Mark Twain on Homeopathy



Most devotees of his pen maybe surprised that Mark Twain, the man with the X-Ray Eyes, the literary genius who could see through to the bone of any false contraption, the Holy Dean of American Letters, the Christ of Cynicism, the Lincoln pf our literature, made exclusive use of homeopathically trained medical doctors.

He writes:

“Aqua Limacum. Take a great Peck of Garden-snails, and wash them in a great deal of Beer, and make your Chimney very clean, and set a Bushel of Charcoal on Fire; and when they are thoroughly kindled, make a Hole in the Middle of the Fire, and put the Snails in, and scatter more Fire amongst them, and let them roast till they make a Noise; then take them out, and, with a Knife and coarse Cloth, pick and wipe away all the green froth: Then break them, Shells and all, in a Stone Mortar. Take also a Quart of Earth-worms, and scour them with Salt, divers times over. Then take two Handfuls of Angelica and lay them in the Bottom of the Still; next lay two Handfuls of Celandine; next a Quart of Rosemary-flowers; then two Handfuls of Bearsfoot and Agrimony; then Fenugreek; then Turmerick; of each one Ounce: Red Dock-root, Bark of Barberry-trees, Wood-sorrel, Betony, of each two Handfuls.—Then lay the Snails and Worms on the top of the Herbs; and then two Handfuls of Goose Dung, and two Handfuls of Sheep Dung. Then put in three Gallons of Strong Ale, and place the pot where you mean to set Fire under it: Let it stand all Night, or longer; in the Morning put in three Ounces of Cloves well beaten, and a small Quantity of Saffron, dry’d to Powder; then six Ounces of Shavings of Hartshorn, which must be uppermost. Fix on the Head and Refrigeratory, and distil according to Art.

“When you reflect that your own father had to take such (allopathic) medicines as the above, and that you would be taking them to-day yourself but for the introduction of homeopathy, 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 homeopathy survived the attempts of the allopathists to destroy it, even though you may never employ any physician but an allopathist while you live.” – Mark Twain

Well, some might still be inclined to say allopathic crap isn’t any better in the 21st than the kettle stirrings Twain described in the 19th, as the mortality rates and lawsuits reveal.

The skeptical cowards squeal like pigs at slaughter, in their vituperative blogs, in their cursing forums, that it isn‘t true, trying to convince one another homeopathy is false, trying to talk each other off of window ledges and down out of trees, saying things like “don‘t do it Joe, you still got something to live for . . don’tcha?”

“Mark Twain made a lifelong expenditure on these homeopathetic quacks?” you ask?

Yes, he even subjected his beloved family to their reputed canards. Now how can this be you ask? Wasn’t this man a devout atheist, we know he had the analytic powers of a cold reader, a mentalist. The man was a human lie detector, and . . didn’t he . . wasn’t he . . a skeptic?

Allow me to take a little more time from your busy day and double down on this. Twain was not a Luddite and homeopathy did not escape his circumspective zeal.

APRIL 21, 1867
New York Sunday Mercury
Official Physic
Ed. T. T.: — It is one of the beauties of our advance consolidated and all-embracing government that questions which were left to puzzle the private judgment of the citizens under the old regime are now settled by the legislative powers authoritatively. Among other differences of opinion there has been always a variance of choice under which system a citizen preferred to find his way across the Styx, and he enjoyed in this State till now the privilege of choosing the rower who was to aid in ferrying him over in Charon’s boat. In other words, if a citizen was inclined to take salts by the ton, ipecac by the barrel, mercury by the quart, or quinine by the load, and thus be cured of his ailment or his sublunary existence by the wholesale, he was at perfect liberty to invite the services of a medicus of the allopathic style; and if another citizen preferred to toy with death, and buy health in small parcels, to bribe death with a sugar pill to stay away, or go to the grave with all the original sweeteners undrenched out of him, then the individual adopted the “like cures like” system, and called in a homeopath physician as being a pleasant friend of death’s. Citizens there were too, who liked to be washed into eternity, or soaked like over-salt mackerel before they were placed on purgatorial gridirons, and these, “of every rank and degree”, had the right to pass their few remaining days in an element that they were not likely to see much of for some time. Then again there were those who saw “good in everything” and who believed that whatever is is right, and these last mixed the allopathic, homeopathic, and hydropathic systems, qualified each with each, and thus passed to their long homes, drenched, pickled, sweetened, and soaked. But all this is fast being changed. The highest power in our State has been forced to declare, through the workings of over-legislation, that the allopathic system is the only one at present recognized by the State, and so has reinstated in his position a noted allopathic physician in the Health Board. Before this decision of the Governor’s was made known, there was a war of lancets, and many hard pills to swallow were administered by the rival homeopaths and allopaths. Among arguments used were those founded on the questionable statistics of the number of patients who recovered while being treated by the rival systems. Some sarcastic people, justified by the saying of the well-known Oliver Wendell Holmes, may be of the opinion that more people get well in spite of the doctors than by their help, and that a doctor is as likely to be famous from the number that he kills as from that which he cures. Something like this might have passed through the Governor’s mind, for evidently he was undecided under which king death to speak or die, and showed that he is like most laymen, inclined to be eclectic; for immediately after the appointment of the allopath to that Board which will authoritatively recommend the kind of physic good for the public bowels in the event of the spread of an epidemic, and which poor patients will be forced to swallow, whatever their medical code may be, the Governor paid the high but rather sarcastic compliment to homeopathy of appointing one of its disciples to a place on the Board of Commissioners for the new State Lunatic Asylum to be located at Poughkeepsie. No doubt, the Governor thought that people divested of reason could offer no reasons against the appointment; and that if the lunatics were not improved by sugar pills, they would at least die sweetly — a lunatic more or less being of little account. Thus it is officially settled that allopathy is good for the sane and homeopathy for the insane. The famed “judgment of Solomon” dwindles to folly in comparison with this decision. But alas! for the changeableness of human affairs, an energetic Senator is determined to have the hydropaths officially recognized; and no doubt to satisfy the followers of that school, shower-baths, douches, and sitzes, will have to be ordered for the benefit of some class in the community. No persons need the cooling influences of cold water more than the small-fry of hot-tempered politicians who periodically increase our taxes at the State capitol. If, over each member’s seat a shower-bath was contrived, and by some electric-telegraph means the check-strings could be placed at the control of the Speaker, then, when honorable members wax so hot in debate that they forget the rules of decorum and ignore the Speaker’s gavel, the presiding officer could pull the check-strings, souse the offending members, and bring them to order and a frame of mind and body in which they would look at things coolly. Some such arrangement might be applied to caucuses and conventions, of which the members are troubled with superfluity of bile and too great a rush of blood to the head. Thus the hydropathists might be pacified by being allowed a share in public hygienics. But to return to the starting-point of this communication, the mania for giving the Government power to meddle with the private affairs of cities or citizens is likely to cause endless trouble, through the rivalry of schools and creeds that are anxious to obtain official recognition, and there is great danger that our people will lose that independence of thought and action which is the cause of much of our greatness, and sink into the helplessness of the Frenchman or German who expects his government to feed him when hungry, clothe him when naked, to prescribe when his child may be born and when he may die, and, in fine, to regulate every act of humanity from the cradle to the tomb, including the manner in which he may seek future admission to paradise.
– M.T.

If they had anything that wasn’t already corrupted, I (John) would think that this information would tie the minds of pseudoskeptics into knots, and this is as it should be, as the spirit of homeopathy is a constant reminder of wit‘s end that what shouldn’t work does anyway.

But the question remains, how could the unusually hardheaded Twain suddenly go soft on homeopathy, as the quote to the hard headed skeptic implies? Or was he a good disbeliever, like the skeptoids desperate grasping, with their arguments drowning in a thimble would demand, just making fun of it?

Or lacking that, is there a way to twist or interpolate it to make it sound like he is?

“Think! skeptos, think!” the real pseudoscientist cries. “To lose Twain, the ultimate skeptic on this one would be a crushing blow to our cause, and we skeptics must have him!”

Well, here are the damn facts, Jehosephat. Between 1870 . . and I am guessing his death in 1910 . . wherever he and his family went, Twain made EXCLUSIVE use of numerous medical doctors trained as homeopathic physicians, two of which became close, trusted friends of the family, such as Dr. Cincinatus Taft, MD and Dr. Howard Kellogg, MD.
Here’s the reference in Ober’s biography of Twain that proves he was an avid believer in homeopathic medicine:
Let’s see what lies the denialists will try to make out of that.
Despite his smoking and drinking Twain was the ripe old age of 75 when the man punched out in 1910, the year of the comet, the same year as the target of his real antagonism died at 89, another homeopath by the name of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science.
These are unusually long drafts of life for their day. Could it be homeopathy kept them alive, or was it cigars, whiskey and Christian Science?
If Twain could have excoriated her for homeopathy, he wouldn’t have hesitated, he would have floated her as a witch.
Too bad, Randi, you don’t get Twain, not on this one either. And having spoken for Twain, as Twain, many times, in front of large crowds, I think I could honestly say my opinion is that if Twain was alive today, he would find James “the Amazing” Randi to be a truly disgusting human being. If not a rope, I suspect the only thing he would concede to Randi would be a blindfold and a cigarette.

Twain may have been a good liar, but as far as I have been able to tell he didn’t take anything to be true or not just because it shouldn’t be due to the standards of atheism, not until he could stick his own nose into it.
But isn’t it grand, isn’t it sweet, that the word’s wealthiest man of all time (Rockefeller), and its greatest literary genius (Twain) and its most noted spirtual healer (Eddy), and its greatest revolutionary (Gandhi) were all ardent supporters of homeopathy in the 20th century?

I, John Benneth, laugh, lay back, sip my Scotch and smoke my cigar: What sweet revenge there is in the literature.

This leaves me to tell you of how I met Mark Twain and got entangled with him. I hope you may read about it in an upcoming submission to be entitled Homeopathy, Mark Twain and Me.

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2 comments on “Mark Twain on Homeopathy

  1. Will says:

    The pskeptic purveyors of nonsense often cite Oliver Wendel Holmes as a critic of homeopathy.

    However, if you read what Wendel-Holmes actually wrote, it is patently obvious that he is NOT referring to actual homeopathy in his chapter on the subject. Either that, or, as with the pskeptics, he has a very poor understanding of the subject – presumably gained second-hand from ill-informed critics. Much the same situation pertains today.

    Instead he seems to be describing something eclectic, with naturopathy and hydrotherapy mixed in.

    Perhaps he was truly the first pharmaceutical shill?


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