The histories of many men who have risen to eminence in some particular branch of science teach us that they have done so under the most unfavorable circumstances, and in spite of the greatest obstacles. Thrown in their way by fortune and by their own natural guardians. Samuel Hahnemann belonged to this class of great men.
Samuel Hahnemann’s father, an industrious but fortune-less painter on porcelain in the celebrated manufactory at Meissen, a charming little town on the banks of the Elbe, near Dresden, discouraged all his endeavors to qualify himself for a calling superior to that he himself pursued, though he seems in other respect to have had a great influence on the character of his exhortation to him exercise his independent judgment in all cases, and not to take anything on trust, but in every case to act as reflection told him was for the best `’Prove all things, hold fast that which is good,” was the substance of his advice. By this advice Samuel Hahnemann profited, and, notwithstanding his father’s prohibition to study, he pursued his strong inclination to do so in spite of all opposition and on occasion when it was thought he was sound asleep, Samuel Hahnemann was consuming the midnight oil over his books, in a lamp which he had himself constructed out of clay, as he was apprehensive being discovered had he used one of the household candlesticks. The little incident I have thought worth mentioning, as it exhibits his perseverance and indomitable steadfastness of purpose even at that early age. His aptitude for study excited the admiration of his schoolmaster, with whom be became a favorite, and who undertook to direct his studies, and encouraged him to a higher order of study than that constituted the usual curriculum of a Grammar School. This did not please his father, who several times removed him from the school and set him to some less intellectual work, but at length restored him to his favorite studies at the earnest request of his teacher, who, to meet the pecuniary difficult, instructed the Samuel until his twentieth year without remuneration.
On leaving school it was the custom to write an essay on some subject, and Samuel Hahnemann selected the somewhat unusual one of “ the wonderful structure of the human hand”, a theme which has in our own time been so beautifully discoursed upon by Sir Charles Bell, in his Bridgewater Treatise. Who would not like to wee how the boy Samuel Hahnemann treated this subject, his selection of which shown a strong bias towards natural science?
Twenty thalers (about 3 sterling the only patrimony he ever received) and his father’s blessing, were all he carried with him from Meissen to Leipzig, where it was his intention to study medicine. He was allowed free access to the various classes, and managed to support himself by teaching French and German and by translating books form the English. Form Leipzig he journeyed to Vienna, in order to witness the practice of medicine in the hospitals there, and had the good fortune to secure the friendship of Dr. Von Quarin, who treated him like a son, took great pains to teach him the art of medicine. By some roguery or other, however, lost the greater part of his money here, and so, after a sojourn in Vienna of only three quarters of a year, Samuel Hahnemann found himself forced to accept the situation of family physician and librarian to the Governor of Transylvania, with whom he resided in Hermannstadt two years, and whence he removed to graduate in Erlangen, in 1779.
“The longing of a Swiss for his rugged Alps,” he says, in an autobiographical fragment he has left behind him, “cannot be more irresistible than of a Saxon for his fatherland.” Accordingly to fatherland he went, and settled down to practice in a small town named Hettasted, but as there was no field for practice here, he removed, after three quarters of a year’s residence, to Dessau, in 1783. Here it was, he tells us, that he first turned his attention to chemistry; but at the end of this year he was appointed district physician in Gommern, wither he removed, and he married his first wife whose acquaintance he had previously made in Dessau, she being the daughter of an apothecary of that town; here also he wrote his first book on medicine, which gives the result of his experience of practice in Transylvania, and takes rather a desponding view of medical practice in general, and of his own in particular, as he candidly admits thet most of his cases would have done better had he let them alone. After remaining nearly three years in Gommern – where, he naively observes, “no physician had ever been before, and whose inhabitants had no desire for one” – he transferred his io Dresden; but with the exception of taking for a year the post of physician to the hospital during the illness of Dr. Wagner, he does not seem to have done much in the way of practice here. During the last years he lived in Dresden and the neighboring village of Lockwits he published many chemical works, the most celebrated of which is a treatise upon poisoning by arsenic, which id quoted to this day as an authority by the best writers on toxicology. This was probably the period he alludes to, in his letter to Hufeland, as that when he retired disgusted with the uncertainty of medical practice and devoted himself to chemistry and literature. That he made considerable progress in the former science, his valuable tests for ascertaining the purity of wine and of drugs and treatise on arsenic testify; and we have likewise the testimony of the Swedish oracle of chemistry. Berzelius, who, knowing well the value of v’s services to his own science, is reported to have said, “This man would have been a great chemist, had he not turned a great quack.” We may take Berzelius’s opinion as to Samuel Hahnemann’s skill in chemistry; but try his physic by other than chemical tests.
In 1789 Samuel Hahnemann removed to Leipzic, and in that year published his treatise on Syphilis, written in the year before in Lockowits which I must confess, betrays no lack of confidence in the powers of medicine, and shows an intimate acquaintance with the best works of that period on the subject. But what this work is chiefly remarkable for, is its description of a new preparation, know to this day in Germany by the name of Hahnemann’s soluble mercury, and some very novel views relative to the treatment of syphilis; the dose of mercury to be given (which is remarkably small), the signs when enough has been ingested for the cure of the diseases, and the denunciation of the local treatment of the primary sore, in 1790 he translated Cullen’s Materia Medica and discovered the fever-producing property of cinchona bark ; which was to him what the falling apply was to Newton, and the swinging lamp in the Baptistery at Pisa, to Galileo. From this single experiments his mood appears to have been impressed by the conviction, that the pathogenetic effects of medicines would give the key to their therapeutic power. He seems, how ever, to have contented himself with hunting up in the works of the ancient authors for hints respecting the physiological action of different substances, and to have tested them but sparingly, if at all, on his own person or on his friends; and in his researches, to the drugs than for those minute shades of symptoms which we find he so carefully recorded in his later years. In fact, he seems rather to have searched to those abstract forms of disease described in the works on nosology, than for analogues to the individual concrete cases of actual practice. I think any one who will read his first Essay on a New Principle, published in 1796, and the two papers, on Continued and Remittent Fevers, and on Hebdomadel Diseases, published in 1798, will agree with me in this opinion.
However, to return to our history Samuel Hahnemann seems to have had little or no opportunity to test his ideas by practice in Leipzic and the little village of Stottorits close by, and must have been completely occupied with his chemical lucubration’s and translation; for he wrote at his period a large number of chemical essays, and translated several chemical and other works, besides Cullen’s just named. He diligence must have been something extraordinary at this time, and no doubt his increasing family was a source of great anxiety to him, and caused him to slave to the extent of which we have evidence from his publication. How sorely the ‘res angusta domi’ must now have pressed on Samuel Hahnemann, longing as he was for the opportunity to pursue the investigations of which he had just discovered the clue, how his great but impatient soul must have chafed and fretted at that oppressive clog of poverty – that necessity for providing bread for the daily wants of his children, which hindered him from soaring on his eagle flight into unexplored – of regions discovery! And the poverty which Samuel Hahnemann endured was not merely an income so small as to prohibit and indulgence in the luxuries of life, but often, and actual want of the common necessaries of existence; and this with all anxiety of an increasing and helpless family of young children! And yet had it not been for his poverty, Samuel Hahnemann had probably never made the discovery on which his fame has built.. Naturalists tell us that the oyster forms the lustrous pearl found certain extraneous that intrude themselves within the cavity of its shell, and irritate and vex its tender flesh–and so it with the great and good; the vexations and annoyances of life are often the means of eliciting and developing those pearl of the mind that we admire and marvel at.