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The Battle of the 'Opathies

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

I've mentioned I am reading through a book published in the 1870s regarding the #vaccine controversy, Which Sanitation and Sanatory Remedies or Vaccination and the Drug Treatment by JNO Pickering, and wanted to share an interesting glimpse into what the leaders of the time thought about healthcare during this period. The author shares that there are four different models of healthcare in the 1870s: hydropathy, herbalopathy, homoeopathy, and allopathy.

Specifically, the author states that #allopathy was a complete failure and among the "thinking part of the population, the evidence and the decision have gone dead against it. There will be no reversal of that verdict. It is final" (p 2). He goes on to explain that hydropathy, herbalopathy, and homoeopathy are forcing their way to the forefront with accelerated movement. Pickering speaks of nature doctors and their meeting the needs of the people, and that they are safer by use of water, air, diet, and exercise. Then his text, this particular one used as a nursing school textbook, details each of the four pillars of healthcare at that time. Let me share.

Hydropathy: The Nature Doctor

This model, Pickering shares, "trusts solely to sanitary remedies, plain diet, pure water, fresh air, and invigorating baths. Its cures are speedy, effective, and permanent, and its physicians do not resort to drugs or other medicaments, and its patients are soon able to undertake the management of disease." The cost is nominal. Institutions were even built, called Hydropathic Sanitariums, to help the masses with this approach.

Pickering argues that "hydropathy is a science capable of covering the whole field of the healing art. Herbalopathy and Homoeopathy are rendering obeisance to the deity at whose shrine all men will one day worship" (p 21). The fault of this system, interestingly, is that Pickering says the Nature Doctor had begun to attach homoeopathy to his practice as it was believed cure could only come when something is swallowed.


The author describes herbal medicine as one that incorporates both hydropathy and simple herbs, which interestingly seems acceptable where homeopathy was not. "The herbalist is in general a physician born, not made, that is to say he has a natural gift for the healing art; he may be rough in speech and unlettered, but he understands his business; he dare not lose a case if he can possibly help it, and a corresponding success accompanies his efforts."

"England could ill afford to sacrifice this useful body of men at the altar of allopathic pedantry" (p 22).


This one is described as "allopathy reduced to the minimum of harmlessness by utilizing the infinitesimal dose." There is belief that this is effective and not harmful, and allows nature to deliver her own deliverance. There is nothing for the client to do either, but be patient and wait for themselves to get better, other than maintaining healthy surroundings. There is no "concentrated poison to delay the cure" (p 22).

Politically or socially, homoeopathic practitioners of this day were aligned with the elite, so they was little doubt that it would not succeed separate from allopathy, but the author felt it would behoove this model to align a bit more with hydropathy "when the need shall appear."


The allopath "goes the whole hog." He is above all help regarding sanitary practices, and "his patients die two to one of those of his competitors, and the period occupied in a cure is three times as long. This must be so. The nature of the treatment determines the delay in the cure, or its fatality" (p 24).

The author continues, "Allopathy is condemned. It is a failure, and commands little of our respect, less of our admiration, and none of our confidence. Still Allopathy is the orthodox practice, although it has lost much ground lately. Acts of Parliament have stereotyped it upon the domestic and social life of the nation. Its practitioners as a rule are narrowminded, exclusive and unbending; they reject all aid from sanatory remedies, and enforce the drug upon their patients, willing or unwilling, successful or unsuccessful, it is all the same - they put a good face upon disaster, and death is not an issue they have much occasion to fear" (p 24-25).

Interestingly, Pickering continues, allopathy "courts the rich for its wealth, the powerful for its patronage, and the state for its official appointments." And he adds, "Physic has totally changed its character within the last quarter of a century. Instead of being the servant of the public, and devoted to the interests of humanity, it has lost all considerations of that sort: it is selfish, grasping, luxurious, and indolent. Moreover physic is pettish where it cannot dominate, insubordinate where it cannot command, and unteachable where it cannot dictate" (p 25).

To pay the physician for curing disease is to subsidize disease, yeah? If the physician has to live out of disease and its treatment, then supply will have to meet demand. This is a clear principle in the trade industry, and the healing art cannot be allowed on any shallow pretense to claim exemption from this model. His argument even continues with there being a sum of one thousand diseases of their day, but he feared that capable of infinite variation and extension. Mr. Pickering was correct.

His discussion on medication alone was quite fascinating in that he says we would never give these medications to a healthy man, as they would make him sick and that we are punishing the stomach for sins which it is innocent. As well, these concentrated medications were never intended by nature to be delivered to us in such magnitude. "No wonder how it is that diseases, chameleon-like, change their disposition or state, repel each other, run into one another, and evolve new and distinct forms of disease until both our present classifications and nomenclature are everlastingly taxed to invent fresh names, composed of Latin adjectives and Greek nouns, having a remote ancestral relationship to some one of the obscure symptoms arresting the notice of the physician, many of which symptoms have a close consanguinity - a direct descent - from the remedies and poisonous substances used in an effective medical practice" (p 27).

Why Share?

It helps us think more critically to know from where we come. Often we are victim to believing we have all the knowledge, that recommendations are based on facts and proof, and that what we believe to be true is actually true. Understanding our history can help us better understand the underpinnings of our perspectives and experiences, and creating a wider lens with which to think and analyze.

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