A Supplement to Clarke's Dictionary of Practical Materia Medica

by Peter David Fraser


by Peter Morrell

A few musings about English homeopathy during the early part of this century, and much more about the controversial Dr Clarke.


It is fairly common knowledge that homeopathy has been practised in the UK since the early 1830s and chiefly by medical doctors. It arrived in Britain at a very interesting time for several reasons. The 1830s were very turbulent politically; socio-economically; in terms of religious struggles [the rise of non-conformism and the Victorian fad for Spiritualism]; in medical terms generally [the importation of the popular Botanic, Galvanic and Mesmeric systems]; and also in terms of such powerful influences as the ideas of Thomas Malthus.

For example, Charles Darwin, who returned on H.M.S. Beagle from his famous 5-year voyage in the southern hemisphere in 1836, was somewhat dismayed to find that ultra-right-wing Malthusian dogmas were being vigorously employed as a political experiment for 'dealing with' the poor.

We do well to consider the character of the England of Darwin's return:

    'Darwin was returning to a re-energised Malthusian world...charity had been scrapped, and the poor made to compete or face the workhouse.' [Desmond & Moore, Darwin, Penguin, 1991, p196].

As a result

    '..riots had broken out in the southern counties in May 1835...and running battles fought with the police...Darwin found that Malthus had acquired a new meaning. His name was on everyone's lips, as either Satan or Saviour.' [Ibid.. p196-7].

    'The economic condition of the working class in the 1830s was indeed so bad as to render impossible their steady cooperation with other classes in a purely political programme.' [Trevelyan's British History in The 19th Century, 1965, p.251]

All of this is relevant, as it depicts a turbulent period, a decade of change, uncertainty and experimentation, when people were more likely to try something new and abandon old habits, albeit temporarily in most cases.

Mostly, after Dr Quin and the early struggles to get homeopathy established, the rest of 19th century British homeopathy presents a fairly flat story with few lively figures or interesting developments to punctuate its slow but steady progress.


The next new twist in the story comes with Dr John Henry Clarke [1853-1931], who established himself as a very successful and highly influential London homeopath in the 1870s. But he 'fell out' with figures like Hughes and Dudgeon, who controlled the movement, to such an extent that all offices became closed to him, except the editorship of The Homeopathic World, which he retained to the end. He left the BHS in disgust, c1900, never to 'return to the fold.' He thus became a powerful 'loose cannon' and effectively divided the movement. This was so for two main reasons.

Firstly, he was wholly disenchanted with the direction English homeopathy had taken. He disliked the way it eventually failed to continue challenging allopathy or winning many new converts to its dwindling ranks --especially after 1900. And it seemed to lack the will for a good fight. It simply 'gave up' in his view and came to occupy an all-too-cosy niche within Victorian society, conveniently devoting itself to serving solely the rich upper classes. The second point is connected to the first: he started to teach laypersons all about homeopathy [e.g. Upcher, Puddephatt and Barker], towards whom many of his books were directed, and he became increasingly convinced that its future lay with them rather than with servile doctors who had 'sold out' to allopathy. This very radical viewpoint turned out to be an astonishingly accurate premonition, really, as subsequent history has shown.

Single-handedly, by the 1920s, Clarke had created a completely divided movement, composed of doctors on the one hand, and lay practitioners on the other. And it was mainly the latter who carried British homeopathy forward throughout the dismal 1930s, 40s and 50s, their light never dimming. Yet the two strands had little contact with, and only contempt for, each other. Even in the 1960s, homeopathy was still very much a ridiculed medical minority and deep in the doldrums. Not until the late-70s did it start taking off again, and that was mainly due to the lay revival, not to any action on the part of the doctors --who, in fact, never lifted a finger to promote homeopathy. And why should they? From their lucrative London practices in Harley Street and Wimpole Street?


It is quite true that Clarke was a typical early-century right-wing fascist and an anti-Semite, which does not endear him to anyone today. How weird, therefore, that he formed such a fruitful allegiance with J Ellis Barker, who was a left-winger? All that united them, I suppose, was homeopathy and a desire to 'do something with it' and 'put it back on the map'. Barker was handed the editorship of the Homeopathic World in the spring of 1932, just after Clarke died, and this brilliantly stage-managed act caused great ripples of embarrassment to flow through UK homeopathy; a pervasive horror, really, that this prestigious position hadn't been passed, as expected, to another doctor, but to a lay practitioner and a German immigrant to boot! How sweet Clarke's revenge must have been, even from the grave! He must have lain smiling in his coffin.

Barker [1869-1948] --a doctor's son from Cologne --had been a journalist and historical and political writer in his early life and had turned to homeopathy and nature cure in his 40s. He was a brilliant, often acidic, writer who never shrank from upsetting folks by 'telling it how it is' or of revealing his burning desire to take homeopathy to the masses bigstyle. He turned the journal around and vastly increased its sales, such that by the mid-30s it was a very popular magazine which was available on newsstands up and down the land. It also sold well abroad. [see: Barker, J.Ellis [1931] Miracles Of Healing and How They are Done, John Murray, London]. When he died in 1948, he was effectively in charge of a mass movement. Barker's real name was Otto Julius Eltzbacher.

With some justification, Clarke regarded his fellow doctors as the vilest of traitors to homeopathy, who had succeeded only in turning themselves into the easily-manipulated and servile puppets of their rich aristocratic clientele. He regarded them with enormous contempt. Thus we can justly regard Dr Clarke as the single most important English homeopath of this century and truly the darling of the movement. In terms of bold and experimental ideas and methods; for his writings; for his fierce independence; his great energy, which he poured into homeopathy with abandon; as a political force within the movement; and finally for his deep radicalism re lay practice, he towers like a colossus over all the rest. From him flows nearly every tradition or strand within the fabric of modern British homeopathy, other than Kentianism.

Yet it is surely a very rich irony, that a right-wing fascist should come to be the one who turned his back on the stuffy homeopathic establishment, accusing them of humbug in their failure to give homeopathy to the masses! Ironic also that it took his alliance with the Marxist, Barker, to establish a new lineage of British homeopathy, wholly devoid of any roots within the class system, and thus to truly transform it into a 'tool of liberation' Ivan Illich-style. [see: Illich, 1977, Limits to Medicine, Penguin, London, UK]


Yes, and thank goodness, the divide which Clarke created, still lives on! Today, UK homeopathy is dominated by many 100s of lay practitioners, the older ones being mostly self-taught, while most younger ones having graduated from the 20+ colleges of homeopathy which have sprung up in the wake of its late-70s revival. And they are still the Bette-noir of the doctors! Only recently yet another caustic attack upon them was published by Dr John Hughes-Games. They want no contact with the lay practitioners, who they disparagingly call NMQPs --non-medically qualified practitioners. They would dearly love to see them outlawed.

They seem to present feeble, hamfisted and hateful arguments which completely ignore the historical facts about the therapy in Britain. Whatever else we might think of him as a human being, if it weren't for the wayward Dr Clarke, and the laypersons he taught, there would be precious little homeopathy practised in the UK today; it would still be the exclusive and minority preserve of the stuffy old rich and titled.

It was Clarke who broke the mould and it was his lay practitioners who have revived its fortunes in recent years.

[NB. the single best source of info about English homeopathy is by my friend and Sociology Tutor, Philip A Nicholls, 'Homeopathy and the Medical Profession', published in 1988 by Croom Helm; it is packed with info, but is now sadly out of print. But most of this comes from 'Dr Clarke An Appreciation' from April 1932 BHJ, and from Barker's many 'Homeopathic World' articles of the early 30s]