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A Plea for a Simpler Life
By George S. Keith, M.D., LL.D, F.R.C.P.. (1897)


In the following pages I have made statements reflecting on the teaching and practice of medicine at the present day, and to these I must adhere. I do not, however, call in question the good faith either of the teachers or of the practitioners. The former teach what they have been taught and believe to be true; the latter naturally follow their teachers. Nor do I call in question the value of much that is taught, and of much that is done by the bedside, and in the laboratory, or by those who ransack all nature’s products in air, land, and water to discover means by which human suffering may be alleviated. The value of even a discovered truth may lie for a long time unknown, till some farther discovery brings it into notice and use. True seekers after truth always have their reward, though it may be delayed ; but somehow in this world things get occasionally into a rut from which extracation is difficult. There is an inertia in the mind as well as in physics, and it may require a strong force to overcome it.

What I have proposed to myself in the following pages is to point out some of the evils that have arisen from opposite lines of thought which have much affected the practice of medicine during this century.

The change from a severe system of treating disease by depletion in all its modes came in with a great social change, especially as regards the upbringing of the young. In my young days this was rather trying. Home discipline, as well as that in the schools, was harsh, even with the upper classes. The boy must do as he was bid without delay and without protest, or it was the worse for him. What are now necessaries were then luxuries. Pleasure for its own sake was at a discount. In Scotland, at least, the extreme doctrines of Calvin held sway, and a severe sway it was. Reaction came at last, and along with other changes came that of the treatment of disease, first by modifying the old methods, and very soon by adopting others at the opposite pole. The change fell in with the spirit of the times, and, I fear, goes with it still. The difficulty of modifying it may therefore be great; and my efforts in that direction may avail little. But I have said what I have long wished to say. If any good follows I shall be rewarded; and if not, I shall at least enjoy an easier mind.

I have been subjected to so much opposition in my daily life and work that more public criticism can touch me but little. My feeling on this is pretty well expressed in a somewhat defiant family motto which may be seen on the entrance hall of Marischal College, Aberdeen: ‘Thay haif said: Quhat say thay: Lat thame say.’

G. S. K.

Currie, Midlothian,
July 1895.


"Whatever discussion may arise over this book between the author and his fellow medical men, the fact will not be altered that there is much in it that ought to be carefully considered by most of us.”—The Scotsman,

“There is much sound advice given in this little volume which will be of great service to both the healthy and the unhealthy.”—Dundee Advertiser.

"His opinions may be read with advantage.”—The Times.

"Pithy and pungent little treatise.”—The Globe. .

"There is no doubt whatever that the book is full of wise counsel;”— Edinburgh Medical Journal.

“There is much truth, and earnestly expressed, in the pages of this small volume, and we sincerely hope that it may receive the attention which it assuredly deserves from the medical practitioners of the present generation—and that the publication may bear fruit towards the reformation of some few, at least, of the many flagrant abuses of medical teaching and practice.”—Dublin Journal of Medical Science.

"Dr. George Keith's closely-reasoned and temperately-worded 'Plea for a Simpler Life' cannot be dismissed as superfluous. Much of his advice is as shrewd as it is sound.”—The Speaker. -

“There are few works containing more sound common sense and good practical wisdom put into small compass as in the little book bearing the above title. It is worth its weight in gold to the man who would rather go in for prevention than cure.”—The Liberal.

"It is the old exhortation, plain living and high thinking. But it is more, it shows the way to reach it. It is indeed a most earnest yet scientific exposition of the evil we do to our bodies and souls and spirits by mixed dishes and medicines, If we would follow Dr. Keith’s advice and take his prescriptions, we should have less dyspepsia and less atheism amongst us, less need for doctors of medicines and less need for doctors of divinity.”—Expository Times.

“This very interesting little book.”—The Guardian.

"As interesting as it is disinterested, and as valuable as it is cheap.”— Great Thoughts.

"The treatise is a powerful argument against the abuse of food and stimulants, both in health and sickness.”—St. James's Budget.

“The book is well worth reading.”—The Lancet.

“This essay is a most profitable and even weighty contribution to medicine, full of observation and original thought.”—The Academy.

"This is a charming little book. There is much sound common sense and a great deal of solid truth in what he says, and his little book deserves to be widely read.”—Manchester Guardian.

“Most of us, I suppose, want to live as long as we can, and to make our lives as comfortable as possible. Various counsellors in all ages have given advice with a view to the attainment of these desirable ideals; but I am not sure that any one of them hits the nail on the head with a finer precision than is achieved by Dr. George S. Keith, whose ‘Plea for a Simpler Life’ is of sturdy common sense all compact.”— The New Age.


Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III

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