Epps, John (DNB00)

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EPPS, JOHN (1805–1869), homœopathic physician, eldest son of John Epps, of a family long settled near Ashford in Kent, was born at Blackheath on 15 Feb. 1805, and educated at Mill Hill school. He was early apprenticed to a medical practitioner in London, named Durie. At the age of sixteen or seventeen he was introduced to phrenology by Mr. Sleigh, a lecturer on anatomy, and this study became a favourite one throughout his life. In 1823 he went to Edinburgh to study medicine, earning his own living by teaching classics and chemistry, his father having suffered a reverse of fortune. He became a member of the Phrenological Society, which introduced him to George Combe and other men of note. While yet a student he published ‘Evidences of Christianity deduced from Phrenology,’ of which a second edition was published in 1836. In 1826 he graduated M.D. In 1827 he commenced practice in the Edgware Road, London, and also began to lecture on phrenology. He had an introduction to Spurzheim from James Simpson, the phrenologist (see Homœopathic World, 1875, p. 290), and joined the Phrenological Society. He gave medical lectures in the Aldersgate Street lecture-room, and soon gained pupils. He also lectured frequently both in London and the country for literary institutions. In 1830 he lectured on chemistry and materia medica, in conjunction with Ryan, Sleigh, and Costello, at the school of medicine, Brewer Street, Windmill Street. On the school being broken up Epps and Ryan joined Dermott in giving lectures at the Western Dispensary, Gerrard Street, Soho. Epps also lectured on botany at the Westminster School of Medicine, Princes Street, Storey's Gate. About 1830 Epps became medical director of the Royal Jennerian and London Vaccine Institution, on the death of Dr. John Walker, the coadjutor of Jenner. Epps wrote Walker's life for the benefit of the widow, but did not realise any profit; however, he paid a small yearly sum to Mrs. Walker during her life.

In 1838 Epps directed his mind seriously to the study of homœopathy, having long felt that medicine was in a very unscientific position. He became convinced that Hahnemann's system was scientific, and applied himself with characteristic ardour to propagate it. He began by publishing a tract entitled ‘What is Homœopathy?’ in 1838. A majority of his patients adopted his new views, which he further explained in ‘Domestic Homœopathy,’ 1840, and ‘Homœopathy and its Principles Explained,’ 1841. He also began to lecture actively on the new system. He continued throughout life an ardent advocate of homœopathy, and gained a large practice, although from 1844 he became increasingly deaf. In 1851 he was elected lecturer on materia medica at the Homœopathic Hospital.

Besides medical practice, Epps was interested in a multitude of public questions, and incessantly lectured, wrote letters, spoke at public meetings, and worked privately in connection with parliamentary, religious, and social reforms. Among his attached friends were Mazzini, Wilson, of the ‘Economist,’ Kossuth, Edward Miall, and James Stansfeld. In 1847 he unsuccessfully contested Northampton as a radical. In 1835 he began to publish the ‘Christian Physician and Anthropological Magazine,’ which he largely wrote himself. It was not pecuniarily successful. The last number (1 Feb. 1839) bore the title, ‘The Phrenological (anthropological) Magazine and Christian Physician.’ From 1841 he was connected with the Working Men's Church at Dockhead, Bermondsey, and lectured there every Sunday evening to large audiences on religious and social subjects, which he treated for the most part in a very liberal spirit. One series of twelve lectures, disproving the existence of the Devil, was published anonymously in 1842, under the title, ‘The Devil,’ and roused much opposition. His incessant activity, both publicly and privately, no doubt shortened his life. For some years he suffered from heart-disease, which caused his death in Great Russell Street, London, on 12 Feb. 1869.

Epps was of short stature and sturdy frame, and had a beaming, self-confident expression. He was regarded by many of the working classes as a prophet in medicine, and, although neither profound nor original, he impressed many people with the idea that he was both, owing to his great earnestness and confidence in his own views, and his evident desire to benefit his fellow-creatures. He had a great command of words, a fine sonorous voice, and an animated manner. His philanthropic efforts and personal acts of kindness were numberless.

In 1831 Epps married Miss Ellen Elliott, who survived him, and edited his ‘Diary,’ a diffuse and scrappy book, containing a large proportion of religious reflections, and failing to give a connected narrative of his life. Mrs. Epps, as ‘E. Elliott,’ published three novels, one of which, ‘The Living among the Dead,’ 1860, achieved a certain success. She was born in 1809 and died in 1876.

Epps's principal works, besides those mentioned above, were: 1. ‘Horæ Phrenologicæ,’ 1834. 2. ‘Domestic Homœopathy,’ 1842. 3. ‘Treatise on the Virtues of Arnica,’ &c., 1850. 4. Editions of Pulte's ‘Homœopathic Domestic Physician,’ with explanatory notes, 1852, 1854, 1855. 5. ‘Constipation, its Theory and Cure,’ 1854. 6. ‘Consumption, its Nature and Treatment,’ 1859. He was joint editor of the ‘London Medical and Surgical Journal’ in 1828–9; and at a later period brought out a ‘Journal of Health and Disease,’ 1845–52, and ‘Notes of a New Truth,’ 1856–69.

[Diary of John Epps, edited by his widow, 1875; review of same, British Journal of Homœopathy, xxxiii. 290–7; obituary notices, same journal, xxvii. 350, 351; Homœopathic World, iv. 66–8; J. F. Clarke's Autobiographical Recollections of the Medical Profession, pp. 137–40.]

G. T. B.