Professional monologist-amateur historian Pitt recounts his search for a 17th-century healer.
Scion of Irish gentry, Valentine Greatrakes (1628–83) had an “impulse” one day. He felt, like many after him, that he could effect cures by the laying on of his hands. His good wife told him, plainly, that he was a fool. “He was not quite sure of this,” noted Charles Mackay in Extraordinary Popular Delusions (1848), “notwithstanding the high authority from which it came . . .” But he persevered. In his day, the healer attained much fame as he treated, first, the King’s Evil, then ague, next pain, gout, most obstructions and, finally, everything. The Church charged him with practicing without a license and, worse, exacting no fees. After service in Cromwell’s army, through the Interregnum and even during the Restoration, he dispensed treatment similar to the supposedly exclusive, politically valuable King’s Touch. He received humble sufferers at his chambers and made calls to noble houses, chasing pains and squeezing out aches with varying success. Celebrated as a natural healer, his efforts were endorsed by pioneer chemist Robert Boyle. When author Pitt read a six-word footnote about Greatrakes, the game was afoot, the author’s endorphins activated by a search, eventually rewarded, for a text by the analgesic Irishman himself. He and friend Iain traveled from San Francisco to Ireland on the spoor of The Famous Irish Stroker. They conferred with picaresque rustics, frequented antiquarian bookshops and engaged an Arkansan dowser in their research. Pitt’s text is as much about the fun of recreational historical pursuit as it is about the master healer. It’s still unclear whether Greatrakes was a natural phenomenon or simply a charlatan, as asserted by debunker Mackay (whom the author seems to have overlooked). Like Boyle, Pitt leans toward faith—illumination, not illusion.
The record of a man’s pleasure in discovering, for himself, the life of a faith healer.