Issue: 44 Page: 66
John Uri Lloyd: The Great American Eclectic.
by Varro E. Tyler
HerbalGram. 1998; 44:66 American Botanical Council
by Michael A. Flannery. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, Illinois, Hardcover. $34.95. ISBN 0-8093-2187-X, 1998, 234 pp. Available from ABC Catalog #B361.
The only previous book-length coverage of the lives of the Lloyd brothers and the great library and museum they founded was privately published in 1972 by the longtime librarian of that institution, Corrine Miller Simons. It centered upon the life and works of John Uri Lloyd, was primarily adulatory in nature, and was certainly not a critical biography. Unindexed and not widely circulated, her labor of love added little to our true understanding of the aspirations and motivations of this pharmaceutical genius. Michael Flannery's new book, John Uri Lloyd, is quite different. It is an excellent work -- truly a critical biography -- and succeeds in rendering a portrait of Lloyd "warts and all," which, as the author points out, only serves to render him "more human."
Probably the most controversial feature of Lloyd's career was his close association with the irregular school of Eclectic medicine. As Flannery carefully explains, this had both advantages and disadvantages. It enabled him to accomplish what he earnestly longed to do, namely, the scientific investigation of American medicinal plants and the preparation of quality pharmaceutical products from them. On the other hand, his relationship with the Eclectics caused him to be scorned by many conventional physicians.
Interestingly, this disdain in which many of the regular physicians held him was not necessarily shared by his colleagues in pharmacy. Many of the great pharmacy personages of the era admired Lloyd. Edward Kremers, respected pharmacy educator at the University of Wisconsin, counted him a close friend and offered him a professorship at that institution. James H. Beat, first recipient of the Remington Medal, pharmacy's highest honor, called Lloyd "a wizard of American plant pharmacy and chemistry," and Lloyd himself received the Remington Medal in 1920. He also received pharmacy's prestigious research award, the Ebert Prize, on three different occasions and was elected president of the American Pharmaceutical Association, an obvious measure of his high professional standing. His non-pharmacy admirers also included an old fishing buddy, Grover Cleveland, President of the United States.
In spite of this acclaim from the segment of his profession closest to him and from other important persons, Lloyd was not satisfied. He complained to another giant in the field of pharmacy education, Rufus A. Lyman, that he had received "nearly a lifetime of `cold shoulder' from men of learning and science." As Flannery points out, this complaint, in spite of his many recognitions for significant achievements, smacks of ingratitude. Obviously, the lack of appreciation for his important contributions by conventional physicians and the American Medical Association because of his affiliation with the Eclectics hurt him deeply.
In addition to his voluminous scientific writings, Lloyd authored eight works of fiction. The first, and most controversial, was Etidorpha, or the End of the Earth. A 39-word subtitle follows the title. The book details a trip to inner earth and has been interpreted and misinterpreted in many ways, one of which is that it is largely a depiction of the author's hallucinatory experience with drugs. As Flannery notes, there are passages in it that are more of an admonition against improper drug use than an admission of it. Lloyd was too familiar with the power of mind-altering substances to have experimented with them himself. The author adds that as a literary work, Etidorpha is of inferior quality and would have died long ago if it were not for "cultish New Agers and literary historians."
I have read all of Lloyd's novels including the six in the so-called Stringtown series. Most of them are rather difficult to read because of the excessive amount of dialect employed in the conversations of the characters. Flannery explains that this was more or less typical of the local color literary movement of the period when they were written (1900-1934). I was pleased to know that Lloyd was not alone in this type of depiction, but it still doesn't make the novels any easier to read. The biographer also notes that Lloyd's novels are not great literature. I agree with that judgment, but I liked them just the same.
Michael Flannery's biography of John Uri Lloyd is well organized and eminently readable. It begins with his great grandfather and carries the story of Lloyd's life from his birth on April 19, 1849, through its various phases, covering his business, professional, scholarly, and literary activities until his death on April 9, 1936. An excellent chapter is devoted to his living monument, the Lloyd Library and Museum.
In the final chapter, "The Last Great Eclectic," Flannery poignantly notes that Lloyd's single-minded devotion to Eclecticism forced him into a defensive position that was increasingly out of step with modern medicine. He goes on to say that such attachments were "rooted deep within his own character." Shakespeare said it somewhat differently, but the meaning is the same: "This above all, to thine own self be true...." John Uri Lloyd certainly abided by that admonition.
In addition to its ten chapters and an epilogue, Michael Flannery's biography of Lloyd contains five interesting Appendices, an extensive section of Notes, a Bibliographical Essay, and an Index. It is well-printed in easily readable type on non-reflective alkaline paper and bound in a red cloth hard cover. There are 14 pages of illustrations.
As a longtime admirer of John Uri Lloyd, I found this biography extraordinarily satisfying. I suppose I liked it so much because it tended to confirm many of the judgments I had formed about him over the years -- that his scientific work was superior for the period, that his Eclectic alliance was both helpful and harmful, that his literary achievements were interesting but not great, that his legacy in the form of the Lloyd Library and Museum was outstanding, and above all, that he was an honest, hardworking, truly dedicated intellectual who was not perfect in all respects. After all, he was a human being.
Michael Flannery, currently Library Director, Lloyd Library and Museum, has rendered a great service to pharmacy and medicine by presenting the life of this complicated man in such an understandable fashion. Anyone with the slightest interest in either of those professions, or simply in the life of a truly dedicated scientist, should read his excellent biography.
Article copyright American Botanical Council.
By Varro E. Tyler