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Dr. John Henry Clarke

After Dr. Quin, Dr. John Henry Clarke established himself as a very successful and highly influential London Homoeopath in teh 1870’s. If it weren’t for Dr. Clarke, there would be little homoeoapthy practiced in teh UK today, it would still be the exclusive preserve of the Rich .

Doctor John Henry Clarke is one of the greatest English homoeopaths of all. It is fairly common knowledge that homeopathy has been practised in the UK since the early 1830’s and chiefly by medical doctors. It arrived in Britain at a very interesting time for several reasons. The 1830s were very turbulent politically; socio-economically; in terms of religious struggles and in medical terms.

The economic condition of the working class in the 1830s was indeed so bad as to render impossible their steady cooperation with other classes in a purely political programme. All of this is relevant, as it depicts a turbulent period, a decade of change, uncertainty and experimentation, when people were more likely to try something new and abandon old habits, albeit temporarily in most cases.

Mostly, after Dr Quin and the early struggles to get homeopathy established, the rest of 19th century British homeopathy presents a fairly flat story with few lively figures or interesting developments to punctuate its slow but steady progress.

The next new twist in the story comes with Dr John Henry Clarke [1853-1931], who established himself as a very successful and highly influential London homeopath in the 1870s. But he 'fell out' with figures like Hughes and Dudgeon, who controlled the movement, to such an extent that all offices became closed to him, except the editorship of The Homeopathic World, which he retained to the end. He left the BHS in disgust, never to 'return to the fold.' He thus became a powerful 'loose cannon' and effectively divided the movement. This was so for two main reasons.

Firstly, he was wholly disenchanted with the direction English homeopathy had taken. He disliked the way it eventually failed to continue challenging allopathy or winning many new converts to its dwindling ranks --especially after 1900. And it seemed to lack the will for a good fight. It simply 'gave up' in his view and came to occupy an all-too-cosy niche within Victorian society, conveniently devoting itself to serving solely the rich upper classes. The second point is connected to the first: he started to teach laypersons all about homoeopathy towards whom many of his books were directed, and he became increasingly convinced that its future lay with them rather than with servile doctors who had 'sold out' to allopathy. This very radical viewpoint turned out to be an astonishingly accurate premonition, really, as subsequent history has shown.

Single-handedly, by the 1920s, Clarke had created a completely divided movement, composed of doctors on the one hand, and lay practitioners on the other. And it was mainly the latter who carried British homoeopathy forward throughout the dismal 1930s, 40s and 50s, their light never dimming. Yet the two strands had little contact with, and only contempt for, each other. Even in the 1960’s, homoeopathy was still very much a ridiculed medical minority and deep in the doldrums. Not until the late-70’s did it start taking off again, and that was mainly due to the lay revival, not to any action on the part of the doctors --who, in fact, never lifted a finger to promote homoeopathy.

It is quite true that Clarke was a typical early-century right-wing fascist and an anti-Semite, which does not endear him to anyone today. How weird, therefore, that he formed such a fruitful allegiance with J Ellis Barker, who was a left-winger? All that united them, I suppose, was homeopathy and a desire to 'do something with it' and 'put it back on the map'. Barker was handed the editorship of the Homoeopathic World in the spring of 1932, just after Clarke died, and this brilliantly stage-managed act caused great ripples of embarrassment to flow through UK homoeopathy; a pervasive horror, really, that this prestigious position hadn't been passed, as expected, to another doctor, but to a lay practitioner and a German immigrant to boot!

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