I wonder if you knew that Mark Twain, one of the USA’s all-time greatest writers, and surely one of the world’s greats too, wrote about homeopathy? I didn’t… I’ll quote a passage below in which he described homeopathic medicines as “gold labeled” contrasting with the “repulsive poisons” of conventional medicine of his day, and goes on to characterize homeopathy as “Christ’s love” compared to the “hell and damnation” of allopathy! Strong words!
By way of contrast, a typical 2007 article in the British mass media (Daily Mail) made the following two statements, epitomizing two commonly held but unscientific views which I will be challenging in this piece – referring to “the whole nonsense that is homeopathy” and “there is little evidence that mercurybased fillings have ever done anyone any harm.”
I keep several Mark Twain volumes by my bedside, and enjoy dipping in from time to time, including when I am undergoing FCT treatments myself. He has that unique recognizability of style which seems to be true of many fine writers, and you can’t help but get drawn into his enjoyable, ever-fascinating world. And so, this happened to me once again when, the other day, I picked up my “Complete Essays,” opened it at random, and ran into another gem.
In it, he gives a biting commentary on, among other things, his view of the history of the involvement of the Christian Church in the slave trade. Interesting though his rhetoric is, I am no expert on the history of slavery, and that is not what I wanted to draw your attention to. The reason I decided to quote the first section of his essay (copied at the end of this blog) is because of the extraordinary metaphor which he draws from the “allopathy versus homeopathy” situation which characterised the state of medicine in his day. . .
For those new to this chapter of history, the “allopaths” (or “allopathists”) were the ones we now consider to be orthodox medical practitioners, but back then it wasn’t a question of “orthodox or alternative” but rather, “allopathy, homeopathy (or others).”
Homeopathy – currently a prime scapegoat of the modern medical establishment – was at that time more mainstream than allopathy, as we shall go on to see. . .
Published posthumously, the piece appears – as best as I’ve been able to judge by its content and chronological sequence in its original volume – to have been written at the end of the nineteenth century but near to the last decade of Mark Twain’s life, before he died in 1910.
James Tyler Kent
It’s interesting to remember how in Twain’s lifetime, homeopathy in the USA had ascended to the greatest pinnacle of its history in terms of popularity – and indeed, James Tyler Kent, one of the most revered of all historical homeopaths, was a contemporary of Twain’s and died only 6 years later in 1916. I remember reading in various books that around the turn of the century homeopaths were doing so well in the USA that they outnumbered the allopaths by about seven to one, with over a thousand homeopathic pharmacies, over a hundred homeopathic hospitals and 22 homeopathic medical colleges. Wow!
It was exactly around this time that homeopathy finally fell into decline, though, after a campaign of over fifty years in duration during which the “allopaths” in the form of the American Medical Association (AMA) had been seeking to squash the competition.
In my mind, this marked the symbolic start of what has since become a monopoly in medicine which, oddly, many people now take for granted – not realizing that the “industry” did allow mainstream medical choice once upon a time.
I see no rational absolute reason that other medical approaches should be deemed “alternative medicine”: Imagine, if you will, a fruit growers’ monopoly in which oranges are deemed the only acceptable fruit, and the banana merchants are then labelled the purveyors of “alternative fruit”! That sounds ridiculous, and yet I see no reason why medicine is different in essence, except that people have been somehow hypnotized to accept that a monopolized medical market is okay. Thus, strangely, it is criticized (and in some cases even illegal) when other “industries” in society fall under the circumstances of a business monopoly that is allowed to set its own rules (and artificially inflate its prices and manipulate its customers), and yet it is deemed increasingly acceptable in modern society that a monopoly can exist in medicine, and that citizens can be deprived of what I am keen to describe as a basic human right to freedom of medical choice.
This aside came out partly because of the current climate in the UK with homeopathy increasingly coming under unjust attack and some of the last homeopathic hospitals closing; as well as the wider political climate in the EU and beyond with the mainstream medical monopoly increasingly seeking to dominate the medical market, it seems, like a Goliath trying to legislate in various ways against a few small Davids – including via the new EU law which effectively seeks to outlaw many common herbs and nutritional supplements from the market – what hubris!
What David lacks in size he makes up for in other ways – an alignment with truth, integrity and basic human rights. At any rate, that’s what the metaphor represents to me, from the biblical story of little David’s single but powerful stone toppling the enormous Goliath with one throw. Truth surely has a certain invincibility about it. How may we destroy the truth any more than we can stop the sun rising each morning. . .?
There has been some debate about whether or not Mark Twain was really a fan of homeopathy, so I decided to do some investigation. Thus I hope this blog may help to clear up the truth on this subject once and for all! – particularly by quoting from this later work which I happened upon by chance in my reading, and yet I now find that no one, it seems, has quoted it online before in the context of this medical debate.
I have also found that elsewhere on the internet, the “proponents” and “critics” of homeopathy both try to quote Mark Twain to bolster their one-sided arguments. But rest assured there will be none of that here! As I hope you will come to recognize from our blogs, Kevin and I share a common interest in truth-seeking, and like to do our best to follow where the truth leads us – rather than (as is so common, it seems!) trying to manipulate words and reality to suit our preconceived opinions about things.
No, the point is not whether Mark Twain praised homeopathy or not, but rather, the way his questing mind and satirical pen are still able to move us today. . .
It turns out that back in 1890, Twain had written an article in Harper’s Magazine critiquing a book on brutal allopathic medical methods formerly used in the American Civil War, and concluded the article with the following characteristically amusing passage – something of a mixed commentary:
“When you reflect that your own father had to take such medicines as the above, and that you would be taking them today yourself, but for the introduction of homoeopathy, which forced the old school doctor to stir around and learn something of a rational nature about his business, you may honestly feel grateful that homoeopathy survived the attempts of the allopathists to destroy it, even though you may never employ any physician but an allopathist while you live.”
[Bold added by me – a phrase which is more commonly quoted out of context, but I want you to have his whole sentence.]
This gives me the impression of someone who likes and praises homeopathy but is still not keen enough to attend or advocate one. At other times in his life, too, as we can expect from such a penetrating mind, Twain continued to question both homeopathic and allopathic medicine, and no doubt pine for a more enlightened society in countless ways. He alluded to homeopathy in a negative fashion at times, once terming it “a pleasant friend of death’s” due to consisting only of a “sugar pill.” Even that seems like the mildest of criticisms coming from his pen, and compared with what he had to say of allopathy. However, it seems his stance on the subject continued to evolve throughout his lifetime (as has been true, after all, for most of us), and eventually came down fairly resolutely on the side of homeopathy (at any rate, as much as he expressed confidence in his fellow man about anything!) Otherwise he would surely not (below) have used the phrases “gold labeled” and “Christ’s love” as he did about homeopathy towards the end of his life.
The text to follow is filled with memorable moments, but perhaps my favourite is when he describes the “physician” (in his metaphor representing the priest or pastor) in the following way, highlighting a point that is assuredly still true of many doctors today. After all, we have all had many experiences of just how readily and willingly dentists or doctors tend to give up the use of harmful practices – such as mercury products – in favour of more beneficial ones when made available to them:
“He did it gradually, reluctantly; and never yielded more at a time than the pressure compelled.”
I might note, by way of example, that in the last three decades (not that common sense and preliminary science were not a sufficient case against mercury long before this), thousands of convincing new studies about mercury toxicity have come out, and doctors and dentists have had many opportunities, including recent ones, to come forward and stop using mercury of their own volition, based on the available science. . . (For starters, see The IAOMT, as well as my forthcoming Key Toxins database, where I am compiling the largest collection of mercury science in the world).
Yet the great majority have not ceased their use of mercury-containing products, except when forced to; whether it be mercury in dental fillings, vaccines or various pharmaceutical medications! How astute Twain was about human nature. . .
‘Mercury, even in 2011?’ I hear you say. . . Yes, that’s right! Are you aware that it remains an accepted “standard of medical practice” today in many countries for doctors and dentists to poison their patients with mercury, even in spite of tens of thousands of studies documenting associated harm of the first degree?
I find it unbelievable, but there it is. Mercury was a poison commonly given to patients by doctors back in 1811 (especially for patients with syphilis), and by 1911 the dentists had merrily joined in the poison brigade as well, and you would think modern medicine would have now progressed enough to leave such barbaric methods behind, but apparently not.
Perhaps in the year 2111, someone will write a new article saying the same thing: ‘Yes, even in 2111!’ In reference to an album title of the Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, it sometimes seems like ‘New Skin for the Old Ceremony.’ We are told that medicine has progressed, in the century since Twain’s demise, and yet, as we see, modern doctors and dentists still doll out mercury products, like the ‘quacks’ of a pre-Twain era who were named after the ‘quack-silver’ (quicksilver, i.e., mercury) that they gave to patients.
By this definition, this would imply that modern doctors and dentists are ‘quacks’ (quack-silver prescribers). I really can’t see that much has changed – or that the pot can call the kettle black, even if the black paint dates from two different centuries. . . Don’t misunderstand me – I am not implying that modern orthodox medicine is all bad; but I am referring to something very wrong – and essentially unscientific – which allows mercury-containing products to be favoured even now. In fact, it is a criminal oversight, and this is a part which, in true human fashion, few want to own up to. . . Most people are ‘hot-wired’ not to want to admit to mistakes or to having been in error.
The main point in Twain’s essay seems to be about religious and medical practitioners not, in his view, actually volunteering to lead the way when it comes to putting a stop to harmful things like slavery or allopathy in favour of doing ‘good’ things like homeopathy – which he uses to represent a clear symbol of choosing a ‘gold labeled’ alternative of ‘compassion’ and ‘charity.’
After all, whatever you think about homeopathy, it is a demonstrable fact that homeopaths have never poisoned their patients, and that there is a proven success record and efficacy yet without nasty side effects.
Homeopathy has been falsely tainted as “unscientific” but for bogus reasons. That is a different and fascinating subject in its own right, perhaps for future blogs.
In reality, one can easily find aspects of orthodox medicine which are unscientific, and aspects of homeopathy which are scientific, and in neither case does it provide a true basis of assessment.
Throwing a slingshot at someone isn’t a way of getting to know them!
The bottom line is that true medicine cannot be turned into a “marketplace” driven by profiteering advertisers, and a medical monopoly cannot be allowed to dominate.
I personally find that a combination of FCT and classical homeopathy brings much better results than the latter on its own. I also admire other systems of medicine, including Traditional Chinese Medicine, and I believe that modern conventional medicine is unrivalled in certain respects, especially when it comes to emergency care. So I am not saying that homeopathy is even my favourite medical modality, by a long stretch, much as I like it and believe it has a role to play. However, I’m trying to be realistic, in the context of Twain’s juxtaposition of homeopathy and allopathy in his discussion, reflecting the “Great Nineteenth Century Medical Debate” on this very subject that was raging in the USA at the time.
I don’t know about you, but I prefer enlightened medical approaches which don’t have any hint of barbarism about them, at least when it comes to a general “standard of practice.” By comparison, if you walk into the average modern hospital today and see what goes on, you would be forgiven for imagining that you just stepped back into the Dark Ages. You might argue that brutality in medicine – like war in society – will always have a role to play. And I would agree. But shouldn’t it be reserved for rare exceptional situations, rather than being the rule? This, at any rate, is what Savely Yurkovsky, M.D., argues in relation to conventional medical practices like antibiotics and others, and it’s a position that makes sense. If I want you to go and get a glass of water for me, my first recourse of action won’t be to punch you in the nose and yell at you; it would be far more likely that I will first ask nicely, and refrain from punching you unless things get really desperate.
Sadly, I see little evidence that we can trust our medical profession (with rare exceptions of individuals within it, of course) to take the ethical initiative any more now than then, as I hope my mercury example makes evident. If I were a medical doctor or dentist, I would feel shame to be part of a profession that continues to advocate mercury poisoning in the name of medicine.
Loss of trust is then definitely a major concern that crops up as a consequence.
Modern medicine has very useful and even wonderful aspects, but how are we to sort the wheat from the chaff when noble services are offered with one hand from the same practitioners that with the other hand are dolling out poisons such as mercury? When trust cannot be maintained for such reasons, I find myself forced to write outspoken blogs like this one, due to the severity of what’s at stake. . .
Modern medicine and dentistry aspire to be scientific – and that is a good thing. But the unscientific use of a documented poison like mercury in both professions demonstrates that neither profession has yet achieved this scientific ideal when it comes to clinical practice.
If use of mercury is not only allowed but encouraged, this, people will deduce, is probably just the tip of the iceberg, since as in all fields of science, the main problem lies not in the actions, but in the belief system underlying those actions.
The travel writer Colin Thubron once said that on entering a new country, one can observe whether the cats are friendly or afraid when you walk up to them, and that this is a sign of how well the culture treats cats, which is in turn a sign of how civilized the culture is. . . So if he is willing to assess a culture based on its treatment of cats, what’s to stop us assessing a medical system based on the kinds of poisons it advocates for “medicinal” uses? Personally, I am not an advocate of medical poisoning, and it seems that Twain wasn’t either.
But I don’t believe Twain was saying this was a characteristic unique to doctors or priests; I think it is fair to say that he believed humanity, in general, was not an ethical beast, or at least not without kicking up a fight about it first!
And what, you may ask, were Twain’s qualifications to comment on medical methods? Mostly that of being our quintessential literary sceptic, and a sage social critic and observer of human behaviour, I would say. . . After all, one doesn’t need medical qualifications to be able to spot unethical or even brutal behaviour, be it from dentists, doctors or anyone else.
I’d also suggest that the true sceptics, such as Twain, surely go beyond ridiculing the unorthodox and are willing ALSO to question orthodoxy in medicine or any other area. This is in stark contrast, for example, to the writers at well-promoted websites such as quackwatch or skepdic, who I find for this reason not to be true sceptics.
That may seem like a strange claim – that the very people who market themselves as “sceptics” are not sceptics at all! I suggest this because they appear to unquestioningly (= unsceptically) accept anything orthodox and reject anything unorthodox, and that seems to be the primary criterion (a fact easily verified) – thus the rest is then academic fluff built up on this simplistic unscientific foundation, like a child’s black and white view of things but given a professional, academic appearance.
Sometimes when I dip into mock-sceptic websites such as these, I wonder if a ‘coming of age’ ever actually occurred – i.e., I find myself pondering, “Did no one teach these writers, when they were growing up, that shades of grey exist in the world… and that not everything the authorities claim can be automatically trusted?” Worse still, though, are those millions of readers who gullibly accept the false claims that such a one-sided approach is scientific. . .
Dare I say, in contrast, that I like to think I at least aspire, as best I can, to be a true sceptic – one who accepts life’s complex spectrum of colours? There are noble things in conventional medicine, versus things in homeopathy I dislike; I might find occasion to taste a soup which is not made for human consumption, and yet that wouldn’t mean that every ingredient in the soup is automatically bad. . .
Here, as ever, Mark Twain displays his typical worldly-wise, cynical, humourous, “You-Can’t-Fool-Me” analysis of human nature: In this case, though, and as we have already seen, besides the priests it’s the doctors that fall under his radar and become the butt of his acid joke.
I couldn’t help but enjoy this passage from the writer we’ve long come to love and, more to the point, expect a keen incisive intelligence from. . .
Naturally, when reading Twain, don’t expect not to be prodded and criticized.
For me, this is not about attacking either doctors or priests or anyone else – this is neither anti-medical nor anti-church. For those readers who are either doctors and/or religious, I hope you may read between the lines rather than taking affront. Speaking for myself, I have noted over the years that some of the best FCT patients and practitioners I know are religious people, and others of equal merit are not religious at all – to the point that in the context of ethics (which is the main theme of this article) I believe more in the qualities each individual displays – or fails to display – than in such labels.
Sometimes it seems that labels can even get in the way, or that they can be part of an effort to try and make life simpler, as though it helps to distinguish the good people from the bad. In ancient Rome, anyone outside the Roman Empire was considered a “barbarian.” To this day, in modern Spain, the expressions, “Talk to me in Christian language,” and “Pay me in Christian currency,” persist, referring to Spanish language and currency, and suggesting a sense of security that one’s own tribe is trustable whereas those nasty foreigners are not. . . In essence, these are all forms of prejudice (i.e., pre-judging) aimed at avoiding the unpleasant and difficult task of trying to assess (i.e., judge) each individual as an individual. . .
Similarly, I think that Twain’s emphasis is on individual human qualities, rather than labels. Thus if you read carefully, you’ll see that Twain is drawing parallels to imply that people have shown basically the same weaknesses regardless of whether they have been religious, medical or other categories of people. . .
Come to think of it, being human is already sufficient, in his book, to draw criticism, even apart from anything else! None of us are immune from such a critique. . .
So I believe this is a place we come to be refreshingly challenged, not patted on the back. . .
And so, on to Mark Twain:
“Religion had its share in the changes of civilization and national character, of course. What share? The lion’s. In the history of the human race this has always been the case, will always be the case, to the end of time, no doubt; or at least until man by the slow processes of evolution shall develop into something really fine and high – some billions of years hence, say.
The Christian Bible is a drug store. Its contents remain the same; but the medical practice changes. For eighteen hundred years these changes were slight – scarcely noticeable. The practice was allopathic – allopathic in its rudest and crudest form. The dull and ignorant physician day and night, and all the days and all the nights, drenched his patient with vast and hideous doses of the most repulsive drugs to be found in the store’s stock; he bled him, cupped him, purged him, puked him, salivated him, never gave his system a chance to rally, nor nature a chance to help. He kept him religion sick for eighteen centuries, and allowed him not a well day during all that time. The stock in the store was made up of about equal portions of baleful and debilitating poisons, and healing and comforting medicines; but the practice of the time confined the physician to the use of the former; by consequence, he could only damage his patient, and that is what he did.
Not until far within our century was any considerable change in the practice introduced; and then mainly, or in effect only, in Great Britain and the United States. In the other countries to-day, the patient either still takes the ancient treatment or does not call the physician at all. In the English-speaking countries the changes observable in our century were forced by that very thing just referred to – the revolt of the patient against the system; they were not projected by the physician. The patient fell to doctoring himself, and the physician’s practice began to fall off. He modified his method to get back his trade. He did it gradually, reluctantly; and never yielded more at a time than the pressure compelled. At first he relinquished the daily dose of hell and damnation, and administered it every other day only; next he allowed another day to pass; then another and presently another; when he had restricted it at last to Sundays, and imagined that now there would surely be a truce, the homeopath arrived on the field and made him abandon hell and damnation altogether, and administered Christ’s love, and comfort, and charity and compassion in its stead. These had been in the drug store all the time, gold labeled and conspicuous among the long shelfloads of repulsive purges and vomits and poisons, and so the practice was to blame that they had remained unused, not the pharmacy. To the ecclesiastical physician of fifty years ago, his predecessor for eighteen centuries was a quack; to the ecclesiastical physician of to-day, his predecessor of fifty years ago was a quack. To the every-man-his-own-ecclesiastical-doctor of – when? – what will the ecclesiastical physician of to-day be? Unless evolution, which has been a truth ever since the globes, suns, and planets of the solar system were but wandering films of meteor dust, shall reach a limit and become a lie, there is but one fate in store for him.
The methods of the priest and the parson have been very curious, their history is very entertaining. In all the ages the Roman Church has owned slaves, bought and sold slaves, authorized and encouraged her children to trade in them. Long after some Christian peoples had freed their slaves the Church still held on to hers. If any could know, to absolute certainty, that all this was right, and according to God’s will and desire, surely it was she, since she was God’s specially appointed representative in the earth and sole authorized and infallible expounder of his Bible. There were the texts; there was no mistaking their meaning; she was right, she was doing in this thing what the Bible had mapped out for her to do. So unassailable was her position that in all the centuries she had no word to say against human slavery.”
There is no further mention of homeopathy, but in case any readers would nonetheless prefer to read the rest of Mark Twain’s essay, “Bible Teaching and Religious Practice,” to its end, it can be found in its entirety copied on the following page: http://www.ratbags.com/rsoles/comment/twain01.htm