Taking a leisure hour a few evenings ago to indulge in the book-lovers complacent contemplation of his collection of old, rare and curious books, my eye fell upon a dilapidated little leather-bound volume which I picked up years ago in an old book shop and had never read. Of course I had glanced it through hastily when I bought it, as all book hunters do, and decided almost by instinct that it was “worth while.” Every collector has an eye out for such unappreciated curios, and nothing gives him keener pleasure than to discover one of them. So my “find” was brought and pocketed and shortly given a modest place on my shelves among the others, there to await its turn to be “read, marked, learned and inwardly digested.” Its turn was long in coming and would perhaps have been longer, but that I happen just now, at odd times, to be writing the life of a remarkably interesting but long-forgotten American pioneer, and so am in the biographical mood.
The incident brought back memories of my childhood in the country, some sixty years ago, when we still heard occasionally about “Herb and Root Doctors” and “Botanical Physicians” whom we regarded as glorified old grannies.
The characteristics, old-fashioned title page of the little volume (it measures only 32 x 52 inches, and 14 thick), reads as follows:
“A Narrative–Of The–Life, And Medical Discoveries–Of– Samuel Thomson;–Containing an account of–His System Of Practice,–And The Manner Of Curing Disease With Vegetable Medicines; Upon A Plan Entirely New.–Written By Himself.–Ninth Edition.–Columbus, O.–Published By James Pike & Co. Agents;– Jenkins & Glover, Printers;–1833”.
The first edition was published in 1822, and was entitled “New Guide to Health; Or Botanic Family Physician”.
The fact that this book had gone through eight editions in about ten years and was in its ninth editions in 1833 is at least presumptive evidence that Samuel Thomson had created quite a stir in the medical world of his day, even if we did not know it from a perusal of medical history. It may, therefore, be assumed that Samuel Thomson was a man of parts and that he did something that was probably worthy of the wide attention it attracted.
Knowing the history of medicine and the almost invariable reaction of “The Faculty” to all medical reformers, one could safely outline the career of Samuel Thomson without actual knowledge of a single detail of his life and personality except his name and vocation. Medicine like theology has always resisted, ridiculed, maligned and persecuted its reformers. “So persecuted they the prophets” from time immemorial and so they continue to do.
Taking “Samuel Thomson, His Book” in hand, therefore, I settled down for an evenings reading if it should prove as interesting as it promised to be. It did not disappoint me. The book held me until far into the night and moved me to take it as the subject for this months article. It will be seen that Thomson was the forerunner of Hahnemann in America–a medical John the Baptist coming up from the wilderness, clad in rough garments and living on “locusts and wild honey”–a voice crying, “Repentye. . . . Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight”. Samuel Thomson was born February 9, 1769, in the town of Alsted, County of Cheshire, State of New Hampshire.
His father, John Thomson, was born in Northbridge and his mother, Harriet Cobb, in Medway, both of Massachusetts. There were five other children. The family was very poor and the country where he was born was at that time a wilderness. His father had brought a piece of land on credit, to be paid for with the proceeds of his labor. Their dwelling was a rough barn in a little clearing and their only food bean porridge and potatoes. With this food the children were content, for they knew no better. Their nearest neighbors were three miles and one mile away, respectively. The father and mother were Baptists and very strict in their religious observances.
They had family prayers morning and evening and sometimes at midday. They ruled their children by fear, telling them horrific stories about witches and hobgoblins, and threatening them with the coming of “the Knocker” or “the Bear,” if they misbehaved. Samuel relates that the children, being left alone one day, nearly died of fright when they heard a woodpecker at work on the wall of the house outside and dared not look out to see what it was. They told their parents about it when they came home and, instead of having it explained to them, were told that it was “the Knocker,” who would always come if they did not do as they were bid.