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Biographies of Homeopaths

Constantine Hering

Enjoy these fascinating anecdotes about the life of Constantine Hering.

In remembrance of Constantine Hering’s birthday on Jan 1st (1800) we present additional biographical information about this great homeopath.  We hope you will enjoy these stories.


Constantine Hering received his degree of doctor of medicine, surgery and obstetrics, March 22, 1826. His medical examination was severe, doubly so because of his known devotion to homoeopathy. From 1817 to 1826, the nine years previous to graduation, Hering’s life was that of a student. By his fellows.

he was nicknamed “Wisent,” from his studious habits. He was poor and his privations were many. He first became interested in homoeopathy by promising to write against it. His preceptor in the University of Leipsic, Dr. J. Henry Robbi, who had been surgeon in the army of Napoleon and had served in Larrey’s ambulance, introduced Hering into practical surgery and in 1820 made him one of his assistants. Baumgartner, the founder of a publishing house, wanted a book written against homoeopathy, for after Hahnemann was obliged to leave Leipsic to escape persecution it was thought that homoeopathy would die out, but as this death seemed too slow this book was intended to hasten the end. Robbi was offered the work but refused and recommended his assistant. It was nearly completed when, in order to make quotations, Hering was provided with Hahnemann’s books.

In the third volume of the “Materia Medica” he found the “nota bene for my critics.” This induced him to make experiments, and ended in convincing him of the truth of homoeopathy. The book was never finished. An old friend, an apothecary, was delighted that he was writing against homoeopathy, but when Hering went to him one day for some Peruvian bark, telling him he wished it for a homoeopathic proving, his friend said, “My young friend, don’t you know there is danger in that?” Hering replied that as he was a mathematician he believed he could distinguish the true from the false. His old friends and others now shunned him and said he was going crazy.

In making an autopsy Hering poisoned a finger, which soon became gangrenous. Leeches, calomel and caustics were of no avail and amputation was advised and rejected. He did not yet believe that external diseases could be benefited by internal remedies and when an older practitioner of homoeopathy proposed to treat the hand with homoeopathic pellets, he ridiculed the suggestion, but permitted him to give him some small doses of Arsenic. The wound soon began to heal. Hering said of this: “I owed to it far more than the preservation of a finger. To Hahnemann, who had saved my finger, I gave my whole hand, and to the promulgation of his teaching, not only my hand, but the entire man, body and soul.”

After graduation Hering became a teacher of natural sciences and mathematics in the Blochmann Institute, an academy in Dresden for educating young noblemen. On recommendation of Blochmann, he was sent by the king of Saxony on a botanical and zoological expedition to Surinam and Cayenne. An old friend Christophe Weigel, was appointed botanist to the expedition. He remained in Surinam six years. While he pursued his naturalist work he also practiced homeopathy. He resided in the Moravian colony of Surinam and had every opportunity to practice his profession. During his stay he wrote letters and papers on homeopathy for his friend Stapf, editor of the “Archiv fur die Homöopathie Heilkunst,” a lioniceopathic journal of that period. This offended the physician of the king and orders were sent from the government to abandon his homoeopathy and to attend to his zoological duties alone, and in future to avoid publishing such offensive articles. The day after he received this letter Hering made up his accounts and sent them with a letter resigning further connection with the governmental mission.

He then commenced the practice of homoeopathy in Paramaribo, and at the same time continued collecting specimens. This double pursuit he soon found too much, and learning through a friend, George Bute, that an academy of natural sciences had been founded in Philadelphia, and that Rev. Mr. Schweinitz, a well known oncologist, was a prominent member, he decided in 1830 to send all his botonioal collections, mostly cryptogrammic and zoological collections to this academy. He did so and became a corresponding member.

The life of Constantine Hering m Guiana was interesting. He was a visitor to the leper colony of Surinam, seeking to alleviate the terrible suffering, and his observations there greatly enriched the therapeutics of leprosy. He studied the habits and customs of the Creoles, mulattoes. negroes and Arrowackian Indians. He penetrated deep into the trackless forest to meet this tribe, and it was there he found the Surukuku snake — the lachesis — whose attenuated venom has relieved many sick people since that time. While he was in South America Hering and his wife were living in a little camp on the upper Amazon river, on the edge of the great tropical forests. The natives were his assistants and had told him much of a deadly serpent living there and he had offered them a reward for a live specimen. One day they brought in a bamboo box, and then fled from the place. They had brought him a living Surukuku, the most venomous of their snakes. It was the lachesis trigonacephalus, or lance-headed viper. He and his wife were alone, and he was about to risk life itself in order to obtain its venom. As the box was opened he struck the snake a blow on the head, and then placed the head under a forked stick and pressed out the poison on sugar of milk. The poison thus obtained was for many years the only supply used in preparing the attenuations of our Lachesis. He brought the dead snake with him to the United States and it is now preserved in the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.  (continued on page 2)

The ship in which Hering sailed from South America was old and badly handled. She was bound for Salem, Mass., but went ashore on the Rhode Island coast, and finally put in at Martha’s Vineyard. Hering stepped ashore on a Sunday morning in January, 1833. On the ground lay snow, the first he had seen in seven years. “I took it up,” he said, “and was happy.” He soon went to Philadelphia, and there passed the rest of his life. Dr. Hering always retained pleasant recollections of his life in South America. He kept the golden piece, his first fee there, as a keepsake and his son-in-law. Dr. Knerr, still has it.

In Pennsylvania in 1833 there were ten physicians practicing homoeopathy, and of these, Drs. Bute, Ihm and Matlack were in Philadelphia. Bute at once welcomed Hering, who became associated with him in practice. Although he had to fight bitter prejudice, it was not long before his skill gained for him a large clientage. In the first year of his residence in the city he married Marianne Hussman, daughter of George Hussman. Dr. Hering’s influence was at once felt. There was the faithful coterie in Northampton county, Louis Saynich was at Blossburg and Edward Mansa in Buffalo township. Tiering was welcomed, and in that same year of 1833 there was formed in Philadelphia the Hahnemannian Society. It was organized on Hahnemann’s birthday, April 10, 1833, but three months after Hering reached the city, and was composed of both physicians and laymen.

On April 18, 1833, Hering delivered a scholarly address “A Concise View of the Rise and Progress of Homoeopathic Medicine,” in which he gave an account of the life of Hahnemann, his progressive discoveries in medicine and a lucid explanation of the real principles underlying homoeopathy. He said : “May our beneficent Society largely contribute to the wider prevalence and reception of the Hahnemannian doctrines ; may that which single individuals can of themselves scarcely achieve be effectuated by united efforts. Then in this blessed country, may the miseries of disease be diminished, future generations be rescued from its leaden fetters, the bitterest human misery — disease bearing down all earthly joy become less from year to year and the sweetest boon on earth — health and domestic felicity, become the portion of growing thousands. It will succeed here sooner than in Europe, for, among a free people, who with practiced eyes, soon discern the truly useful, a treasure like this new art must quickly be estimated in a degree commensurate with its real value. The American people demand facts and upon these we can confidently and securely rest for our support. The language of opposition may be employed against it, but truth is not long obscured here by forms of speech. The victory will be ours, and in a century to come the anniversary of our society, this first step on the way which must lead to the public and general acknowledgment of the new doctrines will be solemnized with grateful remembrance. So great an aim cannot be attained without labor, but we are prepared to undertake it. We shall not arrive at it without conflict, but we stand equipped for conflict. We shall not reach it without defamation, but we will suffer ridicule and defamation with composure.”

Hering’s address was published in German by Wesselhoeft, and was translated into English by Matlack and published by the Hahnemannian Society in 1833. It made a small octavo pamphlet of thirty pages, and was the second homoeopathic publication printed in the United States. Having been printed in German and English, and being largely circulated and extensively noted and quoted by the public press, the address brought homoeopathy to the notice of the people. Dr. Hering died in Philadelphia, July 23, 1880. Editor’s note: Constantine Hering  was born January 1, 1800 in Oschatz, Germany. He died November 7, 1880, in Philadelphia, PA.

Excerpted from: History of Homoeopathy and its Institutions in America by William Harvey King, M.D., 1905.

About the author

William Harvey King

William Harvey King was born in the village of Waverly, Tioga county, New York, February 21. 1861. Under the persuasion of an uncle, he went to New York city and in September, 1880, matriculated at the New York Homœopathic Medical College, and after a two years' course in that institution was graduated (March 16, 1882) M. D., fourth honorable mention man of his class. His degree of doctor of laws was conferred by the Central University of Iowa in 1902.
From 1897 to 1903 Dr. King held the chair of electro-therapeutics in the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women. From 1885 to 1894 he was electro-therapeutist to Hahnemann Hospital, New York city. He held membership in the American X-Ray Society, the National Society of Electro-Therapeutists, the American Institute of Homœopathy and the New York State Homœopathic Medical Society.

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