passage of time, unorthodox medicine has always has been a rich source of disputes, claims and counter-claims, and accusations of fraud.

homeopathy
History of Homeopathy

One might expect that unorthodox medicine as a whole would have diminished as a result of the spectacular advances in regular medicine during the second half of the twentieth century. But that does not seem to be the case. In fact, we will never really know how many people in the past consulted unorthodox practitioners instead of, or in addition to, consulting the orthodox we don’t even know today. But we do know that before the mid-nineteenth century the irregular practitioners for whom the derogatory term quacks are appropriate, were used by a large proportion of the population.

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Most of these pre-1850 quacks ( fraudulent or ignorant pretender to medical skill ) tended to specialize. Some were bone-setters, others claimed to cure venereal disease ( a disease typically contracted by sexual intercourse with a person already infected a sexually transmitted disease.) without the use of mercury. Dr. Taylor of Beverley in Gloucester arranged to attend regularly at three public houses to which patients only had to send their urine. And he would tell at once whether they were curable or not.

There were self-styled oculists who specialized in the treatment of cataracts and curers of cancer without operation. One of the latter, calling himself the High German Dr. Symon, invited you to visit his house and see for yourself cancer of the armpit of five pieces of 12 and one half ozs weight which he claimed to have removed.

Homeopath
Homeopath

Most of these irregulars were uneducated or even illiterate and only a minority were full-time healers. They usually had regular jobs, blacksmith, grocer, butcher, monger, cobbler, and mechanic. They often claimed the patronage of the great and the good.

Dr. Scott’s Bilious and Liver Pills were used by ‘the Dukes of Devonshire, Northumberland and Wellington, Angelsea [sic], and Hastings, and the Earls of Pembroke, Essex, and Oxford while Dr. Lambert at 36 High Street, Borough, London, claimed to visit the well-to-do in the West Indies, the Isles of Scilly, London, Nottingham, Derby, Norwich, Lincoln, Boston, Gloucester, Wolver Hampton, Lichfield, Stourbridge and, for good measure, almost every other town in the Kingdom.

These irregulars had one thing in common: they had little, if any, interest in or understanding of orthodox medicine in their time. Their sole aim was to make money. They were empirics for whom the derogatory term ‘quackery’ is appropriate.

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But a major change in irregular practice occurred in the first half of the nineteenth century when, as an orthodox practitioner remarked:

The old-fashioned quack with his farrago of receipts seldom visited the same neighborhood but at very long intervals in order to avoid recognition. This class of practitioners is fast coming to a close. It was being replaced by literate and educated empirics who read books. This remark signaled the emergence of a new form of unorthodox medicine, which formed the basis of what is today called CAM.

Reference: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1676328/

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