Medicine, Quackery and the Free Market: The “War” Against Morison’s Pills and the Construction of the Medical Profession, c.1830–c.1850

Brown, Michael (2007) Medicine, Quackery and the Free Market: The “War” Against Morison’s Pills and the Construction of the Medical Profession, c.1830–c.1850. In: Medicine and the Market in England and its Colonies, c. 1450–c. 1850. Palgrave Macmillan, 238–261. ISBN 9781349352937

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Abstract

For many ‘regular’ medical practitioners in mid-nineteenth-century England, the spectre of unlicensed practice loomed large. In the ancet in 1836, Thomas Wakley claimed that ‘[n]ever have quacks, quackish doctrines, and quack medicines, exercised a greater influence over the minds and bodies of the people of this country, than they exert in the present epoch’.2 Such sentiments are given comparatively little treatment in scholarship on the medical marketplace. The normal assumption is that the medical marketplace was an early modern phenomenon which ended in the mid-nineteenth century, but the nature and extent of its supposed demise remain unclear.3 Roy Porter’s Health for Sale, which unusually took the marketplace into the nineteenth century,4 suggests that a key factor in the demise of ‘quackery’ was its supersession by ‘fringe’ medicine such as homeopathy, hydropathy and medical botany. Porter argues that while ‘quackery’ ‘clung to the regulars’ coat tails’, ‘fringe’ medicine was an ideological movement whose opposition to ‘orthodox’ medicine ‘had designs on men’s minds more than their pockets’.5 There is much truth in this: many nineteenth-century popular medical ‘movements’ were ideologically opposed to conventional medicine. However, this change did not end the medical marketplace. If anything, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries constituted, economically and ideologically, a more competitive arena for the practice of medicine than the preceding ones.6

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05 Sep 2022 10:50
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