As one of the founding fathers of Methodism, John Wesley is well-known throughout the world as a Christian evangelist. But his experiments into producing cures for the sick have not often been talked about – until now.
An exhibition revealing the surprising history of Wesley’s medical ideas will tour the country from 2 April until 30 September, visiting Epworth, Bristol, Launceston, Englesea Brook, London and Newcastle. The exhibition, entitled Wesley and Wellbeing will explore Wesley’s medicinal manual, Primitive Physic, which was so popular in its day that it was republished 23 times, making it an eighteenth century bestseller.
Although some of his 'cures' were denounced by eighteenth century critics as “possibly deadly”, his thinking was occasionally ahead of his time. Honey is used in many of his remedies, even though its antiseptic and antibacterial properties have only been recently confirmed by science.
Jo Hibbard, Methodist Heritage Officer, said: “When Wesley’s Primitive Physic was published in 1747, doctors were still more likely to kill at a price than cure for a fee”.
She explained, “Wesley wanted to put the knowledge of curing diseases into ordinary people’s hands. Some of his remedies, such as holding a live puppy over the stomach to cure colic, sound comic to us today. But, to Wesley’s credit, if he thought a critic’s claim was well-founded, then he would make changes in the next edition.”
Wesley opened free clinics in London and dispensaries in London, Bristol and Newcastle. He took remedies and cures from other published medical books and re-wrote them in plain English. He tried to make all the remedies cheap and easy to get hold of and he asked his preachers to sell his book, encouraging them to add their own cures.
He provided remedies and preventions on a range of ailments and diseases, from headaches to the plague, and gout to obesity. His 'cures' ranged from advising people to exercise around two to three hours a day in order to “soften the evils of life” to drying and powdering a toad into small pills in order to help ease asthma.
Richard Vautrey, Former Vice-President of the Methodist Conference and a practising GP, said: “John Wesley took the command to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind’ seriously, working to ensure that Methodists were not only nurturing their spiritual health but looking after their physical health as well.”
Vautrey acknowledged that some of Wesley's ideas “belong in the eighteenth century”, but he insisted that many are still relevant.
He explained, “All Methodists today would do well to follow his advice by increasing the amount of exercise we do and reducing the amount of salt in our diets. By doing so whilst our hearts may still be 'strangely warmed' – as Wesley’s was – they won't overheat!”