"The World is My University"


The Life and Adventures of Dr. John Uri Lloyd, M.D., Ph.D.


James Duvall, M.A.

Big Bone, Kentucky

paper presented before
The Boone County Historical Society

Boone County, Kentucky

18 May 2000

"The World is My University

My Greatest Teacher -- Time."

For notes click on [notes]

following each footnote number.

      John Uri Lloyd was a very prolific writer. Going through his papers, not to mention the printed books, one is struck with the fact that he saw the importance of recording information, especially scientific material, to preserve it. If he had been an historian rather than a pharmacist he might, given his industry, have been another Gibbon. Manuscripts that ended in collections far from Kentucky might have been preserved closer to home. Many things now lost might have been preserved. Since botany and pharmacy were his first loves, to them he gave the bulk of his attention. He produced 8 scientific books, and 6 scientific treatises, most of them quite large. Besides these there were more than 5000 scientific articles and editorials.1 [notes]

      Of great interest to us are the 8 novels which he published. There were in addition about 60 short stories.2 [notes] The first of these stories was "The Kentucky Marksman," written in the 1860's, and never published -- of course it is unusual for the stories of a 14 year old to be published. But the story exists beautifully handcopied by his mother.3 [notes] As he grew older, and had less spare time, the stories became more frequent. The discipline he had in this regard is shown by the following anecdote: Lloyd was once asked how he found time in his busy schedule to write novels. He replied: "Young man, you would find little difficulty in writing the equivalent of a printed page in one day?" When he agreed that he could write a page in a day Lloyd remarked: "There are 365 days in the year, and 365 pages make a large book!"4 [notes]

nbsp;     This method of writing accounts for redundancies and inconsistencies in the novels, but it also shows the value of making uses of little snips of time most of us waste. Probably Etidorhpa is the most confusing of all his works, some of the convolution here is intentional to increase the sense there must be something here the reader is missing. It is almost as if there are three story lines going at the same time. Sprague de Camp, in his Science-Fiction Handbook, mentions "John Lloyd's unreadable Etidorhpa."5 [notes] This is more than balanced out by the praise of H. P. Lovecraft, a writer of outlandish fiction and tales of fantasy, whose following is considered a kind of cult. He highly admired Etidorhpa.6 [notes] Lloyd seems to have evaded at least part of the responsibility he claimed to have fulfilled on the title page. Adolph Vogeler mentions a copy of the Commercial Tribune of Cincinnati for the 16 of May [1897] in which are printed three chapters Lloyd excluded from Etidorhpa because he did not have enough scientific audacity to risk their publication at the time. I have not seen them but, Vogeler says: "In these chapters are more fully developed speculations about the possible nature of light and energy ..."7 [notes]

      Stringtown on the Pike is full of this scientific interest. In fact the whole plot turns on the meaning of a certain chemical reaction. He has worked in a host of curious customs about the Northern Kentucky area. In fact Lloyd could never understand why no one else wrote novels about this part of the Commmonwealth. He left an account of the writing of Stringtown in which he says:

Just why Kentucky authors should have confined their studies to Central or Southern Kentucky is hard to determine, especially as these sections of the state have long been worn threadbare in literature. Why authors in search of an inspiration have allowed this rugged northernmost section of the state to escape them is difficult to answer.9 [notes]

      Lloyd was acquainted with James Lane Allen. There are several letters from Allen in the Lloyd Library. At least one of them implies that Lloyd had sent him one of his books on medicine, and Allen was highly interested in it. In 1901, just after the publication of Stringtown, he wrote: "I must congratulate you in general upon the fresh activity of the past few years which have opened up for you so much happiness and the power of giving so much to others."10 [notes] Lloyd was invited to the dinner celebrating the seventieth birthday of Mark Twain. Invitations were extended only to published authors, and Lloyd sat at the table of Twain's daughter. This, as Flannery points out, meant that in a literary sense he had "arrived," and it established his contacts with the literary elite.11 [notes]

      Lloyd had many other literary interests and was an avid collector of books. He tells of ordering a book which was advertised by a bookstore in Albany, New York. It was an original copy of John Filson's Kentucke, with the map, which is even rarer than the book. He says: "I did not know it was of any particular value, but as it was a history of Kentucky, and I am a Kentuckian, it was of interest to me."12 [notes] He bought it for 35 cents. He was born in New York, but came to Boone County at age five, but he was truly a Kentuckian. He wrote a paper for the Literary Club of Cincinnati, of which he was a member for many years, entitled "John Filson, the Neglected" (7 Feb 1903).13 [notes]

      All of these things, interesting as they are, are but a sideline, means by which the Professor amuses himself in his spare time. His abiding interest was ever pharmacy, botany, anything relating to plants, plant drugs, and their sources. It is amusing to see places in his novels where he tells of someone walking outdoors and then to say in a footnote that they were unconscious of the vegetation surrounding them, which he then proceeds to give the scientific Latin names for. His characters may not share his interest, the reader may think it out of place. It does not matter. It is Lloyd's book, it will include scientific matter about plants. This is because Lloyd was not merely a pharmacist, but a pharmacognocist. The term pharmacognosy was first introduced in 1815, and was stated by a contemporary of Lloyd to be "the simultaneous application of various scientific disciplines with the object of acquiring knowledge of drugs from every point of view."14 [notes]

      Varro Tyler, himself a pharmacognocist, writes: "Perhaps what impressed me above all else about John Uri Lloyd is the part he played in the development of the American materia medica.... Indeed, John Uri Lloyd did much to promote the use of America's almost untouched botanical materia medica and is often called "The Father of American Materia Medica."15 [notes] Tyler mentions specifically his treatise number 30:

'A Treatise on Echinacea' especially interests me because of the recent indications that this plant contains useful medicinal properties. It was first introduced into medicine by a Nebraskan, Dr. H. C. F. Meyer of Pawnee City (a small town just a few miles from my hometown of Nebraska City). Having learned of the therapeutic value of the drug from the Indians about 1871, Meyer used it to prepare a 'blood purifier,' which he claimed was useful in treating almost any condition, including rheumatism, migraine, streptococcal infections, tumors, poisoning by herbs, and so on. In 1885 Meyer called echinacea to the attention of the Lloyds, and Curtis Gates Lloyd identified the plant for the physician. Though skeptical at first of the physician's claims for the plant's therapeutic properties, the Lloyd Brothers firm finally produced several echinacea products intended primarily as anti-infective agents. By 1920, echinacea was the firm's most popular plant drug, but with the advent of the sulfa drugs in the 1930's it fell into disuse. Recent research has shown that it does possess bacteriostatic properties as well as antitumor, wound-healing, and insecticidal activity. In Europe, it has now acquired a considerable reputation as a nonspecific immunostimulant. More research is urgently needed on this interesting native American plant that was introduced into medicine so long ago by the Lloyds.16 [notes]

     Lloyd was quick to point out the sources of his drugs. The elemental uses of American plant drugs had been discovered by the Indians. They were also current in folk remedies.

There was a remarkable pharmacopoeia, so to say, in existence among the red men; taking this unwritten lore as base, strides were rapid in the development of the use of American drugs and this especially in the direction of replacing the old 'heroics' by what we call the 'kindlier medicines.' Folk called these investigators 'reformers.' Laymen in particular seemed thankful for the substitution of these kindlier medicines, for people in general dislike the 'heroics.'17 [notes]

Heroics included bleeding, plasters, inducing blisters, use of mercury, and cathartics. The old idea of driving out an enemy or evil spirit by something stronger, was replaced by the new group with the idea that disease is a departure from the normal. In this view the purpose of drugs is to conserve the vital force against the inroads of disease.

      When asked if a new use for one his drugs was found, would or could he patent it Lloyd replied:

We stick, according to our views, to our cornerstone of being an ethical house. We look to the service we can do for the whole race. Out of this, it follows that it will often occur that a doctor client of ours learns of a new remedy -- maybe he actually worked it out, maybe he received his clue from some old wife of the neighborhood. He tries it out; he likes results; he tells other doctors. One of them writes of it in some medical journal somewhere; other doctors want to try the same; there comes a demand. This demand, in its course, reaches us; we prepare to meet it -- to supply. but we do not patent or keep the name of the plant secret.18 [notes]

Perhaps some of the researchers at work today should take a lesson from Lloyd. All research is indebted to the work of others, and no one should have exclusive rights to what belongs to many.

      Martin Fischer, M.D., professor of physiology at the University of Cincinnati, and an interesting character in his own right, wrote an article in 1923, which appeared in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry. He tells of visiting Lloyd at work a number of times. Here in his laboratory the Doctor of Science, honoris causa, who calls himself the "Empiricist and Irregular" welcomes you, and after some apt story, says: "I have an experiment which I should like to show you."

      Fischer says: "In those who have had this experience several times, a warm rush of blood to the head is the emotional response which foretells that now some new decoration will be knocked off their scientific gargoyle." He then lists a number of things held by the science of the day which Lloyd made it his business to debunk.19 [notes]

      Fischer relates what happens when you began to ask questions of John Uri Lloyd:

  As you wait for a solution to filter, your eyes wander into the background. What are those vials labeled a to d? "Just alkaloids separated from -------." And what are those labeled I to IX. "Another set from ------." But you were sure that each of these infernal plants contained but one alkaloid. Quite so, but here are the rest. And knowing that fat reputations have been built upon the discovery of just one alkaloid, you ask when the Professor will publish his results. "I am not young any more and a bit tired. Let me tell you about them and then you publish the facts." You see on the table a pot of tar-like material. And what is that? "Just the muck which you 'regulars' think it well to carry along with the bits of active material in your standard pharmaceuticals and which, after twenty years of work, I have learned to get out by my studies of differential solubility." You feel that you have heard just an overtone of bitterness in his voice, but a look at his face seems to belie your impression.20 [notes]

He goes on to say:

Is science a cloak to you which may be put on and off during convenient working hours. If so, John Uri Lloyd does not interest you, for to him it is life itself. ... he follows her [that is science] as lovers, romance; and children, the rainbow. Alkaloids are not things to be made into medicine, but voices which speak from another world.

Fischer ends this tribute by saying Lloyd is "an individual and a man who is as good a picture in flesh and blood of what science stands for as may be found in the day's journey."21 [notes]

      As a teacher, he was rather unconventional -- does that surprise you? He used no notes, and would not permit any to be taken. His son, John Thomas Lloyd, said that often his father would write out his lecture, and then tear it up as soon as he finished. "What are your memories for?" he would say to students. "Write it down when you go home. If you write now you will miss something. Listen to me! If you want to do something besides listen, go someplace else."22 [notes] If you have ever been interrupted by students taking notes you will sympathize with this position.

      Among his many honours were these: He was made Master of Pharmacy, 1897, by the Philadelphia College of Medicine. He was granted a Ph.D., 1897, by Ohio University. The Doctor of Laws, came in 1902, at Wilberforce University. In 1916 he won the Ebert Prize -- for the third time. In this year the University of Cincinnati made him a Doctor of Science. Then there was the Remington Medal in 1920 -- it is pharmacy's highest honour. He was the first recipient. Also in this year he became a Doctor of Pharmacy, Cincinnati College of Pharmacy. Perhaps most unusual was the title of M. D., conferred in 1921, by the Eclectic Medical College of Cincinnati. These honorary degrees, and many other degrees and distinctions too numerous to mention, show the esteem in which he was held by the learned world.

      Dennis Worthen, current director of the Lloyd Library, said to me that John Uri Lloyd was the most important pharmacist of his time in the United States. There is no doubt this evaluation is correct. Kremers and Urdang's History of Pharmacy states of Lloyd: "One of the greatest and most versatile pharmacists America has ever had." "...He played an important part in the development of plant chemistry and drug extraction."23 [notes] They say of the Lloyd Brothers firm: "Under John Uri Lloyd the concern assumed not only a leading position in the field of plant preparations of every kind but became the world's most valuable sources of progress in plant chemistry, colloidal chemistry, and new pharmaceutical methods and devices."24 [notes]

      Alfred Joyce Kilmer, best known for his poem "Trees," wrote a review of Lloyd for the Red Cross Notes in which he says:

In his chemical works, he has ever shown a deep sense of the dignity of his profession, of a great mystery lying behind the simplest laws of nature. A scholarly and modern chemist, he yet has the temperament , and bearing of an ancient alchemist.25 [notes]

This mystical temperament, along with his practical scientific mind, is always at work in his fiction. What is truly surprising is that he should have written novels at all.

      According to Kremers and Urdang: "There are only a few pharmacists who have attained more than local fame in American literature. A thorough and discriminating examination leaves in fact only one member of the profession whose writing was comprehensive and valuable enough to give him a place and a high rank among American novelists: John Uri Lloyd. The versatility of this man is almost miraculous. Not only did he work in many different fields but he attained high rank in all of them." They point out that the other pharmacist who gained distinction as a writer of short stories, William Sidney Porter, better known as O. Henry, left the profession for writing in his early years.26 [notes]

      I have not time to tell you this evening of the many other adventures of Dr. Lloyd: his acquaintance with Grover Cleveland; his trip to visit the Ottoman Empire, as Turkey and its Near Eastern possessions, were called at that time, as special ambassador of President Woodrow Wilson.

     What is significant for us, as it was for him, that in a real sense his adventure started here, and he came here often to renew his ties to Boone County and his people. This is the importance of the series of five articles by Frank Grayson. In these little journeys one can almost feel the pleasure he takes in describing the countryside, explaining what happened during the Civil War. He is at his best showing off the old church building at Gunpowder, about which he had written so much. There on that spot an animal stole one of his shoes while he was up in the mulberry tree. The world was indeed his university, but still the aged Professor prefers to talk about the old home place.

      In his novel Scroggins Lloyd speaks in a manner some might consider a bit morbid, but which I think embodies a great deal of realism: "Without a word," he writes of old Scroggins, "he turned his weary footsteps toward the busy world that, outside the graveyard fence, was treading its own way past this old cemetery toward another that, somewhere in the future, lies across the end of each man's path."27 [notes] Lloyd died in California at the age of 86, while visiting his daughter. But in a sense the adventure also ended here, for he is buried in Hopeful Cemetery. As Grayson notes, "A plain but beautiful monument of gray stone stands on the lot." You can see it from the road as you drive by.