Medicine of the Common People
by Chix on October 20, 2016 - 4:36pm
To begin with, the book examined is clearly quite old. The pages have turned yellow and stains can be seen on most pages. When looking at the sides of the book, one can see that the pages are lined up unevenly. This could either be explained by a deterioration of the original conditions with time, or a primitive assembling process. Either way, both theories would point towards old age for the book. Now, it would seem that the original cover has been replaced, even if the new cover looks just as old as the book itself. At the very first page, the information from the original cover has been cut out and placed onto the new cover. For the cover itself, it is quite plain and does not have many details other than the name of the book and the author. Size wise, the book is fairly average. It is bigger than any pocket book, but also a lot smaller than any modern science textbook. There are some hand notes at the beginning and end of the book, but most of it is not complete sentences. Instead, they are series of numbers and letters that does not have a clear meaning to them.
“The Way to Health” by Thomas Tryon is a book about medicine for the common people, instead of trained doctors. A first thing to consider, is the size of the book. The book being quite small, considering it talks about a very complex subject, shows that there will not be too many details. Also, there are no images within the book, which also contributes to the fact that there is not a great deal of details. Moving on, when looking at the content tab, one can observe that the subjects of the book are not for educated physicists. “The Way to Health” talks about homemade medicine from herbs, or even simpler subjects like choice of food. In order to understand and be able to apply the information from the book, the reader is only required to know how to read.
The concept of homemade medicine has decreased in popularity with time. The main reason being that professional medical services have become more and more accessible to the general population. During the “Early Modern Period”, “[Physicians] lived mainly among educated urbanites” (Cook 417), which meant that a large portion of the population did not have access to medical services. Thomas Tryon, similarly to Robert Boyle, “[who] was only one of the most notable to publish parts of his [medical knowledge] collection as a help to ordinary people” (Cook 418), published “The Way to Health” to help the common people who could not access or afford medical services. The modern day equivalent of a book like “The Way to Health” would probably be a guide on the internet. Accessible by the common population and understandable by everyone.
On the topic of knowledge distribution, the large majority of the knowledge of the “Early Modern Period” was confined to the elite class. The detailed medical books where written in Latin, unknown to the common people. Also, “Many of the physicians’ fears about folk medicine” (Cook 421), and tried to the knowledge accessible to the population. All this makes books like “The Way to Health” one of the rare written sources accessible to all, since it is written in the vernacular and treats of simplified subjects.
Harold J. Cook, "Medicine," in Katherine Park and Lorraine Daston (eds.) The Combridge History of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003): 407-434.