So much research in the history of medicine has been devoted to the development of medicine as a progressive science. The Medicine of the People, however, looks at the medical perceptions of lay people over the last four centuries.
Lying at the heart of these perceptions is a set of ideas first formulated by Hippocrates, Aristotle, and other ancient Greek physicians, which tried to understand illness in terms of vital properties. These included the four Humours of Yellow Bile, Black Bile, Blood and Phlegm, the centrality of the heart as a ‘sensitive’ organ, the brain as a cooling plant for the blood, and health as a state of balance between hot, cold, moist and dry forces. This notion of disease runs through Chaucer, Shakespeare and the early academic physicians, though it lost scientific credibility in the eighteenth century. The Medicine of the People traces the persistence of the old tradition via popular writers, preachers like John Wesley, Victorian quack advertising and even music hall songs. Backed up by extensive archival research and interviews with elderly people and doctors.
The Medicine of the People looks at an approach to medicine which started in ancient Greece, was familiar to Shakespeare’s roundlings, became part of a culture of Victorian factory-workers and came to be re-invented as alternative medicine.