Primitive Physick

This was an expression of John Wesley's concern for the health of the poor at a time when professional medical help was both complicated and expensive. First published in 1747, it went through 23 editions in his lifetime and had been preceded by A Collection of Receits for the use of the Poor in 1745. Wesley's approach was empirical. It contains remedies for a great variety of illnesses. The preface gives his reasons for compiling the book and stresses the importance of exercise, a balanced regimen, correct dress and adequate sleep. He acknowledges his debt to Dr George Cheyne's Essay of Health and Long Life (1724). In later prefaces he explains why he had left out some remedies and added new ones. Many of the recommended cures are marked as 'Tried' (i.e. either on himself or on a patient). Although many were merely folk remedies, his advice was based on wide reading of medical works. He was ahead of his time in recommending Electricity as coming 'the nearest to a universal medicine of any yet known in the world' and as a cure for baldness, deafness and many other ailments. He was also a firm believer in hygiene and in such natural resources as herbs, along with hot or cold baths.

  • William Kirkby, in WHS Proceedings18 pp.149-53;
  • Frederick Jeffery in WHS Proceedings 21 pp.60-67
  • Walter J. Turrell, John Wesley, physician & electrotherapist (Oxford, 1938)
  • A.W. Hill, John Wesley among the Physicians (1958)
  • John P. Tuck, '"Primitive Physic": an interesting association', in WHS Proceedings, 45 pp.1-7
  • Morris Maddocks, 'Health and Healing in the Ministry of John Wesley', in John Stacey (ed.), John Wesley: Contemporary Perspectives (1988) pp.138-49
  • Henry N. Malony, 'John Wesley's Primitive Physick: an 18th-century health psychology, in Journal of Health Psychology, vol. 1 (`1996) pp.147-59
  • Deborah Madden, 'Experience and the Common Interest of Mankind: the enlightened empiricism of John Wesley's Primitive Physick, in British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol.26 (2003) pp.41-53
  • James G. Donat, 'Empirical Medicine in the 18th Century: the Rev. John Wesley's search for remedies that work', in Methodist History 44:4 (July 2006) pp.216-26
  • Deborah Madden, 'A cheap, safe and natural medicine': Religion, medicine and culture in John Wesley's 'Primitive Physic' (Amsterdam, 2007)
  • Randy L. Maddox, 'John Wesley on Holistic Health and Healing', in Methodist History, 46 (October 2007) pp.4-33
  • Deborah Madden (ed.), Inward and Outward Health: John Wesley's Holistic Concept of Medical Science, the Environment and Holy Living (2009)
  • Deborah Madden, 'Wesley as adviser on health and healing' in Randy L Maddox and Jason E. Vickers (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to John Wesley (2010) pp.176-89

See also

Entry written by: WL
Category: Publication
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