Physiological Materia Medica by William Henry Burt, Third Edition – reviewed by Joe Rozencwajg
- Publisher : Jain Regular; 1st edition (May 1, 2009)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 992 pages
- ISBN-10 : 8131903567
- ISBN-13 : 978-8131903568
- Item Weight : 9 pounds
- Dimensions : 79 x 2.05 x 8.74 inches
I was extremely pleased to see a “physiological materia medica” appear advertised on my screen! Finally, I thought, I will be able to understand how remedies do work through biochemistry, physiology, genetics and epigenetics, etc… something I can put my teeth into and taste the simple physical, material reality of homeopathy. I immediately asked for it…
Yet, it sounded eerily familiar… I heard that name before… I went through my bookshelves and found an old hardcover, dusty book with similar title and author, first published in 1881 with a third edition in 1882. I was still hoping that my new book would be a modern update to an ancient text, which I also found in all my homeopathic software.
To my great shame, I must admit that I never opened it since I bought it, probably last century. Alas, no, it was the very same one, reprinted and republished. Needless to say, I was disappointed, until I started reading it in earnest.
Physiology at the end of the 19th century was very different from what we expect to find in modern textbooks today: how the organs and systems work, how different substances act on different aspects of the body, be it in material doses, toxic doses or dilutions; what symptoms and signs can we expect and do we observe, hence what can be cured with the same remedy in the proper dilution and dose.
From another point of view, it is a “general pharmacology” textbook, encompassing each organ and system with the difference that at that time in medicine, mental, emotional, psychological problems were not considered as “physical” ailments and barely started to be part of the therapeutic armamentarium, but in the hands of the nascent practitioners of psychology and psychiatry.
This reflects very well in the presentation of each remedy: it starts by presenting the “special centres of action”, which are then explored in detail separately. For example, I recently prescribed Sanguinaria canadensis; under that name I find its common name, Blood Root, habitat, parts used, and antidotes; then the eight special centres of action: mucous membranes, stomach, liver, glands, cerebro-spinal system heart, vaso-motor system and temperature; each one of those is then explored in detail; not only through the author’s experience, with quotes from others who have used it with success and by others I mean many authors that probably were well known and presented cases in Burt’s time but have now disappeared from our textbooks: have you ever heard of Tinker, Pilling, Nichol, Coe, Bute, etc?
Once those special centres (we would call them tropisms today) have been addressed, “Therapeutic Individuality” starts. What is that? Simply going through Generalities, then all the other organs and systems that were not directly considered before, followed by Aggravations, Ameliorations and sometimes, for other remedies, a few sentences about a specific pathology for which it seems especially indicated.
Modalities and concomitants are included inside the separate rubrics and not generalised, as we are used to. No “Mind” rubric ever, but when present often included with the cerebro-spinal system.
In other words, Burt has regrouped a large part of the practical knowledge of his time by collating the experience of his colleagues and giving us the opportunity to almost sit with them and their patients. To go back to my example of Sanguinaria, once I almost decided upon my prescription, I opened this book and read the whole description, finding details that were valid for my patient but that I could not find in any of my computerised repertories, hence confirming my choice in a very physical way, without the need for interpretation or philosophical digressions that are, in my opinion, very individual, tainted by the mere being of the practitioner and his state of health, even though they are often valid.
A very useful other part of this book is the index: first alphabetical as we would expect, then a “clinical” classification into Animal group for “acutes and sub-acutes” and Organic group for “sub-acutes and chronic diseases” (quite an overlap here), then a classification of remedies according to tissues, i.e. organs and systems: if you are in a hurry to find a remedy for the heart, for example, you have a list of 40 remedies with a strong heart tropism; easy then to compare those remedies with the ones obtained by the usual repertorisation, see the common ones, read them and decide.
I have now used it quite a few times and never regretted the few minutes spent with it; full of little-known gems and indeed confirmatories. For those of us who deal mainly with established diseases and severe pathologies, it becomes a very useful tool, although of course there are plenty more recent remedies that could be added… but then the question would be “why?”. If those were good to cure severe pathologies in the 19th century, they are still good today. Let’s keep it simple, it makes life a lot easier.