Biographies of Homeopaths

Samuel Hahnemann – BIOGRAPHY of Homeopathy’s Founder

Last modified on September 2nd, 2016

Samuel Hahnemann – Biography of the founder of homeopathy medicine also known as The Father of Homeopathy

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.

With what eagerness must not Samuel Hahnemann now have accepted the offer of the reigning Duke of Saxe Gotha to take the charge of an asylum for the insane in Georgenthal, in the Thuringian forest,– a charge which would give him a present competency, and, above all, leisure to pursue his how painfully interesting investigation, and an opportunity of putting his discovery to the test. Here, then, we find him settled for a time in 1792. A cure that he made in this institution of the Hanoverian minister Klolenburg, who had been rendered insane by a satire of Kotzebue’s, created, we are told, some sensation; and, from the account he published in 1796 of this case, we find that he was one of the earliest, if not the very first advocate for that system of the insane by mildness instead of coercion which has became all but universal. “I never allow any insane person,” he writes, “to be punished by blows or other painful corporeal inflictions, since there can be no punishment where there is no sense of responsibility ; and since such patients cannot be improved, hut must be rendered worse, by such rough treatment.” May we not, than, justly claim for Samuel Hahnemann the honour of being the first who advocated and practised the moral treatment of the insane? At all events, he may divide this honor with Pinel; for we find that toward the end of this same year 1792, when Hshemsnn was applying his principle of moral treatment to practice. Pinel made his first experiment of unchaining the mainace in the Blcentre. Samuel Hahnemann does not seem to have remained long in this situation; for the same year be removed to Walschleben, where he wrote the first part of the Friend of Health, a popular miscellany, on hygiene principally, and the first part of his Pharmaceutical Laxicon, and in 1794 he went first to Pyrmont, a little watering-place in Westphalia, and thereafter to Brunswick.

In 1795 he migrated to Wolfenbuttel, and thence to Konigslutter, where he remained until 1799. In this interval of comparative settlement he gave out the second parts of his Friend of Health and Pharmaceutical lexicon; and he had leisure to pursue his investigations and to write, in 1796, for his friend Hufeland’s journal, that remarkable Essay on a New Principle for ascertaining the Remedial power of Medicinal Substances, wherein he modestly but firmly expresses his belief that, for chronic diseases at least, medicines should be employed that have the power of producing similar affections in the healthy body ; and the following year he published in the same journal an interesting case illustrative of his views ; and wrote another essay on the irrationality of complicated systems of diet and regimen, and complex prescriptions. Several other essays followed this in rapid succession among which I may mention that on antidotes, and those on the treatment of fever and periodical diseases.” But already the hostility of his colleagues began to display itself. Samuel Hahnemann, who had now abandoned the complicated medication of absurdity of giving complex mixtures of medicines which he now invariably administered singly and along. The physicians of Konigslutter, jealous of the rising fame of the innovator, incited the apothecaries to bring an action against him far interfering with their privileges by dispensing his own medicines. It was in vain Hahnemann appealed to their letter and spirit of the law regulating the apothecaries business and argued, that their privileges only extended to the compounding of medicines, but that every man, and therefore still more every medical man, had the right to give or sell uncompounded drugs, which were the only things he employed, and which he administered, moreover gratuitously. All in vain; the apothecaries and their allies, his jealous brethren, were too powerful for him; and contrary to law. Justice, and common sense, Hahnemann, who had shown himself a master of the apothecaries’ art by his learned and laborious Pharmaceutical Lexicon, was prohibited from dispensing his own simple medicines.

During the last year of his residence in Konigslutter he witnessed a severe epidemic of scarlet fever, and made his glorious discovery of the prophylactic power of belladonna in this disease, which alone would have sufficed to make his name remembered with gratitude by posterity. The mode of his discovery of his prophylactic is a true specimen of inductive philosophy, much than janner’s somewhat similar discovery of the prophylactic power of vaccination. Knowing the power of belladonna to produce a state similar to the first stage of scarlet fever, he used it with great success at that period of the disease, and whilst his mind was occupied with the great remedial virtue he observed it to possess, a circumstance occurred which led him to believe that it was not only a curative, but a preventive medicine for that malady. In a family of children, three sickened with the disease, but the fourth, who was taking belladonna at the time for an affection of the finger-joints, escaped, though she had heretofore been always the first to take any epidemic that was going about. An opportunity soon presented itself of putting its prophylactic power to the test. In a family of eight children, three were seized with the epidemic, and he immediately gave to the remaining five children belladonna in small doses, and, as he had anticipated, all these five escaped the disease, notwithstanding their constant exposure to the virulent emanations from their sick sisters. The epidemic presented him with numerous opportunities of verifying this protective power of belladonna.

The mode he adopted of drawing the attention of physicians to his newly discovered prophylactic was singular. He announced publication work on the subject, and advertised for subscribers promising to publish the work, which should reveal the name of the prophylactic, as soon as he got 300 subscribers, and in the mean time supplying to each subscriber a portion of the prophylactic, and demanding his opinion as to its efficacy. This unusual proceeding, which might be justified on the plea that Samuel Hahnemann wished to have the prophylactic tested more impartially than it would have been had he at once revealed the name of it, gave rise to a shower of bitter calumnies from his colleagues, who made little or no response to his offer, but loaded him with accusations of avarice and selfishness.” Samuel Hahnemann revenged himself in his calumniator’s, publishing his pamphlet on scarlatina,” wherein he revealed the name of the prophylactic, and the facts that led to its discovery. I need not remind you that the united testimony of almost all-homeopathic practitioners, and of the most distinguished of the allopaths, was favorable to the truth of Hahnemann’s discovery. Indeed nearly twenty years afterwards, whilst Samuel Hahnemann was residing in Leipzic, some physicinans of that town complacently recommended the employment of belladonna as a prophylactic for scarlet fever, as if they had just made the discovery, without alluding in the slightest way to the claims of the venerable sage in their midst, although they could scarcely fail to be known to them. But I am anticipating.

The locality of the apothecaries and physicians of Konislutter drove him form that town in 1799. He purchased a large carriage or waggon, in which he packed all his property and family, and with a heavy heart bade to Koniglutter, where fortune had at length begun to smile upon him, and where he had found leisure and opportunity to prosecute his interesting discoveries. Many of the inhabitants whose health he had been instrumental in restoring, or whose lives he had even saved by the discoveries of his genius during that fatal epidemic of scarlet fever, accompanied him some distance on the road to Humburg, whither he had resolved to proceed, and at length, with a blessing for his services, and sigh for his hard lot, they bade him God speed, And thus he journeyed on with all his earthy possession, and with all his family beside him, But a dreadful accident befell the melancholy cortege. Descending a precipitous part of the road, the wagon was overturned, the driver thrown off his seat, his infant son so injured that he died shortly afterwards and the leg of one of his daughters fractured. He himself was considerably bruised, and his property munch damaged by falling into a stream that ran at the bottom of the road. With the assistance of some peasants they were conveyed to the nearest village, where he was forced to remain upwards of six weeks on his daughter’s account, at an expense that greatly lightened his not very well-filled purse. At length he got in safety to Humburg, but finding little or nothing to do here, he removed to the adjoining town of Altona. He did not, however, better himself by the change, and not long after removed to Mollen in Lauenburg; but the longing for his fatherland, which he describes as being so strong in him, soon drew him once more to Saxony. He planted himself in Eulenbur, but the persecution of the superintendent physicians of that drove him thence after a short sojourn. He wanted first to Machern, and thence to Dessau, where we find him in 1803 publishing a monograph on the effects of coffee, which he considered as the source of many chronic diseases, and against the use of which, as a common beverage, he inveighed with much the same energy as our first James did against tobacco. Previous to this, however, and during his wanderings, he had translated several books for the English, and written various articles on his favorite idea of medical reform in Hufeland’s Journal, denouncing ever more and more energetically the absurdities and errors of ordinary medical practice. One of the most remarkable articles in his style is his preface to a translation of a collection of medical prescriptions, published in 1800, which preface is the best antidote to the work itself. We can imagine his great soul fretting and fuming when the publisher, on whom he than almost entirely depended for subsistence, put into his hands the English original of this notable work, which contained naught but a collection of the abominable and nonsensical compounds which he had been inveighing against for the last five years. We can fancy Hahnemann saying, “Well, Sir, if you have no more agreeable work to put me to than this, I will do it; but mark, I stipulate to be allowed to write what preface I choose.” And sure a preface it is the most marvelous preface surely that was ever written for any book! It is as though he had said, “Reader; you have purchased this book thinking to find therein a royal road to the practice of physic, but you are miserably mistaken to believe there can be any such short cut: skill in practice can only be gained by careful, unwearied, and honest study; by having a perfect knowledge of the curative instruments you have to yield, and by an accurate observation of the characteristic symptoms of disease. As for the contents of this book, they are the grossest imposition ever palmed upon man, a confused jumble of unknown drugs- mostly poisons mixed together in what are called prescriptions, each ingredient of which is dignified by some imposing name that is meant to express to qualities it should possess and the part it should play, but none of which possesses the qualities attributed to it nor will obey, even in the slightest degree, he order that are given it. Every prescription contains in it a multitude of anarchical elements that totally disqualify it for any orderly action whatever. The best councel it can given you, my simple-minded reader, is to put the main body of this book into the fire; but by all means preserve the preface; it may serve you as a standard for judging of the pretensions of similar pretentious books, of which there be, I am sorry to think, many, too many in the market just now, but which we shell do our best, with God’s help, to rid the world of.” I do not believe the publisher of this “Arzneischats,” or “Treasury of Medicines,” would wish to give Hahnemann many more jobs of this kind to do, or if he did, he would doubtless resolve to bargain that no perfact should be inserted. Indeed. We find that Hahnemann’s translations came to rather an abrupt termination at this period, for, with the exception of a translation of the Materia of the great Alvert von Haller. Which he executed in 1806 Hahnemann’s works were henceforward all originals.

The years 1805 and 1806 were eventful ones for the development of the doctrine, and whilst he demolished the time honoured faith in the medicine of the 3000 years, in his masterly little work entitled Esculapius in the balance, the temple of his own system, of which he had hitherto been only laying the foundations, commenced to exhibit some those fair proportions which we now admire, by the appearance of the first sketch of a Pure Materia Medica which he gave to the world in Latin, and of that wonderful exposition of his whole doctrine, entitled. The Medicine of Experience, which was published in 1806 in Hufeland’s Journal.

And what was the reception this admirable work met with the most original, logical, and brilliant essay that had ever appeared on the art of medicine? A thousand captious objectors arose, who not being able to refute the masterly arguments brought forward by Hahnemann, fell to ridiculing the technicalities of the system; an easy task, since we all know that every new truth appears at first ridiculous. Nor was calumny silent. Hahnemann was loaded with most opprobious epithets because he introduced the custom, them unusual in Germany, of making the patients with whom he corresponded pay him for each epistolary consultation. This the facilities afforded by the arrangements of the German Post office enable him to do, and he was led to adopt it by the circumstance that so many sought his advice from mere curiosity, or worse motives, without any thought or paying, that he was driven to the adoption of what might be an unusual but certainly not a reprehensible plan for securing the bonafides of his patients. A mistake he had made in his former chemical days was raked up from the limbs of forgotten things, and imputed to him as a gross crime, and a proof of his venality and dishonesty; thought, in reality, the whole story redounds to his credit. During the period when he had temporarily abandoned medicine in disgust at its uncertainty, and had devoted himself solely to chemical and literary pursuits, he fancied he had discovered a new alkali, which he denominated pneum, and which he sold to these who wished to possess it. Subsequent investigation showed him that he had committed a mistake, and that the substance he had supposed to be a perfectly new matter was nothing but borax. He hastened to acknowledge his error, and lost on time in refunding to the purchasers the money he had received for it.

He was now settled on Torgan, and perceiving that the discoveries and labours met nothing but opposition, contempt, and neglect from his medical brethren, disdaining to reply to any of the odious calumnies that were heaped upon him by those who should have been proud of him us their countryman and colleague, his discontinued writing their medical journals, and appealed to the injustice of his professional brethren to the unprejudiced judgment of an enlightened public, and hence forth published his strictures on ancient medicine, and his projects for entitled the Allgemeiner Anzeiner der Deutschen. During the years 1806 and 1809, he published in that journals a succession of papers equal terseness, vigor and originality to anything he had previously written, which two deserve especial mention, viz, his essay on the value of the Speculative System of Medicine, and toughing and earnest letter to Hufeland, whom he never ceased to love and esteem, thought in every respect he was a much greater man and finer character than the Nestor of German medicines, as Hufeland was called. The doctrines which were scornfully rejected by the Scribes and Pharisees of the old school found favor with public, and the number of his admirers and non-medical disciples increased from day to day. In 1810 he published the first edition of his immortal Organon, which was an amplification and extension of his Medicine of Experience, worked up with greater care, and put into a more methodical and aphoristic form, after the model of some of the Hippocratic writings.

With a wide-spread reputation he now re-entered Leipzic, where a crowd of patients admirers flocked around him, and the flood-tide of fortune seemed at length to set in towards him. Professor Becker of Berlin wrote, in 1810, a violent distribe against the Organon, which displays more worth and untempered hostility than wit or good breeding, and was replied to in a vigorous manner by young Frederick Hahnemann, who undertook the defense of his father, for the latter treated all attacks, whether on his character or his works with silent contempt; thought it could not be said he viewed them with indifference, for there is every reason to believe the poisoned shafts of envy and calumny rankled in his soul and communicated acerbity to a disposition that was naturally overflowing with love to his fellow-men. Hecker’s attack was the signal for numerous others of the same nature. Written with greater or less ability and with more or less fairness; but it would be wearisome to recapitulate even the titles of the articles and pamphlets that issued from the press intended by their authors to crush the presumptuous innovator.

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