Today marks the beginning of World Homeopathy Awareness Week. When homeopathy was introduced to Britain in the 1830s, not everyone was clear on what this new-fangled system was all about. Here’s an explanation from Mr Waggle, a character in Cornelius Webbe’s The Man About Town (1838). Waggle is a well-preserved 45-year-old bachelor who never stops joking, and though his constant stream of puns is potentially wearisome to his companions, he is a good-natured and popular fellow.
‘What’s Homoeopathy, Mr. Waggle?’ inquired L of him, an evening or two since: I was sure he would get a satisfactory answer.
‘Why, I should say, the nearest path or best way home,’ was the reply.
‘No, no—now, come, tell me; for here I see,’ taking up the Literary Gazette, ‘among the new books, is “Homoeopathy; a Thesis,” 8vo. 2s. 6d.’
‘A what?’ cried Waggle.
‘A Thesis,’ said L.
‘Erratum— For “Homoeopathy; a Thesis,” read “Homoeopathy; a Thimblerig,”’ said Waggle, shortly and severely.
‘Come, come, that’s one of your old jokes! Do tell me what it is!’ cried L.
‘Well, then, it is a bran-span new German-silver-spoon method of curing disorders by the smallest possible intention of not curing them,’ said Waggle.
‘I don’t understand it now,’ continued his inquiring friend.
‘Well, then, I’ll make it plain to the meanest capacity.’
‘Thank you,’ said L—.
‘Suppose your dwelling-house to be on fire. Very good.’
‘Not so very good!’ cried L.
‘That’s as it happens,’ said the wag. ‘Being on fire, you would probably apply powerful pails of water to put it out, and send off your man for the engines? You would do very wrong. According to the new light, you should let it blaze away, till it is all alight from top to bottom. You should then pick out the very finest-pointed White-chapel needle you can find in your wife’s huswife, and, as coolly as you can, begin poking away with it at the fire till you get tired of poking. When you discover that niggling at it with a needle won’t do, and that it blazes more furiously than ever, send to the nearest oilman’s, and take and divide two barrels of pitch, one of tar, and tallow ad libitum, infinitessimally into the smallest possible pellets, and taking your station over the way, throw one of them occasionally across the street into your house. If it still blazes away, throw two, three, and keep on adding to the number, till your townhouse is fairly burned down, even to the ground. When there is nothing more to burn, the fire, of course, will go out. And that’s Homoeopathy!’
‘I understand it now,’ said L, ‘I never understood it half so well before.’