Valentine Greatrakes

This  person, renowned in the annals of quackery, was born at Affane, in Ireland, in 1628. He received a good education at the classical free school of that town, and was preparing to enter Trinity College, Dublin, when the rebellion broke out, and his mother, with a family of several children, was obliged to fly to England for refuge.

Some years after, Valentine returned, but was so affected by the wretched state of his country, and the scenes of misery that were witnessed on every hand, that he shut himself up for a whole year, spending his time in moody contemplations. He afterwards became a lieutenant in the army, but in 1656, he retired to his estate in Affane, where he was appointed justice of the peace for the county of Cork.

Greatrakes was now married, and appears to have held a respectable station in society. About the year 1662, he began to conceive himself possessed of an extraordinary power of removing scrofula, or king's evil, by means of touching or stroking the parts affected, with his hands. This imagination he concealed for some time, but, at last, revealed it to his wife, who ridiculed the idea.

Having resolved, however, to make the trial, he began with one William Maher, who was brought to the house by his father, for the purpose of receiving some assistance from Mrs. Greatrakes, a lady who was always ready to relieve the sick and indigent, as far as lay in her power. This boy was sorely afflicted with the king's evil, but was to all appearance cured by Mr. Greatrakes' laying his hand on the parts affected. Several other persons having applied to him, to be cured, in the same manner, of different disorders, his efforts seemed to be attended with success, and he acquired considerable fame in his neighborhood.

His reputation now increased, and he was induced to go to England, where he gained great celebrity by his supposed cures. Several pamphlets were issued upon the subject; it being maintained by some that Greatrakes possessed a sanative quality inherent in his constitution; by others, that his cures were miraculous; and by others still, that they were produced merely by the force of imagination. The reality of the cures seemed to be admitted, and the reputation of the operator rose to a prodigious height; but, after a brief period, it rapidly declined, and the public became convinced that the whole excitement was the result of illusion. Greatrakes, himself, possessed a high character for humility, virtue and piety, and was doubtless the dupe of his own bewildered fancy. He died in 1680, having afforded the world a striking caution not to mistake recovery for cure, and not to yield to imagination and popular delusion, especially in respect to the pretended cure of diseases.