Primitive Physick Title Page_with borderIt’s fairly rare to come across straightforward humor in John Wesley’s writing. One of my favorite instances of it is in this Journal entry from 1753:

[Saturday, January 20th.] I advised one who had been troubled many years with a stubborn paralytic disorder to try a new remedy. Accordingly, she was electrified and found immediate help. By the same means I have known two persons cured of an inveterate pain in the stomach, and another of a pain in his side, which he had had ever since he was a child. Nevertheless, who can wonder that many gentlemen of the faculty, as well as their good friends the apothecaries, decry a medicine so shockingly cheap and easy as much as they do quicksilver and tar-water.

Wesley enthusiastically embraced the age-old tradition of the priest as medical advisor. You can see that in this one anecdote from the Journal, but his advice on medical and natural remedies for disease is more broadly found in his Primitive Physick, a work that was popular both in Britain and America and published in numerous editions well into the 19th century. Some of Wesley’s remedies are common sensical while others now appear bizarre.

Then there is the example of “electrification”—which Wesley advised liberally for a number of illnesses or disorders and for which he was sharply criticized by some physicians in his day; Wesley’s view has, of course, been vindicated by more recent medical practice in our own era (even if not for all the uses for which Wesley would have employed it). The larger point about why Wesley was offering advice on health and medicine is also worth noting: He was concerned for the bodily health of the poor and wanted to provide affordable medical advice that offered counsel regarding exercise, rest, diet, and remedies made up of foods and substances easily obtained and often already present in the home. For Wesley, true Christian ministry attended to the mind, body, and soul.

[This post is part of an ongoing series that highlights important themes that emerge in the Journal that John Wesley published throughout his adult life. For other posts in the series, go here.]