Samuel Langhorne Clemens 1835 – 1910, better known by the pen name Mark Twain, was an American humorist, satirist, lecturer and writer. Twain is most noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has since been called the Great American Novel, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Twain was also a supporter of homeopathy, and he likened a bullet from a Smith and Wesson gun to a ‘homeopathic pill’ (Laura E. Skandera-Trombley, Mark Twain in the Company of Women, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1 Apr 1997). Page 97) (presumably because it was so small). He was was a member of The Savage Club Masonic Lodge alongside Wilkie Collins, Edward VII, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Francis Wyatt Truscott,
To paraphrase Mark Twain, ‘… reports of the death of homeopathy are much exaggerated…’
Twain was familiar with alternative healing and often slipped in references to it in his writing, as in his famous ‘… telephone the King’s homeopath to come…’ in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and ‘… the homeopath arrived on the scene and made him abandon hell and damnation altogether, and administered Christ’s love, and comfort, and charity and compassion instead…'” in Mark Twain on Religion.
When the Twain family lived in Buffalo, they consulted homeopath Andrew R Wright, who delivered their son Langdon, and when they lived in Hartford, they consulted homeopath Cincinnatus Taft, of whom Twain wrote:
‘… And to my mind, first of all the good physician is our physician…’
‘…. Livy has been at sea and unsatisfied and unrestfull as to physicians from the day that Dr. Taft died until now. But, all that is past. She is thoroughly satisfied with Dr. Kellogg and will want no substitute for him nor accept of any.…’
Livy attended the centre where George Taylor (an orthodox doctor who had converted to homeopathy) practiced and she improved greatly under his care. Livy also consulted Charles Fayette Taylor‘s elder brother George Herbert Taylor who favoured the new movement cure (Swedish Cure) and the hydropathic water cure.
Twain recalls his mother’s use of the Water Cure for him when he was aged 9 and describes its effects, and he frequently recommended alternative treatments to his friends and Twain himself administered homeopathic powders for his bronchitis and allowed a ‘mind cure’ practitioner, a Dr. Whipple, to treat him as well, and he encouraged Livy to try this for his daughter Suzy (on the advice of William James (who thought it was a form of hypnotism) and others).
In the 1880s, Twain actively supported homeopathy by contributing a poem to the Buffalo Homeopathic Fair ‘Bazaar Bulletin‘ which ensured its brisk circulation to ‘… excede all expectations…’ Twain also chose homeopathic supporter Moncure Daniel Conway to represent his publishing interests in Britain.
In the 1880s, Twain was consulting *Daniel Bennett St. John Roosa (1838–1908), an allopathic physician who strongly supported co-operation between allopaths and homeopaths, and who aggressively opposed the policies of the American Medical Association that were aimed at destroying homeopathic medicine by forbidding allopaths to consult with a homeopath. Daniel Bennett St. John Roosa, and other members of his old medicine faculty, fought to have this clause removed, and it was finally condemned in New York in 1882 (K. Patrick Ober, Mark Twain and Medicine: Any Mummery Will Cure, (University of Missouri Press, 15 Nov 2003). Page 186).
Mark’s brother Henry was killed on June 21, 1858, when the steamboat he was working on, the Pennsylvania, exploded. Twain had foreseen this death in a detailed dream a month earlier, which inspired his interest in parapsychology; he was an early member of the Society for Psychical Research.
In 1909, Twain is quoted as saying:
“I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’”
His prediction was accurate—Twain died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910 in Redding, Connecticut, one day after the comet’s closest approach to Earth…
Twain praised homeopathic supporter Chester A Arthur and he published homeopathic supporter President Ulysses S. Grant‘s Memoirs and through his wife Olivia Langdon Clemens’s family, Twain had contact with many well-placed progressives.
His literary salon was packed with the influential people of the time, including Louisa May Alcott, John Greenleaf Whittier, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, James Russell Lowell, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Julia Ward Howe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Bret Harte, Bayard Taylor, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edwin Booth, and Nathaniel Parker Willis who described Parnassus Corner as ‘the hub in which every spoke of the radiating wheel of Boston intellect had a socket.. ‘.
Homeopathic supporter Mark Twain was a close friend of Edwin Booth, and he knew most of the people at Parnassus Corner, where the homeopathic elite and the intelligentsia of Boston all circulated around the important topics of the day.
Twain also knew homeopathic supporter Thomas Bailey Aldrich who was editor for ten years for Ticknor and Fields, and editor of the Atlantic Monthly. His “Story of a Bad Boy” (1869) is still in print and inspired Mark Twain’s mischevious Tom Sawyer.
Twain spent the last 20 years of his life as an ‘… outspoken anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist...’… Twain was an adamant supporter of abolition and emancipation, even going so far to say ‘… Lincoln’s Proclamation … not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also…’
Twain met his wife Olivia:
Olivia Langdon was born in Elmira, New York, the daughter of a very wealthy coal businessman. She was an unhealthy teenager, suffering from tubercluosis of the spine from the age of 14 until about 20. Her poor health followed her throughout her life.
Olivia met Sam Clemens in 1867 through his relationship with her brother Charles, who was Sam’s fellow passenger on the Quaker City excursion. The couple’s first date was to hear a reading by Charles Dickens in New York City.
Sam courted Olivia throughout 1868; he was found her to be a model of refinement and gentility, the opposite of how he saw himself. They became engaged in Novemeber of that year, just two months after she rejected her first offer of marriage. In February 1869, their engagement was announced, and in February 1870, they were married in Elmira. The ceremony was performed by Congregational ministers Joseph Twitchell and Thomas K. Beecher.
Immediately after the wedding, Sam and Olivia move to Buffalo, New York, into a new home purchased for them by Olivia’s father, Jervis. After this promising start, however, the first year of their marriage was extremely difficult for the young couple. The first tragedy was the death of Jervis from cancer in August; this was followed by the death of Olivia’s friend Emma Nye in the Clemens’s home just a month later. Their first child, Langdon Clemens, was born prematurely in November, and lived only for another year and a half.
Under the strain of so much misfortune, Olivia contracted typhoid fever, and was hovering herself near death. It was then that Sam packed up his family and moved to Elmira, where Olivia’s family could watch over her and Langdon.
Life soon normalized for the Clemens’s, however, and they moved to a large house in Hartford, Connecticut, and had three daughters — Susy, Clara, and Jean.
With the increasing fame of Mark Twain, the Hartford house became a center for the city’s social and literary scene, and attracted constant guests. Besides Clemens’ earnings from his books and lectures, Olivia’s inheritance enabled the family to lead a lavish lifestyle.
The great expense of their habits and the failure of Sam’s publishing company and the Paige compositor caught up with the family by 1891, when the Hartford was closed up and the entire family went to live in Europe for the next four years.
In 1896, Olivia and Clara accompanied Sam on his round-the-world lecture tour. Tragedy struck the following year, when eldest daughter Susy died at the age of 23 from spinal meningitis, a devastating blow to the family. From that time until 1902, the Clemens’s were living in Switzerland, Austria, and England.
Upon their return to America, the family took up residence in Riverdale, N.Y., and arranged to settle into a house in Tarrytown. At this time, however, Olivia’s health began getting progressively worse. She was advised to keep a distance from Sam, and the couple went months without seeing each other during this illness.
Finally, by the end of 1903, her doctors advised Livy to take up residence in the warm climate of Italy, prompting the family to move to a villa outside Florence. About six months later, in June 1904, Livy died at the villa. Her body was returned to the U.S., and she was buried in Woodlawn Cemetary in Elmira.
Twain met the intelligentsia of Elmira through his wife’s family when he was courting her, including Harriet Beecher Stowe and her family were neighbours and frequent visitors, and the family lived in Elmira where the health of the family improved and they fell in love with Quarry Farm.
His writing won him many friends in the younger members of the Boston Brahmin, and Twain joined the Boston lecture circuit for a while, and his frequent trips to Europe did much to spread his fame and the fertile connections between the old World and the new.
Twain’s home was constantly visited by famous authors and important people at this time. Twain’s wife Livy was also responsible for the swirl of interesting people at their home
The home of one of the most unusual and unaccountable personalities in the world was filled with gentleness and peace. It was Mrs. Clemens who was chiefly responsible. She was no longer the half- timid, inexperienced girl he had married. Association, study, and travel had brought her knowledge and confidence.
When the great ones of the world came to visit America’s most picturesque literary figure, she gave welcome to them, and filled her place at his side with such sweet grace that those who came to pay their dues to him often returned to pay still greater devotion to his companion.
‘… And isn’t your father a doctor and an idiot like all the family for generations… “… ‘…I am not afraid of doctors in ordinary or trifling ailments, but in a serious case I should not allow anyone to persuade me to call one. Our Suzy died of cerebro spinal meningitis, and as soon as it manifested itself, her physicians gave her up. It was assassination through ignorance…’
Twain’s mother consulted faith healers with the same enthusiasm she showed for patent medicines and hydrotherapy; the young Clemens accompanied his mother on visits to a self-proclaimed “faith doctor,” a farmer’s wife who cured Mrs. Clemens’ toothaches by putting a hand on the patient’s jaw and exhorting “Believe!”.
Later, Twain became even more familiar with faith healers through the medical experiences of his wife, Olivia Langdon Clemens. At the age of 16, she was injured after falling on the ice and was unable to get out of bed for 2 years…
Twain had no difficulty describing the shortcomings of each of the various medical approaches available in this unregulated era. Allopathic medicine was notable for its heroic and toxic treatments.
“[I]f a citizen was inclined to take salts by the ton, ipecac by the barrel, mercury by the quart, or quinine by the load, and thus be cured of his ailment or his sublunary existence by the wholesale, he was at perfect liberty to invite he services of a medicus of the allopathic style … “
“[I]f another citizen preferred to toy with death, and buy health in small parcels, to bribe death with a sugar pill to stay away, or go to the grave with all the original sweetners undrenched out of him, then the individual adopted the “like cures like” system, and called in a homeopath physician as being a pleasant friend of death’s.”
“Citizens there were too, who liked to be washed into eternity, or soaked like over-salt mackerel before they were placed on purgatorial gridirons, and these, “of every rank and degree”, had the right to pass their few remaining days in an element that they were not likely to see much of for some time.”
Twain was intrigued by those who combined features of all of the available treatment programs.
“Then again there were those who saw “good in everything” and who believed that whatever is is right and these last mixed the allopathic, homeopathic, and hydropathic systems, qualified each with each, and thus passed to their long homes, drenched, pickled, sweetened, and soaked.”…
Twain warned that
“the mania for giving the Government power to meddle with the private affairs of cities or citizens is likely to cause endless trouble, through the rivalry of schools and creeds that are anxious to obtain official recognition, and there is great danger that our people will lose that independence of thought and action which is the cause of much or our greatness, and sink into the helplessness of the Frenchman or German who expects his government to feed him when hungry, clothe him when naked, to prescribe when his child may be born and when he may die, and in fine, to regulate every act of humanity from the cradle to the tomb, including the manner in which he may seek future admission to paradise.”
Twain argued for the preservation of diversity in medical treatment options
“[T]here has always been a variance of choice under which system a citizen preferred to find his way across the Styx, and he enjoyed in this State till now the privilege of choosing the rower who was to aid in ferrying him over in Charon’s boat.”…
During the era in which allopathy was successfully beating back its traditional competitors, a new form of competition-osteopathy-was developing. From its beginnings in 1892, osteopathy had been based on manipulative treatment…
Twain was a strong supporter of this new movement, possibly because its manipulative treatments alleviated his daughter Jean’s problems with epilepsy and his own chronic bronchitis.
Twain’s tradition of supporting the underdog may have been another factor in his support of the osteopathic movement; in 1901, he told the Committee on Public Health of the New York General Assembly that
“I don’t know as I cared much about these osteopaths until I heard you were going to drive them out of the state, but since I heard that I haven’s been able to sleep”.
As he spoke in favor of licensing for osteopaths before the Committee, he was vigorously attacked by five physicians from the New York County Medical Society; he subsequently complained that
“[t]he physicians think they are moved by regard for the best interests of the public. Isn’t there a little touch of self-interest back of it all?”
“… The objection is, people are curing people without a license and you are afraid it will bust up business.”
As an advocate of this new treatment option, Twain suggested that
“[t]o ask a doctor’s opinion of osteopathy is equivalent to going to Satan for information about Christianity”, and he was pleased to note that “it has got itself legalized in 14 states in spite of the opposition of the physicians …”.
Twain was philosophically opposed to the American Medical Association‘s efforts to restrict competition, and through his support of osteopathy he sanctioned each individual person’s freedom of choice in medical care:
“Now what I contend is that my body is own, at least, I have always so regarded it. If I do it harm through my experimenting it is I who suffer, not the state. And if I indulge in dangerous experiments the state don’t die. I attend to that. …”
“So I want liberty to do as I choose with my physical body. …”
By recognizing the failings of every available medical system, Twain came to suspect that the physician-patient relationship was a least as important as any particular medical ideology.
Faith in the skills of the therapist has always been essential to the healing effort, but the “art” of medicine never seemed more critical as it did when the “science” of medicine was almost nonexistent.
The role of the patient’s belief in the therapeutic process was undoubtedly reinforced for Twain by his mother’s and his wife’s positive experiences with faith healers.
“No one doubts-certainly not I-that the mind exercises a powerful influence over the body. From the beginning of time, the sorcerer, the interpreter of dreams, the fortuneteller, the charlatan, the quack, the wild medicine-man, the educated physician, the mesmerist, and the hypnotist, have made use of the client’s imagination to help them in their work.
“They have all recognized the potency and availability of the force. Physicians cure many patients with a bread pill; they know that where the disease is only a fancy, the patient’s confidence in the doctor will make the bread pill effective.”
“Faith in the doctor. Perhaps that is the entire thing. It seems to look like it.”
He did not object if patients sought help from nontraditional practitioners (especially if they derived some psychological benefit from doing so), but he did have concerns (still shared by present day physicians (and homeopaths!)) about any restrictive treatment system that would confine patients to a single doctrine by forbidding the concomitant use of traditional medical therapies (or alternative healing methods!).
“Within the last quarter of a century, in America, several sects of curers have appeared under various names and have done notable things in the way of healing ailments without the use of medicines. There are the Mind Cure, the Faith Cure, the Prayer Cure, the Mental Science Cure and the Christian Science Cure …”
“They all achieve some cures, there is no question about it; and the Faith Cure and the Prayer Cure probably do no harm when they do no good, since they do not forbid the patient to help out the cure with medicines if he wants to; but the others bar medicines (or alternative healing methods!), and claim ability to cure every conceivable human ailment through the application of their mental forces alone (or their favoured therapies!).
“They claim ability to cure malignant cancer, and other affections which have never been cured in the history of the race. There would seem to be an element of danger here. It has the look of claiming too much, I think.”…
In the final analysis, Twain believed that some salutary features could be found in most of the medical movements of the pre-Flexnerian era, and he opposed the restriction of medical care options.
Twain continued to defend the importance of medical freedom of choice. He particularly recognized the importance of the competing systems in pressuring allopathic medicine to evolve into a new scientific discipline far removed from its noxious origins as a sect based on bloodletting…
“When you reflect that your own father had to take such medicines as the above, and that you would be taking them to-day yourself but for the introduction of homeopathy, which forced the old-school doctor to stir around and learn something of a rational nature about his business, you may honestly feel grateful that homeopathy survived the attempts of the allopathists to destroy it, even though you may never employ any physician but an allopathist while you live.” continue reading:
How refreshing Twain’s attitudes are! Can you imagine a modern day allopath honestly reviewing all the medical options in such a way? Can you imagine them seeing the good and bad in all systems so clearly? Can you imagine them criticising their own particular ‘golden goose’?
It is obvious that Twain felt the touch of the alternative philosophies profoundly and considering the devastating effect illness had on his family, it is all the more impressive.
*K. Patrick Ober, Mark Twain and Medicine: Any Mummery Will Cure, (University of Missouri Press, 15 Nov 2003). Page 186. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Bennett_St._John_Roosa Daniel Bennett St. John Roosa (1838–1908) ‘… was an American physician, born in Bethel, New York. He graduated in 1860 from New York’s University Medical College; was assistant surgeon in the Fifth New York Volunteers’ three-months troops, became resident surgeon at the New York Hospital in 1862, and in 1864 began practice in New York City. He was one of the founders of Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. From 1863 to 1882 he was professor of diseases of the eye and ear at his alma mater, and from 1875 to 1880 held a similar chair in the University of Vermont (Burlington). In 1888 he was appointed Professor of Diseases of the eye in the New York Post Graduate Medical School, of whose faculty he would become President…’