Primitive Psycho-Therapy and Quackery
by Robert Means Lawrence
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According to Perotti (1430-1480), persons who had been bitten by this reptile fell into a state of melancholia and stupefaction. While in this condition they were very susceptible to the influence of music. At the very first tone of a favorite melody, they sprang up, shouting for joy, and danced without intermission until they sank to the ground, exhausted.

Frequent allusions to the remarkable therapeutic power of music, and especially to its specific anti-toxic virtues, are to be found in the works of many writers. Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), in "Arcadia," book 1, said: "This word did not less pierce poor Pyrocles, than the right tune of music toucheth him that is sick of the tarantula." And Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), in "The Tale of a Tub," has this passage: "He was troubled with a disease, reversed to that called the stinging of the tarantula, and would run dog-mad at the noise of music, especially a pair of bag-pipes." Again: "This Malady has been removed, like the Biting of a Tarantula, with the sound of a musical instrument."[199:1]

Many physicians and historians have written on this subject, and with singular unanimity have endorsed music as a curative agent for tarantism.

Notable among these were Alexander ab Alexandro, a prominent Neapolitan civilian, who flourished toward the close of the fifteenth century, and Athanasius Kircher, a famous German Jesuit, in a treatise entitled "Ars Magnetica de Tarantismo" (Rome, 1654). Dr. Richard Mead, in an essay on the tarantula, published in 1702, wrote that this insect was wont to creep about in the Italian corn-fields during the summer months, and at that season its bite was especially venomous. Music was the sole remedy employed, and none other was needed. Among other authorities may be mentioned: Dr. Pierre Jean Burette (1665-1747), "Dialogue sur la musique"; Dr. Giorgio Baglivi, "De Anatomia, Morsu et Effectibus Tarantulae Dissertatio" (1695); and Dr. Theodore Craanen, a Dutch physician, "Tractatus physico-medicus De Tarantula" (Naples, 1722). Worthy of note also is an elaborate dissertation, "System einer Medizinischen Musik" (Bonn, 1835), by Dr. Peter Joseph Schneider, wherein the author devotes several pages to this interesting theme.

Dr. Mead, above mentioned, gave a curious description of the symptoms of tarantism. "While the patients are dancing," said he, "they lose in a manner the use of all their senses, like so many drunkards, and indulge in many ridiculous and foolish antics. They talk and act rudely, and take great pleasure in playing with vine-leaves, naked swords, red cloths, and the like. They have a particular aversion for anything of a black color, so that if a bystander happens to appear in apparel of that hue, he must immediately withdraw; otherwise the patients relapse into their symptoms with as much violence as ever."


[185:1] New York Medical Record, October 29, 1909.

[187:1] Boston Daily Advertiser, November 7, 1907.

[188:1] Mrs. John Lane, The Champagne Standard.

[188:2] Chambers's Journal, vol. lxxi, p. 145; 1894.

[189:1] Appleton's Booklovers' Magazine, July, 1905.

[189:2] Boston Herald, May 12, 1907.

[190:1] Wien (Vienna), 1807.

[190:2] Philosophical Transactions, 1668, p. 662.

[191:1] The Lancet, vol. ii; 1880.

[192:1] The Gentleman's Magazine, vol. lxxvii; November, 1807.

[193:1] Anatomy of Melancholy, vol. ii, p. 132.

[194:1] The Chicago Inter-Ocean.

[195:1] Boston Transcript, March 10, 1900.

[196:1] Music and Morals.

[199:1] The Spectator, August 18, 1714.



Quackery and the love of being quacked, are in human nature as weeds are in our fields. DR. J. BROWN, Spare Hours.

They are Quack-salvers, Fellowes that live by senting oyles and drugs. BEN JONSON, Volpone, Act II, Scene 2.

These, like quacks in Medicine, excite the malady to profit by the cure, and retard the cure to augment the fees. WASHINGTON IRVING.

Here also they have, every night in summer, a world of Montebanks, Ciarlatani, and such stuff, who together with their remedies, strive to please the People with their little Comedies, Popet-plays and songs. R. LASSELS, Voy. Ital.: 1698.

Le monde n'a jamais manque de charlatans; cette science, de tout temps, fut en professeurs tres fertile. LA FONTAINE.

He took himself to be no mean Doctour, who being guilty of no Greek, and being demanded why it was called an hectic fever; 'because,' saith he, 'of an hecking cough, which ever attendeth that disease.' THOMAS FULLER, The Holy State.

Man is a dupable animal. Quacks in Medicine, quacks in Religion, and quacks in Politics know this and act upon that knowledge. There is scarcely anyone who may not, like a trout, be taken by tickling. ROBERT SOUTHEY.

Quack doctors are indeed pompous, self-sufficient, affectedly solemn, venal and unfeeling with a vengeance. VICESIMUS KNOX, D.D.

If Satan has ever succeeded in compressing a greater amount of concentrated mendacity into one set of human bodies, above every other description, it is in the advertising quacks. Pacific Medical and Surgical Journal.

The bold and unblushing assertion of the empiric, of a never-failing remedy, constantly reiterated, inspires confidence in the invalid, and not unfrequently tends by its operation on the mind, to assist in the eradication of disorder. THOS. J. PETTIGREW, F.R.S.

The word quack, meaning a charlatan, is an abbreviation of quack-salver. To quack is to utter a harsh, croaking sound, like a duck; and hence secondarily, to talk noisily and to make vain and loud pretensions.[202:1] And a salver is one who undertakes to perform cures by the application of ointments or cerates. Hence the term quack-salver was commonly used in the seventeenth century, signifying an ignorant person, who was wont to extol the curative virtues of his salves. Now we see, said Francis Bacon, in "The Advancement of Learning,"[202:2] the weakness and credulity of men. For they will often prefer a mountebank or witch before a learned physician. And therefore the poets were clear-sighted in discerning this extreme folly, when they made Esculapius and Circe brother and sister. For in all times, in the opinion of the multitude, witches, old women and impostors have had a competition with physicians.

According to one authority, the term quack is derived from an ancient Saxon word, signifying small, slender and trifling, and hence was applied to shallow and frivolous itinerant peddlers, who foisted upon a credulous community such wares as penny-plasters, balsam of liquorice for coughs, snuffs for headaches, and infallible eye-lotions.[203:1]

It has also been maintained that quack is a corruption of quake, and that quack-doctors were so called because, in marshy districts, patients affected with intermittent fever, sometimes vulgarly known as the quakes, were wont to be treated by ignorant persons, who professed to charm away the disease, and hence were styled quake-doctors.

In William Harrison's "Description of the Island of Britain," occurs the following curious passage: "Now we have many chimneys, and yet our tenderlings complain of reumes, catarres and poses; then had we none but reredores, and our heads did never ake. For, as the smoke in those days was supposed to be a sufficient hardening for the timber of the house, so it was reputed a far better medicine to keep the good man and his family from the quacke or pose, wherewith as then very few were acquainted." A writer in "Notes and Queries,"[203:2] remarked that the word quacke, in the foregoing extract, probably signified a disease rather than a charlatan, and possibly the mysterious affection known as "the poofs," from which good Queen Bess suffered one cold winter. This quacke appears to have been a novelty and therefore fashionable, affected by the tenderlings of that era, "as the proper thing to have." The quack-doctor, continues the writer above mentioned, must have been a fashionable style of man, not meddling much with the poor, and familiar with boudoirs, curing the new disease with new and wondrous remedies.

May not the word quacke, asks Stylites, another enquirer, as above used, mean quake or ague? For an ague-doctor must have had much employment, and if successful, great renown, in those days of fens, marshes and undrained ground.

In an anniversary discourse delivered before the New York Academy of Medicine, November 7, 1855, Dr. John Watson remarked that the numbers and pretensions of the illegitimate sons of Esculapius were as great in ancient as in modern times. And they were quite as wont to receive the patronage of the upper classes. The Emperor Nero thus favored the shrewd Lydian practitioner, Thessalus, who maintained that all learning was without value.

And if we may believe the statements of Pliny and Galen, the Roman quacks equalled, if they did not exceed, in ignorance and arrogance, the vast horde of handicraftsmen, bone-setters, herniotomists, lithotomists, abortionists, and poison-venders, who overran Southern Europe throughout the Middle Ages.

The inhabitants of ancient Chaldea, in common with many primitive peoples of later times, cherished the belief that all diseases were caused by demons. Medicine was merely a branch of Magic, and the chief healing agents were exorcisms, incantations, and enchanted beverages. There were, properly speaking, no physicians. Sometimes, wrote Francois Lenormant, in "Chaldean Magic," disease was regarded as an effect of the wickedness of different demons, and sometimes it appears to have been considered as the work of a distinct malevolent being, who exercised his power upon man.

According to the old Shamanic belief, which was the primeval religion of all mankind, every physical ailment is caused by a little devil which enters the body and can be expelled therefrom only by means of magic.

Abundant traces of this doctrine, says Charles Godfrey Leland in "Gipsy Sorcery," appear in our highest civilization and religion among people who gravely attribute every evil to the Devil, instead of to the unavoidable antagonisms of nature. "If," continues this writer, "a pen drops from our fingers, or a penny rolls from our grasp, the former, of course, falls on our new white dress, while the latter, nine times out of ten, goes directly to the nearest grating, crack or rat-hole."

In the religion of the ancient Copts, the Devil was believed to have inherited from his ancestors all the power attributed by ignorance and superstition to certain superior beings. He it was who originated all diseases, and by a singular contradiction, he likewise cured them, either directly or through the agency of the magicians and quacks who followed in his train.[206:1]

According to a widespread doctrine of antiquity, innumerable demons were ever active in endeavoring to inflict diseases upon the bodies of human beings.

No medical practitioner, however skilful, could successfully cope with these supernatural beings. Their evil designs could be checked only by experts in occult science. It has been said that whoever humors the credulity of man, is sure to prosper. The modern quack exemplifies this. "The Devil, the Christian successor of the ancient evil spirit, has exerted a great influence on the medical views of all classes of people. He and his successors were considered 'the disturbers of the peace' in the health of humanity. The Devil was able to influence each individual organ in a manner most disagreeable to the owner of the same."[206:2] Although the hideous portrayals of the Evil One, with horns, hoofs, pitchfork, and tail, appealed strongly to the imagination, they were wholly fanciful. If Satan were to appear in human form, as for example in the guise of a charlatan (says William Ramsey in "The Depths of Satan," 1889), we might expect him to assume the appearance, dress and demeanor of a gentleman.

Indeed, although the idea of the embodiment of evil is naturally repellent, a study of the Devil's personality, as represented in theology, romance, and popular tradition, reveals much that is interesting. In the role of a medical pretender, however, he deserves no more sympathy than any other quack.

In England, says William George Black, in "Folk-Medicine," the Devil has long represented much of the paganism still existing, and seems to have been regarded almost as the head of the medical profession. He has enjoyed the reputation of being able to inflict and cure diseases, not only those of his own production, but also natural diseases, since he knows their origin and causes better than physicians can. For, wrote the learned Dutch practitioner and demonologist, Johann Wier (1515-1588), physicians being younger than the Devil, must necessarily have had less experience.

James Grant, in the "Mysteries of All Nations" (page 1), remarks that the doctrine of devils is of great antiquity, probably dating from the Creation.

The immediate descendants of Adam and Eve must have learned from them, or by tradition, the circumstances connected with the temptation, fall, and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Therefore it seems highly probable that the serpent was regarded, at a very early period, as something more than an ordinary earthly reptile.

In the Dark Ages popular opinion credited the Devil with a vast amount of erudition; and he was, moreover, reputed to be well versed in medical science and magical arts. Whenever a man of genius had accomplished some task which appeared to be above the powers of the human mind, it was commonly believed that the Devil either had performed the work or had at least rendered some assistance.[208:1]

Burton quotes from the German philosopher, Nicholas Taurellus (born 1547), as follows: "Many doubt whether the Devil can cure such diseases as he hath not made; and some flatly deny it. Howsoever, common experience confirms to our astonishment that magic can work such facts, and that the Devil without impediment can penetrate through all the parts of our bodies, and cure such maladies by means to us unknown."

Again, says Burton, many famous cures are daily performed, affording evidence that the Devil is an expert physician; and God oftentimes permits witches and magicians to produce these effects. Paracelsus encouraged his patients to cultivate a strong imagination, whereby they should experience beneficial results. . . . Therein lies the secret in a nutshell. If a man has confidence in the treatment prescribed by a charlatan, he may be benefited thereby. The Devil is a charlatan. Therefore, if God permit, even diabolical remedies may be efficacious, if the patient's faith in them is strong enough. It is not so much the quality as the strength of the faith, says Dr. McComb in "Religion and Medicine," that is of vital moment, so far as the removal of a given disorder is concerned.

The Christians of the early centuries accepted the pagan doctrine of demonology without modification. The belief in demoniac possession and the belief in witches were later developments from this same doctrine. In the third century originated a new order of ecclesiastics, whose members were known as exorcists. The expulsion of evil spirits was their special function. But in addition to the official exorcists, many sorcerers and magicians assumed to cure the possessed, as well as those suffering from other diseases. The idea of good and evil demons assumed in the Middle Ages a specifically Christian character, which resembled the ancient Babylonian doctrine except that the good demons were replaced by angels and saints, whereas the evil spirits were embodied in the Devil. Both saints and devils were thenceforth destined to play their part in the domain of medicine.

Martin Luther, as is well known, was a firm believer in the doctrine which held that the Devil was the originator of all diseases. No ailment, maintained the great reformer, comes from God, who is good, and does good to every one. It is the Devil who causes and performs all mischief, who interferes with all play and all arts, and who brings about pestilences and fevers. Luther believed that he himself was compelled, when his physical condition was out of order, to have a scuffle with the Evil One, and thereby obtain the mastery over him.[210:1]

Tatian, the Syrian writer, of the second century, declared that the profligacy of demons had made use of the productions of nature for evil purposes. The demons, he wrote, do not cure, but by their art make men their captives.

In that age, everybody, of whatever class or station in life, believed in the existence of demons, who were thought to be omnipresent, infesting men and the lower animals, as well as trees and rivers. At the time of the Reformation the same belief prevailed and was an important factor in influencing men's actions.[210:2]

A belief in the personality of the Evil One is amply warranted by Scripture. What is not warranted, says a writer in "Social England,"[210:3] by anything in Holy Writ, is the medieval conception of Satan, ruling over a kingdom of darkness, in rivalry with God.

Ignorance is guided by terror, rather than by love. To the undisciplined mind, whatever is supernatural or unexpected, makes a stronger appeal than the familiar phenomena of daily life. We cannot understand the motives and acts of our forefathers, wrote Henry C. Lea, in a "History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages," unless we take into consideration the mental condition engendered by the consciousness of a daily and hourly personal contact with Satan.

Charlatans were not unknown in the fifth century B. C. For the great Hippocrates inveighed against those who relied on amulets and charms as curative agents. In his view, the physician should possess a mind of such serenity and dignity as to be superior to superstition, for the latter is incompatible with a knowledge of the truth.[211:1]

The Romans of old, who drove nails into the walls of the Temple of Jupiter, in the hope of warding off the Plague, employed thereby a quack remedy.

Indeed, for more than six hundred years, they had no physicians, but employed theurgic methods of treatment by means of prayers, charms, and prescriptions from the ancient Sibylline Books, which were reputed to date from the reign of Tarquin the Proud, in the sixth century B. C. These volumes were kept in a stone chest, under ground, in the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus at Rome. The ancient Romans possessed only the rude surgery and domestic medicine of the barbarians, until the importation of scientific methods from Greece. Cato the Censor (B. C. 234-149) disliked physicians, partly because they were mostly Greeks, and partly because he himself, although venerated as a model of Roman virtue, was an outrageous quack, who thought himself equal to a whole college of physicians.[212:1]

From a very early time, and for many centuries, medical pretenders and empirics were known as "magicians." Practitioners of this class throve exceedingly during the reigns of several Roman emperors. They strove to work upon the imaginations of the people by sensational curative methods. Inasmuch, wrote Dr. Hugo Magnus, as whatever is curious and unusual, has always possessed a special fascination for humanity, the incredible remedies of the magicians found everywhere hosts of believers. And as the most nonsensical theories, if well tinged with the miraculous, find eager credence, there developed a rude form of psycho-therapy. For by the employment of extraordinary and even loathsome substances, many of which had no value as material remedies, they sought to impress curative ideas upon the minds of their patients, and doubtless very often with success. Inventive genius must have been sorely taxed among the magicians, in their endeavors to originate sensational prescriptions. The voluminous works of Alexander of Tralles, Quintus Serenus Samonicus, Marcellus Empiricus, and of many others, show how close was the union between medicine and magic. An enumeration of uncouth remedies formerly in vogue would fill huge pharmacopoeias, and belongs to the domain of Folk-Medicine. Let one or two examples suffice here.

For the removal of those hardened portions of the epidermis, usually occurring upon the feet, and vulgarly known as corns, Pliny the Elder, in his "Natural History," recommends the sufferer, after observing the flight of a meteor, to pour a little vinegar upon the hinge of a door.

And Sextus Placitus Papyriensis, a nonsensical medical writer of the fourth century, advises, for the cure of glaucoma, that the affected eye be rubbed with the corresponding organ of a wolf.

Dr. Theodor Puschmann, in his "History of Medical Education," quotes an old writer[213:1] who inveighed against those practitioners who were wont to fill the ears of their patients with stories of their own professional skill, while depreciating the services of others of the fraternity. Such unscrupulous quacks sought also to win over the patient's friends by little attentions, flatteries and innuendoes. Many, said this philosopher, recoil from a man of skill even, if he is a braggart. "When the doctor," he continues, "attended by a man known to the patient, and having a right of entry into the house, advances into the dwelling of the sick man, he should make his appearance in good clothes, with an inclination of the head; he should be thoughtful and of good bearing, and observe all possible respect. So soon as he is within, word, thought and attention should be given to nothing else but the examination of the patient, and whatever else appertains to the case."

In England, during the earliest times, the administration of medicines was always attended with religious ceremonial, such as the repetition of a psalm. These observances however were often tinctured with a good deal of heathenism, the traditional folk-lore of the country, in the form of charms, magic and starcraft. It is evident, wrote the author of "Social England,"[214:1] from the cases preserved by monkish chronicles, that the element of hysteria was prominent in the maladies of the Middle Ages, and that these affections were therefore peculiarly susceptible to psychic treatment. The Angles and Saxons brought with them to England a belief in medicinal runes and healing spells, and the cures wrought by their medical men were attributed to the magic potency of the charms employed. Some interesting information on contemporary manners is contained in a "Book of Counsels to Young Practitioners" (A. D. 1300). The use of polysyllabic and unintelligible words is therein recommended, probably as a goad to the patient's imagination.

Medical charms, wrote a shrewd philosopher of old, are not to be used because they can effect any change, but because they bring the patient into a better frame of mind.[215:1]

An interesting account of the manners and methods of itinerant charlatans of the period is found in "English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages" (fourteenth century), by the noted writer and diplomat, M. Jean Jules Jusserand. These Bohemian mountebanks went about the world, selling health. They selected the village green or market-place as headquarters, and spreading a carpet or piece of cloth on the ground, proceeded to harangue the populace. Big words, marvellous tales, praise of their own distinguished ancestry, enumeration of the wonderful cures wrought by themselves, statements of their purely altruistic motives and benevolent designs, and of their contempt for filthy lucre, these were characteristic features of their discourses, which preceded the exhibition and sale of infallible nostrums.

The law, wrote M. Jusserand, distinguished very clearly between an educated physician and a cheap-jack of the cross-ways. The court-doctor, for example, had the support of an established reputation. He had studied at one of the universities, and he offered the warranty of his high position. The wandering herbalist was less advantageously known. In the country, indeed, he was usually able to escape the rigor of the laws, but in the cities and larger towns he could not ply his trade with impunity. The joyous festivals of Old England attracted many of these hawkers of pills and elixirs, for on such occasions they met the rustic laborers, whose simplicity rendered them an easy prey. These peasant-folk pressed around, open-mouthed, uncertain whether they ought to laugh or to be afraid. But they finished usually by buying specimens of the eloquently vaunted cure-alls.

In medieval times, we are told, it was difficult to distinguish quacks from skilled practitioners, because the latter were inclined to be superstitious. In the year 1220 the University of Paris, with the sanction of the Church and municipality, issued a statute against unlicensed practitioners, and in 1271 another, whereby Jews and Jewesses were forbidden "to practice medicine or surgery on any Catholic Christian." All so-called chirurgeons and apothecaries, as well as herbalists, of either sex, were enjoined from visiting patients, performing operations, or prescribing any medicines except certain confections in common use, unless in the presence and under the direction of a physician, the penalties being excommunication, imprisonment, and fine.[216:1]

Never before, says Roswell Park, M.D., in "An Epitome of the History of Medicine," were there so many sorcerers, astrologers and alchemists, as existed at the close of the Dark Ages. These were mostly restless adventurers, of a class common at all periods of history, who chafed under the yoke of authority. Such individuals, in enlisting in the army of charlatans, were not usually actuated by philanthropic motives. Whatever benevolent sentiments they may have entertained, were in behalf of themselves. Many of them lived apart, as recluses, and were, in modern parlance, cranks, who lacked mental poise. Yet they were usually shrewd, and more or less adepts in occult science.

The power of auto-suggestion was evident in the cures of medieval ailments wrought by the methods of faith-healing. Prayer and intercession were the chief means employed, but these were often supplemented by the use of concoctions of medicinal herbs from the monastery garden.

The resources of therapeutics were, moreover, derived from a strange mixture of magic, astrology, and alchemy. A contemporary manual of "Hints to Physicians" advised the doctor, when called to visit a patient, to recommend himself to God, and to the Archangel Raphael. Then, after having refreshed himself with a drink, he was to praise the beauty of the country and the liberality of the family. He was also cautioned to avoid expressing a hasty opinion of the case, because the patient's friends would attach the more value to the physician's judgment, if they were obliged to wait for it.[218:1]

Paracelsus devoted much attention to chemistry as a science distinct from alchemy. Indeed he may be regarded as the founder of medical chemistry.[218:2] He extolled the merits of certain medicines now recognized as among the most valuable in the modern pharmacopoeia. Chief among these was the tincture of opium, to which he gave its present name of laudanum, a contraction of laudandum, something to be praised.

The eccentric German alchemist and philosopher, Henry Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535), described a prosperous charlatan of his day as "clad in brave apparel, and having on his fingers showy rings, glittering with precious stones; a fellow who had gotten fame on account of his travels in far countries, and by reason of his obstinate manner of vaunting with stiff lies the merits of his nostrums. Such an one had continually in his mouth many barbarous and uncouth words."

Towards the close of the sixteenth century, France was invaded by a horde of mountebanks in showy and fantastic garb, who went from one town to another, loudly and with brazen effrontery proclaiming in the market-places their ability to cure every kind of ailment. And the people, then as now easily duped, lent willing ears to these wily pretenders, and bought freely of their marvellous pills and pellets.[219:1]

The prevalence of quackery in England is shown by a preamble to a statute of Henry VIII, as follows: "Forasmuch as the science and cunning of Physic and Surgery are daily, within this Realm, exercised by a great number of ignorant persons, of whom the greater part have no insight in the same, nor in any other kind of learning. Some also ken no letters on the book; so far forth that common artificers, as smiths, weavers and women, boldly and accustomably take upon them great cures, in which they partly use scorcery and witchcraft, and partly apply such remedies to the disease as being very noxious and nothing meet; to the high displeasure of God, great infamy to the Faculty, and the grievous damage and destruction of divers of the King's people, most especially of them that cannot discern the cunning from the uncunning."

Probably Dr. Gilbert Skeene, of Aberdeen, Scotland, had in mind such pretenders, when he wrote, in a treatise on the Plague, published in 1568, that "Medicineirs[219:2] are mair studious of their ain helthe nor of the common weilthe."

A statute of the thirty-fourth year of Henry VIII (1543) contains the statement that although the majority of the members of the craft of chirurgeons had small cunning, yet they would accept large sums of money, and do little therefor; by reason whereof their patients suffered from neglect.

At about this period, many were the marvellous remedies which were advertised, and keen was the rivalry among empirics, in their efforts to outdo their brethren in the selection of high-sounding names for their vaunted panaceas. Among the latter were to be found such choice nostrums as rectifiers of the vitals, which were warranted to supply the places of all other medicines whatsoever.

Other pleasing remedies rejoiced in the names of vivifying drops, cephalic tinctures, gripe-waters, and angelical specifics.

"The Anatomyes of the True Physition and Counterfeit Mounte-banke" (imprinted at London, 1605) contains an enumeration of some of the classes of people wherefrom recruits were drawn to swell the ranks of charlatans in England some three centuries ago. Such were:

Runagate Jews, the cut-throats and robbers of Christians, slow-bellied monks, who have made escape from their cloisters, simoniacal and perjured shavelings, busy Sir John lack-Latins, thrasonical and unlettered chemists, shifting and outcast pettifoggers, light-headed and trivial druggers and apothecaries, sun-shunning night-birds and corner-creepers, dull-pated and base mechanics, stage-players, jugglers, peddlers, prittle-prattling barbers, filthy graziers, curious bath-keepers, common shifters and cogging cavaliers, bragging soldiers, lazy clowns, one-eyed or lamed fencers, toothless and tattling old wives, chattering char-women and nurse-keepers, long-tongued midwives, 'scape-Tyburns, dog-leeches, and such-like baggage. In the next rank, to second this goodly troupe, follow poisoners, enchanters, wizards, fortune-tellers, magicians, witches and hags. Now, if you take a good view of these sweet companions, you shall find them, not only dolts, idiots and buzzards; but likewise contemners and haters of all good learning.

For the greater part of them disdain book-learning, and never came where learning grew. . . . They are such as cannot abide to take any pains or travel in study. They reject incomparable Galen's learned Commentaries, as tedious and frivolous discourses, having found through Paracelsus's Vulcanian shop, a more short way to the Wood. . . . Others are so notoriously sottish, that being over head and ears in the myrie puddle of gross ignorance, yet they will by no means see or acknowledge it.

For to give an instance in the most absolute, exquisite and divine frame of man's body, if they can shew a rude description thereof, hanging in their chamber, and nickname two or three parts, (so as it would make a horse to break his halter to hear them) they think themselves jolly fellows, and are esteemed great anatomists in the eyes of the Vulgar. . . .

Now it is the honestest and safest course for good and learned physicians, to have no society with these barbarians, enemies to all antiquity, humanity and good learning, lest they hear the old saying, like will to like. As was said of the Devil dancing with the collier.[222:1]

We may glean some information about the methods of the practising quacks of the seventeenth century, from the following announcement, which is to be found in Cotgrave's "Treasury of Wit and Language" (1665):

"My name is Pulsefeel, a poor Doctor of Physick, That does wear three-pile velvet in his hat, Has paid a quarter's rent of his house beforehand, And (simple as he stands here) was made doctor beyond sea. I vow, as I am right worshipful, the taking Of my degree cost me twelve French crowns, and Thirty-five pounds of butter in Upper Germany. I can make your beauty and preserve it, Rectifie your bodie and maintaine it, Clarifie your blood, surfle your cheeks, perfume Your skin, tinct your hair, enliven your eye, Heighten your appetite; and as for Jellies, Dentifrizes, Dyets, Minerals, Fricasses, Pomatums, Fumes, Italia masks to sleep in, Either to moisten or dry the superficies, Faugh! Galen Was a goose and Paracelsus a Patch, to Doctor Pulsefeel."


[202:1] There is a legend of a certain physician, who would never eat roast duck, because certain members of that impolite bird's tribe had addressed insulting remarks to him.

[202:2] Book ii, x, 2.

[203:1] An Enquiry into Dr. Ward's Practice of Physick; London, Printed for J. Humphrey at the Pamphlet Shop, next to the Artichoke, near Great Turn-Stile in Holburn, 1749.

[203:2] Second Series, vol. iii; 1857.

[206:1] The New World, vol. ii; 1893.

[206:2] Dr. Hugo Magnus, Superstition in Medicine.

[208:1] Universal Cyclopaedia and Atlas, 1908.

[210:1] Dr. Hugo Magnus, Superstition in Medicine.

[210:2] The International Monthly, vol. v; 1902.

[210:3] Vol. ii.

[211:1] Montreal Medical Journal, vol. xxxi; 1902.

[212:1] Edward Berdoe, The Origin and Growth of the Healing Art.

[213:1] Charaka, Samhita, vol. iii, p. 8.

[214:1] Vol. ii, p. 108.

[215:1] Social England, vol. ii, p. 104.

[216:1] Practitioner, vol. lxviii; 1902.

[218:1] M. D. Synge, A Short History of Social Life in England.

[218:2] Dr. Theodor Puschmann, A History of Medical Education.

[219:1] Larousse, Grand Dictionnaire Universel, art. "Charlatan."

[219:2] This word appears to have been used in the sense of Medicaster, a diminutive of the Latin Medicus, a physician.

[222:1] The spelling of this extract has been modernized.



An English physician, who practised during the early part of the reign of King James I, described the charlatan of that period as shameless, a mortal hater of all good men, an adept in cozening, legerdemain, conycatching,[223:1] and all other shifts and sleights; a cracking boaster, proud, insolent, a secret back-biter, a contentious wrangler, a common jester and liar, a runagate wanderer, a cogging[223:2] sychophant and covetous exactor, a wringer of his patients. In a word, a man, or rather monster, made of a mixture of all vices.[223:3]

Robert Burton, in "The Anatomy of Melancholy," published in 1621, said that "if we seek a physician as we ought, we may be eased of our infirmities; such a one, I mean, as is sufficient and worthily so called. For there be many mountebanks, quack-salvers and empiricks, in every street almost, and in every village, that take upon them this name, and make this noble and profitable art to be evil spoken of and contemned by reason of these base and illiterate artificers. . . . Many of them to get a fee, will give physick to every one that comes, without cause."

That original genius, Daniel Defoe (1661-1731), in his "Description of a Quack Doctor," wrote that sometimes he would employ the most vulgar phrases imaginable, and again he would soar out of sight and traverse the spacious realms of fustian and bombast. He was, indeed, very sparing of his Latin and Greek, as (God knows) his stock of those commodities was but slender. But then, for hard words and terms, which neither he, nor you, nor I, nor anybody else could understand, he poured them out in such abundance that you'd have sworn he had been rehearsing some of the occult philosophy of Agrippa, or reading extracts from the Cabala.

"If a man doth but write a book," observed an old author, "or at least transcribe a great part of it, word for word, out of another book, and give it a new title, he is naturally regarded by the ignobile vulgus as a famous doctor, especially if he write M.D. after his name. But let none of these poor shifts or sleights deceive you. You will quickly see that the drift of such publication was only to sell off some Packets of Quack Remedies, and hedge you into his clutches, where 'tis odds but he will pinch, if he does not gripe you to death."[225:1]

In the old Province of Languedoc, in Southern France, charlatans were liable to be summarily dealt with. For when any mountebank appeared in the city of Montpellier, the magistrates were empowered to set him astride of a meagre, miserable ass, with his face to the animal's tail.

Thus placed, the wretched mountebank was made to traverse the streets of the town, his progress meanwhile being enlivened by the hooting and shouts of the children, and the ironical jeers of the populace.[225:2]

The facility wherewith ignorant persons may acquire a reputation for skill in Medicine, is exemplified by the following anecdote. A Staffordshire cobbler had somehow gotten possession of a parcel of medical receipts, and made such diligent use thereof, that he not only was speedily invested with the title of Doctor, but likewise became famous in the neighborhood on account of some alleged remarkable cures. Thereupon he laid aside his awl to assume the dignity of a charlatan. It happened that a young lady of fortune fell ill about that time, and her mother was induced to send for the newly fledged Esculapian. The latter, after examining the patient, remarked that he would go home and consider the case, as he never prescribed rashly. Accordingly in looking over his recipes, he found one which tickled his fancy, although the directions, "to be taken in a proper vehicle," mystified him. Nothing daunted, he consulted a dictionary and found that a vehicle was either a coach, cart or wheel-barrow. Highly elated, he hastened to inform the young lady's mother that her coach must be gotten ready at once, and that her daughter must get into it and take the remedy which he had brought. But the lady would not consent, alleging the risk of exposure to the outside air. "Well," said the rascally quack, "you must then order a wheel-barrow to be sent to your daughter's room, for this medicine must be taken in a proper vehicle, and in my opinion a wheel-barrow will answer the purpose as well as a coach."[226:1] Can any one doubt that the wheel-barrow furnished a powerful therapeutic suggestion in this case?

In the early part of the eighteenth century, it appears that charlatans were very numerous in England. Indeed the "corps of medical savages" was almost as motley and manifold in form as in the Middle Ages. The dabblers in medicine included grocers, book-sellers, printers, confectioners, merchants and traders, midwives, medical students, preachers, chemists, distillers, gipsies, shepherds, conjurors, old women, sieve-makers and water-peddlers. Apothecaries were permitted to sell drugs to "alchemists, bath-servants and ignorant quacks, while dabsters, calf-doctors, rag-pickers, magicians, witches, crystallomancers, sooth-sayers and other mancipia [purchased slaves] of the Devil, were allowed to practice Medicine."[227:1]

At this same period, we are told, the mass of the English people were extraordinarily credulous. And this fact was true, not only of the densely ignorant class, but also of the more intelligent and better educated middle class, who were ready to believe everything that appeared in print.[227:2] Hence was afforded an ideal field for the exercise of the wily charlatan's activities. And the glowing advertisements of quack remedies appealed strongly to the popular fancy.

A London surgeon, Dr. P. Coltheart, writing in 1727, asserted that English practitioners of that time were the peers of any in Europe. He complained, however, of the multitude of ignorant quacks, who were allowed a free hand in the practice of their pretended art, to the detriment of the community.

The spectacle of such a gallant array of charlatans, recruited from the ranks of illiterate tramps and vagrants, the very scum of society, yet thriving by reason of the popular credulity, certainly warranted the scathing arraignment of these interlopers by reputable physicians, who thus found a vent for their righteous indignation, although they were powerless to impede thereby the strong tide of imposture.

How often it happened, wrote William Connor Sydney, in "England and the English in the Eighteenth Century," that a bricklayer (who chanced to be the seventh son of his father), or a sharp-witted cobbler, picked up an antiquated collection of medieval recipes, and perused it in his leisure hours! Then, dispensing with his trowel or awl, he devoted himself to the sale of pellets, lotions and gargles, possessing marvellous virtues!

Here is a copy of an advertisement which appeared in an early number of the London "Spectator":

Loss of Memory or Forgetfulness certainly cured by a grateful electuary, peculiarly adapted for that end. It strikes at the primary source, which few apprehend, of Forgetfulness, makes the head clear and easy, the spirits free, active and undisturbed; corroborates and revives all the noble faculties of the soul, such as thought, judgment, apprehensions, reason and memory, which last in particular it so strengthens as to render that faculty exceeding quick and good beyond imagination, thereby enabling those whose memory was almost totally lost, to remember the minutest circumstances of their affairs, etc; to a wonder. Price 2s. 6d a pot. Sold only at Mr. Payne's, at the Angel and Crown, in St. Paul's Church-Yard, with directions.

William Smith, in his "History of the Province of New York from its First Discovery to the Year 1722" (London, 1757), wrote as follows:

The History of our Diseases belongs to a Profession with which I am very little acquainted. Few physicians amongst us are eminent for their skill. Quacks abound like Locusts in Egypt, and too many have recommended themselves to a full Practice and profitable subsistence. This is the less to be wondered at, as the Profession is under no Kind of Regulation. Loud as the call is, to our Shame be it remembered, we have no Law to protect the Lives of the King's Subjects from the Malpractice of Pretenders. Any man at his Pleasure sets up for Physician, Apothecary and Chirurgeon. No candidates are either examined or licensed, or even sworn to fair practice. In 1753 the City of New York alone boasted the Honour of having forty Gentlemen of that Faculty.

A contributor to the Cincinnati "Lancet and Observer," October, 1861, moralized on this subject in a somewhat pessimistic vein.

To see an ignorant, boastful quack petted, caressed and patronized by people of culture and refinement, wrote he, such as members of the learned professions, statesmen, philosophers, shrewd merchants and bankers, as well as by worthy mechanics and trusting farmers, is enough to make one ponder whether after all it is worth while to devote money, time and talents in acquiring a thorough knowledge of professional duties. . . . However natural such a method of reasoning, it will not influence the sober mens conscia recti of the trained physician.

In an address before the Medical and Surgical Society of Baltimore, January 17, 1859, Dr. Lewis H. Steiner defined quackery as that mode of practising medicine, which adopts one and the same remedy for every disease, of whatever origin or nature. Quackery, wherever found, is based upon a misapplication of some recognized principle or fact, and hence invariably presupposes the existence of a modicum of truth, as its starting-point.

Precisely as the counterfeit coin has a certain value with the unwary, on account of its resemblance to that which is genuine, so all quackery must proceed from a false application of a known truth, or an attempted imitation of this truth in various forms.

An analogy was drawn between a quack and the weaker animal in a dog-fight by a writer in "The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal," April 1, 1846. For, said he, it is a trait of human nature to side with the under-dog. And it is this trait which causes some people to be pleased at the quack's success, for they regard him, in a sporting sense, as a little dog, and demand for him fair play. The maudlin sympathies of such persons are aroused by the sight of an adventurer striving against odds, with one sole end in view, namely, the accumulation of shekels under false pretences.

Probably at no period in the world's history has charlatanry been more flourishing than during the first decade of the twentieth century, and that too in the face of unexampled progress in medical Science. The reason is not far to seek. The modern quack utilizes the power of the unconscious or subjective mind over the body. This is the effective agency, not only in so-called mental healing, but also in semi-scientific cures of various sorts, in faith-cures, as well as in the cures ascribed to relics and charms.[231:1] The widespread heralding of patent medicines is also founded upon the principle of auto-suggestion. The descriptions of symptoms and diseases in the advertisements of charlatans, suggest morbid ideas to the objective mind of the reader. These ideas, being then transferred to his subjective mind, exert an unwholesome influence upon his bodily functions.[231:2] His next procedure is the trial of some vaunted nostrum. Thus the shrewd empiric thrives at the expense of his fellow men. He takes a mean advantage of their credulity, though probably in most cases unaware of the vicious psychological processes, which render many his willing dupes.

It has been aptly remarked that the public is ever more ready to believe pleasing fictions, than disagreeable verities. Populus vult decipi, trite saying though it be, is as true to-day as at any time in the past. If it were not so, quackery could not thrive. Gladly the people "honors pay to those who on their understandings most impose." Apropos of the methods of charlatans, is the story of a certain Scotch farmer, whose success in selling his cattle at high prices aroused the curiosity of his neighbors. One day, when fuddled with drink, after much coaxing, he revealed the secret by saying: "On going to sell my beasties, I first finds a fool, and then I shoves 'em on to him."[232:1]

Dr. William Osler, in his "Aequanimitas and Other Addresses" (1904), remarked that "Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers"; and in matters medical the ordinary citizen of to-day has not one whit more sense than the Romans of old, whom the witty Greek writer Lucian scourged for a credulity which made them fall easy victims to the quacks of the second century. Man has an inborn craving for medicine. Heroic dosing for several generations has given his tissues a thirst for drugs; and now that the pharmacists have cloaked even the most nauseous remedies, the temptation is to use physic on every occasion.

Dudley F. Sicher, in the "Popular Science Monthly," September, 1905, comments on the enormous development of quackery, which has been more than commensurate with the growth of medical science and the advance of western civilization, in recent years. According to this authority, the number of resident quacks in Berlin, Germany, has increased sixteen-fold since 1874. And in New York City, there are approximately twenty thousand, against six thousand regular practitioners. "Given on the one hand the limitations of scientific medicine, the dread of disease, and the power of auto-suggestion, and on the other hand, depraved humanity, hard-driven in the struggle for existence, and you have the essential parts, which, with a few minor pieces, make up the quackery machine. . . . Psycho-therapeutics and knowledge of human nature make up the quack's entire outfit." The popular distrust of legitimate Medicine facilitates a recourse to the alleged marvellous specifics and panaceas, so extensively advertised; lineal descendants of the magical remedies of old.

Then, too, the secrecy and mystery associated with the remedies of quacks, appeal strongly to the popular fancy.

Charles Dickens wrote in "Barnaby Rudge" that it was only necessary to invest anything, however absurd, with an air of mystery, in order to give it a secret charm and power of attraction, which people are unable to resist. False prophets, he said, false priests, false doctors, false prodigies of whatever kind, veiling their proceedings in mystery, have always addressed themselves at an immense advantage, to the popular credulity, and have been, perhaps, more indebted to that resource in gaining and keeping for a time the upper hand of Truth and Common Sense, than to any half-dozen items in the whole catalogue of imposture. To awaken curiosity and to gratify it by slow degrees, yet leaving something always in suspense, is to establish the surest hold that can be had, in wrong, on the unthinking portion of mankind.

Unscrupulous charlatans have shrewdness enough to make free use of the power of suggestion in their nefarious practice, though oftentimes doubtless wholly ignorant of its mode of action. The great majority of them, while probably unaware of the existence of subconscious mental life, have always had a vivid realization of the positive fact of the gullibility of human nature, a fact which affords them the keenest pleasure and enduring satisfaction.

One can well imagine that the winning smile which often illumines the features of a sleek and crafty pretender, is supplanted by audible chuckling when he retires from company. Having long since gotten rid of his conscience, he can afford to be merry at the expense of his fellow creatures.

It has been aptly said that no amount of instruction in physiology or materia medica at medical colleges will have any influence in the suppression of quackery. But the recognition and utilization, by the profession, of the wonderful forces of psycho-therapy will have such an influence, because light will thereby be shed upon the methods of the charlatan, whose operations will then no longer be shrouded from the public view in mystery, wherein has lain for many centuries their most potent charm.

The author of "Physic and Physicians" (London, 1839) remarks that a doctor should always have ready an answer to every question which a lady may put to him, for the chances are that she will be satisfied with it. Moreover he should invariably diagnose an affection with celerity; and rather than betray ignorance of the seat of a disorder, it were better, says this writer, to assign it at once to the pancreas or pineal gland. A lady once asked her apothecary, an ignorant fellow, regarding the composition of castor oil, and seemed quite content with his reply, that it was extracted from the beaver. Another patient asked her physician how long she was likely to be ill, and was told that it depended largely on the duration of the disease. A certain doctor, probably a quack, acquired some notoriety by always prescribing the left leg of a boiled fowl. Reiteration of the superior nutritive qualities of that member, and positive assertions of the comparative worthlessness of the right leg, doubtless impressed the patients' minds in a salutary manner.

A writer in "Putnam's Magazine," August, 1909, commends the so-called Emmanuel Movement as capable of benefiting many, in all stations of life. He says further that the wicked and the charlatan may enter upon the practice of psycho-therapy, but in a majority of cases, the sub-conscious mind, upon which the healer works, will reject the evil suggestion of the practitioner who strives to use his powers for malign purposes. That is the almost unanimous verdict of the psychological experts. If the old proverb be true, "In vino veritas," so in the hypnotic state the real bent of the normal mind and personality is more ready to follow the good and reject the bad suggestion, than in the normal, conscious state. Instinctive morality comes to the aid of the genuine psycho-therapist, and refuses its cooeperation to the counterfeit.

In the United States, the door yawns wider for the admission of charlatans than in any other country. The demand for panaceas and for the services of those who pretend to cure by unusual methods, is not limited to persons who are wanting in intelligence, or to those who are weakened and discouraged by exhausting diseases. So long as the love of the marvellous exists, there will be a certain demand for quackery, and the supply will not be wanting.[236:1]

Probably in no region of the world does there exist a more attractive field for medical pretenders, than the thickly settled foreign settlements of the city of New York. Here they may thrive and fatten, as they ply their nefarious trade, doubtless slyly laughing the while, on account of the simplicity of their helpless victims. The poor hungry wretch who steals a loaf of bread is held legally accountable for the theft, and if caught, he is punished therefor. The unscrupulous quack, by reason of his shrewdness, goes scot-free, though a vastly greater villain. To quote from a recent editorial in the "New York Times": "A course in medicine and surgery is expensive, and takes a lot of time, while a varied assortment of pseudo-religious and pseudo-philosophic phrases can be learned in a few days by any man or woman with a disinclination for honest work."

A recent English writer argued that it were folly to attempt the suppression of quackery by statute; for, says he, the freeborn Anglo-Saxon considers that he has the inalienable right of going to the Devil in his own way. And he resents anything like dictation in the sphere of medicine, as much as in religion.


[223:1] Thieves' slang for cheating.

[223:2] One who used loaded dice in gambling.

[223:3] Beware of Pick-Purses, or a Caveat for Sick Folkes to take heede of unlearned Physitions and unskilfull Chyrurgians. By F. H., Doctor in Physick. Imprinted at London, 1605.

[225:1] The Modern Quack or Medicinal Impostor. London. Printed for Thomas Warner, at the Black Boy, in Pater Noster Row, 1724.

[225:2] Cautions and Advice to the Public respecting some Abuses in Medicine, through the Malpractices of Quacks or Pretenders, by William Jackson. London. [No date.]

[226:1] P. Coltheart, Surgeon, London, 1727.

[227:1] Joh. Hermann Baas, History of Medicine, p. 771.

[227:2] Social England, vol. v. p. 66.

[231:1] A. T. Schofield, M.D., The Unconscious Mind, pp. 334-5.

[231:2] Dr. John Duncan Quackenbos, Hypnotic Therapeutics, p. 88.

[232:1] John D. Jackson, M.D., The Black Arts in Medicine.

[236:1] Dr. Austin Flint, in the North American Review, October, 1889.



These may Inform all whom it might Concern, that Mr. John Kaighin, of the Province of West New Jersey, hath lived with me (here under named) a considerable time, as a Disciple, to learn the Arts and Mysteries of Chymistry, Physick, and the Astral Sciences, whereby to make a more Perfect Discovery of the Hidden Causes of more Occult and Uncommon Diseases, not so easily to be discovered by the Vulgar Practice. In all which he has been very Dilligent and Studious, as well as in the Administration of the Medecines, and in the various Cases: wherein his Judgment may be safely depended upon in all things, so far as he follows my Instructions. And Hope he may in all things answer the Confidence that may be reposed in him. C. WITT. GERMANTOWN, Febr. 20, 1758.

Following is a Prayer for a Dyspeptic, drawn up by an adherent of Christian Science:

Holy Reality, Blessed Reality, believing that Thou art everywhere present, we believe that Thou art in this patient's stomach, in every fibre, in every cell, in every atom; that Thou art the sole, only Reality of that stomach. Heavenly, Holy Reality, Thou art not sick, and therefore nothing in this universe was ever sick, is now sick, or can be sick. We know, Father and Mother of us all, that there is no such thing as a really diseased stomach; that the disease is the Carnal Mortal Mind given over to the World, the Flesh and the Devil; that the mortal mind is a twist, a distortion, a false attitude, the Hamartia [hamartia, sin] of Thought.

Help us to stoutly affirm, with our hand in your hand, with our eyes fixed on Thee, that we never had Dyspepsia, that we will never have Dyspepsia, that there is no such thing, that there never was any such thing, that there never will be any such thing. Amen.[239:1]


[239:1] The Faith and Works of Christian Science.




THEOPHRASTUS BOMBASTUS VON HOHENHEIM, commonly known as Paracelsus, was born in 1493 at Maria Einsiedeln, near Zurich, Switzerland. When he was nine years old, his father, who was a reputable physician, removed his residence to Carinthia. Paracelsus received instruction in chemistry from the Abbot Trithemius, a Benedictine monk, and then investigated mining methods, and learned the physical properties of minerals, ores, and metals. He also studied at universities in France, Germany, and Italy. Quite early in his career he developed a taste for a Bohemian mode of life and is reported to have gained a livelihood by psalm-singing, astrological prescriptions, chiromancy, and even by the practice of the Black Art. He was also keen in acquiring information about popular remedies and nostrums, from travelling mountebanks, barbers, old women, and pretenders of all kinds. In 1526 he was appointed Professor of the Theory and Practice of Medicine at the University in Basle. Here he taught doctrines of his own, denouncing the prevailing tenets of Medical Science, as derived from the ancients, and claiming for himself a supremacy over all other teachers and writers. According to his view, Philosophy, Astrology, Alchemy and Virtue were the four pillars of Medicine. It is a problem how to reconcile his ignorance, his weakness and superstition, his crude notions and erroneous observations, his ridiculous inferences and theories, with his grasp of method, his lofty views of the true scope of Medicine, his lucid statements, his incisive and epigrammatic criticisms of men and motives.[244:1] After remaining at Basle for about a year, he resumed his wanderings, frequenting taverns and spending whole nights in carousals, with the lowest company. Paracelsus believed that it was reserved for him to indicate the right path to the medical practitioners of his day. In carrying out this idea, he exhibited such colossal conceit, and indulged in such virulent abuse of his medical brethren, that he became the object of their hatred and persecution.[244:2]

According to his doctrine, man is a little world or microcosm, and in him are represented all the elements which are to be found in the great world or macrocosm. Some diseases, he averred, require earthy remedies, others aqueous or atmospheric, and still others, igneous. Paracelsus was thoroughly imbued with the cabalistic theories prevalent in his time, and traced analogies between the stars and various portions of the human body. His fame as the greatest of charlatans appears to have been due in large measure to his influence over the popular imagination by the magic power of high-sounding words, which were mostly beyond the comprehension of his hearers. His teachings have been aptly described as a system of dogmatic and fantastic pseudo-philosophy. The following quotation may serve as an illustration.

All these recipes which are prepared for elemental diseases, consist of six things, two of which are from the planets, two from the elements, and two from narcotics. For although they can be composed of three things, one out of each being taken, yet these are too weak for healing purposes. Now there are two which derive from the planets, because they conciliate and correct medicine; two derive from the elements, in order that the grade of the disease may be overcome. Lastly, two are from the narcotics, because the four parts already mentioned are too weak of themselves to expel a disease before the crisis. Observe then, concerning composition, to forestall the critical day. Recipes prepared in this manner, are very helpful for diseases in all degrees of acuteness.

Paracelsus was the first to promulgate the theory of the existence of magnetic properties in the human body, maintaining that the latter was endowed with a double magnetism, of which one portion attracted to itself the planets, and was nourished by them; whence came wisdom, thought, and the senses. The other portion attracted to itself the elements; whence came flesh and blood. He also asserted that the attractive and hidden virtue of man resembles that of amber and of the magnet, and that this virtue may be employed by healthy persons for the cure of disease in others. Thus probably originated the idea which developed into Animal Magnetism, and from it Anton Mesmer is said to have derived inspiration some two hundred years later. Paracelsus died at Salzburg, Austria, in 1541.

In the words of that eminent English divine, Thomas Fuller (1608-1661), Paracelsus boasted of more than he could do, did more cures seemingly than really, more cures really than lawfully, of more parts than learning, of more fame than parts, a better physician than a man, and a better chirurgeon than physician.

Paracelsus was a very prince among quacks, for probably no man ever talked more loudly and ostentatiously or made vainer pretensions. He was emphatically a knavish practitioner of medicine, a master of the art of puffery, and was phenomenally successful in achieving notoriety. Whatever his natural talent may have been, says Edward Meryon, M.D.,[246:1] he placed himself in the category with those of the same nature, who have ever been ready to purchase this world's riches at the ruinous price of character and reputation.

The system of Paracelsus was founded upon mysticism and fanaticism of the grossest kind. The chief aim of his doctrine was the blending of mysticism and therapeutics, and the creation thereby of a false science, wherewith he sought to exert an influence over the ignorant classes.

According to the cabalistic doctrine, the various events of life and all natural phenomena are due to influences exerted by gods, devils, and the stars. Each member and principal organ of the human body was supposed to correspond with some planet or constellation. Similar foolish ideas were widely prevalent, especially in Germany. Paracelsus was an ignoramus, who affected to despise all the sciences, because of his lack of knowledge of them. While prating much about divine light as the source of all learning and culture, his boorish mien and rude manners afforded evidence that he did not profit much by its happy influence.[246:2]

The Paracelsians maintained that life is a perpetual germinative process, controlled by the archaeus or vital force, which was supposed to preside over all organic phenomena. The principal archaeus was believed to have its residence in the stomach, but subordinates guarded the interests of the other important bodily organs.

Nature was sufficient for the cure of the majority of ills. But when the internal physician, the man himself, was tired or incapable, some remedy had to be applied, which should antagonize the spiritual seed of the disease.[247:1] Such remedies, known as arcana, were alleged to possess marvellous efficiency, but their composition was kept secret. That is to say, they were quack medicines.

Paracelsus maintained that a man who, by abstraction of all sensuous influences, and by child-like submission to the will of God, has made himself a partaker of the heavenly intelligence, becomes thereby possessed of the philosopher's stone. He is never at a loss. All creatures on earth and powers in heaven are submissive to him; he can cure all diseases, and can himself live as long as he chooses, for he holds the elixir of life, which Adam and the early fathers employed before the Flood, and by which they attained to great longevity.

The philosopher's stone, known also as the great elixir, or the red tincture, when shaken in very small quantity into melted silver, lead or other metal, was said to transmute it into gold. In minute doses it was supposed to prolong life and restore youth, and was then called elixir vitae.[247:2] Says Ben Jonson in "The Alchemist" (1610), "He that has once the Flower of the Sun, the perfect Ruby which we call Elixir . . . by its virtue can confer honour, love, respect, long life; give safety, valour, yea and victory, to whom he will. In eight and twenty days he'll make an old man of fourscore a child."

Paracelsus was foremost among a group of extraordinary characters, who claimed to be the representatives of science at the close of the Middle Ages. These men were of a bold, inquisitive temper, and with all their faults, they had a noble thirst for knowledge. "Better the wildest guess-work, than that perfect torpor which follows the parrot-like repetition of the words of a predecessor!"[248:1] These irregular practitioners, however impetuous and ill-balanced, were pioneers in opening up new fields of investigation, and in exploring new paths, which facilitated the progress of their successors in the search for scientific truths.


HEINRICH CORNELIUS AGRIPPA VON NETTESHEIM, a German alchemist, philosopher, and cabalist, of noble ancestry, was born at Cologne, on the Rhine, September 14, 1486. Having received a liberal education and being by nature versatile, he became in his youth a secretary at the Court of the German Emperor, Maximilian I.

He served moreover in the army under that monarch, during several Italian campaigns, and by reason of gallantry, won the spurs of a knight. Becoming averse to the profession of arms, he studied with avidity law, medicine, philosophy, and languages, and in 1509 became Professor of Hebrew at Dole, in the department of Jura, France. Here his caustic humor and intemperate language involved him in quarrels with the monks, while his restless disposition impelled him to rove in search of adventure. He visited successively London, Pavia, and Metz, where he became a magistrate and town orator.

Having expressed opinions contrary to the prevalent beliefs in regard to saints and witches, he was forced to depart abruptly. We next hear of him as a practising physician in Fribourg, Switzerland. Thereafter he became a vagabond and almost a beggar. Like his contemporary, Paracelsus, he advanced the most paradoxical theories during his adventurous career, which latter was partly scientific and partly political, but always turbulent. Finally he established himself at Lyons, where he again practised medicine, and became physician to Louise of Savoy, Regent of France, and the mother of Francis I. Here Agrippa soon fell into disgrace and was banished. In 1528 he joined the Court of Margaret of Austria, ruler of the Netherlands, at Antwerp. On the publication of his work, "On the Vanity of the Sciences," he was imprisoned for a year at Brussels.

Upon his release, he returned to Lyons, where he was again detained in custody, on account of an old libel against his former patroness.

His death occurred at Grenoble, France, February 18, 1535.

Agrippa was possessed of great versatility and learning, but his writings are tinctured with bitterness and satire. He has been described as restless, ambitious, enthusiastic, and credulous, a dupe himself and a deceiver of others. His career was a continuous series of disappointments and quarrels.

Yet he was an earnest searcher after truth, who was fain to attempt the unlocking of Nature's secrets, but did not hold the right key. Profoundly superstitious, he taught, for example, that the herb, Verbena officinalis, vervain, would cure tertian or quartan fevers according to the manner in which it was divided or cut. Agrippa has been tersely described as a "meteor of philosophy."


JEROME CARDAN, an Italian physician, author, mathematician and philosopher, was born at Pavia, September 24, 1501. He was the illegitimate son of Facio Cardan, a man of repute among the learned in his neighborhood, from whom Jerome received instruction in his youth. Although idolized by his mother, he incurred his father's dislike, and these circumstances, we are told, exerted a peculiar influence upon his character. Despite many difficulties, however, he achieved both fame and notoriety. After having received degrees in arts and medicine from the University of Padua, he became Professor of Mathematics at Milan in 1534, and later was admitted to the College of Physicians in that city. In 1547 he declined an invitation to become court physician at Copenhagen, on account of the harsh northern climate and the obligation to change his religion. In the year 1552 Jerome Cardan visited Scotland at the request of John Hamilton, Archbishop of St. Andrews, whom he treated for asthma with success. Thence he was summoned to England to give his professional advice in the case of Edward VI, after which he returned to Milan with enhanced prestige. He afterwards practised Medicine at Pavia and Bologna and finally settled at Rome, where he received a pension from the Pope. His death occurred there, September 21, 1575.

Cardan was possessed of great natural ability, and for a time was regarded as the most eminent physician and astrologer among his contemporaries. But his mind was of a peculiar cast, and his temper most inconstant. He had, says Peter Bayle, in his "Historical Dictionary," a decided love of paradox, and of the marvellous, an infantine credulity, a superstition scarce conceivable, an insupportable vanity, and a boasting that knew no limits. His works, though full of puerilities and contradictions, of absurd tales and charlatanry of every description, nevertheless offer proofs of a bold, inventive genius, which seeks for new paths of science, and succeeds in finding them. According to his own statement, he found pleasure in roaming about the streets all night long. His love of gaming amounted to a mania. Baron von Leibnitz (1646-1716) wrote of Cardan, that notwithstanding his faults, he was a great man, and without his defects, would have been incomparable. He wrote extensively on philosophy, mathematics, and medicine, and also on chiromancy. For his own follies and misfortunes he apologized, attributing them all to the influence of the stars. He has been described as a genuine philosopher and devotee of science, and his lasting reputation is chiefly due to his discoveries in algebra, in which art, wrote the historian, Henry Hallam, he made a great epoch.


One of the most notorious charlatans of the eighteenth century was Giuseppe Balsamo, who was born at Palermo, Sicily, June 2, 1743. Though of humble origin, this arch-impostor assumed the title of Count Alessandro di Cagliostro, and styled himself Grand Cophta, Prophet and Thaumaturge. He married Lorenza Feliciani, the daughter of a girdle-maker of Rome. Balsamo professed alchemy and free-masonry, practised medicine and sorcery, and raised money by various methods of imposture. He rode about in his own coach, attended by a numerous retinue in rich liveries. His attire consisted of an iron-gray coat, a scarlet waistcoat trimmed with gold lace, and red breeches. His jaunty hat was adorned with a white feather, and handsome rings encircled his fingers. He carried a sword after the fashion of the times, and his shoe-buckles shone like flashing jewels.

Balsamo was a man of great energy; gifted with persuasive eloquence which seemed to exercise a charm over his hearers. Having rare natural abilities, he enriched his mind by diligent studies and observations of human nature, during his tours abroad. But in spite of these advantages he failed to rise above the sphere of an unscrupulous charlatan.

In 1780 he settled in Strasburg, where he established a reputation by some marvellous cures. Here was the culmination of his fame and fortune. Five years later he came to Paris, where he became implicated in the notorious affair of the "Diamond Necklace," and was imprisoned in the Bastille for some months. His death occurred at the fortress of Saint Leon, Rome, in 1795. A sublimer rascal never breathed, wrote W. Russell, LL.D., in "Eccentric Personages." Balsamo had unlimited faith in the gullibility of mankind, and was amply endowed with the gifts which enable their possessor to shear the simpletons of society.


VALENTINE GREATRAKES was born at Affane, County of Waterford, Ireland, on Saint Valentine's Day, February 14, 1628. He was educated a Protestant at the free school of Lismore near his home, and at Trinity College, Dublin.

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1641, his mother fled with him to England and took refuge in Devonshire, where he devoted himself to the study of the classics and divinity. Afterwards Greatrakes served for seven years in Cromwell's army, holding a commission as lieutenant of cavalry under Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery. In 1656 he left the army and returned to Affane, where he was appointed a magistrate and served as such with credit.

Soon after the Restoration, in obedience to a divine impulse, he began practice as a healer of various diseases by the method known as laying-on of hands, stroking, or touching, which had been employed by the sovereigns of England, from the time of Edward the Confessor. Greatrakes's success was immediate and phenomenal. People flocked to him so rapidly, we are told, from all quarters, that "his barns and out-houses were crammed with innumerable specimens of suffering humanity." In 1665 he returned to England, where he performed many seemingly marvellous cures; and came to be regarded as a greater miracle-worker than King Charles II himself. But after an investigation and adverse report by members of the Royal Society, his practice fell into disrepute, and he retired to his native land, where he sojourned in obscurity until his death, which is supposed to have occurred after the year 1682. One David Lloyd, a biographer, issued a tract entitled "Wonders no Miracles, or Mr. Valentine Greatrakes' Gift of Healing Examined," wherein he endeavored to show that the famous "Irish stroaker" was little better than an impostor. In reply to this, Greatrakes published a pamphlet, vindicating his methods, with testimonials from persons of quality and distinction.

Greatrakes has been described as a man of unimpeachable integrity, a highly respectable member of society, and incapable of attempting to deceive by fraud. Notoriety was distasteful to him, and in this respect he was above the plane of an ordinary charlatan. An enthusiast, he believed himself to be invested with divine healing powers. His success was surely due to forcible therapeutic suggestions communicated by him to the minds of highly imaginative and credulous people, who reposed confidence in his methods. It mattered not that they believed the cures of their nervous disorders to be wrought solely through the physical agency of laying-on of hands, whereby some mysterious healing force, magnetic or otherwise, was communicated to them.

In attempting an explanation of the cures wrought by Greatrakes, Henry Stubbe, a contemporary writer, affirmed that "God had bestowed upon Mr. Greatarick a peculiar temperament, or composed his body of some particular ferments, and the effluvia thereof, sometimes by a light, sometimes by a violent friction, restore the temperament of the debilitated parts, reinvigorate the blood, and dissipate all heterogeneous ferments out of the bodies of the diseased, by the eyes, nose, hands and feet." There is nothing recorded in regard to Greatrakes's methods (says Professor Joseph Jastrow, in "Fact and Fable in Psychology"), which definitely suggests the production of the hypnotic state; but direct suggestion, reinforced by manipulation, obviously had much to do with the cures.

In 1666 the Chamberlain of the Worcester Corporation expended ten pounds, fourteen shillings in an entertainment for "Mr. Greatrix, an Irishman famous for helping and curing many lame and diseased people, only by stroking of their maladies with his hand and therefore sent for to this and many other places."

From a letter written by Greatrakes to the Archbishop of Dublin, it appears that he believed himself to be inspired of God, for the purpose of curing disease. He received lavish hospitality in many homes, when at the height of his popularity, and was regarded as a phenomenal adept in the art of healing by touch.[257:1]

If there exists such a thing as the "gift of healing," Greatrakes appears to have possessed it. Dr. A. T. Schofield believes that in certain rare cases individuals are endowed with the faculty of curing by touch, to which the terms magnetic, psychic, occult, hypnotic, and mesmeric have been applied. This power is resident in the operator, and has nothing to do with suggestion; whereas in so-called faith-healing, the power is resident in the patient, who, by the exercise of faith, puts it into action.

Greatrakes has been described as having an agreeable personality, pleasant manners, a fine figure, gallant bearing, a handsome face, musical voice, and a good stock of animal spirits. Thus equipped, we may not wonder that he was ever welcome in merry company. He had an impulse or strange persuasion of his own mind (says J. Cordy Jeaffreson, in "A Book about Doctors") that he had the gift of curing the King's Evil. A second impulse gave him the power of healing ague, and a third "inspiration of celestial aura imparted to him command, under certain conditions, over all human diseases." Greatrakes adapted his manipulations to the requirements of individual cases. Oftentimes gentle stroking sufficed, but when the evil spirits were especially malignant, he employed energetic massage. Occasionally the demon fled, "like a well-bred dog," at the word of command, but more frequently the victory was not won until the healer had rubbed himself into a red face, and a copious perspiration.

It is narrated that when Greatrakes was practising in London, a rheumatic and gouty patient came to him. "Ah," said the healer, colloquially, "I have seen a good many spirits of this kind in Ireland. They are watery spirits, who bring on cold shivering and excite an overflow of aqueous humor in our poor bodies." Then, addressing the demon, he continued: "Evil spirit, who has quitted thy dwelling in the waters, to come and afflict this miserable body, I command thee to quit thy new abode, and to return to thine ancient habitation."[258:1]

From among a large number of testimonials of cures performed by Greatrakes, a single example may suffice.



Whereas you are pleased to enquire after the Cure, by God's means done upon me, by the stroking of my head by Mr. Greatrakes; These are thoroughly to inform you that being violently troubled with an excessive pain of the head, that I had hardly slept six hours in six days and nights, and taken but very little of sustenance in that time; and being but touch'd by him, I immediately found ease, and (thanks be to God) do continue very well; and do further satisfie you, that the rigour of the pain had put me into a high Fever, which immediately ceas'd with my head-ache: and do likewise further inform you that a Servant being touch'd for the same pain, that had continu'd upon him for twelve years last past, he touch'd him in the forehead, and the pain went backward; and that but by his stroking upon the outside of his cloaths, the pain came down to and out of his foot: the party continues still well. These Cures were wrought about 3 weeks before Easter.

And thus much I assure you to be true from him that is Your Friend and Servant EDM. SQUIBB.

COVENT-GARDEN, April 20, 1666. At my Lady Verney's, the place of my residence.

While Greatrakes acquired great celebrity on account of the numerous cures which he performed, he was unable to explain the nature of his healing powers. In a letter to the Hon. Robert Boyle, he expressed the belief that many of the pains which afflict men, are of the nature of evil spirits. "Such pains," wrote he, "cannot endure my hand, nay, not my glove, but flye immediately, though six or eight coats and cloaks be put between the parties' body and my hand, as at York House, the Lady Ranalough's and divers other places, since I came to London."


JOHANN BAPTIST VAN HELMONT, a celebrated Belgian physician, scholar and visionary, of noble family, was born at Brussels in 1577. At an early age he began the study of medicine, and was appointed Professor of Surgery at the University of Louvain. Becoming, however, infected with the delusions of alchemy, and being possessed of an ardent imagination, he inclined naturally to the study of occult science, and was infatuated with the idea of discovering a universal remedy. He was, moreover, a follower of the eminent theologian, Johann Tauler (1290-1361), founder of mystic theology in Germany. Van Helmont has been described as an enthusiastic and fantastic, though upright friend of the truth. He adhered to the theosophic and alchemistic doctrines of a somewhat earlier epoch, and was an admirer of the dogmatic pseudo-philosophy of Paracelsus.

The German writer, Johann Christian Ferdinand Hoefer (1811-1878), said that Van Helmont was much superior to Paracelsus, whom he took as his model. He had the permanent distinction of revealing scientifically the existence of invisible, impalpable substances, namely gases. And he was the first to employ the word gas as the name of all elastic fluids except common air.[260:1] Van Helmont graduated as Doctor of Medicine in 1599, and after several years of study at different European universities, he returned home and married Margaret van Ranst, a noble lady of Brabant. He then settled down on his estate at Vilvoorden, near Brussels, where he remained until his death in 1644.

Johann Hermann Baas, in his "History of Medicine," characterizes him as a fertile genius in the department of chemistry, but denies that he was a great and independent spirit, outrunning his age, or impressing upon it the stamp of his own individuality. Van Helmont, like many another irregular practitioner, achieved fame by some remarkable cures. It was said of him that his patients never languished long under his care, being always killed or cured within two or three days. He was frequently called to attend those who had been given up by other physicians. And to the latters' chagrin, such patients were often unexpectedly restored to health.[261:1]

A lover of the marvellous, and credulous to the point of superstition, Van Helmont became infatuated with erroneous doctrines. His contemporaries, dazzled, it may be, by the brilliancy of his mental powers, regarded him as an erratic genius, but not as a charlatan.

The term spiritual vitalism has been applied to the philosophy of Van Helmont. He maintained that the primary cause of all organization was Archaeus (Gr. archaios, primitive), a term said to have been invented by Basil Valentine, the German alchemist (born 1410).

This has been defined as a spirit, or invisible man or animal, of ethereal substance, the counterpart of the visible body, within which it resides, and to which it imparts life, strength, and the power of assimilating food.[261:2] Archaeus was regarded as the creative spirit, which, working upon the raw material of water or fluidity, by means of a ferment promotes the various actions which result in the development and nutrition of the physical organism. As life and all vital action depended upon archaeus, any disturbance of this spirit was regarded as the probable cause of fevers and other morbid conditions.


ROBERT FLUDD, surnamed "the Searcher," an English physician, writer and theosophist, member of a knightly family, first saw the light at Milgate, Kent, in the year 1574. His father, Sir Thomas Fludd, was Treasurer of War under Queen Elizabeth. Robert was a graduate of St. John's College, Oxford.

After taking his degree in 1598, he followed the example of many another man of original mind, athirst for knowledge of the world, and led a roving life for six years, "in order to observe and collect what was curious in nature, mysterious in arts, or profound in science."

Returning to London in 1605, he entered the College of Physicians, and four years later receiving a medical degree, he established himself at his house in Coleman Street, in the metropolis, where he remained until his death in 1637.

Fludd was a voluminous writer, and one of the most famous savants of his time. He was at once physician, chemist, mathematician, and philosopher. But his chief reputation was due to his system of theosophy. Profoundly imbued with mystical lore, he combined in an incomprehensible jumble the doctrines of the Cabalists and Paracelsians. William Enfield, in the "History of Philosophy," remarks of the peculiarity of this philosopher's turn of mind, that there was nothing which ancient or modern times could afford, under the notion of modern wisdom, which he did not gather into his magazine of science. Fludd was reputed to be a man of piety and great learning, and was an adept in the so-called Rosicrucian philosophy. In his view, the whole world was peopled with demons and spirits, and therefore the faithful physician should lay hold of the armor of God, for he has not to struggle against flesh and blood. He published treatises on various subjects which are replete with abstruse and visionary theories. The title of one of these treatises is as follows: "De Supernaturalis, Naturalis, Praeternaturalis, et Contranaturalis Microcosmi Historia, 1619."

The phenomena of magnetism were ascribed by him to the irradiation of angels. Robert Fludd enjoyed the acquaintance and friendship of many scientists at home and abroad, and was without doubt one of the most versatile and erudite of contemporary British scholars.

He devoted much time to scientific experiments and natural philosophy, and constructed a variety of odd mechanisms, including an automatic dragon and a self-playing lyre.[264:1] Moreover, he was a believer in mystical faith-cures, and in the existence of a kind of dualism in therapeutics, whereby sickness and healing were produced by two antagonistic forces.


MICHEL DE NOTREDAME, or NOSTRADAMUS, a celebrated French physician and astrologer, of Jewish ancestry, was born at Saint-Remi, a small town in Provence, December 14, 1503. Both of his grandfathers were practitioners of medicine, and his father, Jacques de Notredame, was a notary of Saint-Remi. Michel studied medicine at Avignon and afterwards at the University of Montpellier, where he took his degree.

During the prevalence of an epidemic in the south of France, he acquired distinction by his zealous ministrations to the stricken peasants, and more especially by some remarkable cures attributed to a remedy of his own invention. After the pestilence had subsided, Notredame devoted many years to travel, after which, in the year 1544, he settled at Salon, a little town in the present Department of Bouches-du-Rhone. During a second visitation of the plague, which raged in Provence, he accepted an invitation from the authorities of Lyons and Aix to visit those places. Although his success in treating patients at this time served to enhance his fame as a practitioner, his chief reputation was due to his capacity as an astrologer. He claimed moreover to have the faculty of reading the future, and became the subject of a bitter controversy. For while he gained many adherents abroad, in his own country he was regarded as little better than a charlatan. He became involved in controversies with his professional confreres, who were jealous of his success and doubtless also suspicious of his methods.

It is worthy of note that the most notorious quacks, often men of genius and education, though mentally ill-balanced, and morally of low standards, have been great travellers and shrewd observers of the weak points in human nature. When such an one becomes ambitious to acquire wealth, he is likely to prove a dangerous person in the community. Notredame was regarded as a visionary by some of his contemporaries, while others believed him to have illicit correspondence with the Devil. Among those who were impressed by his pretensions as a soothsayer, was Catherine de' Medici (regent for her son, Charles IX), who invited him to visit the French Court, where he was received as a distinguished guest.

Michel de Notredame published in 1555 his famous work entitled "Centuries," a collection of prophecies, written in quatrains. His death occurred at Salon, July 2, 1566.

We quote as follows from a rare volume, "The True Prophecies of Michel Nostradamus, Physician to Henry II and Charles IX, Kings of France, translated by Theophilus de Garencieres, Doctor in Physick, London, 1672":

He was popularly believed "to have naturally a genius for the knowing of future things, as he himself confesseth in 2 Epistles to King Henry II, and to Caesar, his own son. And besides that genius, the knowledge of astrology did smooth him the way to discover many future events. He had a greater disposition than others to receive those supernatural lights, and as God is pleased to work sweetly in his creatures, and to give some forerunning dispositions to those graces he intendeth to bestow, it seemeth that to that purpose he did choose our author to reveal him so many wonderful secrets. We see every day that God in the distributing of his graces, carrieth Himself towards us according to our humours and natural inclinations. He employeth those that have a generous martial heart, for the defence of His Church, and the destruction of tyrants.

"He leadeth those of a melancholick humour into Colledges and Colisters, and cherisheth tenderly those that are of a meek and mild disposition.

"Even so, seeing that Nostradamus inclined to this kind of knowledge, He gave him in a great measure the grace of it."


WILLIAM LILLY, a famous English astrologer of yeoman ancestry, was born at Diseworth, an obscure village in northwestern Leicestershire, May 1, 1602. In his autobiography he described his native place as a "town of great rudeness, wherein it is not remembered that any of the farmers thereof, excepting my grandfather, did ever educate any of their sons to learning." His mother was Alice, daughter of Edward Barham, of Fiskerton Mills in Nottinghamshire.

When eleven years of age, he was placed in the care of one John Brinsley at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, not far from Diseworth. Here he received instruction in the classics. In April, 1620, he went to London to seek his fortune, and obtained employment as foot-boy and general factotum in the family of one Gilbert Wright, of the parish of St. Clement Danes, a man of property, but without education.

Not long after his master's death in 1627, Lilly married the widow, and being then in comfortable circumstances, devoted considerable time to the pursuit of angling, and became fond of listening to Puritan sermons.[268:1] Having abundant leisure, he was enabled to humor the natural bent of his mind, and to begin the study of astrology, which he continued with zeal, devoting special attention to the magical circle and to the invocation of spirits. Keenly alive to the popular credulity, he claimed the possession of supernatural powers as a fortune-teller and soothsayer, largely as a result of the study of the works of noted astrologers, including the "Ars Notoria" of Cornelius Agrippa.

Becoming a prey to melancholy and hypochondria, he lived in retirement for five years at Hersham in Surrey, and then returned to London in 1641. At this time, wrote Lilly in his autobiography, "I took careful notice of every grand action between king and parliament, and did first then incline to believe that, as all sublunary affairs depend on superior causes, so there was a possibility of discovering them by the configuration of the heavens."

In 1644 he published his first almanac, under the title, "Merlinus Angelicus Junior, the English Merlin Revived, or a Mathematical Prediction of the English Commonwealth." This publication was issued annually for nearly forty years, and found a ready sale, being shrewdly adapted to the popular taste. Lilly was said to have acquired considerable influence over the credulous monarch, Charles I, who was wont to consult him regarding political affairs. He was an adept in the wily arts of the charlatan, achieving notoriety by unscrupulous methods. Not a few of his exploits, wrote one of his biographers, indicate rather the quality of a clever police detective, than that of a profound astrologer.

After the Restoration, Lilly fell into disrepute, and again retired to his estate at Hersham, where he began the study of Medicine, receiving a license to practise in the year 1670, when sixty-eight years of age. Thenceforth he combined the professions of physic and astrology. His death occurred June 9, 1681.

Among his publications are the following: "Mr. Lillie's Prediction concerning the many lamentable Fires which have lately happened, with a full account of Fires at Home and Abroad." 1676. "Strange news from the East, or a sober account of the Comet or blazing star that has been seen several Mornings of late." 1677.


JOHANN JOSEPH GASSNER, who was regarded as a thaumaturge by his partisans, and as a charlatan by his opponents, was born at Bratz, a village of the Austrian Tyrol, August 20, 1727. He was educated at Innsbruck and Prague, became a priest, and settled at Coire, the capital of the Swiss canton of Grisons. Here he remained for some fifteen years, ministering acceptably to his parishioners. It appears that he then became impressed with the scriptural accounts of the healing of demoniacs, and devoted himself to the study of the works of famous magicians.

Gradually he acquired a reputation as a healer by means of the methods of laying on of hands, conjuration and prayer. Many of the Tyrolese peasantry flocked to him, as did their Irish brethren to Greatrakes. Gassner treated them all without recompense. He believed that the efficiency of his methods was dependent upon the degree of faith of his patients. Some cases he affected to benefit by drugs, others by touch, and still others by exorcism. He was a pioneer in the employment of suggestion, while summoning to his aid the forces of religious faith, prayer and material remedies.

The Bishop of Constance sent for Gassner, and after a careful examination of his methods and beliefs, became convinced of the purity of his character, and of his good faith. The bishop therefore permitted him to continue his practice at Coire and its neighborhood.

Gassner's reputation as a thaumaturge spread throughout Germany and adjacent countries, and he numbered among his patrons many persons of influence. In 1774, upon invitation of the Bishop of Ratisbon, he removed to Ellwangen, in Wuertemberg, where he is said to have cured many by the mere word of command, Cesset. He died at Bondorf, in the Diocese of Ratisbon, in the year 1779.

The celebrated Dutch physician, Antoine de Haen, who was a contemporary of Gassner, described the latter as a man of jovial temperament, and a sworn foe to melancholy. He did not take advantage of the popular credulity for his own pecuniary gain, and was therefore morally far above the plane of an ordinary charlatan.


[244:1] Encyclopaedia Britannica, art. "Paracelsus."

[244:2] Edward Theodore Withington, Medical History, p. 225.

[246:1] The History of Medicine.


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