John King, M. D.
Author and Compiler - The Man - Teacher and Lecturer - Publicist and Humanitarian - Investigator and Scientist
On New Year's morning, eighteen hundred and thirteen, about 9 o'clock, just as an American man-o'-war came into the harbor of New York towing a British prize, John King opened his eyes upon a world he was destined to adorn. Well descended he bore the qualities of the high born throughout a long and fruitful life. Reaching the full ripening of eighty well-spent years, he died on June 19, 1893, at North Bend, Ohio. John King's lineage was of noble and aristocratic pedigree. Both English and French blood flowed in his veins. His father, of British extraction, was an officer in the New York Customs House, and took no small part in the politics of the metropolis. His mother, of French birth, was a daughter of the Marquis La Porte, who came from France with Lafayette to battle for a principle and the freedom of the American colonies. Being in comfortable circumstances the parents were well able to accord their son a liberal education, with the ultimate intention of having him engage in mercantile life. Young King, however, proved to be fonder of the quiet pursuits of the scholar, and books and research appealed to him far more strongly than the active and noisy bustle of a business career. He was wisely given his choice. As a student he was apt and diligent, and took little for granted until he had thoroughly investigated for himself. This trait made him conspicuous in later years for great care and accuracy in his writings and teaching. The natural sciences especially attracted him, and in mathematics and languages he became exceptionally proficient. Even at a youthful age was he the master of five tongues, being particularly gifted in German and French, and enjoyed to the day of his death the literature in those languages. To this proficiency in the latter dialect the pages of the Eclectic Medical Journal attest in the thousands of translated notes and articles. Exceedingly methodical, all of Dr. King's publications display the well-trained mind, and are marked by system. A literary college training having been acquired, he became an engraver of bank notes. At the age of twenty-two we find him in the lecture arena giving special attention to the then, as now, attractive of electricity. In 1835, he lectured before the Mechanics' Institute of New York City on the ponderous subject of "Magnetism and Its Relation to the Earth, to Geology, to Astronomy, and to Physiology." These discourses being well received, he repeated them in later years at New Bedford, Mass. The bent for natural sciences naturally led him to adopt the profession of medicine. Wooster Beach was then teaching the principles of the American Reform Practice in New York City which ultimately culminated in American Medical Eclecticism, King cast his fortunes with the school, graduating in 1838. His talent as a lecturer and instructor soon secured for him the position of teacher therein, and from that time be was ever actively and successively engaged in the Reform school, and in the Eclectic movement. It took courage to do this, "for this was in the days when medical heresy was dangerous."
Dr. King first located for practice in New Bedford, Mass. Fresh from the large city of New York, with its advantages for culture, he did not like his location because of the sordid purposes and lack of interest in cultural movements by the people. In a letter to Dr. Beach (June 28, 1842), he complains that "here everything is money and means money; and societies for mutual improvement, or even one small society can not be raised. Yet I shall . . . do my best to raise the standard of reform, not only in New Bedford, but if I live throughout the State and country." How well he kept the faith is now a matter of eternal history. Again he enthusiastically declares: "My whole internal man is bent to this purpose. . . . With the help of Heaven, my voice shall yet be heard in tones of thunder against the Mercurialists . . . and Thomsonianism and Regularism must fall before the superior worth of the American Practice." These utterances were characteristic of John King, who threw his whole being into the cause, and upon whom in later years fell the mantle of Wooster Beach, his teacher and co-laborer.
The transference of the Reform forces to Worthington, Ohio, led many of the Reform physicians into the young and growing West. In 1845 we find John King located as a country doctor at Sharpsburg, Ky., where he braved the trials of the apostle of a new faith, and wrote articles concerning his experiences for the Western Medical Reformer. According to a statement of his in that publication he had now been in practice twelve years. He then moved to Owingsville, Ky., where he practiced for several years and terminated his career as a country doctor. We next find his name appended to the call for the first National Convention of Reform Medical Practitioners. The latter met in Cincinnati in 1848, and John King was made secretary. Of the forty-two names which were signed to the call, all save one (Dr. Orin Davis, now of Los Angeles, California.) have joined the silent majority. At this convention the National Association was formed and the name Eclectic adopted, though the college at Cincinnati had borne that designation for three years. Dr. King now located in Cincinnati, being introduced by a written indorsement from Professor Morrow. In 1849 be went to, Memphis, Tenn., where he was made professor of Materia Medica, Therapeutics, and Medical Jurisprudence in the Memphis Medical Institute. Two years later he was called to occupy the chair of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women and Children in the Eclectic Medical Institute at Cincinnati, a position which he filled with great honor and efficiency (with the exception of three years when similarly engaged in another college), until stricken with paralysis in 1890. In 1856 Dr. King became involved in the controversy which resulted in a portion of the Faculty withdrawing from the Institute to found and maintain the Cincinnati College of Eclectic Medicine and Surgery. Peace having been established in 1859, the latter then merged with the Institute. Then John King returned as Professor of Obstetrics. Though listed as Professor of Obstetrics in Worcester Medical Institute at Worcester, Mass., Professor King never served in that institution. In 1872 the National Eclectic Medical Association was organized and be became a member. At the annual meeting at Detroit in 1878 he was chosen president of that body. The convention meeting in Cincinnati in 1884, he was invited to make the address of welcome. This he did in word and manner which "showed that the old fire of forty years ago still glowed at white heat, and the gold was neither dimmed nor changed." On the second day of the meeting he was the orator of the day. In burning words he depicted the perils of class legislation, and his address on that occasion, titled "Special Medical Legislation" (from which we have quoted liberally in this issue) must ever remain a classic. It was a masterly argument for community of interests, and may be read with profit to-day by those who would defend the rights of all as against the privileges of the few.
Dr. King was the first president of the present Ohio State Eclectic Medical Association.
Dr. King was twice married, first to Charlotte D. Armington, daughter of Russell and Sarah Armington, of Lansingburgh, N. Y., a relative of the British Admiral Armington. She died in 1847, leaving six children, two of whom became physicians. His second wife, who survived him some years, was the widow of Stephen Henderson Platt, of New York City, and daughter of John and Mary Rudman, of Penn Yan, N. Y.
In 1890 Dr. King, who had so long and so conspicuously served Eclecticism as a teacher, author, and champion, suffered a stroke of paralysis, from which he but partially recovered. Though his mind and memory remained unimpaired except for the failings of senescence, he enjoyed fairly well the remaining years of his life, and looked forward cheerfully and serenely to the hour of dissolution, which he knew was but a little way off. "My work is done; now it is time to go," was oft repeated, and in the last year of his life he sent to the students of the college he loved so well the beautifully pathetic letter which we have reproduced in this issue.
AUTHOR AND COMPILER.—As a writer of books John King was untiringly industrious, and gave to Eclecticism her first great treatises. All his books are written in clear and choice diction, making them easy and enjoyable reading. The bulk of his contributions to the medical journals were translations of medical papers and notes from the French, a few addresses, an occasional article on some drug, and a collection of papers which were ultimately published as a part of his great work on chronic diseases. His books form a library that would be difficult to duplicate, and, show an endless amount of research and application. In 1853 appeared the "American Dispensatory," which passed through eighteen editions during the author's lifetime. It was his great work, and has been entirely rewritten and published in two volumes since Dr. King's death. In 1855 his "American Obstetrics" came out and went through several editions. Just previous to the author's death it was revised by Dr. R. C. Wintermute. "Women: Their Diseases and Their Treatment," was issued in 1858; "The Microscopist's Companion," in 1859; "The American Family Physician," in 1860, and in 1866 he brought out his celebrated and unique work on "Chronic Diseases." "The Urological Dictionary" was published in 1878. His last work, issued in 1886, was a study in sociology titled, "The Coming Freeman," written in behalf of the laboring classes. On the title page was this significant quotation, "I never could believe that Providence had sent a few men into the world, ready booted and spurred to ride, and millions ready saddled and bridled to be ridden.—R. Rumbold, 1685."
THE MAN.—Dr. King was a typical man and gentleman. There was a geniality about him that was infectious, and in all his dealings he never lost that dignity which is a part of all great men. His colleague, Dr. Howe, has so truthfully pictured him that we reproduce his words, verbatim: "In a general resume of Professor King's characteristics his personnel should not pass unnoticed. He was large in head and trunk, but small in hand and foot. His average weight was 225 pounds. His eyes were blue, and his skin soft and white. There was a peculiar sweetness of expression in his face that few men possess. His manners were those of a well-bred gentleman, and never could be coarse or morose. He walked with a stately tread, yet with graceful elasticity. His smile, which was easy to elicit, was winning and mirth-provoking. It has been said that be never had an enemy, and never was in a quarrel of his own provoking. In a thirty-five years' acquaintance I never saw him in an angry mood. An expression of his was, that if you would be happy your conscience must be clear. Dr. King was naturally or instinctively religious, though not bigoted nor intolerant. He would not wrench a shingle from any church edifice, yet contributed to the support of the gospel in general. He occasionally conducted religious services in the church of his village when the clergyman was absent. His annual sermon to the class of medical students was calculated to do much good to a set of young men who do not properly estimate the influence they are to exert in the world."
Add to this description the words of his close friend and colleague, Professor Lloyd, and the picture is complete:
"There can be no higher encomium passed upon an American citizen Than that he is a gentleman. Men may be professional and yet boors, scientific yet brutes, profound and yet not gentlemen. Professor King united the good, and was a gentleman in every sense, and no man who knew him will dispute it. It was once my pleasure to introduce to him my friend, Dr. Chas. Mohr. After an hour had passed, and we had parted, Dr. Mohr repeated over and over again, 'What a delightful gentleman! And this is Professor King, the author of the "American Dispensatory?" What a cultured man!' The opponents of Professor King did not know him, else they could not have been personal antagonists, and would have left unsaid many unkind words. The sweetest reflection that comes to me as I think of his kind self is, that whatever others have done, no vicious sentences stand in his name, he bore no animosity against those whose views were different from his own. That a man so conspicuous as a reformer should have made antagonists is necessarily true; but the opponents of Professor King have never had reason to complain of discourtesy on his part, and have probably buried their antagonism in his grave. It is surprising that in the face of thoughtless indignities heaped upon him that would be unpardonable if expressed by gentlemen outside of the medical profession, he should have maintained his sweetness of disposition, and his charity for those who differed with him, and yet he did so, and never, to my knowledge, said an abusive word in return. He firmly maintained his stand in favor of American medicine, the American materia medica, and medical liberty for Americans.
"Professor John King was one of the first to take an interest in the life of the writer of this memoir. He encouraged him to persevere in his studies in 1863 when an apprentice, and by his advice the writer, who met Professor King every day, was led to make a specialty of American drugs when such work was odious, and when few pharmacists would affiliate with Eclectics. Dr. King insisted that no other field offered such advantages for research, but that a man must bear the odium of heterodoxy to enter it. From that day until his death Professor King took a fatherly interest in the work that followed. One of King's maxims was that 'it matters little to you what others say about you but what you do and say in return,' and he counseled work and perseverance, not controversy and vituperation. By this rule he lived, right or wrong, as history will record, and this is the cause in which he died. Now that he is laid to rest, it becomes increasingly apparent, as the years pass by, that it is better for all the world that his life should have been spent on the side of the minority, amid the bitterness of professional exclusion, rather than for humanity to have lost the return that could not have accrued had he chosen the broad road, regular medication, and thus drawn to himself the ease that comes to a conspicuous, scholar (for he would have been famous) who casts his lot with the majority. The writer realizes that he may be prejudiced in behalf of the subject of this paper, for Dr. King was a very dear friend, and yet believes that he has not overdrawn, and will close with the words of Dr. Cooper, one of the neighbors of Professor King:
" 'Was Dr. King a great man? Are the qualities, acts, and other conditions precedent to true greatness too lofty and tremendous to have evidently pertained to our beloved dead brother? If to have been an immeasurable force in the betterment of the world gives claim to real greatness, then I am sure his greatness can not be successfully disputed. If to have one's name honorably familiar to all, civilized peoples is to be great, then is our Dr. King great. If to have been chief in the evolution of a grand system of medicine which will inestimably bless the world is to have been great, then was and is our departed teacher great; is because be still liveth.' "
TEACHER AND LECTURER.—Dr. King was singularly gifted with a sweet and melodious voice. His lectures were invariably written and rapidly delivered. His words were exceedingly well chosen, and no one could mistake his meaning. Perhaps no better example of pure classic English can be shown among American medical authors than the writings and addresses of Dr. King. His manuscripts were models of neatness, usually written upon small note paper bound into individual booklets, and the penmanship exact, small, and beautiful. No careless slips of composition marred the pages. Every "t" was crossed, every "i" dotted; and punctuation was scrupulously exact. The method of the copperplate engraver was in evidence in every stroke of the pen, and few collections of manuscript show such scrupulous care as these leaflets of Professor King. In his class work he was genial, cheerful, even happy, and imparted the same spirit to his students. He could tell a good story, and was frequently implored to do so before he began his lectures. He read his charmingly written productions with lightning-like velocity, yet no words were lost to his hearers. By his students he was more than revered: he was universally loved. To every student who ever sat under his teaching he is affectionately known as "Pappy King." Perfect order prevailed while he was teaching, and his quizzes were like the race for a goal. Questions clear cut and never ambiguous were rapidly put, and if the student's mouth did not open as soon as the teacher's closed the question was rapidly passed to the next one. "Sharp is the word and quick the action" was his favorite expression. This begat a habit of prompt answering, and definite expression. The students thoroughly enjoyed this sharp combat, and the writer has never known a teacher who could ask as many pertinent questions and get as many answers in a half-hour's quiz.
PUBLICIST AND HUMANITARIAN.—Had not John King become a physician he would undoubtedly have been a statesman. He was thoroughly American and liberty-loving in his every fiber. He named his text-books "American," and he was always opposed to every form of class legislation as inimicable to the rights of even the humblest citizen. In his work, "The Coming Freeman," which he dedicated to the Knights of Labor, he proposed a representative form of government and administration that should insure the rights of all, both the rich and the poor. No man, however humble, would be bereft of his natural rights. He deplored the prevalent evils, and would correct such evils by wholesome legislation for the good of all; but he antagonized every movement that had for its object the protection or advancement of the privileged few as against the masses. Of his proposed measures it has been well said by Dr. Alexander Wilder, "Whether his remedies are feasible, men will differ; but of the sense of justice and benevolence prompting the work, there can not be two opinions"' Equal rights and no interference was his slogan. For crimes he would punish; but he would interfere with no man's rights. With an optimism that was a large part of his nature he looked forward to the time when the apparent hopelessness of conditions would be adjusted by a fairer system of jurisprudence, and more freedom would be enjoyed by all. His utterances on medical legislation come into, full force to-day when legislation of the very type which he opposed is threatening under the specious guise of protecting the public health (as some believe), to build a medical monopoly. Of his attitude on medical legislation Prof. J. U. Lloyd has written: "Regardless of monetary return or personal consequences the pen of Professor King was to be found ever ready to uphold what he considered the cause of the people. For this reason he always opposed medical laws or class legislation. He contended that the object of such laws was to strengthen medical colleges and to create favored classes; that it was not the people who wanted protection, but physicians who asked the State, in their own behalf, to pass laws to exclude professional competition. Arguments to convince Professor King that such laws would benefit his beloved college served but to make him the more determined in opposition to them, for he did not want to profit by such methods, and said so plainly; and to the day of his death he refused to acquiesce in any move to legislate, as he expressed it, 'against the people.' "
THE INVESTIGATOR AND SCIENTIST.—John King lived close to the heart of nature. Of her bounteous yield, he believed, could the world obtain the safest and best remedies for the cure or amelioration of the ills of the human kind. He thought little of mineral substances as the sources of medicines, but saw wonderful possibilities in the living and life-giving products of mosses, and herbs, shrubs and trees. To the investigation of their composition and virtues he lent his best efforts. No source of knowledge was left untouched, and early in his professional career he traveled far and wide investigating the remedies employed by the laity in domestic medication. In this way he added greatly to the materia medica, not then as rich as now, for many simple and most useful agents were wholly ignored by the medical profession. To-day remedies discovered by John King have the sanction of "authority," and grace the pages of the United States Pharmacopoeia,. He searched "the fields and forests for untried drugs, for with Professor King it was ever a theory that America was destined to contribute largely to the medicinal agents of the world." The vegetable drugs he studied from every standpoint. He advanced beyond the powdered drug and the infusion and decoction. Strongly as he believed in the utility of the vegetable simples he realized and deplored the necessity for bulky doses. These he sought to reduce. A good knowledge of chemistry and a love for pharmacal operations favored his work. He was the first in Eclectic pharmacy who sought to eliminate plant dirt or extraneous matter, but succeeded only partially. His investigations, however, led him into the field of discovery, for he first made known to the world the virtues of resins of podophyllum and macrotys and oleo-resin of iris. These were the first resinoids, and singularly the best ones of the class. This led to the preparation of other similar substances, and to alkaloidal bodies, such as the alkaloidal salts of berberine from hydrastis, and sanguinarine from blood-root. Thus was John King introduced to the pharmacal world. Soon designing manufacturers were making resinoids, which from their fraudulent composition and inertness led to a discrediting of the whole list of resinoids. Other names were employed, and we have as relics a list of preparations whose names terminate in in—a termination belonging properly only to glucosides. To this short cut to nomenclature John King lent neither his name nor sanction. With the exactness with which he did all things he contended for true names, and he called a resin a resin, and an oleo-resin an oleo-resin, thus showing as nearly as he then knew the exact composition of the product. The names podophyllin, macrotin, irisin or iridin were not of his coinage. At the present day the bulk of such resinoids as have active properties are most largely used by pill manufacturers and employed in the practice of the dominant school. It is both a matter of regret and congratulation that he who had evolved the best of these products should have been the one to first dash them to pieces when the rascality of manufacturers compelled such a course by fraudulent substitutions under the name "Eclectic Resinoids." John King was not the kind of man who would allow the stigma, to rest either upon himself or upon the school he represented. At the risk of undoing all the good he intended in introducing good resins and oleo-resins, he swept them all away at one stroke when they had become dishonored. Though he lost all he would never sanction a fraud or allow his good name to be tarnished. The world of pharmacy can well afford to honor the memory of such a man as John King.
The mortal remains of John King rest in the quiet little country graveyard near Valley Junction, O., in the beautiful vale of the Whitewater. The hallowed spot is marked by a chaste granite monument placed there by the contributions of his many pupils and friends, the opportunity having been given them to purchase a small booklet, titled "The Right Side of the Car," written by Dr. King's friend and colleague, Prof. John Uri Lloyd, the proceeds of the sale being applied to the erection of the stone. In this way the contributors had the opportunity to mark "the spot where they laid him," and to retain as a reminder—a link of loving remembrance this literary idyll. The dedicatory services held June 16, 1901, were attended by a large concourse of friends and neighbors, and many physicians who made long pilgrimages to honor their old friend and teacher. Addresses were made by Professor Rolla L. Thomas, M. D., for the profession and Col. David W. McClung for the community.
All too briefly have we sketched the life of John King, scholar and scientist, patriot and humanitarian. Though others were revered and admired, we do not overdraw when we say that Professor King was the best loved man in Eclecticism. He has been justly styled the father of the Eclectic materia medica. His stanch loyalty to the cause of Eclectic medicine never flagged for one moment; his consideration and benevolence for the common people were abiding virtues. Of no man can it be more truthfully said than it has been of him, that he earned the right to hear this criticism of himself made by another:
"As I walk the soil that gave me birth, I feel that I am not unworthy to tread upon it. I look upon these beautiful and venerable trees and feel that I do not dishonor them. I think of my sacred rights, and rejoice that I have never deserted them; besides, I look forward to the long ages and generations, and glory in the thought that I am fighting their battles for them."
"Interfere with no man's rights; but if in art or science he be in the wrong, prove it, not by legislation, but by overpowering him with superior knowledge, superior skill, and truth. This is the best method to compel him to thoroughly inform himself upon those points in which his deficiency has been proved. But no legislation. Science does not need it, and can much better take care of itself when not attached to statutes per force."—John King, Address on Special Medical Legislation.
The Biographies of King, Howe, and Scudder, 1912, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M. D.