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John Wesley: Primitive Physick, or An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases

Or An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases

by John Wesley, M.A.

John Wesley (1703-1791) was not only the founder of Methodism but also wrote widely in other areas of concern. Wesley realized that medicine in England was available just to the wealthy. His aim in Primitive Physick was to bring practical medical advice to workers and others who could not afford private doctors.

Wesley first published his book anonymously in 1747. Not until 1760 did he place his name on it.

Only the preface to his book is reproduced here. Words followed by an asterisk are defined in the glossary.


1. When man came first out of the hands of the great Creator, clothed in body as well as in soul, with immortality and incorruption, there was no place for physic, or the art of healing. As he knew no sin, so he knew no pain, no sickness, weakness, or bodily disorder. The habitation wherein the angelic mind, the Divinæ particula Auræ* abode, though originally formed out of the dust of the earth, was liable to no decay. It had no seeds of corruption of dissolution within itself. And there was nothing without to injure it: Heaven and earth and all the hosts of them were mild, benign, and friendly to human nature. The entire creation was at peace with man, so long as man was at peace with his Creator. So that well might "the morning stars sing together, and all the sons of God shout for joy."

2. But since man rebelled against the Sovereign of heaven and earth, how entirely is the scene changed! The incorruptible frame hath put on corruption, the immortal has put on mortality. The seeds of weakness and pain, of sickness and death, are now lodged in our inmost substance; whence a thousand disorders continually spring, even without the aid of external violence. And how is the number of these increased by every thing round about us! The heavens, the earth, and all things contained therein, conspire to punish the rebels against their Creator. The sun and moon shed unwholesome influences from above; the earth exhales poisonous damps from beneath; the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fishes of the sea, are in a state of hostility: yea, the food we eat, daily saps the foundation of the life which cannot be sustained without it. So has the Lord of all secured the execution of his decrees, -- "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return."

3. But can there nothing be found to lessen those inconveniences, which cannot be wholly removed? To soften the evils of life, and prevent in part the sickness and pain to which we are continually exposed? Without question there may. One grant preventative of pain and sickness of various kinds, seems intimated by the great Author of nature in the very sentence that intails death upon us: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, 'till thou return to the ground. The power of exercise, both to preserve and restore health, is greater than can well be conceived; especially in those who add temperance* thereto; who if they do not confine themselves altogether to eat either "bread or the herb of the field," (which God does not require them to do) yet steadily observe both that kind and measure of food, which experience shews to be most friendly to health and strength.

4. 'Tis probable, physic, as well as religion, was in the first ages chiefly traditional: every father delivering down to his sons, that he had himself in like manner received, concerning the manner of healing both outward hurts and the diseases incident to each climate, and the medicines which were of the greatest efficacy for the cure of each disorder. 'Tis certain, this is the method wherein the art of healing is preserved among the Americans to this day. There diseases are indeed exceeding few; nor do they often occur, by reason of their continual exercise, and (till of late) universal temperance. But if any are sick, or bit by a serpent, or torn by a wild beast, the fathers immediately tell their children what remedy to apply. And 'tis rare that the patient suffers long; those medicines being quick, as well as, generally, infallible.

5. Hence it was, perhaps, that the ancients, not only of Greece and Rome, but even of the barbarous nations, usually assigned physic a divine original. And indeed it was a natural thought, that HE who had taught it to the very beasts and birds, the Cretan stag, the Egyptian Ibis, could not be wanting to teach man,

Sanctius his animal, mentisque capacius altæ*

Yea, sometimes even by those meaner creatures: for it was easy to infer, "If this will heal that creature, whose flesh is nearly of the same texture with mine, then in a parallel case it will heal me." The trial was made: the cure was wrought: and the experience and physic grew up together.

6. As to the manner of using the medicines here set down, I should advise, As soon as you know your distemper*, (which is very easy, unless in a complication of disorders, and then you would do well to apply to a physician that fears God:) First, use the first of the remedies for that disease which occurs in the ensuing collection; (unless some other of them be easier to be had, and then it may do just as well.) Secondly, After a competent time, if it takes no effect, use the second, the third, and so on. I have purposely set down (in most cases) several remedies for each disorder; not only because all are not equally easy to be procured at all times, and in all places: But likewise the medicine that cures one man, will not always cure another of the same distemper. Nor will it cure the same man at all times. Therefore it was necessary to have a variety. However, I have subjoined the letter (I) to those medicines some think to be infallible. -- Thirdly, Observe all the time the greatest exactness in your regimen or manner of living. Abstain from all mixed, all high seasoned food. Use plain diet, easy of digestion; and this as sparingly as you can, consistent with ease and strength. Drink only water, if it agrees with our stomach; if not, good, clear small beer. Use as much exercise daily in the open air, as you can without weariness. Sup at six or seven on the lightest food; go to bed early, and rise betimes. To persevere with steadiness in this course, is often more than half the cure. Above all, add to the rest, (for it is not labour lost) that old unfashionable medicine, prayer. And have faith in God who "killeth and maketh alive, who bringeth down to the grace, and bringeth up."

7. For the sake of those who desire, through the blessing of God, to retain the health which they have recovered, I have added a few plain, easy rules, chiefly transcribed from Dr. Cheyne*.


1. The air we breathe is of great consequence to our health. Those who have been long abroad in easterly or northerly winds should drink some warm pepper tea on going to bed, or a draught of toast and water.

2. Tender people should have those who lie with them, or are much about them, sound, sweet, and healthy.

3. Everyone that would preserve health should be as clean and sweet as possible in their houses, clothes, and furniture.


1. The great rule of eating and drinking is to suit the quality and quantity of food to the strength of the digestion; to take always such a sort and such a measure of food as sits light and easy on the stomach.

2. All pickled, or smoked, or salted food, and all high seasoned, are unwholesome.

3. Nothing conduces more to health than abstinence and plain food, with due labor.

4. For studious persons, about eight ounces of animal food, and twelve of vegetable, in twenty hours, is sufficient.

5. Water is the wholesomest of all drinks; it quickens the appetite and strengthens the digestion most.

6. Strong, and more especially, spirituous liquors, are a certain, though slow poison.

7. Experience shows there is very seldom any danger in leaving them off all at once.

8. Strong liquors do not prevent the mischiefs of a surfeit, or carry it off so safely as water.

9. Malt liquors (except for clear small beer, or small ale, of a due age) are extremely hurtful to tender persons.

10. Coffee and tea are extremely hurtful to persons who have weak nerves.


1. Tender persons should eat very light suppers, and that two or three hours before going to bed.

2. They ought constantly go to bed about nine, and rise at four or five.


1. A due degree of exercise is indispensably necessary to health and long life.

2. Walking is the best exercise for those who are able to bear it; riding for those who are not. The open air, when the weather is fair, contributes much to the benefit of exercise.

3. We may strengthen any weak part of the body by constant exercise. Thus, the lungs may be strengthened by loud speaking, or walking up an easy ascent; the digestion and the nerves by riding; the arms and hams* by strong rubbing them daily.

4. The studious ought to have stated times for exercise, at least two or three hours a day; the one-half of this before dinner, the other before going to bed.

5. They should frequently shave, and frequently wash their feet.

6. Those who read or write much, should learn to do it standing; otherwise, it will impair their health.

7. The fewer clothes anyone uses by day or night, the hardier he will be.

8. Exercise first, should be always on an empty stomach secondly, should never be continued to weariness; thirdly, after it, we should take to cool by degrees, otherwise we shall catch cold.

9. The flesh-brush* is a most useful exercise, especially to strengthen any part that is weak.

10. Cold bathing is of great advantage to health; it prevents abundance of diseases. It promotes perspiration, helps the circulation of the blood; and prevents the danger of catching cold. Tender persons should pour pure water upon the head before they go in, and walk swiftly. To jump in with the head foremost is too great a shock to nature.


1. Costiveness* cannot long consist with health; therefore care should be taken to remove it at the beginning, and, when it is removed, to prevent its return by soft, cool, opening diet.

2. Obstructed perspiration (vulgarly called catching cold) is one great source of diseases. Whenever there appears the least sign of this, let it be removed by gentle sweats.


1. The passions* have a greater influence upon health than most people are aware of.

2. All violent and sudden passions dispose to, or actually throw people into acute diseases.

3. The slow and lasting passions, such as grief and hopeless love, bring on chronical* diseases.

4. Till the passion, which caused the disease, is calmed, medicine is applied in vain.

5. The love of God, as it is the sovereign remedy of all miseries, so in particular it effectually prevents all the bodily disorders the passions introduce, by keeping the passions themselves within due bounds; and by the unspeakable joy and perfect calm serenity and tranquility it gives the mind; it becomes the most powerful of all the means of health and long life.

LONDON, June 11, 1747

For the full text, see this 1846 edition from the Princeton Theological Seminary Library, via the Internet Archive.