Life

Last modified on January 11th, 2019

Hahnemann was born at Meissen, near Dresden, on the tenth day of April, 1755. His father was a painter of porcelain, a worthy and thoughtful man who from the very first endeavored to teach his son the value of thought.

No book dealing with Homoeopathy would be complete without a sketch of the life and works of the founder of this system of therapeutics. We can do little within the compass of such an article, but state the facts, the accomplishments of this great physician. Numerous biographies have been written, chief among which is the monumental work by Dr. Richard Haehl of Stuttgart, in two volumes, which is a remarkable study of original sources and a faithful reproduction of medical life and thought at that time.

Hahnemann lived in a restless age. Old and established dogmas, religion, philosophy and science were questioned and with this came doubt and change. Political institutions were shaken at their foundations. Men talked of liberty, of freedom of thought and action, in all departments of human endeavor.

In the very midst of these iconoclastic forces lived Hahnemann who, notwithstanding the outward serenity of his work, was most actively engaged in this destructive but at the same time constructive effort. And all this without entering politics, religion, or philosophy. He saw clearly that it was the practice of medicine more than any other department that needed reformation and teaching along new lines.

Medicine in Hahnemann’s time was in a chaotic state. Baseless theories, dogmatically taught, deducted without observation or experiment – these ruled and formed the bases of equally fantastic therapeutics.

Well might Hahnemann, born into this state of things, exclaim : ” The evil has become so crying that nothing but the fiery zeal of a rock-firm Martin Luther is needed to sweep away the monstrous leaven.” But, regarding this, we must remember that the practice of medicine then was a far different thing from what it is today.

Hahnemann was born at Meissen, near Dresden, on the tenth day of April, 1755. His father was a painter of porcelain, a worthy and thoughtful man who from the very first endeavored to teach his son the value of thought. This inquiring attitude was a very early habit with young Hahnemann and it is this tendency to original thought which is the most characteristic attribute of his future professional career.

Hahnemann craved classical education which his father could not afford but his teacher who had seen in the boy a promise other than porcelain painting interceded and satisfied the father’s pride by letting the boy earn his tuition. And so, we find the astonishing fact that in his twelfth year he was entrusted to impart to his classmates the rudiments of the Greek language.

Hahnemann was singularly fortunate in his teachers and the sound basis on which he pursued his studies may be inferred from his own words, “I was allowed freedom in the choice of my subject-I was less solicitous about reading than about digesting what was read and to classify it in my mind before reading further.” Early in 1775, he went to Leipsic where he supported himself by giving instruction in German and French and by translating English books. After many hardships, he received a degree of M.D., in 1779.

He now practiced in different towns but finally moved to Leipsic in order to be nearer the center of learning. Later, the accepted charge of an institution for mental diseases at Georgenthal where his successful handling and humane treatment of the inmates attracted much attention. During this time, he did much original work in chemistry, edited a great book, ” The Apothecaries’ Lexicon.” and was spoken of as ” this celebrated chemist,” ” One whom chemistry has to thank for many important discoveries.” Another contemporary, in 1826 says : “Hahnemann is recognized as a good chemist, and has won for himself unfading laurels by his preparation of Mercurius solubilis and by his treatise on arsenical poisoning.”

In 1784, five years after obtaining his degree, he published a very practical and original work, ” On the Treatment of Chronic Ulcers,” which was highly praised in the medical periodicals of the time. This book is remarkable for the excellence of its hygienic rules. His observations on exercise, recreation, clothing, diet, pure air, his minute and careful directions in regard to the external use of cold water, were a long way in advance of the writing of his contemporaries and quite up to the mark of the more modern treatises on hygiene. In this, his first medical work, he regrets the absence of any guiding principle for discovering the curative powers of medicine. This shows the bent of his mind, and for the next ten or twelve years, his mind was much exercised with the endeavor to discover such a principle.

In 1789, he published a work, ” Instruction to Surgeons Concerning the Treatment of Veneral Diseases,” which also had a most favorable reception. One reviewer speaks of it as “A profound and clear work.” Another, ” This is no ordinary work, but is written with an unusual degree of knowledge, reflection and original thought.” The German medical journals at this period have frequent references to him as a capable physician of widely extended fame. And Hufeland, the leading physician of that day, speaks of him as “one of the most distinguished physicians of Germany, a physician of mature experience and reflection.”

This was the pre-Homoeopathic Hahnemann-a man of large practice, great learning, one who had made a name for himself as a capable physician and scientific investigator. He had gained the respect of classical scholars, of hospital physicians and surgeons, of men of literature, of some of the first physicians of his time. He was acquainted with almost every ancient and modern language, with the literature of the medical profession of his own and ancient times. He was a great chemist, a good mineralogist and botanist, a sanitarian and an experienced, practical physician – an all-round scientific man.

This practically finished Hahnemann’s active career as a practitioner before his discovery of the law of cure. Possessing every advantage of medical and surgical knowledge as then understood, yet his disgust with current medical practice grew with his experience and what success he had was unquestionable due to the high order of hygiene ordered and strong common sense, there being no surgery in the modern sense to fall back on and no collateral sciences to harbor such malcontents as he. The practice of medicine such as then existed could not keep him. He fell back upon his chemical studies. These together with translations of works on chemistry and medicine gave him sufficient to maintain an existence.

We have reached an important epoch in his life in order to understand which it is necessary to bear in mind that the brilliant capabilities of Hahnemann were joined also to a sensitive, religious nature with a high professional ideal far above that of the common practitioner-an ideal and a sense of duty as keen and stern as that of a puritan settler. For this reason, he could not practice that which he did not believe but he went on with his reading and earned a living by translations.

It was when translating Cullen’s Materia Medica in 1790 that the birth of the thought occurred that marks a new era in his life and also indeed in medical practice. Hahnemann did not immediately write about this, but six years of constant study, experiment, and practical application followed. Then in the leading medical periodical of the day, Hufeland’s Journal, he published an essay, “On a New Principle for Ascertaining the Curative Properties of Drugs.” That historic essay marks the birth of Homoeopathy.

In this essay, Hahnemann promulgates his conclusion thus : “Every powerful medicinal substance produces in the human body a peculiar kind of disease-the more powerful the medicine, the more peculiar, marked, and violent the disease. We should imitate nature, which sometimes cures a chronic disease by superadding another, and employ in the disease we wish to cure that medicine which is able to produce another very similar artificial disease, and the former will be cured, similia similibus.”

At this time, when his essay was published, Hahnemann was a physician of the highest standing and repute which no one then thought of questioning. He was in the very prime of life, in his forty-second year, fully equipped for his future work, and, it might be observed also for the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” His proposition was so radical and revolutionary that naturally it created much opposition.

The publication of the “Organon” in 1810 was a systematic elucidation of this new method of medical treatment to which Hahnemann had given the name Homoeopathy. This book aroused a storm of opposition not so much on account of the tenets therein contained but because in this book Hahnemann mercilessly criticized the then universal practice of bleeding and his advocation of small doses of single drugs immediately aligned every practicing apothecary against him and Homoeopathy-a condition which has lasted for obvious reason ever since.

In spite of this, the Organon of Hahnemann was the first step to an enlightened therapeutics. It is the constitution of Homoeopathy-subject to amendments in certain phases even as Hahnemann amended it in later editions. But the fundamental principles of this great work, founded on pure experiment, are true for all time and are only now beginning to be appreciated.

Shortly after publishing the Organon, Hahnemann applied to the University of Leipsic for permission to teach medicine. Being granted this request, he quickly gathered around him a circle of very excellent men, some of them professors and lecturers; others more enthusiastic students and open-minded physicians. The advantage of teaching by the living voice, under the authority of a great university, cannot be over-estimated. From this time onward, he gave regular lectures at the university for which his “Organon” served as a basis.

For eight years, he continued thus to teach and practice, and thereby gathered about him a band of enthusiastic workers, who co-operated with him in his drug provings. Their names are known to us as the earliest and best provers of our medicines-Stapf, Gross, Franz, Ruckert, Hartmann, etc. When we consider what is implied in the persecution of one’s col-leagues by ridicule and contempt, and being shunned as a heretic and outcast, these brilliant young men deserve our greatest gratitude in having preferred to follow Hahnemann and the truth rather than go with the crowd along the wide road of therapeutic error.

These men stood in intimate relation to Hahnemann. They counted the hours passed in his house among the happiest of their lives. Publication of the “Materia Medica Pura,” in six volumes, followed his life in Leipsic, where he had a very extensive practice, led an exemplary life and was at the head of a considerable number of talented physicians who had declared for Homoeopathy. Up to this time, he had no thought of separating himself from the established school, and it was none of his doing that the split in the school took place. But an unforeseen circumstance stayed for a time this growing opposition.

His fame as a physician had spread throughout Europe, and now the celebrated Austrian Field Marshal, Prince Schwartzenberg, came from Vienna to Leipsic to place himself under Hahnemann’s care. Schwartzenberg was at the head of the allied forces, three hundred thousand strong, that faced Napoleon, and the most celebrated public man at that time. In consequence of Hahnemann’s medical treatment of him, this modest physician was placed in daily communication with royal and imperial councillors and dignitaries and was the observed of observed. For a short time, calumny ceased and abuse was hushed.

Hahnemann was at the very pinnacle of his career. But in the short time of six months, all was ended, when Schwartzenberg’s disease proved fatal. The opposition to him was now renewed, and after being allowed to practice and dispense his own medicines for ten years, this privilege was withdrawn the very next month. He was notified that a fine of fifteen thalers would be imposed upon him for every dose of medicine he dispensed.

Hahnemann did not attempt to evade the law. He preferred to retire from the practice of medicine-to be banished from his beloved fatherland, from the city where he had been a student, where he was a professor and taught his new medical philosophy, and where he achieved his greatest triumphs as a practitioner. It must have been a terrible blow, but the law-abiding instinct of the German, even if the law is unjust, is the strongest national trait, and so he submitted to banishment from Leipsic, his home and his friends. Some of the things he had hoped for and labored for while in Leipsic had been accomplished. Some were of so ambitious a nature that a century later has hardly seen their realization.

The points for which he was determined to contend were : for the untrammeled practice of Homoeopathy at the bedside of the sick, for its recognition and application by the State, for the free dispensing of medicine, for an independent professor’s chair in all the universities, This idea of a chair of Homoeopathy, in an otherwise orthodox medical school, has not, in the author’s opinion proved satisfactory. At present there are three such-two in Germany and one in the U.S.A. A staff sympathetic to those interested in Homoeopathy is most necessary besides the clinical lecturer. Hospital beds and clinics are also needed.

Many years ago this whole idea was appreciated and well expressed by Garth Wilkinson : “There is no reason to expect that truth, however great, will prevail with large lasses of men born and bred in the opposite falsity. They are organic and iron-clad against it. Their wills are self-made and self-set against it. Being well- banded hosts, they support each other with confirmations of multitude and cannot be reached by instruction.” for the establishment of dispensaries and hospitals, or at least wards in hospitals, for the appointment of Homoeopathic physicians to posts of honor and emolument, if otherwise capable. In short, for the recognition and legal reception of Homoeopathy by the authorities and endowment of it with all the rights and advantages which the physicians of the dominant school possessed.

The sudden termination of his active career of professional life in Leipsic always seemed to many of his followers as an unfortunate thing for the future development of Homoeopathy. While there his teachings were free from hypothesis and speculation, he kept on the firm ground of observation and experience. But on the other hand, it may be held with much show of reason that the complete development of Homoeopathy as a distinctive therapeutic method needed the further refinements of study and additional evolution of its principles that could only come to Hahnemann in the seclusion of his new abode where the opportunities for watching carefully the course of chronic diseases were specially abundant.

After long wandering from state to state, he had an asylum offered him by the friendly Duke of Anhalt. He gave him rank and protection at his little capital, Coethen, which Hahnemann accepted. Here, he entered upon a haven or rest from persecution and a carrer of continued activity in developing Homoeopathy. Though banished, he still could keep up communication with his adherents and guided them in practice. At this time, came an unlooked-for factor to the aid of the new method. Cholera proved to be the most potent ally Homoeopathy could possibly have. And other epidemics in their courses fought for Homoeopathy. The superiority of the new school was so convincing in the treatment of these dread diseases, that it did much to interest many earnest men, and thereby gain strong and enthusiastic supporters.

Hahnemann remained in Coethen fourteen years, one of the busiest and most honored scientific men in all Europe. We find him at the close of 1834, a man of seventy-nine years, active, strong, full of enthusiasm still, though the many persecutions may have made him intolerant of criticism. It was here he published his great work on Chronic Disease and prepared new editions of the Organon and Materia Medica Pura.

In 1835, he was persuaded to move to Paris. His presence there was also a great aid to the establishment and development of the new school in France. By special royal decree, he received permission to practice. The newspapers took up his cause, he was great and popular, patronized by the nobility and great ones of the land, and they rallied to the support of Hahnemann and Homoeopathy.

Hahnemann survived his migration to Paris eight years. He retained his mental faculties to the last moment, and died early on the morning of July 2, 1843, aged eighty-nine years. He lived to see his labor crowned with wonderful success-the practice of Homoeopathy thoroughly established throughout the world, and its reforming influence over the old school generally conceded. He had brought health and happiness to generations of men. Well might he make the solemn declaration : “My conscience is clear. It bears me witness that I have ever sought the welfare of suffering humanity, that I have done and taught what seemed to me the best.”

Thus passed away one of the world’s greatest physicians. His creative genius was united with a critical mind of the highest order. Care and caution are characteristic of all of Hahnemann’s work as the original case books (preserved in Dr. Haehl’s museum at Stuttgart) testify. Much of Hahnemann’s work still remains unpublished, and the indefatigable labor of the man may be appreciated best by reading Haehl’s life above referred to.

In a speech before the ninth quinquennial international Homoeopathic congress held in London in 1927, Dr. Haehl said, ” The legacy (referring to his successful purchase of Hahnemann’s manuscripts from his heirs) contained an almost overwhelming amount of most reliable material-for instance, 54 case books containing the records of all patients treated by Hahnemann from 1799 to 1843; four large volumes of some 1500 pages each, alphabetically arranged repertories, none of which had ever been published; the sixth edition of the Organon completely revised by Hahnemann in 1842; some 1300 letters of physicians from all parts of the world…” We are impressed with his indefatigable industry as demonstrated in his ten volumes of provings, covering experiments with ninety-nine drugs on his own body.

He published seventy original works on chemistry and medicine. He translated twenty- four authors into French, Latin, or English. Although master of medical literature and learning of his time, his greatest attributes were his capacity for original thought and dogged perseverance.

May such characteristics always govern medical advance.

About the author

Garth Boericke

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