It is difficult, if not impossible, to really know another person. We might say “How much do we really know ourselves?” Still it may be of some interest to us to consider what we can of the character of Hahnemann in that his work, almost single-handedly, brought to fruition an entire system of medicine that has endured for over 200 years.
This talk will look at a few vignettes from his life that will serve as examples of his attitudes, as much as we can surmise them, of Hahnemann’s character, especially in his relation to patients as shown in few of his cases.
We know that Hahnemann was not satisfied with the medicine he had learned. This is a story not unfamiliar to many of us, indeed one that has served us as an impetus to study homeopathy ourselves.
“It was agony for me to walk always in darkness, with no other light than that which could be derived from books, when I had to heal the sick, and to prescribe, according to such or such an hypothesis concerning diseases, substances which owed their place in the Materia Medica to an arbitrary decision.
I could not conscientiously treat the unknown morbid conditions of my suffering brethren by these unknown medicines, which being very active substances, may so easily occasion death, or produce new affections and chronic maladies, often more difficult to remove than the original disease.
To become, thus the murderer or the tormentor of my brethren was to me an idea so frightful and overwhelming, that soon after my marriage, I renounced the practice of medicine, that I might no longer incur the risk of doing injury, and I engaged exclusively in chemistry, and in literary occupations.
But I became a father, serious diseases threatened my beloved children, my flesh and blood. My scruples redoubled when I saw that I could afford them no certain relief.”
He continues in telling Hufeland his feelings regarding the uncertainty of medical practice, and says that he felt sure that God must have ordained some certain method of healing the sick.
“It soon struck me that I was called upon to admit in the practice of medicine a great deal that was not proved. If I was called to attend a patient I was to collect his symptoms, and next to infer from these symptoms that a certain internal condition of the organs existed, and then to select such a remedy as the medical authorities asserted would be useful under such circumstances.
But it is very evident, that the argument is most inconclusive and that room was thus left for many curious errors, and so I determined to investigate the whole matter for myself from the very beginning.”
So we see two interesting things here. One is very developed conscience — for whatever reason in his upbringing, he could not use a practice in which he did not feel confident. The other is the statement “so I determined to investigate the whole matter for myself from the very beginning.”How many of use would do that? I think if fair to say the most, on feeling discouraged with the practice of the day would find something else to do — real estate, stock investment, waiting tables. So to my mind this is unusual. He thought he could investigate this whole problem himself. But we are moving too far ahead.
On despairing on helping even his children, he exclaims:
“Where shall I look for aid, sure aid? The darkness of night and the dreariness of a desert all around me, no prospect of relief for my oppressed paternal heart!
“In an eight years’ practice, pursued with conscientious attention, I had learned the delusive nature of the ordinary methods of treatment, and from sad experience I knew right well how far the methods of Sydenham and Frederick Hoffmann, of Boerhavve and Gaubius, of Stoll, Quarin, Cullen, and De Haen, were capable of curing.”
In his despair the thought even occurs to him that it may not be possible for medical therapeutics to be more exact than this — in other words this is as good as it gets. He rejects this, however, expressing a confidence in Divine Providence, that we human beings would not be allowed to suffer without also receiving medicines that would allay our suffering.
I think it fair to say that Hahnemann had a confidence in being guided to find answers, was determined to do so, and with his strict conscience would not allow himself to take inferior results as satisfactory.
We see in this an expression of patience and care that is unusual. Think of the many people these days that with a couple of years experience behind them develop their own systems and write a book or begin to teach to others. Here we see a methodical and careful work that is only given out after considerable experience. “Inasmuch as the action of the same substance varied according to the age, sex, and idiosyncrasy of the subject to whom it was administered, it was not considered, sufficient to experiment on a few individuals.
His own family were all pressed into the service, and each substance was tried in various doses on many different persons, under every possible variety of circumstance, and beneath the immediate inspection of Hahnemann himself.”3
We can appreciate even further, the dedication to do this work when we learn that he had forsworn medicine (because of scruples of conscience) so made his living translating books for booksellers (he knew at least 10 languages). This life style meant that basically he lived a life of poverty. Since so much time was taken with the translations and putting some food on the table, to do all that he felt drawn to do he set up the schedule for himself of staying up every other night, working through the night, in order to have enough time for everything.
“This anecdote, related me by a member of Hahnemann’s family, conveys some idea of the poverty they endured. During his residence at Machern, after toiling all day long at his task of translating works for the press, he frequently assisted his brave-hearted wife to wash the family clothes at night, and, as they were unable to purchase soap, they employed raw potatoes for this purpose.
The quantity of bread he was enabled to earn by his literary labors for his numerous family was so small that in order to prevent grumbling, he used to weigh out to each an equal proportion. At this period one of his little daughters fell ill, and being unable to eat the portion of daily bread that fell to her share, she carefully put it away in a box, hoarding it up, childlike, till her appetite should return.
Her sickness, however, increasing, she felt assured that she should never recover to enjoy her store; so she one day told her favorite little sister that she knew she was going to die that she should never be able to eat any more, and solemnly made over to her as a gift the accumulated fragments of hard, dried-up bread, from which she had anticipated such a feast had she recovered.”4
The Work with the Insane
Another indication for Hahnemann’s character was his handling of an insane patient. In those days it the standard treatments we would consider quite cruel: “At the period of which we write the usual treatment of all forms of insanity was by violence, by chains, abuse, whipping and dungeons. Physicians treated excitable and refractory maniacal patients like wild animals, corporal chastisement and nauseating medicines were ordinary means used.
Furious maniacs were strapped down on a horizontal board which could be quickly turned on an axis to a vertical position, or put in a so-called rotating chair. ‘It is shameful to confess,’ says Westphal, in 1880, what a short time has elapsed since the insane were shown to the Sunday visitors of hospitals and workhouses as a sort of sport, and teased in order to amuse the visitors.’”
Hahnemann did not agree with this and advised a completely different regimen: “I never allow an insane person to be punished either by blows or any other kind of corporal chastisement, because there is no punishment where there is no responsibility, and because these sufferers deserve only pity and are always rendered worse by such rough treatment and never improved.”
In treating a man who was what we would call manic (e.g., destructive, suffering hallucinations, raving), the patient was treated with kindness and Hahnemann remarks “that for 2 weeks he watched him carefully before giving him any medicine.” That his patient was cured after 5 years of insanity was most remarkable and set Hahnemann up as one of the first, if not the first, that advocated humane treatment of the insane.
The Cure of Dr. Julius Aegidi
It is interesting to see how Hahnemann worked with patients. What kind of doctor was he? What impression did he make on patients? This is a case of his in 1830 in which a prominent allopathic doctor and army surgeon was successfully treated resulting in his conversion to homeopathy which he practiced until his death in 1874 at age 79. Here is the case:
The Terrible Affliction of Dr. Aegidi
“In the autumn of 1830 I was thrown from a vehicle, severely injured my shoulder and also took a violent cold. By local bloodletting and the usual antiphlogistic treatment the most distressing of my symptoms were removed in the course of a few days; still a paralytic heaviness of the arm remained, and in the course of a few weeks very severe periodical pains set in, which shot from the shoulder to the elbow; and gradually I lost the use of the arm more and more, while the sensation of palsy and heaviness increased daily. Every, even the slightest, pressure upon the diseased part, caused the most insupportable pains; the suffering limb commenced to waste away, while the shoulder and elbow joints began to swell.
“After exhausting my own medical knowledge, I placed myself under the care of several of my most worthy colleagues; but after the lapse of a year the above mentioned symptoms still continued, with even more than their former severity; all motion of the arm was suspended; the shoulder hung one inch and a half lower than the sound one; the anterior surface of the shoulder joint and the articular surfaces of the elbow joint were much enlarged; the elbow stood about four inches off from the body, and every attempt to approximate it to the side occasioned the most intense pains; the left shoulder blade was drawn strongly outwards and to one side; the coracoid process was situated about half an inch below the collar bone; the supraspinatus muscle had diminished perceptibly in size.
“The pains, which were increased to an insupportable degree by the slightest external pressure, were always very intensely aggravated at night, so that any rest and sleep was out of the question. My whole body, but the affected side in particular, became much emaciated; the emaciation even extended to the left half of the face.
My pulse was slow; skin pale; I suffered much from coldness of the whole body, and my digestion was much impaired. On account of an hereditary predisposition to gout, anti-arthritic treatment was now instituted by my medical advisers, and two large issues were opened, one upon the arm, the other upon the shoulder blade.
“After the continued use of these means for about four months, without any improvement, the issues were allowed to dry up, and two setons were inserted in their places. As no essential improvement took place in the course of several months, the actual cautery was applied to the shoulder joint; and in consequence I enjoyed comparative freedom from pain for about one month, during which period of time I also recovered the use of my arm in some measure, and even began to flatter myself with the hope of a perfect restoration.
“But my joy did not last long; for when the burnt places began to heal slight returns of my former pains set in and concentrated themselves about the elbow joint, which began to swell, while the shoulder joint diminished in size in the same ratio; so that in the course of several months the elbow joint had become the seat of the same disease that had formerly affected the shoulder joint.
To complete my misery, enlargements of other bones, viz. : the clavicles, the sacrum, etc., took place and rendered every position that I assumed in bed extremely painful. In utter despair of any relief from the use of Allopathic remedies I desisted entirely from all medical treatment, and my condition grew worse from day to day.
Hahnemann’s Ability to Understand Patient Conditions
“At length I concluded to consult Hahnemann. I wrote him a statement of my case, and begged for advice and assistance. He answered me, among other remarks :
‘Your disease is of far older date than you have any idea of. You must have had the itch at some time, or some other eruptive disease which was improperly cured. Your disease is constitutional, and however scientifically the issues, setons, and the hot irons may have been applied, their action, of course, could only be local.
You thought if free suppuration could be brought about, your shoulder would be cured and your whole body would remain fresh and sound. But how miserably were all your hopes disappointed, how rapidly did your disease extend itself.
How foolish are such gross ideas of disease, and what cruelty attends their application in the attempt to cure disease. But a ray of truth must soon penetrate into this Egyptian darkness; the dawn of better things approaches.’
The Shock That the Allopathic Doctor Experienced At Hahnemann’s Words
“No words can express my astonishment at the positiveness with which Hahnemann asserted that I must have been afflicted with some eruptive disease which had been suppressed, but not cured. Five years before, while I was officiating as assistant surgeon in the Berlin Hospital, I had pricked my finger with a lancet with which I had just opened an abscess in the person of a patient who was at the time affected with the itch. I thought nothing about it at the time, but on the following day a small pustule formed on the finger and occasioned an intense itching and burning. I applied caustic to it, and a small sore remained for several days, to which I applied an ointment.
“About this time I received an appointment as an army surgeon and traveled by mail to join my division; but on the second day of my journey the wound in my finger became inflamed, and not only my hand, but the whole arm, as far as the shoulder joint, became so swollen and painful that I was obliged to discontinue my journey.
Rest and warm fomentations soon relieved me, but several months elapsed before I succeeded in healing the wound on my finger. Soon after it had entirely healed, I was attacked with acute rheumatism on my left shoulder, that lasted for several weeks, but I did not dream that there was any connection between it and my former affection of the hand. With the exception of transient twinges and darts of pain about the shoulder joint, I had considered myself perfectly well up to the time that I was thrown from my vehicle.
“Convinced that Hahnemann had formed a correct opinion of my case, I commenced taking the powders he had sent me, and indulged in the highest hopes of a speedy recovery. But my patience was destined to be sorely tried; I had received nine powders, of which one was to be taken every fifth day.
During the course of the first week several new symptoms arose, but no amelioration of my suffering took place. Soon after, however, a slight improvement commenced and gradually progressed until towards the end of the fifth week, when I could lift my arm with comparative ease, and could bend and extend my elbow; the swelling of the joint had disappeared entirely and all pain had left me; and from that time to the present (eight years) I have never had the slightest return of my former complaint.
“After so brilliant a confirmation in my own person of the value of Homoeopathy, I applied myself with zeal to the study and practice of it, and have been abundantly rewarded in frequently witnessing the most rapid and permanent cures of the most dangerous and deep-rooted diseases.”
The Cure of a Young Man in Paris
The following is an account of his treatment of a patient in 1837:
The name of this gentleman is John B. Young, of Clinton, Iowa. He was taken from Paisley in Scotland to Paris, and was placed under Hahnemann’s care when he was twelve years of age. He had previously been ill for two years, and had been given up by his physicians, when a charitable lady took him to Paris. Interviewer is Dr. Allen.5
“You went from London to Paris?”
“Yes, I went from London to Paris.”
“When you arrived in Paris, did you go to see Hahnemann, or did Hahnemann come to see you ?”
“He came to see me the second day after my arrival, and gave me an examination that lasted about an hour and a half.”
“Did he strip you ?”
“Yes, I had to go to bed. He went over me more thoroughly than I have ever been gone over before or since !”
“And still it is said that Hahnemann was a symptomatologist, and usually prescribed for symptoms; and rarely made a physical examination.’”
Hahnemann’s Confidence in His Method
“He would make me count one, two, three, etc., tip to one hundred, and put an instrument to my chest and did the same to my back, and he did more thumping of my chest than I ever had before. He said he knew that I had come to him in time and he could cure me.”
“Did he give you very much medicine ?”
“Not a very great deal, I think I had medicine about four times a day at first, including what I got at night.”
“What was your impression of Hahnemann ?”
“The first impression made on my mind when I saw him was that his face had a luminous expression. He was a good man undoubtedly, and I was informed that he often when he gave his medicine said to his patients that he was but the instrument, that he did the best be could and then they must look to God for the blessing.”
“At that time were there many patients visiting Hahnemann at his office, and what was the size of his office ?”
“He had a very large room, and when I was there he had some two hours that he met counsel patients. There were generally sixty or more patients at any time in his office when I was there.”
“Were there any foreigners at that time who came to Hahnemann ?”
“Oh, many of them. I became acquainted with quite a number of his patients. I had been there quite a while and there were patients there from America, and Germany, and Russia, and a number from my own country, and they were there from all parts of the world, and there were a great many who expressed themselves to me in this way, that they had not gone to Hahnemann until they were in the last stage of the disease and had been given up by their regular physician.
Hahnemann got them when, like me, they were pretty nearly gone, so that it looked to me more like a place where miracles were being performed than any place in which I have ever been, and numbers he brought from death into health.”
“He finally cured you ?”
“Yes, I came home strong.”
“How long were you under his care ?”
“About nine months. There is one thing I would like to tell about him. Of course I was indebted to Miss Sterling for being taken to Paris and placed under his care, and just before she left Paris she wanted to settle with Dr. Hahnemann, and of course under ordinary circumstances it would have been a large bill she would have had to pay. Hahnemann refused to make a bill, and when she insisted he said :
‘Madam, do you think you have more benevolence than I have? Do you suppose that you should have had all the trouble and anxiety and expense of bringing him from Paisley and that I should then charge anything?’
Cure of the Child of Legouvé
The Desperate Situation
“My daughter, aged four years, was dying: our medical man, a physician, of the Hotel Dieu, Dr. R -, had told one of our friends in the morning that she was irrevocably lost.
Her mother and I were watching, perhaps for the last time, beside her cradle, Schoelcher and Goubaux were watching along with us, and in the room there was also a young man in evening dress, whom we had only known three hours previously, one of Mr. Ingres’ most distinguished pupils, Amaury Duval.
“We wished to have a souvenir of the dear little creature whose fate we already bewailed, and Amaury, at the earnest request of Schoelcher, who had gone to fetch him in the midst of a ball, consented to come and make this sad portrait.
When the dear and charming artist (he was then twenty-nine years old) came overcome with emotion in the midst of our distress we had no idea, nor had he, that a few hours later he would do us the greatest service we had ever experienced, and that we should be indebted to him for something more valuable than the likeness of our child, to wit, her life.
‘He placed at the foot of the cradle, on a high piece of furniture, a lamp, whose light fell on the child’s face. Her eyes were already closed, her body was motionless, her dishevelled hair hung about her forehead, and the pillow on which her head lay was not whiter than her cheeks and her little hand: but infancy has such a charm of its own that the near approach of death seemed only to lend an additional grace to her face.
“Amaury spent the night in drawing her, and he had, poor fellow, to wipe his eyes very frequently in order to prevent his tears from falling on his paper.
Why Not Try Hahnemann?
By morning the portrait was finished: under the stimulus of emotion he had produced a masterpiece. When about to leave us, is the midst of our thanks and our sorrow, he all at once said:
‘As your medical man declares your child’s case hopeless, why do you not make a trial of the new medical system which is making such a noise in Paris: why do you not send for Hahnemann ?’
‘He is right,’ cried Goubaux, ‘Hahnemann is a neighbor of mine. He lives in the Rue de Milan, opposite to my institution. I do not know him, but that is no matter: I will go and bring him to you.
He went, he found twenty patients in the waiting room. The servant informed him he must wait and take his turn.
“‘Wait,’ cried Goubaux, ‘My friend’s daughter is dying, the doctor must come with me at once.’ ‘
But, Sir, exclaimed the servant. ‘I know I am the last. What does that matter ? The last shall be first, says the’ Evangelist.’
Then turning to the patients, ‘Is that not so, ladies ? Won’t you oblige me by letting me go up before you ?’ And without waiting for a reply, he walked straight up to the door of the doctor’s study, opened it, and burst in the middle of a consultation.
‘Doctor,’ he said, addressing Hahnemann, ‘I know I am acting contrary to your rules, but you must leave all and come with me. It is for a charming little girl, four years old, who will die if you do not come. You cannot let her die. That’s impossible.’
And the irresistible charm of his manner prevailed, as it always does, and one hour afterwards Hahnemann and his wife came with him into our little patient’s room.
The Initial Impression Of Hahnemann
“In the midst of all the troubles that distracted my poor head, racked by pain and want of sleep, I thought I saw one of the queer people of Hoffman’s fairly tales enter the room.
Short in stature but stout, and with a firm step, he advanced, wrapped in a fur great coat and supported by a thick gold headed cane.
He was about eighty years of age: his head of admirable shape: his hair white and silky, brushed back and carefully curled round his neck: his eyes were dark blue in the centre, with a whitish circle around the pupils: his mouth imperious: the lower lip projecting: his nose aquiline.
The Emotional Reaction of Hahnemann on Seeing The Sick Child
“When he entered he walked straight up to the cradle, threw a piercing glance at the child, asked for particulars about her disease, never taking his eyes off the patient.
Then his cheeks became flushed, the veins of his forehead swelled, and he exclaimed in an angry voice :
‘Throw out of the window all those drugs and bottles I see there ! Carry this cradle out of this room.
Change the sheets and the pillows, and give her as much water to drink as she likes. They have put a painful of hot coals in her inside. We must first extinguish the fire and then we will see what can be done.’
“We hinted that this change of temperature and of linen might be dangerous to her, ‘What is killing her,’ he replied impatiently, ‘is this atmosphere and these drugs. Get her into the drawing room, I will come again in the evening. And mind you give her water ! water ! water !’
“He came again that evening: he came again the next day and began to give his medicines, and each time he only said. Another day gained !’
The Crisis & Critical Prescription
“On the tenth day dangerous symptoms suddenly developed themselves. Her knees became cold. He came at eight o’clock in the evening and remained for a quarter of an hour beside the bed, apparently a prey to great anxiety. At last, after consultation with his wife, who always accompanied him, he gave us a medicine with the remark, ‘Give her this and notice if between this and one o’clock the pulse gets stronger.’
“At eleven o’clock, while feeling her wrist, I fancied I perceived a slight modification of the pulse. I called to my wife, I called to Goubaux and Schoelcher.
“And now see us all feeling the pulse one after the other looking at the watch, counting the beats, not daring to affirm anything, not daring to rejoice, until, at the expiration of a few minutes, we all four embraced each other, the pulse was certainly stronger.
About midnight Chretian Uhran came in. He came towards me, and in an accent of profound conviction, said, ‘Dear M. Legouvé, your daughter is saved.’
“She is certainly a little better,’ I replied still desponding, ‘but between that and being cured-,’ I tell you she is saved,’ and going to the cradle he kissed the child on her forehead and took his departure. Eight days after this the patient was convalescent.
An Important Glimpse into Hahnemann’s Perspective on Illness
I (once) heard him make use of this expression, which sounds so strange if taken in a literal sense, but which is so profound if properly understood.
‘There are no such things as diseases: there are only patients.’ His religious faith was as genuine as his medical faith.
Of this I had two striking instances.
One day in spring I called on him and said, ‘Oh, M. Hahnemann, how fine it is today.’
‘It is always fine,’ he replied with a calm and serious voice.
Like Marcus Aurelius, he lived in the midst of genial harmony.
“When my daughter was cured, I showed him Amaury Duval’s delicious drawing.
He gazed long and admiringly at this portrait, which represented the resuscitated girl as she was when he first saw her, when she seemed so near death.
He then asked me to give him a pen, and he wrote beneath it :
‘Dieu I’a bénie et l’a sauvée.’ (God blessed her and saved her).
In these little stories we have a hint of how Hahnemann lived and worked. We see his dedication, confidence and certainty in his methods and also the outrage and indignation when doctors ignored what he had found and continued in the old way. These character traits are not limited to his time but still admirable today.
If you would like to read further on Hahnemann’s life I can suggest two sources:
1. Life & Lectures of Hahnemann, by Thomas Lindsley Bradford, MD.
2. Samuel Hahnemann, His Life & Work, by Richard Haehl, MD.