The ‘High Potency Habit’
At the same time [c.1870-1910] as members of the ‘Cooper Club’ were a dominant influence in UK homeopathy, a new approach began to gain great influence, imported from the USA: the use of the higher potencies. The person who eventually came to be regarded as the chief exponent of this high potency method was Dr. James Tyler Kent [1849-1916], based first in St Louis and later in Chicago.
This influence came to Britain in three successive waves. Firstly from Skinner and Berridge [trained in Philadelphia] and brought to 1870s Liverpool; secondly, by Gibson Miller, who trained with Kent in St Louis, and which came to 1880s Glasgow; and thirdly, from Margaret Tyler and Octavia Lewin in the 1908-13 period. The latter ‘Kent in Chicago’ was imported into the British Homeopathic Society [BHS] in London and thus in many ways can therefore be interpreted as contributing significantly to the official policy of British homeopathy [see Bodman, 1990, pp.85ff].
Kent, therefore, ushers in the twentieth century. He takes us from the turbulent, laissez-faire and largely experimental homeopathy of the late 19th century, the homeopathy of Burnett and Cooper, with its eclectic emphasis upon herbs, tinctures and nosodes, into the first two decades of the 20th century. Kent therefore forms the linking bridge between the Cooper Club and the lay revival presided over by figures like Ellis Barker, Tomkins and Puddephatt in the 30s, 40s and 50s.
This influence chiefly involved the use of the higher centesimal potencies. These potencies were first developed by Skinner and Fincke in the USA [see Winston, 1999, pp.89-97; and Fincke, 1989] by making centesimal fluxion machines. These machines essentially contained rotating glass phials which, once set up in operation, could be filled, succussed and emptied repeatedly over many hours, without human assistance, starting with a drop of tincture and alcohol/water solutions. They provided a very convenient, mechanised means of making high potencies in a short space of time: in hours rather than weeks [see Winston, 1989].
A very useful biography of Kent is found in Dose and Singh, 1989; by Winston in The American Homeopath 2, 1995, and in Winston, 1999 [see also Nicholls, 1988, pp.186, 217-8, 265-6 and 220-1]. We can identify a number of reasons why Kent became such a seminally important homeopath. He devised an exhaustive Repertory, based in structure upon that of Jahr and Boenninghausen [see Saine, 1990], but much larger and which soon supplanted it to become the standard work [which it still is today]; he was a brilliant teacher of homeopathy, especially materia medica; he emphasisedd the higher potencies, which were very popular in the USA at that time; he emphasised most centrally the Hahnemannian concept of case totality and the single remedy [simillimum] above all other ‘deviant’ modes of homeopathic practice, like low-potency combination remedies used as specifics, an approach he detested.
First Wave: Skinner and Berridge
For British homeopathy, the original link with America lies with Dr. Thomas Skinner and his conversion to homeopathy by the Liverpool-based American homeopath Dr. Edward William Berridge [1844-1920]. Skinner went to the US soon after his conversion to homeopathy in the 1870s [see Winston, 1999, pp.96-7]. While there he worked on developing a ‘Potentising Continuous Flux-ion Machine’, often termed by Americans the ‘Skinner Machine’ [see Winston, 1999, pp.96-7], which was instrumental in developing a good supply of the high centesimal potencies that were being developed and used in the USA at that time and which soon became the standard tools of American practice. The device apparently used a similar type of process to that developed fifty or so years earlier in Russia by General Korsakoff [see Winston, 1989; Winston, 1999, pp.87-102; see also Munz, 1997, pp.26-29; Fincke, 1989; and Bhumananda 1994, pp.251-3].
‘Korsakoff was the real original inventor of the high potencies, for he first conceived and executed the idea of diluting medicines up as high as 1500. Sulphur, he said, acted better at that degree of potency.’ [Dudgeon, 1853, p.351]
Kent also produced one of these potentising machines himself, which was still working up until the 1940s in an Erhart & Karl Pharmacy in Chicago [see Winston, 1989; also Winston, 1999, pp.101-102].
At this point we must briefly plunge into some of the mysteries of economic geography. At that time, Liverpool was very important as a major UK port and linked both with the Tate sugar family [and therefore with the West Indies], who sponsored the building of the Hahnemann Hospital in Liverpool, [later the Tate Gallery in London] and also the direct link with America as a trading port and for passengers travelling or emigrating from northern England and Ireland to the USA. It is most probable that this link worked to benefit communication between British and American homeopathy throughout the 19th century. The same is also true, though to a lesser extent, of Bristol, the Wills tobacco family [who funded the building of the Bristol homeopathic hospital] and its similar importance as a port trading with the American continent, such as the southern tobacco-producing States.
“It was through correspondence about some matter apart from medicine that Dr. Skinner in 1873 became acquainted with Dr. Berridge [in Liverpool]; but the acquaintance led to a desire on Skinner’s part to know something about homeopathy, as he had heard of some good cures when over in America. The upshot of it all was that Dr. Berridge prescribed Sulphur for our patient in the MM potency, prepared by Boericke of Philadelphia. When Skinner felt the homeopathic remedy at work inside him it was a revelation indeed. ‘I shall never forget the marvellous change which the first dose effected in a few weeks, especially the rolling away, as it were, of a dense and heavy cloud from my mind.’ He was cured of the constipation, the acid dyspepsia [which he had had all his life], sleeplessness, deficient assimilation and general debility, and restored to a life of usefulness and vigour…’ [Clarke, 1907]
The above passage clearly shows Skinner must have been to the US before 1873. Due to ill-health, Skinner had in fact been ‘hors de combat’ for 3 years, during which time he worked on transatlantic liners as a medical officer and had become acquainted with US life and homeopathy. Presumably he had friends there too, as he stayed there in 1876 to attend a conference. Again, we see the link with geography [see Blackie, 1996, p.558; also Bodman, 1971].
Second Wave: Gibson Miller
The Kentian influence also came to these shores with Dr. Robert Gibson Miller [1862-1919] in Glasgow, who studied with Kent in 1884 in St Louis. He in turn began to influence UK practice chiefly in Scotland, from where the ‘high potency habit’ formed a separate and parallel strand to that centred mainly in Liverpool with Drysdale and Berridge [see Winston, 1999, pp.200-201]. Gibson Miller published his ideas in 3 small works: Elements of Homeopathy, Relationships of Remedies and A Synopsis of Homeopathic Philosophy.
Very little is known, as yet, about how and why Gibson Miller went to see Kent in the first place, or how his visit was financed. There might also have been a link, a suggestion maybe from Berridge in Liverpool, and Skinner, of course, who had strong links there since 1875. It may have occurred because UK homeopathy was declining, and they were ‘fishing around’ for new ideas and direction. They clearly felt that in terms of new homeopathic initiatives, the USA was the place to look. Yet the ‘old guard’ who controlled UK homeopathy at that time were deeply sceptical of high potencies and very resistant to change [see Blackie, 1996, p.561-2]. The ‘old guard’ mainly comprised Drs. Hughes, Dudgeon and Dyce-Brown, who dismissed the high potencies as laughable.
This aspect also raises another question about the links between 19th century Scottish and English homeopathy which I have not really explored. How much did Gibson Miller disseminate his newly-acquired skills to other UK doctors? Another question is how much he also disseminated his new ideas to the medically unqualified? As we have seen with Clarke, much of the basis for even teaching lay persons the rudiments of homeopathic prescribing was a response to its continued decline. It would be useful to know, therefore, if Gibson Miller did the same in Scotland and for similar reasons. Gibson Miller travelled from Scotland to St. Louis and ‘brought the beginnings of Kentian Homeopathy back to Britain.’ [Gibson Miller’s Obituary, BHJ 9, 1919, p.107]
“Gibson Miller was the founder of all Glasgow homeopathy, well disposed towards the laity, lost a son in the Great War  and he died of cancer soon after. He never recovered from the loss of his son…he was tall and scraggy, a typical Carcinosin type, as John Paterson used to say. He was associated with Berridge, Thomas Skinner and Simpson of anaesthetic fame. Miller, like Skinner, used high potencies, while Cooper used low and Clarke used mixed.” [John Pert, 1991, former chief pharmacist at Nelson’s in a telephone conversation]
Miller was also an important influence on the future Physician Royal, Sir John Weir, who he treated for boils and converted to homeopathy [see Bodman’s Weir Obituary in BHJ, 1971].
Third Wave: Tyler
Kent’s influence also came to Britain in a third wave through Dr. Margaret Tyler:
“About 1907 her great concern was for the future supply of homeopathic physicians, as there was no definite post-graduate teaching, though much had been done by individuals. She was a great believer in going to the fountain-head, as she termed Hahnemann, and feared that much of the homeopathic practice was getting away from her ideal. She then, with her mother, instituted the Sir Henry Tyler Scholarship fund to help doctors go to the USA to study under Dr. James Tyler Kent, a keen Hahnemannian in practice. This created a stir and much controversy, but Dr. Tyler carried on with her efforts and many of the physicians of today studied under Dr. Kent between 1908 and 1913.” [from Margaret Tyler’s Obituary, BHJ, 1942-1943, by Sir John Weir]
By about 1905 British homeopathy had been in decline for over twenty years [see Nicholls, pp.207-8; Leary et al, 1998, p.264]. The BHS seems to have been looking out for some new ideas and guidance, a fresh impetus. Kent provided it, not only as a brilliant and highly successful practitioner and teacher of homeopathy; but also as a powerful writer and theoretician. He developed, brought out, greatly extended and emphasised its underlying philosophy.
The new breed of Kentian homeopathy was particularly influential on the generation of British homeopaths who were born in the 1870-1890 period, because they were in a position to benefit directly from scholarships which would send them over to Chicago to receive a year’s tuition with the great man himself. Kent died in 1916.
Several key figures in British homeopathy took up these study tours including Drs. Douglas Borland, John Weir [1879-1971], Dorothy Shepherd [1871-1952], Harold Fergie Woods [1888-1961] and Percy Purdom [c1880-c1940]. It is no exaggeration to say that as a result, they returned to the UK with tales of a form of homeopathy bordering on the miraculous [see Winston, 1999, pp.200-209]. They then began to transplant this Kentian form of homeopathy within the BHS and RLHH, and this soon came to be somewhat unquestioningly regarded in the UK as the new, standard mode of practice throughout the 1920-60 period. There is no evidence that Margaret Tyler [1857-1943] herself went to the US, but she corresponded with Kent. It was her mother, Lady Tyler, who set up the Henry Tyler Scholarship in her husband’s memory, just after his death in 1908.
Kent also created the first coherent, persuasive and highly influential philosophy, which has largely gone unchallenged within the movement. It was formulated as a synthesis of Swedenborgian mysticism and the more romantic portions of Hahnemann’s Organon and the Miasm Theory of The Chronic Diseases [see Kent, 1900, Lectures on Homeopathic Philosophy].
However, as quickly became apparent, Kent’s homeopathy was rooted in a rather dogmatic and puritanical attitude, and seems to derive from a pedantically scholastic and uncritical reverence for everything Hahnemann wrote.
“Kentianism, then, was metaphysical, dogmatic, puritanical and millennial. Homoeopaths who failed to achieve results with the high dilutions lacked intellectual skill and rigour, as well as the moral fibre for the arduous task of identifying the simillimum. In short, so far as Kentians were concerned, the faithless were responsible for the corruption and decline of the movement.” [Treuherz, 1983]
It is also deductive and didactic and denies that the facts of the outer world are in any sense superior to, or an arbiter for, theoretical ‘principles’. In that sense it seems stubbornly medieval in its extreme deductivism. It turns its back completely on the empirical approach of scientific rationalism and thus on allopathy.
‘When a man thinks from the microscope, and his neighbor’s opinion, he thinks falsely. Nothing good can come from this. Evil must take place, and changes, which are the ultimates of his internal thought, will take place in the body’ [Kent, 1926]
‘The microbe is not the cause of disease. We should not be carried away by these idle Allopathic dreams and vain imaginations but should correct the Vital Force'[Kent, 1926]
‘The Bacterium is an innocent feller, and if he carries disease he carries the Simple Substance which causes disease, just as an elephant would.’ [Kent, 1926]
This stubborn determination to studiously ignore the rest of medicine and the ‘ideological push’ of the last 200 years, makes it appear to the modern eye, as reactionary, hard-line and perverse.
“You cannot divorce medicine and theology. Man exists all the way down from his innermost spiritual, to his outermost natural.” [Kent, 1926]
‘Experience has a place in science, but only a confirmatory place. It can only confirm that which has been discovered through principle or law guiding in the proper direction. Experience leads to no discoveries, but when man is fully indoctrinated in principle that which he observes by experience may confirm the things that are consistent with law.’ [Kent, 1900, p.40]
This passage, which is typical of Kent, can only make sense to a follower of pure dogma; Hahnemann, for example, would have totally disagreed by saying that ‘experience’ had taught him all he knew. Science, like homeopathy, is rooted in observations and experiments in the outer world, not in the enforcement of dogmas. Kent seems to place ‘the cart before the horse’ by stressing the philosophy and principles of homeopathy over and above the simple fact that it is primarily a system of therapeutics in which the progress of the patient is always far more important than the religious [or other] beliefs of the practitioner. In every science principles derive from observations, and do not dictate them.
Maybe this ideal of detachment and emotional neutrality even science subtly fails to comply with at times. Science occasionally gainsays the event before it happens and in effect dictates the outcome or ‘spin’ which should be placed upon some experimental data. This may be based upon theoretical considerations, political or financial factors. For example, the allopathic view of most clinical trials of unorthodox medicine, can hardly be described as ’emotionally neutral’ or detached. Someone watching a horse-race with a million dollars placed on one horse, can hardly be expected to manifest very much emotional detachment and neutrality!
However, as one of the most important homeopaths after Hahnemann, Kent has had a big influence as a theoretician, a practitioner, a writer and as a teacher of homeopathy. His influence has been especially strong on American, Indian and British homeopathy [see Nicholls, 1988, p.186], while the Continentals seem to have been largely untouched by his influence, except in Switzerland and the influence of Dr. Pierre Schmidt. In the case of India, their delight in homeopathy in general and Kentianism specifically might depend to some degree upon their own general interest in philosophical aphorisms and religious matters. Homeopathy supplies them both; Kent supplies them in profusion.
As a follower of the Christian mystical sect of Immanuel Swedenborg, Kent delivered a blend of Hahnemann’s Organon and miasm theory, spiritual forces and a crude psychology, comprising only will, understanding and intellect [see Aphorisms]. Some details of Kent’s ‘psychology’ and his ‘hierarchies’ are discussed by Taylor [1997, pp.5-7], elaborated by Vithoulkas [1980, pp.23-57 and especially pp.46-7 and pp.23-25], and considered by Sharma [1995, pp.39-40]. Kent approached his philosophy with typical vigour. He viewed all Hahnemann’s works and especially The Organon with a fundamentalist zeal, seeking to amplify and reinterpret every word of the Master, much like a theology scholar or biblical commentator. His Lectures On Philosophy, for example, form quite literally a rambling Swedenborgian commentary to the first half of Hahnemann’s Organon. To him these were precious and immutable homeopathic truths that it is sacrilege for anyone even to question, let alone ignore, dilute, negotiate or compromise. He even goes as far as saying:
‘A man who cannot believe in God cannot become a homoeopath.'[Kent, 1926, Aphorisms]
It is especially in Kent’s rather arrogant use of language, which hits us when reading his works, which really illustrates this fundamentalism and the precious certainty of his approach to homeopathy. The following quote from many possible ones, clearly demonstrates this:
‘…beware of the opinions of men of science. Hahnemann has given us principles… it is law that governs the world and not matters of opinion or hypotheses. We must begin by having a respect for law, for we have no starting point unless we base our propositions on law.’ [Kent, 1900, p.18]
Kent infers that homeopaths should base their whole approach upon the hard dogmatism of these ideas, which he elevates to the status of certitudes, and not upon the ever-shifting ideas of ‘mere men’. He is claiming a great authority and power behind such ‘immutable principles’, a power which like some divine form, stands ‘above and behind us’ and which we dare not abrogate or dilute for fear of one’s soul’s damnation.
As an attitude, this is so indistinguishable from that of fundamentalist religion, that it is clearly apparent how this form of homeopathy possessed, and generated for itself, so many problems with creative and imaginative people who much prefer to experiment and find truths out for themselves, eg. Samuel Hahnemann. This whole approach denies anyone the privilege or luxury of that kind of freedom. Total and unquestioning devotion to a given creed seems to be the basis of Kentianism, not reason or real-world experiment. As to whether Kent was truly a Hahnemannian homeopath see Henr 1995 and Cassam, 1999.
It is especially when he lapses into the moral sphere of homeopathy that his deep dogmatism reveals itself. When he is speaking purely about homeopathy, which is comparatively rare, he does well, but as soon as he enters human affairs, a certain clearly-recognisable ‘Bible-punching’ tone seems to shines through…as the following quotes clearly demonstrate:
‘It is law that governs the world and not matters of opinion or hypothesis. We must begin by having a respect for law…’ [Kent, 1900, p.18]
‘This means law, it means fixed principles, it means a law as certain as that of gravitation… our principles have never changed, they have always been the same and will remain the same…’ [Kent, 1900, p.28]
‘Had Psora never been established as a miasm upon the human race, the other two chronic diseases would have been impossible and susceptibility to acute diseases would have been impossible…’ [ibid. p.126]
Kent would have no dealings with allopaths nor with low-dilutionists, who were pejoratively portrayed as ‘mongrel, milk-and-water half-homeopaths’. Homeopathy was seen very dogmatically by him as pure classical homeopathy as ‘laid down in tablets of stone by the master’ or nothing. This narrow, simplistic and somewhat inflexible view of homeopathy had split American homeopathy right down the middle, causing a very acrimonious clash of ideologies. It is generally conceded that this bitter wrangling contributed significantly to the precipitous decline of homeopathy in the USA during the first half of this century [Kaufman, Coulter, Rothstein, Gevitz].
The Swedenborgian influence
To Swedenborg, the realms of nature, and particularly the body and mind of man, were theatres of divine activity…A ‘universal analogy’ existed between the various realms of creation. The physical world was symbolical of the spiritual world and this, in turn, of God. He conceived a resonant system of hierarchies of God, universe and man. He became a theologian and established the ‘Church of the New Jerusalem’ [see Nicholls, 1988, pp.262-5; also Rankin, pp.70, 82, 94-5, 107, 112].
A Supreme Divine purpose reigned throughout creation. The life of the universe, whether physical, mental or spiritual was the activity of Divine Love. The physical universe is given its true place in the economy of creation, the womb of man’s most enduring and real life. Briefly, Swedenborg was heretical to mainstream Christianity, because he espoused that personal liberation could be won easily from an all-loving God and that ‘original sin’ was non-existent.
‘…he dispensed with the idea of original sin’, [Treuherz, 1983, p.48]
As with Paracelsus and ‘later theosophies’, the link with homeopathy is to be found in the vast hierarchies of form and spirit that he conceived as existing between God, mind and matter and penetrating throughout the universe. Kent linked all of this to the process of potentisation, the vital force and the miasms of Hahnemann, seeing them both as philosophies that fully confirm each other and which for him, married together splendidly, into a new organic creation. The following quotes from his Aphorisms more than amply illustrate this point:
‘Radiant substances have degrees within degrees, in series too numerous for the finite mind to grasp.’
‘The lower potency corresponds to a series of outer degrees, less fine and less interior than the higher.’
‘When it has passed to simple substance, the Radiant form of matter, it has infinite degrees. To express the degrees from the Outermost to the Innermost, we might say a grain of Silica is the Outermost; the Innermost is The Creator.’
‘There are degrees of fineness of the Vital Force. We may think of internal man as possessing infinite degrees and of external man as possessing finite degrees.’
‘There are degrees within degrees to infinity.’
‘Low potencies can cure acute diseases because acute diseases act upon the outermost degree of the Simple Substance and the body. In chronic disease the trouble is deeper seated, and the degrees are finer, hence the remedy must be reduced to finer or higher degrees so as to be similar to the degrees of chronic disease.’
Swedenborg composed a ‘theory of correspondences or connections between the visible and invisible worlds’, [Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, 1981, p.617]. The James family including Henry and William were Swedenborgians and in Massachusetts and East Coast ‘among its adherents [were] most of the social, intellectual and business elite.’ [Coulter, vol. 3, pp.467-8; see also Winston, 1999, pp.166-7]. At that time, many of the ‘Transcendentalists’, led by Emerson, were very taken with philosophies like Swedenborg’s.
Another important adherent was Dr. John James Garth Wilkinson [1812-99] who was a big friend of Henry James senior. Wilkinson had trained at Hahnemann College Philadelphia and published several books on the sect. Indeed, many people were attracted to Swedenborg’s ideas, including the English artist and poet William Blake [see F Treuherz, 1983, The Homeopaths, 4:2, winter 1983, Heklae Lava or the Influence of Swedenborg on Homeopathy, p.36-7 [pp.35-53; see also Barrow, 1985]; re Blake see Ackroyd, 1994:
‘[Blake]… picked up separate ideas, or fragments of knowledge, as he needed them. He was a synthesiser and a systematiser, like so many of his generation, but it was his own synthesis designed to establish his own system of belief… he borrowed notions from Swedenborg or Paracelsus. He was above everything else an artist and not an orthodox thinker’ [Ackroyd, p.90]
‘…Blake has picked up elements of Thomas Taylor’s Neoplatonism as well as Swedenborgian doctrine and some alchemical terminology. Everything upon the earth has a spiritual correspondence, and the world itself is inspired with the breath of divine humanity.’ [Ackroyd, p.116]
‘Blake was very clear about his spiritual ancestors. He told John Flaxman that ‘Paracelsus and Behmen appeared to me’, but their arrival meant he turned away from Swedenborg. ‘Swedenborg’s writings are a recapitulation of all superficial opinions, and an analysis of the more sublime, but no further. Have now another plain fact: any man of mechanical talents may from the writings of Paracelsus or Jacob Behmen, produce ten thousand volumes of equal value with Swedenborg’s.’ It is true that the writings of Paracelsus and Boehme [Behmen] do seem to come from a purer spring of spiritual revelation than those of Swedenborg…’ [Ackroyd, p.147]
‘..many critics have noticed how intimately the ‘Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ is related to Blake’s movement from Swedenborg towards Boehme and Paracelsus…’ [Ackroyd, p.15]
‘…there is no doubt that the ‘Marriage’ represents Blake’s most serious attack upon Swedenborg and Swedenborgians…’ [Ackroyd, p.153]
There are definite links with other forms of American Transcendentalism in the 19th century especially the Romantic literary figures like Thoreau, Hawthorne and Emerson.
The teachings of Swedenborg are especially reflected in Kent’s ‘Lectures on Homeopathic Philosophy’, where they are shaken up with parts of Hahnemann’s Organon to form an attractive but baffling cocktail of ideas. Before his death, he published three main works: ‘Repertory’, ‘Lecture on Materia Medica’, ‘Lectures On Philosophy’. He also edited the ‘Journal of Homeopathics’ from 1897 to 1903: seven volumes, constituting the lectures which he gave to advanced doctors and personal articles. Kent’s writings on Philosophy and Materia Medica were published in this journal before they came out in book form. After his death a collection of aphorisms, lesser writings and notes and cases was published [1926, ‘Lesser Writings, New Remedies, Aphorisms, etc.’].
Kent seemed to emphasise a rather tenuous link between religion and science and this spilled out into a form of hard, dogmatic, fundamentalist creed. There seemed to be no middle ground, no shade of grey.
Presumably this approach worked well in the USA at that time and held converts of homeopathy together. Over here it tended to make Kentian homeopaths look rather strange and to set homeopathy itself even further apart from mainstream allopathy than before. Once the Kentian creed became the official, legitimised creed of the BHS [c.1910-60] then it seemed that one had to be like that in order to practise any form of homeopathy. This tended to push homeopathy as a subject, even further out on a limb from allopathy than before, and thus no further dialogue between them became possible.
“In practice, Kentian homeopathy was, according to Wheeler, ‘slightly contemptuous of any attempt to make terms with other medical knowledge regarding, as it were, the teaching as something so transcendental that no reasoned explanations are likely to have any validity.”
It is of interest that Dr. Percy Hall-Smith, in 1930, a member of the BHS, said:
“My own conviction is that our teaching is not sufficiently practical, and the approach unduly philosophical, and too far removed from the line of thought of the average doctor… It requires a rather special type of mind and outlook to swallow at the first blush undiluted ‘Kentian principles’. The average mind trained on a more materialistic basis is liable to be repelled by such teaching at the outset. ”
Dr Gordon Smith [Faculty]:
“But for high dilution, the man of the 200th potency is nowhere, he is still among the crudities of posology. For we have brethren who are not happy till they get to the 10,000th, and even then they are not quite at home, they deem the 100,000th a good point to start from, and hence upwards to anything you like… I am satisfied in my mind that the 100,000th potency or dilution made according to, and by, the Hahnemannian method has never yet been seen on our planet. And if it should some day make its appearance, someone will have spent much time over its preparation which might have been employed to better purpose.”
Kent’s Obituary appeared in the BHJ 6, 1916, pp. 337, 541. As Kent himself implies, in order to be a good homeopath one must also be a good Swedenborgian first! This idea is relatively easy to illustrate from looking at his writings, which are packed with aphoristic certitudes.
Disease might be seen as an entirely human phenomenon. It probably also reflects the fact that nature ‘in the raw’ is in a state of near-perfect balance and harmony, which contrasts with the many conflicts and disharmonies of the world of human affairs.
We can also argue that perhaps it is the ‘moral uprightness’ of animals which protects them from disease. By ‘moral uprightness’ I mean their purity and the way they stick very strictly to their received pathways in life, never deviating from ingrained habit patterns and conventionalised patterns of accepted behaviour. By contrast, humans seem to lack these ingrained habit patterns and to conduct themselves in various diverse ways driven on according to their own innate willpower. No doubt Kent, and other religious moralists, would tend to regard ‘the way you live your life’ as being very intimately bound up with the quality of such a life [on a spiritual basis] and its relative ‘sickness’ with regard to the possible experience of suffering, symptoms and signs of disorder, imbalance and disease. Such moralists, as we shall see, do regard disease as having a moral dimension, and of very largely deriving from slack morals.
Kent took the view that the basis for this human ‘origin’ of disease is moral. That means that we have disease because we have lost a moral order for our lives, and that it is a direct and inevitable result. Are the two equated at all?
We don’t have to search very hard to find a mass of moral ideas within homeopathy which illustrate how puritanical and moralising homeopaths tend to be. The following quotes from Kent’s Lectures and from his Lesser Writings reveal a very rich seam of such material:
“You cannot divorce medicine and theology. Man exists all the way down from his innermost spiritual to his outermost natural” [Kent, 1926, Lesser Writings, p.641]
“A man who cannot believe in God cannot become a homeopath.” [ibid., p.671]
‘The body became corrupt because man’s interior will became corrupt.’ [ibid., p.681]
‘Man… becomes disposed to sickness by doing evil, through thinking wrong…’ [ibid., p.664]
‘Psora is the evolution of the state of man’s will, the ultimates of sin.’ [ibid., p.654]
‘This outgrowth, which has come upon man from living a life of evil willing, is Psora.’ [ibid., p.654]
‘Thinking, willing and doing are the 3 things in life from which finally proceed the chronic miasms.’ [ibid., p.654]
‘…had Psora never been established as a miasm upon the human race… susceptibility to acute diseases would have been impossible… it is the foundation of all sickness.’ [Kent, 1900, p.126]
‘Psora… is a state of susceptibility to disease from willing evils.’ [ibid., p.135]
‘The human race today walking the face of the earth, is but little better than a moral leper. Such is the state of the human mind at the present day. To put it another way everyone is Psoric.’ [ibid., p.135]
‘Psora… would not exist in a perfectly healthy race.’ [ibid., p.133]
‘As long as man continued to think that which was true and held that which was good to the neighbour, that which was uprightness and justice, so long man remained free from disease, because that was the state in which he was created.’ [ibid., p.134]
‘The internal state of man is prior to that which surrounds him; therefore, the environment is not the cause…’ [ibid., p.136]
‘Diseases correspond to man’s affections, and the diseases upon the human race today are but the outward expression of man’s interiors… man hates his neighbour, he is willing to violate every commandment; such is the state of man today. This state is represented in man’s diseases.’ [ibid., p.136]
‘The Itch is looked upon as a disgraceful affair; so is everything that has a similar correspondence; because the Itch in itself has a correspondence with adultery…’ [ibid., p.137]
‘How long can this thing go on before the human race is swept from the earth with the results of the suppression of Psora?’ [ibid., pp.137-8]
‘Psora is the beginning of all physical sickness… is the underlying cause and is the primitive or primary disorder of the human race.’ [ibid., p.126]
‘…for it goes to the very primitive wrong of the human race, the very first sickness of the human race that is the spiritual sickness… which in turn laid the foundation for other diseases. [ibid., p.126]
It seems pretty clear from these quotes that Kent took a very puritanical and moral line about the origins of disease within the human race and he apparently felt that Psora was equivalent to Original Sin or the Fall of Man. That is the clear implication of the above remarks he made. He got himself into this very strange position very largely from insisting that homeopathy necessarily involves a religious dimension which places a moral duty upon the practitioner, and thus the homeopath has a morally redeeming influence through cure. Thus he viewed the homeopath as a Godly saviour who dispenses spiritual as well as physical cures; and that illness stems from a corrupted state of man, which homeopathy can cure. Kent’s logic is rather like…’all sick men are bad; Socrates is sick, therefore Socrates is bad’. And he also contends:
‘all sickness originates from internal causes; internal causes are spiritual; therefore all sickness has a spiritual basis’
And then from there he equates internal and spiritual causes as the miasms. Thus in his view the miasms are to be viewed as internal spiritual sins, or derivatives of them.
He also avers another line of argument:
‘all disease causes [inner world] are invisible and nebulous; all potentised remedies are of a similar nature; thus potentised substance, and especially the higher potencies, are the only means of curing disease [by reaching into the subtle interior realm of disease causes]’
This also leads to his oft-repeated adage of ‘the higher the deeper’. This probably also forms the basis for his strong advocacy and use of the very highest potencies. In this manner we can analyse and dissect Kent’s brand of homeopathy.
Like the Mediaeval Churchmen, Kent shows a remarkable devotion to deductive logic and an apparent ignorance of induction or of knowledge based upon experiment, data and the evidence of the senses, to which he also remains either oblivious or contemptuous. There are some good parallels between Kent and Thomas Aquinas [1225-74] in that both treat their subject matter with immense reverence as received dogma which cannot even be questioned, and then build upon that base their towers of speculation and philosophy. Both also tend in the direction of rigid dogmatism, excessive preciousness and zealous devotion to ‘truth’ as received dogma, not as freedom of thought or experimentation, towards which both seem utterly opposed.
Kent, like many others seems to regard illness as an unwanted evil, obtained through contamination, which must be ‘cleansed’ out of the system by the healer. In most cultures the healer is thus regarded as an agent of divine assistance, a cleanser, or purifier of souls.
Kent seems to have causally linked together two otherwise distinct and separate observations, which may not be causally connected at all. Is it really true that lack of morals leads to disease? Are the sick to be viewed as bad? And the bad as sick? And what of those who die of cancer, disfigured by arthritis, ravaged by Human BSE, muscular dystrophy or MS? Are we to truly believe they ‘deserved’ those illnesses? And to have reaped what they have sown? Or is this all a nonsense? It is so very hard to say. Perhaps Kent has mistaken ‘moral rectitude’ with health and purity and hence concluded that disease must therefore stem, pretty fundamentally, from an amoral or immoral position. But it is surely quite a different thing to arrive at such a conclusion from sustained observation and contemplation of the natural world, than it is by deciding that is the way things have to be, because some religious dogmas say so.
KENT’S INFLUENCE ON UK HOMEOPATHY
A very easy way to illustrate the effect Kent had on UK homeopathy [see Winston, 1999, pp. 200-209] is to simply compare the potencies in use by several British homeopaths from the early part of the century and from the 1930-80 period.
It is well-known that all the early UK homeopaths used the very lowest potencies. In the early days they used 1x to 6x in the main, with most work being done by 3x, 4x and 6x. From c.1870-1920 they tended to use 3x to 12c with very occasional use of 30 or 200 for nosodes. Still, most work was done with the 1x, 3x and 6x . Then from c.1920-90 there was a gradually increased use of the higher potencies, ranging from 30 to DM, more especially in the USA, but also in the UK, though with a predominant and continued use of lower potencies on the Continent.
It is instructive to compare Kent’s use of potency with that of Hahnemann, who he claimed to follow so assiduously. Hahnemann made almost exclusive use of potencies 6, 9, 12, 18, 24 and 30. 9, 18 and 24 appear never to have been used since he died, the others have become standards. 60% of his prescribing was with the above potencies and no higher in the 1820s; 95% of his prescribing was with the above potencies in the 1840s [based upon data from Bradford and Haehl].It is true that he made occasional use of potencies like 100, 300, 190, etc. towards the end of his life, but they are still a minute percentage of his overall regular approach [see Handley, 1997]. It therefore seems there is scant evidence in the realm of potency for regarding Kent as a Hahnemannian homeopath [see also Henr, 1995].
Skinner and Clarke stood out as very unusual in routinely using the 30 and 200. Cooper and Burnett mainly used tinctures and 3x. Most UK homeopaths continued to get their best work from low potencies like 1x, 3x and 6x. At that time 6c, 12 and 30c were regarded sceptically as unacceptably high potencies. Yet the beginnings of change were certainly apparent in experimentation before 1890. There has been a gradual shift away from 3x and 6x as ‘standards’ and a move towards making 6c and 30c as standard starter potencies.
We should be under no illusions about these material doses which dominated nineteenth century practice. Their use as the legitimised potencies for the entire movement, was little more than a thinly-disguised concession to allopaths, to whose criticisms the early English homeopaths had become peculiarly sensitive. It was also a cleverly inspired and expedient political device. By keeping to low potencies they sought to deflect accusations of homeopathy being mere ‘faith healing’ and thus rather than lose converts, they hoped to win more from the ranks of regular physicians by employing this tactic. But the more full-blooded, ‘heavy duty’ homeopaths, who were committed to using whatever potencies they liked, and who deferred to no authority and no dogma [eg. Clarke and Burnett] called this a sell-out, a betrayal and ‘pandering to allopathy.’
I have extracted Kent’s potency data from his Lesser Writings [publ. 1926] pp.198-637. All potencies listed were recorded. We can make a few points from this data so as to more clearly summarise Kent’s prescribing habits. Almost half his prescribing is over 20M [185 = 48.6%]; almost 3/4 [74%] of his prescribing is over 10M [281 out of 381]; 33 out of 381 [= 8.7%] is with potency 30 or less, which was virtually the maximum potency Hahnemann ever used on a regular basis. Kent’s most popular potencies were in the 10Ms [96 = 25.2%], followed by the CMs [52 = 13.7%] and the 50Ms [50 = 13%]. It is true that he occasionally made use of the lower potencies like 30, 30x and 12, but these only account for 8% of his total.
If we now compare with this data for the rest of this century we see an interesting pattern develop. Cooper data from his book on Cancer, 1880 gives 71% mother tinctures and 17% 3x. Similar data from Burnett’s ‘Cure of Consumption’  shows 16% mother tincture, 17% 3x and 21% 30c. Data from ‘The Prescriber’ of Clarke  gives 8% 3x, 39% 3c, 26% 6c and 13% 30c. Shepherd’s ‘More Magic of the Minimum Dose’  gives 9% 6c, 64% 30c, 6% 200 and 3% 10M. Finally Speight acutes  gives 3% mother tincture, 50% 6c, 6% 30c and 4% 200. Her chronic prescribing  gives 42%, 12% 30c, 6% 200 and 3% 10M [see Morrell, 1995].
From this data we can easily see that Cooper, Burnett and Clarke were mainly centred in their use of potency at mother tincture, 3x and 3c. Speight and Shepherd both show a much increased use of 6c and 30c by comparison. Speight was the partner in practice of Noel Puddephatt taught mainly by Clarke and a self-confessed Kentian. Shepherd was taught by Kent.
Figures can, of course, be very confusing, but if, for example, from this data you separate out the 3x you can see a clear decline from 17% at the turn of the century to 8% in 1920s and then 0.4% in the 40s and 50s. No such pattern exists in data I have examined for several Continental homeopaths derived in the same way, from their publications [Morrell, 1995, On Potency, Parts 1-3], and thus it seems safe to conclude that it is the influence of American prescribing, and especially of Kent, and an influence absent from Continental prescribing, that has brought this change about. For example, the use of potency by the French Vannier and Chavannon in 1973 is not substantially different from that of the Dutch Voorhoeve in 1910. Voorhoeve used tincture 12%, and 83% of his prescribing covered potencies 3x, 4x, 5x and 6x. Vannier and Chavannon used 57% 7x and 21% 3c or equivalent [Korsakoffian] potencies.
Regarding Indian prescribers, who are probably the most Kentian in the world, Kamthan [1974 and 1978] uses 39% 30, 21% 200 and 18% above M. Phatak  uses 32% 200 and 26% M. Menon  prescribes very similarly, with roughly 30% each for 30, 200 and M
Kent’s Impact On ‘Progress’
‘In 1877 I first became interested in homeopathy… in the City of London homeopathy was very popular amongst Stock Brokers and clerks. There were in the City of London four homeopathic chemists, who did a good business purely in homeopathic medicine only… there were also several homeopathic doctors in Finsbury… there were also homeopathic chemists in north, east, south and west London, generally supported by a doctor. There were then more than 30 homeopathic chemists in London. Of all these, one remains in the City of London and there are four in the West End… what is the reason for this decadence? …some time between 1880 and 1890 the gospel of the high potencies was started in America and spread to this country, and of course, became known to our allopathic friends. I know very little of the merits of these high potencies, as for fifty years the low dilutions have never failed me in curable cases. This new homeopathy gave the opponents of Hahnemann a tremendous lever to crush and discredit a system of medicine founded on rock, and allopaths made good use of the words ‘faith healing’…’ [letter from FJB, Homeopathic World, June 1932, pp.255-6]
This letter from a British homeopathic doctor illustrates a viewpoint which blames the American ‘gospel of the high potencies’ for the decline in homeopathy in England and the USA during the first half of this century. It is a complex topic and this forms only one element. But it does seem to be a strong argument with some basis in fact.
There is a trend among some self-styled ‘classical’ homeopaths towards the ‘Maverickisation’ of Kent within homeopathy:
“He became the director of a clinic where he taught medical specialists how to analyse and choose the significant symptoms of a case rapidly. To give some idea of his activity: in addition to his busy private practice, at his dispensary in Philadelphia alone he and his pupils saw more than 18,800 patients in 1896 and 16,000 in 1897!” [Excerpt from: Biography of James Tyler Kent, by Pierre Schmidt MD, 1950, Geneva]
Let us try and place this ‘production line’ version of homeopathy into some kind of sensible context. If we assume, not unreasonably, that Kent saw patients for 5 hours per day for 5 days a week, and for 50 weeks a year [= 1250 hours per year], then 18,800 patients translates into 15 patients per hour, every hour, or one per 4 minutes. Even if we believe this, and I don’t, what possible kind of homeopathy is this?
Clearly, Kent still wields enormous charm and power over the high potency and ‘classical’ devotees within homeopathy, who seemingly will believe absolutely anything said about him. For them he seems to offer a form of puritanical certainty which seems to be so strikingly absent from the rest of the movement.
The dogmatic and quasi-spiritual tendency within homeopathy has re-surfaced recently amongst some of the students of the former Arch-Druid Thomas Maughan. One of his main students of the 1970s was Martin Miles, who practices homeopathy in London. In 1992 he published a work called Homeopathy and Human Evolution. Like our remarks about Kent, the following quotes from Miles illustrate similar use of dogmatic language and the forcing upon its reader of a ‘spiritual paradigm’ which has been thoroughly blended with some basic homeopathic ideas. It looks like history repeating itself.
‘…the physical vehicle is the temple of an indwelling spirit, this outward cloak being an exact reflection of the being who inhabits it.’ [Miles, 1992, p.2]
‘…consciousness is that vital ingredient that humanity has and which the animal and vegetable kingdoms do not have…before our present incarnation the all-enduring spirit laid down the rough outlines of the path we would travel. This will have been forgotten by most of us. The spirit’s descent upon the cross of matter usually amounts to being plunged into the overwhelming darkness of the earthly life.’ [ibid., p.4]
As with Kent, we can question the possible relevance of what is being said here to homeopathy, but also to the use of language and the rather pompous and preachy tone in which it is being dictated as pure dogma at the reader, and about which no opinion is requested and no negotiation is invited. Personally, I do not regard our earthly life as an ‘overwhelming darkness’ and I also see abundant evidence every day for consciousness in the myriad life-forms on this planet. Thus I reject all this as nonsense. There might be a place for this viewpoint within homeopathy, but how on earth such beliefs can be seen as essential prerequisites to being a good practitioner is beyond me. I would say that such ideas are utterly irrelevant to the practice of medicine.
We have reviewed the impact of Kent’s brand of homeopathy. It seems likely that it could only have been imported to UK homeopathy during a period of decline, when minds were mainly focused upon finding some new set of ideas which might have breathed new life into a dying movement rather than upon critically adopting something with few genuine merits. Within homeopathy practised by doctors, Kent seemed to provide just such an answer at the right time. The problem was, however, that his brand of homeopathy proved rather bizarre, dogmatic and esoteric. Rather than drawing homeopathy back into the mainstream and reducing its frictions with allopathy, it tended to push it even further into the margins and make it seem even more unacceptable than ever. The use of high potencies and the emphasis upon psora theory and Swedenborgian metaphysics would clearly have strained any possible comprehension of homeopathy by regular physicians, and even those within homeopathy who preferred to use low potencies found it unacceptable [see Nicholls, 1988, p.186]. Thus it probably alienated more people than it converted and proved in many respects to have hastened British homeopathy’s further decline, rather than serving to revitalise a flagging movement, as had been hoped.
Apart from his metaphysics [which has evaporated from view], and true constitutional prescribing [which is here to stay], Kent’s chief and lasting impact upon British homeopathy was in the use of potency, which has increased greatly since the early years. Most British homeopaths used 3x or 6x as their mainstay right up to 1900. By 1950 this had shifted to 6c and 12c with abundant use of 30. Use of 30 or 200 would have been virtually unthinkable in 1900, but was commonplace by 1960. This is mostly due to Kent’s brand of homeopathy:
‘Taken as a whole the opus of Kent has been and is still very influential… Coulter has documented the controversy between high and low potency prescribers in America. Frank Bodman has shown how Kent influenced British homeopathy, and the low material doses of Hughes’ influence were gradually superseded as John Weir and Margaret Tyler, who studied with Kent, gained more influence between 1902 and 1924′ [Treuherz, 1983, p.48].
Looking on the positive side, we can see that Kent and his ilk ‘broke the mould’ of the ‘Old Guard’, of the materialist, pathological, Hughesian, low potency homeopaths who completely controlled UK homeopathy from 1860-1910. Kent showed that there was another way. He showed that you can just as easily ‘get good work’ not only from tinctures, 1x and 3x, but also from potencies way beyond the Avogadro limit. In that sense, his influence has been very useful, as it has shown that the therapeutic efficacy of homeopathy rests not upon the potency or strength of the drug in use, but much more upon the selection of the remedy which is truly homeopathic to the case, and more especially upon deep constitutional prescribing.
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Honorary Research Associate in the History of Medicine, Staffordshire University, UK
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