Biographies of Homeopaths

Hahnemann Recounts the Early Years of His Life

An excerpt of Hahnemann’s autobiography in which he recounts the early years of his life, including some forces that shaped him.

August 30, 1791

I was born April 10, 1755, in the Electorate of Saxony, one of the most beautiful parts of Germany. This circumstance, as I grew up to manhood, doubtless contributed a great deal to my veneration for the beauties of nature. My father, Christian Gottfried Hahnemann, together with my mother, Johanna Christiana, born Spiess, for a pastime taught me to read and write. My father died four years ago (1787.) Without being deeply versed in science (he was a designer in a porcelain manufactory in his native place, and is the author of a brief treatise on painting in water colors) he had the soundest ideas of what may be considered good and worthy, and he implanted them deeply on my mind.

To live and to act without pretence or show was his most noteworthy precept, and his example was even more impressive than his words. He was always present, though often unobserved, in body and soul wherever any good was to be done. In his acts he discriminated with the utmost nicety between the noble and the ignoble, and he did it with a justness which was highly creditable to his tender feelings. In this respect, too, he was my preceptor. He seemed to have ideas of the first principles of creation, of the dignity of humanity, and of its ennobling destiny, that were not in the least inconsistent with his manner of acting. This gave direction to my moral training. To speak of my mental training, I spent several years in the public school of Meissen so as to go thence, in my sixteenth year, to the private school (Fiirstenschule), in the same place, and four years thereafter to attend the University of Leipsic. There was nothing noteworthy respecting me at school, except that Master Muller, my teacher in ancient languages and German composition, who besides living a great deal for the world and me, was rector of the Meissen private school, and scarcely has had his equal in industry and honesty, loved me as his own child and allowed me liberties in the way of study, which I am thankful for to this day, and which had a perceptible influence upon my subsequent studies. In my twelfth year he entrusted to me to impart to others the rudiments of the Greek language. Moreover, in his private classes with his boarders and myself, he listened attentively and lovingly to my critical exposition of the old writers, and often preferred my meaning to his own. I was often overtaxed and became ill from study, and was the only one who was excused from lessons at times unsuitable for me, and who was permitted to hand in written exercises or other work performed subsequently, and to read foreign treatises on the lessons. I had free access to him at all times of the day, and in many respects was given the preference in public to many others; and, nevertheless, which is very strange, my fellow pupils loved me. All this together speaks volumes in praise of a Saxony private school.

Here I was less solicitous about reading than about digesting what was read, and was careful to read little, but to read correctly and to classify it in my mind before reading further. My father did not wish me to study at all; he repeatedly took me from the public school for a whole year, so that I might pursue some other business more suited to his income. My teachers prevented this by not accepting any pay for my schooling during the last eight years, and they entreated him to leave me with them and thus indulge my propensity for learning. He did not resist their entreaty, but could do nothing more for me. On Easter, 1775, he let me go to Leipsic, taking with me twenty thalers for my support. This was the last money received from his hand. He had several other children to educate from his scanty income, enough to excuse any seeming negligence in the best of fathers.

By giving instruction in German and French to a rich young Greek from Jassy, in Moldavia, as well as by translating English books, I supported myself for the time, intending to leave Leipsic after a stay of two years.

I can conscientiously bear testimony that I endeavored to practice in Leipsic also, the rule of my father, never to be a passive listener or learner. I did not forget here, however, to procure for my body, by outdoor exercise, that sprightliness and vigor by which alone continued mental exertion can be successfully endured.

During this stay in Leipsic I attended lectures only at such hours as seemed best suited to me, although Herr Bergrath Porner, of Meissen, had the kindness to furnish me with free tickets to the lectures of all the medical professors. So I read by myself, unweariedly of course, but always only of the best that was procurable, and only so much as I could digest. My fondness for practicing medicine, as there is no medical school at Leipzig, led me to go to Vienna at my own expense. But a malicious trick which was played upon me and which robbed me of my public reputation acquired in Leipsic (repentance demands atonement, and I say nothing about names and circumstances) was answerable for my being compelled to leave Vienna after a sojourn of three-fourths of a year. During these nine months I had had for my support only sixty-eight florins and twelve kreutzers. To the hospital of Brothers of Charity, in the Leopoldstadt, and to the great practical genius of the Prince’s family physician, named Von Quarin, I am indebted for my calling as a physician. I had his friendship, and I might also say his love, and I was the only one of my age whom he took with him to visit his private patients. He respected, loved and instructed me as if I had been the first of his pupils, and even more than this, and he did all without expecting to receive any compensation from me.

My last crumbs of subsistence were just about to vanish when the Governor of Transylvania, Baron von Bruckenthal, invited me under honorable conditions to go with him to Hermanstadt as family physician and custodian of his important library. Here I had the opportunity to learn several other languages necessary to me, and to acquire some collateral knowledge that was pertinent and still seemed to be lacking in me.

I arranged and catalogued his matchless collection of ancient coins as well as his vast library, practiced medicine in this populous city for a year and nine months and then departed, although very unwillingly, from these honorable people to receive at Erlangen the degree of doctor of medicine, which I was then able to do from my own attainments. To the Privy Councillor, Delius, and Councillors Isenflamm, Schreber and Wendt, I am indebted for many favors and much instruction.

Councillor Schreber taught me what I still lacked in Botany.

On August 10, 1779, I defended my dissertation, and, thereupon, received the honorable title of doctor of medicine.

The instinctive love of a Swiss for his rugged Alps cannot be more irresistible than that of a native of Saxony for his fatherland.

I went thither to begin my career as a practicing physician in the mining town of Hettstadt, in Mansfield county. Here it was impossible to develop either inwardly or outwardly, and I left the place for Dessau in the spring of 1781, after a sojourn of nine months. Here I found a better and more cultured society. Chemistry occupied my leisure hours and short trips made to improve my knowledge of mining and smelting filled up the yet quite large dormer windows in my mind.

Towards the close of the year 1791, I received an insignificant call as physician to Gommern, near Magdeburg. The size of the town being considerable, I looked for a better reception and business than I found in the two years and three-fourths which I passed in this place.

There had lived as yet no physician in this little place to which I had removed, and the people had no idea concerning such a person.

Now I began for the first time to taste the innocent joys of home along with the delights of business in the companionship of the partner of my life, who was the step-daughter of Herr Haseler, an apothecary in Dessau, and whom I married immediately after entering upon the duties of this position. Dresden was the next place of my sojourn.

I played no brilliant role here, probably because I did not wish to do so. However, I lacked here neither friends nor instruction. The venerable Doctor Wagner, the town physician, who was a pattern of unswerving uprightness, honored me with his intimate friendship, showed me clearly what legal duties belonged to the physician (for he was master in his art), and for a year delivered over to me on account of his illness, with the magistrate’s consent, all of his patients (in the town hospitals), a wide field for a friend of humanity. Moreover, the Superintendent of the Electoral Library, Councillor Adelung, became very fond of me and, together with the Librarian, Dossdorf, contributed a great deal towards making my sojourn interesting and agreeable. Four years thus elapsed, more speedily to me in the bosom of my increasing family, than to the unexpected heir to great riches, and I went about the time of Michaelmas, 1789, to Leipsic, in order to be nearer to the fountain of science. Here I quietly witness the Providence which Destiny assigns to each of my days, the number of which lies in her hand.

Four daughters and one son, together with my wife, constitute the spice of my life. In the year 1791 the Leipsic Economical Society, and on the second of August of the same year the Electoral Mayence Academy of Science, elected me a fellow member.

Excerpted from: The Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel Hahnemann by Thomas Lindsley Bradford, M. D.

About the author

Samuel Hahnemann

Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) was the founder of Homoeopathy. He is called the Father of Experimental Pharmacology because he was the first physician to prepare medicines in a specialized way; proving them on healthy human beings, to determine how the medicines acted to cure diseases.

Hahnemann's three major publications chart the development of homeopathy. In the Organon of Medicine, we see the fundamentals laid out. Materia Medica Pura records the exact symptoms of the remedy provings. In his book, The Chronic Diseases, Their Peculiar Nature and Their Homoeopathic Cure, he showed us how natural diseases become chronic in nature when suppressed by improper treatment.

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