Samuel Hahnemann – BIOGRAPHY of Homeopathy’s Founder

But although the persecution of Samuel Hahnemann is to be regretted for the unfortunate influence it exercised on his doctrines in some respects, yet is probably that on the whole this persecution was altogether disadvantageous to the internal development of the new systems. The myth of Prumetheus chained to the solitary rock with the vulture gnawing at his liver is an emblem of the fate that awaited all who have the presumption to steal celestial fire; they are mostly condemned to solitude their great minds can find no companionship among the common herd a mankind, and they are incessantly preyed upon by the ever-greatly vulture their discoverers should be so treated. Their isolation and forced retirement from the world enable them to work more constantly at their subject, and to develop it by the light of their own great minds, unswayed by the well-meaning but shallow friends, who are generally the most officious and persevering in their injudicious suggestions. Thought, by the enforced intellectual solitude on the part of the discoverer of new truth, the systems they build up may appear to be deficient in catholicity, and to bear too prominently the stamp of their authors individuality, yet on the other hands, there is no fear of their truths being lost amid a medley of distracting doubts and irrelevant fancies, that would not fail to suggest themselves to the various minds of multitude of learned pundits, The persecutions endured by the pioneers of truth serve only to stimulate them more so to work out and perfect their truth, that their very enemies and persecutors shall be forced ultimately to bow down before it. While the sham melts away like snow before the fire of persecution, the truth is only rendered more bright and more compact by it, as the soft iron only becomes steel by passing through the furnace. That Hahnemann felt and felt deeply the unjust calumnies and unceasing persecution to which he was subjected we have ample evidence from various passages in his works from the year 1800 onwards. Among the papers found at his death one bore the following inscription, intended as an epitaph on his tomb, which reads live the last sigh of a martyr-liber tendem quiesco.

Another quality of Samuel Hahnemann’s mind conscientiousness, is strikingly displayed in his abandoning the lucrative practice of medicine when his faith was shaken in it and supporting his family for some time upon the proceeds of his chemical discoveries, and by the tenfold greater labour of translating book for the publisher. This quality is also shown in the refusal to adopt any mode of avoiding the persecution of the apothecaries, which he might readily have done, either by setting up an apothecary of his own or by dispensing his medicine secretly. Another, if possible, still more striking trait of conscientiousness which I have not found alluded to elsewhere, is this. After his first discovery of the homoeopathic therapeutic law, he contented himself for some years with making a collection of the morbid effected of various poisonous and medicinal substance from the writings and observations of the more ancient and the modern toxicologists and experiments. In this way he collected together a tolerable pathogenesis of many powerful substances, and on this basis he endeavored to practice. Samuel Hahnemann published the results of his first trial of his systems upon these data in 1796 and the two following years. But he soon found that the records of the toxicologists and others were inadequate to afford him sufficiently accurate pictures of morbid states corresponding to the nature diseases he had to treat, and he saw that there was nothing for it but to test the medicines and poisons accurately, carefully, and systematically upon the healthy individual. As yet he knew not if such trials might not be fought with danger to his constitution and shorten life; but he did not shrink from what he considered a sacred duty, and he boldly set about the gigantic task-a task, I may safely say, from which any ordinary mind would have recalled in dismay. How he executed his task I need not relate. The ten volumes of provings he has left us are an external monument to his energy, perseverance conscientiousness, and self-sacrifice. “When,” says he, “we have to do with an art whose end is the saving of human life, any neglect to make ourselves thoroughly master of it becomes a crime!”

We may form some idea of Samuel Hahnemann’s immense industry when we consider that he proved about ninety different medicine, that he wrote upwards of seventy original works on chemistry and medicine, some of which were in several thick volumes, and translated about twenty-four works from the English, French, Italian, and Latin on chemistry, medicine, agriculture, and general literature, many of which were in more then one volume. Besides this he attended to the duties of an immense practice, corresponding and consulting, and those who know the care and time he expended on every case, the accuracy with which he registered every symptom, and the carefulness with which he sought for the proper remedy, will be able to estimate what a Herculean labour a large practice so conducted must have been. When I add that he was an accomplished classical scholar and pathologist, and that he had more than a superficial acquaintance with botany, astronomy, meteorology, and geography, we shall be forced to acknowledge that his industry and working power bordered on the marvelous.

Samuel Hahnemann’s goodness of heart and generosity appear on various occasions. In the fragment of autobiography I have before alluded to, after relating that he was swindled out of the hard earned gains by means of which he hoped to pursue his medical studies in Vienna, he says that the person who injured him was afterwards sorry for what he had done, so he freely forgives him, and will not mention either his name or the circumstances of the transaction. His enemies and some of his professed friends have accused him of avarice, founding this charge on the fact that the he demanded high fees, made his corresponding patients pay for the consultation on receipt of the letter, and that he lived in a style not to his wealth. His frequent struggles with the direct poverty had no doubt taught him, by many cruel lessons, the value of money, and we can scarcely wonder that he was rather economical and saving, more whom especially as he had a large family, nine of whom were daughters, from whom he might any day be cut off and whom he would not like to leave partialness. That this was his motive in evident from the circumstances that when he left Coethen for Paris he divided his fortune, amounting to 60,000 thalers, on about £ 10,000 sterling, among his family. If he took large fees he did so both because he had a very high idea of the dignity of his profession, and because he well knew the value of the services he rendered to his patients, and the amount of labor he had undergone in order to be enabled to render such services. To the poor he was liberal, in giving them the benefit of his advice gratuitously. As for the other charge brought against him of making the patients pay for the consultation on receipt of the letter, I think that was an arrangement which concerned Samuel Hahnemann’s patients alone, and if they did not object to it, surely his colleagues had no occasion to find fault, Hahnemann, rather deserved the thanks than the censure of his colleagues for devising and introducing a method whereby the just interests of the profession were protected.

As to his religious principles, Samuel Hahnemann was brought up in the Lutheran persuasion, but he could not be said to have adopted the tenets of that or any other sect of Christians. His principle, as we gather them from his works were nearly these:- He believed in the ruling providence of an all-good and all-bountiful God, and he held that every man was bound to his utmost to benefit each was endowed. He traced every good thing to the hand of the almighty and beneficent God, to whom he always gave all the glory for all the good he was enabled to confer on his brethren or mankind, and denied to himself any merit for what he had done.

“One word more,” he says writing to Stapt in 1816, ” be as sparing as possible with your praises. I do not like them. I feel that I am only an honest, straightforward man, who does no more than his duty.”

Again, in his famous letter to Hufeland, he writes. “If experience should show you that my method is the best, them make use of it for the benefit of humanity and give God glory!”

Here is a striking sentence indicative if his sense of the high dignity of our profession. He is alluding to his discovery of the prophylactic for scarlet fever: ” The furtherance of every means, be it ever so small, that can save human life, that can bring health and security, (a God of love invented this blessed and most wondrous of arts’) should be a sacred object to the true physician; chance or the labour of a physician has discovered this one. Away then, with all groveling passion at the altar of this sublime Godhead, whose priests we are!”

Here his emotion the character of the offices of doctor and sick nurse in the time of plague and pestilence. They are, he writes, ” two persons ordained by God, and placed, like Uriah in the battle, in the thickest of the light-forlorn hopes quite close to the advancing enemy, without any hours of relief from their irksome guard-two very much misunderstood beings who sacrifice themselves at hard earned wages for the public weal, and in order to obtain a civic crown, brave the life-destroying, poisoned atmosphere, deafened by the cries of agony and the groans of death.”

There is not a work of Samuel Hahnemann’s which is not pervaded by the spirit of reverence for the Deity, whose humble instrument he feels himself to be, and love for his fellow-creatures, with which his truly benevolent heart overflows; “Oh, that it were mine!” he exclaims, after an examination of all the futile system that had been proposed and adopted for the cure of diseases- “oh, that it were mine to direct the better portion of the medical world, who can feel for the sufferings of our brethren of mankind and long to know how to relieve them, to those purer principles which lead directly to the desired goal! Infamy be the award of history to him who, by deceit and fiction, maims this art of ours, which is intended to succor the wretched! All compensating divine self approval, and an unfading civic crown to him who helps to make our art more beneficial to mankind!”

This he said in 1808, when the great truth was gradually developing itself under his hands. After thirty years spent in laboriously working out his system, and practically demonstrating that his were indeed those purer principles whereby the case of diseases was most easily and safely effected, he was able to make this solemn declaration:-

“My conscience is clear: it bears me witness that I have ever sought the welfare of suffering humanity, that I have always done and taught what seemed to best, and that I have never had recourse to any allopathic procedures to comply with the wishes of my patients, and to prevent them leaving me. I love my fellow creatures and the repose of my conscience too much to act in that manner. Those who follow my example will be, able as I am, on the verge of the grave to wait the tranquility and confidence till the time comes when they must lay down their head in the bosom of the earth, and render up their soul to a God whose omnipotence must strike terror into the heart of thwacked!”

The abnegation of all merit to himself for his many and irksome labours to perfect his art, and the humble acknowledgment of his gratitude and reliance on God, are strikingly shown in his memorable words upon his death-bed, the last utterance of which we have any record. Whilst suffering much from the pain and difficulty of breathing that attended his last illness, his wife said him. “As you in your laborious life and alleviated the sufferings of so many, and have yourself endured so much, surely Providence owes you a remission of all your sufferings.” To which the dying sage replied, “My! And why me! Man here below works according to the gifts and strength Providence has given him, and it is only before the fallible tribunal of man that degrees of merit are acknowledged, not to before that of God: God owes me nothing, but Him much-yes, everything.”

Of all historical characters Samuel Hahnemann most nearly resembles the great religious reformer of the sixteenth century, Luther to whom he was found of comparing himself. We find in both the same energy and perseverance, the same dauntless proclamation of the truth, how-ever disagreeable to constituted authorities, the same unflinching courage under the most annoying and wearing-out persecutions, the same cutting sarcasm and power of caricature when stung into retaliation by the machinations of their enemies, and the same constant trusting Providence and assurance of the ultimate triumph of their principles. I cannot forbear quoting a passage from a letter of Samuel Hahnemann’s that shoes at once his independence of all extraneous aid for the spread of his doctrines, and his confidence of their eventual general adoption:-

“Our art,” says he,” needs no political leave, no worldly badges of honour, in order to become something. Amid all the rank and unsightly weeds that flourish round about it, it grows gradually from a small acorn to a slender tree, already its lofty summit overtops the rank vegetation around it. Only have patience? It strikes its roots deep underground, gains strength imperceptibly, but all the more certainly, and in due time it will grow up to a lofty God’s oak, stretching its great arms, that no longer bend to the storm far away into all will be refreshed under its beneficent shadow?”

In its effects upon the established school of traditional medicine, the reformation of Samuel Hahnemann strongly resembles that of Luther on the Roman Catholic Church. Abused, vilified, persecuted, the young medical school has gone on gathering strength and securing the support of man distinguished for their learning and rank, until at length it has become a formidable rival to the antiquated system, which it threatens every day to extinguish. As Lather’s reformation sapped the foundation of the Roman hierarchy, so Hahnemann’s which it will than shaken the stability of the temple of Hippocrates, which it will eventually overthrow completely, and more effectually than Luther did the ancient Church, for experimental science is more sweeping in its effects than theological, and never rests until pillar of error is overthrown. As the Reformation had its pretenders and its fanatics, so has Homoeopathy its charlatans and its bigots; but as the impartial historian will not confound the error and delusions of the erratic religionists with the Reformation, so may we hope that the extravagant fancies and theories that have arisen out of Homoeopathy may not be confounded with the real spirit of Samuel Hahnemann’s great medical reform. Almost every great truth has its unworthy adherents, who like the parasitical plant, trifle and disfigure that whereto they cling and whereby alone they exist but as the great oak survives and remains erect the monarch of the forest, long after generations of those inferior creatures to which it gave support have withered away and crumbled into dust, so the truth that Hahnemann revealed will outlive the memory of its unworthy parasites, and emerge from their unwholesome embrace a stately tree, a beacon of hope and a source of health and happiness to hundreds of unborn generations of suffering mankind.

Whilst pointing out the peculiarities in the life and character of Hahnemann which we may presume to have exercised an influence upon his doctrines and practice, I think the sketch I have given will suffice to show, from the whole course of Hahnemann’s life, from the magnanimity and fortitude with which he endured poverty in order to pursue the one great aim of his existence, from the sacrifices he made for the cause of truth, and from the devotion with which he subjected himself for a long series of years to the most unpleasant and hazardous experiments, for the purpose of perfecting his system, that its author was formed to the stuff that the world’s worthies are made of, and that if heroic constancy, amid the most discouraging circumstances to one grand aim-that of benefiting humanity-constitutes a hero, Samuel Hahnemann eminently deserves to rank with the greatest of them, and the system originated by such a man merits the attention and study of all who are occupied with the cure of disease.

When the passions and prejudices engendered in the atmosphere of controversy shall have subsided, can we, who know the excellence of his system, doubt that the judgment of an impartial posterity will reverse the condemnation of the packed jury of prejudiced contemporaries, and award a niche in the temple of Fame, among the greatest of the world’s heroes and benefactors, to the father Rational Physic SAMUEL HAHNEMANN? *


*Introductory lecture delivered by Dr. Dudgeon at Samuel Hahnemann, Hospital London during the sessions 1852-53.

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